Monday, December 26, 2011

The Feast Day of St. Stephen

St. Stephen, first deacon in the early Christian ecclesia, the community of Christ.
And the first martyred for Christ.
Celebrated on the first day after Christmas Day, December 26.

To all deacons, a Happy Feast Day on the occasion of the day of your patron.
To all priests, who were ordained deacon before being priested, may we remember those vows we first took.
To the Church Universal, may we remember that Stephen forgave his murderers. "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (Acts 7:60)
Neither hold against us our sins against one another in your name.
Blessed Stephen, pray for us.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Journal 13

A few nights ago our night hospitality volunteer phoned to say that as he was locking up and checking the building before leaving for the night, he heard a noise in the downstairs kitchen. He phoned the rectory. My spouse went over and they searched together. They found a homeless man making a sleeping place for himself, in the rain, in an alcove off the back of the building against the furnace room. The loud bang had been the broken table, left outside for later pick up, that he was trying to muscle around as a roof. The man had a walker.

He was outside. He was no danger to the building. He was given food and some moving blankets and left where he was comfortable.

The following morning I saw him - the walker was the giveaway - getting ready to leave.

Now, before you raise the alarm because he wasn't invited to doss down inside the building, the primary reason is that in case of a fire, he might not be able to get out in time, nor would the fire company know there was anyone inside. The other is that some people are outside because they cannot abide closed places.

This morning I was walking the labyrinth on the parking lot. I had gotten halfway around on the first lap when I saw a man or woman, impossible to tell, talking to the building, waving arms, arguing. I didn't notice the hawks on the steeple cross until I saw the person, then one of the hawks took flight and I saw the second one up on the cross.

I watched the person apparently holding a heated conversation with the front wall of the church. After about ten minutes of just standing there in place, I left the labyrinth, walked through the small parking lot to the left, and around back toward the main parking lot, so I could see the talking person. That was when I saw the walker. The man was talking with the unhoused church sleeper guy, whose name, by the way, is Michael.

At 8:50 when I was finished walking the labyrinth, I saw Michael preparing to leave. As he headed down the two steps with the help of his walker, I watched from my distance in case anything should happen to him. Actually, he could have reached the sidewalk by taking the walkway around the steps, but he seemed adept at walkering stairs. He reached the sidewalk, took a sip from a Dunkin' Donuts cup and boarded the bus which had just reached the corner in front of the church.

In scripture, Michael is an Archangel, the one who leads the forces of God for protection.

In my mythology, hawks are signs of God's presence. Two hawks at once are, well, doubly powerful.

An hour later I was talking with my spouse on the phone and he told me that when he left for work this morning at 7 he saw Michael sleeping in front of the church doors, under the overhang. It was raining again. I said, "Good. I'm glad he's still with us."

Now, what are we going to do about this, dear reader? How are we going to greet this latest invitation from God to open our doors, spend ourselves prodigally, give ourselves away with no thought for ourselves, and make a place where an unhoused person, man or woman, able or differently abled can make a home?

"The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, by the side of your altars, O God of hosts, my Ruler and my God." (Psalm 84:2)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Journal 12

L'heure bleu

That brief time of the morning - today it is 6:55 a.m. - when the sky turns cobalt. Those brief minutes before any light appears on the horizon. The true herald of dawn is l'heure bleu.

Dark objects are blackest black against that cobalt backdrop. The very air is blue. White objects are tinged with cobalt. My favorite shade of blue.

Even on this rainy morning, the sky is cobalt, the white garage and the water tub in the back yard are blue. And just a few minutes later, gone, as the sky lightens toward dawn.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Journal 11

O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of the people; before you, the rulers will shut their mouths; and for you the nations will seek: come and deliver us, and do not tarry.

Vestry meeting today after worship.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Journal 10

"...the task of the church is to see what God is doing, and join in." (Thinking Anglicans : O Sapientia)

What is God doing in Norwalk?
What is God doing at Grace?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Journal 9

Thursday in the week of Advent 3, December 15, 2011

I've taken up reading Jurgen Moltmann's The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Wow! It's a great read. Now, it's not all systematic theologians about whom a person can say that. Of course, I've been a fan of Moltmann's theology for a long time. This one is great Advent reading.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Journal 8

Tuesday December 13 2011

I have to confess, I worked well after 9:00 last night on the bulletin for Sunday, December 25, Christmas Day. I got inspired, my creativity took me over, and I completed a service of readings and carols and villancicos over which I'm looking forward to presiding. It helps that I have found a way of transporting to the bilingual bulletin the Spanish version of the bidding prayers and the Christmas blessing.

So I am unapologetic towards myself for breaching my Advent discipline. I woke feeling more joyful and positive than I have in awhile. My creative genii was still with me. I did wait until full light this morning to give it full reign. Then I proceeded to draw up the entire bulletin for New Year's Day, Sunday, January 1 - The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Brilliant.

I did realize as I sat down to Morning Prayer that I had not read Vespers or Compline yesterday. Each day is a new start. The previous day is over. Tomorrow is not yet here. Let today be sufficient for me, O Lord my God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Journal 7

Sunday Advent 8 December 11, 2011

"What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part.
Yet, what I can, I give Him: give my heart."
Christina Rossetti

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Journal 6

December 10 2011

Today was the fourth annual Christmas Play, Pray and Learn, featuring a visit from Bishop Nicholas of Myra (died in the fourth century), the story of our Christmas customs, and the story of and veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast is on December 12.

It was a marvelous morning. The kids were great and they had a wonderful time. Lots of adults making lunch in the kitchen. Men working out how to get the traditional Guadalupana music online for the veneration service. A great time was had by all.

If you were there helping, thank you, everyone! ¡Muchas gracias!

Oh yeh, did I say, all of the children were latinos/latinas from Iglesia Betania and San Lucas y San Pablo. 15 in all. I had a ball.

Now off to say Evening Prayer. God's Peace be with you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent 5

Wednesday December 7 2011

Today I observed my Advent discipline by keeping all four of the daily prayer offices. Doing pretty good about observing abstinence from working on the computer except during daylight hours.

Reading: Benjamin Franklin did not like "aliens" - non-English immigrants. Did you know that? He was especially down on the Germans, particularly those who were taking over Pennsylvania, which, he declared, was founded by the English and here come the Germans with their language and customs messing everything up.

Very interesting. So leave one country hundreds of years ago because of being treated as aliens in one's own land only to do the same to others not like oneself who come to that new land for the same reasons our English forebears did. I guess the apple really does not fall far from the tree.

I am really starting to see a theme to this Advent even in the magazine articles I read.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Discipline Journal

As of today, Wednesday Dec 7 2011 I have kept most of the Daily Office since Tuesday of the First Week of Advent. Since making a vow of discipline to not do church work on the computer between dark and full light each day during Advent, and to eschew social media and my blog for that time, I have succeeded about 80%. I just have to check in to see what others are saying and doing on Facebook!

Advent has always been a mystery to me. This year is no different. I have resumed blogging in order to journal those experiences that seem to be part of something mysterious going on. And to keep track of my chosen disciplines.

It is now full dark. Buenas noches. Hasta luego.

Advent Journal 4

Wednesday December 7 2011
Today I was talking with one of the ESL teachers who has taught classes in English at the church where I serve. She hopes one day to branch out into lots of languages and to have true multiculturalism happening at this place.

Now, I ask, just what is going on here?

Advent Journal 3

Monday, December 5 2011

This afternoon I learned that twelve years ago a man from the Church Mission Society came to this church where I now serve and asked if they would welcome a multicultural center here. The Society would provide all the staff. Since the church was between pastors, they said no at that time. The man retired and moved and so there was no more said.

Advent Journal 2

Saturday December 3 2011
This morning I told The Divinity that we needed to see some money, some sign, in order to continue to work toward joining The Divinity's work here.

At lunch I learned that a woman had come into the church looking for a donation box, which we do not have. A parishioner was there and the woman handed him some folding money because she uses the parking lot often. Then she wrote a check for $25.00. She also filled out a prayer card.

Advent Journal

Thursday December 1 2011
With great authority someone said today that he/she does not believe my church is called to multicultural ministry.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Closed for Advent

Dear friends,
I am closing down for the rest of Advent. The mere thought of not blogging, not facebooking, not tweeting makes me feel so free that I have decided to do just that.

Maybe you'll see me again in January.
A blessed Advent, a happy Christmas, and a New Year filled with joy to you all.

The Word of the Day

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I commend the following link for your Advent reflections.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Peace

Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a time of getting ready to receive Jesus, the Christ. It is a time of remembering to always be ready for Jesus to show up anywhere, at anytime, not just in December. It is a time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of his birth on December 25th. It is a time to empty out some of the junk in our minds and hearts and spirits to make a little more space for God to get in and have a conversation with us.

I usually choose a discipline of scripture readings, devotional readings, and art to help me make that empty space in which God can take up residence, at least for awhile, until I fill that space up again with junk.

My Advent discipline this year is different from other years. Inspired by the Practicing Prayer group at my church, Grace Episcopal in Norwalk, Connecticut, I pledged to go without internet or computer from dark until full light each night and morning. This includes doing work on the computer - bulletins, sermons, etc.

Of course, I forgot my pledge, but mi esposo did not. He asked me about it last night at 8 p.m. as I sat down to do some computer stuff. And so, I finished what I was doing, hit "send" and walked away until 6:45 this morning.

And that was hard. When I get bored I head straight for the computer. Being bored is code for I don't want to do any other things that I might be doing, especially tending to my spiritual life. Last night I got out my 8 1/2 by 11 spiral school notebook, which I use for journaling, and began to write. Then I prayed compline and went to bed. This morning I began with journaling three pages of stream of consciousness stuff - mostly about a weird dream about being at a conference in England with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury doing a series of talks, talks, talks - and then read Morning Prayer, did my exercises, made my tea, fed the dog, and then it was full light and I went straight to the computer to check emails!

Of which there were two. One of them "junk mail".

This discipline, or rule of life for Advent, includes no checking email or social networks on my iPhone. Meanwhile, the iPhone of mi esposo kept blinging every time he got mail and it was all I could do to not automatically reach for my own phone and check if I had anything.

So, this morning, my question is this: I'm an old person. I didn't grow up with electronic media except black and white television and the radio and a telephone on a party line (which means one line for several households!). So while I have grown accustomed to - some might say overly dependent on - the computer, it won't be quite so cutting as it might to a 20-something year old.
So I ask, if there is anyone who is has grown up totally connected who is reading this blog, what would it be like for you to totally unplug for, say 12 to 14 hours every night?

Of course, older people may also answer this question!

Blessed Advent to all, and to all an unplugged night!

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Christmas! Isn't it?

Today lighting decorations went up on my street. I first noticed it on the house just opposite - a very tasteful single strand of multicolor lights outlining the roof of the front porch.

And I like it.

Yes, it's Advent. Yes, I know about how early "secularization" decorating for Christmas robs Advent of its meaning, or so some think.

No, it doesn't do that for me. I still observe Advent. I love Advent. Early decorating won't make any difference to me.

Now, I may have written something like this in previous years, but this year it feels different. I realize how much I love lighting displays in this darkest time of the year. I realize that by October, when it's night, and I'm driving in the rain, and I approach the traffic lights and their reflections off the wet road, I feel Christmasy, and I like it. I know that the decorations and lights my neighbors put up today will be gone by Christmas day.

And if I get scroogy about those early lights, if I twist myself into a knot about the violation of Advent, I'll miss entirely something I love. My neighbors won't be celebrating Christmas for twelve days after the 25th. They've already had four weeks of it. So I will enjoy them now.

And so, I'm enjoying the lights. I'm enjoying extending my Christmas joy and mixing it with my Advent anticipation. And today I replied to the first "Merry Christmas", with a Merry Christmas of my own. And yes, we are going to light up a small fir tree in the front yard this week.

Slippery slope? Only if my mind allows it. And it won't. Because I love Advent, and the dark, and lighting small lights in the dark, to remind me of what it is for which I'm waiting.

What are you waiting for this end-of-the-year?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm not cooking this year. We're going out to a restaurant and supporting the waitstaff, of which I was once one.

From the sermon Monday night at the Norwalk Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Service:
Thanksgiving isn't about how thankful you are for what you have. Thanksgiving is about what you have done or been that people are thankful for you, or what you have done, or been. (That's a paraphrase but that's the jist.)

Cheers!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Xena blogging

I knew it was there before my human caretaker.

She had let me out into the backyard and I knew right away there was something back there. I took off, but it had the advantage over me. It can fly. I can't. A delicious squirrel was in its claws. It cleared the fence, turned left between the garage and the church, flew through the stand of red maples and perched way on the other side of the property. All I could do was watch.

My human was way behind. She didn't see it until it was in the air, after I had already realized I had lost the race to catch it on the ground.

Unfair. I've been trying to catch a squirrel for two years. I wonder how I can get wings and drop down on one and fly away with it.

Now, here's the mystery. I found the kill spot. Just a few fluffs of fur, and only one drop of blood, just starting to set up. How can that be?

Note from the human: It took me a few seconds to realize why Xena, Warrior Labrador Retriever Princess of All Norwalk, was running hell bent for leather off the porch and into the yard. I got to the deck and it was low off the ground and rising, with the squirrel dangling from its claws. All I could get for identification was it was a hawk the size of a buteo and had a heavily barred tail. For a birder, that's frustrating. Immature Red Tail? Red Shouldered? Or did I have it all wrong? Was it the Goshawk that breeds along the Rte 7 connector? It all happened so fast. I saw it land. By the time I went into the house for field glasses, it was already gone.

Mind you, this is in the middle of a city in Connecticut. 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A path through the leaves

This morning I was walking the prayer labyrinth painted on the Grace parking lot. As I walked, my mind was trying to untangle the best way to present the new Multicultural Ministry we are founding in a way that people would understand why, and to what purpose.

I looked over toward the part of the labyrinth where one of the Japanese maples had dropped nearly all its beautiful red leaves overnight, and I realized that part of the labyrinth was completely covered. I laughed, because, from where I was standing, I saw I would not be able to find the path when I got there.

However, I walked on, concentrating on my feet, and, I hope, God, and when I got to the part of the labyrinth that was under leaf cover, I realized that bits of the painted path peaked through the leaves just enough so I could see the path and its directional breaks.

And I thought, "Aha! such a metaphor!" And so, we proceed on the path toward being one of the few places in Fairfield County, and in Connecticut, where the Episcopal Church has a presence among Hispanic/Latino people. Even though we have no money to do so. Even though the path appears to be totally obscured.

But maybe not so obscured as we think.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cross posted from Episcopal Cafe - The Church has left the building

Go to Episcopal Cafe through this link and watch this video. It is very thought provoking.

I wrote down four phrases while I watched the first time.
"Hebrews and Brews" Bible study
"The church has left the building."
"Think outside the box.
Where are the people?"
"Collaborate and possibly fail."

Hey out there, to those who read here and belong to other churches or institutions. How can we collaborate for the good of all?
Those of you in churches on the edge of closing: Are you willing to take risks and fail and try again and again?
Would any of you out there go to a Bible study if it was held at Dunkin' Donuts or O'Neill's Pub?

Thought for the day, from my cousin

My cousin Linda Jennings Wilk posted this on facebook.

"We are blessed to be gathered as a people who are called to listen deeply to the Word: as it was spoken to those who came long before us, who ministered and wrote what was told to them, as it comes to us when we are gathered in worship and waiting for revelation, and we must especially be alert to remember that God will continue to reveal the Truth to us ongoing, so that nothing will be set in stone. Just as our lives continue to unfold, so God is still speaking."

Your comments are invited.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The forgotten?

Every Veterans' Day I remember those who served democracy and did not fight.

This year I remember my father, William Paul Thien. He served as a civilian working for Douglas Aircraft in Eritrea and Ethiopia during WWII.

While en route east on the U.S.S. Chateau Thierry, between May 29, 1942 to July 24, 1942, he assisted the ship's company in "operating, maintaining and protecting this vessel...during which time the ship passed through hazardous waters."

"The United States then being in a state of war, this voluntary service on his part was in accordance with the best tradition of the United States Navy, therefore, as Commanding Officer of this vessel, I take great pleasure in commending and thanking him for his services as a member of the lookout and plane watch, which were beyond the normal call of his duties".

The commendation for my dad, dated July 24 1942, is on the letterhead of the U.S.S. Chateau Thierry and signed by B.W. Cloud, Commander, U.S. Navy, Commanding, and attested by G. F. Prestwich, Lieut. Commander, USNR, Executive Officer.

After Africa, my dad was transferred to Wendover Air Base, Utah, to complete some modifications to the B29s. The war ended shortly after I was born in Wendover.

Thank you to all the civilians.

November 11 - St. Martin of Tours

Today is the feast day of Martin of Tours. You can read his bio and legend, by James Kiefer, here.

The core story is that, as a young man, Martin was a soldier. One day he encountered a beggar at a city gate. It was a freezing cold day and Martin, in a fit of compassion, took off his cloak, cut it in half and gave half to the beggar.

That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half of his cloak, and heard Jesus saying that it had been given to him by Martin, a soldier and a non-Christian.

Shortly after, Martin was baptized and became a Christian.

As Kiefer writes, today being Veteran's Day in the U.S., and Armistice Day elsewhere:
"The Feast of Martin, a soldier who fought bravely and faithfully in the service of an

earthly sovereign, and then enlisted in the service of Christ, is also the day of the

Armistice which marked the end of the First World War. On it we remember those

who have risked or lost their lives in what they perceived as the pursuit of justice and peace."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Faithful Departed

This evening I was posting my sermon from this morning on the Sermon Blog and I decided to follow up on someone from my past who I had named as one of the faithful departed ones who bequeathed to me gifts that have made me who I am.

The person I named in my sermon was my music teacher in junior high school. When I was older I learned that he had become a woman, at a time when that was just not done. She lost her job and never worked as a teacher again because of being true to herself as God had intended her to be.

When I looked her up online I found this article. My music teacher was more of a hero than I had thought. She wrote a book titled A Handbook for Transsexuals.

When we were kids in Mr. Grossman's music classes, we made fun of him. He was a little, round man who wore patent leather Italian shoes that came to a point at the toes and he had a way of conducting that was eminently mockable for ten and eleven year olds. We had no idea what we were doing.

In my sermon this morning I credited Miss Grossman for giving me the gift of bravery.

Paula Grossman died in 2003, eight years ago. Thank you, Miss Grossman.
Rest eternal grant unto her, O God, and may light perpetual shine upon her.
May her soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

O Happy Day!

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
to thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia!

Happy All Saints' Day! ¡Feliz día de todos los santos!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holy October, Batman!

UPDATED at 1:34 U.S. DST

It's October 29, the last Saturday of October, the last Saturday before Hallowe'en, and the day of our annual celebration at Grace Episcopal Church, Norwalk, with Iglesia Episcopal Betania.

The Hallowe'en Party for All Ages is today at 10:00 and we're under a winter storm advisory, a flood watch, and a wind advisory. Good grief.

Well, the church will be open. The party goodies will be set out. If anyone comes, we shall do crafts, hear the True Story of Hallowe'en, read about the Witch of Endor and the Dry Bones, and have a comfort lunch of mac and cheese and tomato soup.

For me, one of the high holy days of the year, All Hallows - when the light of the early pre-Christian bonfires meet the Light of Christ. ¡Celebramos!

UPDATE - The party was awesome! At first the adults outnumbered the kids - three kids and at least six adults. We did crafts. We read stories. We heard the scriptures about the Witch of Endor, the Valley of Dry Bones, and Michael defeating the Devil, and we heard the true story of Hallowe'en. Then we played some games, had lunch, and while we were eating the rest of the kids arrived, two of them from a totally different church - way cool! After more crafts and games, everyone went trick or treating in the Memorial Room, going from station to station getting goodies.

Great party. Great helpers. Great food. Really Great Kids! Thank you everyone!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Word for today

From Canticle 11 in the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer, the Third Song of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.

But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you.

Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.

Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rebuild my House

Haggai 1:1-9

1 In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts:These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD's house. 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts:Consider how you have fared. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
7 Thus says the LORD of hosts:Consider how you have fared. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD. 9 You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses.


It is said that St. Francis of Assisi had a vision of Jesus as he prayed in the ruins of a church, San Damiano, outside Assisi. In the vision Jesus said, "Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."


Francis thought Jesus meant him to rebuild the church of San Damiano, so he rebuilt it. However, as his life of poverty developed, he came to understand that Jesus had no asked him to restore ruined buildings but to rebuild the Body of Christ, the Church writ large. Francis was asked to rebuild and renew Christianity.


In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit."

Do you notice he doesn't say the dead wood is pruned. He says that the branches that bear fruit are pruned so they will bear more fruit. The dead branches are simply removed.


Today all Christian communities, of whatever denomination, are being asked by Jesus to rebuild - not our crumbling buildings which no one can afford, but Christianity itself. What are the dead branches in our Christian life? Where we have born fruit, how are we being pruned in order to bear more fruit?


In our Episcopalian churches we are being challenged by dwindling worshipers, dwindling revenues, increasing costs to keep open our huge, honking buildings built to the glory of God. More important, however, much more important, we are being challenged with how, or even if, we have preached the Gospel, the Good News of Christ to date, and how we can preach that ancient Gospel today.


What would be Good News for a person in their late teens, early twenties, who have bought the message from our U.S. American culture that individualism is supreme, that whatever seems right to an individual is moral and that the only immorality is to judge another's moral relativity? Who has bought into the religion called consumerism, which teaches them that the only sin is being in debt.? Who has bought into a definition of abundant life that does not seek transcendence nor the public good, but to buy whatever you want so long as you can afford it? Who are driven to heavy drinking and unbounded sexual activity and at the same time purport to have no regrets? Who have, until the Occupy Wall Street movement, been politically uninterested?


The poor we always have with us because we do nothing to change the circumstances of our culture and our society to make poverty impossible. The sick, ditto. The oppressed, I regret to say, in increasing categories. But what of those who today believe they have no need of the Gospel of Jesus, that God love unconditionally, that God became one of us that we might be joined, reconciled, to God because we can't do it for ourselves, that the beloved Child of God, Jesus, died and descended into hell to bring up those who have been condemned?


And would good news for the rich be the same as good news for the poor, the lost, the sick, the oppressed, and the current generation of emerging adults who have drunk the Kool Aid of individualism and consumerism?


And what about those of us who are already baptized into Christ's body, those of us who call ourselves Christians, what is our Good News? Our Good News is the same as it was for St. Francis: Go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.


That which we see as disaster - the pruning of our finances and people, the burden of our buildings, the cutting out of dead wood - is our Good News, done so we might go out and rebuild the true house of God: Not Christianity itself, but the restoration and reconciliation of all humankind to one another, to creation, and to God>


How will we do that? WILL we do that? Or shall we continue to wring our hands over what once was? By all means, sit in ashes and weep, and then, get up, rise, and walk.


Haggai 2:1, 4-5

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of God came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Yet now take courage...take courage all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.


Do not fear. Get up and walk. Get up and get to work.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bring your own brain

I've been challenged recently with a phrase I use to describe the Episcopal Church, as a church where a person doesn't have to check their brain at the door, and I've often wanted to start a "Bring your own brain Bible study".

So I've been thinking how I could explain what I mean by these brain statements to people who have taken offense at them. And it's this:

Once, when I was a seminarian intern, I learned that, where I was serving, the Episcopal priest had the final say in what a passage in the scriptures meant. In fact, that was what Bible study was: the priest teaching about the scriptures and telling people what they meant.

Now, never mind that the same priest had in fact changed his mind on scriptural meaning from time to time. When a parishioner asked me to tell her what a passage meant, and I asked her what she heard in it and what it meant to her, she was adamant, and so was my supervising priest, that it would be my job, as a priest, to tell people authoritatively what a passage means, full stop. Forget what the lay person might hear in the passage.

I call that having to check one's brain at the door. The Bible printed in English for the first time meant that these scriptures were openly available to everyone, not just the ordained. The consequence was surely going to be that lay people would have their own opinion on what scriptures meant, and they might disagree with the official line of the Church. My take is, Good!

Second example, I remember my now late cousin, a Roman Catholic, who was a man, saying that he hoped he never had to listen to a sermon delivered by a woman, because no woman was ever going to tell him how to think. On probing, I found that this what sermons in his RC church were - the priest telling the people how to think. Whether this was what was actually happening, this is what my cousin wanted and perceived he was getting, so he was checking his brain at the door.

As a lay person, long before I even thought about becoming an ordained clergyperson, I was charged with teaching the five session Scripture portion of a 12 week training for lay people preparing to become Lay Readers, which included planning non-Eucharistic services and giving Holy Communion.

After three sessions, I noticed that one man never took part in any of the discussions. I asked if there was anything I could do. He said, Oh, no, please don't misunderstand. I was raised Roman Catholic. We never even got to read the Bible for ourselves. The priests told us what they thought we needed to know. So all this is entirely new to me and I'm just sitting here absorbing it all like a sponge without even breathing much less speaking.

I've never forgotten that.

Maybe there is a better phrase than not checking one's brain, or bringing one's own brain. I use those phrases because there are people out there who are desperate to be released from what they experience not as Christ's freedom but shackles. I'll work on what phrase I might use instead. Meanwhile, liberating the brains of the laity from the prison of being told what to think and believe is what I have been called to do. So I shall, and I will, continue to do so.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hero

Dan Wheldon, IndyCar driver, died yesterday, Sunday, in a horrific 15 car crash caused by two cars ahead of him touching.

Read Jay Hart's full story about Dan and his life and death here.

Dan came from Emberton, England. He was driving go-karts from age 4 and at age 21 came to the U.S. and landed in IndyCar. He won the Indianapolis 500 twice, in 2005 and 2011. But, as Jay Hart points out, in a sport which values sponsorship over talent, he was without a job. He was driving yesterday only because some person funded a promotion to bring attention to the series. The promotion was for non-regular drivers and Dan, without a sponsor or a team, qualified. He had to start at the back of the pack, and had worked his way up ten spots when the two cars ahead of him touched and that was that.

My husband, Newlin, says that the IndyCar sport has gotten too dangerous. The cars are now too fast for the shortness of the oval track on which they race. They are all identical, and all it takes is two cars touching wheels ever so slightly to cause the kind of crash we saw yesterday.

Read the entire article at the link. Dan was a good man. He deserves our attention. Rest in peace, Dan, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pensée

I know why I'm driven to paint, or pastel, or drawing, or even photography. I've always known it. It's about possession. I'm driven to possess - to capture and possess - a color, a feeling of light, an impression, a thought. It's not about the object. It's about what light does to it, or shadow, or interplay of colors.

And I can never get it right. And I just hate it when it finally changes and is lost forever.

This time of year is the hardest. The bright yellow of the leaves where the sun strikes them directly, the darker yellow - almost a peachy yellow - where the light is indirect, the faint hint of pink along the edges of just a few leaves, the interplay of all those shades among themselves.

And worst of all, most painful, is the inability of catching pure light itself. There's a light that's like it's coming through water or glass. It happens in the morning, as summer wanes. It's so clear, so pure. And even a photo won't catch it.

This is what it's like to have God always receding into distance ahead of one, enticing and never satisfying, never to be owned or possessed but always driving one onward in spite of oneself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bumper sticker of the day

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Paradox of the day

Yesterday I went to Stew Leonard's to pick up a couple of decorative pumpkins and a chrysanthemum plant for the season. People were being kind and respectful in spite of it being crowded. In the parking lot pushing my trolley back to the car otherwise tense atmosphere of cars and pedestrians and children all having different purposes did nothing to lesses the smiles and camaraderie that marked the hunt for holiday decorations.

I found myself contrasting this experience with last Christmas at the same Stew Leonard's. Stews had a flawless system set up for choosing and then picking up Christmas trees, and for negotiating the holiday decoration shop. But the atmosphere of the shoppers was tense, competitive, cranky, to say the least.

So-called pagan holiday - happy people. So-called religious holiday - crabbiness in the extreme. Why, given how tense the run up to Christmas makes us, why do we do it to ourselves? Why do we load up December with such high, unreachable expectations? Why, even though we know we're going to stress ourselves to the nth degree, do we not do something to change that?

I'm beginning to see why Hallowe'en is my favorite religious holiday. And I wonder, as a priest, what I can engineer this year to support people in paring back on meeting all the expectations that the Christmas holiday brings.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Random thought

I read, somewhere, recently that politicians, always having their eye on the next election, are very attentive to - even maybe afraid of - what their public have to say. That is why it is important to be informed ourselves and to contact our legislators and mayors, governors and president when we have an opinion on how we would want things to go.

The thing that stood out for me in whatever it was I read is that politicians respond to grass roots organizing - like the sit-ins in Wisconsin over labor rights. I have been reminded of this because of the occupation of Wall Street in New York City this week. The occupation has its own website, here. I haven't read what the people are protesting, but I see the protest has spread to Boston.

As an aging hippie, I remember those days when my generation sat-in in protest against the Vietnam War and marched against racism. Most recently I've noticed a lot of television air time reliving the music of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan (the early Dylan of my day).

Whether it's sit-ins or occupying territory or writing letters and making phone calls, while still maintaining separation of Church and State, this blog reminds its readers that democracy is not a spectator sport. Democracy is hard work. It requires participation and whatever I may believe about the Wall Street occupation, or the Tea Party, these are examples of participation in the process of democracy.

You have a choice. Complain, or speak up.

In case you don't know where to start, the Episcopal Church makes it easy. General Convention has in most years passed resolutions stating the mind of Convention with regard to a variety of public issues - racism, reproductive rights, poverty, etc. To put our money, so to speak, where our mouth is, TEC has provided the Episcopal Public Policy Network so you can find what the Church says about things, and then make your own decision on what you want to write or phone to your congressperson.

If you sign up with EPPN, they will send you emails on a green background (because before the internet they used to send out green postcards!) advising you of bills coming up for votes in the House or the Senate, or anything else that you might want to take a stand on. If you agree with TEC's take on the issue, you can even write your congressperson with a simple click of the mouse. The point being, if you want democracy, TEC makes it easy for you to know about issues and do something about participating in the process.

Democracy is work. Make up your own mind what you are going to do about it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

St. Sergius

Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Sergius (d. 1392). Because tomorrow is Sunday, his feast will not be celebrated, so this blog celebrates him today.


The collect, that is, the prayer for this day is:
O Most Holy God, you call us to turn away from worldly wealth and to follow you in love and obedience: Give us grace to follow the example of your servant Sergius of Moscow, whose gentleness of life and faithfulness to his native Russia inspired many to commit themselves to a deeper spiritual life in the midst of troubled times; through our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sergius had a special devotion for the Holy Trinity. Thus, the icon pictured to the left of the article linked above bears in the upper left hand corner the Trinity as depicted in the icon by Rublev.

I mention Sergius today because in western Christianity, this season, autumn, the season of harvest, is also the season of stewardship for the churches.

Stewardship has come to mean time to pledge your money to the church you attend, for the spread of the word of God, to keep the building open, and to support the priest/minister and programs.

Stewardship, however, reflected in the life of St. Sergius, is so different. It was about using his gifts and talents of scholarship, poverty, love and devotion to the Trinity to draw all people to Christ Jesus. His preference was for the solitary life, but he recognized God's call when people began to be drawn to live with Sergius the life he had given to God. Hence, stewardship of his life was, for Sergius, a giving over of his desires for the sake of the Gospel.

To the churches I say, stop your pledge campaigns. You all of you know what is needed is you want your church to stay open, to have clergy, and to do whatever it is you are doing in your individual congregations to serve Christ. Therefore don't waste your time reminding one another that nothing you own is yours; it is all on loan to you by God for the work of God's mission in the world of reconciliation, restoration and transformation. Don't waste your time telling one another how much it costs to run a church so give until it hurts. All that is a waste of your time.

Instead, consider how your life is being spent. Consider how your life reflects Christ Jesus to the world. Consider how you use what God has lent you to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned and lonely, heal and sustain the unemployed and underemployed, and restore yourself and all you know and don't yet know to wholeness with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And I tell you right up front: I for one fall woefully short on all counts. May God have Mercy on me, and on us all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

With a hat tip to Episcopal Cafe, Bp. Marc Andrus of California writes on his blog from the House of Bishops meeting in Quito, Ecuador about the second day of the meeting:

' The opening song had this refrain: "May we always have hearts without doors; may we always have open hands". I remembered what I learned this past spring about the Guarani people, they call themselves the people with open hands. What that means is that as they receive something - money, material possessions, emotional investment, ideas - they are thinking about how they can enhance the gift, and pass it on.

The Guarani, through several centuries of experience with colonizing Western culture have learned to call us the people of the closed hands; people who immediately invest energy in how to hold onto possessions of all kinds.'

I am particularly taken by the concept of ideas as gift, and enhancing and passing on the idea as a gift.

Bits and pieces

Monday was national "Talk like a pirate" day and I missed it. Aaaarrrgggghhhh!
A satellite is hurtling toward earth and so far no one knows where it will hit.
Yahoo!Mail went to a new, so-called updated format and it's total rubbish but it's a done deal.
We're in for at least five days of rain and Friday bears a red warning of torrential rains possible.
"Don't ask, don't tell" in the U.S. American military died yesterday, thanks be to God.

One out of five ain't bad!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pathos

Yesterday, under comment moderation, I stopped a comment from one of the blogosphere's trolls. He wrote, "Your church is pathetic...".

Now, I have no idea what he/she means by that. It is not the first time I have seen the identical comment, here in comment moderation and on other blogs who let trolls run free for a limited time until they get boring.

There are a number of ways in which the trolls mean our church, or the church, or Christianity, is pathetic. The first is the camp that adheres to the belief that satan has taken over all the churches in Christendom and we are all damned, but that we clergy still have work to do, in that we are to preach relentlessly that satan is running the churches, you are all damned, and there is absolutely no way for you and me to be saved. That's troll #1.

The next meaning is directed specifically at The Episcopal Church, in that we are pathetic because we have abandoned scripture by embracing gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual and other people as beloved children of God, with a claim on salvation equal to that of those of us who are heterosexual and that we find it in our hearts to bless same sex unions and even marriages. For this troll we are pathetic because we delude ourselves into thinking TEC will grow when actually the trolls' job is to demoralize us into believing that our embrace of all people including gays and lesbians and heterosexuals will cause everyone to abandon us until we disappear completely from the earth.

A third troll is a subset of the second. Our embrace of all people, this troll shouts (yes, it is possible to shout even with the written word!) is a lie, that we are uniformly lily white and European and we don't really want people of any other culture or race in our churches and no one of another culture or race would want to be in our lily white churches. To which the congregation I serve would express great surprise, especially those from Caribbean countries and Africa and Central and South America who not worship with Europeans but continually shape and change who and what we are as Christians.

A fourth troll is the kind that believes individual churches are pathetic - ie the church I serve. For this troll we are wasting our time trying to keep our doors open for the sake of - well, anything. Hence, this troll feels nothing but scorn.

And the fifth troll scorns Christianity as a whole as delusional and even dangerous as well as a waste of time.

Pathetic.
From the word "pathos", meaning "a quality, as of an experience, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, sorrow, or compassion, or the feeling itself, so aroused".

Thanks be to God my church is pathetic. May we continue to grow in pathos all the days of our life, as we continue to ask ourselves what God is doing here and how we can join God in that ongoing work.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holy Cross Day

According to one article on this feast of the church, a day to celebrate the cross was established on this day, September 14, the date in 335 a.d. of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, over the sites identified as those of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Good Friday being a day of mourning, a separate day for joyful celebration seems fitting.

Almighty God, our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross to draw the whole world to you: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thought for the day

"Patriotism is not enough...I must have no hatred in my heart."
Edith Cavell, executed as a British spy by the Germans, 1915.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11

Peace on earth. Good will toward all people.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Prodigal Returns

I have just returned from a four day Cursillo renewal weekend. Exhausted and at the same time glad I went.

I feel a bit squeamish saying I am a Cursillista and greeting people with "De Colores". I don't care for insider language. This Cursillo was the first entirely Hispanic Cursillo in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. I was the only English speaking person there. It was wonderful. So, since Cursillo is a Spanish word and was begun in Spain, in Spanish, and I serve, along with English speaking parishioners, a Spanish speaking congregation, I guess it's not so weird to say, "I am a Cursillista." It's what people who complete the four day weekend are called. So, there you have it.

High point: The Director of the weekend, who came up from Puerto Rico, thanked me tearfully at the end of the closing worship for embracing and opening my heart and my congregation to people from her culture and language and for standing with them. I was overwhelmed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

De Colores

Today I begin to attend the first Spanish Cursillo in the Diocese of Connecticut. The entire weekend will be in Spanish. My kindergarten level Spanish will be taxed to the max and I expect to not understand more than half of what I hear. For me it's not about the content. It's about being vulnerable. It's about giving myself up to the culture I have been called to serve and through that giving myself up to God.

I'll be honest. I have not made a Cursillo with English speaking people ever. In the expressions I have been exposed to, it felt too exclusive. I remember a diocesan bishop not being allowed to celebrate the closing Eucharist because he had not made his Cursillo. The church doesn't need exclusive societies.

The Latino community in Connecticut has seen fit to adopt me. There is no sense of exclusivity in the year of preparing for this Cursillo to which I have been privy. There is openness and joy. And so, this weekend I attend Cursillo.

Cursillo means "short courses". There are short lessons on the Christian life followed by discussion. The hope is to encounter the living Christ. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31) So keep me, and all my friends from Iglesia Betania and other Latino congregations in Connecticut who are making our Cursillo together this weekend.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This is a true story: Death and resurrection

There was once a parish whose worshipers had dwindled to five souls. The bishop came to see them, bringing with him a priest. The job of the priest was to be the closing of that parish.

The bishop told the faithful remnant of five the facts of life. After some silence, one of the five stood up and said, "Well, then. I guess we're dead."

And the bishop smiled.

Do you know why he smiled? He smiled because he knew this truth: There is no resurrection without death. And there can be no resurrection for those who are dead and do not realize it. These five knew they were dead.

The little parish had nothing left to lose. They started to take chances. In their last weeks, the five decided to give themselves away to the neighborhood in which their church stood. They stood out in the cold nights with a meager few bags of groceries and gave them away to anyone who went by. After awhile, they had to build collaborations with neighbors because the number of grocery bags needed to give away were beyond the resources of the five.

By the time the line of those in need of groceries was so long it reached down the block and around the corner, the neighborhood had begun to make common cause with the five, who were no longer five, but more.

The church I serve is not dead, in the sense people mean when they say dead. A way of life is dead. The church of decades ago is dead. Those who remain are healthy and struggling. Having looked death in the eye, they may rise again, and they will rise again, if they will focus on the one true question: What is God doing? And am I willing to follow Christ into that thing God is doing?


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Xena Princess Hero

You're not going to believe me. You're going to say it's all a coincidence. You had to be there.

Yesterday a new dog crossed the church parking lot with its human in tow. Xena was in the rectory back yard at the time and barked the dog its place in the scheme of things here on this corner of Norwalk.

Late last night I was in the upstairs office of the rectory with Xena sleeping on the rug at my side. Suddenly she starts barking, vigorously, warning, almost angry. I followed her as she ran downstairs. I let her out into the back yard and she streaked, barking, for the back chain link fence. I could see a slim human figure there in the shadows. It just stood there. Xena commanded with her barking and the person began to move on. By then I was with Xena and the woman, for this is what the figure was, was saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" as she moved away. I asked what was wrong.

She said the dog got away from her. She's dog sitting for a friend and the dog got out of the house and she couldn't find him. She was, by now, almost across the parking lot and heading out to the street.

Meanwhile, Xena is barking, not at the woman, but off to the right, barking with great command, like I've never heard her.

And here comes the big white dog from this afternoon. Chastened. Not bounding, but coming up to Xena, at the fence, a little ashamed of himself. I called the woman back. Xena held that dog with her will, right there at the fence, barking at it, until the woman got to the dog and tied this pathetic little string she was using as a leash onto its collar.

Then the dog timidly moved its nose close to the fence and Xena let it to the greeting thing.

I have been on the receiving end of the herding instinct of whatever other breed Xena is mixed with, but I've never seen her heard another animal. And what I saw was just that - from a distance, and through a fence, Xena herded that dog, held it, and then, only when all was well, she released it.

That's my Xena! Labrador mix breed warrior princess of all Norwalk indeed!

And now I await Mad Priest, premier herding dog guru (border collies), to set me straight and I'll take it like a man. And still, I know what I saw.