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.

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.