The Rector's Blog
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April 28, 2016, 12:00 AM

When we have to say "good bye."

This week, I had to say goodbye to my cat Smudge.  He had been my mother’s cat and when she died seven years ago, I took him in.  Like most cats, his primary interests seemed to lie in personal comfort, but he was sweet and friendly as well, and I loved him.  I hated to say goodbye.

The thing is, of course, that we are constantly having to say goodbye to the way things were and hello to the way things are becoming, and it’s not always easy to do that. 

Everyone knows how quickly society, technology, and world events are changing.  We human beings are wonderfully adaptive and inventive and creative – which is a good thing, because we need every ounce of those abilities and skills to survive and thrive.

But sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to adapt all the time to everything?

We hear echoes of that in political slogans – for example, let’s “make America great again” is an idea that carries a lot of appeal, even if we can’t agree on what makes America great, or when it was great before. 

And we hear echoes of that in the Psalms:
My times are in your hand;
   rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
   and from those who persecute me
Make your face to shine upon your servant,
   and in your loving-kindness save me.

                 (Psalm 31: 15-16, BCP)

What do we do, then, when change, especially unwelcome change, is forced upon us?

If you’re like me, the first thing you do is try to hide from it!  I’m great at ignoring things I can’t deal with right now.  I also might rant about whatever it is – and I certainly did some ranting when I found out how sick Smudge was, and then I cried.

It surprises me, a bit, that it can take so long for me to turn to God in prayer, and seek guidance from the Light of the World – I mean, after all, I am a priest; shouldn't that be the first place I go? 

Because I know that God offers consolation, and maybe I’d rather be mad. And I know that God offers strength, but I’d rather be tired. Maybe I’d rather not be the one who is always counted upon.

Do you hear God laughing?

Behold, God is my helper;
   it is the Lord who sustains my life.

                         (Psalm 54:4, BCP

April 17, 2016, 11:51 AM

The Empty Tomb

Empty Tomb

For Jesus to stand to his full height, he had to leave the small, dark place of the tomb. For us to rise up to our full stature, we must leave the small, dark places of life. We must leave the many and various tombs of this earthly life, and find our way to the broad, open and light-filled places.

-Br. Mark Brown
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

For those of us who mourn, this meditative passage may seem hard to hear. One of the things I have wrestled with over the years as family members and friends have died is my desire to remember and honor them – and walking away from the tomb, as Br. Mark puts it, could seem to dishonor their memory.

But that’s not what his statement is actually saying.  Rather, he is talking about leaving behind that which holds us back – negative emotions such as anger, which keep us from acknowledging that we have the choice of how to respond to hurts and injuries, or negative perceptions of other people, which might encourage  us to blame others for the problems we experience in life.  That sort of thing.

It’s not about forgetting those we love and miss at all; rather, it’s about our tendency to forget who we are in Christ.

We are the beloved children of a loving Creator, not the spawn of Satan.  Saul, the persecutor of early Christians, was moved to let go of his sense of mission and righteous zealotry that fed his impulse to punish those who did not conform to the religious authorities in Judea and beyond.  Peter, the man who three times denied any relationship with the man Jesus, was moved to stand on street corners, in defiance of those same religious authority figures, and speak of God’s love for all humanity as shown by Jesus in his life and death.

What moved them was not a message of condemnation, but one of forgiveness and opportunity.

It was the LOVE of God that opened the doors of their tombs of fear and anger and led them to share the love of God with everyone they met. That love is offered to all of us even now.

March 31, 2016, 3:29 PM

Let it Flow!

  Since my fall back in January, my life has been disrupted. In the early days of my recuperation, I realized I was going to have to learn to walk all over again – and that meant I needed to keep my focus on one thing at a time.  Something that most of us picked up by the time we were two was no longer as easy as it used to seem!  Which muscles make the leg stand firm? Which muscles make the leg move forward or backward?  Which muscles move the leg up or down?  All these questions required thought and reflection, and, in the beginning, sheer will power to make the right muscle do the right thing.

  I also found myself tiring at alarming rates – a simple transfer from bed to wheelchair would have me puffing for air. Short ventures – ten feet or so – would make me light-headed.

  It all comes down to what I have taken to calling “flow.”  I have to get my “flow” back.  If I walk, I have to walk for a while to get settled in my pace, and comfortable in my moving. As I do my exercises, I need to make sure that my stance is stable.

  As it happens, the religious life, in fact, pretty much all of life, calls for the same kind of attention if we want to make any progress at all!

  I’m very prone to distractions. I might be working on something (such as writing this column), and a thought flits through my brain (I need to call so-and-so), and … I lose my flow. The problem seems to be finding those islands of time for focused attention when the world around me is spinning along outside of my control – and worse, the world inside me seems to do the same!

  I wish I had some good advice to offer on ways to create and maintain flow!  I could use it.  And I could share it with you, because I suspect that many of you are in a similar situation.  I don’t mean that you are learning to walk again, but that you may be pulled in some many different directions, you don’t even know you are walking at all.

  I can assure you, that way danger lies! Because something might trip you up that is totally unexpected. All I can counsel is that you work hard to pay attention to the thing in front of you, because it is worth your full mind. Let it flow!

December 17, 2015, 3:15 PM

Christmas Then, Christmas Now

This year, even though Christmas Eve is, strictly speaking, still Advent (every liturgical calendar will back me up on this), I do recognize your desire for Christmas to arrive even just a few hours earlier, so we will be singing Christmas Carols at the 5:00 service. 

Yet in my head is this image:
Back in the day (a day I begin to wonder if I even remember personally), church-goers would attend church on Christmas Day, between the stockings that were hung on the chimney with care, and Christmas dinner – after which, the presents would be opened. 

By that time, naturally, the kids were practically bouncing off the walls with impatience and excitement.  Die-hard Jesus fans would also come to a late-night vigil service, and sit through several Scripture readings that trace the providence of God throughout the ages, with everything perfectly timed so at the stroke of midnight, just as the transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Table took place, the lights would come up and everyone would break into a audacious rendition of Joy to the World

Of course, the hangings and vestments would magically turn from purple to white, and the brass would break forth with bright tones and descants and everybody would start smiling, and then sing Silent Night after communion, and go home wreathed in smiles for a late glass of punch or eggnog, and the children would fall asleep in the carriage on the way home…  Oh, and it would be snowing.

I mean, every movie ever made about Christmas used to have this scenario.

We’re a small church.  We don’t do that.  It’s taken me a while to accept it.

But one of the ‘things” about that Christmas imagery is that patience almost beyond human endurance was not only required, but expected.

I do remember being a child and having to wait, fit to burst, for Christmas morning to arrive before the stocking could be unpacked, and waiting for the cousins to arrive while the turkey cooked in the oven for hours, and pleading to open even just one of the presents under the tree before dinner.  If the weather permitted, we would go out for a walk after the meal, (because we ate far too much, and before desert – and finally, the presents, and after that, desert and the adults catching up on the latest family news and telling stories of years past.

These are good memories, and good dreams, but as we make new ones, let’s not forget the Christ child whose birth brings hope to the world, even to this one.

December 3, 2015, 12:49 PM

Walls and Mountains

I’ve been continuing to consider Jesus’ prediction that the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem would fall –“not one stone will be left upon another.”  It keeps cropping up, in one context or another, over and over again. 

Bp Cate is asking us to pray during Advent for Bethlehem, and this prayer rapidly goes much farther afield:

Almighty God, Creator of the wonderful complex diversity of humanity; you have fashioned us in your image and commanded us to love one another; reach down your divine hand so that the wall shall come down in Bethlehem, the birthplace of your Son, the Prince of Peace; and may the crumbling walls herald the fall of all barriers that divide us.  Bind us together so that love gives rise to an abundance of tenderness among all people; and may our hearts like Mary’s magnify the Lord, and may your love shower down throughout the world so all divisions are scattered and washed away.  We ask this all with the expectant hearts through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Walls will come down.  This coming Sunday, the gospel tells of John the Baptist, who repeats Isaiah’s promise that the mountains will be brought low, the valleys raised up, and the rough places made plain.

One of my cousins is a conservative Republican, so you can imagine that our “conversations” on Facebook often seem to consist of both of us throwing spears at each other’s ideas, both of us blocking those spears with our shields, and no new ideas breaking through.  We both identify few points of agreement and we do struggle to maintain a relationship despite our differences.

There were many years when we did not communicate at all, so even though we disagree, I‘d still have to put this in the list of good things – at least the mountain and the valley are talking to each other.

So many times in our lives, we don’t do that.  We write someone or some group off, we close the door, we build the wall, and we stop listening.  We stop so hard that we lose sight of the humanness of the other, we lose sight of God’s image in the other – whether they are a cousin, or a Syrian refugee, or a politician or a bureaucrat, or a terrorist….

We can’t go on like this.

Our Gospel is one of reconciliation and forgiveness; our mission is to heal the world.  We cannot do this if we will not “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human person.”
(BCP 305)

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