Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ben Franklin's church today

Good morning, friends. I am back. I came across this video about Christ Church, Philadelphia, and it is very worth the 10 minutes it will take you to watch it. Warning: this is provocative on several levels. Our ideas of church and outreach might need to change. Enjoy:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer solstice and Fiat Lux taking a break

Dear ones,

Welcome to summer.  Life gets a little slower in the summer here in Charlottesville, and it is once again time to take a break here at Fiat Lux.

I need a little time away from the blogosphere to slow down, use fewer words in all things, and find renewal and inspiration. But please check back here soon.

In August, we will be in Jerusalem, and I will certainly resume writing in this space well before then. In the meantime, catch up with what you may have missed here.

For now, let me leave you with a summer poem. I ran this last summer, from my favorite poet, Gary Snyder, and the art is by the amazing Chiura Obata.  "Loowit" is the Indian name for Mt. St. Helens, a place I partially climbed many summers ago after the eruption.  Enjoy the wonder of summer.
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Enjoy the Day
By Gary Snyder

One morning on a ridgetop east of Loowit
after campfire coffee

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

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

what's going on?

they say

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beginnings and endings: The circle of the Holy Trinity

My sermon marking Trinity Sunday is based on Genesis 1:1-2:4a Psalm 82 Corinthians 13:11-13, and
Matthew 28:16-20:

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“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Sometimes first things go first. Sometimes first things go last. 

Think of the lessons we hear today as circles – with endings and beginnings that circle back to beginnings and endings. 
We hear the opening verses of the Bible: the Genesis story of how God created all that there is and will be. God said, “let there be light” and called it good. 
And we hear the closing lines from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus tells his disciples to go forth and baptize “all the nations” – all the peoples of the earth – and that he will be with them “to the end of the age.” 
The creation story of Genesis continues in the new creation of story of Christ, the story circling back to the beginning. 

And in the middle is a farewell from Paul to the community in Corinth, imploring to keep their circle alive by living in love and peace. 
All of this is wrapped inside of the circle of the hard-to-understand concept of the Trinity.
This is Trinity Sunday, and on this Sunday preachers like me are supposed to explain the Trinity. 

Some will compare the Trinity to a tree with roots, a trunk and leaves, or to water, ice and steam, or to a three-sided diamond. 

We will recite the ancient Nicene Creed in a little while, that formula of the Trinity written in the 4th century. We will hear again the Trinity proclaimed in the words of our Eucharistic prayer. 
Many words and much blood have been spilled over explanations and defenses of the Trinity, and truthfully most of it leaves me very cold. 
What is often lacking in this talk of the Trinity is an explanation of why we should care a wit about it. It gets awfully abstract in a hurry, kind of like 9th grade algebra. 
We may fairly ask, what does understanding the Trinity – or algebra – possibly have to do with my daily life? 

What does the Trinity have to do with war and unrest, climate change and a tottering economy, or a friend who is in the hospital? 
It is important to know that those who came up with the concept of the Trinity were trying very hard to grasp how God could be present in the world with them yet feel so distant at times. They, too, faced warfare and plague, and life was perhaps more precarious for them than it is for us.
At its root, the Trinity is fundamentally a statement of the infinity of God and God’s infinite ways. 

To hold the idea of the Trinity is to grasp that God has infinite ways of being understood.
Among my favorite ancient symbols of the Trinity is three circles that interlock. Circles, after all, have no end and no beginning and are symbols of infinity. 
The God of the Trinity is the Infinite One who is the spark that creates all things, and calls it good; the Infinite One who came in a particular time and place as a man called Jesus to show us how to love each other; and the Infinite One who is still a holy spark living within us and among us and going infinitely where she will. 
God as male, God as female, God as a living being who is capable of reaching all people everywhere infinitely. 
Instead of a God who is a monolithic stone distant from us, we hear and see expressions of God who is dynamic, relational, here with us, and has infinite love for us. 

I can’t see all of God and neither can you. The Trinity is another way of saying that all people are capable of experiencing God, each in our limited way, yet God is bigger than any of us can experience as alone. 

These lessons today bring us full circle to our own beginnings as individuals and as a faith community by touching once again on our baptism. 
In this final passage of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls us to go forth and baptize the people of the world in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the name of this infinitely knowable God. 
The passage is known as “the great commission.” 
Jesus’ great commission is a preposterous notion on the face of it. 

There he was with his handful of disciples one last time, telling them to leave their hiding places and get out into the world and change it. 

Heal the sick, feed the hungry, and baptize them in water and spirit into the good news of God’s kingdom bursting forth all around us and inside us. Go into lands that are foreign to you. Get out of your comfort zone, big time. Go to all the nations of the world and I will fill them with love and grace and healing – and baptize them into this new life. 
They must have said, who us? There are only a handful of us. How can we possibly do anything of the sort? 
Yet they did, and could because the Christ who they knew sustained them and was with them to the end of all ages. 
It is important we see baptism as something more than the milestone of “christening” of a baby. Baptism is foundational to all that we do as a faith community. 
Baptism is a starting line in the circle of faith for us as individuals and for the faith community with us. 

Baptism is the initiation into the Church and that makes it about all of us. And once you are in, you are in, and nothing can take your baptism away from you. That is why we baptize someone only once. In the words of the Prayer Book, you are “Christ’s own forever.”
You are not just in the body of Christ in one locale, or in one parish, or even in one branch of Christianity. You aren’t baptized an “Episcopalian” or a “Catholic” or “Lutheran.” 
You are baptized in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit, and like the Trinity itself, that makes your baptism infinitely large. 
You are a member of the entire body of Christ, all over the world, in every place and in every time. It doesn’t matter whether you change locations or even change church brands. You are Christ’s own forever, no matter where you go. 
Think of baptism as the center of the circle. Think of Jesus, standing at the center of the circle, at the water, pointing us in new ways to reach beyond this circle and into the world. 
The symbol of our baptism is the font at center of this house of prayer. It is a reminder to us every time we come here of our own baptism, and it is our gateway to this Holy Table to be sustained with the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist. 

And there is one more thing: Our baptism compels us to leave here, and do those things Jesus called those first disciples to do: Heal the sick, be with the lonely, work to repair this broken earth, and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom bursting in the open for all to see, and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Election of new bishop in Washington DC

The Diocese of Washington today elected The Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde to be its new bishop replacing The Rt. Rev. John Chane, who is retiring. She will need to be confirmed by the dioceses of the Episcopal Church before taking office. Here some information about Bishop-Elect Budde:
The Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde
Rector, Saint John's, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mariann’s first conscious experience of Christ took place in a fundamentalist Christian community when she was in high school in Colorado. In college in upstate New York, she discovered the political dimensions of faith, striving for social justice among Roman Catholics of the Catholic Worker movement. After college, she worked for the Methodist Church serving undocumented and homeless people in Tucson, Arizona. Through it all, she realized that her spiritual home was the Episcopal Church, where she could love God with heart and mind, meet Christ in the mystery of liturgy, and serve Him in the world. Born in New Jersey, Mariann returned there in her late teens, and inspired by her mother, became active in the Episcopal Church of her childhood.
Mariann has been the rector of St. John’s, Minneapolis since 1993, a congregation she has led through significant growth and ministry development. A practitioner of family systems theory, Mariann is particularly interested in how to lead faith communities through the systemic transformation required for growth. She is passionate about congregational health and clergy wellness, the public ministry of the church, and preaching as it informs the spiritual life of both priest and congregation. Since 2001, she has served as a Conference Leader for CREDO, a wellness initiative of the Church Pension Fund. 

While in seminary, Mariann spent a year, with her husband, Paul, in Central America. They worked at an Episcopal home for abandoned children. Mariann has returned to Central America many times, often leading groups on service trips. She has also supported the first Spanish-speaking Episcopal mission in the Diocese of Minnesota. St. John’s has a strong partner parish relationship with a congregation in Haiti, and Mariann has helped established parish friendships between St. John’s and Native American and Liberian congregations of the Diocese of Minnesota. She has also worked to address racial inequities and their consequences in the city of Minneapolis. For years, Mariann has immersed herself in the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights era, and in preaching she draws regularly from that well of inspiration. 

She and Paul Budde have been married for 25 years. They have two sons, Amos, 23, and Patrick, 20. She cherishes time with her family. Other favorite activities include walking the family dog, riding her bike, reading, watching movies and football games, and attending concerts and plays. 

Mariann has learned that anything worth doing takes time. Leading a parish well, raising a family well, being faithful in any realm of life and ministry takes time, perseverance and faith. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is the spiritual foundation upon which she depends daily. While drawn to prophetic voices that inspire change, she nonetheless feels her call is one of leadership rather than prophecy. Her vocation is grounded in the work of aligning the church to the vision of God, taking small, steady steps to transform our lives, congregations, and structures to better serve God’s mission in the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The latest from the work pilgrimage in New Orleans

Here is Pastor Nik's latest posting:

Our Daily Bread during this Work Pilgrimage

When we arrived in the Crescent City around 7 o'clock on Sunday evening, we were all ready for dinner. So, we unloaded our luggage and settled in at the big, old Garden District house that the Diocese has set aside for groups like ours, and then we went in search of dinner. For a while we bounced around the Garden District before a local directed us to Franky & Johnny's on Arabella Street.

We have a only a few meals out since arriving, but this dinner has been - by far - the best meal we've enjoyed on this trip. We had 'gator soup, softshell po' boys, catfish, boiled shrimp, crawfish pie, and more. And it was all profoundly delicious.

The only downside of this wonderful meal is that it set the bar high, and none of our other meals - though good - have compared to our Franky & Johnny's feast. Also, we were all wishing we had another couple of hours to sleep it off when 6 o'clock Monday morning rolled around and we had to be up and getting ready for our first day at the works site. But these amounted to a small price to pay for such a great feast shared with such good company.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

St. Paul's work pilgrims stop in Birmingham on their way to New Orleans

Our youth and their adult leaders are on a work pilgrimage to New Orleans to continue the work of cleanup from Hurricane Katrina. Pastor Nik Forti is posting his blog about their travels, and he added an entry about their stop in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday:

It was about 8:30 in the morning yesterday when we left Gadsden, Alabama for the final half of our road trip to New Orleans. But we weren't on the road more than about an hour before we made a slight detour to visit Birmingham. And so we made our way through town until we reached Kelly Ingram Park - across the street from the Civil Rights Institute and across the intersection from the 16th Street Baptist Church.
To read the rest of his blog, click HERE. I will keep you updated through the week as he continues to post.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Monday Funnies

Anglicanism: Scripture, Reason, Tradition. God gave us minds to use.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wear red on Pentecost!

Pentecost Sunday is the birthday of the Church, the day the Holy Spirit filled the first followers of Jesus with fire, and then sent them out into the world to fill the world with their unstoppable Spirit.

As the biblical account tells us in Acts 2:1-21, flames descended but did not burn them. They were filled with a Spirit that could not be turned and could not be quenched, and they changed the world.

It is traditional to wear red on this Pentecost. Please come and wear your red. Come be a part of a wonderful baptism of an infant, hear the Word spoken to us, and then celebrate once again at the Holy Table.

Fill the world with your flame. Come.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shrine Mont memories from Bishop Marc Andrus

Today I have another guest writer for you, the Right Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, the Bishop of the Diocese of California.

He is from Virginia and recently wrote about his serving as a chaplain for four summers at Shrine MontHis article appeared in a recent newsletter of the Bishop's Ranch, the camp center for his diocese north of San Francisco.

If you haven't signed-up to join us for our parish retreat weekend at Shrine Mont July 15-17, you can do so on-line by clicking HERE. It is fast and easy, one click away. Can't you just see yourself in those rockers?

Bishop Marc's recollection of Shrine Mont is below:

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Camp Memories
From the Bishop of the Diocese of California
The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus

I’m writing not about the great, positive impact that camps made in my life, though they did, but rather about the effect I watched come to be with campers at a diocesan camp in Virginia when I was the summer chaplain over four summers.

Each cabin of campers was responsible for the daily camp worship on a rotation. During the full camp term I (and Sheila, when she wasn’t out saving the world, and our daughters) lived in an early 20th-Century cabin built by an Episcopal medical missionary. I invited each group of campers to come to the front porch of the little cabin, where they sat cross-legged all around, with their counselor, and we planned worship.

Planning worship went like this: I would ask the cabin group if they wanted to talk about an idea, a question, or if they’d rather start with a story from the Bible, and move from that place to the questions and ideas. Whichever path they chose, we would then dive into the conversation, for about an hour.

At the end of the hour, we looked back at the conversation, and picked out what seemed most important to us all. I would then suggest how they might begin to move from these central points to a worship service. When they all said cheery good-byes and scooted on to the next activity, it would be the last involvement I had in their worship planning or in the service itself.

At the worship service, I would typically sit in the back bench of the outdoor chapel at the camp. I was always impressed, wowed to see them address questions at the center of life, questions that would be with them as they grew up and lived their adult lives.

At the most obvious level, these campers learned how capable they were to plan and lead worship, worship that was beautiful, funny, thought provoking, moving. Below that, they learned that it was possible to talk about hard-to-talk-about ideas, in a Christian community. They learned that the Christian community represents Christ, the divine, present with them, in all our questions, our laughing and our tears, and, there at camp, in dirt and rain, and hot sun filtered through leafy trees.

Those campers are now in their late 20s and their 30s. Some of them have faced immense challenges, immeasurable loss and tragedy. It is my hope that the way God met them on that concrete-slab porch hanging on the front of an old cabin, or in the chapel, assured them that God would always meet them in their lives, wherever they found themselves. And, I hope that the cabin and the camp got imprinted in their hearts, the acorn-like model of the Christian community, and that they find that living presence wherever they go, whenever they need.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Update from Bill Bergen in the Holy Land

Bill Bergen sent another email early this morning about his travels in the Holy Land, and a few more photos. Here they are for you reflection and enjoyment:

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The [first picture at right shows] the juxtaposition of the ancient profession of shepherding, timeless Roman ruins, and the modern buildings of Jerash beyond, many of which, no doubt are built on what would be archeological sites. 
You see this contrast often. Even in the very modern neighborhood where I am staying, an area strewn with diplomatic residences and embassies, sheep are every night herded through the streets to graze in the vacant, weed-strewn lots that can be found in every out-lying area of Amman. It gives evidence of how quickly modernization has taken hold in this country.

The [picture at left] sums up Jerusalem for me. There is a place outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem that some believe is the real place of Jesus' burial (as opposed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). The official link for the Garden Tomb Association is not accessible here, but I found this short description on a tourist website: HERE.

The Garden Tomb is a very contemplative place compared to the noise and crowding of the Old City, but the claim to be where Jesus' body was laid to rest, while plausible, seems at least as far-fetched as various competing assertions made within the walls. We were conducted around by a retired British rector, a volunteer who comes twice a year to give tours for a week or two. He gave a wonderfully careful tour, never claiming more than the evidence suggested, in all a timely meditation on Anglican resort to reason and of a firm sense of historical perspective.

He made it quite clear that the Garden Tomb Association makes no claim of certitude that this where Jesus was buried. But it does suggest that if in this more contemplative place amidst the Old City's conflicting histories, ever-present clash of faiths, commercial hubbub, crowds and clamor, one can recover a sense of the holy, then the Garden Tomb has achieved its purpose. And he was right: It was welcome relief from what we had experienced in Old Jerusalem, and I found more a sense of God there than anywhere else.

I took the attached picture because it is posted on the door to the tomb discovered in that garden. To me it sums it all up: Much as Jerusalem is fascinating and very worthwhile, it also easy to forget that the Gospel's message is that the physical place, in a fundamental way, does not matter. He is risen, and no longer of this world.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guest post from Bill Bergen in Jerusalem

Bill and his friends, Judy and Larry, in Jerusalem
Bill Bergen, who some of you know from his many years of lay ministry and leadership at St. Paul's, is currently visiting friends (Judy and Larry) in Jerusalem.

The other day, Bill emailed a few photos and a description of what he has seen and experienced so far on his trip. With his permission, I am posting his email and some of the photos. Hope you enjoy:

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Jerusalem -- With the new week and Larry’s return to work, Judy and I headed on Monday to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, the site of Jesus’ Baptism and the ascension of Elijah in a chariot of fire. In contrast to the sometimes speculative claims made by all three faiths for specific sites in Jerusalem, the location of Jesus’ baptism is strongly supported by specific Gospel wording, archeological findings, and early pilgrims’ accounts. 
Until fairly recently the area lay in no-man’s land, and was laced with land mines (ironic for the site where Christians mark the beginning of the Prince of Peace’s ministry). The site is being developed as a pilgrimage site and tourist attraction, and several denominations have churches or are building ones in the area. 
The Jordan is no longer deep or wide, the water having been siphoned off by Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority upstream. As I dipped my hand in the Jordan’s water I gazed across the mere 20 yard-wide stream to the other bank on which Israel which has built its own site to attract pilgrims and tourists.

Looking across the Dead Sea back toward Jerusalem at dusk
That night we drove to a sunset picnic on a promontory overlooking the Dead Sea organized by Irish/Italian friends. Directly across the valley to our south, on a prominent hilltop, is one of Herod’s Palaces. Here, according to Biblical accounts and tradition, John the Baptist was executed by Herod. The wind was fierce, and grew a bit cold, but the scenery as the sun set over the far highlands was nothing short of sublime. And the food was fantastic.

Wednesday was a quiet day as Larry worked and Bill and Judy caught up on rest and reading. On Thursday Larry took Bill to lunch at his favorite local lunch spot where he tasted genuine local food and enjoyed the typical Jordanian hospitality. That night Larry and Judy went to a reception at the Italian Embassy . . .

On Friday the three of us left early to swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 500 feet below sea level. Whereas sea water consists of only three or four percent salt, the salinity in the Dead Sea is 30 percent, and you literally cannot sink to the bottom. This was my first trip, and I found I had trouble standing up as your feet float out from under you. Afterwards Judy and I tried on the famous Dead Sea mud resulting in blackmail-quality pictures (see below) taken by Larry who was altogether too smart to join in.

Pool where it is said Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan
Next came a trip over a steep, winding road over a desolate landscape to the top of Mt. Nebo where Moses first saw the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to enter. He died on the mountain and was buried somewhere there though the exact location is unknown. 
We saw what Moses saw and viewed the ruins of Moses Memorial Church. We also examined the mosaics there before heading on to Madaba for lunch at a well-known local restaurant. From there it was a short walk to St. George’s Church, location of the famous Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land. As spectacular and fascinating as that is, the modern mosaics on the walls of the church were also worth study.

Pilgrims carrying a cross on the path of the Cross 
Saturday’s big excursion was to the north, to Jerash, to tour one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East. It my first visit to such a site, and elicited from me such original exclamations as “Whoa!” and “Wow!” We clambered all over the ruins, examining Roman architectural details, road construction, Roman mastery of acoustics, the layers of history, and even how the Romans managed their scarce water. We had mint tea at the Temple of Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology) and viewed how the columns were designed to sway gently to accommodate the frequent earthquakes in the region, which explains how so many of them continue to stand. 
We also toured with guides and flashlights the chambers underneath the temple that served as the places of sacrifice. As we walked back through the site, we encountered a flock of sheep being herded through the site (see photo -- note the "marching pillars" still buried in the ground at top right). The timelessness of the flock and shepherds set against the modern city beyond the ruins is the sort of contrast you see often here.

Larry and Judy say I am their first visitor ever to be unaffected by jet lag. I know that is largely due to their hospitality and the adrenaline generated by the trip of a lifetime. I never imagined doing what I have done and seeing the sites and sights I have seen, and have been reduced to speechlessness by the wonder of it all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making our own nest

The readings assigned for today's Daily Office are hard to access. They are about harsh judgment (Ezekiel 7:10-15, 23b-27 and Luke 10:1-17) and both passages exude considerable anger. I wouldn't blame you for stopping right here.

Yet is there some way we can enter this without being pulled into an endless vortex of wrath or the looniness of some recent prophets of the end of the world?

To be sure, contemporary Christianity avoids the dark side of the biblical accounts. The prophet Ezekiel is one angry guy, and he is pointing fingers at Israel for abandoning the God who has never abandoned them. The key phrase is this (Ezekiel 7:27b): "According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. And they shall know that I am the Lord."

In other words, we make our nest and lie in it.

In the passage from Luke, Jesus is angry with those communities that have rejected him. He is also talking about traveling light and giving up creature comforts for the greater good (Luke 10:4): "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals."

Lately, I've been thinking of how much we have degraded our earth, this great gift from God that sustains life itself. By polluting the planet, are we not abandoning God? What are the consequences (judgment) for polluting our own nest? We seem unable to part with a few creature comforts for the greater good of the planet. Our nest is filling with junk, the air we breath and water we drink is getting dirtier for millions and millions of people on this earth.

And I'm also painfully aware that I don't travel light. My house is crammed full of books, kitchen gadgets, and things I just cannot part with. When I get on an airplane, my bag always seems to weigh a ton -- and I think I am a good packer; I never have to check a bag. Still, I bring more things than I need.

Yet, we also live in an exceedingly complex world, and we could use our ingenuity and our "stuff" to create a world that is sustainable. I pray these biblical passages will point us in that direction. To truly love God is inseparable from loving and repairing our good Earth.

Here is one way that we can: Episcopal Relief and Development has joined a world-wide effort called "Turning Wine into Water" to bring safe drinking water to the poorest regions of the world. You can read more about it by clicking HERE. It is my hope that at St. Paul's we will look into how we can participate in the next few months.

Photo above: Nils-Udo "The Nest", Earth, stones, birch branches, grass, L√ľneburg Heath, Germany, 1978.

Photo at right: safe drinking water project provided by Turning Wine into Water.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Monday Funnies

I cannot add to the cartoon at right. Enjoy your Monday.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dancing with the stars

Today's sermon is based on the readings for today: Acts 1:6-14Psalm 68:1-10, 33-361 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, and John 17:1-11. To listen to the audio of this sermon click HERE.

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What makes your soul dance? 
Does your soul dance when you listen to music, or the birds singing on an early morning walk? Does your soul dance when you gaze up at the sweep of the sky on a clear summer night, or feel the sand between your toes on a walk on a beach? 
Does your soul dance when you read the words on the page of a great novel or a poem, or when you enjoy a great meal with people you love? 
Human beings are created to dance. 
All of us can dance even when our feet never move, if only we let ourselves dance.
When you dance, what do you see? Which way do you face when you dance? 
There is a poem by Mary Oliver entitled “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” 
She writes about a Sufi poet who is whirling – dancing – and she wonders which way he faces when he is dancing. 
Let me share with you a few lines:

“When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring,
or was he looking
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there…”

Which way do you face when you dance? Inward or outward? Or both? What do you see when you dance? Who do you see? 
Does your soul dance at the touch of someone you love who is near? Does your soul dance at the memory of someone gone? 
Those we love dance with us even when they are gone. Maybe that is why it is so hard when someone we love departs from us and one dance ends before another begins. 
The lessons today are about the pain of the dance ending. Jesus has died on a cross, and his tomb is empty and, yet, somehow he has come back to his followers for a time and danced with them. 
He has come to them in dreams and visions, at meals and on a beach; on a walk on a road and in a closed room, and the disciples learn to dance with him once more. 
Then this dance ends. Jesus is carried into the clouds and disappears from their sight. The Church calls this event the Ascension, and it sounds so weighty and grand and glorious. 
But I would imagine that for the first followers of Jesus, this was not so grand and glorious. As their dreams and visions ended – as the dance ended – they must have felt a terrible silence, and a void in their hearts. 
They must have searched deep within souls for a thread of faith that there would be new steps to the dance. They must have felt very alone, very disoriented. 
Life and faith can be like that for us. There are moments of silence and loneliness, and that kind of silence is not comforting. Sometimes silence is only silence – and our soul craves to dance.
The first disciples went back in their aloneness to their upper room – their hiding place – to wait what for was next. 
They would learn new dance steps. But learning the new steps is not so easy. Feet get knotted up, and they stumbled and fell. The new dance was as disorienting as the deadening silence that came before it. 
Maybe at first those first disciples began to sing. Maybe they sang the words of the psalm: “Lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds…God gives the desolate a home to live in.” 
And then maybe they remembered a few words by Jesus that lingered in the air, perhaps the words we hear in John’s Gospel today. 
In the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about the next dance. The passage is sometimes called “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse” – his last teaching – and his words are presented as a prayer. 
Truthfully, the Early Church added dense layers of language onto his “discourse,” and to me, much of this gospel lesson today sounds stilted and churchy with its declarations of “authority over all people.” That is the unmistakable sound of the Church speaking. 
But listen beneath those layers for the words that dance. Listen for the real Jesus facing both outward and inward at the same time as he dances with his disciples: 
“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” 
Can we dance with this? How can he say we are “one”? We know the world looks than that: Warfare, religious strife, poverty, partisan politics and petty church politics – none of that looks like we are one. 
Or maybe there is another way of seeing us as one. Maybe we are one in the dance precisely because we are different from each other. 
It is because of our differences that we can dance together. We are one in the dance. 
Like the Sufi poet, we need look inside ourselves for the Spirit within us that brings us joy, and we need to look outside ourselves to see who is there with us. We need to learn to dance in this world with people who are different than us. 
We need to learn the steps over and over. We need to learn to dance with the Risen Christ who is in us and among us and in front of us. We need to learn the steps every day of our lives, and take help from others when we stumble and falter in the dance. 
And when we dance, we need whirl once in awhile and see who, and what, is around us. We need to dance with all that life brings us. 
It is in learning the dance that we truly will be one, and truly blessed, and may our dance bring all of us joy. Amen.
I am much in debt to my friend Linda Lee Clader once again for her inspiration. Her commentary in Feasting on the Word (Year A, Volume 2, page 539) highlighted for me the idea of how we are one in our dance together.

Mary Oliver's poem, “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” brought me still closer to seeing the dance in the lessons for today. Here is Mary's poem in full:
Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?
By Mary Oliver

Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold. 
But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard? 
Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education. 
When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring, 
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?

(Why I Wake Early, 2004)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Unholy Saturday

This poem came across my transom a few months ago. I've delayed giving it to you today because it is set in June. And as the title suggests, it is also about Holy Saturday -- the second day of Easter. So what better day to bring this to you than the first Saturday of June, and while it is still Easter for another week?

May all that binds you be freed, may all that hurts you be healed, may everything that captures you be vanquished. And may your summer be full of crawdads and memories. Blessings on this Holy Saturday.

Unholy Saturday
By Philip Levine

Three boys down by the river
search for crawdads. One has
hammered a spear from a
curtain rod, and head down,
jeans rolled up to his knees, wades
against the river's current.
Barely seven, he's the most
determined. He'll go home
hours from now with nothing
to show for his efforts except
dirt and sweat and that residue
he's unaware of sifting
down from a distant sky
and glinting like threads
of mica across his shoulders.
In the distance someone keeps
calling the names of the brothers
in the same order over
and over, but they don't hear
what with the riverbank gorged
with blue weed patches and all
the birds in hiding. Perhaps no
one is calling and it's only
the voices of the air as
the late light of June hangs on
in the cottonwoods before
the dark whispers the last word.
Photo: Rivana River, Charlottesville, Virginia

Friday, June 3, 2011

The objects that fill our lives

Today I bring you a guest commentary from Barbara Crafton, who will be with us Dec. 3-4 to lead us in a retreat and preach at St. Paul's. I am about the same age as Barbara, and a remember well what she remembers here.

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By Barbara Crafton

A striking photograph on the front page of today's New York Times: the space shuttle Endeavor coming in for a landing last night, after completing its final mission. Discovery is already finished its career, and Atlantis has one more run, which will be in July. No more NASA space shuttles will lift off after that.

A television was brought into the cafeteria at school. Televisions weighed a ton back then -- I can still see our principal struggling under the burden as he carried it in. We huddled as close to the set as we could get, which wasn't very close -- there were about sixty of us, and the screen was small. But this was historic, and he wanted all of us to be able to say we saw it as it happened: the first American was about to rocket into space.

We saw him walk toward the immense rocket and disappear into the elevator for the ride up to the nose cone. Clouds drifted back and forth around the rocket's base; this was oxygen, our principal told us. There was no oxygen in space, we knew, and very little of anything else -- the oxygen pumping into the space capsule was all that would stand between Alan Shepard and a terrible death.

Once he was inside the capsule, the elevator descended with its load of
engineers and the final countdown, began. It was eternal. We all chanted along -- 10,,5,4,3,2,1,0...

Liftoff was curiously slow. I had expected it to be like a shot, but the rocket groaned at its fiery leaving of us, fought to loose itself from our pull. When at last it had broken free, it veered crazily off to one side of the screen and then off it entirely, until another camera caught its jagged ascent. A moment or two of this and then it was gone.

Some static on the screen and then we were inside the capsule. The astronaut sat in his seat, trussed like a turkey, surrounded by instruments and dials, his thick white oxygen tube tethering him to life. Only his eyes moved inside his windowed helmet, and his hands moved slowly, jerkily in their clumsy gloves. They seemed incapable of picking up much of anything. We watched the strange sight for a few minutes as Shepard's remained in inscrutable technical conversation with his earthbound partners, interrupted only once by an exclamation in plain English, shocked at the loveliness of the earth he had left
behind. "What a beautiful view!" he said, and the few dozen who have made that escape from its bonds since then have all said some version of the same thing.

Orbiting the moon, then walking on it. Building an island in the darkness of space and then living in community on it for months at a time, even modeling an international unity on that island in advance ofthat unity becoming a reality back home. Creeping across the plains of Mars. Photographing the gorgeousness of heaven, a thousand thousand galaxies in colors too splendid to describe in
mere words. Commuting between the earth and outer space. Even, perhaps, house hunting.

One shuttle will be on display in California and one at the space center in Florida. Discovery will live at the Smithsonian Institution, where many of its ancestors also live in retirement, including the one that began it all, the biplane in which the Wright brothers first gained the sky in 1903.

I am always sad when inanimate objects are set aside. When I was little, I wept when we traded in our car for a newer one. We partner one another, we and our bikes and cars and planes and rocket ships. We shape them, and then they shape us.

But the objects don't mind. They are all right. People who care about history will care for them with something that can only be called love. Other people will come to see them. All will know that, without them, we would not be who we are.

The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm Copyright © 2001-2011 Barbara Crafton - all rights reserved

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feast of the Ascension: We are not left alone

Today is one of the nearly forgotten feast days of the Christian Calendar, the Feast of the Ascension. It marks the day Jesus is said to have "ascended" into Heaven while his disciples watched him rise into the sky. It marks the near-end of the Eastertide season, giving a bookend to the empty tomb of Easter Day.

The gospels, particularly Matthew 27:50-53 and Matthew 28:16-20, portray the departure of Jesus as more chaotic, with ghosts freed from their tombs and swirling about the countryside -- and all of this happening all at once. The Gospel of Luke 24:50-51 is more straightforward, with the Ascension as a hinge moment between the departure of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13.

The Christian calendar spreads these events over 50 days so that we can reflect on each slowly and deliberately, and that is a good thing. But did it happen exactly this way? We are left to contemplate an answer.

The point is that Jesus as human has left us in body but remains with us as Holy Spirit. We are not left alone, we have an "advocate" to be with us always. Yet there is another point as well: it is so very hard to say goodbye. Humans are made for greetings and connections, and letting them go is painful and difficult, especially when someone we love dies. We are physical beings and losing the physical touch of someone we love is heartbreaking. The first disciples must have had a terrible time letting go of Jesus even though they could feel his presence with them in a new way. They had felt his touch and the healing he brought. Now he would touch them in a different way, and that took getting used to. Ascension is about God's glory, but it is bitter sweet like life itself.

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Tonight two of our sister Episcopal churches in the area will combine their choirs to present a special Evensong for Ascension Day -- Emmanuel, Greenwood and St. Paul's, Ivy.  The Evensong is at 5:30 pm at St. Paul's, Ivy, and for directions and more information, click HERE. I plan to be there and hope you can come, too.

Art: The Ascension, by John Singleton Copley, 1775.