Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Day 2, 2015 - A little child shall lead them...

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the
Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the
His delight shall be in the fear of the

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the
   as the waters cover the sea.

 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.  - Isaiah 2:1-10

The daily news seems to keep getting worse and worse. Children shot in crossfires, people with a so-called "cause" use explosives and high-powered firearms to mow down as  many people as possible, our would-be politicians regale us with claims that refugees (and/or gay marriage) will destroy this nation -- it goes from one thing to another and then back again. Things are in a mess, and in the midst of it we are supposed to find peace, good will, and joy in the approaching nativity of Our Lord.

Reading Isaiah, it feels like he is describing an idyllic place where harmony reigns and danger does not exist. It's a metaphoric paradise where enemies are comfortable together, and poisonous reptiles offer no challenge. I wonder -- what would living in a world like that would be like?  It really sounds almost too good to be true.

Young children are innocents who accept the world as good. Often they learn it is otherwise, but we hope that doesn't happen too soon. Many young people offer us words of wisdom that seem to come from a elder sage. Take, for example, Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Laureate at the age of 16 and a champion for education for girls. I read something she said the other day and it made such sense: "With guns you can kill terrorists. With education you can kill terrorism."  These are words of a young woman wise beyond her years.

"A little child shall lead them..."  It doesn't take someone with a PhD or multiple graduate degrees in esoteric subjects to state something so clearly and so truthfully that it brings a listener up short.

Advent is about preparing for the birth of the little child who grew up to be a teacher, preacher, healer, and messiah. At the age of 12, he spent several days debating and discussing theology with wise men at the Temple in Jerusalem. They were amazed, just as we are when we read of children doing great things or even small things that start something that benefits many. 

Perhaps Isaiah's vision of a little child leading a world where lions and lambs lie down together isn't so far fetched. Maybe if we just look around, we'll see glimpses of it.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 28, 2015.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Day 1, 2015 - The Days are Coming...

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’  - Jeremiah 33:14-16
It's the first day of Advent. At church we light the first of the four colored candles on the wreath and at home we start looking ahead to Christmas. Although it's only the first day of Advent, Christmas trees are going up, cookies are being baked and Christmas lists are being made and amended. It's a season of preparation - but for what and for whom are we doing all this preparation?

"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah."  That's a hint about what this season is meant to celebrate. How did we get so far from looking for the coming of the messiah to looking for who can give the best presents and what we'd like to have waiting for us under the tree?

Prophets were challenged to look around and see what was going against what God wanted and expected. Then it was their job to convince the people of the necessity to turn things around. It was an almost impossible job most of the time. People never like to find out they've been going the wrong way.

We have a lot of people today telling us that the days are surely coming when we will be bombed or shot or enslaved by foreigners. We will have our guns taken away and our security will be for nothing. That is not what we want to hear. We want assurances that we can wall ourselves off from the rest of the world and still maintain our self-proclaimed Christian status.  Sure, God could say a word or something that would change everything instantly, but God doesn't work that way. If God hadn't wanted our  help to make Eden bloom all over the world, I doubt we would have been given brains and free will and hands to accomplish the task..

We have people today telling us to fear and protect ourselves but we also have prophets who remind us that we are not helpless or hopeless. The thing is, to whom do we listen?  Who do we believe?

Today we should hear Jeremiah. He's telling us the same things he told Israel and Judah. The Lord is our Righteousness, YHWH Tsiquednu.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Music has always played a big part in my life. From the time I was about 3 and crawled up on the piano bench to pick out by ear the songs my brother was laboriously trying to learn until now, there have been very few times in my life when music was absent. Those absent times were very long, painful periods where things weren't going well and my spirits were about as low as a snake's belly in Death Valley.

I discovered early that I was naturally attuned to renaissance and baroque music.  I was exposed to more and more of it as I grew up, singing in church and school choirs and finally in our college choir. I never wanted to be a soloist; singing in a very large group was meat and potatoes as far as I was concerned.  When I rejoined a church choir after a number of years away from the church, I lucked into finding one that frequently sang baroque compositions, Byrd and Tallis among them.  There are a number of their compositions on my iPod today, and I don't really ever tire of hearing them.

The three composers we celebrate today -- Byrd, Merbecke, and Tallis -- were all English composers who lived around the same period of time and who helped Anglican church music grow from plainchant and simple tunes more complex melodies and harmonies of psalms, anthems, and service music.  For several centuries these were gradually forgotten but a revival of interest in them during the 19th century brought them back into public notice. An interesting sidelight is that both Byrd and Tallis remained basically Roman Catholic but musically bridged the gap with the Anglican church.

Byrd and Tallis gave us masses and settings to various scriptural passages to accompany the readings through the church year. Merbecke gave us the first Anglican settings for the Psalms in English, following in a slightly more Calvinist form of composition. The three together, though, gave the English church a tradition of musical repertoire and presentation that we can still enjoy. Listening to various Evensong services on the BBC radio station or Lessons and Carols on CDs sung by cathedral choirs from all over England and even the US continues this tradition. On their tours of Britain, many tourists visit the great cathedrals for the Evensong services, even if they never enter a church door at any other time.  Hearing clear, pure voices raised in glorious counterpoint resounding off great stone pillars and vaults can be a most uplifting spiritual experience.

Many people have said that they were drawn to the Anglican/Episcopal church because of the liturgy and also the music. It is a chance to see and hear things that are different from the everyday, hear-it-in-the-street kind of stuff. Many wander into these churches for the music and stay because it speaks to them in a way that draws them closer to God. That's precisely what the music of the church is supposed to do, at least in my opinion. Come to think of it, that's the purpose of the church too, isn't it?

I give thanks not just for Byrd, Tallis and Merbecke, but for all artists and musicians who strive to bring beauty and glory to the worship of God in God's church. I hope their gifts and talents will always be welcomed and cherished as expressions of worship which we can appreciate and which will bring us closer to God ourselves.

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. - BCP p 819.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday November 21, 2015.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ - Luke 18:1-8

There's an old saying that goes, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Any parent of a toddler child can tell you that kids are born knowing this. I think it's encrypted in the genes because toddlers learn how to say "No" early on while repeatedly attempting to do something to which their parents have already said "No."

Learning anything is a matter of persistence. A child doesn't just pick up a crayon at the age of three and immediately begin to do a neat, if not ornate, script. They don't learn to walk without falling down numerous times. They don't learn discipline until they've tried things over and over again and learn that it either works or they need to try a new approach. The widow in today's reading definitely knew the power of persistence.

I wonder what it was that the woman needed so felt so strongly about that she risked the wrath of the judge numerous times. The fact that she was a woman was strange enough, because normally a man, her husband, brother, or father, perhaps even a cousin, would have pleaded her case before the judge. but not this time. She did it herself, and continued to do it each time the judge ignored or said no. Persistence eventually paid off. The judge got tired of hearing her complaint and finally rendered a judgment in her favor just to get rid of her. Score one for persistence!

Life today requires some of that persistence. So many times during our lives, we have to do things over and over again to achieve the results we want or need. Even then, sometimes it never happens.

People like Martin Luther King Junior knew the power of persistence. He was jailed, arrested, slandered, ignored, just about everything that you can think of except being heard by the people he most needed to have hear him. He was persistent, and that persistence earned him a bullet in Memphis but by then, his persistence had become the persistence of an entire race of people, and a number of allies of other races, who took over and used that same persistence to achieve some measure of the quality. Other groups and races have used King's tactics to further their own causes but the fight isn't over yet. There is still a lot of persistence needed.

All of us at one time or another has begged God time and time again for something, like the health of a friend or loved one, a solution to what seems an insoluble problem, and even a request for peace in the world. We've taken a page out of the widow's book: we pray, pray again, and keep praying, all with the expectation that sooner or later God will hear our prayer and do as we ask. It's the one time an 92-year-old and a two-year-old are on the same plane. Keep asking in the hope that the next time, the answer will be "Yes."

We admire the woman for her persistence. We celebrate Martin Luther King for his. We look at those who persistently went about doing things that were contrary to normal custom but which were damaging to the health of the people and the earth. Sometimes we have joined them, other times we have encouraged them through contributions of time or money, and sometimes we just stood on the sidelines and watched. It's a wonder we expect God to jump in and do what we ask when were not always willing to meet God even halfway. My question today for myself is how far am I willing to go to make things happen, not just expect God to take on the whole job?

Persistence allegedly pays off. We see a lot of examples of it, so the answer would seem to be yes it does. So what are we persistent about and how do we turn it into a positive result rather than just repeating words or actions? It's not all up to God; we are expected to do our part. So today's assignment is to be persistent about something:. prayers for a friend, words of encouragement to people fighting a battle whether it's a physical battle as in war or a battle such as cancer, homelessness, or some other.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" doesn't appear in the Bible, but the principle of it does. Go out, find something to be persistent about, and get on with it. Nothing will be accomplished without persistence.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 14, 2015.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
 I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.
 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen. -- Romans 16:3-9, 16, 22-27

Halloween is over and now we are in a season a priest friend used to call "Hallowthankmas." Since Halloween decorations are up from just after Labor Day until Halloween itself, then Thanksgiving decorations are there until Thanksgiving Day. Christmas trees and lights are in the stores during both seasons. Unfortunately for those of us who celebrate Christmas as a season twelve days long, Valentine hearts and cupids appear in the stores on Christmas Day.  All the commercial seasons seem to run together, so Hallowthankmas seems to fit just fine.

With the upcoming Christmas season, there are cards to be bought, pictures to be taken for the covers or to be included in the ones we send to family and friends. Usually we enclose some kind of short message or letter, telling everyone what we have done over the year, how much the kids have grown, who's gone off to college, who's gotten married or produced our first, second or dozenth grandchild. We also send greetings to everyone and wishes for a happy holiday season.

Paul's letter to the Romans was the one epistle to a church he hadn't founded and where he wasn't personally known. One way to make points was to thank those who were familiar to the Romans, people who lived and served the Jesus Movement as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry refers to it. Among those mentioned were several women -- Prisca (Priscilla), Mary, and Junia, a woman who has has finally been allowed to have her own feminine name, rather than the Junius assigned to her by men who could not accept women as apostles. Paul didn't neglect the men, naming those who had traveled with him, were imprisoned with him, and who led the congregations. Even Paul's secretary, Tertius, and their hosts, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus, sent greetings. It was a family epistle sent to far-off family members.

We practice greeting each other when we pass the peace. There are some who will shake hands with the people within immediate range and those who will wander about the nave, hugging any- and everybody. We do it using phrases like "The peace of the Lord" or "Peace be with you," phrases that are reminders that whatever the world offers us, we follow a Lord who offers much more. It's our greeting to any who worship with us, whether we know them or not.

What about those who have worked with us. Do we remember to greet them and acknowledge their work and dedication? Paul remembered, even those who might have been ignored because of their gender. And he didn't just mention them, he gave thanks for them and their work.

But what about those outside the church doors, the people we see on the street or maybe in the grocery store or even begging on the sidewalk? Do we greet them with the same kind of greeting we use for our friends in church?  Do we even smile at them, even if we say nothing? Do we even acknowledge their presence and the image of God within them?  The running child, the homeless man, the very professional woman picking up something for dinner on her way home from work -- what about them. Do we even notice them much less greet them?

Maybe what we are supposed to learn is that whether it is for performance of tasks, acts of generosity, acknowledgement of commonalities, or just because they are fellow human beings, we should not just see them but notice them.

Greet the folks you know, but remember also to greet those you don't -- they might become new friends or co-workers.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Hallows

The costumes are laid out. The house is overstocked with candy and goodies. There are decorations of jack o'lanterns, scarecrows, and here and there a fake witch with her broomstick stuck in a tree. It's all part of the fun and spookiness of Halloween.

Ghouls and superheroes roam about, and a child can be anybody (or almost anything) they want to be on this one particular night. It's a night where we love to scare ourselves to death and then laugh at our fear. But there was a more serious side to this night we call Halloween, and that is the celebration of the Eve of All Hallows.

Anyone familiar with Harry Potter will remember that he, Ron, and Hermione, went out in search of things called hallows, which they had to find in order to rid the world of the evil Voldemort. By definition "hallow" means to hold or revere as sacred or holy, and, as Harry knew it, an item that contained something considered holy or sacred like the relic of a saint. We don't use the term hallow much anymore. All Hallows Eve has become Halloween, the night before we celebrate the great feast of All Saints, giving thanks for all the recognized Saints of the church who were martyrs, teachers, preachers, missionaries, prophetic witnesses, theologians, and probably half a dozen more categories.

The day after All Saints is connected to it as All Souls Day. On that day we recognize and celebrate all those we would consider saints but who have not been officially canonized by the church. We remember family members, friends, and others who have gone before us and who have in some way touched our lives in a very positive way. The two days form a whole, each day a part of the other, completing a circle in which we remember the dead and celebrate their lives with thanksgiving

All Hallows Eve also is an occasion for celebrating El Dia de los Muertos. On this night members of the Hispanic community and others go to the graveyards where their family members rest. They carefully clean and tend the tombs and markers. In the Philippines, they hold a night long party where the dead are the honored guests, food is put out for them as well as consumed by the participating family members, music is played and sung, and children laugh and play tag among the graves. Other cultures have varied customs centering around remembering their dead. All around, it's a mixture of reverence, sadness, and joy, and it brings the whole family together once again. Tradition says that a very thin veil between the realms of the living and the dead occurs on that night, and it can be almost transparent.

El Dia de los Muertos resonates with me because at this time of year there seems to be a very thin veil between the realms of the living and the dead. There are some both capital-s Saints and lowercase-s saints that I feel with me throughout the year. On these two days, however, beginning with All Hallows Eve, I feel them just out of reach like the small gap between God and Adam that Michaelangelo painted on the Sistine Ceiling. It becomes a day of mourning for all those that I have lost. I remember them with joy but also sadness, and I commend them to God with all the love in my for each and every one of them.

I'm grateful that we have these days especially marked for remembrances. We have several great feasts of the church, and All Saints is definitely one of those. But I'm glad we also have a time to celebrate those who will probably never have a church named after them or a marker of some sort recording some episode in their life.

Holy cow. It just struck me that one day I might be one of those remembered on All Souls. It gives me a whole different perspective to think that I ought to be living so that at least one person will remember me with thanksgiving on All Souls. That's definitely a wake-up call, and not the ding-dong of the doorbell and the children holding out bags for treats. It's a scary though: me, even a lowercase-s saint? I better get to work.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 31, 2015.

Dedicated to the memory of all my saints: Alberta, Roland, Curtis, Ray, Sonny, both Helens, Mabel, and countless others.