Monday, April 28, 2014

Lent, Holy Week, Easter Week and Resurrection in Fort Worth

This year I was drafted along with J. to fill in for our pastor who needed some sabbatical time.  This has been both the hardest and the most beautiful Lent, Holy Week and Easter that I can remember.  I was also moving into new ministries in this parish.  I have picked up the college ministry at the University of Texas at Arlington and positions on the Executive Council and the Constitution and Canons Committee of the diocese.  And I thought I had retired!

Just before our priest-in-charge went on sabbatical she signed our parish up to participate in a 3 congregation sharing of Holy Week services.  Because of the schism we are a parish that meets in a theater, another congregation meets in a wedding chapel.  We do not have access to our meeting places on weekdays.  Another 'stone church', a parish that stayed with the Episcopal Church and consequently still has its own building, is going through the calling of a new rector.  They invited our congregations to celebrate together. We had the clergy but no building. It was a wonderful invitation but the logistics were complicated, to say the least.  However, everyone pitched in. 

Here in the Fort Worth we have deacons who take a significant part in the liturgical celebrations.  We also have a custom of vergers who are lay folk who 'direct liturgical traffic'.  That means that we have a lot more people trained and interested in the worship of the Church than I have experienced before.  And this means that there was a wealth of trained people who had a stake in how Holy Week was to be celebrated.  We also had 3 different sets of customary to attend to and 2 priests who have never  served Anglo-Catholic parishes in their careers. 

There were 3 very different musical traditions.  St. Alban's has a distinctly folk or even country and western style.  St. Stephens has often employed acapella singing and Taize chant.  St. Luke's has an organ and a more traditionally Episcopal musical tradition.  All three musical directors had envisioned these services differently.  But they worked together and compromised to produce lovely music for the Holy Triduum. Elements of all of the styles were present in the services although, I think some of the St. Alban's folks may have missed the tambourines.

An organist friend of mine once said:  "Do you know the difference between an organist and a terrorist?  You can negotiate with a terrorist!"  And I have certainly had some music directors like that
in my career.  And if truth be told, I have been that way myself, when I was directing choirs.  But I must admit, there was such a good spirit among the music directors that I felt privileged to work with them.  We 'caught' what each of us wanted to do and made it work as best we could.  I really felt that Holy Week liturgies were truly 'the work of the people.'

We had the regular amount of illness and death during Lent.  J., the
deacon and a seminarian  took on those duties.  I did the administrative stuff and somehow we made it through Easter.  When we took our usual Sunday afternoon nap neither of us woke until 9pm.  We did not know if it was night or morning of the next day.  I think that clergy tend to hold it together until the last Alleluia of the last service and then turn into peanut butter. I certainly did.  My body felt that I had fought Mayweather and my mind felt that the gray matter had turned into stone.  

I must admit resurrection has been long in coming.  I do not have the ability to return to normal (for whatever that is) as quickly as I once did.  So I am still dragging now in the 2nd week of Easter.  But now I am enjoying my garden, pruning tomato plants, picking out lettuce leaves for salads and enjoying spring weather before it gets too hot to sit on the patio.  I think that this is what I am supposed to do in retirement, and yet... and yet.... I am still on Executive Council and helping with the redraft of our Constitution.  Life is beginning to come back to center and I can truly sing: 

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Friday, April 25, 2014



Friday Five: Spring Fling Edition

Woohoooo! I wore sandals this week and my toes didn’t go numb!! That’s how I know winter is really over. For this week’s Friday Five, tell us 5 things that let you know “Spring is here!!” In your part of the world.

Spring has been here for several weeks.  I put my garden in around mid-March but we had a very cool few weeks.  I have shorts on today and have been wearing sandals like a Texan --most of the winter.

1.  Bluebonnets--  Any Texan's heart goes all aflutter when the bluebonnets (State flower) drift over long expanses of the roadsides.  They are often accompanied by Indian paintbrush and a little pink, buttercup like flower of which I do not know its name.  I love to do  long-distance driving at this time of the year just because the blue waves of flowers give my soul such a charge. 

2.  Gardening:  As I said I already have picked lettuce and the patio tomatoes are as big tennis balls.  It won't be long before they are ready to pick.  I have to pick them while they are still greenish yellow
or the birds will get them.  But they ripen very nicely on the counter of the sink.  This year I have 6 tomato plants all in pots. (we rent).  Also I have a 6ft long planter a friend helped me make this winter.  It is on a 4ft high bench so that I don't have to bend over to weed and water.  The herb garden wintered over quite well.  I have chives and oregano that wintered over and have planted dill, tarragon, thyme and cilantro.  I did get some catnip for the beasts, but it never made it to the garden.  The cats got to it before I could even get it into the ground. We now have stoned cats.

3.  Sun tea:  I love it when I can put a glass pitcher on the patio table with a big, fat, honkin' decaf tea bag in it and make tea.  No sweet tea for me.  It doesn't quench the summer thirst like unsweet tea does.  Much of the time I make iced green tea this way too.  Right now I can enjoy the patio.  When it gets hotter, I can't stay outside for very long, but J. sits there for hours on end reading, drinking coffee, indulging her vice and playing with the kitties.

4.  Cargo Shorts:  Spring and summer cannot be complete in the summer without cargo shorts.  They
are perfect for everything I want to do.  They have enough pockets so I don't need a briefcase or a bag.  They are long enough that I don't feel that I am giving scandal to anyone.  They do not expose too much skin that would be prone to burn.  I can get to my cell phone and keys with ease. They do look pretty sloppy but, hey, any shorts on my butt would look pretty sloppy.

5.  Post-Easter Just Sittin':  'Nuff said!  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dem Bones: a work of the meantime.

It is hard to hear the story of the Dry Bones and not think of the spiritual, Dem Bones.  It is almost as hard to hear this story without cartoon images coming up of skeletons dancing.  And after going to Mexico this past fall for the Day of the Dead, these Halloween images were conjured up in my head as I tried to prepare these lessons for today.   

But that is not the point of this very powerful oracle in the book of Ezekiel.  In this story which is paired today with the Raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John we are supposed to acknowledge the subject of Resurrection in these readings.  But the kind
of Resurrection that we find in both of these readings is not the Glorious Resurrection that we identify with Easter.  In both of these stories we find that Resurrection is hard work.  It happens with the greatness of God, but it demands the work not only of the individual, but the work of the community to help God present that new life is the work of us all.
In the story of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel is taken to a valley—it was THE valley where the armies of Judah had been defeated some 50 years before and God asks if the bones lying in the field could be reconstituted.  It is such an impossibility that Ezekiel can only mutter:  “O Lord
God, only you can know.”  In human experience, dry bones cannot be raised from the dead.  But a vision plays out for Ezekiel in which the bones do come together, sinew by sinew, but they have no signs of real life. 

This story is not about raising the dead.  This is a story about reviving the spirit when it has gone out of a community of faith.  Ezekiel is not prophesying to the dead.  He is preaching to a people who have lost their confidence in God to become a unified people again.  The Hebrew word ruach is used nine times in these few verses.  That is the word for breath.  It is also the term for wind and Spirit.  This story is about the renewal of a people—the story of the Spirit of God being rebreathed into a community.  It isn’t resurrection, where the body comes from the tomb.  It is image of people with the gift
of the spirit given a sense of newness by working together, by becoming whole, by being revived by the loving center in God.
This story should be quite familiar to us in this diocese.  When Judy and I came here in 2010, we saw a people who had been liberated from a type of bondage, from their own Babylon.  I remember coming here then and listening to you sharing your faith, excited about learning what the Episcopal Church had been doing for the past 30 years.   The Spirit had caught you up and breathed new life into you. 

But once Ezekiel saw the dried bones formed again, he knew his work was still not done.  As the returnees from Babylon came back to Jerusalem, they wanted to return to the old faith. But that faith had changed.  It had embraced new people.  It had opened its doors to those who had not had the experience of exile.  The reason that we have the book of Ezekiel was because the oracles that Ezekiel had was not just for the specific people who had returned from Persia; they were oracles that were to be heard by the people for all time.  The bones needed to be continually renewed.  The faith needed to be constantly vigilant to be open to the Spirit moving within it.

Stagnation is always a problem with communities of faith. It doesn’t matter what religion or what denomination. All of us come to faith and then we want to stay the
same.  But the Spirit doesn’t work like that.  The spirit stirs us up.  Those of us here in Texas know what the wind does:  it is constantly changing the landscape, even if it is only the landscape of our sinuses.  The Wind of faith, the Holy Spirit, changes the landscape of the Church too. 

We cannot go back 30 years to catch up with the Episcopal Church that has changed around us.  We can’t just remake the church on the principles of even 5 years ago.  We must be willing to breathe into the life of what the
Church is and is becoming.  Now I know I am preaching to the choir here.  You have taken the ball and run with it here at St. Alban’s.  But there are still those who long for a time when it will ‘calm down’---when things will get back to ‘normal’—when we get our parish buildings back. But I would like to suggest to you that that time will never come.  (That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the property that belongs to TEC.)
I know.  I would like that Church back too.  It is familiar, warm and comforting to me.  But that Church no longer exists.  That Church has moved on.  We are a Church now that is trying to put past conservative/liberal fights aside.  We are a Church that is saying that it is more that an ideology.  We are a church that has taken some important stands, such as being a church where people CAN have differing opinions about theology and politics and still come to the same altar.  We are a church where we can support people who are
different from us.  We have said to those who have come to us that you are welcome, not because our old, dried bones have been given life, but because we have breathed the Spirit of freedom, have known the touch of the Divine and found in the community of united hearts that God does meet us in this place despite our scenery, our ‘unchurchy’ music, our wanderings in the desert.  God has breathed life into us even when we would rather have kneelers and solemn liturgies.  That is what the story of the Dried Bones tells us today.
And the story of Lazarus is the same.  Resurrection is not for sissies!  So be prepared for Easter!  Resurrection is not for the faint of heart.  Resurrection takes not only faith but it takes a community for it to happen in.  Lazarus can’t get out of his funereal bindings without help.  It takes the whole community to free him from his tomb-wear.  It takes a community which is willing to remove the stone, to be willing to put up with the smell so that Lazarus can come forth.  Newness isn’t magic.  It is hard work and it requires a willingness to find life where it is.  New life is not always visible at first.  Anybody here have perennials in your yard?  You aren’t always sure they are going to come back each year.  You have to go looking for the new life, under a leaf, or in the corner of the garden. 
We already are that resurrected church.  We already are living into what it means to be Spirit filled.  But there is a temptation to say—this is just the meantime. 
All of life is the Meantime.  We all live in the meantime as Christians.  We are always being breathed into new life—the new life of faith, the new life of a changing world and God gives us the breath to carry on loving, supporting, changing, and embracing the new.  AMEN.