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


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


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.