The Rector's Blog
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March 27, 2015, 12:00 AM

Muddy Days

Some days thoughts pour out of my brain like salt from a broken salt shaker.  Other days, everything turns to mud.

Why is that?  I have no idea.  This is a “mud” day.

We’ve been working hard to get ready for Holy Week, lining up the people to help (if you can help, please call!) with readings, prayers, acolyting and chalicing, and lining up the music and musicians.

I really enjoy Holy Week once all the plans are in place; for my money, it’s one of the most meaningful expressions of Christian faith, even more than Christmas, and it just deepens my experience of Easter as well.

You might not think that focusing in on the saddest and most distressing parts of Jesus’ story would do that for you, but it does it for me.

It’s not just about the perceived contrast; I’m not talking about hitting my head against a wall because it feels so good when I stop, but about acknowledging the reality of the human experience, the sometime harshness of life, the losses and the pain of life.

It’s more about holding on, in the face of that reality, to the promise that this is not all there is to our lives.  There is beauty, there is delight, and there is rightness, too.

Holy Week and Easter show us both sides – the dreadful and the hopeful, the dark and the light, the ugly and the beautiful. 

Holy Week and Easter remind us that no matter how bad things may get, there are still forces for good.  We do not have to give up to evil; we can stand up to it.  We do not have to give in to despair; we can choose to hope.  We do not have to groan; we can sing. 

We can stand up and hope and sing because Jesus died on the cross and Christ rose from the dead: the good overcame the bad; life overcame death; restoration overcame suffering; hope overcame despair.

That’s the point, really, of the whole Christian gospel: there is a God who cares for us beyond all measure; there is a God who desires for us more than we can ask or imagine; there is a God who is ready to come to us and stand with us, even in the darkest night.

March 12, 2015, 3:19 PM

Things that Break

This entry is from the E-Pistle for March 12-25.

Things that break

Eggshells.  Dishes.  Engines.  Hearts.  Just a few days ago, a woman that I first met when we both joined the Foreign Service back in 1985, and went through training together, died from cancer.  She was younger than I am. 

If you were in church last Sunday, you know that another friend died last week – a frequent visitor to the office, usually in need of a small loan and always in need of a kind exchange.

Earlier this year, we laid one of our long-term parishioners to rest.

And in just another two weeks, it will have been ten years to the day since my dad – the first of my immediate family – breathed his last while picking up the mail from the box at the end of the driveway.

Death is always a shock.  Even when we know it is inevitable, it never seems like it’s going to happen to someone we know, and we won’t know what it feels like until it actually does.

And then, perhaps, we don’t know what we feel.  I experienced grief, the first time around, as being akin to a new spice that I was required to put into every dish I cooked, like some kind of bitter pepper.  It was sharp and it was distasteful and it soured everything with which it came in contact. 

Every death makes our world smaller, every death of someone we have known and cared about puts a hole in our world, and a crack in our heart.

But if we bleed, it means we have blood in our veins.  If we weep, it means we have pain in our hearts, and if we have pain in our hearts it is because we have had love in them.

And in fact, it means we still do have love in them.

The disciples and all who followed and loved Jesus must have felt this pain and wept these tears, but can you imagine if he had never arisen?  That hole in our world would have been too large for anyone but God to fill, and that is what God has done for us. 

In the end, it is God who fills all the holes in our hearts, our lives, and our very selves.  This is God’s grace and gift, that though we die, we shall yet live.


February 25, 2015, 12:00 AM

Where does the time go?

I am always struck by the swiftness with which each new season of the Church Year arrives.  Somehow, in the focus on seeing to it that this Sunday’s liturgy is set and the sermon is written, I lose the longer-term outlook that warns of things still over the horizon, like the rising sun, or the Risen Christ.

I had such hopes for Lent!

Nonetheless, there’s a lot going on:

With luck, you will be seeing some new opportunities for service: we are working on developing a “Lenten Tree” that spotlights needs expressed by the prison, the Salvation Army, and other community groups, for the people they each serve, and we will be asking you to select from a number of choices, should you feel able to do so, and return with the items during Holy Week, for distribution on Easter Monday.

We’ve started our Sunday study of The Screwtape Letters, and had a lively discussion of what it means for us to be what Screwtape termed, “amphibians” – half animal/half spirit.  I’ll be sending out the next selections via email; if you have the book already, please read Letter #10.

We’ve also had the first classes in our series, Essentials of the Bible.  If you were not able to come in week one, you are still welcome in week two! 

Those who were able to attend this week have shared some wonderful insights about what the Scriptures have added to their lives.

There are many, many choices of Lenten disciplines and meditations available on line, easily found with a websearch; I do encourage you to see what appeals to you along those lines.

Here are my favorites for this year:

February 11, 2015, 12:00 AM

Stabilization and the Future

I’m turning part of my column over to Wayne Kyle, of Woodburn and Kyle, for a progress report on the upcoming Capital Campaign. I am very encouraged and excited to see this effort “bearing seeds,” and I am confident that soon these seeds will bear fruit.

Fixing the buildings is important to our parish community: here we center our lives in shared acts of service and worship; here we re-charge ourselves for the days to come; here we re-connect with one another; and here we pray together for one another and the world.  These buildings mean so much to us because of what happens here.

Our long-term goal is to be able to dedicate these buildings not only to our own use, but to our local community as well.  What needs in our neighborhood can we help meet?  What treasures do we have to share with our neighbors, with visitors and guests, with co-travelers, and with seekers and questioners
and skeptics? 

I ask that you consider these questions with a prayerful heart and mind as we go forward.  I fully and firmly believe that the Holy Spirit has a goal in mind for us:  that we find that point where our deepest joy and the world’s greatest need in this time and place meet, and then sharpen it with all that we are. 

Together we are strong.  Together we are faithful. Together we are able!


And now, here’s Wayne:

Since work began in January, the campaign structure has come a long way.  Informational and solicitation materials are almost ready and will be provided to prospects for their gifts consideration.  In addition, the database is being finalized and the leadership is just about all in place.  Currently, the leadership is attending Orientation Meetings to learn about their campaign roles.

The Stabilization Campaign will kick-off with an Informational Event on Monday, March 2, in the Great Hall from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm, for all members of the Congregation and friends (refreshments provided).  The program will include short speeches from the leadership.   Attendance brings the Congregation together and provides crucial information about the Campaign.  The solicitation phase will extend through May.  

January 28, 2015, 12:00 AM

Demons? Really?

Because of the Annual Meeting, there will be no sermon this Sunday. 

That said, I was still looking at the Gospel this week (Mark 1:21-28), and had a couple thoughts.  Worshipers in the Synagogue in Capernaum were astonished at the authority with which Jesus taught and cast out demons.

I don’t cast out many demons, and, frankly, I don’t know of any other Episcopal priests who do, either.

For my part, I’m not sure I quite believe in demons as much as I believe in the power of God to help us through what Hamlet called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Slings and arrows can be bad enough, as I am sure you know.  They might be losses, such as being fired or the death of someone we love; they might be burdens, such as a diagnosis of serious illness (our own or a relative’s), or employer demands that are simply too much.  I expect that you might have a list of your own, as do I.

So who needs demons?

I’ve noticed a certain tendency of many Christians to blame God for those slings and arrows: “Why is God doing this to me?”  Maybe we need demons to take the blame off God?

Maybe we need demons to take the blame off our own bad choices, our own mistakes, our own misuse of freedom or judgment?

Maybe we need demons to give us an excuse to not do what we know we need to do?  “The devil made me do it!”

The author, Oxford don, and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis used demons as a comedic way to make serious points about the true path of Christian discipleship in his book, The Screwtape Letters.

In this book, senior demon Screwtape advises his nephew, Wormwood, on ways to ensure that his “patient,” a new Christian, falls by the wayside. He says that a new Christian may soon come down from that mountaintop experience into a period of dryness and anticlimax. “The Enemy [God] allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants – ‘sons’ is the word He uses…”

If you are feeling the bruises of slings and arrows, remember this: God did not bring you to this pass; God walks with you every day, whether you can feel it or no.

Above all, be not dismayed.  God is here.

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