Thursday, April 20, 2017

To Be a Fool

We are fools for Christ sake but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored! — 1 Corinthians 4:10 NKJV

April Fools' Day, the day to prank just about anybody you can think of. By prank I don't  mean doing something mean or hurtful to somebody, but rather some simple joke like putting a fake spider in their water glass or something similar. It's like a kid limping into the room, nearly in tears, saying, "Mommy, I got hurt!" and then, when mommy goes all sympathetic and tries to help, the child jumps up and says "April Fools!"  Sometimes you wonder.

The Bible uses the word "fool" a number of times, 66 in the KJV alone.  "Fool" in the Jewish tradition usually meant stupid, vile, or wicked. From the Greek, it added unbelieving, unwise, egotistical, rash, or mindless. Today's definition adds someone acting unwisely or imprudently, a silly person, or any of a number of synonyms, many of which have connotations of someone who with mental challenges, pejoratives that really have no place in a world that we are trying to make into the Kingdom of God on earth.

What I think Paul is talking about is going against the culture of the time, any time. It's in the impracticality, a countercultural move, even something that can be very dangerous, especially in the days when after Jesus's death and resurrection, where persecution of Christians was starting to be a fact of life. They were considered fools because they didn't stick with the traditional Jewish teachings and worship, even though many still went to worship at the synagogues and some even did the offerings at the temple until it was burned in 70 A.D. Little by little much of the Jewish influence was weaned out of Christianity or, as they called it, the Way, and they appeared more foolish than ever. It was foolishness to actually refused to worship Caesar is a God, no matter which religion the person was, and especially with armed soldiers standing right there and your very words and actions were most probably condemning you to death. That was foolishness. Those who felt that they were wise bent the knee to Caesar but then, in the back rooms of their homes and those of their friends and neighbors, they participated in Christian worship. Their foolishness was not trusting in God and living honestly, if apparently foolishly.

Today we look at foolishness as not following the status quo, full. Foolishness is standing with people at Standing Rock in their attempt to protect the water. It could have cost every one of them their lives, but yet they were fools for Christ, or the native peoples, or perhaps  for the water itself that was precious to not only our First Nation people but to all of those who depend on that stretch of water to provide them with clean drinking water. Foolishness is standing for an organization that most people connect with abortion, but which in reality does far more for reproductive health, not just for women but also for men who might not be able to afford care or treatment or diagnosis without the help of that organization. It is considered foolishness for African-Americans to follow in the path of Martin Luther King Jr. and to use what he had taught them to protest the killing of innocent people just because of their skin color or the possibility that they might be bent on doing some kind of mischief. 

The appearance of being foolish is a stigma nobody really wants to have to wear. Being foolish is really a form of insult, as if a person did not have the wit or the intelligence or the savvy to be like everyone else around them and do things the "normal" way. Being a musician is foolish, because who wants to hear a symphony when you can go down to the nearest street corner and be almost drowned in sound by boom boxes, amplified guitars and overpowering drum sets. It's foolish to fight for school lunch programs for children and Meals on Wheels for elders who are unable to get to the store or perhaps cook for themselves. Children can't learn as well when they're hungry, and elders are often ignored because they are old, they don't have a value in terms of work, or they may be too ill or infirm to make much of a contribution to the general welfare. There are so many ways to be foolish now.

Perhaps it's time for us to reclaim the foolishness and to admit that we are foolish at times. Mostly it's a negative. Jesus encouraged us to be foolish, not by pranking others or being impractical,  although he did call the religious hierarchy names that corresponded with foolish or fool because of their stubbornness and spiritual blindness. Where Jesus encouraged us to be foolish is to not care what the neighbors think, but rather to do what is right and what is needed to make this kingdom of God come alive now and not just at some future point in time.

It's time to be as foolish as possible in the name of Christ. It's easy enough for me to look foolish, but what I really need to be as Christlike as possible. Maybe I can't walk from place to place like an itinerant to preacher like Jesus did, but I can work to make others more aware of the value of being foolish, being countercultural, being unlike those around us who only care for the material or what benefits them and the heck with everyone else.

This week, go thou and be foolish for Christ sake. Do what thou canst for others and glorify God for the wisdom of that foolishness. God bless. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, April 1, 2017.

Being Disconnected

Tomorrow we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Tomorrow commemorates Jesus' ride into Jerusalem accompanied by people waving palms and laying them on the roadway for the colt he was riding to walk on. It was meant to be a celebration similar to a conquering hero arriving in the city, and there were crowds there to observe it, cheering and yelling "Hosanna!" It must have been quite a day.

After thinking about it a bit, I wondered what would it be like today if Jesus came into town, maybe driving a white convertible. Probably people would be so busy taking selfies and videos that wouldn't matter who this person was. There would be a lot of people looking and a lot of people recording the event for their walls and webpages, but I wonder if they were would stop to hear what he had to say, or would they be just so busy looking for a photo op or maybe a selfie with the celebrity himself, it wouldn't  matter what he said. The important thing was that they got the image and used it to impress their own followers. 

The world has changed a lot, I don't think anybody is denying that. Mobile generation, mobile civilization, we have instant communications so that if war breaks out, we know instantly. We don't have to wait a week for a message to get to our town from some central place where they knew what was going on. Oh no, we are connected. We check the number of friends we have on Facebook, the number of connections we have on LinkedIn, and the number of responses that we get to blog posts and whatever. Oh yes, we're connected. But if we stop and think about it, do we know our next-door neighbor's name? What about people two houses down? Do we know who they are? 

No matter how much we are connected on instant media, we are still disconnected from our fellow human beings. Walking through a store or down the street, waiting in line at the post office -- everybody is so busy paying attention to their cell phone and who is texting what that there is none of the free conversation that used to be possible in those situations. Now, if someone says something to someone in line at the grocery store, or in passing, or even sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks, it's very unusual for people to strike up a conversation. We have become disconnected, no matter how much we say we are connected.

Lent is a time that we usually think about connection. We may pray more, go to church more, participate in church activities, take on Lenten duties like helping at a food bank or doing volunteer work for some organization or other as a way of taking up Jesus' cross and maybe making it a little lighter for him. Now that connects us with other people and hopefully it connects us with God a little more. We find ourselves so busy these days that it's really difficult to connect with God as easily as we can our best friend across the country on Twitter,  Instant Messenger, Facebook, or texting. And , there's usually a fairly instantaneous reply. With God, though, there may be quite a wait, and an answer may never come in a way we can easily identify. So what we do is  say "Okay ," and go on to the next thing, like if we called someone and only got a busy signal.  

Of course, that's not the way it's supposed to be. Yes, we may have an increase in pious activities during Lent, but what about when Easter comes? Palm Sunday is the run-up, but Easter is the big event. On Easter Sunday at church, the place is jammed to the rafters and you see a lot of people that you haven't seen since last Christmas for even last Easter. It's a kind of reconnection but it's a temporary reconnection. We were told and taught to go to church on those days, even if our families were particularly religious, and that's the way we do it. Then we off the hook until next Christmas or Easter. We can disconnect again and return to our other "connected" lives. 

What of the connection between us and God? And also between us and our neighbors? Of course, we're supposed to be doing this all year, but it doesn't always work that way, not in our busy lives when we barely have time to say hello to the kids, get dinner ready before it's time to go to bed. Maybe we need to do is disconnect from our connections and reconnect with one that really matters.

I've been having Internet problems with connection for the last two months. Connected, disconnected, and then the cycle repeating itself over and over again. It's frustrating, I have things I need to do online, it's important that I get these things done, but how can I do it if I keep getting disconnected? The answer is go on to the next thing to which I can and at some point in time I'll be reconnected and get as much done as I can.

With God it's a little different. With God, this connection is always on our end. God doesn't disconnect from us, we disconnect from God, and many times this God dis-connection is our perception rather than actuality. It's like taking pictures of Jesus in a white car driving over palm fronds,  and being in the crowd standing there with cell phones in camera mode and taking it all in and then posting it to prove that I was there. But what was I actually there for? Am I there to actually connect with this man in the white car being treated like the greatest rock star that ever hit the planet? Am I there to hear some words of wisdom, some reassurances, some things that I need to know and encouragement to do things I need to do? When am I going to disconnect and reconnect with my priorities in order? 

It's time to connect with God, and connect with my neighbor, not just on a cell phone, or chat, or a tweet, but in face-to-face, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye ways. Time to reconnect with God, because that's the most important connection of all.

God bless.  

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 8, 2017.


Holy Saturday has come again. It's always one of those days when I'm not too sure what to think or how to feel about it. Like most Saturdays, the church is quiet and sitting alone except for the flurry of activity of the Altar Guild preparing the altar and flowers for the following day's services. Other than that, it's another day in the life of the church, a day when there are no meetings being held in any of the various rooms, no worship being held until the Easter vigil in the evening and a sense of waiting.

It's the waiting that I think about this Holy Saturday. Recently a number of people that  I know have been  undergoing the pain of waiting for various things, some of them for the demise of loved ones.  It is a release for the dying but it is gut wrenching for those who are waiting. Waiting like that takes a lot out of a person. For one thing, it means the imminent loss of someone very important in their lives. For another, it's almost being afraid to leave the loved one's bedside, even for a short break, because it might be just at that moment when the loved one steps from life into a larger world. It's hard, and even though we know it's going to happen, we are never really totally ready for it.

I think about Mary, Jesus's mother, and those who loved Jesus, especially Mary Magdalene and the others who gathered under the shadow that cross and watched as their loved one suffered and died knowing that they could do nothing to prevent or relieve it. It was brave of them to be where they were and to share in what was happening at the that time. It was brave because they were women, and it was unusual for them to be standing in a place of execution for criminals. But in their case,  convention, rules, tradition, all went out the window. They needed to be where they were, and I do think that Jesus knew they were there. Maybe in one small part of his brain not consumed with pain and loss, he blessed them for staying with him. It must have been hard waiting, with the sun shining down on them, no benches or chairs to sit on, and is certainly the only ones giving them any sympathy at all were the members of their own small group. Still they waited, just as we in the church wait and watch and pray from Good Friday until we rekindle the light at the Vigil.

For them, the end came and released them from the agony of the deathwatch, but it was so close to sundown that they didn't have time to prepare the body for burial as they would normally have done. The body was taken down from the cross and quickly whisked away to the tomb where the stone was rolled across it and they could not go in. They had to wait until after the Sabbath was over before they could return to do what needed to be done. So they waited.

Male disciples waited too, in their own way, up in that room where they had last gathered with Jesus and wondered what was going to become of them. They feared that they were known to be Jesus's followers and, as such, were at risk of arrest and possible crucifixion themselves. So they sat and worried about their own futures and what they should do now that they were leaderless in a hostile environment. The two groups waited, although it was a different kind of wait.

Holy Saturday for most people these days is just a normal day like any other day. We mow the grass,  go to the store, go shopping, and watch whatever sport is on TV as a way of rewinding. We are not waiting, we are busy doing things, we go on with life as if nothing important happened or is happening, that is, unless we become one of those who are forced into waiting for something. At that time, we can put ourselves in the same place with the women at the foot of the cross. We're suffering, and we look up and see one who suffers even more. We look on the face of our loved one and we hope to see the look of peace in the time before their last breaths, but we keep waiting until the inevitable happens. Then, and only then, can we take a deep breath and let the tears roll and we can express our own grief, selfish grief because we have lost something someone precious, but also a joyful time knowing that a loved one has found his or her way out of this world and into the next.

So today is a day of waiting. It's a day to spend some time contemplating and praying and most of all watching with those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. It may be a day where all of us can join those standing at the foot of the cross and then waiting before the sealed tomb, with faith that in the morning our sorrow be lessened and our weeping will turn to joy.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Scent of Gratitude

Now and then there comes a moment when time seems to stop, even for the merest fraction of a second, and in that fraction of a second something becomes so clear that it's almost heartbreaking. It happened to me the other morning when I went to feed the outside cats. It was just about dawn, and the air was moderately crisp, given the temperatures we've been having during the day lately. In my hurry to get the cats fed I didn't notice anything special, but when I turned to go back to the  house all of a sudden there was this most marvelous scent. I looked at my jasmine growing up one of the patio supports. I couldn't see any blooms although there were plenty of buds, but still there was a slight whiff of something sweet coming from it. Then I noticed an even stronger fragrance coming from the orange trees across the road. Between the two it was such a delightful aroma that I wanted it to last forever. Unfortunately, like most things that attract me by scent, the olfactory centers quickly assume that that is normal and move on to something else, so I can't smell it anymore. It's only for a short period of time that it's new enough to the nose that I can actually smell us and enjoy it.

There are other times when I know I noticed a pleasant odor or tang that that has a trigger to it that cascades memories and sometimes new thoughts in my head. Give me a whiff of salt water and I'm back home on my river even though I'm thousands of miles away. The scent of pine, the smell of rain, the aura and warmth of wax candles, like a bayberry one at Christmas or the beeswax ones in church. Speaking of church, there's a remnant of, the scent of incense in church from years of high holy day celebrations. Then there's the  perfume mama used to wear, and her hand lotion. There are probably a hundred others ( would recognize that I can't remember right at the moment, but if I caught a bit of their scent then I would react to it.

The world we are  more accustomed to smelling is one of  diesel fumes or auto exhaust, hot tar, fresh-cut grass, the neighbor's steaks on the grill, the sweaty smell of the gym, some pleasant, some  pungent. We lose ignore smells because there are more important sensory work going on. Still, it's hard to walk past a stand of flowers in the grocery store this time of year, because there is a fragrance of hyacinths, and it reminds me of the hyacinths back home in the spring. I can walk by the fruit and for a moment I'll smell the strawberries or oranges or even some of the vegetables, and I remember how amazing they smell compared to the aisle full of air fresheners which, while they smell good, or so I'm told, they don't necessarily do the trick.

As I stood there the other morning enjoying the brief encounter with the orange blossoms and the jasmine, it was easy for me to be thankful for such an enjoyable treat. I'm afraid there many times when I fail to be thankful for little things like sweet scent in the air or the flight of the hummingbird or even a gorgeous sunset. I've been churches were there was an indefinable smell of furniture polish and candles with maybe just a tiny bit of leftover incense last used months ago. It seems to soak into the place and it adds a kind of what used to be called an "odor of sanctity", a smell that reminded me that I was in a holy place, and one where such things  help me to relax and to fall into a little bit more meditative mood simply .

When was the last time I stopped to smell something like I did the other morning? I did this morning after I finish mopping the floor and the Pine-Sol made the house smell nice and clean. After that I gave thanks. There are times I give thanks for the smell of clean sheets or the almond oil for the wood furniture. Perhaps the sense of smell is somehow attached to a feeling of love? Well, some of them, anyway. It's hard to love the smell of a diesel bus exhaust.

So where am I going to allow scent to take me this week? There are many pungent smells, many of them unpleasant, that I run across on a daily basis, but how do I create a thankfulness moment with fragrance that gives my heart a little bit of joy? Febreze won't always do it, and now they tell us not to burn candles because of the lead in the wick, and one can only take so much Pine-Sol. So my next search is to look for something somewhere, inside or out, that will help me find a moment of joy and a moment of thankfulness. After all, God made smells as well as sights and sounds and tastes and touches. God put them there for us to use and to enjoy and also spur us on to clean up the unpleasant and rejoice in the pleasant. So this week I need to find something to bring that to mind are more regular basis.

Go thou and find something beautiful and sweet and fresh, then remember to thank God for it. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

God in Creation

The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander is our conception of God.  -  Cyril of Jerusalem

This week I've been thinking about climate, weather, and all that they entail. It could be that the temperature here in the Phoenix area has been around 90°, and this is only the middle of March! Our average is at least 10° below that, so please don't mention that global warming doesn't exist. At least don't mention it to me.

Climate is part of what makes our world work. Climate defines how much rainfall we get, or are supposed to get. It defines a basic temperature range, what kind of precipitation we can expect, or not expect. It defines where we spend our time, if we have the ability. Folks who freeze to death in Minnesota cheerfully drive down to the Phoenix area for the winter because it seldom freezes, and is usually warm enough for them to run around in Bermuda shorts and T-shirts when people like me who live here are bundled up against what we perceive as cold. My friend in Oregon groans when I tell her it's 90° here because she still cold and getting snow and lots of rain. Can't please everybody I guess.

Climate has changed over centuries and millennia. When the world was new and pristine it was like a huge garden, or so we are told. There were deserts I'm sure, just as I'm sure there were mountains where the snow never melted and glaciers that crept along and kept forming along with the ice caps. I'm sure there were things like earthquakes and massive windstorms, and typhoons and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, all affecting our world and our climate in one way or another.

Thing is, God created the world to run according to certain rules. If the balance of things gets out of kilter, something happens. Take fault lines. when the pressure builds up to a certain point, something's gotta give, and so the earth shakes, rumbles, and acts like an old man trying to get comfortable in a lumpy bed. When a warm air current runs into a cold air current, all kinds of interesting (more or less) happens. God set the rules, then set the world in motion, and it's been following those rules all along - until humans decided to play God and change things. Too bad we're not God-wise enough to see clearly what we're doing.

Since we are unable to control a lot of what goes on in creation, especially when it comes to things like creation itself, we're just out of luck. We have to admire the fact that God put everything together like a clockmaker forming an instrument that would run well, keep accurate time, and also be interesting to look at. The clockmaker might add a set of gears that would show which planets were circling overhead as well as tell the time of day, chimes on the hour and a quarter hour, and even a very comforting tick-tock as the pendulum swings back and forth. Creation is a bit like that. It started out as finely tuned as a watch of the finest craftsmanship. But then we started "improving." We completely left God out of creation and put ourselves in. 

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but I've seen enough pictures from enough different viewpoints that I have no doubt that it is a most spectacular place to see.  I've seen great mountains and I've overlooked the Shenandoah Rivers,  so old that in places the sides of almost every curve in the river almost touch each other. I seen storms at sea and I've seen the fury of hurricanes and typhoons. I've felt the rumble and shake of a big earthquake, or even a small one for that matter. Every time I run across something like that it reminds me of how immense this world is and how tiny I am, and then I think about God.

God is so much more than the clockmaker who set this one little blue marble in motion. It's part of a small universe in a small galaxy off to one side of a super galaxy billions and trillions of miles from the next galaxy or the next star is. We look through telescopes to see if we can find God, but what we find is that the universe is infinitely more expansive, more complex, and more spectacular than we could possibly have ever dreamt, and we haven't even found the edge of it yet, for all our technology and our looking.

We still haven't found God, but we have found what God created. I have to agree with Cyril, I can't contemplate creation without being totally in awe of the Supreme Being with such immense power and such immense love, a God who is the creator of worlds and universes but who willingly cradles each of us in God's hands, especially when we need a little nurturing.

This week I will contemplate the mystery of God in the enormous diversity of creation itself and my place in it. I look up at Orion, my favorite constellation, and think of all that lies beyond it even as I look at the familiar shape that I have seen many times from my childhood. It's God's work, and all that is in that creation, from the lichens on the rocks in the woods and the moss beside streams, to the vast variety of animals. I think about the different kinds of trees and the adorable innocence of babies and kittens and puppies. We are all made of star stuff because God made the stars from stardust and, as we are told on Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Guess who made the dust?

In the creation that is God's playground, go thou and find something awesome in creation that points thee to God. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Saints and Sinners -- with a nod to Lent Madness

The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  Oscar Wilde

We're already one full week into Lent. By now we've started to miss the little things that we gave up and maybe chafing a bit at the extra that we've taken on, but that's what Lent is, a time to make changes, look inside and see what needs to be pitched out and what can be dusted off and put back on the shelf.

It's also a time for that monumental event, Lent Madness. It's a celebration of both saints and ordinary people, all of whom have and all of whom have done marvelous, remarkable things. They've started schools, traveled the world preaching the gospel, may have smuggled people from a place of danger to a place of safety at risk of their own lives. They have made music, they have started organizations to take care of the less fortunate, they have risked all to help fellow human beings. Many of them may not be canonized, or officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but Episcopalians can still consider them saints. Look at Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Julian of Norwich, among many others. Lent Madness makes us aware of some of the lesser-known capital S Saints (canonized)  and lower case saints. It teaches us their lives were like and how they came to wear the crowns of saints and martyrs and the like.

I doubt that anyone would consider Oscar Wilde a saint. He was a wordsmith of the highest caliber, had a wicked sense of humor, and was the author of plays, poems, and novels, as well as a wry commenter on just about everything. One thing about Oscar Wilde that many would consider a barrier to his being considered any kind of saint was the fact that he was homosexual in a time when homosexuality was not only frowned upon but isolating and dangerous. That made me think about what  the quote that I used this morning about every saint having a past that every sinner having a future. Oscar Wilde definitely gave credence to that statement, whether you considered him a saint for his writing or a sinner for who he was.

We often think of saints as people who were recognized from the very beginning as saintly, even as children. Some of them spent hours in church as small children. Joan of Arc prayed and heard voices and saw visions in as a preteen. St. Bernadette, many of the medieval female saints, began early in their lives to be called to God's service as cloistered nuns -rather than follow the  norm of getting married and having lots of children. The thing was that even though many of them were good little  girls (and boys too), they also had a little quirks and flaws that might somehow tarnish their image of being as close to perfection as a body could get on earth.

 Mary Magdalene , was considered to be a harlot for many centuries, despite her closeness to Jesus and her accolade as the Disciple to the Disciples. In the fifth century an Orthodox priest proclaimed that she was a harlot and poor Mary didn't get her reputation back until the 1960s. Is a long time to go with the tarnished reputation. There are tales in the gospel of Thomas of Jesus being somewhat naughty from time to time but yet we overlook those things if we even know about them because were accustomed to the four Gospels were Jesus never put a foot wrong. It's like we want people to be worse then we are. If they can become saints, what's stopping us?

Every saint had a past of some sort, but if I look at the second half of the quotation, it makes a balance that I haven't really thought about that much before. To go with every saint has a past, Wilde put that every sinner had a future. Just because a person has a "past" does not mean that is the only option for them. They can change. They may feel a call from God that they were not expecting, pr something which involved a complete turnaround in their manner of life and thought.

I myself have a past. A lot of it is stiff that I would not be even remotely proud of; in fact, I'm shamed by a good deal of it. Being brought up with shame as something that was a part of our religious tradition, and being imprinted at such a young age with that particular theology, it was and is  kind of hard to get past it. But I have learned that I'm not stuck in that sinful past unless I choose to be. I have the ability and hopefully the desire to make changes, whether in or outside of Lent, to move from abject sinner perhaps not to saint, but at least to someone who is seen the folly of sin and decided to get past that.

So this week, I think I will be trying to be a little more of a saint than a sinner. I will feel a little more saintly once I get the house clean, and the laundry is caught up, and the yard mowed, but that's only stuff that benefits me. I need to find something to do in my life this week that can make a difference in someone else's life, not to put a halo on my head, but to do what Jesus said about loving my neighbor as myself and help other people who need help. It's going to be interesting to see how I can resolve that.

So let's all try this week to look at the bracket of Lent Madness, read the biographies of the saints proposed, and find something that we can have in common with those formerly sinful people, many who don't have the word "saint" in front of their name. It might just be an enlightening adventure.

Go thou, play Lent Madness, and find a link to a future of sainthood. God bless.

PS. Wilde also said, "The Roman Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone -- for respectable people. the Anglican Church will do."  (Disclaimer -- he said it, but I don't think I totally buy it, I think.)

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 11, 2017.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Celebration in Lent

Family doesn't have to be your relatives. Family means that your life is part of someone else's, like sections of hair that need each other to form a braid. — Michelle Bender.

Something I've always known about families is that they don't always have to be related people, related by blood, that is. Family can be people you related to, people you have something in common with, people with whom you are in community, and people who come into your life almost by coincidence and set up a place all their own  in your heart. I've got lots of friends and I love them all, but you know, sometimes there are just special people that do have a place no one else could possibly fill, people that, that no matter how long it's been since you've seen each other or talked, when we connect it's like the years have become minutes and we pick up immediately where you left off.

I got an invitation in the mail this past week to a celebration, the 70th wedding anniversary of two people I've known for probably 35 years or so, and who have been like a family to me in every good sense of the word. It will be a celebration, because honoring a commitment of 70 years is something indeed worth celebrating. I saw a quote from Paul Sweeney that struck me when I found it just after receiving the invitation.  "A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance, and tenacity. The order varies for any given year." I have a feeling any marriage of any length would find it applicable, and especially those who have lasted for decades.

These friends, a priest and his wife, have been warm, full of hospitality, full of  laughs, full of good food, good company, and willing to share. There are both highly intelligent people, and very talented in very different ways. Perhaps that's what has helped make their marriage survive. That plus they have three great kids, they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The whole family devoted to each other and I think that has helped make the marriage strong. It's only right to celebrate an event like this for special people like them. Even though its Lent, it's time to celebrate two lives which, while maybe not perfect (at least not 100% of the time, anyway), are nonetheless an example of commitment.

We don't usually consider Lent as a time for celebrations. Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection and repentance and change. One is supposed to give up things, or at least that's used to be the prevailing thought. It was a big deal to give up coffee, or chocolate, or maybe going to the movies for Lent, but that has sort of taken on a new emphasis. It is not so much about giving up of favorite things, although that is still encouraged, but now we are encouraged to take on things, usually charitable works or more religious practice and reading. At any rate, Lent is a time of solemnity and, sometimes, a bit overwhelming when we consider our very own sins for any length of time.

There's a saying by Robert Orben that makes me chuckle but also reflects a deeper truth. "Most people would like to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch." It's hard to try and change habits and give up our beloved little sins for 40 days. It's hard to be reminded of our sinful natures and our shortcomings, and sometimes that can get to be just a little much. It can become very depressing. Of course, it's good for us to examine our faults and flaws, although it's not as easy as examining other people's. Still, in Lent, we're supposed to think about our own sins and how they need to be fixed, changed, or done away with.

Then, in the midst of all this, there comes a celebration like my friends' wedding anniversary, and you know, why shouldn't we have celebrations during Lent? If I stop and think about it, Lent is 40 days spread over six weeks. That comes out to 6.6666666 days of repentence we round out to 6 days a week. But what about that other day, the day we call Sunday? It's still part of the week, but it's not considered a Lenten day. Oh yes, it the church colors are still the purple of repentance and our readings are generally dealing with sin and salvation from those sins, but Sunday is like a day off, a time to celebrate.

We gather on Sunday in church and lo and behold, even though we have put away a specific word like "Alleluia" which is word of joy, we still have a celebration. We still gather as a family to celebrate the Eucharist, and that's a celebration. It's joyfully gathering together in the presence of God to partake of a family meal instituted by Jesus to join us together in our faith. It's not simply a reenactment, it is a celebration in every sense of the word.

During Lent we celebrate things like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births, and promotions, and we look forward to Easter where there will be celebrations of  baptisms where new Christians will be brought into the church as we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord. Then will celebrate the Eucharist on Easter just like we do every Sunday and it will be another celebration for us.

So to all those who celebrate something during Lent, it's cause for joy even in the midst of repentance. So happy anniversary, Jack and Bettie.  May you continue to remind us that a braid is made up of individual strands, and each strand strengthens the whole exponentially. May you have more anniversaries, family births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and just joyful get-togethers.

For all of us, go thou and celebrate. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 4, 2017.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Inheritance and Investment

Ruth 4:1-17

Everybody loves a bargain. There's something about a tag that says "buy one get one" that seems to be beckoning people to buy things just to get another one for 50% off or even, and maybe better, free. It encourages compulsive buying, and merchants know that. 

The story of Ruth is a familiar one -- Naomi and Elimelech moved to Moab with their sons who married two Moabite women. Elimelech and the two sons died, leaving the three women alone and unprotected with no family around them. Naomi decides to move back home but encourages the daughters-in-law to remain in Moab. One does just that, but Ruth, the other, vows to follow Naomi back to her home. She does, and follows Naomi's instructions about gleaning in a relative's field and other things that would make their lives better.

Elimelech had owned some land, and Naomi decided to sell it since there were no direct heirs in Elimelech's line because there  were no sons. We know at least two kinsmen at least, were interested in the property, so one of them, Boaz, met the other in the marketplace and asks the relative's plans regarding the inheritance, whether or not the cousin would accept it. Boaz made quite a formal event of it making sure that there were witnesses needed to make it a binding thing no matter which way it went. The kinsman said he would redeem the inheritance, probably thinking it would increase his portfolio quite nicely. Then Boaz adds a little reminder. "If you take the land, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite widow of a dead man, and you will raise sons to be Ruth's late husband's inheritors."

The kinsman thought about that for a minute and then decided that the deal just wasn't a good thing for him and so he left it all to Boaz. . It sounds funny to us to use land as a primary factor in inheritance and then,  oh, by the way, throw in a human being in the process. It sounds almost demeaning. It was if Ruth were no more than a chattel, a possession to be bargained for willy-nilly, or sent here or there depending on the circumstances. Frankly, as a 21st century woman, it galls me. I realize  the times were very different then, and I can't argue with the culture 3000 or so years ago.

Inheritance is always been an important thing. Most people had very little to leave as an inheritance. If they were lucky, they had the clothes on their back and the family that they left behind. With better luck, they might on a stall in the marketplace and maybe even their own house or room above their place in the market. They lived in a time where goods were thought of as limited resources. The more you had, the less there was for me, because there was only so much to go around. Today it does seem that the world does go by that belief, given that 1% of the world's people have as much as almost all of the 99% of others, ranging from wealthy to comfortable to poor to utterly destitute. Some even base their theology on that belief in limited resources and the Prosperity Gospel where God loves the rich so much more than the poor (or they wouldn't be so poor!).

Back to Ruth and Boaz. We know at the end that indeed Boaz does take Ruth as his wife and, per the custom of the people, he has a child by her who is considered to be the son of her late first husband, Mahlon. That was a common thing, to prevent names and bloodlines from being lost. Even if adopted, it was as if the child were born to the adoptive family rather than its own birth family which, if you think about it, is as it should be.

Meanwhile after the birth of Obed, the son of Ruth,  he was taken to Naomi to be a new son to her. She placed him on her knees as was the custom and adopted him. In essence, he got a mother and grandmother all the same time, and still had Ruth and Boaz as parents. Boaz got the land and got a family as well. It was a pretty good deal, plus it brought Boaz into the lineage of a child to be born at some future point in time who would make all children inheritors of a great kingdom.

Think of it -- an inheritance of a part of a great kingdom, FREE! Ok, so the price of entrance is a belief in this kingdom and a willingness to work to make that kingdom a reality. God isn't asking us to take out a mortgage with God to be part of this kingdom, so there's nothing to buy or which could be bought to get a person into the place of inheritor. Instead, God is inviting us to be investors of time and talent (and sometimes money to help others) in this dream of God. Sounds a lot better than "Buy one, get one free," at least to my way of thinking. What about you?

Go thou and invest wisely in thy inheritance. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 25, 2017.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


One of the things I like most about Education for Ministry is the theological reflections that we do. We look at an object, picture, Scripture, quote, or piece of music and try to see it from different personal and group perspectives. The goal is to consider where we are in the world of this metaphor (the picture or other artifact), where God is, what we are called to do, and what we can do in our lives and ministries (which are often the same). It is a fascinating process, and the core of the EfM program

The picture that we looked at this past week in our group is the one shown above, a picture of a
person standing in front of a stone ruin and looking upwards. We knew beforehand that this was the ruin of a monastery or an abbey on a small island off the coast of Ireland, and that it had been abandoned for a long period of time. There was no glass in the windows, no roof over the empty space inside, but it appeared so solid and, in some ways, solid, permanent, and stable.

Despite the fact that it had been abandoned for whatever reason, there was also a sign that people took care of the site, and that it was a place where people still came to visit. It was noted that on the other side of the structure was a graveyard with tilted stones,  and people often came with their blankets and their picnic baskets and their children to sit among the stones to have  a picnic lunch. It was, in a way, like a family place, unlike an amusement park where you're always supposed to be busy. In this place you could sit quietly or walk around and look and feel a part of a different but welcoming world. 

The thing that struck me with the stones. Being from a place back East where history is a very important thing, I'm rather used to old buildings, even reconstructed old buildings. The church I attended at home was built in the late 1600s. The walls are the original walls, and they have a permanence about them. I remember sitting in the pews on Sundays back in the days when we did morning prayer three weeks out of the four, chanting the canticles, and feeling the presence of people who had worshiped in that church since its founding. It was a very thin space, and touching the stone of the church wall reminded me of all that had transpired in the life of this church. Touching the stone brought me in contact with the past. It was a feeling of stability. 

I look at the picture and I have the same kind of feeling. I want to touch the stone. I want to feel the presence of those who lived and worshiped there, and the essence of all the prayers that had gone up from that place and, possibly, that still go up from that place. 

The stone walls of the monastery or abbey represent  a part of our tradition, part of our history. Our culture today is quite different, and I can see where some people would think keeping this old ruin is a waste of time, money, and even space. It's more logical to take the stones down and build a conference center, or a hotel, or something that will bring in money, at least for the owners. I think that comes partially from the rootlessness many of us feel these days. For some of us, we have to be constantly pushing ahead, looking to the future, shedding things that no longer work for us or represent who we perceive ourselves to be. On the other hand, though, some of us cling to some of the old ways (not necessarily all of them, i.e., slavery, droit du signeur, and the like). We are comfortable hearing the Bible in the English of the 16th century, find the music of the 16th-19th century both soothing and invigorating in a way the incessant sub-sub-woofers of today can't be, and we look with pride at buildings that have survived for centuries that give us a feeling of comfort, stability, and permanence.

Jesus was, in a sense, a very mobile person for someone of his time. His roots were deep in Judaism and its history. Yet in many of his sayings, sermons, and talks, he often spoke of a new world, a rebuilding of God's kingdom on earth, that would change everything. He had plenty of critics, and he had plenty of people who didn't want to hear the message because, like the old unofficial Episcopal  motto used to be, "But we've never done it that way!" They wanted to do things exactly the way their ancestors had done That was their stability in a troubling time. Some people today go into monasteries and convents because they want simplicity of the life, the structure of the prayer times and the work times and the meditation times, and the close connection to God. Others, though,  just want to keep moving keep moving especially up when it comes to the corporate ladders.

Sometimes it takes getting a bit of distance from the everyday and the mundane to make us understand what this world is about. Jesus often retreated to quiet, secluded, places to play and to meditate and communicate. Maybe for others it would be a church, or garden, a forest, an ocean view, or any one of a number of things. As long as there is a time to retreat, even if just for a few hours, to reconnect with ourselves and God, in peace and perhaps solitude. It was true for many of our saints who lived as monks, nuns, hermits, anchoresses and anchorites in the past. There are those who still follow that, who find their roots in God, and stability in scheduled hours of work, study, and prayer.

The challenge this week is to find a place that resonates with me, to find something old, that has an aura about it, that speaks of stability, peace, and sanctity. I may not find it here, but as long as I have images like the monastery or the abbey, I can put myself into the picture and become part of what it represents. I can feel the presence of those who have sent prayers heavenward from that spot, and join with them in spirit as well.

I challenge all of us to follow Jesus to sacred places where there's room for permanence, stability, silence and meditation. I hope we can all find a place like that because in this current world, a little silence and a whole lotta feelings of stability would be a true gift from God.

Go thou and find thy space. God bless.

Picture: Copyright: Laurie Gudim, used by permission.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 18, 2017.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Practice Persistence

...I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.   - 2 Timothy 4:1d-5

I can't speak for anyone else but I dread opening a paper or looking at the news on the internet or Facebook because there rarely seems to be anything good. Okay, some nice people have posted some lovely baby pictures,  and there's one adorable little girl singing with her grandmother as they read a book together. Then the people who post pictures of kittens. May God bless them forever, because that's one thing that helps keep me sane. Give me kittens any day over politics. In fact, give me a kitten any day over almost anything. They do tend to brighten the day.

As if we didn't have enough anxiety running around before the election, it seems like the anxiety is growing because suddenly, some were so enthusiastic are suddenly beginning to wonder what they were voting for. I'm not saying everybody; I can't speak for everybody. I can speak for myself, and I have to say I do wonder what people who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus can find to cancel out the seemingly contradictions of what Jesus teaches us. But it's nothing new. It happens periodically that, somewhere in the world, a leader goes a bit bonkers and believes too much of their own press, or thinks their truth is the only truth.

Paul wrote a letter to Timothy just before his own martyrdom. It seems to apply today every bit as much as it did in the world that Paul knew. I love the part about the itching ears. It seems such an accurate phrase for people who believe what they're told without actually discerning whether or not what they're told is actually true and factual, not alternative facts or patent lies.  

Everyone wants to believe that they have the right idea. Everybody who proclaims to be a Christian, more often than not, has a specific view of what the Bible actually says and who said it. Those who believe that it's the inerrant word of God and that every word is literally true and factual present an entirely different case than someone who, to quote Karl Barth, "...Take  the Bible too seriously to take it literally." In short, the Bible is too important to be just words that can be recited at will and ignored when it comes to actually living it.  

We can't waste time in wringing our hands and expressing our anxiety. That's not going to help anyone, least of all ourselves. It's not going to help the world, and it's not going to help those most in need of good news. So now what?. Go back to early in the verse proclaim the message. Be persistent.

During World War II, almost every country that had the German shadow over it had its own groups of persistent people who worked to defeat those they saw as the enemy. They hid refugees, helped rescue those who were threatened with deportation to death camps, and countless lost and injured soldiers and pilots who they helped back to safety, all at a risk of their own lives. They didn't save everyone, but they did what they could and did it with persistence. If something didn't work one day, try again the next. Maybe that's something we can take from the past and use it to spread the gospel message. Resist by being persistent. 

Be persistent. It's like a new watchword for the year. It's become a slogan that brings a number of groups together for common good which is giving people a voice and a measure of control over their own lives, without interference from the government, or maybe even the church, or maybe a single person. We need to be persistent. Following Christ takes persistence. It's not easy;  never has been, never will be. But it's the job we have been given. It's an evangelical method message that we are to bring to the world and is how we are to live our lives, with persistence, with joy, and with less concern about sound doctrine than the lessons that Jesus taught us.

Time to get going on this folks. God loves the persistent, because so many of the people of the Bible exhibited persistence. Even though they didn't get their way immediately, or have their wishes and hopes fulfilled immediately, eventually things worked out. So now it's our turn.

Go thou and be persistent. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 12, 2017.