Saturday, April 28, 2007


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.



            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, 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.


            Reverend Mother+