The Rector's Blog
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October 22, 2015, 1:06 PM

Sabbath and Retreat


After a fairly hectic September and October (with many meetings out of town on days I ordinarily don’t have to work plus a cold), and the expectation that the next couple of months in the run-up to Advent and Christmas will be hectic, I am planning to take a few days of rest and renewal with clergy women colleagues at the Community of the Transfiguration in Glendale, Ohio next week.

Making an annual retreat is one of the Bishop’s expectations for all clergy, so I get “brownie points” for this gift, but more importantly, I should be able to return to you recharged and raring to go, all rested and ready for the weeks to come.

 I expect some of you may be feeling a bit jealous right about now, and I can understand that, because it can be very difficult to find the time and the occasion to do something like this in our lives these days.  There are just so many requirements and calls and expectations on our time. 

I frequently meet people who can’t take vacation or even sick leave from their employment at the risk of not having employment any more.  And I know many of you, even those who are retired, have full schedules that might include family visits, theater series, golf outings and fishing trips, or whatever. 

I find it exceedingly difficult to find time for such things as retreats as well – after all, there is always plenty to do in the office here, and planning and strategizing, and pastoral calls and visits, letters to write, and meetings to attend.

But the Bishop insists, and you still pay me, so I can do this on occasion.  I am grateful to you for allowing me this time!

Sabbath and retreat have Scriptural warrant as well.  If you read the books that deal with the Israelites in their desert wanderings of the Exodus, you will find many rules regarding Sabbaths.  There are Sabbath days: the Jewish Shabbat that begins when the sun goes down on Fridays; a seventh-year Sabbath for the land so it can recharges; a seventy-year Sabbath on any land transfers that ensure the original (true) owner of land may recover it, as well as Sabbath releases from debt and slavery.

Stopping, reflecting, recharging, recovering, and starting over are, apparently, very important for human beings in their status as the children of God.  Renewal of the relationship, rebooting, as it were, our lives, is a key part of our discipleship.

Can you think of ways your discipleship walk can be recharged by rest and reflection?




October 8, 2015, 12:00 AM

Inundation (10/8/2015)


Spinning world.

Yes the world is spinning!  There is so much in the news that is disturbing or exciting and whether it is the first or the second, it seems, often depends as much on one’s personal predilections as on the news itself.

News coverage is dominated by the presidential race already, and the stores are filling with decorating and gift ideas for Christmas. 

Some are celebrating marriage equality while others see it as a sign of the apocalypse, or at least as the moral failure of America. 

Gun violence leads to public polemic faster than practically every other subject.

I’ve received a few invitations to join other Christians in prayer for a “revival” in America, that will lead people back to the God we are so energetically dismissing from every aspect of public life (as it seems to them).  It’s hard to know what to do with these invitations.  I’m definitely in favor of prayer, but I’m not eager to ask God to help us eliminate marriage equality, for example, or to provide protections for business owners to refuse service to members of the GLBT community.

I am sympathetic to anyone who finds the world changing around them too quickly to understand or adapt.  I feel that way about climate change, or the near-epidemic of gun violence that assails us nowadays.

I think we are at a time when we need to reexamine what we hold dear, and what’s worth speaking about, for, or against.  But the question is how does one do that in a constructive, thoughtful, and life-giving manner?

I recently came across something Joan Chittister wrote in her book Called to Question.  After reminding the reader that God created everything from nothing, she wrote that “Whatever we become as the years go by comes out of the nothingness with which we started.  Life itself presents the raw material of our shaping, not ourselves.  We do not come into this world full-blown.  We come in becoming and we go on becoming all our lives.”

When I get all wound up over the state of the world, of politics, of society and of culture, or my own semi-crazed life, I find it is helpful to remind myself that God is present throughout, wherever and whenever and whatever, and that God desires nothing more than that we remember we are created to love and be loved.

That reminder forces me to seek the “beauty way” and not the “angry way.”

I don’t always find it easy; but I do find it helpful




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!


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