The Rector's Blog
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September 24, 2015, 12:00 AM

Walking through Doors


In “The Gift of Struggle,” concerning the difficulty folks may have in coming to church after a prolonged or painful absence, Eric Elnes writes that we’d like to think “It is possible to arrive at a set of beliefs and/or practices that will ensure that your struggles will be over.  Life will never hurt you; the rug will never again be pulled out from under your feet; the bottom will never drop out; and you will never again experience the pain of failure, uncertainty, ‘lostness,’ or temptation.” 

Instead, Elnes writes, “The message people are yearning to hear is not that their struggles will magically disappear if they just have a little more faith.  They seek a faith that provides a context in which their struggles become meaningful, and thus hopeful.”  (Emphasis added.)

Many years ago, I felt compelled to attend church after a prolonged absence.  I wasn’t sure I believed in God (despite feeling compelled), or the Christian message or anything.  After several months of struggle, I finally arrived at the local Episcopal Church.  The first week, the woman sitting in front of me introduced herself and invited me to coffee hour.  The second week, several people remembered me and said I should sing in the choir.  The third week I was in the choir.

For months thereafter, I was resentful about being in church at all, not sure how I felt about God and everything, but I do love to sing, so I kept going.  It was over a year before I found myself facing God in private confession, and began to release my anger.  I still had tons of questions about my own beliefs, but I had found a safe and supportive place to explore them.

Coming to or returning to church is not always easy.  It takes courage and determination to walk through and to keep walking through that door.  It takes welcome on the inside, and, I think crucially, it takes service, service that is fulfilling, life-sustaining, and fun, service one enjoys doing and hardly even thinks of as service.  For me, that was singing.  I thought I was the one benefitting – and I was – but I was not the only one.  Even when I found it hard to worship, I was helping others do just that.

If you’ve been hurt by church, you are not alone.  If you’re thinking of returning, know that it won’t be easy: expect that it won’t be easy.  But if you come with open hands and your gifts, you may find yourself in a place where you can work out all those questions in company with others who have been on the same road.

 




September 10, 2015, 3:37 PM

Speaking Out


This week we are celebrating the fact that we have met our goal for the Stabilization Fund capital campaign. (Woot!)

I’ve been wrestling with the question of what to preach on Sunday.  I would like to take the time to witness to the power of faith and hope alive in our community.

So today’s column will, in a sense, substitute for some of the thoughts I would otherwise bring up on Sunday morning.  It’s not a full-bore sermon, but I hope you find some food for thought here!

This week’s reading from James concerns the dangers that come when we speak without thinking or speak unkindly. He compares the tongue the words we say) to a fire from hell. 

When I was growing up, my parents would occasionally remind me that if I could say nothing kind, I should say nothing at all.

As we look around and listen in on conversations and debate, we can hear lots of unkind things being said. James urges us to use our tongues to “bless the Lord and Father.”  But from our mouths come words of both blessing and cursing. 

These thoughts reflect what he said elsewhere in the letter about the need for us to be single-minded, not switching back and forth between the holy and the profane.  He asks, “What spring gives forth water both sweet and salt? Can a fig tree yield olives?”  He feels we should be true to God in all we do and we say.

So should we stop maligning people who are saying harmful things, because that makes us like them?

Yet if we remain silent, then who will defend the victims of unkind speech, of hate speech, of error and ignorance?  Who will teach?

Like most things in life, there seem to be inescapable tensions and contradictions as we try to live out the Good News through love of God and neighbor.

It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to say – or do – nothing.  So obviously, there are times when we do need to speak up or stand up – against bullies, against ignorance, against hate speech, against injustice.

I think the best advice I can give, then, is before we speak, to pray for the other, first and last. 

Remember in whose name we seek redress, in whose name we strive to live and to love.  Then speak the truth, not in anger but in love, not with cursing but with hope.




August 27, 2015, 12:00 AM

Vacations


I really, really like vacations.  There are just two problems with them – finding time to take them, and then digging through the work that built up while you were gone, once you get back.

I had a lovely time touring in Alsace, Breisach, Freiburg, Stuttgart, and the Black Forest.  My friend-hostess fed me well.  I got to swim in beautiful pools and admire many stunning churches that escaped the iconoclastic sensibilities of Protestant Reformers.  I survived ten days with a fifteen-year-old.  I read all the way through Harry Potter und der Stein des Weises (in German, obviously).  And I slept a lot!

All in all, I have to put this vacation in the win column. Not that I’ve ever really had a bad vacation.  I just wish they lasted longer!

However, coming back was very nice, too, even though we had a funeral last week.  The weather has cooled down, and we are enjoying a foretaste of what I hope will prove to be a lovely fall season.  The cats are happy to see me (although Dudley continues to complain about everything, from the water in the fountain to the food in the bowl, and how long I sit still for him).  Yup, I’m home!

It’s also great to see folks from work and town. 

In short, I recommend vacations and I recommend coming home again.  It is good to have some balance in life, and it is good to have some routines as well. Most of all, it is good to have friends.

Recharging our batteries, giving ourselves time to do the things we love outside of work (even if we love our work!) is good for the body, the spirit, and the soul.

The lack of specific deadlines leaves space for minds to wander, feet to explore, ears to listen, and eyes to see things we might not otherwise allow ourselves to even notice. We can find parallels (I found a church that is rebuilding its steeple, and a whole town that looks like a Shakespearian Tudor stage set), or brand new things we never knew even existed (thousands of little green men in fedora statues marching about in a park).

Laughter, awe, tranquility, exhaustion (from walking on cobblestone streets for six hours straight) – sets our day-to-day life in juxtaposition with the unusual or unexpected, and adds a certain poignancy to our choices and options.

Don’t take your life for granted!  Explore!




August 2, 2015, 12:31 PM

Five barley loaves and two fish...


This past Sunday, Fr. Gray Lesesne, of the Episcopal Community in Brownsburg, was our guest preacher (read his sermon here).

Fr. Gray spoke on the Gospel text of the feeding of the five thousand.  The disciples didn’t know where they could find enough food for all of them, when Andrew said “here is a boy with two fishes and five barley loaves, but what is that among so many?” Jesus said, “Tell the people to sit down,” and proceeded to feed everyone from that small start.  Now the thing is, of course, many Christians have differing ideas how he managed to do that – the two most popular are: it was a complete miracle; or, seeing the boy share his lunch convinced members of the crowd to open their lunches up and share with everyone else.  Which, when you come to think of it, might be seen as a bit of a miracle of itself.

Fr. Gray gave us some demographics of the Madison area that indicate a modest future growth in population, primarily consisting of families in the 20-35 year age range, and retirees.

He then challenged us to find our own “small boy” with the two fish and five barley loaves, and help him out.

In other words, he invited us to get involved in local helping organizations –not singly, as so many of us do; rather to make a group contribution.  He gave some examples: in Brownsburg the new Episcopal community has been meeting on Wednesday evenings at the local food pantry to set up the space for the weekly Thursday distribution.  As they do this together, they also come together to worship and celebrate the Eucharist at the same tables where food is prepared.  This particular service will end when school starts and the local special needs students return to this work, which they perform almost year-round.

Another ministry involves being an “unofficial” PTA for Harris Academy, a school for youth at risk of dropping out.  They provide tutors, mentors, and support to teachers and students.  Fr. Gray actually spends one lunch-hour each week making himself available to talk with students. 

Can you think of something local where many hands can come together for a particular effort to aid others in our community?

Let us know!  And please, by all means, sign up for the special outreach email list (see next page) as well!




July 16, 2015, 2:00 PM

Environmental Justice



Disaster and Cleaning Up After

Several families lost everything this week in the flooding that hit Crooked Creek and some of the other rivers and streams in our area.  Among those hit were parishioners’ homes in Kentucky and on North Walnut, and the garage belonging to another member’s parents.

WKM asked people to help the Salvation Army with clean up in the northeast part of town on Wednesday afternoon, so several intrepid souls showed up to do that on Wednesday afternoon. I went also for an hour or so between lunch and the Ulster Evensong.

Aside from convincing me that I should probably invest in flood insurance – street runoff can do a number just as much as a stream overflowing – I also am reminded of how very fortunate I am to have the resources to live in a part of town less subject to natural disasters.  One of the lessons of poverty is that people with fewer resources often live in places of higher risk.

 This is true not only for natural disasters of whatever scale, but also for exposure to pollution – a particular problem in industrial zones. Those with means are able to find housing far from the sources of trouble and as a result, live safer and more healthy lives.  The poor cannot be so choosy; they have to live where they can afford. 

This is what the principles of “environmental justice” are intended to address.  Just as in many communities across America in which new section 8 housing is often limited to impoverished areas, thus defeating laudable social goals of safe communities, access to jobs, transportation and schools.

If we’re going to be justice-oriented, peace-oriented, creation-loving people – which I believe God wants us to be – we will have to reexamine the assumption that it’s okay to subject people to unsafe environments just because they are poorer than the rest of us. 

It’s like we’re keeping all the candy to ourselves and our peers, but doing nothing to expand opportunity and hope to those with less.


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