The Rector's Blog
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November 19, 2015, 2:48 PM

Fear or Faith?

Times are hard. 

But when are they ever not, for someone, somewhere, for this people or that nation?

Racial epithets are tossed around with abandon, but those insulted are told to not let it bother them?

Refugees flee mortal danger but we think they might harbor terrorists in their midst?

The homeless die in our streets, but we think it’s their fault they have no jobs and no homes?

I don’t know what to think, sometimes, but then I read the Bible and I am told: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

It’s hard to do that when we see the dead and the dying, from an airplane brought down by a bomb, from a shooter in a school, from suicide killers in a city market or from an over-zealous enforcement of the law.

Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.

Feed the hungry.  Defend the oppressed.  Free the captives.  Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Being Christians has often been easy; but not today.  Today, we are faced with the consequences of not just SIN, bur our own sins.  Our sins of omission have left us in a place of desolation, a place of horror and fear and anger.

We don’t want to love our enemies or pray for those who persecute us – we want to blow them into little bits!

How very human.  How very understandable.  How very popular.  How very normal.

How very ineffective.

If we are going to “win” against the “terrorists” then we are going to have to do more than send our young people into the wilderness with guns. 

Because every person we kill, diminishes us.

Because every person we kill creates another reason – however unreasonable – for those we fight against to fight harder themselves and to motivate others to fight us also.

Yet we can’t not do something, because that only seems to encourage the bad actors even more!

Whatever else we may do, we are still called to love our enemies.  Pray for those who persecute us.

We either believe in the power of prayer and of God or we don’t.

The early martyrs went to their deaths at the hands of their oppressors singing hymns and forgiving them (or so the stories tell us).

I don’t have the answer.  I have questions.  I have fear.  But I also have determination to not let my fear rule my heart or my actions.  I will strive to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute. 

Do they not need the love of God even more than I?  

November 5, 2015, 11:45 AM

"Unless the Lord builds the house..."

The Annual Fund Drive is officially under weigh.

(I used the nautical terminology of “under weigh,” rather than the more common landsmen’s term, “under way,” because the annual fund drive can feel like heavy seas, complete with tall waves of resistance and small hope of reaching safe harbor!)

But I don’t really think of the annual drive as rough seas here.  I know how much you love Christ Church and this community.  We have lots to be excited about, and lots yet to do!

Psalm 127 opens: “Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.”

We might read this verse as some kind of judgment against those who do not profess the faith, but one can read it instead as a sign of God’s mercy.  How so?

I think in many cases, I fear we in the U.S. tend to make judgments about the worth of a person based on the work that they do – and if they do not work, for whatever reason, we value them little.  Sometimes we can be swayed by a story of loss and pain, of disaster or injury or war wounds that make it nearly impossible for a person to work a “typical” job.

But in other cases, we simply may not respect the basic human dignity of the poor.  They should have studied harder in school; they should have looked for a better job, or they should have not given in to addictions or committed a crime.  We do not know their stories; yet we judge.

We have somehow twisted the “blessings and curses” language of the Bible (the righteous shall receive their reward; the disobedient shall be punished) and arrived at the conclusion that the ones who suffer are disobedient, and the ones who do not are righteous.

Maybe it’s more a matter of luck, and not a question of virtue.

This is where the first verse of Psalm 127 can be a message of hope and mercy: simply put, what the Lord builds has value.

And the Lord builds houses of all kinds: not just temples, churches, or homes, but descendants and legacies, communities and families.

God works through the unlikely and unprepared to do the incredible and unexpected. The alien foreigner Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of a king.  The stammering murderer Moses becomes the prophetic freedom fighter for a nation in despair.  The child of an unwed mother becomes the King of Heaven. 

“Unless the Lord builds the house…” - but the Lord is always building the house!

If we remain attentive to who is building the house, then we do not labor in vain!

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.


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