Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gladiatorial Auto Racing

Last night NASCAR ran the Daytona 500.

The race was supposed to run the night before, but NASCAR doesn't race in the rain, so it was delayed.

Within the first lap last night there was a crash involving many cars and drivers.

As if that weren't enough, somewhere around lap 158 Montoya's car had mechanical failure and skidded into a truck with a jet drier, which was out there drying the track. The truck, with its jet fuel on board, blew up into a fireball. Both Montoya and the driver of the truck managed to escape from their vehicles. The track was on fire for, it seemed, forever, and total time to clear everything up took two hours, at which time the race resumed and finally ended early this morning.

You can read all about it here. If the link works.

But what gets me is this: Mi esposo has read the comments online and the fans were thrilled. "Best Daytona 500 ever!" is the concensus. That's what NASCAR has come to - it's all about the wrecks, and the huger the better. Maybe it always was, I don't know. All I know is that today's fans won't be satisfied even if there is a death.

Oh wait, there was one terrible one, wasn't there? Dale Earnhardt. And still, NASCAR meets Survivor is where it's at now. Maybe it just seems like a live video game.

NASCAR, time to forget what your fans want and go back to racing. Period.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The bishop and the missioner

Yesterday was the visitation of the Right Reverend Ian Douglas, Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

He preached in English, with paragraph by paragraph translation by the Reverend Jose Diaz, Missioner for Iglesia Episcopal Betania, partners with Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut.

The sermon, therefore, runs about 30 minutes with translation, so because of YouTube's time restrictions, it appears below in two parts. Here are the links.

What do you think?

The visitation, by the way, went wonderfully. The worship, accompanied by singers and band led by Music Director Richard Andrews, was both contemplative and uplifting. The lunch after, with foods from both congregations, Grace and Betania, was delicious and the fellowship rewarding. And the meeting of the two vestries (boards, or governing bodies, in non-church terms) with Bp. Ian ("call me Ian") was inspiring.

Many thanks to everyone who was there, everyone who made the day possible, and to Bp. Ian.

By the way, we topped off the day with seven of us going down to the Open Door Shelter in South Norwalk to take our turn in leading Sunday afternoon worship there. Wow. I am overwhelmed by how God chooses to love others through us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Well, any illusions we might have here in Norwalk that we are in a city are shattered when we face the wildlife that lives here. We may be a city, but possums, hawks and other wildlife have adapted to living side by side with us.

We regularly have possum in the yard. Someone hangs out under the ground-level deck. And this morning, just as dawn began, between that time of total darkness and first light, I stood at the upstairs back window and watched a short legged, striped animal waddle down the back yard toward the back fence between the yard and the church. I thought, "Now what shuffles like that. A badger? We don't have badgers around here. OMG. A skunk!"

A skunk it was. And as it reached the end of the yard it turned right and snugged under the blue tarp that covers some yard equipment that won't fit in the church's garage and, knowing that even a skunk probably can't squeeze between the holes in a chain link fence, I have no idea where it is now. But I'm not looking under that tarp!

But Miss Xena, Warrior Labrador Mix Breed Princess of All Norwalk, has no such qualms. She knows things hide under that tarp and she checks it out all the time. One of these days...

You gotta love city life in these days when we humans think we are subduing the planet only to find that lots of the creatures of the planet are more adaptive than we ever imagined. This is one hubris-driven battle I hope humankind loses. I don't want to be sprayed by a skunk in my own back yard, and at the same time, I was and still am totally delighted to watch that striped furry waddle in my own back yard. Thanks, God.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes to Go

Well, I have come a long way from the last few years, when I was snarky with my Catholic secretary for wanting to just nip in on the 11:00 service to get her ashes without going through all the work of earning them by sitting through the entire service, to this morning, standing on the sidewalk at 7 a.m. with ashes which we blessed right there in a brief form of the complete service, and then used them to sign anyone who came wanting this symbol of penitence and mortality.

Ashes to Go. I am a convert. People's intentions mean more to me, now, than the churches desire that they partake in worship fully.

It was chilly, and a breeze came up at about 7:20 that made my hands very cold. However, I was dressed for it otherwise, with a longsleeved heavy weight t-shirt under my clerical shirt and a flannel shirt over all, under my alb and stole. I mean to go out and buy a pair of gloves that I won't mind cutting the right thumb off of so I can do this again next year.

I had a helper, Jeff, who wheeled the heavy, metal "Grace Episcopal Church" sign from the church to our post in front of Dunkin' Donuts at 650 West Ave in Norwalk. I had cleared this with the manager of DD the week before. Jeff and I did an abbreviated form of the full service, and blessed the ashes we would be using. Almost immediately, the first person came up asking for ashes. Her face glowed. She left an offering!

We were there from 6:50 a.m. (we were early) until 8:00 a.m., at which time the Catholic church across the street was beginning its service in the church. During that time twelve people received ashes. And it felt as wonderful as if there had been 120. One woman stopped at the curb and rolled down her window. I received her assurance of penitence, assured her of forgiveness, and imposed ashes on her forehead. She had tears in her eyes.

I also blessed every vehicle that drove by on West Ave, which is pretty busy. Bus drivers waved, people in cars waved, garbage men waved, one man, I could see, crossed himself as I waved the sign of the cross toward him in his car.

If my hands hadn't been so cold, I would have wanted to stay out there. And at the same time, there was a fitness to ending at 8 a.m. leaving the rest to the Catholic church.

Nuts and bolts: I picked up a tip from the dean of the cathedral in Delaware when I was her curate, of having a little bit of olive oil on the edge of the ashes to rub my thumb in so the ashes would stick better. Outside, a couple of drops of jojoba oil in the lid of the tin in which I was holding the ashes, immediately congealed and it was perfect that way - only getting just enough on my thumb to pick up ashes that then stuck well on the forehead.

A brochure with prayers for the season of Lent, in English and Spanish, was our handout. It includes English, Spanish and bilingual services and other Lenten offerings.

Our inside services today are at 11:00 a.m. (English) and 6:00 p.m. (Spanish/English bilingual). I'm so tempted to go out from the 11:00 service and stand in front of the church where cars and buses and trucks come down the hill straight at us and turn right in front of the church. I'll take the ashes with me, and the Ashes To Go sign, just in case, and mostly I'll just keep signing the cross over all vehicles and love, love, love the privilege and the blessing of being able to do this.

May you have a challenging and blessed Lent, everyone. God bless you all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon for last Sunday in Epiphany

Today's Sermon for the Transfiguration is here

What do you think?

Audio only here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I finally get it

Please go to this post at Episcopal Cafe right away. I was just having this very conversation with some parishioners this afternoon. Hey y'all - I get it!

Click on the link or copy and paste this:

I'm going to be reckless here and push the envelope a bit further.
One of the parishioners pointed out that The Church Institutional has figured out that what we have been doing is no longer working, so things that used to be done in the past, say, forty years by paid staff is to now be done by volunteers in networks. And that is going back sixty years to the all-volunteer church, which is unworkable because most people have day jobs (or night jobs and sleep days) and they are already doing all the volunteering they can.

I pondered that for some minutes as the parishioners were readying themselves to leave. And then the penny dropped. I was just in a group looking at "closing churches, sharing resources", and the only way this was being looked at was small churches in financial difficulty closing and sharing their resources with the churches that already have plenty but are in a different context, so why would contextually missional struggling congregations go someplace else where what they love is not needed or wanted. Now I'm sure that was not the message that was intended to be sent. It was the message I heard. And as I pondered that in the context of what my parishioner said about going back to the volunteerism of the fifties, I thought, Aha, close those small parishes and send their resources - read people - to other congregations so those other congregations have enough resources - read volunteer people - to do mission/ministry.

I admit this is pretty cynical of me. It is possible for some struggling congregations to merge. It so often ends in tears, everyone trying to hold onto their own stuff. It requires giving up everything, including power and being in charge, and starting over, it seems to me, and that takes extraordinary people and extraordinary leadership.

And in the end, it is all about the money.

Here's my solution.

You are a large congregation, with plenty of money, near a couple of struggling, so-called dying, small congregations that have vital, thriving, participatory, contextually oriented ministries, working with God on God's mission where they find themselves planted. Instead of killing that contextual ministry by closing the church and uprooting the people and sending them somewhere they might not be wanted for who and what they are, you, the large congregation, tithe to those congregations 10% of your best leaders, 10% of your biggest givers, 10% of what those givers give to your church, 10% of those under 35, 10% of those who know how to raise funds, how to do communications, how to do administration, how to manage a building, and 10% of your children and youth. Have these people pledge faithfully to stay in that context for ten years and learn from the people already there. Not remake them in the image of Christ as found in your place, but have your tithed resources remade in the image of Christ as found in the struggling place. After ten years, if the congregation has not become "viable" (probably read "grown in money"), then everyone can go back to from whence they came and the smaller church can close.

Now what do you think of that? Who among you is going to have the courage to be the first in your diocese to jump on this band wagon?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The snow that wasn't

The 2012 Farmer's Almanac predicted a snowy winter for my part of New England. There even was supposed to be a blizzard January 30-31.

So far, we have had a couple of inches before January, and since then, nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Rien.

Most of the people I know are delighted. From an economic point of view, I am delighted for the congregation I serve. The 2010-2011 snow season was backbreaking financially.

And then we were forecast 2-4 inches overnight last night into today, one day when I didn't want snow, because there's a woman in hospital I needed to visit, and a memorial service some way north of here off the Merritt, and travel would be dicey.

I should not have fretted. This was the non-snow event of the season - a dusting when we awoke, that melted away by dawn, and a snowfall that continued for a few hours and left no sign of its coming.

I know why most people don't want snow. Most people have no sympathy with this need my soul has for snow days, snow days that shut everything down.

Lent is coming. Only a week and a half away. I'm deep into planning for study/prayer/reflection opportunities for the parish and community at the church I serve. My greatest hope is that in whatever I plan, for myself as well as for others, it will do what a good snow does for me, the kind I wake up to with the ground and roads covered and keeps on going all through the daytime hours until dark when I can see it no longer.

That kind of saturation of gentleness and peace, cold that blankets, and edged with danger, or maybe just challenge. Something that stops us in our tracks, making us rethink what is important, what is necessary, and what can be let go of, or changed to meet the situation. That's what I look for in Lent.

Maybe a Sunday morning before church forum with guests that stay with us through worship - Family and Children's Agency, New Day Center for day laborers, English as a Second Language literacy volunteers, Voices of the Faithful, the Open Doors Shelter - things like that, things that would challenge us to engage the community and even make us uncomfortable.

Wednesday night soup suppers with a dvd "Walking the Bible" - not a travelogue alone, but a surprising spiritual journey that asks questions, like "What if the creation story is some sort of race memory of when we humans left off being hunter gatherers and became farmers? If the Bible is not science, is it enough? If you give up looking for factual proof, what then are you looking for?" (And, by the way, can you shift from calling Canaan "KAY' - nin" and call it "cuh-NAHN' "?)

I shall make the plans, with some consultation. And I also will remember this: In New England, the longer the real snow holds off, the greater the possibility that it will all come at that time of year when you have the most plans to be interrupted - LENT!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moving into the 20th Century

I'm so excited - we're finally working on videotaping and/or audio taping my sermons, with the end goal to be, if they work, to video and/or audio tape all the services. Then they would be imbedded someplace on the graceb2u.com website.

Way cool! The first attempts, at Christmastime, did not work well soundwise. Today's trial was much better. The audio is very clean. Newlin put his iPhone on the lectern and recorded through the phone. The video sound still has a hum in it but it's not the end of the world. The problem of the sunlight from the clerestory windows washing me out has been solved by repositioning the camera.

Now, the next test is, can I figure our, first, how to link to the podcast on this blog. My toolbar has "add image" and "add video", and there's a link to other websites. Well, we'll work on this and if we figure it out, I'll edit this post.

I am very excited about this. And Newlin says, "I'm pumped!"

We're ready to go. It is here