Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Long Roads and Two-Way Streets: Part 2

It's good to be back.

Just so you know I drove nearly 5000 miles and almost 2000 miles my last three days from the 30% humidity at 8000 ft above sea level to our "cozy" 87% at 680 ft. in Madison.  After leaving Moab, Utah's Arches National Park and scurrying up Colorado's Mesa Verde I had one remaining "must stop."  It was the Flophouze Shipping Container Motel in Round Top, Texas.

That meant a "purposeful" 8 hours of driving via Albuquerque, Santa Rosa, Fort Sumner, and Clovis. Bedding down to push through another 8 hours through Muleshoe, Lubbock, Snyder, Sweetwater, Santa Ana, Lampassas, Georgetown to Giddings and finally to my well appointed metal can with kitchen, bath, bed and sitting room. Whew!

I woke up the next morning very aware that I had returned to lower, moister lands and closer, damper air.  Still, Round Top is 14 hours away from my "more familiars" of Sandy Creek Rd and Academy St.  My last day went well into Friday night but I was home and in my bed before 1:00AM.  Paddling up from Dyar Pasture into the Oconee current was the perfect close to a great trip. 

From Madison to Bozeman and back I crossed or followed rivers, creeks and bayous with names like the Chattahoochee, Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio, Wabash, Illinois, Missouri, Redwater, Sundance, Donkey, Deadhourse, Powder,  Dry,  Negro, Clear, Rock, Prairie Dog, Pompey, Goose, Tongue, Little Bighorn, Slaughter, Bighorn, Alkali, Spring, Indian, Pryor, Yellowstone, Gallatin, Gardiner, Lava, Falls, Snake, Weber, Farmington, Jordan, Price, Green, Colorado, Dove, Animas, San Juan,  Rio Grande, Pecos, Yellow House, Deep, Cottonwood, Colorado(Texas), San Gabriel, Brazos, San Jacinto, Trinity, Din, Neches, Sabine, Houston, des Cannes, Vermillion, Teche, Atchafalaya, Mississippi, Pearl, Chunky, Tombigbee,  Black Warrior, and Coosa.

It was my intention all along but the fact that the AC on my little Prius died, confirmed my choice to drive with the windows rolled down and no radio playing.  I could smell the smells and feel the air as it changed moment to moment. 

I'm excited to visit the Four Corners part of the southwest again.  So maybe this spring I can just go out and back with none of my daughter's furniture in the "trunk."  This is a great part of the world with lots of highways and two way streets.

So thanks for the break! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Long roads and two way streets

A short but important message while I'm still on the road.  

Thanks to Susan Kurtz for her extensive and extended care in leading the prayers of the Daughters of King, our "praying ladies."  Throughout my time in service to this parish no matter the stripes as well and more importantly throughout the many changes in her life she has helped this parish to pray for all sorts and conditions.  Close friends, friends of friends, some known and some unknown, family members, community members, specific troubles, general concerns and all kinds of celebrations has been lifted to a loving and constant God thanks to her steady hand.

Susan has claimed this time, is being intentional about her transition and will be letting go of this important role.  Our responsibility is to honor her and her love of this ministry by coming together as a community and in deep discernment to find how we can move forward with as healthy and deep a focus has we have so long enjoyed.  

That work will be first to be determined by the members of the Daughters of the King.  Certainly we all can return some of the favor we owe them by holding them in our prayers.  

Next we will move to new points of contact for the parish: myself as rector, Allison as administrator, Deacon Morehouse, Maryann Dartnell as vestry liaison, Tim Pridgen and others will have to track with each other those names and petitions that for so many years moved through Susan's ledger. 

Perhaps even a larger meeting of the hearts and minds of the parish as we learn to live this new way.  

All this and more is before us, it has been for a long time.  That's how we as a parish have lived and will live together.  

Long roads, some longer than we planned, and two way streets where we listen and share and make room for each other on this journey that is the Episcopal Church of the Advent.

My road is turning home and I'll be back late on Friday.  I'm looking forward to being with you on the river and in worship and farther on down this long road.

Thanks again Susan.  And thanks be to God for letting us in on your journey of prayer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ordinary is Surrender

" . . . from its first moments, change has been the call to those claiming to be believers.  Sometimes it's called repentance, sometimes conversion, sometimes forgiveness, sometimes surrender.  It goes by lots of names but God's ordinary always means change."

In order to understand how surrender is a way to change you have recognize the point of change itself.  Like surrender: repentance, conversion and forgiveness aren't the things we do just to bide our time or that we do once and are done. The point or hope of change is to fully realize union with God.  They are how "we live and move and have our being" thus are constant practices in a life of faith.

Like playing the piano or basketball surrender as an act of faith must be practiced and learned. That's why monastics make a vow of poverty so central to deepening their daily devotion.   Poverty and letting go of wealth and it's "security" is a real head start into understanding prayer as a surrender and not a performance that somehow pleases God. They were already experts in down-sizing and self-emptying (kenosis) and this outer “poverty” then "instructs" a spiritual poverty that is first of all for the sake of prayer, never an end in itself.

That's why we use language like "getting out of our own way" to recognize our part in living sacramentally with God.  We use the same elements of bread and wine every time we make eucharist to avoid the traps of pride and idolatry that come when we take control to improve or innovate.  We're not monastics but our practice can help us to become more like the symbols we use to remind us that God in Christ is really present with us.

Progressively we come to understand that surrender is a way not a moment.  By "giving up" ourselves in a willingness to be used we are changed from the glory that is God's creation in us into the gospel promised resurrected glories we are meant to become.

This glory that is by surrender is not by our own accomplishment.  By "letting go and letting God." By dying daily to sin we get to live a life of change that never has to stop.  God's ordinary is change.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ordinary is Forgiveness

" . . . from its first moments, change has been the call to those claiming to be believers.  Sometimes it's called repentance, sometimes conversion, sometimes forgiveness, sometimes surrender.  It goes by lots of names but God's ordinary always means change."

Almost a year ago I wrote about how the proximity of God's reign makes a kind of forgiveness available to us to practice.  It is a non-transactional forgiveness.  I wrote:
"I understand [forgiveness as a dynamic reality] begun in the presence of God.  Forgiveness means trusting God's love enough to pursue healing instead of presuming to do God's work by punishing others. It is no longer a transactional housekeeping of rights and wrongs, of debts and favors.  It is a faithful and constant response to the 'reign of God being upon us.'"
I still believe this.  I also believe that even if we forget, or stumble, are hurt, or hurt each other God's reign does not shrink away from us.  Whenever we forgive others, especially when we do so out of God's love and forgiveness of us something changes.  

Its like a light comes on or a heavy load gets lighter or our breathing is easier.  Something changes.  

If we stop ourselves short of that understanding and restrict our acts of forgiveness to those tired old transactional methods then the darkness soon descends again, the load returns, the air gets heavy.  Better the devil we know than the one we don't and we are right back where we started. 

Maybe the allure of this transactional forgiveness is that it feels like power when we can look at others as indebted to us.  Isn't that the language we use, to say "he owes me an apology."  But this idol of this false power cannot free us.  It needs our stubbornness to hold its ground.  

God's forgiveness is not about power.  It's not about God holding some ground.  It's not about winning in a zero sum game with others.  

When we take our turn forgiveness in God's kingdom means both sides letting go of power and neither keeping accounts.  It means releasing all our presumptions of leverage or advantage over others so that all we're left is to be children in God's presence.  

It's like Paul told the Corinthians:
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return-- I speak as to children-- open wide your hearts also. (2 Cor. 6:8b-13, NRSV)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ordinary is Conversion

" . . . from its first moments, change has been the call to those claiming to be believers.  Sometimes it's called repentance, sometimes conversion, sometimes forgiveness, sometimes surrender.  It goes by lots of names but God's ordinary always means change."

The word conversion to a boy raised Baptist "South of God*" triggers all sorts of memories of arms flailing, people wailing, and tears flowing as childhood friend after friend came down the aisle to make their profession of faith saying they had accepted Jesus into their hearts and had been -- some said "got" -- saved.

Mind you the majority of these good people had never spent more than a week away from the safe homogeneous confines of a church culture that awarded perfect attendance and relentlessly reminded itself of the dangers of things like dancing, popular music, science fiction, etc.

Just being devout had already whittled away most of what would had been converted.  Instead we submitted and were moved to membership which mostly differed from our previous status in that we were eligible to receive communion and to vote on new members and other church business matters.  Otherwise my life stayed pretty much the same with the constant reminders of all those forbidden things that now would lead to back sliding.

I can see that part of what we were doing was maintaining a practice that was not meant just for us.  In its ideal form conversion was understood as an abrupt, one-time shift from one absolute to another: from denial to belief, from rebellion to allegiance, from sinful to saved.

But we were not deniers or rebels and our sinfulness was well constrained by heavy regulation and long practiced indoctrination.  Still we "got saved" so that we could identify with and "bring in the lost" who weren't believers, weren't allied but were living in sin and darkness and who proved their condition by drinking, dancing, etc, etc.

Another way to understand this is to note that the majority of baptisms were of children under the age of twelve.  There just wasn't much to convert.  Our transition was more like getting confirmed first and then getting baptized.  Still we had to maintain the model of abrupt one-time conversion.

I'm older now and I've danced a little.  I love sci-fi!  And I'm still getting saved.  That's how conversion works for me now.

My conversion then was more a tipping point moment when expectation, indoctrination, peer pressure and a new, developing capacity for self-determination combined and led me to stand with my dad before the congregation attending the Sunday night service at Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, SC in October of 1963 and to make a promise I am still keeping.

Now my conversion is ordinary and by way of this church I work on it everyday.

* Baptist South of God - a term coined by Rev. Dr. Carlyle Marney meant to counter the boasting that so often accompanied the term Southern Baptist.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Ordinary is Repentance

" . . . from its first moments, change has been the call to those claiming to be believers.  Sometimes it's called repentance, sometimes conversion, sometimes forgiveness, sometimes surrender.  It goes by lots of names but God's ordinary always means change."

I've written a bunch about repentance.  Mostly because I need as many reasons and methods to accomplish it in my own life as any.  

I also have written about it because so many of us are stuck with one understanding that misses  the rich and complex biblical portrait as it is drawn using those deep and ancient terms of the Hebrew.

Two Hebrew words get translated repent.  The more familiar,  / "shuv" means to "turn around."  This call to repent catches us and expects us to change direction.  It has a singular momentary aspect to it and it also has a continuing and habitual aspect to it.  

The dynamic of that "singular" call is for us to stop those behaviors and practices that grow out of frail, failing, faulty humans.  Just stop!  

Think about all our family and friends in recovery from addiction.  But theyknow and we know in other ways that there is more to it.  That continuing and habitual aspect is exactly what recovery attempts.  

Both as singular moment and a continuing effort this call to repentance comes from God.  It comes from a God who loves us and wants a face-to-face relationship.  The biblical notion with  is that we don't just turn, we return.  

The other Hebrew word we translate repent is   
/ nacham.  It's what God does when he changes his mind and removes his threat to smite all of Ninevah.  It's what he did when Saul disobeyed. “I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments.”  1Sa 15:11 RSV

We could say that God's expectations carry weight.  Sometimes God exerts that weight and other times God changes God's mind and withholds.  It's what Job does at the end of his ordeal.  He changes his mind and is OK with a new understanding that God is God even when bad things happen to good people.  "Therefore I despise myself and repent . . ." Job 42:6 RSV

Either way with  or   what you get is a call to change.   A change in behavior that births and grows a new understanding or a  change in understanding that demonstrates itself in new behavior.   Change is ordinary and so is repentance.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

God's "ordinary" is change.

In the category of jokes that start with our asking the question, "How many ________ does it take to _______?" by far and away my favorite is the one that asks about Episcopalians and lightbulbs.

The answer could be but is not a number and an accompanying list of differing responsibilities like mixing drinks or forming committees.  The answer is another question charged with fear and trepidation: "Change the light bulb?  My GRANDMOTHER gave that light bulb to the church!!!"

It's worth the mention because we are reflecting on our lives together as worshippers in what is called "ordinary time."  The implication is that we will stick to a routine, Sunday in and Sunday out.

  • Entrance Processional Hymn, 
  • Opening Acclamation, 
  • Collect for Purity, 
  • Canticle of Praise, 
  • Collect of the Day with the congregation kneeling,
  • First Lesson, 
  • Gradual Psalm read responsively by half verse while standing, 
  • Second Lesson, 
  • Sequence Hymn, 
  • Gospel Reading, 
  • Sermon, 
  • Nicene Creed, 
  • Prayers of the People,
  • General Confession and Absolution, 
  • Passing the Peace, 
  • Announcements, 
  • Offertory, 
  • Presentation, 
  • Holy Eucharist, 
  • Postcomunion Prayer, 
  • Blessing,  
  • Exiting Processional Hymn, 
  • Dismissal. 

No changes like Lent and Advent's Penitential Order, like Easter's standing for EVERYTHING! or lack of Confession.  For many, our worship in ordinary time is "the way its supposed to be," regular.  That's what ordinary means.  But liturgical "ordinary" means more than that.

It means more than that because our efforts to be regular in our worship are ultimately motivated to do everything we can to participate sacramentally with God.  Being regular only addresses some of that effort.  Otherwise persisting at a robotic lock-step uniformity would be our insurance that we had done all we could to participate with God.

Participating sacramentally with God means we must risk being changed.  Indeed from its first moments change has been the call to those claiming to be believers.  Sometimes it's called repentance, sometimes conversion, sometimes forgiveness, sometimes surrender.  It goes by lots of names but God's ordinary always means change.