Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Escaping Egypt

Some of you will be quick to question the title shown for the artwork above. What we’ve printed here is a cut from a watercolor painting given to Cindy and me when we left Clarkesville. It remains one of my favorite paintings and gifts from a parishioner. Most of how we relate to Jesus as a baby with Mary and Joseph AND Egypt is to tell the story by their going there, not their coming back. The most often used title for these depictions is “Flight to Egypt.”

Here’s the thing, in most of the visual pieces depicting this scene unless you know geography and astronomy well it is nearly impossible to tell which way they are going. Following that, it is also nearly impossible to understand all that is going on in Matthew’s gospel and Joseph’s dreaming without including that they didn't stay in Egypt.

 Very soon we will be hearing of the Magi and their travels and in that will be told of their return trip, too. They go “home by another way” so that they don’t have to encounter Herod again.   Jesus, Mary and Joseph go TO Egypt for pretty much the same reason. But the holy family can’t stay there. What the prophet Hosea said eight centuries before was understood as meaningful. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” And so they return and find a home in Nazareth.

There are lots of ways to go from this lesson. We could talk about “comfort zones” and risk-taking. We could talk about fear. We could talk about hope and expectation or about how marvelously God does what God does. Some might want to focus on the value of dreaming. Lots of ways to talk. Pick any one of these and you still have to talk about going somewhere next and doing something else.

Going or doing and not just waiting for an end to Herod’s despotism. The life and ministry and miracles and multiplications of food and healings and teaching and politics and sacrifice and resurrection of that baby carried in Mary’s arms on the back of that donkey all the way to Egypt and back are the going and doing next. No matter what, the return from Egypt and what happens afterwards is what made the flight to Egypt meaningful, even necessary.

The point of calling the return an escape is to note that we are prone to think and often in a false humility that God only wants us safe, only wants us happy, only wants us to be fulfilled. Sure God wants us safe, happy and fulfilled. God wants that for the whole world. In order for that to come true though, we have to leave. Based on our comforts and confidence our leaving may have to be more like an escape in order to do what God wants next.

 My own version of this has been at time to act like being a priest is the fulfillment of God’s call in my life. And then thinking that as long as I keep my nose clean and am engaging, polite and pastoral I am doing what I am supposed to do. But sometimes, maybe all the time my answering God’s call is meant to be more like Nazareth than Egypt, more like Bethany and Capernaum and Cana and Galilee and on and on. Lots of ways. Lots of ways. Sometimes we must escape Egypt.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sundays and Sabbaths . . . and Sin

Much of my theological musing is in a still on-going conversation with friends from an old cohort. Back when I was at Furman I was active in several campus ministry groups but attended a house church. For Sunday mornings to be what I had grown to believe they should I had to find some place to worship. None of the big churches near campus appealed to me and I wasn’t yet an Episcopalian so there were no nearby small churches that appealed either.
 That house church group was made of a great mix of students and hangers-on. We were serious about our spiritual lives and were in constant dialogue about predestination, free will, works righteousness, cheap grace, moral certainty, the incarnation, social justice, and on and on. Out of that group that started largely as cast off Southern Baptists came three Episcopal clergy, one Presbyterian, one PCA Presbyterian, three or four Southern Baptist ministers and some who are still in leadership in another non-denominational house church world.
 One of those who became an Episcopal priest – who could do the BEST Bob Dylan imitation ever! -- has since found his way to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church. He and I are friends on FaceBook and will often share comments on different topics, mostly religious. Recently he posted an article about the impossibility of “moral progress.” In short saying that its not that humans can’t change their behavior for the good but that sin as a condition of the human experience is never abated by what humans do.
 “Sin as a condition”
 A world of ideas and questions opened up again for me when I saw that phrase. It just so happened that Paul’s letter to the Romans was in the lectionary for the lesser feast of Karl Barth that same day. Paul was lamenting the omnipresence of sin in his life such that he did what he didn’t want and didn’t do what he wanted. Finally crying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(Rom. 7:24)
 We can talk more about sin as a condition later but I want to tie it to the ideas about Sabbaths and Sundays that I’ve been sharing for the last several weeks. If we accept that sin is a condition then what do we do? I think Sabbaths AND Sundays are part of an answer. Since both are meant to provide moments for focus and clarity in our relationship with God we could highlight the rest and refreshment that come from removing life’s busyness and obstructions and regularly setting aside a time and place to be in God’s presence.
 That is what Sundays and Sabbaths have in common: the intent of being more fully present with God. Going to church on Sunday doesn’t make someone LESS sinful, even if they are easily distracted. Making a Sabbath out of some “free” time will also not save you from your sin. The best anyone can hope for through Sabbath or Sunday is some sort of “focus and clarity” in one’s relationship with God. God’s mercy is what deals with our condition. Like Paul says later in Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:39)
 We are not divided by our varied practices as much as we are joined. Whether in Sabbath or on Sunday we all yearn for that moment of clarity and focus, of hope, of trust, of thanksgiving, of praise, of refreshment and of rest because God’s presence is the best antidote for sin.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sabbath Disconnect, Part 3

I’ve read all that I wrote last week several times since then and this last section has just now struck me and sent a chill up my spine.
“It took an exodus of a whole nation to establish the Sabbath God commanded. All I’m asking is that we talk about how to connect to those of us whose lives have no Sabbaths other than the ones they find away from us on Sunday morning.”
Simply, could it be that by worshipping as we do, busying ourselves as we do, filling our spare time with fitness and leisure activities as we do, and – the kicker – valuing progress and growth as we do we are more like Pharaoh and the Egyptians than Moses and the Israelites? 

Pharaoh was the one who demanded 7 days of labor. Egypt was the place away from which Israel had to escape in order to find the Sabbath God expected. It was in a wilderness, through a period of paradigmatic change, with the commandments -- including the one calling Israel to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy -- that the people became possessors of the land God had promised. 

Maybe there is something we can learn from those of us who are away most Sunday mornings. If their experience is anything like the one had by Moses and the Israelites then they know the value of the wilderness, and change, and Sabbath. Maybe they know something about how the bread of anxiety gets replaced by the manna God provides. Maybe they understand that without real rest away from anything-that-needs-the-preposition-“up”-in-its-name, life is captive to a system of always measuring, always dressing, always showing, always catching

Maybe they just are ahead of us, not away from us. 

Sabbaths are moments to end our achieving for a rest in the confident trusting of God’s promises. Without our Sabbaths we are prone to confuse enthusiasm for holiness and quantity for quality. Sundays are moments to know that God’s promises – of a new land or a new life – are being fulfilled and without them we would miss the holy rehearsal of being raised “up.” 

I need to say that I am not upset. I am happy to make our Sunday mornings as much as possible little Easter sunrise services. I need to say that I am not disappointed in anyone. I am thrilled when the house is full or I see you at the store. I need to say that I am not worried. I am confident in our ability to leverage the opportunities God continues to present us. 

I hope I haven’t scared anyone, or offended anyone, or made anyone to feel unfairly scrutinized. I hope I have named an important distinction that need not separate Sunday from Sabbath but may be a new way to see them connected to each other. And I hope I have recognized the huge potential bound up in and expressed through the spiritual lives of all our members on Sunday and in Sabbath.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sabbath Disconnect, Part 2

My last blurb got a good reaction from several members and so I want to follow what I said about our Sundays not being “sabbathy” enough.

First, I’m not digging too deep into the theology of Sabbaths vs. Christian Sundays. I have no problem with saying “we are Easter people.” Even our Advent, Christmas and Epiphany observances and celebrations need the Resurrection to be properly explained. Simply, we are resurrection people and that is the argument FOR “getting up to celebrate on Sunday mornings.” Think Easter sunrise service. I don’t believe we need to move away from that recognition and practice.

Second, I am hoping to find a way for those of us who struggle to worship on Sunday mornings to be connected and supported in our spiritual self-care. I want there to be a clearer and measurable link for us to understand that inclusion in this community.

Third, I do think we need to see the “value of sabbathing” as a cultural necessity not just a personal spiritual undertaking. Forgive the butchered terminology but by “value of sabbathing” I mean the increased appreciation and benefits we receive when we all purposefully step away and rest from our work or labor.

It is one of the Ten Commandments and it has implications for all humanity. My favorite Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann has argued the “Sabbath commandment is drawn into the exodus narrative, for the God who rests is the God who emancipates from slavery and consequently from the work system of Egypt.” (Sabbath as Resistance, Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2014. Kindle file)

It is the whole world’s problem but this relates directly to our lives of busy-ness and “works righteousness.” We are the ones who will be satisfied only when our work sets us free. We are the ones who blame the poor for their poverty. We are the ones who dream of risk free investment ventures. We are the ones who cry to the other God of “certainty” for our markets. We are the ones whose financial computers are never turned off.

Maybe that is why it is hard for so many of us to make the Sabbaths we should; to take the rest we need, to be silent before the God who loves us beyond our (y)earning. It took an exodus of a whole nation to establish the Sabbath God commanded. All I’m asking is that we talk about how to connect to those of us whose lives have no Sabbaths other than the ones they find on their own away from us on Sunday morning.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Saving Goats: Sermon on Matthew 25:31f

When Pastor Grady asked for a title to tonight’s address I told him “Saving Goats.” 

Obviously sensitive to the double entendre he was smart to ask  ‘is ‘saving’ a verb or an adjective.”  Think about it.  As Christians when we have read this last third of Matthew 25 and been given the chance to think about it have at least worked through if not finished with, “its better not to be a goat.”  Especially if one wants to avoid eternal punishment.  

But most of us don’t get to that warning by itself.  In everyday living being a goat usually gets thrown into the list of all those other “things to be avoided:” sickness, poverty, nakedness, being a stranger, imprisonment, . . . and now goatness

So "saving goats" is not what we usually learn in this last lesson from Jesus.  That’s right.  His last lesson.  Following in Matthew’s narration of the Good News, Jesus will go to Bethany to be anointed with very expensive ointment and then immediately to Jerusalem to his last meal with his friends and onto his trial and execution. 

His last lesson.  That ought to get our attention.  He’s about to die for us.  For us. It doesn't make sense to read this and the previous sections of this chapter as simple lessons on getting along.  For too long Christians have heard Matthew 25's three pieces like boy scouts or parents sending their kids off to school.  

Too often we have reduced what we learned from the bridesmaids to "be prepared."  From the parable of the talents we learned to "use it before you lose it." And from Chapter 25's last third we learned don't be a goat or in its historically trivialized form, "be nice."   

But this is his last lesson so we need to listen closely when he starts with, “And when the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. And before him will be gathered all the nations.”

Son of Man.  Interesting phrase.  Used by Jesus more than any other when referring to himself.  Son of Man.  In a contemporary rendering, “the human one.”  The human one will gather all the nations.  All the nations.  Nations is from the Greek ethnos. We say ethnic groups now.  We should just say us.

That idea comes from a lecture/sermon I heard years ago from Carlyle Marney, former pastor to the governor of Texas and then senior pastor of Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church before founding the Interpreter’s House at Lake Junaluska as a place for Christians and in particular Christian clergy to rest, re-examine, and re-focus their personal callings.

Marney, who would only admit to being a “Baptist, south of God” in talking about our “ethnos” said it this way

For him it was the dream of the American experiment -- We are the ones who get to choose our religion -- and for him it was also the failure of that experiment in what we now call denominationalism. 

Marney talked about our buckets and how it just didn’t matter how many we made or how big those buckets were. 

In a deep fried Bone tired voice flattened by preaching in Texas too much he said this,
“The name for who were are in relationship to God isn’t Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness.  There is no bucket of our making big enough. The name for who we are in relationship to God is HUMAN.  And the pronoun is US!”

All the ethnos, all the buckets, one day gathered with the Son of Man.  All of US! and still, still there will be goats. 

Now hear me. When Jesus tells us about the sheep and goats I don’t think he’s making simple predictions about the future. There is no “Just wait and see.”  If that were the case he’d be done. 

But there is a Bethany, a Jerusalem, a Calvary, an empty tomb.

He is about to die for us.  I think he is using the story to get a response, not just from the disciples or the jews who would have heard “the nations” as everybody but us.  I think he wants a response from us, too

Excuse me if this sounds trivial but I think we need to hear Jesus as sounding more like Marley’s Ghost to Ebenezer Scrooge that night in those dreams.  Especially the third dream the one that showed Tiny Tim dead.  Not just crippled, not just hungry, not just cold, but dead.  Because nothing had changed. 

Jesus’ picture of the goats is just like the picture Dickens paints for us with Scrooge.  

Dickens doesn't want Scrooge to be "scrooge." Jesus doesn't want anyone gathered from all the nations to be a goat.  Jesus doesn’t want the goats to be cast out.  Jesus wants the goats to do what Scrooge did. Scrooge repented! Scrooge woke up to Christmas day a changed man!

Remember . . .  goats are better than no goats.  Milk, cheese, mutton, goatskins!  Why let the goats go to waste?  Save the goats! Why let them be lost in an eternal punishment? Save the goats, yes!  But not for their own sake.

Save them because my family needs them! Just like Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family needed Scrooge.

Whenever you did it to the least of these my kindred you did it to me. I’m having a hard time reading it any other way.

The sick, strange, poor, hungry, naked, imprisoned ones are my family. My family. And who are the goats? 

Whenever you didn’t help one of us, my family says the human one you were a goat.

In failing to feed, clothe, welcome and visit the goats look a lot like Scrooge on Christmas Eve or a lot like some other good Christians that I know. 

Especially like those Christians who say things like:  “You make your luck,”  or  “Are there no prisons? or “I got mine,” or “Bah, Humbug” or “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” or “Are there no workhouses?” or “Poverty is the fault of the poor.” 

Thanks be to God none of those utterances are in Matthew 25 much less the Bible.

Does God expect us to do our part.  Yes.  “The laborer deserves his food.”  Now that is in the Bible.  Matthew 10:10.

But there is in this last lesson from Jesus NO condemnation of those who are hungry, poor, naked, strangers, sick or imprisoned. 

NO condemnation.  But an embrace.  They are my family. The only condemnation is self inflicted.  It is a condemnation chosen by the ones who will become goats when they act as if what they have to clothe, to feed, to cure, to visit, to share, came from some source other than God.

By forgetting that it all comes from God in the first place the goats in us condemn themselves.  So . . . wake up Scrooge!  Wake up Mr. and Mrs. Christian.  It all comes from God and is meant for the whole family.  So wake up and give thanks.  Care for the poor and give thanks.  Feed the hungry and give thanks.  Clothe the naked and give thanks.  Welcome the stranger and give thinks.  Visit the sick and give thanks.  Meet those in prison and give thanks.

Do all these things and give thanks

Because the goat you save may be your own.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sabbath Disconnect

One could argue that the Christian weekly observance of the resurrection of our Lord primarily occurring on Sunday mornings between the hours of 8am and noon is an inadequate Sabbath practice. Yes I said it. Going to church every week on Sunday morning may not be “sabbathy” enough.

I’m thinking this way for a set of reasons not just one. First, remember the circumstances that led to the creation of Advent-ures. Sunday morning was not a good time for many of our young families to muster for a 9:30 start AND to do so in “love and charity” with each other. Even worse was how damaging to the intent of a Sabbath for the parents all that effort often was. One of the benefits of our current Advent-ures setup is the “parents night out” it provides.

Second, I know I’m taking a risk with this next insight but I’m interested how the women of our church are more consistent in their attendance on Sunday morning. The trend is not extreme but it is noticeable.

Third, I’ve noticed how every time I run by Ingle’s Sunday after church or in the afternoon I meet a parishioner who has to start the conversation apologizing or excusing their absence earlier that day. It is not hard for me to understand and I do everything I can to put them at ease. We are both in the store because it is when we have time to go. Plus, I’d rather have a good visit than instill guilt.

Fourth, it occurs to me that our Jewish kin have a better Sabbath practice, especially those who live close enough to their synagogues and temples to walk to worship along with those who dim the lights and turn off the TVs.

There are other reasons but these few make it pretty clear that there is a disconnect between what we do and what we say about what we do. Our Christian observance is meant to be a celebration and maybe that is the best reason there is little encouragement for the time we take to be “off” and thus the disconnect. Maybe we try too hard on Sunday morning for some people. They need the breathing space and not more to do or “get up for.”

Another way the disconnect shows up for me is in how hard it is to be quiet or sit in Sabbath-like silence during Rite I or Rite II eucharistic worship. I have no solution to this puzzle. I do know that Sabbaths are made not just taken and I do know that what we do on Sunday mornings is a break from the world’s lament, anxiety and busy-ness.

Celebration should be a refreshment. But I’m worried for those in our community and the society beyond who can’t connect with our current Sunday morning practices for whatever reason. Even more I’m worried that we are losing our sacred Sabbaths.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More to Stewardship Than We Can Imagine

We’ve done just about all we can in preparation for our voyage, the journey into the future God is calling us to explore.  Many of you who pledged in previous years have said your prayers and made your commitment to supporting God’s mission in and from the Church of the Advent.  Just as prayerfully several commitments have come from families who have not pledged in the past.  
All of this is good news to which we respond “Thanks be to God!”  Yet, one of the risks we take in putting so much focus on this part of the process is that we forget to support each other in continuing in the larger part of stewardship.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Imagine what it would take for you to go without your cell phone for 24 hours. Call it a “cell phone Sabbath.” 
Take a breath. I’m not saying anything bad about those of us who seem to be on our phones all the time.  I am saying that in order for us to consider “continuing in the larger part of stewardship” it may require as much planning and advance work as a pledge campaign. 
The difference is that the intent of this effort is not just a relatively brief, once-a-year campaign closed by our signatures but the establishment of a habit or pattern of behavior shared by a community.
  • First you would have to find the time -- 24 hours -- to be away from your electronic “friend(s).”  
  • Then you’d have to choose between those friends and family who could join you and those you’d warn, in some cases multiple times beginning several weeks in advance.  
  • Then you’d have to get someone to protect you from intrusion or interruption during your Sabbath.  
  • It would probably help to have some ceremony to begin your retreat 
  • and certainly you’d want some ritual during your time as a way to sustain yourself and get through the hours.  
  • All of this would be done so that you can be open to a set of possibilities larger than those bound up in the web of emails, calls, and messages.  All this for one day. 

Now, breathe again. Imagine what it would take for that one cell phone Sabbath to become a pattern or habit. See what I mean about all the work required in “continuing the larger part of stewardship?”
So thanks be to God that we have come this far and done this much. Let’s pray that we continue with God into a future that will likely require even more work to sustain for the sake of our imagination.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Collaborating in God’s Neighborhood

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.  (BCP, p. 832)
This prayer has been on my heart and my mind a bunch lately.  Not only is it the one we’ve used to help in our reimagining Advent’s voyage with God in the year to come, it was also used as the postcommunion (yes, that’s how you spell it) prayer at the Service of Repentance and Reconciliation hosted by Bishop Wright on October 22 at the Cathedral of St. Philip. 
I’ll admit to the collect’s comprehensiveness and thus it’s capacity for use in multiple applications.  I’m also OK with saying that what Bishop Wright was about that night was different from our use, although not entirely.  Suffice it to say the prayer works for both of us.
In the case of Bishop Wright’s use, the prayer encouraged those gathered that night to move into a time and place we are still learning to describe.  His sermon -- as I’ve already said, “one of his best” – was a very good beginning toward reinterpreting racism as it has evolved through these last 50+ years.  
In our case we’ve articulated an understanding of Advent’s movement into doing what God is asking of us that includes more collaboration with our neighbors.  But instead of jumping into “collaboration” maybe we should first talk with our neighbors about neighborhoods and neighborliness. It might be exactly what we can do best at this point: host a gathering for sharing, for telling stories, and most of all for listening. 

A time may come for us to extend our Bishop’s call for repentance and reconciliation specifically through Advent’s collaborations but for now let’s ask God to so draw our hearts, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills and see what kind of neighbors we can become.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Holy Light Bulbs and Pie Charts!

Thanks to all who helped to make Sunday the multifaceted success it was: one of our largest attendances at 8:00am since I’ve been serving in Madison, above average attendance at the 10:30 service! and what a “cloud” of witnesses our All Saints' Prayers produced! Then we enjoyed a roomful of questions and information and commenters and listeners as our Stewardship Team leaders -- Mary McCauley, Rick Crown, Tim Pridgen and Kathie Lehman -- explained more about our roles and options in commitment and support than we had ever been told before.
I sat in my office afterwards and sighed in relief as if we were done. Over a hump perhaps but we still have a ways to go. Another way to say it is that we will set sail soon enough.
Between now and November 12th we want you to say your prayers and ask God to guide your giving so that it is the best representation of who you are in membership and stewardship on this great voyage of discovery and purpose in our lives together with God.
Take the extra minutes to read through all the material in your envelope. Talk to your family members: husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, pets. Heck, talk to your neighbors if it helps you to clarify and focus on how your giving joins you to what God has already begun for us.
Thank you for all you have already given to this campaign of renewal and imagination, for ministry and mission, in outreach and inreach. Let us pray,
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP, p. 832)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Risk Management

I’ve already warned you that I like Kierkegaard.  I pray that you are not tired of him yet.  He wrote this prayer and I think it speaks to us as we make the next step in our journey, this voyage with each other and God. 
Preserve me, Lord, from the deceit of thinking that by being prudent and looking after my own interests I am necessarily using my talents aright. The one who takes risks for your sake may appear to lose, but is accepted by you. The other who risks nothing appears to gain by prudence, but is rejected by you. So let me not think that by avoiding risk I am better than the other. Grant me to see that this is an illusion, and save me from such a snare. Amen.
What dear Soren has said is consistent with Jesus in the gospel we’ve been reading on Sundays this year. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25 RSV. 
Can we take a moment and consider the extent to which we have used “prudence and looking after our own interests” as the baseline for our decisions together?  Can we ask if we have taken a risk?  (By the way I think we have taken some risks, so being honest about our answers doesn’t require us to be harsh or to lay blame on anyone.)  But we need to know who, when and how.  Knowing the risks we’ve already taken allows us to stand on the shoulders of so many who were faithful before us. 
For me it means learning to live on less and asking for help before I try to “do it myself.”  It means risking a self-image built from and for defense.  For some it might mean real courage to step through real fears triggered by real hard times, debt and even loneliness.  For others it might mean choosing their commitments before all the numbers are in. 
It might help to understand that most “risk management” models would have us avoiding failure or minimizing its effects, a safe strategy. And I’m not advocating recklessness or carelessness.   But I’m wondering how we can push a little, maybe a lot into taking a new risk in our lives with God. 
We are about to set sail with God on a voyage much of which is unknown at this point.  We know what we are allowing our selves to hope: for financial stability, expanded outreach, more worship, stronger programs, increased collaboration with our neighbors, full-time compensation for our priest, etc.  Are we just as much allowing ourselves to hope that in joining those faithful ones who have gone before us we are taking our own risks in this moment? 

November 2 is set for you and your shipmates to gather in a special “All Saints on Deck” meeting to share what has been learned and to invite each other on Advent’s voyage. Our time will begin at 10:30am with worship in Holy Eucharist streamlined to allow us to finish the day in special session and still be dismissed as early as 12:15pm.  We will share the same summary the vestry has used to draft a budget, get a quick review of that draft, and share in prayers to help make those commitments of time, talent and treasure for 2015 and beyond as we risk with God and voyage into a “new world” of mission and ministry.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I am writing this on a Tuesday morning, with deadline pressures amplified by the invitation to join Paul Roman’s Sociology of the South class at UGA.  I get to talk with his students about my memories of growing up in Anderson, SC in the 50’s and 60’s and whatever else comes up in our conversations about religion and religious practice in the South. 
On my mind will be how gratifying it was to see so many familiar faces on the Conservancy Ramble.  Thanks to Ann-Marie and Frank Walsh I was on a bus and at the table on the Ainslie’s lawn of Ardenlea Farm.  As I was able to greet and embrace Adventer after Adventer my feeling included and connected grew and grew.
That experience of face-to-face connectedness redefined for me an idea introduced to our Dinners with Dann sittings by Tim Pridgen.  On more than one occasion he spoke passionately about the need to name and promote a kind of connectedness within the day-to-day life of Advent.  He calls it “inreach.”
When first he shared his ideas and feelings I thought he was making sure that I was up to the task of being and doing the work of a pastor.  I’ll admit that I’ve worried about my ability to pastor for the entirety of my ordained life.  As we heard him at the dinner table other parts of that concept emerged and with the events of the ramble for me now have come into full bloom. 
We are connected to each other.  Most of the ways that I have experienced and understood that connectedness have been from the altar in our historic and beloved church and from the many meetings that I have attended.  Always with me delivering some thought, some content, some collaboration or some prayer.
I know that my status as full-time means that I must change how I attend these moments and especially how I connect to your personal and private crises and challenges.  Now instead of catching you at a hospital in Athens between chaplaincy duties, I’m on call and ready to be on my way to Atlanta or some other spot outside Morgan County.   Thank goodness the Saab is in so much better condition than the Subaru.
But now that I have experienced and so enjoyed the Ramble I understand Tim’s inreach in a much richer and less anxiety provoking way.  I see my role and our support of each other in all those other ways that pastoring occurs person-to-person as caught up in a energized and dynamic exchange of connectedness.  As we extend greetings to each other we are laying the foundations for inreach. 
This is more than a sociology of southern customs as pertaining to the history of worshipping communities in the South.  It is how I am continuing to be included and embraced among you and how I will celebrate the role that is growing before me as pastor and priest in charge of the Episcopal Church of the Advent. 
Inreach is a holy and sacred connectedness and not just a well designed delivery of a service or product of pastoring dispensed from some priest’s supply.  Thanks for helping me connect as a pastor by your invitations, your sharing, your tables and buses, your joys and sorrows, but most of all by your inreach.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New World Prayers

In 1606 when John Smith and Christopher Newport set sail from England they were authorized by the same King James I who ordered the English translation of the Bible, now known in many parts of the world as the KJV.   Newport was Captain over the three vessels, the Discovery, the Susan Constant and the Godspeed, with Smith having to wait until landfall to take his charge in establishing the first English speaking settlement in the “New World,” Jamestown.  Smith was not a good passenger and was charged with mutiny only to be saved by the royal charter’s taking effect as soon as they were standing on the banks of the Powhatan River. 
Prayers in English were first prayed in the New World in Jamestown. The Rev. Robert Hunt led the settlers in intercession twice a day -- every day -- as they sought God for wisdom, provision, and protection.  In fact, after the declaration that essentially freed Smith from the charge of mutiny the next official act by the English in the New World was a corporate prayer.
They sailed with much support and hope and some anticipation for economic return on their investment but the longer, landed story of Jamestown is not a good example of “getting one’s money’s worth.”  Mosquitos, rats, harsh weather, and bad relations with the “locals” all made what quickly became bad only get worse.  For sure they never stopped praying.
Thinking analogically, we’ve not yet left our homeport.  What has occurred up to now in our dinner conversations has been more like the collection of investment capital, the appeal for permissions, and drafting of a charter. Your ideas, thoughts, and dreams are the resources with which we will set sail.  For sure there is much to be learned from this history and since we have no control over the distant future we can take care to manage our ambitions, our hopes, and our expectations hoping to be good passengers and better sailors.  Wherever God is calling us we should be ready to say our prayers. 
In the next weeks these final preparations for our voyage will be made:
Mark Your Calendars!
October 19, our vestry will hear the report of the stewardship leaders and draft a new budget for the coming year.
November 2 is set for you and your shipmates to gather in a special “All Saints on Deck” meeting to share what has been learned and to invite each other on Advent’s voyage.

Our “All Saints on Deck” will begin at 10:30am with worship in Holy Eucharist streamlined to allow us to finish the day in special session and still be dismissed as early as 12:15pm.  We will share the same summary the vestry has used to draft a budget, get a quick review of that draft, and share in prayers to help make those commitments of time, talent and treasure for 2015 and beyond as we voyage with God into a “new world” of mission and ministry.