Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why is all this happening?

I've been in silence for the last day, breaking it at Complines prayers at the Trappestine monastery a few miles from here last night.

Today I am going on an adventure to experience a couple of other churches in Charlottesville. I might write more on this later. In the meantime, it is a good day for a reflection from Barbara Crafton, who will be with us Dec. 3-4. May you have a blessed Sunday. . .

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Awake too early even for me, I rummaged through my bedside drawer in the dark for my earphones. Across the pond, the morning rush hour was already underway -- doubtless the BBC would have something engaging going on as the Brits began their day, and I could pass a pleasant half hour with them in hopes of dozing off again.

But no -- the news was all bad. Both Nikkei and FTSE had contracted as we slept. The madman who gunned down a summer camp full of idealistic Norwegian teenagers is bizarrely calm and reasonable in his explanation of this terrible deed, and the French politico interviewed about it seemed to stop short of condemning the massacre. The polygamist on trial in Texas for the statutory rape of several of his tween "wives" chose to represent himself, then sat in silence in the courtroom for the rest of the day? Starvation in Somalia has reached epic proportions, even for that beleaguered country. The mother of another murdered child appears to have had her phone hacked by another reporter, and an AWOL soldier seems to have come this close to committing another mass murder at Fort Hood. The rest of the world watches in disbelief as American politicians double-dog-dare each other to drive the fiscal credibility of the United States off a cliff. An indeterminate portion of the electorate views this indifference to the effect of our actions on the world economy as patriotic and brave.

I did eventually fall back to sleep, but it was in self defense. And when I awoke for good, the newspaper did not accompany my cup of tea. You don't want to know, Q said apologetically. Out in the garden, an enormous poke plant sprang up overnight in the midst of a prize butterfly bush, its central stem too thick and tough to eat but its offspring coming up all around it thin, tender and just the right color -- this on the same day that I read that the entire plant is poisonous and should never be eaten. How can this be, I asked myself, thinking of all the people I knew as a child who ate it. Of course, they are all dead. But they didn't die from eating poke salad. I don't think they did, anyway. Not all of them, anyway.

Oh, why is everything is so other than as it ought to be? Why do expensive cell phones leap from our hands into puddles of water and emerge, simple and mute as rocks? Why do people go to the shopping mall dressed as if they were about to turn in for the night? Why are there migraines and children estranged from parents, why friends with cancer, why is addiction so hard for people to fight?

Why? Though there are proximate causes for things, there are no cosmic reasons that I know of, beyond the fact that this is not the Garden of Eden and so life is hard. Grand-scheme-of-things reasons for our small annoyances feel ludicrous the moment we suggest them, and offensive when applied to our greater heartaches. Whatever the "why" for the loss that maimed me, one thing is true: it is not sufficient.

Perhaps it is time to abandon "why." It leads only into an improbably decisive past, a past about which we can do nothing. Or it leads straight to a God cruelly punitive, more Idi Amin or Pol Pot than Prince of Peace, a God who can't seem to think of a way to instruct us more creative than by torturing us. This is not a God I know, nor is it one I want to know.

Perhaps it's time, instead, to turn our attention to more earthbound questions: Who and What? How? Where? When? What can happen now? Who stands ready to lead me to it, to show me a new way, now that my old way has died? Where are the things that will help me rebuild? When can I begin? How will something new come to be in my life? All stories, from folk tales to Bible tales (and so many Bible tales are both) are stories of new things coming to be. A story of things happening as expected is no story -- something in it must be odd enough to catch our attention, or we do not notice. It begins to catch us when we begin to ask what on earth is going on here. And what can we do?


Gone is the romance that was so divine.
'tis broken and cannot be mended.
You must go your way,
And I must go mine.
But now that our love dreams have ended...

What'll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What'll I do?

What'll I do?
When I am wond'ring who
Is kissing you
What'll I do?

What'll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?

What'll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?

-- Irving Berlin, 1923

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brian McLaren: Unboxing the Bible

Brian McLaren is amazing to me. He has become something of the sage of the "Emerging Church" of the 21st century, that is to say, he has a gift for seeing the trends in our culture, in our lives, and in the Church as it lurches along trying to be (as the apostle Paul would put it)  "all things to all people." Brian will be speaking at St. Paul's next spring, and more on that as we get closer.

Last month, Brian spoke at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, a gathering of Emerging Church thinkers. Here is a video of some of his remarks, along with a few from Phyliss Tickel and a few other interesting folks. It is worth five minutes of your time and a lot more than that in your thought and prayers:

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Monday Funnies

Church signs are not very Episcopalian. We go with the good old "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You."

But think of what we are missing. Think of the possibilities!

Here are a few real church signs to brighten your day. Enjoy your Monday. . .

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The outrageous idea that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed

My sermon today is based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52:

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Seeds, yeast, nets: ordinary things are where you will find the Kingdom of God.

Last weekend, a good many of us from St. Paul’s went to Shrine Mont for our annual parish retreat.
For those of you unfamiliar with this wonderful place – and there are some – Shrine Mont is an old Episcopal retreat center up the Shenandoah Valley, nestled up against the mountains within hiking distance of the border with West Virginia.

We had a great time relaxing and visiting, and some of us took part in workshops ranging from poetry to yoga.

The kids caught fish, got muddy, and roasted marshmallows. We played softball and forgot to keep score.

And some enjoyed doing nothing at all.

Believe it or not, one of the things I love the most about going to Shrine Mont is – going to Shrine Mont. I love the drive north in the Shenandoah Valley. I enjoy getting out onto the open road and seeing the farms and fields.

The sky seems just a little bigger over there than it does over here.

Seeing the neat rows of corn and grain got me thinking about the parables of Jesus we’ve been hearing the last several Sundays. Most of these stories of late are about seeds.

Last week we heard about the seeds getting mixed up together and growing in a big tangled knot.
Or another story was about the farmer tossing seeds on rocky ground, or into the thorn bushes, or on good soil or bad.

If you conclude that Jesus had an inordinate fondness for seeds you would be right.

The seed story today – the one about a tiny mustard seed growing into a mighty bush – is probably the most familiar of all the seed stories.

Maybe too familiar?

What an odd thing to compare the Kingdom of God to seeds, and to the plants and weeds that grow from them. Religious people in the time of Jesus would have been shocked by these stories.

They would expect a holy man like Jesus to give them grandiose religious images like a majestic cedar tree or a marble temple or God riding on a Chariot of Fire.

They would not expect to hear God’s kingdom compared to seeds and weeds.

And they certainly would not expect to hear that God’s kingdom is like a mustard bush. I can safely guess that many of those who first heard this story from Jesus would have been mightily offended.
Why? Because a mustard bush is a scourge of the grain fields.

To get the full impact of this parable, it may help you to know something about mustard.
In our time, we consider mustard a delightful condiment, and we cultivate it as an herb. Not so in the time of Jesus.

Mustard was considered a weed, and farmers dreaded it when mustard sprouted in their fields. Mustard weeds could grow the size of a house, and when they did, mustard would take over the neatly cultivated rows of grain.

So when Jesus says the mustard seed grows into a mighty plant with birds nesting in it, he is talking about a shrub considered by many as an unrespectable weed.

Indeed, biblical scholars will tell you that the mustard seed parable is something of an ancient inside joke.
Jesus is making fun of the Temple priests who indeed describe the Temple in the grandiose imagery of mighty cedars of Lebanon so large that birds nest in it.

Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God will grow not like a grandiose cedar, but more like a mustard weed from tiny ordinary seeds – seeds that no one usually thinks are useful or important.

The Kingdom of God is mighty, but not the way the Temple priests think.

The kingdom won’t be orderly growing in neat rows. God’s Kingdom is entwined with all the other plants of the field, and nothing will stop these plants from growing. And then this parable gets worse for high-and-might Temple priests.

They must have wondered what kind of farmer would throw seeds everywhere, or mixes all the seeds together with wheat and mustard and thorns and put them on rocky ground and loamy ground?

Farmers don’t do that.

Farmers grow things in need rows and they do their best to keep the weeds out. Seeds are valuable, and farmers don’t waste them, and certainly don’t mix them together in the fields.

But the farmer of the parable does exactly that – and that is precisely the point Jesus is making with these stories.

The farmer – the God of abundance – has so many seeds, and so many kinds of seeds, that the farmer is not afraid to toss as many around as possible, and get them all jumbled up.

I am absolutely convinced Jesus wants us to go one more step with this: Everyone is included in this great holy mix of seeds that is God’s kingdom, especially people who are considered outcasts like the weeds.

The lowly and unwashed may look like weeds to the world, but to God they are mighty. The meek and the humble of heart shall inherit the earth.

And the sower of these seeds?

The sower is not stingy. The sower has an overabundance of seeds and plants them with abandon.
There is a challenge to us in this. We are being pushed to plant God’s seeds, and plant them extravagantly, on good ground and thorny ground, rocky ground and loamy ground.

We won’t know what will grow until we plant – and what comes of these seeds may not be as we expect. Be ready to be surprised and delighted.

The weeds may be just as beautiful as the orchids, more beautiful than we might ever have imagined.
This summer, and always, watch for the Kingdom of God in the small things and in the unexpected places in your life, in the places you go and the people you meet. What small seed have you and I overlooked? What looks at first glance like a weed that is really a gorgeous mustard plant?

Let these seeds grow in your life – cultivate them in your heart – and may the harvest of your soul be plentiful always. Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Monday Funnies

It's time to get back to writing in this space, so what better day than a Monday? Welcome back to the Monday Funnies from our joke department led by Patrick Hill. As always, we bring you a few smiles at the expense of organized -- and disorganized -- religion. Enjoy your Monday . . .

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A new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks the older priest to sit in on his sessions.

The new priest hears a couple of confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions.

The old priest suggests, "Cross your arms over your chest, and rub your chin with one hand and try saying things like 'yes, I see,' and 'yes, go on,' and 'I understand.'"

The new priest crosses his arms, rubs his chin with one hand and repeats all the suggested remarks to the old priest.

The old priest says, "Now, don't you think that's a little better than slapping your knee and saying, "No kidding?... what happened next?"

* * *

The young couple invited their aged pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the pastor asked their son what they were having. "Goat," the little boy replied.

"Goat?" replied the startled man of the cloth, "Are you sure about that?"

"Yep," said the youngster. "I heard Pa say to Ma, 'Might as well have the old goat for dinner today as any other day.' "

Monday, July 4, 2011

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

My sermon for Independence Day 2011:
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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Today we remember Americans of two centuries ago, some whose names are familiar – Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton – and others whose names are nearly lost in the mists of time. One of those names nearly forgotten, The Rev. Jacob Duche´, was the rector of the most important church in America – Christ Church, Philadelphia, the symbolic focal point of British monarchy and the Church of England in America in the 1700s. 
Anyone who was important in America passed through the doors of Christ Church. Members of his congregation included Benjamin Franklin. 
On the afternoon of Thursday July 4, 1776, Duche´ watched as the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain.

Then Duche´ walked across the square to his church. He convened a special meeting of his Vestry, his board of directors. With his Vestry’s concurrence, Duche´ opened his parish’s large Book of Common Prayer, and he began crossing out all references to the King of England. 
He replaced those references with the “United States of America.” 
In a very real sense, the American Episcopal Church was born in that moment with Duche’s act of defiance against the mother country and the mother church. 

Duche paid a heavy price – he was jailed by the British and eventually exiled. 
Crucially for all of us, an idea was born in that moment, though only a handful of people could quite then see it: Religious freedom. 

Duche’s pen struck a blow against not just against a colonial power, but against the idea that government could dictate to its people the religion they are to follow. 

Think about how radical that idea was: every government of Europe had a state church. Spain and France were Catholic, the Germans and Danes Lutheran, and the English were Anglican. 
But in America, there would be no official state church. 
The idea was nearly still-born. It took a terrible war for independence to make the idea of religious freedom a reality. Other generations would come after and be faced with new challenges and assaults upon this ideal. 
And so it is meet and right and our bounden duty that on this day, the Fourth of July, we celebrate Independence Day and we remember this precious gift of religious freedom that the founders of this nation gave to us. 

The founders of our nation were not necessarily more saintly or more Godly than us. On many things they fell woefully short. They could not, or would not, end slavery, leaving it to another generation and a terrible civil war that nearly ruined this nation. They were expansionist to a fault, blind to the indigenous people of this land. And many a huckster would come wrapping themselves in the flag. 
But on this day in 1776 our forbearers got one thing right – one thing very right – and it changed the world beyond these shores for all time ever after:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Over time, those words inspired millions from black Africans living in apartheid in South Africa to those who freed themselves from the shackles of segregation here in the South. Those words could not be repealed. 
We appropriately remember today the author of those words, Thomas Jefferson, here in this church within a few yards of the great university he founded. 

On this day in 1776, Jefferson got it exactly right: he understood that if a particular religion was imposed by a government as the “official religion” then that government could not possibly treat its people fairly. 

On a deeper level, Jefferson understood that religion coerced by the power of government was a false religion. And official government religion could never be truly a religion of the heart. 

If the Creator created all men – and women – equal, than all should have an equal chance of experiencing God their own way. They could only do that if government stayed out of religion. 
The United States would not and could not be a “Christian nation” but a nation that would allow people the freedom to discover their God, each in their own way – or be free of any religion at all. 

That is why it is wrong to impose prayer in public schools or use the vast power of the state to harass and discriminate against Muslims. 

If some are not free to practice their religion their way, then none of us are free.
Our independence as a free people was hard won, paid in blood, toil and tears. Our independence was not just from a colonial power, but from religious demagoguery that haunts many lands still today. 

As we celebrate today the Declaration of Independence, we should also remember the other great document Mr. Jefferson penned about which he was equally proud: the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom: 
"Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness..." 
We live in a time when the value of religious freedom is under assault by those who would use the power of government to impose their religion on others.

The Talibans of this world are not just in Iran or Afghanistan, but here in our own country among pundits and politicians who would impose their own idea of Christianity on the rest of us. 
When we stand up for those who feel the breath of discrimination based on their religion, we stand with the founders of this nation and their highest ideals. We do well to celebrate our freedom as nation this Independence Day and we do well to never take for granted this precious gift: our religious freedom.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nominations for Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Virginia now open

This announcement came via email yesterday, and I commend it to your careful consideration. The election of our Bishop Suffragan will be next April to replace David Jones who is retiring.

Bishops suffragan have the sacramental authority of bishops and sit in the House of Bishops with other bishops. But their administrative authority is at the discretion of the diocesan bishop (Shannon Johnston). Basically, a Bishop Suffragan is an assistant bishop.

The duties of our new suffragan develop are in a profile of the diocese (noted below in one of the links). The duties were written by Bishop Johnston, and those duties are:

Our Bishop Suffragan will be an integral part of the team of bishops who lead our diocese, a team led by our Diocesan Bishop Shannon Johnston, who has prepared this job description for our new Bishop Suffragan: 

  •  The Bishop Suffragan will support and serve the diocese and its ministry priorities by providing oversight for a number of specific ministries as assigned by the diocesan bishop. 

  • The Bishop Suffragan will be responsible for new and continuing congregations (including oversight of both continuing congregations and, should the Diocese of Virginia prevail in the property litigation, the discernment process for use of church properties recovered for the mission of The Episcopal Church at the conclusion of the current litigation), overseeing the work of the Commission on Congregational Missions to provide direction, support and guidance to mission churches. 

  • He or she will oversee our efforts in multicultural ministry with the Diocese of Virginia’s non- English speaking congregations, which currently include four Spanish-speaking missions, two Spanish-speaking worship services, two Sudanese language worship services, two Korean missions, and one Vietnamese mission. The Bishop Suffragan will work to expand the ministries and create new ministries to serve the whole diocese. 

  • The Bishop Suffragan will support the Diocesan Bishop in the mission priority for youth and young adult ministries, including the exercise of oversight of college chaplaincies and the ongoing creation of new ministries serving young adults. 

  •  The Bishop Suffragan will maintain a full schedule of parish visitation and provide regular Episcopal oversight and pastoral support for clergy, in addition to other duties as assigned.

The announcement from the Nominating Committee is below, including to a profile of the diocese:

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July 1, 2011

Nominations are open! The Nominating Committee for the next Bishop Suffragan invites your suggestions of names for consideration from July 1-31, 2011. The Committee seeks a comprehensive field of qualified persons from the Episcopal clergy; therefore, we desire that the list will include many women, African-Americans and others from minority groups. 

Please keep in mind the following:
  • All nominations will be kept strictly confidential and submitted directly to the Nominating Committee.
  • Nominators must have the consent of the potential nominee in order to submit a nomination.
  • If you have any trouble with the nominating process, please contact the Nominating Committee at
  • Those whose names are suggested will be asked to submit a résumé (or curriculum vitæ), their current Office of Transition Ministry (OTM) portfolio, answers to essay questions provided by the Committee, the references of three people and the names of the bishops under which they have served. The Committee will review this information with strict confidentiality.
We wish to thank the almost 1,100 respondents to the survey of the Diocese, which was created and analyzed pro bono by the president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, Scott M. Broetzmann, a member of St. Paul's Church, Alexandria. The responses were sufficient to provide relatively precise data for creating the profile. View the profile online.

An Executive Summary of the survey results is also available for viewing.

Representatives of the Nominating Committee interviewed Bishop Johnston and Bishop Jones as well as the staff of the Mayo Memorial Church House. Data from these interviews will inform our interviews with potential nominees, and provide a sense of the scope of the next Bishop Suffragan's ministry.

Please take note of the following important dates:
  • The Nominating Committee will receive names for consideration July 1-31, 2011.
  • The Nominating Committee will present a slate of not fewer than four nor more than six nominees on February 3, 2012.
  • The Transition Committee will host a series of walkabouts for the nominees March 19-24, 2012.
  • The Diocese of Virginia will elect a new Bishop Suffragan on April 21, 2012.
  • The consecration will occur on July 28, 2012.

Please visit for more information and future updates. As always, please keep the Diocese and all those involved in the nominating process in your thoughts and prayers. 


The Members of the Nominating Committee

Friday, July 1, 2011

Boston Common's outdoor Cathedral

I have another short video for you today. This one features my seminary classmate, Kathy McAdams, and her outdoor Common Cathedral in Boston that serves street people. Church is gathered where God's people are and she is serving them. Have a look: