Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Five: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Sharon has posted her first FF. 

Today we play off of one of my favorite and most memorable Friday Fives to blog from: Decisions, Decisions posted by Songbird last July 23. I went back to that post to make sure I had new choices for you to make. I found out -- again -- that she was then, as I have been recently, in the midst of a discernment process and thinking about what goes into decision making.

A decision from history: There is a chair that still sits in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). Legend has it that it was George Washington's chair, the back carved with a half sun. Benjamin Franklin would look at it and wonder whether it was a rising or a setting sun. Eventually Franklin decided it was the hopeful symbol of the rising sun, a sign of the future of our new republic.

How do you decide? Check out the following pairs and tell which one of each appeals to you most:

1) Sunrise or Sunset  As you get older the clear distinctions --the either/or's in your life begin to blur.  Before I retired I would have said I was a sunrise sorta gal.  My best working time is still mornings.  But when you don't have to be somewhere in the mornings, it is not surprising that I stay up later.  My companion is really a night person whose best working time is between midnight and 3am.  Now you can understand how we have been so compatable!  We hardly see each other.  8>D.  But I am philosophically more a sunrise person: hopeful, wanting to see what is over the next hill even if I am not going to be able to get to the promised land.

2) To the Mountains or To the Beach  Mountains!  Having grown up in the flatlands of Texas, I find the mountains the place I want to visit. I just can't go too high.  Nothing over 8,000 ft or I get sick.  Also, being a fair-haired and skined Celt, the beach is not fun all greased up to prevent  the lobster-look.  I am not fond of sand.  J, on the other hand, is a beach kind of gal.  She also turns wonderfully nut-brown in the summer.  So we do one or the other. 

3) Coffee or Tea  Depends on the season and how I am feeling.  During the summer I am definitely an iced tea person.  We do sun tea in the afternoons (in this heat it only takes 15 mins).  In the winter I am a coffee person in the mornings and iced tea the rest of the day.  Since I am decaffinated, I do not have to have coffee in the mornings. But I have a hard time here in TX.  None of the churches I have attended make Decaf.  There oughta be a law.... At Starbucks I am a mocha person.

4) Advent or Lent As an Anglican it has to be Advent.  We are just too incarnational to be lentish.  I love the purple/blue of the season.  I love the anticipation, the O Antiphons, the 'stir up' prayers, the greenery in the church but without the red of Christmas. 

5) "Raindrops on Roses" or "Whiskers on Kittens"  I am Both/And on this one.  They tell you on the Meyers-Briggs test that as you age you tend to inhance your weaker side as you get older.  I'd give anything for some 'raindrops on roses' here in TX these days.  Raindrops on anything would be appreciated in this drought!  Whiskers on Kittens are fun.  We have a not-yet one year old cat who is fully grown but still kittenish--in other words she wants to play when our 9 yr old tom does not.  Her whiskers grow a bit funny and she makes funny noises when she finds a bug or something she can jump on.  Cats are a favorite thing.

BONUS: Tell more about one of the pairs. Why did you choose it? Difficult or easy choice? A story from your own experience
Sunset:  I am 66 and in my first year of retirement.  I know that I will again have the responsibility for a parish when the court decisions come down from the schism in our diocese.  I have not appreciated 'retirement.'  I am not ready to quit doing what God has called me to do.  I have found retirement to be a restless time, a time of frustrated ideas, some illness and BOREDOM.  I can't just read murder mysteries and watch tv and be happy.  I am not ready for sunsets just yet.  I have been thankful for the rest which I needed.  I am also thankful for having had some chances to supply this summer.  But I can still hear the firebell....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway, Immigration and Faith

I have seen only bits and splatters on the terrorism in Norway. My heart goes out the people of that country. As the news began to trickle in over the white noise of the American press reveling in what starlet wore or got arrested for, I was shocked by the fact that the terrorism that had been acted out was home-grown. Norway seems to have its own version of the Michigan Militia or white supremacists. I mourn for those who have died—many of them young people. I mourn for the nation and King Harald who openly wept for his people at memorial for the 92 who died. It is a horrible thing for a country that for the most part is not often in the world news.

It is not hard for us to think of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombings. It is easy to act in vengeance and to blame it on insanity, ideology or some disorder in society. And when the world looks upon such killings it tries to place the culpability for such acts on some great social phenomenon. The killer seems to blame left-wing politics and immigration for his actions. Others would blame right-wing rhetoric and exclusionism for the actions of the killer. But whatever the source, it is the lack of the ability to protect the commonweal that affects us all.

It is interesting that the 1920’s had much of the same issues. WWI was the direct result of a similar call to anarchy by Serbian nationalists. And certainly WWII was the whole world’s answer to the kind of fascism that proposed a protectionist stance against the movement of various peoples in Europe and Asia, a reaction to the economic down turns.

Whether it is America for ‘Amerikuns’ or Norway for Norwegians, the rhetoric is the same: Change of culture cannot be supported without armed rebellion. Nations must stay the same as “they have always been.” And usually the people who espouse this kind of thinking are those who do not know their history.

Norway has only been a separate country since 1905 when it finally gained its freedom from Sweden. So the Norwegian patriotism while quite important to Norwegians is not a deeply engrained type of nationalism. And while there have been humans living in Norway for 11,000 years, it has been a land held by many different peoples.

All lands have peoples who have migrated and settled for a time on that land. Europe tends to think of itself as pretty static with settled lands reaching back for generations. But there have been migrations and changing national boundaries even in recent history. We need but remember the way that Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia have been parsed in recent memory. So no one group of people can really claim a particular culture or right to the use of the land as sacred to their own.

In the U.S. there is a temptation by some who don’t know their history to claim the 50 states as ‘sacred’ to Americans. Yes, there should be patriotism. Yes, we do have a responsibility to the commonweal of those nations that have come together on these shores to make this place strong and the 18th century experience of democracy an effective way of governing. But can patriotism be the sole motivator of how we govern ourselves and how we interact with other nations?

As a Christian, I believe that God has the primary call upon my ‘patriotism’. My first allegiance is to God’s realm, not the U.S.A. And so if someone needs to share my land in order to survive, in order to gain employment, so be it. Certainly my forbearers immigrated to this land in order to find a better life. But I do not have the right to say that others may not do the same. Might I not have to immigrate to another land if I cannot find employment in my own nation? I certainly would have no problem in doing that even though it would uproot me from my family and friends. But that is part of the pioneer spirit that is a part of my nation and my faith. I need but look to Abraham left his home at God’s command.

As an act of faith, I do not believe that I have the right to claim that MY culture is greater than anyone else’s. Creation is God’s gift. We are gifted places for only a little while. Some nations have vast empires of various ethnic groups living together in a negotiated harmony. Some nations are unique to a specific people and they wax and wane as the populace grows or declines. No single culture has ever maintained their exact same presence in this world for more than a couple of centuries without considerable immigration from other cultures. It is precisely this cultural mix that keeps a single culture from becoming stagnant or ingrown.

I noticed in a post on HOB/D today that 52% of immigrants all over the world go to nations closest to their homes and that the majority of immigrants go to nations that are not the wealthiest. They often have to go to nations that are as poor as their own just for safety.

It is the fear that people have when they must share their lives with those with different customs, faiths, languages and foods that brings about the kind of terrorism that we saw this week. There are those who have so little understanding of their own motivations that they cannot understand or be compassionate about those who immigrate to their nation. Personally, I am proud that people want to immigrate to the USA. It says that I and my people have contributed to making a place where others want to be. I obviously live in a ‘land of milk and honey’. But with the coming of those people my land is going to be different. My forbearers made this nation different by their presence.

One of the interesting things about living in Washington, DC was how many different languages I could hear on the streets. Because of Washington’s diplomatic community it was not uncommon to hear the languages of the world in our midst. The same is true of NYC. The economic center of the world brings people from all over. But in the smaller towns, ethnic diversity is not always appreciated and it is a shame. We have so much to learn from one another that can enrich us and make our nations stronger and more able to adapt to the changing times.

My hope is that the horrible events in Norway will help the people of the world to look more carefully at how immigrants are introduced to their new countries and how the local peoples learn of these new citizens. It has to do with hospitality and it has to do with the fact that we are always ‘wandering Arameans’ in this world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Parables : Proper 12 A

Mt.13:10Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”11He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.13The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

This is the passage that comes after the sower and the seed parable that we had a couple of weeks ago. In the Gospel of Matthew it is used to explain why Jesus used parables to teach about God.

Jesus used parables to get us to think! It is like teachers who uses creative ways to get their students to engage the topics they are studying.

Now I think that the reason that  this little passage is not part of the readings is that it does sound a bit elitist. But I believe that there is something that is important about this little part of Matthew I read just now. Jesus used the parables to help his followers to grow, to challenge his followers to not just take the 'same-ole/same ole' way of studying God.

What does it mean to think of God’s realm? The kingdom of heaven? What was Jesus trying to do, anyway? A modern way of saying it is “Jesus was trying to help his followers think outside of the box when it came to understanding God’s work in the world.

These parables are not about the Church. These parables are not about going to heaven. These parables are about how to live more fully into the freedom of being God’s people for a people who were living in the captivity of Roman domination. The people of the Galilee had been tossed around as subjects of the great powers for almost 300 years. They lived under the real occupation of the Roman legions. It was hard to know what it meant to live as God’s chosen people in the midst of that hardship. And Jesus is trying to help a people live into that spiritual freedom without inciting insurrection because to teach the love of God means that people understand the radical freedom that God intends for them.

The first of the parables we have today is the story of the Mustard Seed. Now at first glance we could see this as Jesus lampooning the Isaiah passage about the great cedars of Lebanon, because the Mustard tree—which is a bush, a weed. more like it, that is somewhat like a tumbleweed here. But I don’t think that is what  is going on because all of these parables in this part of Matthew have a bit of hitch in them. You think that they are going express something noble and then there is something about the telling of the story that jars us.

The woman is not really using ‘yeast’ in the baking—she is using leaven.  Now leaven is more like ‘sour dough’ starter than the nice little cakes of yeast. It is stinky and smelly and really decaying bread. And in most cases 'leaven' is used in Scripture that readers are warned of. In the parable of the treasure or the pearl, the buyer squanders everything to buy the treasure. In the parable of the fishnet we find abundance and then angels’ discerning what is good and what is not. And the final one about how the writers or the preachers on the Scripture are supposed to take from the treasure and share from both the old and the new.

Jesus is teaching his followers how to glean from the law and the prophets the elements necessary to live out the love of God—the freedom of God in new ways while still being rooted in their own history.

Is this not our struggle too? Are we not trying, in our own age, to gather from the Bible the wisdom to live lives of freedom promised by God in those promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 5 millennia ago?

For Jacob it was living with the promise that his small tribe would populate the area and that he and his offspring would eventually have a homeland. For Paul, in the reading from Romans today, he is telling the people of Rome that it was freedom from fear—freedom from the kinds of accusations of judgment that Jesus came. And for the people of the Galilee these parables help them think of lives lived without the fear of Roman domination, the fear of local puppet kings who ruled by force rather than by the law.

Jesus was inviting his followers to live by what God’s hope for all creation—to live in harmony and peace.

Was Jesus just another instigator for Israeli freedom? I don’t think so. I believe that the pre-Easter Jesus was a man who knew in God's worship such freedom that he wanted others to know that love too. Parables allowed him to share with others the immensity of God’s love without putting limits on it. These parables are similar to the koans of Buddhism to challenge the faithful to embrace the limitlessness of the Holy.

It is so easy to become so focused on the problems of the Church that we fail to notice that God works outside of that box. It is so easy to become focused on our own problems and fail to see God working in the lives of those around us. It is so easy to become focused on what the Scriptures say in Jesus’ day that we miss what God is saying in our own day.

Jesus was challenging his followers to know the unbinding love of God—a love that rooted out the fear in which they lived. His teaching was to stand in a faith in God that moved them beyond their complacence—their satisfaction of the status quo and helped them image a future where the principles of Godly love, trust and confidence could be the way that all people could lived. Jesus didn’t tell people all the answers—he challenged everyone to develop the answers for their lives. He did not spout laws—he helped people understand that it wasn’t the law that made them secure. It was the abandonment to the love of God that would allow to know what made them a noble people, a chosen race, a royal priesthood.

Paul understood that in Christ people did not have to fear anything—not even harm or death or the Roman imperialism. In Christ we don’t have to worry or protect ourselves with walls or garner power or wealth to sustain us. It was only in the liberation of God—that sense of freedom of no longer being in bondage to the law did we really understand the real law of God—to love.

So the purpose of the parables is to help us know freedom. We are called to think of what it will be like when God’s law to love others is really lived. What would it be like? What will it call from me? What might my family really look like if I live in a manner according to Divine love? What would my job look like if I really lived a truly liberated life? What would St. Martin’s look like if I lived more of a life of joy? What would this diocese be like if we could imagin what living out our faith in this part of Texas? In order for the Kingdom of heaven to be realized, we have to vison it is possible.  And so I would invite you this week to allow yourselves to imagin what it would take for you in your life to live as if your were a part of God's kingdom.  What do you have to do in your heart to make that happen?  What needs to happen for the Kindom of God to be come real?  Because God is calling us to live in that Kingdom now.  Not in the bye in bye.  But now.  AMEN

Friday, July 22, 2011

Overcomers Friday Five

Sally has brought us an interesting Friday Five:

Today is the Feast day of St Mary Magdalene, and as I've been pondering her life, and the inspiration she is I find in her a wonderful mix of struggle and devotion. She is both the woman who needed a deep healing and the woman who was declared (by many) to be the first amongst the apostles. She inspires me by the way she overcame so much to become so much. When I stop to think about the folk who do inspire me they are almost always overcomer's in some way or another.

With that in mind I bring you this Friday Five; List five people who inspire you to dare to step out into becoming more: Bonus question, a song or fictional character that inspires you to move beyond boundaries
  1. Anglea Merici:  She was a Roman Catholic woman of the 16th century and the foundress of the Ursuline movement.  It began as a service institute not a community of nuns to help young women from being forced into prostitution in her naitive Brescia, Italy.  She was never an educated woman but she knew her Bible in an out from hearing it read in liturgy.  She counseled "Change when necessary."  And she created a women's order that has educated young women all over the world.  It was this community that introduced me to strong, wise women who could make decisions and witness to the Gospel without the benefit of the white, straight, male sense of privlidge.  It was this community I entered and to whom I will be eternally grateful for teaching me how to pray and the importance teaching is in promoting the Gospel..
  2. Jonathan M. Daniels:  A young seminarian in 1965 who followed Dr. M.L. King's call to Selma, Alabama to witness to the racial brutality in the South.  He was from  N.H. but had attended VMI and understood the racial prejudice in the South.  He and Judith Upham stayed on after the march to help integrate the Episcopal Church in Selma and to assist with voter's registration.  He was murdered while saving the life of two African-American women in the small town of Hainsville, AL.  He now is listed on the Episcopal Church's list of Holy Women and Holy Men as a martyr for the faith.  His willingness to lay down his life for the liberation of others marks what it means to be a person of faith.  He was J's boyfriend and has been an intimate part of our lives in our small religous community.
  3. The Rev. Judith Elizabeth Upham:  Judy was one of the first legally ordained women of the Episcopal Church, ordained January 6, 1977.  I met her at a meeting of the Saint Louis Women in Ministry (SWIM) founded by Mary Bruggemann (Walter's wife).  Judy was the first ordained woman of a catholic communion that I had met and carried her office with a sense of grace and commitment that I had not seen even among many priests in the Roman communion.  We became fast friends and finally began to share digs in 1978.  She taught me to preach and to be a priest more than any seminary.  She has been my companion, mentor but most of all my dearest friend for over 30 years.
  4. The Rt. Revs. Ron Haines (dec.) and Jane Holmes Dixon:  These two bishops were my bishops in Washington, DC.  +Ron followed the sainted +John Walker.  He was Walker's Suffragan.  He was an amiable fellow but a man comfortable with himself.  He was not the 'poster child' that +Walker had been but he was great-hearted with a sense of self-deprecation that allowed the purple to settle seemilessly upon him.  He was kind and pastoral as no other bishop I have known.  He ran and exceedingly difficult diocese with a sense of justice and respect with an aire of magninimity toward the growing beligerance that was developing in the mid-'90's.  +Jane was one of the first women bishops in the Anglican Communion.  She had been a dear colleague before her election and still is a friend with whom I will confer on matters of faith and church.
  5. The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson:  The first partnered, out gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.  It was +Gene's consecration that finally gave me the courage to come out as a lesbian.  I figured that if +Gene had to wear a flack jacket to his consecration as bishop, I could damn well say the truth of who I was and live it.  It cost me my job and my diocese but I still feel that it was not only the right thing to do, it was the ONLY thing I could do in the face of the Living Christ and all the other LGBT people who could not be free to live their lives in Christ honestly.
Bonus:   Even though I have loved the Harry Potter series because Harry crusades against evil as do I, I am more drawn to 'live' people as those who give me courage to face the world at all that is in it.  The Rt. Rev. John S. Spong is one of those.  I have only met Jack once before I even became an Episcopalian.  But once when I was in dispair over the schism that had been happening in my denomination, I wrote him of my discouragement.  He wrote back immediately and invited me into the struggle against the politically motivated fundamentalists who had attacked our denomination.  He said:  "Come die with me for the future of the Church."  Now, who can turn down an invitation like that? 


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Anglican Covenant Coalition

No Anglican Covenant Coalition

Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity


July 19, 2011



LONDON – Responding to requests for a concise explanation of the Anglican Covenant and the lack of even‐handed discussions of the Covenant from official sources, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has released of A Short Introduction to the Anglican Covenant. The one‐page primer outlines the history and likely effect of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

“Most of the study material that has been produced to date has been designed for readers already familiar with the background and issues involved,” said the Coalition’s Moderator, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows. “This brief, plain‐language explanation is intended to help ordinary Anglicans worldwide to understand what is being proposed.”

“Many people have complained that the official study material from the Anglican Communion Office has lacked balance and has failed to take seriously the concerns of Covenant critics,” according to the Revd. Canon Hugh Magee, the Coalition’s Scottish Convenor. “Recent study material from Canada has taken a more realistic view. While clearly written in opposition to the Covenant, A Short Introduction seeks to present a fair but critical view of the Covenant.”

A Short Introduction to the Anglican Covenant may be printed and copied by groups or individuals. It is particularly appropriate for people who know little about the Covenant or are overwhelmed by the available material related to the proposed pact. The document is available formatted both for letter‐size stationery used in Canada and the United States (‐intro‐letter.pdf) and for A4 stationery used in Britain and elsewhere (‐intro‐a4.pdf).


Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows (England) +44 1844 239268

Dr. Lionel Deimel (USA) +1‐412‐512‐9087

Revd. Malcolm French (Canada) +1‐306‐550‐2277

Revd. Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384

Revd. Canon Hugh Magee (Scotland) +44 1334 470446

Monday, July 18, 2011

Theology 101

I think I have arrived at a place in life where I need to gather my thoughts on faith. Fredrika Thomsett wrote a book some time ago that stated that all the faithful are theologians. And it is with that in mind that I attempt to bring some order into the faith and belief systems that make sense of my life and describe the relationship I have with the Holy One. I have been a student of theology since the late ’60. I have even studied systematic theology. But this ordering of my faith life will not be systematic—first of all because I am not especially ‘orderly’ in my thinking but also because systematic theology seems to drain all the awe and mystery from the realms of faith.

I have supped at the table of liberation theologies of Latin America, feminism and African-Americans. I drank deeply of process theologies, the anguish of Bonhoeffer and even some Barth, the Nieburs, and Tillich. Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel have informed me as surely as, de Chardin, Rahner and Kung. Carter Heyward instilled in me a critical way of thinking, testing what I believed with the way I lived and want to live. The hermeneutic of suspicion marks my faith as it bounces up against the Church and the popular theology that marks our age. As anyone living in the 20th and 21st centuries, my understanding of faith is a response and a reaction to the Bible Belt theology of the South were I was raised, the very political experience of faith of Washington, DC, the lived-out faith of those whom I served in small towns in NY, CA and TX and the meditative experience of live-in community in religious life as an Ursuline Sister. I have been influenced recently by Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossens, Karen Armstrong and Sr. Joan Chittister.

Theology is in many ways is the work of the leisured class. Those who must work grindingly to live do not have the time or the energy to meditate upon the various elements of faith and then write about them. But each person has an understanding of how they relate to God and Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” It resonates in all who have accepted the gift of faith. Most of those who claim faith have different ways of explaining how the ineffable experience of the Holy marks our lives. Some use the categories of previous ages to speak of this encounter; some attempt to find new avenues and vocabulary to describe the indescribable experience of that which is beyond. After almost 30 years of priesthood in the Episcopal Church, I am fairly conventional in the way I describe how I relate to God. But I also have been moved by the unconventional at times and am not ready to discard it simply because it does not fit Christian parlance.

Philosophical and psychological terms enter into the theological vocabulary these days as do the research paradigms of science and enlightenment methods inform my thinking. I apply such disciplines as archeology and linguistics to the Scripture of my faith. The history of how people have thought throughout the ages advises my faith just as surely as does that ‘still small voice after the whirlwind.’

The arts are also where I meet the Divine. I have known the experience of God while playing or singing or listening to some of the great works of Mozart and Brahms. I have experienced the in-dwelling of the Holy while chanting simple melodies as offerings. I have been moved by great art and the Divine art of Creation. The Omnipresent touches me in the sensate elements of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing and takes me into realms of beyond their immediate existence. I also find God in the quiet of my heart, that deeply solitary place that has been cultivated only in the sorrow of loneliness. And it is these encounters that inform me how I am to be transformed by them, how I must be willing to enter into the kind of change that requires my attention, requires my compassion, that requires participation with the good to change not only my life but through me, the world.

And because I am an extrovert, I find the Holy in trying to express that reality that can never be defined. I find it in the actual working out of who God is as I write and as I share it with others so that they can inform or expand upon my experience.

As so, dear friends, I invite you to journey with me as I try to describe the God in which I live and move and have my being. I invite you who know faith to comment on this course of theology I am making.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob is on the run. He has stolen his brother’s blessing and has been threatened by Esau so he is trying to outrun his dishonesty. And he finds a place alone in the wilderness to sleep. He takes a stone for a pillow and falls asleep. And he dreams. He dreams of God and ladder or a ramp to God with God’s messengers going to and fro. This is where Jacob meets God—comes to that remarkable place where the god of his fathers’ becomes HIS God. It is when Jacob comes to an adult faith not based upon what he has been told, but is based upon his own experience of the Holy.

This is an important part of faith development for us all. Education is an important part of our faith. For any of us who have ever taught Sunday school or an adult forum, we can give all kinds of information to people but until this “Jacob’s Ladder” experience happens, this personal encounter with the Divine, Christian education just doesn’t take root. It takes that personal experience of God’s presence to make God real for us.

Various religious traditions try to symbolize this encounter. Around here we have what is called a “believer’s baptism” where people often get ‘re-baptized’ to sign this event. Other traditions including Judaism mark this event as Bar or Bat Mitzvah noting that often this event of coming to know God often happens in our youth. Our own Episcopal tradition provides Confirmation as a sign of our entering into an adult covenant with God. But it is usually symbolized by an accumulation of knowledge rather than that soul-event that changes our lives forever.

When Jacob wakes from his dream he knows that “ Surely God is in this place and I did not even know it.” We recognize the presence of God in our lives and can claim it. It is pure gift. It is not anything we can manufacture. And we cannot make it happen.

I liken this experience to being gifted with a precious gift that we don’t even know how to use at first. It is sort of like being presented with a new baseball glove. For those who have never played ball, a glove is absolutely worthless until you make it your own. You must oil it and practice with it; molding it to your hand until it becomes a part of you so that you can play the game. So it is with the grace of faith.

Faith is a gift. No matter what we do we cannot be faithful by our own will. We cannot be ‘saved’ by our own efforts. Faith is relying on what God has gifted us with—trusting that God’s presence in our lives is all that we need.

What we hear in this story about Jacob is how the gift of God in the dream changes his whole life—changes his perspective and even his desires. In the rest of the stories of Jacob we will see how he becomes the father of the 12 tribes that will go down to Egypt and then be brought out by Moses. We will hear how Jacob and his brother will be reunited and forgiveness mark their return. The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob inform our faith and remind us of those moments when our lives have been transformed by the Holy presence of God. Jacob does not have to fear because in this event at Bethel Jacob knows that God is always present to him and his people.

In our Gospel reading we hear the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares—or the wheat and the weeds. It is an interesting story and I think quite apropos of what has gone on here in the diocese of Ft. Worth over the years.

The story is such that a Master sees his field of wheat growing up and there seems to be lots of weeds growing up in the midst of his wheat. The story tells us that an enemy has sown darnel, a weed among the wheat. The servants of the Master ask if they are to weed the darnel from the good plants. But the Master says no. It is at the harvest when the weeds will be separated from the wheat.

Jesus is telling a story that points out that trying to exclude the good from the bad early in the growing of the wheat will only hurt the harvest. I am sure that it was easy to tell which were the good wheat and the bad.

Today we think we can tell the good from the bad by just looking. There are those who would like to exclude certain folk from the body of Christ for all kinds of reasons: conservatives or liberals, depending upon your point of view, those who look different, the tattooed, the multi-pierced, those that do not dress the way we do, the weird-acting, the gay or lesbian, the cross-dresser or transsexual-- Or for that matter, women who ‘think above their station in life.’ We think that we can weed out these people or their ideas from the Body of Christ so that we will all be the same. But over the past 2 years we have found that by weeding them out, we are not any better than when we were together.

In some ways we here at St. Martin’s have been a bit insulated from the diocesan issues, but not completely. Some of us have come from parishes that split from the Episcopal Church. Some of us have gone to Episcopal schools, camps or events where the split has been made an issue. Some of us are from other dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

Splitting or excluding is not the answer for Christians. We are all different. We all have a ‘bit of the weed’ about us. But it is God who makes us worthy. It isn’t bad seed that we must contend with. It is about whether we, like Jacob, can find God in this place. If we can find Christ at this altar, God is in this place. Period. Full stop!

It is not about ridding ourselves of those we might deem unworthy because it is not us who confer worthiness. It is God who decides our worthiness. It is God who decides if we have accepted responsibility for the gift of faith we have been given. It is God who grants the salvation. It isn’t what we do. It isn’t what we can make of ourselves. It is God who gifts us with the ability to recognize God’s presence in this place and we must be willing to name that presence and call attention to it.

The life of faith is one that is called from us. We need but be willing to recognize God is in charge. We might even find that those with whom we are uncomfortable just might be able to proclaim Christ’s presence too and our faith journey will be strengthened by their presence. AMEN

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Five: Gratitude

Jan has come up with a great Friday Five on Gratitude

A wise person once told me to make an ABC list of things I am grateful for any time I feel sad or depressed. It is a good practice when one is feeling happier than that, too. So for this Friday Five, I suggest that you use your name or nickname of about five letters and express your gratitude about something that starts with each letter. Some people have longer names, so you decide how you will go about this! (Last names, middle names, and nicknames count!)

  1. Mostly Humorous-  I think I look at life through the lens of humor these days.  On most days it tends toward the ironic she says with one eyebrow lifted.  I am so thankful for being able to laugh; it is the way God has given me to survive this vocation!

2. Utterly solemn about faith.  This does not mean deathly serious.  Quite the opposite, I think.  In fact, if I can't convey the joy I know about God then I feel that I have failed in living a life worthy of my calling.  Solemn in this sense has to do with the dignity and worthiness that Christ has called me by sharing in his Incarnation.
  1. Thougtful-- I am thankful that I have the gift to think--to be able to concentrate on topics in order to work out gifted ways to respond to what happens in my life and give them meaning.
  2. H2O--I had forgotten about drought before this summer.  I am presently watering the lawn because we haven't had a drop of rain this month.  There is something that drought does to creation.  It makes you thankful for little things like drops of cool water.
  3. Actual Cats--not virtual cats.  There is something about a kitty purr that makes everything right in the world.  I am not especially found of Bit attacking my feet in the middle of the night but I love her toothsome playfulness.
Bonus:  Hunger--that gnawing thing that makes me aware that there is more to do, be, experience, embrace, and sometimes eat. 8>D

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Extavagant Sower: Sermon on Proper 10A

When I lived in Upstate NY, I used to just wait for the seed catalogs that would come in January or February. Grocery produce was fairly hard to come by during the winters there. Winter tomatoes in the stores were hard tasteless pinkish orange tennis balls. The green vegetables were generally Brussel sprouts and broccoli and that was about it. Seed catalogs with their pictures of lush heritage tomatoes and peppers gave one hope that summer would come again—something you weren’t too sure of when it was 22 below zero.

Here in TX I am finding that it isn’t seed catalogs that thrill me in the winter. It is the early spring: flowers in February and plants for sale at Lowes by mid March and patio tomatoes from your own garden by the end of May. And when I was accustomed to eating the best home-grown produce in July and August, I am finding that most plants are shriveled by the heat.

So I find in reading today’s Gospel a bit of restlessness. No matter how much ground preparation I can do, my tomatoes are still going to burn up by August. No matter how much soil preparation I do, or how much watering, the garden that I manufacture in my back yard is still subject to the climate.

But Jesus is not talking about gardens is he? He is talking about us—he is talking about God and he is talking about the Word of God. And like anyone who uses analogy as a literary device, Jesus is not talking about the climate, or the soil, or even the seeds. He is talking about the generosity of God.

The Sower in this story is God. It is God who spreads the seed. We don’t see people sowing seed this way anymore. We either see tractors in the fields with big spreaders on the back trundling over a plowed field. And even our own gardens we transplant our tomatoes or peppers as plants carefully grown in seed pots or green houses. We don’t see the sower who throws the seed across the plowed field with abandon. We don’t know today the extravagant generosity of the sower who spreads seeds into the unplowed or the unprepared soil. We have become such careful gardeners that each seed is precious and worthy of safe guarding. But Jesus tells us of an abandonment of caution by God as the Holy One spreads the seed of Divine love, of holy care, or sacred grace. God dribbles the seeds of love into areas where it cannot grow just to remind us that no matter where we are, how far we have fallen, no matter of the existential reality of our personal or corporate lives, God is present and ready to root God’s self in our lives. And while the seeds might not root the first time, the memory of their being sown sometimes is just the thing that allows the hearer of the Word to blossom at another time or place.

As you can tell, I love to preach. I love to share the stories of God with others because of the extravagant love that God has shown in my life. This does not mean that my life has been easy or I have avoided the same pains and problems, sins or stupidity that we all face. I don’t believe that it is doctrine, or sacraments, or beliefs that allow me to preach. It is the joy that I have known in Christ that makes it possible to stand up here and tell the stories of God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, or the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith. It comes from having encountered the Holy in my life.

This week the Jehovah Witnesses came to my door. Usually I when they come, I thank them and turn them away. This week I invited them in. They had their tracts they wanted to share but it was not doctrine that I wanted to argue with them. I wanted them to share with me the love of God that they obviously knew. It was remarkable. Most of the things that they espouse I do not. But that didn’t matter. We were talking about where the seed of God had changed our lives.

All too often we become so anxious about how to express how God has graced us. Often we Episcopalians reach for a prayer book rather than to use our own words to describe our gratitude for the blessing God has sown in our lives. But it is something that we are all gifted with and even promised by the Sower who has planted love in us

In the alternative reading from Hebrew Scripture in Isaiah 55 we hear “ So as the rain and snow comes down from heaven watering the earth, so too my word goes out and does not return without accomplishing that for which I purposed it, says the Lord.” It is a good image to keep in mind—we do not have to worry about how to describe how God has worked in our lives. We just have to do it—be faithful to speak even when we are not sure of what will come out. Gratitude for all the goodness of God’s blessing, of God’s sowing should not be kept in. It isn’t somebody else’s job. It isn’t just for those of us who have funny pieces of plastic stuck on our shirts. Sowing God’s gospel is the job of every one of us because we have already experienced the growth of the seeds in our lives. From the time we first knew of God in our lives, we have been graced with the ability to share the stories.

One of the biggest impediments to the sowing of the Gospel is because we don’t think we are worthy or feelings of inadequacy. “Why would anyone want to hear how God has worked in my life?” we think. But that isn’t the issue. It isn’t your life that is important, but what GOD has done in it that says to others that God is there for them.

I had a preaching professor once tell me that I should not share my own story in my sermons. That’s hogwash! It is our stories that we can tell with the integrity o that carry the message of God to others. That is what is so extravagant about God: none of us are worthy to even mention what God has done in our lives, but it is Christ who makes us worthy—who cleans up our act and allows our lives to be transformed by his love that makes our stories carriers of the Divine message of love.

I remember my first sermon. It was in the chapel of my seminary. And that night after I preached it I was really upset and anxious. I called one of my professors who lived on campus and asked if I could speak with her. I finally confessed to her that even though my sermon went quite well and I felt good about what I said, it had finally dawned on me that I had to LIVE what I preached. My prof, one of the first women ordained in our church, smiled and said: “Yep, that is the problem with being a Christian. You have to walk it just as surely as you talk it.” It is always a struggle to walk one’s faith and humility comes upon us fairly quickly.

It is the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that give us hope: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” All too often we compare our lives to Christ and find ourselves wanting. But for those of us who are baptized into the life of Christ, we do not have to worry because there is no condemnation. We can step boldly knowing that we have been given all the words to claim God’s blessings, to step out in faith despite our own failings and we can share what God had done in us, in our families, in the world, in all Creation, simply because God has sown love so extravagantly. Perhaps we have struggled with knowing God’s love, but we have learned to love through the love of another. We can see the signs of the seeds in our lives. All we have to do is share them with others whether in the pulpit or at the water cooler, whether it is in church or at a ball game, whether it is on rocky ground or well-prepared soil. The seed of God’s love will take root. AMEN

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summertime Friday Five

My friend Dorcas has finally posted today summertime FF. I have been wondering why no one had come up with a summer FF. I guess it is because it has only gotten warm in some of our climes:

So, what's up, Rev Gals and Pals? How are you spending your summer? (I know, some of you are in a different hemisphere and it may be chilly...sorry!) Are you experiencing fire or floods or tornados? Vacationing? Working harder than ever? Experiencing change? Longing for change?

Share five things that are happening in your life, personally or professionally or some of each, in this season of life.

1. Pulpit Supply: While many of you are relaxing and vacationing, people like me cover your parishes. I am having great fun although the readings are awful. I now know why pastors take July and Aug. off. They leave us subs with all those readings that no one else wants to preach so I am preaching all the things I have always wanted to preach but never had to do in my own parish! 8>D

Last week it was the marriage of Rebekah. (Yeah, and I am going to preach on marriage in TX the week after the NY state vote for same-sex marriage?? I don’t like the smell of tar in the morning.) This week it is the stealing of Esau’s birthright. I have often felt that the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Abrahamic religions needed to have some family systems therapy. So this week it is about seeds and where they fall. But do I really believe that God is a sower???

2. Chemotherapy: I am not going through chemo but J is and it is harder to watch someone you love go through this than to do it yourself. At least I have found a therapist that I can go extrovert with so I don’t have to belabor J with my fears.

3. Heat: It is supposed to be 105 today and my blood is still Upstate NY thick. J can’t go swimming during chemo so there isn’t much to do except stay in the AC. Maybe a movie will kill the boredom.

4. Tomatoes: Watching my tomato plants grow and produce. It has been difficult since it turned really hot, but since they are in pots, I can move them a bit under the trees so that they don’t burn up. I hadn’t realized that cardinals like tomatoes too so I now have securely netted potted tomato plants.

5. Planning the kind of vacation we want to do in October after J has finished chemo and radiation therapy. WooHoo!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Colenso Affair and the Anglican Covenant

My British colleague and General Secretary of Modern Church, the Reverend Jonathan Clatworthy has written a wonderful response to Anglican Covenant proponant and Lambeth staff member, the Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan of Canada.  Her premise is that the Anglican Covenant got its start in the mid-19th century with the Colenso affair.  Jonathan has put the history right:

We are once again indebted to Dr Alyson Barnett-Cowan for damning the Anglican Covenant with faint praise, in her Living Church article. Dr Barnett-Cowan begins by tracing the idea of a covenant to the opponents of Bishop Colenso who sought to condemn him at the first Lambeth Conference of 1867. This, she tells us, was ‘the first attempt to provide a platform for churches of the Anglican Communion to discern together what to do in new situations’.

This is the kind of gloss now being put on the Anglican Covenant by its supporters. In reality Colenso’s opponents were not trying ‘to provide a platform for churches to discern together what to do’: on the contrary they were trying to impose their view on the whole Communion. In exactly the same way, recent proponents of the Anglican Covenant have wanted gay bishops declared unacceptable throughout the Communion. While the specific reference to same-sex partnerships is being backpedalled for the moment – Covenant supporters are playing it down while the provinces are being asked for their support – there is no doubt that many intend to use it, not just to forbid gay bishops but on other issues too.

By reminding us of the Colenso affair Dr Barnett-Cowan also draws our attention to the 1867 Lambeth Conference’s good sense. At the heart of the debate was Colenso’s controversial theory that the biblical narrative of the Exodus was not historically accurate. Many bishops were appalled. No reputable biblical scholar today is; on the contrary, Colenso has been proved broadly right. If the Lambeth Conference had supported the condemnation, the whole Anglican Communion would have been stuck with a commitment to an outdated biblical literalism.

The Anglican Covenant, once passed, would provide a process for present and future litigious authoritarians to impose their view on their pet hobbyhorse onto the whole Communion. One can only hope that the leaders of Anglicanism today find the courage to follow the wise lead of their 1867 predecessors.

Comment:  As history major it has greatly annoyed me to see the re-writing of history that many conservatives do.  That is NOT conservation!  The right-wing of the Church seem to ignore or wants to "reformulate" history to their own ends.  If there has been a failing of the left-wing of the Church, it has been a naive faith that history can 'prove' almost everything.  But it is not the story that gets jumbled but the facts that get destroyed.  Thankfully in this case, the facts are still available to see that the twisting of the story erodes confidence of the faithful in the leadership of the Anglican Communion.  The loss of integrity by church leaders is almost impossible to regain once sacrificed to a single notion of "a way forward." 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Yoke of Christ: a sermon on Proper 9A

I am now quite certain that Fr. Jim is taking his vacation during this month because the readings are fairly lackluster. The reading from Genesis has to do with the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah. I could preach on marriage—but after the vote in NY last week, I don’t think that that would be politic. But I would point out that if you think that today’s values regarding marriage can be found in the lives of the patriarchs, I would suggest you re read this passage. Over the next 4 weeks we are going to hear some of the stories related to this Abrahamic family. If you plan to model your lives after them, I would suggest you get into family counseling now. Because there is nothing more dysfunctional than what we see in the line of that will produce David and then will produce Jesus. These are the stories of the line of Jesse. This is our family history—the kind of stories that are told whenever the family gathers.

I learned the stories of my forbearers—the stories of the great grandfather who fought in the Civil War or the grandfather who was so seasick on the passage over that he did not go on to Australia as he had planned. That is what is portrayed in today’s readings reading from Hebrew Scripture. They are important stories to our family and the stories of the Patriarchs are important to our Faith Families. 

The reading from the epistle is Paul agonizing about what is law and what is grace. He knows his own propensity for sin and temptation. But he also knows that before he can even ask, his forgiveness is already accomplished in the love that Christ has for him.

But it is in the Gospel that we hear those words we all want to hear:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

If there were any more ‘comfortable words’ in Scripture, I don’t know them.

Most of us are not aware of what a yoke is. Carrying water is not something we have to do. But when I was working in Mexico when I was in my youth, we would see children carrying 2 buckets of water suspended by a rod that was carried across the shoulders. This is a yoke and one that made it easier to carry than using just one’s arms. Also the word is used for that apparatus that harnesses oxen together so that they can utilize the strength of both animals. This was a common enterprise in the Middle East during Jesus’ day.

It was so common that by the 3rd century before Christ, the yoke was already an analogy for Torah—the teaching of God found in Hebrew Scripture today. Jesus is using that analogy in today’s passage. “Take my yoke upon you.” Jesus was preaching to the people who followed him to embrace the teaching of God. Take the Torah and yoke with it—use the teachings of God to give you strength to face life.

When I was in college, I did not know the joy of the law of love. It was only when I was able to surrender to the love of Christ that I was able to really know what it meant to be loved unconditionally. I had always envisioned the do’s and don’ts that seemed to articulate faith in the 1950’s and 60’s as foolish and bothersome. At that time we had ‘blue laws’ in TX. Our schools and social lives were much constrained by the Baptist lobby. There was no liqueur by the drink in TX. And I didn’t think I wanted to connect myself with ‘church’ or ‘faith’ that would demand adherence to such laws. So I avoided God and church until I no longer had answers how to live my life that made sense. I didn’t want to submit to the ‘yoke’ of the laws.

When I did finally allow myself to be loved by God, I heard this passage quite differently. No longer did I have to carry my burdens by myself. The image changed from that little Dutch girl carrying pails of milk on her shoulders to being yoked WITH Christ to live a life worthy of the calling of God. The problems of teaching in South Oak Cliff during de-segregation fell away because I was yoked with Jesus to face each new day. No longer did I have to carry the load alone. I had Christ walking with me.

The law of God is not a heavy burden. Sometimes it is hard to stick with it when we are overcome with our own wantonness. The teaching of Torah is still important today. It is a good way to evaluate how we are living together in shalom—peace. It is a good way to find the principles of Torah in our lives—principles of honesty, truth, how to deal justly with those around us, how to care for the poor among us, how to deal with respect with one another. And even though some of the laws are arcane, (such as not wearing cloth of different threads, or stoning one’s children when they are disobedient) they do still give us principles for living together that are wise.

There is another word in this passage I want to bring up. And that is rest—the word in Greek is anapausis and it is the same word that is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate ‘Sabbath rest’. Jesus was inviting the people who were following him to observe the ‘Sabbath rest’ of studying Torah. Many times this passage in Christian parlance is used to remind us of heaven—that heavenly rest. But I think that is a mis-understanding of the text.

When I lived in Binghamton, NY there was an Orthodox synagogue just a block from my house. Every Friday night I would watch the men walking to shule, their heads covered, their tallits trailing from their coats. Then on Saturday morning, the whole family walked to temple services often gathering with other families also walking from their homes. Sabbath rest meant that every aspect of life rested—meals were prepared on Friday so you didn’t cook. The lights in the house were not turned on so you went to bed early. The TV didn’t go on, the computer was silent—everything centered on studying and talking of Torah—God’s love for the people. It was a way of life.

Jesus invited his followers to ‘learn from him’. He invites US also to learn from him. He invites us not to a ‘heavenly rest’, but a willingness to rest in him—to study our faith—to center our lives on him to live lives that are transformed by that unconditional love that God has for us.

Friday I got a knock on the door and it was a couple of Jehovah Witnesses who had come to the door. Now, I don’t know much about the Witnesses, I have always groaned when they came to the door with their tracks. But this time I invited them in. I was up front with the women who were there that I wasn’t about to become a Jehovah’s Witness but I did respect the denomination because my neighbors were Witnesses and I saw how they lived their lives. They were good neighbors.

What I met was a woman whose life had been transformed by faith. She wanted to talk about what it meant. I love to talk about faith too. We don’t share the same constructs to our faith, but we did share a common experience that faith had changed our lives—that yoke had become easy—the burden was light because we had submitted to the yoke of God and found that our lives had become much easier because of it. She is coming back next Friday and we are going to share Scripture.

On this long weekend of rest and pause, I would like to invite you to observe a Sabbath’s rest—a day in which you can let yourself to dwell in and on God. We don’t have to observe the rigidity of the Orthodox Jew, or cloistered life of a monk. Just find someone with whom you can share your love of God, the Holy, Jesus, the Spirit. It may be with words; it may be with music. It may be on Mon, or Tues or whatever day you have—take a Sabbath’s rest. For God will yoke with you and make your burdens light. AMEN