The Rector's Blog
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September 7, 2017, 9:00 AM

When Things Are Awful

From the Rector

Do you ever feel like the world is going to [ahem] “in a handbasket” as my grandmother used to say?

’Cause it feels like that now.  So I want to remind you that this is not the first time people have felt like this!

Now for some, the obvious parallel is the 1850s – when the country is divided along political theory lines, and folks are struggling to make a living and  no one seems to care if they do or not.  There are families in south Alabama that are living with hookworm because the county requires them to install their own septic systems, but they can’t afford them. That would be like the 1850s right there. 

Or we could talk about feudalism – where the serfs are dependent on the nobility – and compare that to some of the labor arrangements in place here today.  In some states, it is actually allowed by law for a company to outright prohibit people from taking better jobs in competing companies, so once you’re in a job, you have to stay and stay and stay…

We could talk about the Roman Empire, when the networks of family connections were the only things that provided support for individuals, so if you had a falling out with your pater familias, you might starve to death.  And today, we hear about families kicking out their kids who come out as LGBT, and the children wind up homeless on the streets, and even take their own lives because of the rejection.

So, yes, we can find parallels in history to the way things are now – and we can choose (yes, we can choose) to see those parallels as signs of our human depravity or as signs of the continuing need to pay attention to what is important:  connection, community, care, and … what was the other thing?  Oh yes, GOD.

Because these systems, these patterns, these divisions are all man-made.  God’s systems and patterns and connections (not divisions) are all the other way

I read somewhere that there are something like 95 or 97 or 98 or so passages in the Bible that tell the people of the covenant (Israel) to welcome foreigners and aliens.  These instructions are often accompanied by the reminder that the Israelites were once aliens in a foreign land, which did not treat them well, so they ought to remember what that felt like and strive to do better.

God through the scriptures is always calling God’s people – us – to a higher standard, a standard of caring for one another, of praying for enemies, of doing good, and not counting the cost.

The question is, how do we do that in the face of so much tribulation?  Does it help to know that tribulation seems to be the usual state of humanity?  Whether personal to “me” or universal to “us,” I think it may – because we’ve survived this far; we’ve fought these battles before; we’ve climbed out of the muck and the mire – and the fire – more times than we can count … and all because of the grace of God.   Willie James Jennings, an African-American theologian, recently wrote, “The prophetic word always comes at the times when hope is drained, because God will not allow hope to die in this world.”

I don’t lay claim to being a prophet, but I will say this:  God desires us more than we know, and will never stop and once we accept that, and really accept that, and finally accept that, we can do what we need to do and live without fear!  Those who are unafraid can stand up with and for those in need; those who are unafraid can stand up and with those in trouble; those who are unafraid can speak hope to a despairing heart, not because they are untouched, but because they are in touch with the source of all things.




August 10, 2017, 12:00 AM

Vacations...


I love vacations – and this one was particularly restful because resting is pretty much all I did.  Some days I didn’t even get out of bed, except to eat or feed the cats!  It felt like I was trying to make up for six months of doing too much, trying to do too much, worrying about too much, and never feeling relaxed.

So it was a great vacation!

It also brought home to me the need for me – and perhaps many of you – to take care of ourselves!

I struggle with that, I really do.  I feel responsible to you and accountable to God for how well I do my job – but I’m not sure that my definition of “doing my job well” is actually the same as God’s definition.  Because somehow I think that if I did it by God’s definition, I wouldn’t be skating around the edges of physical, emotional, and spiritual burn-out. 

It’s not that God doesn’t have high expectations!  God says “love God, love neighbor,” it’s true.  But God also says “love your neighbor as yourself.”  So if I drive myself so hard, do I actually do that from love?  And if I drove you that hard, would you feel that I actually love you?  Somehow I don’t think so.

That means that I need to spend a little time hearing from you, what is most important for you that I could do for you, as a congregation.  And then to drop the things that don’t feed your spirits – or mine.  And it might mean that there are things you can help with that I don’t really need to be doing.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on that!

Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to our conversation on August 20.  Don’t forget there is a combined service at 9 AM, rather than two separate services at 8:00 and 10:00, followed by a pitch-in brunch.  I know that this may upset your usual pattern, and I apologize for that, but I hope you will make a special effort for the event, just as you do for the annual meeting. 

This conversation will provide much needed feedback to the Vestry and to me about your hopes and dreams for Christ Church, and where you think God may be calling us to deepen and grow in both a spiritual and a mission sense.

Son of God, in the light of our faith, we offer our prayer: May we closely follow your lead. For all the places in this world that yearn for new life, grant the light of your saving grace.  For all the joys and concerns of our hearts, hear us, teach us, and restore us, and may your light shine in our hearts and in all the world.  Amen.

(Adapted from Daily Prayer for All Seasons)




July 13, 2017, 10:12 AM

For those in Need...

From the Rector  (July 13, 2017)

This Tuesday morning, being the second Tuesday of the month, I went to the monthly Clearinghouse meeting for organizations that participate in the joint efforts (and supporting churches).   We get reports on successes and opportunities for people in need.  So now I know, for example, that in June, the House of Hope provided food for 377 families (including 36 first-time recipients) with a total of 1,293 family members.  I learned that people are eligible for “summer cooling assistance” through OVO.  Roughly 100 veterans attended the June 15 “stand down” event at the American Legion, to learn about program options that can help them if they need assistance.

I also heard that there is a widespread rejection of adding another tool to the toolbox used here for treating drug addiction.  If you’ve been reading the paper, you probably know what I’m talking about.  There are two major, not necessarily related but you never know, objections: first, that the proposed program Groups Recover Together, because it uses medical treatment and actual drugs, is not a good way to solve addiction; and second, that it shouldn’t be downtown.

This is what I know:  Sub-oxone is used successfully in other countries and in other states to treat drug addiction.  It works by blocking the cell receptors that give a “high” – without giving a high.  GRT monitors the dosage, counts the doses at every weekly visit, requires weekly group therapy, and offers individual therapy.  GRT has met with judges, with police, with the jail staff and with Community Corrections, all of whom welcome an additional avenue to dealing with this plague.  I also know that both Centerstone and Lifespring have 6-week waiting lists – so if someone wants help today, they have to survive another 45 days to get it.

On the second point, that it shouldn’t be downtown: the Mayor agrees with that.  But the thing is, we have drug addicts downtown!  We also have drug “factories” downtown – one was recently found on east Main Street, less than a block from the sheriff’s office.  Where better to offer counter- measures? 

Demographic studies confirm that the percentage of the population that is poor – and therefore can be helped by programs offered through the Clearinghouse by multiple agencies – is higher downtown than in other parts of the county.  If you live here, you know that’s so.  People in need surround us.  People in need, sometimes, are us. 

I meet people every week who have come to their last penny and found it too small.  People who work shift work, but not when the factory has no orders; people who are sick or injured through no fault of their own; people who are struggling for any number of reasons.  Do they always make the best choices?  No.  But does God love them?  YES.

Jesus told us the poor would always be with us – but that’s not an excuse to dismiss them – it’s an opportunity for us to help them, to show that we value the abandoned more than ourselves.  That’s deeply counter-cultural.  We can’t fix everyone’s life for them; they certainly have to do their part as well – it’s just that our part should not include dismissal, condemnation, and judgment. 

So, how can we help?  By learning about those around us, by advocating for program funding to help people finish their educations or get certified in a skill, by donating to Jane’s Kids and the Summer Meals Program, speaking up for equality and justice, signing up with the local elementary schools for tutoring programs … most important, let’s get educated, get involved, and get going!

I know many of you do these things and more – thank you so much!  I know it’s sometimes hard to see that we make a difference, but we can do it!

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless, the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy.  Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.        (BCP 826))

 




June 29, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Holy Spirit is Here!

I want to tell you that we have a Vestry that is on fire for Christ.  They have been working hard, praying hard, and thinking hard about the future of Christ Church as a community within a larger community.  They invite you to be a part of this conversation.  I encourage you to do just that!

And why? 

  • Because we are family, community, friends, and neighbors.
  • Because we are part of the people of God, connected by our faith and through our baptism to thousands of other believers in this Diocese and far beyond our own geographic divides, as members of the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” (PB Michael Curry)
  • Because the Holy Spirit is stirring the pot right here in Christ Episcopal Church.
  • Because proclaiming the good news of Christ, our messiah and redeemer, is our calling.
  • Because we have taken vows to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:42, BCP 304).

And we will literally do just that – for all these reasons and more – when we gather on Sunday, August 20, for a combined service at 9 AM, followed by a pitch-in brunch. 

I do realize that not everyone will be in town, but if you are, I hope you will make every effort to be here.  Thank you. 

God is our refuge and our strength:
   a very present help in trouble

So we will not be afraid though the earth should quake:
   and the mountains fall into the depths of the sea,

Though the waters of the sea rage and foam:
   and the mountains tremble at the tumult
.
                        (Psalm 46, New Zealand Prayer Book 250)
 

 




June 15, 2017, 2:37 PM

The Centre Cannot Hold

From the Rector

The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
a shape with lion body and the head of a man,
a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
that twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
and what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

We hear of something distressing and we make a leap to judgment.  Why is this so often the first thing we do? 

I probably don’t need to tell you of the all-too-predictable reactions to the shooting in Alexandria yesterday, where several [Congressional Republican] people playing baseball were injured.  Now, mind you, some reactions were a call to prayer – which is a start in the right direction – but others immediately went somewhere very different and very ugly based on political views. 

I don’t believe that shooting people is the answer to any of our political differences.

And I don’t think the answer lies in demonizing either the victims or the shooters, either.

Is it me, or does this seem to be happening with greater frequency?  Or is that just an “artifact” (as the statisticians call it) of greater access to the news cycle?  In other words, are there more shootings, or are the shootings just getting greater attention?

Because the media have long been accused of thinking “If it bleeds, it leads.”  The escalation in toxic language, I think, is real enough.  But it’s hard to tell.

More and more we are divided left and right; and the center shrinks.  Which brought me to William Butler Yeats’ poem, and the line “The centre cannot hold.” 

I’m no English major, but to my ear, the vision he describes of a terrifying power stirring in the darkness sounds very contemporary. 

I have the sense that, whatever our own political proclivities may be, we all feel to some extent threatened – by change, by the loss of what we hold dear, by the instability of economy and policy, and by general hostility in the national conversation – which is more of a shouting match with no one hearing, than a conversation.

What is to be done?  I quote a line from one of the Star Trek movies, in which the Chris Pine version of Captain Kirk says, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.  I only know what I can do.”

That line speaks to me so much, I have it taped to my computer screen.

Just now, I would modify it somewhat:  “I don’t know what I can do; I only know what I’m supposed to do” – and that is:

             LOVE GOD.  LOVE NEIGHBOR. 

As we struggle to find a way toward sanity and respect and care again, this is the only counsel that I can offer – and there’s nothing wrong with repeating it frequently!

Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:37-39, adapted)

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.   (Matthew 5:44)

Christ be within us to keep us, beside us to guard, before us to lead, behind us to protect, beneath us to support, above us to bless.  Amen.         (New Zealand Prayer Book 186)


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