Monday, December 10, 2007

Whoa! Has it really almost been 6 months?

OK - so to say that life got busy after June would be an understatement. In July I finished up my final residency for my doctor of ministry program - still have the actual project thesis work to do, but residential classwork is done. Then we went on vacation. And, July 31st I began my ministry at Christ Church. That's pretty much when life changed as I know it.

I went from a part-time ministry position as an assitant in a small parish (about 300 members), to a full-time position as Associate Rector for mission & outreach, adult faith formation, and evangelism in a huge parish (over 2000 members).

All I'm saying is that with over 40 ministries that I'm responsible for (and growing) and with the level of commitment required to begin ministry in a church that size in terms of getting to know the people, the place, the practices - it's been all consuming.

But now, it's Advent. Time to ratchet back a notch and start writing again. So, here goes...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tag - I'm it! Eight Random Facts Meme


I got tagged by Gallycat! How did that happen? I didn't even feel a ripple in the force! Well, here goes...


First, the rules. Then, the meme.


1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.


1. I can write in cursive in mirror image. I learned how to do this when I learned that my 8th grade English teacher wrote her test keys that way so she could keep the answer key out and students couldn't read it!


2. I have major hitch-hiker's thumb on my right hand - so much so that I can bend it back to a 90-degree angle without using any help (like pressure from other fingers).


3. It wasn't until 6th grade that I met another kid with the name Jennifer - eventually the most popular girl's name in the country.


4. I don't drink coffee - at all - I think it smells bad, too. Yuck!


5. We picked out our daughter's name, Augusta (old family name that hadn't been used in four generations), before we got married in 1988. She was born in August eleven years later!


6. When I was in high school I was in the color guard - twirled flag and rifle. We were pretty bitchin' - won first place in the Marching Band Grand Nationals Competition (1981 Tate High School)


7. I used to sky dive when I was in college - was even the secretary of the sport parachute club.


8. I know how to tell a he-crab from a she-crab and also know how to make a crab relax so much it will curl in its little claws and go to sleep.



OK - your turn friends: Lia, Amy, Caroline, Brian...got to think of four more!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sunday Morning Sports

I've just finished and submitted an article to Episcopal Cafe on this subject and will put the link here once it's posted there.

But in the meantime...for any and all of you lurkers out there - I want your comments, please!

We just finally had to make the call that we knew was inevitable: we had to say no to a Sunday morning sports event. Now, keep in mind, this is for an all-star soccer team following a terrific regular season and play-off tournament.

I don't know about you but I'm just 'done' with the whole notion that kids' sports rule our lives to the extent that they supersede family dinner time, family down-time, and church.

I even thought about this from a multi-religious standpoint and wondered how then you deal with Saturday for Jews, etc. But I think - and someone please correct me if I'm wrong - that for Muslims, Friday is the big day, for Jews the Shabbat at home on Friday night is the main thing...but for Christians - Sunday morning is huge to our identity. We are the church, and Sunday morning is ours. So, I'm just tired of these sporting takeovers of Sunday mornings.

Of course that leaves the whole issue of sabbath time for any and all of us out of the discussion.

But, I hear that in Britain sports events happen through the schools in the afternoons- think Hogwarts quiddich matches - and are in rotation with study halls and tutorials such that when kids go home at the end of the day 'round supper time, they are 'done' with school for the day, homework and all - and their weekends are mostly free. This just seems so much more reasonable and balanced to me.

What is our problem? Why have we allowed our kids' sports and activities to dominate and even dictate our family discretionary time?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Church Marketing?

Out there - or should I say 'in there' - in the world of the church, there is a tendency to think of marketing as...well...yucky. When you start to talk to church people about things like 'brand identity' or 'advertising' or 'managing perception', we tend to cock our heads a little, squint our eyes and wrinkle our noses. Why is that?

Maybe because we tend to equate 'marketing' with selling somebody something they don't really need - or giving someone the 'hard sell'.

It seems to me that what marketing is really about is effectively communicating, reaching out to let people know about something that they may or may not realize they need, and helping them to connect to it.

Like the Gospel, for instance. Doesn't everyone need and want a little Good News (which is the literal translation of 'gospel') ?

Where here's a little bit of good news about some reaching out that the Episcopal Church is doing:

Episcopal Cafe got recognition today by the Episcopal Life Online news service. Read their great article here.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Trinity Sunday and It Feels Like Church


This morning I went back to visit with my new friends at The Falls Church Episcopal - a temporary community for me as I soujourn until my next ministry post begins. There were several visitors there today. Some were from local churches that had donated or loaned items for worship: a lectern, chalices, Bibles, Hymnals, Prayer Books, paschal candle, an Episcopal flag. Some were there because...well, just because they wanted to be supportive or see what was going on. Two guests were from as far away as Boston and Atlanta and one man, who is a member of a neighboring Episcopal church lived across the street!

Today was Trinity Sunday - a day that is always a challenge for preachers as we try to explain the unexplainable. The interim priest , Michael Pipkin, did a bang-up job though as he focused his sermon on how the Trinity is a way of understanding God - not intellectually, but experientially and relationally. I won't do it justice here so I won't try. Just suffice it to say that the sermon was apropo given the goings-on there today:

The donated and loaned items were blessed - prayed over by the congregation using words of thanks and gratitude. There continues to be a spirit of tremendous hospitality, warmth, and thanksgiving for this remnant church.

They had an indoor picnic (rained all day) after the service - yummy bar-b-que - which was shared with the visitors and members of the Falls Church Presbyterian, their hosts.

It's very Jesus-like, don't you think: where guest becomes host?

It feels to me like how church should feel.

My favorite moment: the man who stood up to read the first lesson (from Isaiah) was holding his bottle-toting toddler in his arms as he read the scripture.

My other favorite part: they aren't just keeping to themselves. They have reached out and established connections with so many other churches in the area and also had a table set up at their local Memorial Day Community celebration - with a picture in the local paper of elder-member Jesse Thackrey (scroll down the linked page to see the photo). BTW - Jesse has been a member of The Falls Church since 1941!

To read more about my sojourn with this group take a look at Episcopal Cafe - The Daily Episcopalian - where I tell about worshipping with them last Sunday on Pentecost.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Making the Most of the Time

Today, I was playing "tourist in your hometown." That's a little game we folks who live here in the metro DC area like to play from time to time. We try to not take for granted the fact that we have a plethora of living stones, crafted into architecturally astounding buildings and monuments that house some of the most significant pieces of history anywhere, all within walking distance of one another.

I played this game today because I am hosting my best-friend's daughter for the week. I made an offer that I have gladly been taken up on: I told my friend that when each of her daughters turned 15, I would host them on their own private tour of DC. So...daughter #3 is here from Atlanta, and we are making the most of the time. At least, I thought we were doing a pretty good job of that until that thought was challenged.

We started off the day dropping my son at school at 7:30 am. We walked to the nearby National Cathedral where we were able to slip in for a mostly under-the-radar self-guided tour. As a priest in the diocese, its a place that I'm all too acquainted with so I felt equipped to lead this tour amidst the whir of the floor polishers and the hushed business of resetting chairs and mopping up some uninvited water. It was blessedly peaceful and a meaningful time.

We then hopped back in the car and headed for downtown. I had made arrangements with a pastor friend to park in her church's garage which is in close proximity to the day's destinations: The International Spy Museum and the National Archives. Both sites were great to see and we had fun.
But the particular thing that challenged my thought that I was "making the most of the time" occurred at the unlikely venue of the Hard Rock Cafe.
We were seated at the far end of the dining room opposite the bar. After a few minutes of browsing the menu we realized that 'something' was going on. There were excited noises from the crowd in the center of the restaurant so we looked. At the far end, on the elevated platform where the bar is was a man...dancing! He looked to be in his 50's. As soon as the ripple of noise moved through the room, I noticed one of the waiters coming out from around the corner near our booth. Smiling he said, "Ken must be here!"

When our waitress came to take our order I asked, "So, who is this dancing Ken guy?" She rolled her eyes a little and said, "Oh, Ken. He comes here every day."
"Every day?"
"Twice a day."
"Twice a day?"
Shaking her head she said, "He's here for lunch and then again after work. He just - dances. "

"So he works?" my young friend queried.
I said, "So he must work pretty close by..."
"Yep," she said, "F.B.I."

I nearly spewed the water I had just sipped.

Ken was not a great dancer. He only had about three moves. Once, about three songs into his little routine, he busted a new move and the crowd really took notice. He danced a little more, then sat down and ate his lunch nonchalantly.

Things I noticed:

1) He was having SOME FUN! And he seemed to really like the fact that everyone else was, too.
2) He smiled and faced the rest of the crowd the whole time he was doing this.
3) He didn't seem to care one bit about what anyone else was thinking. Clearly he liked the attention.
4) He was not a great dancer, but man! Ken could DANCE!

Things I wonder:

1) Since he worked in a mostly "classified" environment, did daily doses of public dancing serve to 'bare his soul' in some cathartic way?
2) Has anyone ever jumped up there and started dancing with him? If so, how much of the joint did he get jumping?
3) Could I ever make the most of the time in a safe, healthy, happy, inspiring, fun, foolish but not foolhardy way like Ken the dancing guy was doing?

Things I felt:

1) Happy - he brought a smile to our faces.
2) Lucky - what a great story to get to tell.
3) Sad - I love to dance, yet I doubt that I would ever have the gumption to do what he's doing.

Read Ephesians 5:10-16. You can find it here.

What could you do to Make the Most of the Time you have?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Remnant


Last Sunday, Pentecost, I decided to worship with the faithful Episcopal remnant of The Falls Church, here in northern Virginia. An article about this visit is posted at Episcopal Cafe in the Daily Episcopalian section. Go take a look-see - it was a wonderful experience!



P.S. The artwork above is: Asian Remnant Oil on Canvas 30 x 30 in (75 x 75 cm) by Marie Sarni

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Welcome to the Party!"


Ironically, (see post immediately below) those were the words that I was greeted with by the Rev. Michael Pipkin this morning at The Falls Church Episcopal worship service. His was not the only warm welcome that I received - even when I was 'outed' as a priest in cognito.

This morning, after sleeping on my decision on where to go to church today with this time off that I have, I easily made the choice of going to The Falls Church rather than the National Cathedral. I love the cathedral and have worshipped there on several occasions - including my ordination to the Diaconate (2004) and Charles Keyser's (my cousin) consecration as Bishop of the Armed Forces (1989) and many, many times in-between and since. However, there was just something about going to a small gathering of faithful but marginalized folks, meeting in an upper room on the Feast of Pentecost that won out over the impersonal pomp and regalia of the grand cathedral.

It was so great to be there. It just felt so right. I am really glad I went. I will go back. I will spend the month of June sojourning with this faithful band.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Waiting and Watching


As tonight fades into tomorrow, the Christian world will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. This is one of the top high holy days of the Christian calendar - and a favorite of mine - that marks the time when, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter), the disciples were doing what they were told. They were waiting, huddled together in that same upper room where they had shared the Passover Meal with Jesus almost 2 months earlier and where they had seen the risen Christ eat a piece of fish.

I'm sitting here tonight, temporarily churchless. Last Sunday marked my final day serving with the people of St. David's and my new post at Christ Church won't officially begin until the end of July. I've been trying to decide where to spend tomorrow....and I'm torn.

On the one hand, I'd really like to visit one of the remnant churches here in Virginia in a show of support - like the group from The Falls Church that is meeting at a nearby Presbyterian church. And I will visit them on some Sunday during this time apart that I have. But, tomorrow is such a big day...such a big party day...I'm kinda leaning towards going to the National Cathedral for a big hoopla of a Feast Day. I've decided to just rest with the decision tonight and see where I'm led in the morning. In the meantime though, all this thinking's got me thinking.

I can't imagine what that time of waiting must have been like for the disciples crowded in that upper room with close companions. Would there have been a party-like atmosphere as they eagerly anticipated Jesus' promise fulfilled - maybe like a surprise party as they waited for the guest of honor to show up? You know, lots of people trying to sit really still but they can't help making funny comments to try to get someone else to laugh out loud while the biggest worrier keeps making shushing noises...false alarms..."I hear him!"..."no, that was just the man downstairs coming back from his mother's house..."

Or, would they have all been sitting solemnly, afraid to look at each other too much out of reverent and holy fear? What did they think would happen? The last time that the "Holy Spirit came upon" someone, Mary got preggers...what did they think about this terminology? What did they think it woul mean for them?

Or were they just bored in that "arewethereyet? arewethereyet?" kind of way?

The one thing we are told in the opening chapter of the Book of Acts is that while they were waiting they devoted themselves to prayer - and that the disciples who were gathered were - get this - men and women...and - now get this - that they were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit - all wearing flames on their heads, which, incidentally, is what a bishop's miter is symbolic of (click here to see a photo of one from an earlier post).

Some icons depicting the Pentecost Event have Mary front and center (like the one from Mexico in the sidebar above). However, strangely there are several - including the Orthodox version - that not only exclude the women from the depiction, but include Paul and Mark, neither of whom were there!

Now, icons are supposed to be metaphorical "windows" to God. They are heavily laden with symbols to express realities that can't be captured in a realism styled drawing.

But the fact that the women are excluded from these Orthodox icons has got me wondering yet again - and that wondering is part of the reason, I think, why I'm hesitating to go to The Falls Church remnant gathering tomorrow. If I go, I know I'll go in my civies, not my clerical collar, which on the one hand is perfectly fine - by design they're not exactly comfortable - I'm glad to have this break.

But what bothers me is what is not fine about the decision not to wear the collar: If I did show up there in clericals, I might be seen as a real interloper - someone who is being intentionally antagonistic, because even this remnant group are conservative enough that they rejected the offer by some local clergy women to come and serve them as priest when they were regrouping. And that just all seems very anti-Pentecost to me.

So...I just don't know. I'm going to have to sleep on it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Yesterday's Blowout

So there I was, cruising home on the Capital Beltway (outer loop in VA), on my way home after a very emotional day of farewells to the wonderful people at St. David's Church. You see, yesterday was my last day serving them as pastor and priest - so we had lots of good things to say to each other, lots of ways to celebrate, remember and cherish our time together - and we topped it all off with a huge delicious cake - actually two huge delicious cakes.

And then, on my way home with my mom and three kids in the car...there I was, cruising home on the beltway...and suddenly it sounded like a helicopter was hovering overhead. Except that I quickly realized that it was not a helicopter but a very loud noise that involved rumbling and shaking the right rear passenger quarter of my Honda Odyssey mini-van...then simultaneously my mother and I saw the smoke and my little girl began to cry saying, "Mommy, I'm really scared!"

I pulled over as quickly and safely as I could to discover that my right rear tire had blown out the sidewall - you can see the photo above - both on the right and left sides of the tire. After AAA told me that while they would make me a top priority because of our location, normally routine roadside assistance calls take about 1.5 hours to get to in this area. Thankfully, a Fairfax County K9 officer pulled over, blue lights on, and changed my tire for me. And, thankfully I was only two miles from my exit, with only about 7 miles total to get home.

Once home, I crashed. I felt about as deflated as that tire looked - just plum wrung out emotionally.

So today I went out early and got four new tires for the van (they were due for replacement anyway) and then I decided that I needed a new start to my time off - some new tread for me. So now I have new cycling shoes and shorts, new running pants, a new pedometer and a new weight-tracking bathroom scales. I'm geared up for reclaiming my physical health and putting new wheels on this tired, way-too-fat bod.

I'm hoping that having new stuff will get me past the initial excuses of "nothing to wear that's appropriate and/or comfortable" but now I need accountability. Anybody out there have any good suggestions for me????

Saturday, May 19, 2007

32-year-old Elected Bishop

I just received news that The Rev. Sean Rowe has been elected bishop in his home diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. I was acquainted with Sean while he was a senior seminarian and I was a part-time student at the same seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary. His full acceptance as Bishop is pending approval by a majority of Dioceses according to Canon Law, but it is unlikely that any controversy will arise that would prevent the consents.

This is big news for our Episcopal church because for so long being elected Bishop has seemed more dependent on having leapt from one right church to the next - each successively larger and more impressive - than on being particularly gifted in apostolic and pastoral ministry. Read Sean's statement about his life of ministry and calling here.
This is also big news for our church because Sean's election marks a moment of the church putting its money where its mouth is in terms of honoring the gifts and voices of young adults in our church. Sean will be facing major challenges as he begins to lead a diocese that is in demographic and economic decline. May God's Peace be with you Sean as you seek to serve the least and the lost while living into God's clarion call to a Kingdom Life of service and witness.

Friday, May 18, 2007

hookers and Hooker

According to Wayne Besen in his article below, even a red-light district hooker would blush if she heard about the high rate of premarital sex and STD's in Nigeria. Maybe so or maybe no, but I think he's really on the money in this analysis of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola's deference to exercising ecclesial power in a distant land (USA) over serving the least and the lost in his homeland (Nigeria). Corruption and chaos rule there, and yet Akinola sees fit to fly the coop and fail his own people in favor of igniting more scandal and ruin in The Episcopal Church. If original Anglican Richard Hooker were alive, he would be red-faced for a whole different reason.


Anything But Straight: Nigeria’s Frequent Flyer
By Wayne Besen Thursday, 03 May 2007

"...While the political elites in Abuja will use guns to maintain dominion over voters, Akinola will be lording over a ceremony in Old Dominion to install church rector Martyn Minns as the bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a subsidiary of the Nigerian church. Basically, conservatives who think the Episcopal Church is too liberal, are refusing to submit to its authority, and instead have opted to align themselves with Akinola.

What I find outlandish is that Akinola and his Anglican apostates get all bent out of shape about a gay bishop in sleepy New Hampshire, but fall asleep at the wheel over real problems faced by Nigeria, and Africa as a whole.

Is Robisnon's sexual orientation more important than the heartbreaking fact that two million Africans die from AIDS-related illnesses each year, according to Nuhu Ribadu, the Chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?

Does a New England homosexual take precedence over the nearly 3,000 African children who die each day from malaria? Is the gay issue a bigger moral concern than the 40 million African children who are not currently in school?

Or, what about the fact that Nigeria has profited to the lavish tune of a half trillion dollars from oil revenues in less than fifty years - and yet, seventy percent of Nigerians live in abject poverty with exiguous incomes of less than one dollar a day? (Presumably, these peasants are not the ones sitting in the pews of Akinola's lavish church).

Akinola would have you believe that he must come to America to save us from our decadence. Yet, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Nigeria is awash in premarital sex and has STD rates that would make a red light district hooker blush..."

Read the whole article from the Falls Church News Press online here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

CREDO 120

I haven't posted in a while - that's because recently (May 7-14) I went on a church sponsored conference/retreat for Episcopal Clergy called CREDO. The word credo comes from Latin and is closely related to the English word "creed." Generally people think it means, "I believe" and it does often get translated that way.

However, our understanding of the word "believe" has changed over the last few centuries - the original sense of the word really is more like "I give my heart to..." This understanding implies a path, a journey, a movement forward into something that is beyond ourselves right now.

The reason for the conference, sponsored by our church's pension fund, is to help clergy more fully give their hearts to God and to the people whom God has called them to serve. The practice of finding spacious blocks of time over the course of a week in order to reflect on components of a life of ministry - spiritual, vocational, health, and financial - is one that is all too often neglected by people in "helping professions."

This week was truly a gift to all of us on CREDO 120 held at the Duncan Gray Retreat Center near Canton, MS. Below are some photos, taken by Fr. Brian Winter of Arizona, from that week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Truth






Truth is a theme that's been cropping up for me quite a bit lately.




            • I have a child at that developmental stage where the necessity of trying to sort out truth claims from convenient lies is an all too often occurence in our household.
            • I have another child who should be beyond that developmental stage and yet, when telling a lie is easier in the short run, the truth seems to lose out way too easily.
            • During Lent, one of the Biblical texts at the forefront of Holy Week relates the question that Pontius Pilate poses to Jesus as he is about to condemn him at the urgining of the gathered public is "What is truth?" (John 18:38)
            • My denomination - the Episcopal Church - has been wrestling with coming to an understanding of what truth is in regard to the Bible, our holy scriptures. (Read this article by a colleague regarding truth.)
            • Today I was listening to a story on the radio about the writ of habeas corpus and how that most basic component of democracy is being abused by our president and the truth of stories of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is the victim.
            • The Dean of Admissions at MIT had to resign amidst the scandal that she had lied about her credentials over 25 years ago and "never had the courage" to correct that misleading information on her resume.
            • Earlier this week there was another story - that of football player/soldier Pat Tillman and soldier Jessica Lynch whose true war stories were intentionally changed into more palatable lies by Pentagon officials to distract from the Abut Ghraib prison scandal and to garner greater public support for the war.

            Local Congressional Representative Tom Davis seemed to sum up the situation best with his rhetorical question to the congressional panel investigating these blatant incidents of twisting Truth when he asked, "If the first casualty of war is the truth, what happens when the wound is self-inflicted?"

            Unfortunately, this is a wound that is self-inflicted more often than not. How many times do we lie about circumstances in order to make an easier path for ourselves and end up with a much worse scenario than if we had just confronted the more difficult truth?

            It seems to me that lies serve to keep us stuck where we are when we should be moving forward. The truth that is deflected is usually the truth that we need to prod us into confronting something within ourselves that needs to be transformed, that needs to be changed. In fact, the Psalms tell us that when lies come from us then our throats are like an open grave. Lies can be deadly - for the spirit, for our reputation, for our relationships.

            Jesus said "know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)
            Lies bind us to the worst parts of ourselves and our stories while truth - even painful truth - sets us free to explore new territory - to grow and to become more of who God has created us to be.

            So what is truth? Truth is the food that fuels new growth, that challenges our assumptions, that so often forces us to think outside the box. Truth is the tool that cuts the shackles and cuts us loose. Truth is the way to freedom and peace. Truth is God's way - often tough and demanding, but always ultimately the better path.

            What do you say truth is? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts...

            Monday, April 23, 2007

            That Was Then, This Is Now


            This past Sunday was a preacher's challenge: the Joy of Eastertide clashing with the killings at Virginia Tech. Here's my sermon attempt - I'd be interested in your thoughts...

            April 22, 2007
            Year C, 3rd Sunday in Easter:
            Acts 9:1-19a, Revelation 5:6-14; John 21:1-14

            “Open the Eyes of Our Faith”

            A Sermon preached at St. David’s Church
            In the City and Diocese of Washington, D.C.

            By The Rev. Jennifer G. McKenzie


            Gracious God, we pray that you will open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer: Collect for 3 Easter)

            All it takes is one haunting event – one occasion of deep grief – to change our lives forever. To change the way we understand our world. All is takes is one occasion of grief and confusion to create that line in our mind that divides between “that was then” and “this is now.” For many in our country – especially our young people, the horrific event of the massacre at Virginia Tech this past Monday will be that occasion of a great divide.

            What event in your life marks that divide? Which times in your life fall into the “that was then” category? And which times in your life have become the “this is now” moments?

            If we take some time to reflect on our lives and remember, and if we are honest with ourselves about these memories, we can probably point to several “dividing line” moments: some joyful but most grief-filled.

            Some of these moments are deeply personal: The death of a spouse. The adoption or birth of a child. A commitment to “have and to hold from this day forward.” The divorce of parents. The start of a new job. A move to a new town. Buying our first house.

            Some of these moments are engraved on the public consciousness: The assassinations of JFK and MLK. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. A declaration of War. The Riots in Los Angeles. Kent State. 9/11. Columbine. And now, the massacre at Viriginia Tech.

            Certainly for St. Paul, still called Saul at that point in his life, being knocked off of his donkey onto his….derriere by a blinding light was one of those moments. And certainly three days later when the scales fell from his eyes of faith and he saw Jesus’ disciple Ananias standing before him praying for his sight to be restored must have been another one of those moments.

            And for the disciples? Well, for the disciples of Jesus – there was a whole string of events in rapid fire succession: The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal in the Garden, The Arrest and Scourging of Jesus, his Crucifixion, his Death and Burial, the disappearance of his body from the Tomb, the word of the angel and Mary that “He is Not Here – He is Risen!” and then finally Jesus’ appearance among them behind locked doors after his resurrection.

            Is it any wonder that after all these things, Peter was at the point of saying to the gathered disciples, “You know what, y’all? I’m going fishing.” No surprise that their response was, “Hang on a minute – we’re coming too.”

            To me, this scene is no surprise because in the midst of grief and confusion, our human instinct is to seek a return to the comfort of the familiar. How many times this past week have we heard the phrase, “return to normality?” To think this way is instinctive. Like the disciples, we can’t help ourselves in the face of grief. “You know what y’all? I’m going fishing.” Or, probably more prevalent in our culture is the bumper sticker sentiment, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

            But Jesus, hailed and Hosanna-ed, betrayed and beaten, Jesus crucified - murdered, buried and resurrected – this Jesus offers another way. Where we can’t help ourselves, Jesus steps into the fray and helps us. Jesus helps us to see anew with the eyes of our faith that in fact a line has irreversibly been crossed. Jesus signals that normal is normal no more.
            So not normal is this fishing expedition that when Jesus appears on the beach, ready to host a Bar-B-Que, the disciples don’t even recognize their Lord. The same Lord with whom they had just spent three years traveling. The same Lord with whom they had intense conversations. The disciples simply don't recognize Jesus. Certainly in the midst of this time of confusion their minds traveled back across that great divide to the “that was then” time when they first encountered Jesus.

            On that day three years earlier, standing by the shore, their Master's first words to them were, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

            But that was then and this is now. Certainly on this day as Jesus again stood on the shore and called out to these fishermen they heard more in his poignant question than a simple conversation-starter from a stranger. “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.”

            “Children, have you realized that you’ve crossed a line and your world will never be the same?” “No.”

            “Children, have you become fully aware of the truth that is in you that has the capacity to set yourselves and the whole world free?” “No.”

            “Children, have you remembered that I promised to pray for you and that God is keeping you in the world for a reason? “No.”

            “Children, have you acknowledged God’s power working in you to do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine?” “No.”

            “Children, have you taken your experiences of ministering with me and incorporated them into your lives in such a way that you now fish for men?” “No.”

            He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

            He did not say to them, “No more fishing for you.”
            He did not say to them, “Ehhh...Just keep doing what you’re doing and eventually maybe your luck will change.”
            He did not say to them, “What are you, a bunch of losers – or simply idiots?”
            He did not say to them, “Get out of the boat and let me handle this.”

            He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Look guys, I know this is going to sound a little weird, but the fish are there. Trust me. Sometimes just a small change in orientation – just a shift in perspective – is all that is needed.
            So, follow my instructions. Take up your net, turn around and face the other direction, and cast your net again.

            And, with eyes wide open, they cast the net…and this time…this time they were not able to haul it in for the quantity of fish was so great: a hundred and fifty-three to be exact.

            And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

            We are disciples. We tend, in the midst of our grief and confusion to return to what is familiar. But Jesus calls us beyond the familiar – beyond grief and confusion – to resurrection life with him.

            What is resurrection life?

            · Resurrection life is a life where we take up our nets and become fishers of men – we tell the story of our faith to those who are outside the church and then we say to them, “Come and See.”
            · Resurrection life is a life where we aren’t surprised when Jesus calls to us – we expect to hear the master’s voice speaking words of encouragement and instruction and challenging our perspectives and our comfort zones – and we are obedient to that voice.

            · Resurrection life is a life where if at first we don’t succeed, we don’t just try, try again – but we try new things, we try to change our perspective and trust that God has something great in store for us.

            · Resurrection life is a life where with the psalmist we rejoice, praise, and we aren’t afraid to sing a new song – to trust God and be bold in our worship.

            · Resurrection life is where we recognize that Jesus has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God – and we do serve God when we serve God’s beloved saints from every tribe and language and people and nation – we reach out to those who are different from us.

            · Resurrection life is the life lived as the church not simply in the church. We are bold to be who we are – people on a journey of transformed lives, living their lives for the world around them.

            · Resurrection life is new life breathed into tired disciples – disciples that are willing to cast our nets in a new direction.

            · Resurrection life is knowing that when we haul in a net that is full, that the net won’t break.

            Resurrection life begins when we recognize who Jesus is and where Jesus stands.

            Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who overcomes death with unexpected joy and hope. Jesus is the one who calls out to us to see things a little bit differently. Jesus is the one who calls us to action – to cast our nets wider and in a new direction.

            Where does Jesus stand? Jesus stands with the poor. Jesus stands with the outcast. Jesus stands with the mentally ill, the homeless and the AIDS victim. Jesus stands on the corner with the prostitute and Jesus kneels in prayer with the parents of murdered children. Jesus even has the capacity to embrace the murderer. Jesus is the net that does not break. And Jesus calls us, his church to be that net in emulation of him.


            Jesus gladly meets us wherever we are: in joy, in hope, in boldness, in meekness, in our obedience and in our sinfulness – in our moments of confusion and most especially in our moments of deepest grief. But Jesus doesn’t leave us where he finds us. Jesus calls out to us and invites us to change. And then, when finally perspectives are changed, and grief is overcome – when our net is full and yet not breaking - then we can exclaim with the beloved disciple, “It is the Lord!” Yes, Lord. Open the eyes of our faith that we may behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. And then, we pray, make us your instruments of peace and of the proclamation of your name and of Resurrection Life throughout the world.

            Sunday, April 22, 2007

            Episcopal Cafe


            Dear Dears:

            Just wanted to alert you to a fab new blog out there in the blogosphere. It's called Episcopal Cafe and is BRAND NEW and has an AMAZING list of CONTRIBUTORS which I am very, very happy to have been asked to join.

            This site is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and here's what Jim Naughton, editor and creator of the site and communications officer of EDOW has to say about it:

            "The Café is collaborative effort by more than two dozen writers and editors, and an ever-growing list of visual artists. Together, we aspire to create a visually appealing, intellectually stimulating, spiritually enriching and at least occasionally amusing site where Episcopalians and those interested in our church can read, watch, listen and reflect upon contemporary life in a context informed by faith and animated by the spirit of charity."

            Go and take a peek by clicking on this link: Episcopal Cafe
            Too see my first posting on the site go to the Speaking to Soul section...

            A New Call

            Dear Friends:

            Today the official announcement was made in my church, St. David's, that I've accepted a call to another church. Recently, a call was extended to me by the rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria (Old Town area) to be Associate Rector for Evangelism, Mission & Outreach, and Adult Faith Formation (Discipleship) - and I joyfully accepted the call.

            I am looking forward tremendously to this new phase in my vocational life. Christ Church is quite a bit different from St. David's in terms of size and ministry scope, and so there will be some new waters for me to navigate. However, I grew up in and have pretty consistently chosen large churches to affiliate with, partly because they are 7-day-a-week churches and offer so many points of entry and connection for newcomers.

            I also know that going from 3/4 time to full time ministry in a parish setting will be challenging in concert with the many people, groups, and ministries that I will need to get to know.

            So, please pray for me. Please pray for my family - leaving St. David's is bittersweet for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it's the only church my daughter has known and the only one my sons really have "owned" as theirs.

            I will be taking a rest over the summer as I conclude my formal ministry at St. David's on Sunday, May 20th and won't begin at Christ Church until August 5th. So, I give great thanks for a welcome rest that is coming my way.

            In the meantime, I will continue blogging both here and at Episcopal Cafe - a new blog under the auspices of the Diocese of Washington where I will be a regular contributor. See the details in my recent post.

            Peace,

            Jennifer+

            Wednesday, April 18, 2007

            Whose Sin is it Anyway?

            There has already been much discussion on the Virginia Tech Shootings that happened this Monday. Along with so many others, I was shocked, disheartened, and very, very saddened at this news. My first thought at hearing the story on the radio was concern for my neighbor three doors down whose son is a student at Tech. My second thought was about my seminary classmate and prayer partner who is a pastor in the neighboring town of Christiansburg and whose congregants include Hokies. And then my mind went racing, trying to take the story in and sort it out.

            You've probably already read and heard and seen more about this than you can possibly absorb - so please forgive me for jumping in the fray but I just can't help myself on this one. I have to get something off my chest on this topic:

            So far I've repeatedly heard two perspectives on the "why did this happen?" question that have my blood boiling. The first is that this is a gun-control issue. The second is that this is an issue of the path of sin that the young man who did the shootings has chosen to walk down.

            If you believe that either of these issues is at the heart of the matter, then you are in good company. Even my own bishop, whom I deeply respect and admire, has made the "gun control" case on the Newsweek "On Faith" Blog. Dear Bishop, I respectfully disagree.

            And just next to his post is another viewpoint by a respected (I think, I don't know him) Christian leader, Rod Parsley. His take is that "What we saw Monday morning is nothing less and nothing other than the result of one young man’s sin." Again, I disagree.

            My perspective? There is a much deeper issue here - actually two issues - than either gun control or the sin of one young man. Those two issues are:

            1. The failure of the church in effectively sharing the Good News of Hope that Jesus offers; and,

            2. The failure of the human society that stigmatizes the real problem of mental illness.

            Let me start with #2. Here are the facts:

            • Mental illness is more prevalent than cancer and heart disease combined

            • Mental illness occurs on a spectrum of severity and persistence

            • A conservative estimate of the number of homeless people with mental illness is 70%

            • We balance our state budgets on the backs of those who are least able to advocate for themselves: those with mental illness - in other words we severely underfund their care

            • There are as many people on the waiting list for mental health services - sometimes twice as many - as there are people who are currently receiving services

            • People with severe and persistent mental illness are not usually able to recognize the fact that they are mentally ill
            Cho Seung Hui had been referred for counseling by an astute professor. He did not seek out help. And yet, there are multiple reports from those who recognized that he was a disturbed young man. If he had been vomiting blood, don't you think someone would have taken him to the emergency room or at least called his parents? And yet, with all the signs of persistent mental illness there, no one was able to help him. Why? Because there are no procedures, no policies, no easily discernable safety nets in our society for those with mental illness.

            This is not the sin of one young man who chose a path of disobedience to God.

            This is OUR SIN.

            And what of the church? Have we been the shining city on the hill offering with clarity and charity the Good News of Hope in Resurrection Life? Well....maybe...sometimes....sort of. Here's the deal: Jesus didn't maybe...sometimes...sort of set an example for us. God in Christ came to us to suffer with us, to walk alongside us, to offer healing - physical, spiritual and mental to those whom he encountered. Jesus clearly said that the man was born blind (John 9), not as a result of his parents' sin, but as a matter of the human condition of living in an imperfect world - and as a chance for God's mercy and glory to shine through him. And what Jesus did was to heal him.

            The church is the mystical body of Christ empowered by God to offer healing and health to a world on edge. When are we going to step out of our sin and really BE THE CHURCH? Not maybe...sometimes...sort of - but really. When are we going to freely give of ourselves in such a way that the Good News is clear and comprehendable?

            We certainly won't get there by fighting about sexuality, worship styles, or even gun control. We have to give freely of ourselves. We have to share the stories of faith. We have to love the least (Matthew 25:31-40) and stand against the powers of this world that would have us do otherwise.

            Long Time Gone



            Dear Friends:

            I have been away from my desk...er, blog....for far too long. Forgive me, please.

            I have a plan to get back in the saddle, though. Today, I will post a new entry after the noon Eucharist and lunch. I have some thoughts I'd like to share about the Virginia Tech tragedy.

            Possibly later today, or tomorrow I will do the first installment on my trip to the Gulf Coast. I had hoped I would have some internet access while down there - obviously, my expectations were out of line...duh.


            Anyhoo - for now, at least, there is a plan to regroup and move forward. Much good news to share. Many blessings, many thoughts.

            Peace,

            Reverend Mother+

            Sunday, March 25, 2007

            A Different Kind of "Homecoming"

            This week is going to be another full one for me. Not because of the appointments on my calendar, per se...although I do have a few - but they are all good. The reason that this week is going to be full is because it will be a week of preparation for Holy Week - which begins this Sunday with Palm Sunday. Normally, my Holy Week would be filled with liturgies and physical preparations for liturgies: The Passion Narrative on Palm Sunday; Tenebrae on Wednesday; Feast of Friends Agape Meal/Footwashing/Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday; Hours of Services on Good Friday; Holy Saturday noonday prayer with those preparing the sanctuary for Easter; the Nightime Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday with Baptisms; and then the Festival Eucharists on Easter Sunday.

            But this year will be different.

            On Saturday, instead of polishing off a sermon or meditation, I'll be boarding an airplane with my three kids, three other adults, and about a dozen youth from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (EDOW) to head for the Gulf Coast for a "Spring Break Work Trip." We'll fly to Gulfport, MS then drive on over to Mobile, AL where we'll be staying. Our work site will be in Bayou la Batre, AL, which is a little shrimping village made famous by the movie "Forest Gump." (Bayou la Batre is where his friend, Bubba was from and where he ran his "Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.") And of course, this area has been made infamous by Hurricane Katrina.

            Bayou la Batre is also part of my childhood stomping grounds. For four generations - ending unfortunately with mine - my family had a fishing camp just one village over in Coden, AL. However, to get groceries, gas, go to the Post Office or get fresh bait, we had to go to Bayou la Batre. That part of the Gulf Coast was literally my "home away from home." It's where I learned to bait a hook, to rig the spreaders for a shrimp net on the back of a skiff, and to drive - an outboard, a car, and a sailboat. It's where I learned to back a trailer, tell a he-crab from a she-crab, and even how to put one of those critters to sleep. It's where I first heard live Gospel music floating through the pines from the nearby Pentecostal church, and where I would watch the lights on the shrimp boats dotting the horizon as they headed out into the Gulf waters late at night via the Mississippi Sound. It's where I learned to wash dishes by hand, cut the grass with a swing blade, and play checkers. It's where I learned to rest.

            Needless to say, I jumped at the chance when invited to go along on this work trip as Chaplain.

            It didn't hurt at all that my parents still live in Pensacola, FL - about 90 minutes East of Bayou la Batre, and that they will come and collect my brood of three and take them home with them.

            So, I am excited about this trip "home" for so very many reasons.

            Not the least of which is the fact that our context for our work is, in fact, Holy Week.

            I am expecting great things to happen.
            (ed. note - the photo above is from a brilliant photographer, Roman Alokhin - see his onine gallery here.)

            Tuesday, March 20, 2007

            Even When the Light Goes Out...

            ...there is some remnant, some residue that is left behind. This morning as I entered the chapel to say Morning Prayer I noticed that everything was in place and ready to go. A dear parishioner was there ahead of me and made sure that the candles were lighted, noted that the sanctuary light was burning, and had her prayer book marked and ready to join in. We dutifully - and joyfully - said our prayers. As we ended the service I got up to extinguish the candles on the altar and noticed two things:
            1) The Sanctuary Light (just like the one pictured right) had gone out
            2) There was this bizarre residue - a sooty filament remainder of the original wick that stretched from the bottom center of the tall glass votive to rim-height, rigidly standing in place.

            I looked at the parishioner and noted that the light had gone out and she confirmed that it had been still burning when we began prayers. Then I showed her the "residue" - and we both said, "how funny - how strange." Could this be a miracle? OK, no. But...

            It set me to thinking and the passage from 1 Samuel, chapter 3 came to mind where Samuel was ministering to the Lord under the old priest Eli: "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision...Eli's eyesight had begun to grow dim...[but] the lamp of God had not yet gone out."
            There have been many times when I've felt like this about the church: where it seems that we're not hearing from God (because our ears are stopped up with our fingers?) - where there's a real lack of vision (because we've turned our heads away from what's right in front of us?) - and as a result, our ability to see what is there begins to fade away. It worries me that we might comfort ourselves by saying things "well, yeah, but - the lamp hasn't entirely gone out." The problem with that attitude is that when the lamp has burned that low, we probably won't notice when it does go out. If there's a miracle here, it's the fact that even when the light does go out, that there is still some residue, some possibility of a remnant that is present and visible - if only just. And we are surprised by it.

            Sunday, March 18, 2007

            No Complaints

            Today in the church tradition is "refreshment Sunday." This is a day set aside during the season of Lent - typically a more penitential season - a day to say, "Ahhhhh...." My sermon today focused on this and how our lectionary readings carried the twin themes of "joy" and "giving thanks."

            It's funny you know, but I think that in the church we are not so good at giving thanks. We're really good at complaining and criticizing, but not so good at being joyful and truly giving thanks. I've even noticed that in our "prayers of the people" when there is an invitation to give name to particular prayer concerns and blessings, that we readily pray for all the things that aren't going so well, but we can't seem to muster up any prayers for those things that are going well.

            I learned from a friend just a couple of days ago that there is a church pastor who has decided to remedy this situation. He has created "complaint-free" wrist bands - you know like the "live strong bands." Basically the deal is that he's asking members of his congregation to try and go 21 days straight without "complaining, criticizing, gossiping, or using sarcasm." So you get this purple bracelet and try to be "complaint free." If you catch yourself complaining, criticizing, gossiping, or using sarcasm then you have to take the band off of your wrist, switch it to the other wrist and start counting the days from scratch. The pastor said it took him 3 1/2 months and that some in his congregation have taken 7 months to succeed at this trial. I wonder if I would ever make it... And I wonder what the church would be like if we stopped all that complaining, criticizing, gossiping, and using sarcasm? Maybe in St. Paul's words we could more truly be "Ambassadors for Christ."

            If this is a challenge for you, then may I commend this prayer to you by the Anglican Devine, George Herbert?

            Thou hast given so much to me,
            Give one thing more, - a grateful heart;
            Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
            As if Thy blessings had spare days,
            But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
            Amen

            Sunday, March 11, 2007

            Spiritual Suctitude

            OK - I did not make up this word...apparently a guy who calls himself "Real Live Preacher" did. If you have not ever visited his blog, I urge you to do so. Great stuff. Like this one he posted on some Christian Movies that are being produced and promoted by 21st Century Fox. I have been receiving these same packets in the mail along the way for the last year or so. I open them, get a few laughs, moan a little, roll my eyes, and then round file them. I cannot imagine inflicting this kind of Spiritual Suctitude Stuff on any of my friends or parishioners.

            Go take a read -

            Sunday, March 4, 2007

            Out of the Mouths of Babes

            Today our seminarian preached a wonderful sermon. Her theme was from the last line of Psalm 27: "wait patiently for the Lord."

            I decided to pick up on her theme in leading our children's chapel and I was curious to hear what the kids might have to say about waiting. I expected that kids especially would not put a positive spin on waiting. That they would tell me that waiting was no fun - or boring. And that I would have to really cajole them to get them to think about waiting in a positive light. However, I also expected that they would make some really interesting connections to the theme. They did not disappoint me. Not only did they not disappoint me, but one young man truly and pleasantly surprised me.

            The conversation went something like this:

            Me: "Do you know someone or something that is especially good at waiting?"

            (Three or four kids raise their hands vigorously)

            BT: "Well, what do you mean by 'waiting' exactly?"

            Me: "Good question - what do you all think I mean by waiting? Can you give me examples?"

            HL: "Like when you're at the hospital and you're waiting to see the doctor."

            CT: "Or you're in the grocery store with your cart and you're standing in line."

            IM: "Or when you're in the car in really bad traffic and you have to wait then go, wait then go."

            Me: "So, is waiting a good thing or a bad thing?"

            BM: "It's both good and bad."

            Me: "Really? That's interesting. How is waiting a bad thing?"

            NB: "Like when you get really impatient."

            BT: "Or you get all frustrated."

            MG: "Or you wish you were doing something else."

            Me: "So, how is waiting a good thing?"

            And then, out of the mouths of babes came this wonderful reply:

            BM: "Waiting is a good thing because you end up with time that you didn't think you were going to have. It's especially good if you get to spend it with one or two other people. Like, let's say you're all ready to cook dinner and then you realize that you don't have some things you need. So a couple of people go to the store to get what you need and then there you are...with this extra time with someone...and you just get to have this peaceful, quiet, relaxed time...waiting."

            Me: "Wow...peaceful, relaxed time - unexpected time...with someone you didn't think you'd be able to spend that kind of time. I think that's what Lent is for. Who might you spend that kind of time with...waiting?"

            BM: "God - I think that is what Lent is for. Time with God."

            And I thought the kids wouldn't find anything good about waiting...

            Thursday, March 1, 2007

            Disorderly Conduct

            There's an adage that goes something like this: If you want to know what's really important to you, if you want to see clearly what your real priorities are, then take a look inside your checkbook and your calendar. I think that's sage advice- how you spend your time and your money are good indicators of how you are living your life and what you give emphasis and attention to. However, in my case, that would not necessarily be a good indicator of my immediate situation. My husband and I are pretty clear and determined about where our money goes and we do a decent job of organizing our time, covering the bases. So, if you took a look at my checkbook or my calendar you might think that I've really got it going in a good direction. But you would be misled.

            If you really want to get a good read on how well I'm managing my life, you'd get better accuracy by taking a look inside my car. That's the leading indicator of how disordered my life really is.

            For example, yesterday in preparation for driving a group of kids on a field trip, I stood in the parking lot at my son's school with two plastic bags in my hands. I filled one of the bags with "stuff to keep that is in my minivan and shouldn't be" and the other bag I filled with...garbage. It was gross. Food wrappers, receipts, scratch paper, clumps of dog hair. Yukk! I mean, the inside of my van was so dirty that I was too embarrassed for a group of 6th grade boys to ride in it the way it was! Puh-lease!

            It probably took about ten or fifteen minutes to do even just the quick version of the clean-up job, but it felt so much better to climb into the driver's seat once I had. I know that when my van gets to that point, that it's a clear indicator that I am running on overdrive - trying to do too much. When I don't have time to stop for just a couple of minutes to throw away the garbage, then I know that I'm headed in the wrong direction. When I'm paying attention to my life - how I organize and prioritize my resources- then I notice that I'm also taking the time to gather up the garbage at the end of the day's journey and toss it in the trash can. I even have a trash can set up between my driver's door and the door from the garage to the house just for that purpose. It's such an easy thing to do when it's done on a regular, daily basis. But when I just keep running and let the garbage pile up, then it takes a really concerted effort and I end up pretty grossed out by what I find lurking in the recesses and corners.

            It's much the same with our souls. If we don't have a system set up to deal with the garbage we accummulate - if we aren't intentional about setting a reasonable pace for our lives so that we can take a little time each day to clear out the garbage, then we end up with a much bigger, grosser job on our hands later.

            What's the leading indicator for disorderly conduct in your life? Do you have a system for dealing with the disorder?

            There's another adage that applies here well - Confession is good for the soul. More on this tomorrow.

            Wednesday, February 28, 2007

            Got Change?

            Today I went on a field trip with my son's school. I eagerly chaperoned a group of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Shakespear Theater for a performance of Richard III. What a treat! Never mind that Michael Kahn had directed this impressive production. He always has the most interesting way of treating the script - giving it thematic focus, encouraging creative character development and scene-setting. But, when the play began and the curtain went up, we were struck by the off-kilter nature of the set. All of the horizontal pieces - with the exception of the floor itself - were leaning at a severe angle. The in-your-face quality of the industrialized adaptation of medieval architecture was, well, in your face. You couldn't miss the connection or the connotation that this story was taking place in a world that was off balance. The set was also very dark to match the dark nature of the main character.

            If you are unfamiliar with this particular Shakespearean interpretation of historical events, in a nutshell, this is a nutty family. (The movie still above is from an outstanding adaptation of this play set in 1930's fascist Europe - I highly recommend it.) Can you say dysfunctional? I knew that you could. Basically, Richard III is disformed and disfigured both physically and emotionally. Evil has come to dwell in his heart and he seems to have no capacity for compassion or mercy, only for conniving and manipulation. He kills off family members, including two young boys, one by one in order to gain accession to the throne. Try as they might to change his progress, to stop him from gaining another foothold, they each find themselves submitting to his flattery and false confidences.

            However, just as he gains the throne, things begin to go awry as the young man Richmond flees and returns with a militia prepared to fight him and give him his due. In a stunning final couple of scenes, we watched the parallel scenes as two very different leaders prepared themselves and their men for a fight to the death. On the one hand was Richard who went to bed restless, a bowl of wine in hand. As he slumbered fitfully he was visited by all the dead he had slain and they each cursed him in turn. At the same time, Richmond prepared for a healthy night's sleep by dropping to his knees and submitting to God in prayer. Once asleep, peacefully, he also was visited by each of the departed souls. But they in turn offered him blessings and prayed to God for his victory. Guess who won the battle?

            So God triumphs over evil and the glimmer of hope and change begin to emerge with the death of the evil Richard. It was a fantastic production.

            And then to top it all off, cast members came back on stage after removing their costumes to answer questions and have a conversation with the students. The kids from the various schools in the audience asked some wonderful questions and provoked some great comments from the actors and production staff. But there was one question hanging in my mind that I didn't get to ask. I wondered how portraying a character in a play like this one - literally living into the story of such proportions - changes the actors personally. I mean, how can you NOT be changed by personifying such vivid characters and experiencing their humiliation, sorrow, hope and despair?

            You see, the goodness of human nature was truly challenged in this play and it was only able to triumph in the character who removed himself from this tilted world and returned fortified by prayer and submission to God. Talk about metanoia...(see the post below). Certainly the play carries the message that we can't save ourselves. That our best efforts will not always match up squarely against the advances of evil and that the only way to overcome such dastardly and dire circumstances is to get out, away from the darkness, away from the precipitous nature of evil that can insidiously draw us in and then dash all hope. We must move to a new place in our lives to be free of the bondage of evil and ill intent and to be able to reconnect with God.

            What is the evil or darkness that you confront in your own life? What is the means by which you are insidiously taken in? Flattery? Promises of reward? Promises of power? How can you find a place apart? Where can you go to put some space between you and the darker side of things? Are you able to sleep peacefully or are you cursed by fitful sleep and visited by memories of the wrongs you have done? What are the words of prayer that you would utter?




            Tuesday, February 27, 2007

            Sin - the Undead

            If you think talking about sin is difficult, try doing something about it.

            I mean, the reality is, that we all have a pretty great capacity and ability for having "done things which we ought not to have done" and for having "left undone those things which we ought to have done." But most of my Christian friends would much rather not think about that capacity. They'd rather focus on the image of God that we've all been stamped with and be thankful for the good that is within us. And we do have that good within us.

            The problem is, oddly enough, when we prefer to focus on the good, somehow the bad that inevitably creeps through makes us feel more ashamed than ever. We sin - we miss the mark - and then we think, "I can't believe I just did that! I'm not THAT kind of person. How embarrassing." And then, because of our disbelief and embarrassment, we tend to try to hide that part of ourselves and only show the pretty parts. When we do that, we might think that we're burying our sin. But there's a real problem with that approach.

            It's like in those old scary movies - when you try to bury something that ain't really dead and gone yet, you're just begging for trouble. Because, just when you've had enough time to forget about that thing you've buried, it reaches up from it's untimely grave right through the soft ground and grabs you by the ankle, tripping you up big time. Sin - the undead.

            Or, another way of thinking about sin that we try to bury in order to avoid it is to think of it like a seed that falls to the ground. Rather than dying a slow quiet death in the darkness of the dirt, it tends to first put down roots then it germinates and sprouts.
            Or, The sin becomes like a weed, that through the cold of winter dies back - not fully but just enought to nestle into the protective layer of soil. While you think it's dying, it's actually storing up energy so that at the first indication of warmer days, the sprouts begin to appear. They are small and almost imperceptible at first, but before you know it, you've got a whole patch of what you thought you had buried. Once it begins to establish itself in this way, it can be very hard to get rid of. You'll get annoyed at its appearance later, but when you try yanking it out you'll discover that only the top, tender part comes out and the roots remain and only produce new growth.

            On the other hand, though, I know that just focusing on the sin - wallowing in how we miss the mark again and again - is not the healthiest way to go through life either. When we do that we become so engrossed in the wrong that we do, that we can just barely see the possibility for the right anymore, if we can see it at all. Being myopic about our sin causes us to become short-sighted about everything. We begin to be so cautious with every step we take to the extent that we fear the future, rather than celebrate the possibilities that the future can bring.

            So what are we to do? We can't ignore the sin, because it simply won't go away. But by the same token we need not focus on the sin. As with most things in life, there is a way to strike a balance here. It's called change. There's a word that gets used in the Bible, for change of this sort. That word is metanoia (met-ah-noy-ah). Metanoia means "turning." Not like standing in one spot and turning a circle over and over again. The word for that kind of turning is "dizzy." No, this kind of turning is like when you're walking along, heading out the front door, and down the sidewalk and suddenly you remember that you left the stove on. So you literally turn on your heels and begin walking back home again. Interestingly, the pace heading back in the direction of home is usually quickened a bit. There is an intentionality, an intensity that comes with that kind of turning, isn't there?

            Just think on this: What is the thing done or left undone in your life right now that has the most capacity for harm? If you're having trouble thinking of something, then find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes, and ask God to open the eyes of your heart to whatever that may be. Listen. I bet you'll hear something, see something that needs to be set to rights. And when you do, an intensity and focus on getting change going will begin to emerge - enough so that you'll want to turn on your heels and start heading in a new direction.

            Tomorrow: Got Change?

            Monday, February 26, 2007

            All Y'all

            Earlier this week, one of our Bible group members, LM, sent me an email with this story:

            "There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi. As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

            One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

            The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

            The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part -- when I see my image reflected in it."

            I thought this was very cool, as I hold fast to a creation theology. In other words, the starting point for me in my understanding of God is to realize that God is the one who created us, male and female, in God's own image. And I believe that stamp of God that has been imprinted on each one of us is the maker's mark of generosity, love, and commitment. That said, I'm always skeptical about emailly stuff like this. So, I went websurfing to see if I could verify the process of silver purifying. Sure enough, I found a silversmith online who had obviously been asked this question before and confirmed the process.

            Next step was to find the passage in my Bible to read it in context. Interestingly, I had circled it at some earlier point in time, probably in preparation for a paper I wrote a few years back in seminary. Next to the circle I had annotated the verses (Malachi 3:2b-4) with "judgment and accountability for priests." Yikes! Priests? I am one of them. Sure enough, there it was in the middle of this section, "he will purify the sons of Levi." The "sons of Levi" aka the "Levites" are the priestly clan of Israel. Clearly this is directed at priests. OK, and yes, certainly there is a particular responsibility that goes along with being a priest - a servant-leader in a religious community. But was this really aimed just at the priests? I was beginning to get a little paranoid. I mean, was LM trying to tell me something? I scanned her initial message in the email - no, didn't sound accusatory, she simply said said she thought I'd appreciate it. And I know that's all she meant - it's a great story after all, and she's a good friend. So what am I to make of this?

            Clearly this is aimed at the priests. But... (as PeeWee Herman said, "everybody has a big but") ...there's one very important point to remember here, that I was overlooking in my initial surprise and haste: in the Christian understanding all the followers of Jesus, the Christ, are priests. "What?" you say. Yes, dearies, you see, we are all part of the "priesthood of all believers." (see 1 Peter, chapter 2). So, you are a priest, too.

            Which means this parable is for you, too...or as we said in the deep south where I grew up, "It's for all y'all." And, that's really good news, don't you think? The implication of this story is that God judges us and holds us accountable out his love and commitment to us and to us becoming the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be.
            God sits patiently enduring the heat right along with each and every one of us, handling us carefully, always intently watching the progress of being refined, of getting closer and closer to the point where, eventually, in looking at us, God clearly sees the reflection of God's own image in us.


            Sunday, February 25, 2007

            Invitation to Next Bible Group - Journey to Jerusalem

            We’ve completed the Bible 101 Group that we started back in January as a New Year’s Resolution. It was a great deal of fun for me and several of you attended (15!) or contacted me saying you really wanted to attend (another 12!). We learned a lot together and had some very provocative and spirited conversations. All of us agreed that spending this kind of time together with our neighbors and friends was refreshingly fun and meaningful. And, best of all, there are several who want to continue getting together.

            That group has decided to forge ahead and do an exploration during this Christian series of Lent on the four Gospel narratives of the last week of Jesus’ life, known today as Holy Week. This is a great time to jump in for the next five weeks to do a concentrated study comprising the Jewish roots of Christianity as well as the story at the heart of the Christian faith.

            Starting tomorrow the Monday group will begin that study from 12 noon until 1:30. We meet at my house and there is plenty of room around the table for more to join us. This is an open group and it’s not too late for you to get involved!! See above "Journey to Jerusalem" for weekly lesson plan. (You can also see the lesson plans for the Bible 101 group that we completed as well as a timeline for this new session.)

            If the Monday time slot doesn’t work for you, please email me and let me know. Last time a couple of folks did that, and as a result we formed an additional Thursday evening group. That second time slot is up in the air, depending on who would like to attend and available times, so please email me ASAP if you would like to attend, but can’t come Mondays, and would like to work out an alternative day/time.

            Also, if you’re still interested in Bible 101 as a primer before doing anything different, let me know that. I would be open to leading that again for a new group that would form.

            I'm open to your ideas about what, if anything, you would be interested in exploring in the context of community. And, as always, feel free to bring a friend or pass this blog address along – I know I don’t have contact info for everyone I’d like to invite!

            Peace and Blessings,
            Jennifer

            Saturday, February 24, 2007

            Things Done and Left Undone - Part II


            During this Season of Lent, the idea is to focus a bit on ourselves - not in isolation, though. We are to be thinking about ourselves in the context of our relationships, with others and with God. And, more important, we are not just to be thinking about those relationships, but coming to some ideas and conclusions and also putting into practice what we might do to right the wrongs.

            In the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, we have a prayer of confession - a general prayer that we pray together to remind us that we are all in this state, both as individuals and as the corporate body that we call the church. The prayer goes like this:

            Most merciful God,
            we confess that we have sinned against you
            in thought, word, and deed,
            by what we have done,
            and by what we have left undone.
            We have not loved you with our whole heart;
            we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
            We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
            For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
            have mercy on us and forgive us;
            that we may delight in your will,
            and walk in your ways,
            to the glory of your Name. Amen.

            Today, I want to take a moment to think aloud about the Things Left Undone part of this.

            Sometimes, we leave things undone because we are purely avoiding doing what we just don't feel like doing. When that happens, we have a couple of choices, the way I see it. We can will our selves to do the left-undone thing, because we know it is the right thing to do. That's the just do it approach. Or we can make a further examination of ourselves, maybe with a listening ear of a friend or professional, to help us get at the root of why we don't want to do this thing.

            Other times though, we move forward, attempting to do the Thing Left Undone. We take tiny steps to prepare, we prepare to prepare. Really, what we're doing is procrastinating - lying to ourselves about our real intentions and progress. For a very real and very funny take on this check out this video link. Don't delay - do this now!

            Then take a moment to think on the Things Left Undone in your life. Pray about them. Ask what's behind the things getting left undone? Is it a matter of avoidance? Procrastination? Shame? Fear? Ask God to guide you in sorting out the priorities. Then, doggone it, take some action. The first step? I suggest some quiet time alone with the prayer above.