Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What child is this?

I wrote last week about the importance of incarnation as a fulfillment of God's saving us from death.  I want to push a little into that idea in the hope that we can demythologize and re-apply much of the nostalgia that shapes our attention to the "babe in the manger."

I want to identify the nostalgia but not eradicate it.  There is an important aspect of innocence that night in Bethlehem that needs  a new recognition.  Just as much, it needs balance.  We need to sing "Away in a Manger" and then we need to ask, "why a manger?" We need to sing, "O little town of Bethlehem" and then ask, "why Bethlehem?"

Part of the mythology that would inform our first answers blends together separate Gospel accounts into every character's piety being the same.  Shepherds, wisemen, Joseph even the animals seem to be frozen, almost afraid to "mess it up."

Not a bad choice.  But it is important for us to let each character, each class of character show us more than our dainty crèche sets let us see of their varieties of responses.  

Warned in a dream the wise men go home by another way because of the threat of Herod's violence.  The shepherds understand their unusual inclusion at least as a mild indictment of a world where economic violence castes people into the haves and have nots, the ones expected to speak and the ones expected to stay quiet and out of sight.  It is exactly that they are the ones to share their having heard the angels sing which triggers Mary's pondering.

The world into which Jesus is born is broken, no more or less than today.  Like much of our world it is one way or another fixated on violence, death and sacrifice as the system to set things right.  Even much of the expectation that a Messiah would come is described in terms of war and violence, of political power and heroic actions.

The world wanted a good bully to beat the bad bully.  It will be later in Luke's gospel on the road to Emmaus that we read the story of hearts changed to understand the law and the prophets in a new light other than the one of Isreal's getting even. 

But it takes a baby being born and living and learning and leading and then challenging the very lessons he had learned and the very leaders his people had chosen to save the world that is lost and broken in darkness and violence.

It takes the new light of the incarnation of one who dies and is raised -- first displayed from a manger in Bethlehem -- to tell the story of things being set right by means other than a violence endorsed by God. 

No more bullies.

No smiting, no armies marching, no zealous insurrections.  Just a silent lamb, a light in the darkness, an innocent child born in an obscure village who saves the world. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What we're not saying

Perhaps a way in which the Episcopal Church particularly distinguishes itself from its other more protestant neighbors is during and by way of this season of Advent.

While the countless versions of "Little Drummer Boy"  --  Even Jimi Hendrix recorded one!  --   accompany our shopping and Andy Williams, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby visit us like the ghosts of Christmases past making sure our hearts are mellow even though just about everything else in our lives is ratcheting up our anxieties, "us Anglicans" are still chanting through our most sincere invitation of the season, "O come, o come Emmanuel."

We've yet to turn beyond hymn 76.  We've yet to hear of lowing cattle, watching shepherds, signatory stars or Roman taxes and census takings.  Instead we are working, yes working our way into an appreciation for the incarnation of God and its purpose, an interplay of hope and memory, of judgement and redemption, of looming darkness and promised light.

We are not just practicing delayed gratification, but much of what we are NOT saying is as important as what others are already saying.   To do as so many around us do and to superimpose our pleasure and fun into the days and months before His arrival, to confuse his coming with our deserving a reward for good behavior, or to think that our generosity and giving are all the world needs to be the place that God intended is nearly to insure that we will miss the meaning of Christmas.

We need at least to be willing to acknowledge what we are doing in lieu of what we are not saying.   There are plenty even among us who do not understand that our preparation is to be a kind of vigilance, an honest expectation that will finally amplify the light as much as focus our gaze on the one from whom the light shines.

Yes, I am an Advent Snob but I am just as much an Incarnation snob.  God will save us by "being born of the virgin Mary, his mother."  I want us to be ready for a human to be born and become the way in which God makes a difference in the world.

Consider this, that for God to make the difference and to intervene in the course of human affairs any other way would be to violate our free will.  Only as the incarnate one can God set right the course of history and do so in a way that does not render us as mere puppets, objects to be manipulated, or cosmological nuisances to be endured and replaced with improved models.

Using the standard, culturally driven reverse projections of the season which for retail purposes begin earlier each year -- "Aren't the 12 days of Christmas the last ones we have to finish shopping?" --  or pro-actively celebrating so that we can take our trees down December 26 -- I've seen them in the gutter on Christmas day -- or praying for a chill in the air so we can wear our ugly contest sweaters one more time -- the gift of irony? -- are not the "things we need to say" maybe especially right now.  Whether we do those things or not there is still so much more for which to prepare.

Please understand, we are not saying anything bad about these preemptions, just that their timing is off.  In Advent we wait and watch, we warn and exhort, we listen and magnify so that when Christmas season begins we can focus on the one who makes the world enlightened and into the place where God is with us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


What a wonderful day December 6th was for the Church of the Advent.  The whole day!! There is no way to thank all those who contributed to hosting our Bishop for his first visitation to Madison and to those who made our fourth annual Bonfire and Pageant a success.

Recalling Claude Raines I can say we should just "round up the usual suspects" but that list would be as long as the parish roster.  

So here are a few whom I want to particularly mention:

Thank you Anna Marrett!! Your bright spirit helped me make it through a large dose of anxiety and trepidation.  

Thank you Bill Abbott!! Your can do attitude and willingness to do what needs to be done without fretting made for a reassuring interaction with Bishop Wright.  

Thank you, Kate Smith Booker!!  Yet another Bonfire Pageant and visit from the jolly elf was a success. 

Thank you Mary and Bob McCauley for providing your field and starting the fire.*

Thanks to the vestry for letting Bishop Wright know where we are in our lives together RIGHT NOW!  He had nothing but good things to say about your involvement and the products of that involvement. 

Thanks to the Confirmands and those being Received.  Kate and Alex should get a prize for endurance.  Following the Bishop's sermon Wes and Beth kindled an energy and interest that spilled out on so many and led 14 to respond to the Bishop's invitation to Reaffirm their faith.

Thank you St. Nag-at-us for getting the paperwork done!

Thanks to the Choir, Dan(s) and Jim for filling our worship with beauty and depth.  

Thanks to Ian and Riley for letting their eagerness teach us all something about the offerings we bring forward.  

Thank you Joyce Morehouse and Daisy Jane Buck for valuing the OT reading.  

Thanks to all who contributed to our feast through their donations of food and beverage. 

Thanks to Bishop Wright for driving fast and staying late.  Thanks for preaching to us in the whisper that is God's word to us in Madison. 

*Thank you Brian Lehman for only almost becoming a Youtube sensation. ;-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Goodness

I made a mistake. In the rush to leverage the coincidence of the lesser Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and our decision to have the children of the parish donate gifts to the children sheltered by the Circle of Love with our now Fourth Annual Christmas Pageant and Bon-Fire at the McCauley's on the night of December 6, I got in the way of Santa Claus. I forgot how important certain stories and connections are to many of our children.

You see, Santa has always paid a visit to the children and families gathered in that field just off Dixie Hwy.

Every year he comes after we have enjoyed a chilly night and a roaring fire and good food and an always engaging rendition of the story of the baby Jesus being born.

Every year he sits with our children and lets them know that he sees the good in them and he sees there is still more than enough goodness in the world around them; a goodness that turns into giving.

Every year our children have left the McCauley's "back forty" with their tummies full, their friendships renewed, their parents happy and their confidences reassured.

Every year the good that God provides us is translated into stories we can learn and share.  Every year we have learned about the goodness of giving.

It was one of those situations you can describe as "don't need fixin' cause it ain't broke."

Word has it that Santa is coming back this year, too.  Let's hope he finds the same spirit in us and our children that he has found in previous visits; a spirit to be good, to do good and to give from that goodness.

Word also has it that the Bishop of Myra's story will be told so that our children can understand their own gift giving as part of a long history of Christians helping those in need.

For those of you who can't be with us at the McCauley's here's a summary of the story from Myra:
He lived in a part of the world we now call Turkey.  He lived and served the Christians in and around the city of Myra.  He was also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. 
The story we tell most often is what he did to help a family with 3 sisters hoping to be married but whose father was not able to afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
For many of us there are connections between Nicholas and Santa.  The one that matters most is one about goodness and giving.

If you can, please join us as the children of our parish experience God's "giving of goodness" in the story of Jesus' birth.  Or join us as they hear about the "goodness of giving" in the story of the Bishop of Myra and write their own story in their own support of the Circle of Love. Or join us and stay for a visit from Santa himself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's Call Thursday Trustgiving Day Instead

The Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day ordered by the BCP is Matthew's recalling the words of Jesus to "consider the lilies" as a way to understand that worrying is not as important a focus in one's spiritual life as would be trusting in God.  The lectionary framers had something in mind more than just an encouragement to give thanks.  Along with Matthew and in following Jesus they wanted us to see the close relationship that true gratitude towards God and deep trust in God have with each other.  

So let us be cautious, at least, seeing as that our American popular culture and economic mythology calls us to rely on our consumption to save us the very next day after the one for which this lesson is chosen.  The sirens of Black Friday are already sounding and one wonders how our prayers will compete.  

Please take the time it takes to read Matthew 6:25-33 and consider as many of these questions as you can.  They are the same questions we asked each other at our recent Community Thanksgiving service. 

1.   Jesus said “do not worry. . . “  Do you worry?  How?

2.   How much is enough?

3.   What possessions are the focus of your worry?

4.   How do others benefit when you “strive first for the Kingdom of God?”

5.   Did a stranger ever help you to be at ease? How?

6.   Describe how you felt when someone else gave help you with an important necessity.

7.   Does knowing what or how much you have effect your giving or sharing? How?

8.   To what needs in others around you are you most likely to respond?

9.   When is greed bad?

10.   Have you or will you reduce(d) your consumption during the holiday?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Bad Theology

I wrote this May 30, 2008:

First Amendment and Bad Theology
This may take a while so bear with me. Another of my constant peeves is the misrepresentation of the first amendment by hard right fun-damn-mentalists and those of the political right using religion to seize power not meant for them by our constitution. . .

. . . After I stop screaming I screamed some more because I remembered that this methodology masquerading as a theology has been the musak of my life of southern religion. John 3:16 which promises salvation based on God's love of the world has been spun for decades as if it only contained its latter half, the part that says "whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (KJV) Believing gets elevated to a position at least equal to God's love and becomes the guarantee of one's eternal habitation. Believe first and then you can say you are saved.
Over the years two scripturally based correctives have grown in my understanding since those naive days of my childhood when John 3:16 was as commonplace in its assurance of safety as knowing one's phone number. The first is the reminder spoken by Jesus himself in each of the synoptics:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”Mark 8:35
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Luke 9:24, KJV.
 . . . In short, faith is not the work that earns eternal life, because there is no "work" that can save us.
. . . One of the consequences of what I call "first amendment abuse," is that actions like using [our military for] evangelization will give another undeserved public hearing to what is always and sadly so just very bad theology.

  • Its bad theology to worry about the salvation of your own life when the world is starving and thirsty and oppressed and imprisoned.
  • Its bad theology to get others to believe like you so that they can be saved. Unless the world becomes a better place you have to ask, "saved from what?" 
  • Its bad theology to try to save your own life, especially if that effort thwarts another's salvation. 
  • Its bad theology to turn faith into a righteous work, to turn human believing into an eternal guarantee.
Granted the cost is higher and the damage greater and religion different but what happens in places like Paris and Beirut and in the skies over Egypt is also born of bad theology.    

We need to look at how we contribute as a denomination, as a culture, and as a nation to a practice of bad theology and without intending -- as far as the average Joe can tell -- contribute to other bad practices from around the world.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Better than Bigger

Before my children were school aged I started playfully acknowledging that they were growing. Each night as I tucked them into bed I would reach from the tops of their heads to their toes and show them how far it was.  This was no fish story.  I would keep my arms spread as close to the original measurement as I could and back away with a "Wow!  I think you really are bigger!  How did you do that?"

Like most parents when we begin to marvel at how our children grow we are almost always focused on physical characteristics.

No one needs to feel bad about this.  This is how it works around the world.  But eventually we start to notice other ways that growth manifests itself.  The first time a child is generous without being prodded almost always gets attention.  Whenever a piercing question is asked we marvel then, too.

Somehow though it is still the physical measures that get to go first.  Maturity or intelligence or compassion wait to be seen.

In the Episcopal Church we have our own fixations on "gross measures."  Calculating the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is the current practice.  Each Sunday, usually during the readings I'm counting heads.  Most Sundays I like the numbers.  I'll admit that some Sundays I want to fudge a little.

Our ASA is growing.  That's a fact.  We are now averaging more than 80 per Sunday morning.  I've joked that our 8:00am service is the fastest growing in the diocese having doubled in ASA in the five years I've been serving.   We've gone from 8-10 to 16-20.

Just like our wanting our children to grow in compassion, intelligence or maturity we want to be able to measure our lives in ministry and service by more than just the numbers.

But it needs to be said plainly and clearly, when our numbers are good we can count ON so much more. Another way to say it is that ASA is more symptom than fact, more lens than a thing to be looked at.

I cannot point at any one thing and say that is why the numbers are good.  I can say that we are as compassionate and generous as we have ever been.  I can say that we are as careful in our discernment and decision making as we have ever been.  I can say that we as welcoming and collaborative as we have ever been.

I can say that we are growing.  We are growing into a more mature practice of our faith that makes all these others ways of growing possible.  Our ASA is a bonus.

Here's another bonus that comes with these ways of growing.  Nothing of what we were before needs to be punished or criticized.  You wouldn't pick on your own child for being "small for her age," would you?

Instead what we do is to marvel and wonder and celebrate that we have grown.  And we give thanks that God has loved us through it all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jesus Movement

If you have not watched it yet please take the thirty minutes or so needed to watch and listen to our newly inaugurated Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as he delivers an inspired and encouraging word to the whole church.

Two phrases keep echoing throughout his sermon.  The first to hit home is his take on the moment reported in chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles:
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” Acts 17:1-7, RSV.
Bishop Curry said more and said it this way, "they have turned the world upside down, which is really right side up!"

Right next to that he reminded us that Jesus did not come to establish a church but to join a movement that was passing through John the Baptist, having been handed down by the prophets as they helped Israel live according to the tradition forged by Moses and the children in the wilderness.

And now God is calling us to join that same movement.  It will have some characteristics -- usual for some and difficult for others -- that will not be easily accomplished by a hierarchical, liturgical and nearly established church.

Evangelism is one of the pieces in this movement that will seem unfamiliar or uncomfortable to many.  But Bishop Curry said this:
"I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else.  A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that. (my emphasis)
Bishop Curry reminded us that our own General Convention had already begun the hard work of that other characteristic of the Jesus movement: reconciliation and in particular racial reconciliation. 

His story of his parents taking communion in an Episcopal parish where they were the only African-Americans in attendance that Sunday was stirring and precious.

The heart of the story was communion itself.  Holy Communion that invites us to eat the bread and then drink from the same cup.
The man [taking communion for the first time] would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church.  He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.” 
That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.
How we undertake our part in this movement will not necessarily look a lot like Morgan County.  It is about God's dream, God's love, God's hope for us.  It will feel new and unfamiliar.  Some of it will feel like something other than the church we remember Sunday after Sunday.  It will push us out of our own comfort zones.  And some of it will feel like turning the world upside down.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vessels and Vessels

 All metaphors eventually leak. They leak when we use them beyond their capacity to describe the reality to which they've introduced us.

 Last week I wrote to the parish I serve about the connectedness of our Outreach Committee's giving. I bragged 10% of our budget is spent on outreach and I celebrated that each ministry we support has a connection to us.

 Later that day I saw some fairly recent data on how the average American's income compares to the incomes of all the others inhabiting "this fragile, our island home."

 This was the most impressive piece of what I read and shared on Facebook. Those of us with incomes at or above $50,000 are in the top 1% in the world. 

 This hits in an interesting way because our own current U.S. political news has repeatedly named the "1%" as being a socioeconomic group that doesn't include me or most of those I call "us."

 It is a matter of perspective.

 And here's the rub; ours is the perspective that needs addressing just as much or more than the view held by the American 1%. But they are "on top" of us and everyone else on the planet and so do not have the luxury of thinking that someone above them is preventing some positive outcome meant for them.

 I do not say this to vilify them. Granted many of them are fairly recent new-comers to that "club." Some have moved into membership by way of modern legislation to help "the economy" using economic theories known best by metaphors like "trickle-down" or "rising tide."

 Nonetheless, they are not compelled to consider a complicity of which they could claim to have been ignorant.  I am.

 They have known where they stand in the stratified world of incomes ever since they arrived. We are the ones who can rightly claim surprise at the Credit Suisse report.  We are the ones who can say we thought the changes were going to benefit everyone.  That's how "trickle down" and "rising tide" were portrayed to us.

 But we can't stop there. As disappointed as we may be in our current state we cannot deny that it could be worse and it IS worse for most of the planet already.

 Making our situation even more difficult to acknowledge is the way in which the newest members of the 1% came to their positions.  Some knew ahead of time, some were the ones who sold the metaphors, but all advanced when what we described with those unfortunate metaphors allowed practices and gained results the metaphors failed to describe.

 "Trickle down" failed by not identifying the "vessels" first to receive the inflows made by reducing taxes "at the top." The metaphor works if those at the top retained the same amounts and allowed what first flowed to them to actually trickle-down.

 Some saw that the opening the tax changes created would just as much provide the moment and the means to increase the size of the vessels -- cisterns? -- at the top of the flow.

 Rising tide was also a lie.  It led us to believe all our vessels -- the boat kind -- were free to float.  It did not accurately describe the mooring and anchorage of poverty or the dangers inherent when one's vessel is the smallest or most porous in the harbor.

 So what do we do now that those above us have carved out a space distancing even us from those below with benefits so little that we enjoy less or at least no more discretion over our expenses than before the tide supposedly rose?

 So much income has been redistributed to the top, the majority of us can no longer consume enough thus to rise the tide and stimulate the economy like in the good old days before these bad vessel metaphors.  

 Some could say we are complicit in our ignorance and that even though surprised we bear a responsibility to turn and face those below us and do more than cry "it's not my fault" or "we're doing the best we can."

 Again not vilify but to clarify: doesn't the response we are being called to make include addressing the realities our metaphors hid regardless of who is responsible for the hiding?

 Only some, say .001%(?) really are to blame.  But aren't all of us in the world's 1% living at someone else's expense whether we were fooled into it or not?

Parable of the River

There are several versions of this parable but in general they go like this.

There's a river and one day someone notices something floating in the current.  Its a dog in one version, or a cow, or a baby, or a person and worse a dead body.

The rescuer pulls whatever is floating by out of the river.  In every version the appropriate action is taken to care for what has been rescued.

This happens again.  And again.  More animals, more babies, more bodies.   In one version broken pieces of boats and canoes also flow by.

In every version the rescuers get good at rescuing.  In one they even build a hospital.

In every version someone finally asks something like "where are these  -- animals, babies, bodies -- coming from?"

Then the variations multiply.  For some the work of rescuing means so much that they are reluctant to leave their efforts to look upstream.  Some are eager to go but worried that they will not be up to what could be an even sterner task.  Some go and find even worse circumstances.

In several versions they stop whatever is upstream causing victims to be caught in the current.

This parable became part of our conversation in Tuesday's most recent meeting of the Circle of Love support team.

Look for more information about their plans elsewhere in this and following newsletters.

As we have rightly focused a new and vibrant interest in the work being done through the shelter in Greene County we are already to a point of considering a bigger picture, to thinking upstream to the how we might address the causes or triggers or preconditions whose outcomes are all of the category: domestic violence.

Looking upstream is not only a consideration for this committee but it is really a strategy and -- even better -- an organizational model for church.

How we look upstream -- not just as an additional effort of our outreach commitments -- and consider the preconditions for the current problems we face becomes a rehearsal for how we look at the world. And often that call to consider more will have to meet the demands of an already stretched but comfortable set of responses.

There may very well be costs but there are no substitutes for going upstream.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Campaign Financing

I just left the October meeting of our Outreach Committee.  Boy am I impressed!!!  
  • We voted on the distribution of the last $3500.00 in this year's budget.  Gifts to Circle of Love (our newest venture), the Baldwin Farm at Camp Twin Lakes, and relief aid to South Carolinians hurt by the recent severe flooding.  
  • We committed to providing Angel Tree gifts to 24 residents at Madison Health and Rehabilitation
  • We committed to collecting Christmas gifts for the children in the Circle of Love shelter
  • We learned that the mission of the Morgan County Foundation for Excellence in Public Education, Inc. is to support and enhance the educational programs of the public schools of Morgan County, Georgia.
  • We learned that our Panda Packs ministry is now providing more than 100 packs each weekend.  
  • We finished this year's distribution of 10% of our annual undesignated parish income for a total of $21,000.00 for outreach!!!
We should note that those funds do not include the ~$800.00 we collected for Episcopal Relief and Development during our Lent Madness campaign.

More important is the realization that our donations do not go to people or places from which we are disconnected.  More typical for us is that one of parishioners makes an appeal on behalf of a ministry or effort to which they are already joined.  

If the money leads, someone has followed.  If someone is engaged they will look for support from their parish.  Chicken or egg?  In the end it just doesn't matter.  

Given the time of year with presidential politics dominating the news rooms we could use the metaphor of campaign financing to understand those moments when the money gets our attention.  

Did you know that we have supported the work of the Boys' and Girls' Club with more than $3000.00?  With more than 250 children and youth served, not only could they use more support, they need more volunteers.  

Did you know that along with a pledge from the Outreach team for $1500.00 to the Circle of Love we are also planning bi-monthly donation drives for things like pillow cases, toys, food stuffs, school uniforms?

Did you know that our annual support for the Transient/Benevolence Fund administered by Madison Baptist's Jim Nesmith is increased by grants from the Salvation Army so that they can help more than 150 families each year?

Did you know that our donation to the General Scholarship Fund for the Madison campus of Georgia Military College was part of more than $75,000 being raised?  The response in Morgan county is the largest such collection in the 9 campus system of GMC.

Did you know that the Camp Twin Lakes operation serves more than 9500 campers per year?  

Do you see? How we give and what we are interested in go hand in hand.  Our interests stimulate our giving and our giving can just as much stimulate our interest.  

I remember a phrase, I think it was from the Watergate days: "follow the money."  It spoke a sad truth about one of the worst scandals of our lives in American politics.  

The phrase is just as true in this markedly more positive application.  Sometimes we know where the needs are and we know from whom to ask for assistance.

But if we "follow the money" that our Outreach team hopes to distribute each year we will find our own lives enriched along with the thousands we too hope to help.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All Saints'-tide

I like the days between November 1st and the first Sunday in Advent.  I have given them my own title, All Saints'-tide.  If I could I would convert to white for our liturgical color for these days or even better go to some other combination of colors that would evoke apocalypse, demons, battles, choirs, etc.

The lessons on the Sundays during this period hint in the direction of challenge and trouble: 
". . . after that the judgment," ". . . until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth," ". . . The LORD will judge the ends of the earth," ". . . he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," ". . . not one stone will be left here upon another," ". . . My kingdom is not from this world,"
Maybe it is the light shed from the last of the Sundays in my mini-season that makes things stand out for me as they do.  Christ is the King, the Victor with arms outstretched,  crowned and in royal array. To get to that moment some change has got to come.

Not all of this transition is by way of turmoil and trouble.  Some of it is just the way the world happens.  Autumn is a season if not THE season of change.  But change it is that comes.

And this year November 1st is a Sunday.  So we will have a special start to these days in how we worship and name our part in the changing.

Already we are asking you to add to our list of saints; any and all of those who have gone before us in the faith and are now as a "white robed army" are praying and singing with us.

Saints are not just those who have been martyred or brought to fame by their living faithfully, think St. Alban or Mother Theresa.  When Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus he calls them saints. Both times he writes to the the church in Corinth he calls them saints and the second letter is largely to chastise them because they haven't followed his previous instructions.

So we -- being careful to proceed in humility and with great caution -- can call ourselves saints, too. Especially as we recognize the challenges our world presents us and as we strive to honor and to follow the one who died for us and now reigns as our king.

So let us also use this rare moment -- Sunday, November 1 is actually All Saints' Day -- to acknowledge the living saints as well.  Let's use this moment to identify the work we are already doing and the work we hope to do together.

Two other days will also be opportunities to adopt our roles as living saints.  On the Wednesday before All Saints' Sunday we are inviting our Advent-ures group to try out their costumes and to learn about how to become a living saint.  See the detailed information later in this newsletter.

On the Wednesday following All Saints' Sunday we will share a meal and celebrate the culmination of this year's pledge campaign.  There will be more information to follow.

Either way let us adopt with each other the sainthood that is striving to live faithfully in a world that will one day no longer be as it is but will shine bright in the light of Christ as King.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Inhabiting Wednesdays

My experience this past month in joining many of you at table in conversation and fellowship under the title Food for the Journey has been a great joy.  No two occasions were the same and our conversations were as varied as the menus.  I guess that's what pot-lucks will do.  Oh darn.

All of the evenings gave us something new to consider, some opportunity, some place to grow. Thanks to all of those who were able to attend and take part in these enriching and encouraging moments.

I have admitted to having a ulterior motive along with the hope to explore and consider what God is calling us to become.  I also wanted to get into the practice of using Wednesday nights as another time for us to gather and be with each other in faith.

If we can continue that practice I believe we will also grow closer to the calling of God's we have just begun to consider.  Yes we used our gatherings and closed each dinner remembering the meal Jesus shared with his disciples but not all of our gatherings, perhaps especially those on Wednesday night needed to "always go there."

I remember what one of the students in Athens said about the community he became a part of at the Episcopal Center.  "We can be eucharistic without always doing eucharist."

The liturgies beginning on pages 323 and 355 in the Book of Common Prayer are meant to be used on every Sunday.  They are not just to be used on Sundays.  They are also not the only ways for us to gather in the Lord's Name for the sake of sharing His gifts to and then through us.

We too can be eucharistic without always doing eucharist.

So it is my hope that Wednesday nights will be eucharistic.  It is my hope that we will use these occasions to continue our consideration of the question, "What is God calling us to become?"

In order for that eucharistic aspiration to become a reality we will need to get into the habit of gathering, regularly. So there will always be something happening in the evening on every Wednesday.

The schedule for October is a good example.  Our first First Wednesday Dinner is tomorrow night from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.  This one is a pot-luck affair like the Food for the Journey nights.  In the future we will rely on cooking teams to make it so that families can just show up and have an easy meal and fellowship opportunity.

Next week we'll show a movie classic, Casablanca. Popcorn provided. BYOB. 6:30pm to 8:00pm.

October 21 will be the first of our Civil Religion nights.  We'll discuss our role in Morgan County politics and governance as people of a reasonable faith.  We'll be inviting leaders such as our own Ellen Warren and others like Fred Perriman our Mayor to join us.  6:30pm to 8:00pm.

October 28 Advent-ures will take the night for an All Saints Festival. There's so much to do we'll have to start earlier at 5:30pm.

There are so many ways for us to be eucharistic. That's just how we will see to our "Inhabiting Wednesdays" in October.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Glorious Convalescence

I'll admit to a bit of recklessness in employing the phrase "glorious convalescence" to describe the time we've had since Loree's departure.  Not all of how we have grown and healed has come easily or been seamless.  There are some whose injuries still impinge, some who still limp, some who are still not happy.   So please understand that I do not mean to say that there isn't any more healing to occur, any more forgiveness to be granted, any more coming home to celebrate.   

But it matters to me that we begin to think and feel and move and have our being into a tomorrow where God already loves us.  So please understand as I invite you to walk to an edge I am visiting for the first time myself. 

God has been good to us.  And as much as there are still hurts to be healed we have a story albeit brief, that confirms the truth we proclaim as people of the resurrection.  

So how do we move now that our muscles have rested and perhaps have lost a little of the former strength of which we once boasted?  How do we take to this new exercise, this new role that is and -- perhaps just as much -- is not like what we were used to doing?

Think of Keith Marshall, he is a good man.  He worked and for himself found a place next to Todd Gurley that was serious and that required real effort.  Better than Batman's Robin.  Then the injuries came.  Almost permanently.  Now Gurley is gone and this good man is "third string" behind younger, quicker stars.  

We think in terms of what might have been.  And when he crosses into the end zone we celebrate in bittersweetness.  He garners an applause now moderated by nostalgia.   

Can I say that I hope for a future for this good man that might be missed if it is measured only by his vita ante acta?  If I could guarantee it I would but even Keith -- perhaps especially Keith -- will have to trust that he has a meaningful and worthy tomorrow made even more so by what he is NOW becoming, not by what he "could have been."

Here in Madison we are learning to trust God in a new way, too.  Not by forgetting what was or what happened but by honoring the possibilities that God is even now putting before us.  

If our measure of today is that it match the best of our memories or worse that it erase the realities through which we have been formed then our convalescence may not be so glorious.  Indeed it may not be a convalescence at all.  

But a greater glory with a strength we have not yet known,  awaits us because with our injuries, God is calling us to become something new.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Apologies and Questions

I need to apologize.  This is always true for me but in particular this time I need to say I am sorry and to ask the forgiveness of a some good people.  I did not do my job and adequately organize or lead our time together in discussion during one of our Food for the Journey dinners.

What could have been a fruitful time of exploration of the possibilities for us in whatever it is that God's is calling us to become as an Episcopal parish in Morgan County in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century got too focused on one idea.

I know this especially now because in another episode we did talk about who God is calling us to become.  We talked about how our common prayer life needs constantly to ask God for guidance. Not only to acknowledge God's presence with us in the calling but to understand ourselves as dependent on God's calling.  So dependent that we do not take our good days for granted.

I am sorry that I did not help one of our groups consider these same concerns.  Instead we got worried about numbers and programs and business.

Even more so I am sorry that I used my homily to criticize that failure as if I hadn't had most of the responsibility for its occurrence.

I am sorry.

Thanks be to God there is forgiveness.  And in this instance there is also a great value gained in reflection on all these dinners and the different ways in which our conversations have proceeded.

Understanding ourselves as bound by the things we do: programs, events, liturgical choices, budget decisions, etc is not just unavoidable; our discernment would be only virtual without the substance of those efforts and structures.

Like the proverbial Wisdom we are known by how we keep our house.  And there is no way for us to imagine a life together in response to God's calling without the things we do and the things we decide to do to be a part of the evaluation.

But another learning has me apologizing here as well.  I know this especially because I have worked many times before with athletes returning to competition after -- in some cases season ending -- injuries.

Many of you have heard me characterize our time since the spring of 2010 as a "glorious convalescence."  No doubt we are still healing but perhaps now is the time to try some running again, to try some discomfort with scrutiny and critique, to push out of the box, out of our wheelhouse.

To push out not only in the things we choose to do but in how we choose to identify and name and frame and re-imagine the very community we are in the doing.

There is probably no real immediate answer to the question "What/Who is God calling us to become?"  Our new running may be just to keep the question alive instead of answering it with a program or an event or a structure.

I am sorry but as difficult and frightening and painful as our trials and failures may have been God IS calling us to become a new thing.  Let's keep asking the question.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Breath Prayers

I have been reading again from an "old friend." A biology textbook written in the 80's by two Chilean Marxist Biologists, Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, "The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding" Shambala Publications, Boston, 1987.

Beginning with a whimsical description of the senses and how we learn to see color, hear voices, etc. they are able to explore the development of life. In the middle, not near the end of their description of that thing we call evolution they place altruism, that capacity to care, to love, to share, to cooperate, to teach.

They argue that our usual take on evolution as a competition of one against another misses much of what allows for survival. Instead of love miraculously appearing after generations of existence that is "red in tooth and claw," it is nurture and cooperation that enable the fittest.
"This view of animal life as selfish is doubly wrong. It is wrong, first, because natural history tells us, wherever we look that instances of behavior which can be described as altruistic are almost universal. Second, it is wrong because the mechanisms we put forward to understand animal drift [evolution] do not presuppose the individualistic view that the benefit of one individual requires the detriment of another. 
Indeed, throughout this book we have seen that the existence of living organisms in natural drift (both ontogenic and phylogenic) is not geared to competition but to conservation of adaptation in an individual encounter with the environment that results in survival of the fittest." (p.197)
Our own human experience in the smallest moment of adaption, that is the birth of a child, immediately demonstrates this principle. We know that the child must breathe and we are ready to help that happen. Thank goodness we've learned better practices than shocking the newborn into breathing with a slap. But we will not leave until that child is breathing on his or her own.

From within that earnest and anxious beginning our hearts go out as the child and our hopes hang on their ability to learn from more of our teaching and care not just for their own survival but so they may in turn help those who come after them.

We know this altruism in the New Testament as ἀγάπη or agape. In the Old Testament the closest term is the word for the character of God to be merciful, to express loving kindness, חֶסֶד or hesed.

For the Chileans altruism is natural. It is everywhere there is breath and it connects us for the sake of survival.

I have a close and dear friend whose daughter-in-law and son just gave birth to a baby boy. I visited the hospital and saw how preciously this new life was held by someone just as new to grand-parenting as the baby is to the world. It was a beautiful thing to behold. It took my breath away for moment.

As I was leaving I was given the opportunity to "say a prayer." I reached out and we held hands and first let our breathing be our prayer. We gave thanks for the baby's first breath and acknowledged the prayer-FULL-ness of that breathing. We gave thanks that a family of prayer surrounded this little one and we gave thanks for our own breathing.

This is no proof of Maturana's and Varela's claims for altruism as an instrument of evolution. But it is all the evidence I need to understand that a little child's chances of survival -- and therefore the survival of our own species -- are best found and forwarded by God's hesed and agape, especially when we understand our praying together to be as basic as our very breathing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Life is What Happens

We are all still caught up in the sadness.  Charlie Mason is gone and too soon again we are grieving.  Our prayers go up to God in the hope that Janet and Bobby and their families can move to a place better than sorrow or regret, richer than the feeling of loss, brighter than the light now absent that was Charlie's smile.

Everyone who knew Charlie has responded to the news and gracefully each has found a congruence somewhere between their plans and the real life passing of one we love.  Advent is busy with responding to the call.  We have had to put some of our work to prepare for Sunday's Ministry Fair and Picnic on a brief hold.  It reminds me of the old saw, "Life is what happens while you're making plans."

Churches and the people who make them get to live into that truth in special ways.  Maybe its because we know the other version of that famous quotation.  It's the one with God in it.  "If you want to make God laugh just show God your plans."

We know that version because we know the stories of God calling prophets, and kings, and priests and lots of others all the way to Mary and even Paul.  God's laughter wouldn't be one of derision or insult but more as an acknowledgement that we have not fully understood the picture that God sees for us.  But we know the stories of God seeing our plans and calling us to change them.

The name of that "change in plans" motif is the "Prophetic Call Narrative Form."  Even as Moses is following his sheep herding plans from the burning bush God calls, changes things and commits to supporting Moses in this new direction.  It happens for the prophet Isaiah "in the year that King Uzziah died." It's an incredible experience that culminates with God's promise to be with him. Mother Mary gets called similarly and is told to name the child Emmanuel which means "God is with us."

God saw more of what was to happen. God called a servant and in some cases called a host of servants to help. God said to those who were called, especially to those for whom this task would seem daunting, "I'll be with you."

God called Charlie and his and all our plans changed.  Everyone of us has heard that call because we love Janet and Charles and Clay and Sarah and Tina and each of the ones they in turn love.  Those of us who love Bobby and his family have heard the call, too.

The laughter will come.  I'm pretty sure that God's being with us means that God isn't laughing yet.  I want it to be true that God will wait until we are laughing and wait to be invited into that laughter.  God will wait because just as much as God can see that larger view God is with us in our grief.

God calls and promises to be with us.  God waits while our plans change.  God keeps calling and life is what happens.  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Size of Prayer

If you haven't seen it, take a look at Daisy Jane Buck's question for our bishop at a recent diocesan youth event.  Doug Adkins passed it along to me and I have posted the short video on our Facebook page.  She asked Bishop Wright about prayer!

Thanks to Doug for having his phone ready to capture this important moment.  Sorry if the sound quality makes hearing Daisy Jane or Bishop Wright difficult. 

Her question was this, "When you pray, do you think it could be about something you're asking or for someone or can you just be having a conversation [with God]?"  Bishop Wright was thrilled to hear such a question and he said "My heart is singing!"

We should all be thrilled.  Her parents should be proud.  Daisy Jane's question is hugely important. Not only because she asks about a core concern for faithful people -- how to pray -- but because the act of her asking is an example for us all.

First the question itself and I'm paraphrasing: Is prayer asking God for things or more talking to God? You'll have to ask Daisy Jane what the bishop's answer was but I'm hoping he said, "YES!"

We can and should and should want to petition God and to put before God our concerns, our worries, our fears, our anythings-that-would-be-introduced-with-saying-"please!"

Sometimes I've felt like I've left important matters off my list even though I've known God knows before I ask.  Try as I might, I know I'm always going to leave something out of my list of names and things and problems and thank you's.  I still think God appreciates my asking.  

The conversation thing is tougher.  Not because we don't have much to say but more likely because we are afraid of what God might have to say.  So whenever I start -- should I say join? -- a conversation with God it almost always devolves into reciting my list.  

The only way I know how to hear God's answering of my prayers is to try to make my whole life into a kind of prayerfulness that listens more than lists, that waits and trusts and wonders and sometimes "just sits." 

It takes practice.  Our gathering for Night Prayers, which begins again this coming Sunday September 13th is the best chance I know to practice our part in having a prayerful conversation with God.  

For me it takes silence.  Or better a stillness or steadiness provided by the repetition of "Jesus, Son of God, abide with me."  If I don't repeat the phrase over and over my mind starts down some list. Sometimes I just let that happen and when I can let it go I can get back to my mantra.  

Lots more can be gleaned from Daisy Jane's question.  Mostly for me it is an example of how dimensions of scale shape our praying.

Don't you feel like she was brave to stand up in a room full of people she didn't know or had just met that day and ask THE BISHOP a question?  All the "little me versus the big ole world" emotions kick in and I am afraid even though I know the outcome of the moment.

But how else can we pray?  Especially when our prayers are focused on God's forgiving us and our wrongdoings.  Confession will always expose us as smaller than the one who is merciful.  

We shouldn't let that stop us.  We can certainly pray for each other but there are some prayers, some questions for God that we individually must take the responsibility to ask on our own.  

It may feel like standing in a room full of strangers and/or before a bishop but there is no other way for us do it.  Funny what will get us to leave ourselves off the list.

Thank you Daisy Jane for asking the bishop about prayer AND for showing us how to pray. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Who are we?

Thanks to Rick Crown, Julie Jenkins, Brian Easton and Nancy Bush for stepping up and agreeing to serve our parish as leaders for the Rector Discernment Team.  They will soon be enlisting several others to help them with the particulars of identifying Advent's hopes and dreams and helping us all to know if and how Fr. Dann is the priest best suited for that future.

One very important task for this team will be to provide a picture or profile of our membership.  I am really excited about this part of the process.  Perhaps it is the lazy anthropologist in me.  Maybe I just -- and I do -- like data and spreadsheets and charts and all that demographic stuff.  

There is something about "seeing" the information, clarifying distinctions, naming differences, and understanding who we are in ways other than those we gain from our intuition or experience.  

For sure we are more than numbers and averages, more than categories and classes but knowing some of what we'll learn may help us to choose better and more readily become the church God is calling us to become.  

This sort of information may surprise us.  I remember when I first realized that the average Anglican wasn't like us at all.  First I was told that Anglicanism, of which the Episcopal Church is the largest part in the states, is the second most dispersed Christian body on the planet.  

Think "the empire on which the sun never sets." 

Only Roman Catholics are in more places than Anglicans.  Of course for every one Anglican there were probably 15 RC's but at least we were represented.  It also surprised me to find out what was the "average Anglican."

This is from Gregory Cameron, now Bishop of the Diocese of St. Asaph in Wales, in his keynote address to the Anglican Covenant Conference at General Seminary in 2008:
‘The average Anglican is a black woman under the age of 30, who earns two dollars a day, has a family of at least three children, has lost two close relatives to AIDs, and who will walk four miles to Church for a three hour service on a Sunday.’
You can't say this sort of thing without doing some research.  Here's another insight from some other research:

In the next months we'll be gathering similar data in several ways.  Please don't despair that we are digging a little and asking for information about each other's backgrounds and characteristics.  

My intuition is that we are close to "average" for single Episcopal parishes in county seat towns in the southeastern U.S.  But what are the other categories and classes that we fill and what are the numbers and averages that will provide us insight and vision and become food for our journey?  Who are we?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Asking Good Questions

I know I frightened some of you when I wrote a few weeks ago about "Official Steps."  Some of you thought I was fashioning a poorly veiled exit from service in this parish.  That was not my intention.  I am sorry that I scared any of you.

I did intend to speak openly and honestly about the work we have to do in order to continue and move into the next phase of our lives together.  Not only must we meet certain standards we must do so with a kind of vulnerability that I will not manufacture by directly or indirectly threatening to leave.  It is just that there are several possibilities we must consider.  Choosing one will be in effect saying "no" to the others.

And we know how to say "no."  In our sacramental rites, when we are celebrating and blessing a commitment -- be it baptism, marriage, confirmation or ordination -- we make sure the people who are about to say "yes" have a chance to say "no."

For example, when we baptize we ask the candidates "Do you desire to be baptized?" we prepare them to say "I do," but that moment is meant to allow them to say "no" if necessary. (BCP 301)

Once in a parish I was serving we invited a retired priest to join us in baptizing the grandchildren of parents AND grandparents he had baptized in years past, frankly many years.  The candidates for this occasion were two brothers, aged 6 and 1.

The retired priest was not able to attend the rehearsal and so we did not fully practice all that would happen in worship on the day of the baptisms.  Quite frankly as much as rehearsals help there is always the difference that a full house and fancy clothes will make to a young impressionable mind.

Think stage fright.

So when the time came to baptize these boys the older one was not at all comfortable with this strange old man in a robe that smelled of moth balls in front of a large collection of other strangers.
Since there were parents and godparents sufficient, the elder brother wasn't given the chance to answer any questions before he was being clumsily scooped up and swung toward the substantial marble font.

As the guest priest held the brother his feet were in just the right place to provide all the resistance he needed.  So he pushed back on the font and yelled for the whole church to hear, "I don't want to be baptized!"

Thank goodness there were others in position to steady the old priest, but that only allowed him to try again to move this "non-candidate" into a position he did not intend to assume.  The boy now more frightened than ever, pushed and shouted a second time, "I don't want to be baptized!"

Well, we were smart enough at that point to stop fighting and we moved to the younger brother who was amazingly fine with all that was happening and went to the font happily and returned to his mother's arms with a great sigh shared throughout the church.

No sooner had that happened than the older brother said "OK, now I want to get baptized."

That was twenty years ago.  I hope the older brother is able to present his children for baptism.  I also hope he doesn't wait until they are 6 years old.

Making room to consider all the options --- not just "Yes" or "No" -- is what we want.  To provide for all the possible answers we must formulate as many of the questions as we can think to ask.

That's what I have invited Rick Crown,  Julie Jenkins,  Brian Easton and others to help us to do. They will lead us in asking as many as we imagine of the right questions about what God is calling Advent to become and how I need or not to be included in that future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ready, steady, go.

The calendar for the coming year is filling up fast.  With the Sunday of September 13 we are kicking off lots of familiar functions as well as beginning a season of new items on the schedule.

That evening we will renew our alternative service for meditation and contemplative prayer using the the form for compline from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer, Night Prayers.  No other church in town offers this sort of opportunity for quiet, deep prayerfulness.

I apologize that the lateness -- the service begins at 8:00 PM -- of this makes it inconvenient for some. The hope is that those for whom Sunday morning precludes any sabbath rest may find a small dose of it in the silence and closing darkness.

If you are new to this practice, do not fear.  We will take the rest of the month to get -- back for some -- into the habit of 20 minutes of silence.  For "Night Prayers veterans" be ready for some changes that will allow visitors and newcomers options as they become accustomed to this unique liturgy.

Tuesdays will continue with our gathering in a Public Service of Prayers for Healing -- at 7:00 PM during Daylight Savings Time and 5:00 PM when we're on Standard Time.  We have tweaked the liturgy (somebody warn the Altar Guild!!) so that more occasions will be observed in Holy Eucharist.

The biggest change to our living week to week will be in how we begin to use Wednesday nights.  It's so big we're beginning BEFORE Ministry Fair Sunday.  Each of September's 5 Wednesdays at 6:30 and two of the Sundays (September 20 and 27) following worship we'll gather for conversation, prayer and pot-luck meals to look ahead in hope of discerning even more of what God is calling our beloved community to become.  Under the title Food for the Journey the September sessions will fill the space opened by last year's Dinners with Dann.

After September we'll continue to use Wednesdays in a variety of ways:

Advent-ures will meet more frequently this year and use Wednesdays for many of their meetings.

We'll be hosting community meetings under the banner Civil Religion and inviting our neighbors to join us and our elected officials for sharing and mutual support.  That schedule is still developing.

On other occasions we'll just turn on the big TV and watch a family friendly movie or one that might generate deeper questions and discussions.

So hold on to you hats!  Its going to feel like we are about to run down the road we've been walking up to now.  Ready, Steady, Go!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer was "ON"

Few community events bring us to the place we find ourselves thanks to the starting of another school year.  I am at a loss to find something comparable. From my own first grade year I have been living my life August (it used to be September) to May (it used to be June) with summer in between.

At less than half the normal census the summer's 12,000 students kept UGA and Athens busy and my work at the Episcopal Center fully scheduled.  Then it would be filled to over-flowing with all those extra events and conferences and retreats and projects that I thought I'd have the time and space to accomplish.  Those 10 to 12 weeks always ended in regret.  Regret that I never finished all those extra things.

I was in denial -- I think as an adult, I have ALWAYS been in denial -- that summer is already full. I did it again this summer!!!  The two Sundays I was missing from the altar were both Sundays of travel to and from extra work: a church-wide conference at Kanuga and a wedding on Cumberland Island.  Good thing I like to drive.  The six hour trek between Kanuga and Fernandina Beach was the closest thing to not working during that time away.

So now when school starts I can breathe a sigh of relief.  The pattern returns, the routine begins again and each day moves again at a familiar and embracive rhythm and pace.  Maybe I'll take some vacation time in October!

Perhaps you've already seen my remarks about this idea of rhythms and rests.  It seems to me that we are in the midst of a profound moment that affords all of us new chances to return, restart, recalibrate, and re-engage.

In our lives as fellow worshippers the most obvious sign of return is attendance on Sunday morning. I'm glad to report that our summer attendance was the best I've witnessed in the 5 plus years I have served here.  Maybe with school starting we'll see increases continue into the fall.

Another returning element will be our Sunday Evensong events and the steadier, quieter gathering in prayer late on Sunday in Night Prayers.

Another sign of return is a new calendar for Adventures.  And before I go another step let me encourage you to join me in thanking Kerrie Sampson and Erin Garrett for seeing to a year of Adventures.  I'm still "impressed" with Kerrie's portrayal of Mary greeting the newborn Jesus at the Christmas bonfire.  The new calendar is part of how we will structure all of our Wednesday evenings. (More on that later.)

Some old and new faces are helping us this year as we also look to provide opportunities for a growing number of children who have "aged-out" of Adventures.  Leading our middle and high schoolers to an August 29th rally and retreat at All Saints, Atlanta are Emily Buck and Doug Adkins.

And before you know it we'll be gathering again on the second Sunday in September for our annual Ministry Fair and Picnic.  Mark your calendars for September 13th and look for ways to represent the ministries that are important to you so that others may consider joining you.

There's bunches we could have done.  There's just-as-bigga bunches that we have done.  In this "back-to-school" moment we have more opportunities to "return, restart, recalibrate, and re-engage" then to seize with renewed vigor and gratitude in our hearts the momentum by which God has joined us "in between."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Miles to go . . .

It's a different season but a sentiment similar to Frost's on that snowy evening  accompanies this mid-term of my tenure as Priest-in-Charge.  In order for us to do what is required when there is still nearly a year to go, stopping and listening even to the near silence seems almost like a mistake.

"Let's just keep going" some would say and "It's all good."  Others have particular interests but still are inclined not to examine or question our basic intentions.

However, stopping with miles to go may help us to understand and focus more sharply, to listen more intently, and to ask better questions.

In order to do this work of asking better questions we are forming a team of parishioners young and old,  long-time members and people fairly new to worshipping with us.  As the team comes into shape we will present them to the parish and pray God's blessings on their work.

Before they have their first meeting there is already on my mind a question that they'll need to help us all ask and answer.  It is a tricky consideration because it has to move through some more immediate and automatic appraisals.

Here it is:  Is the church God is calling Advent to become best served by a priest with Fr. Dann's gifts and talents, skills, habits, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, etc, etc.

The more immediate or automatic question is do we like each other.  From my perspective the answer is yes.  Do we love each other?  Again the answer is yes!  Thanks be to God the answer is yes in both directions!  We shouldn't go another step unless we felt this way.

But our continuing in ministry with each other can be -- some have said should be -- chosen from a larger context.   We need to ask in as many ways as we can questions about Advent too, beginning with what God is calling us to become.  Perhaps more specifically, who God is calling each of us to become, together?

Asking that opens up an even larger set of considerations and pretty soon we're having the same "what is our purpose?" kind of conversation Bishop Wright has been hammering for most of his episcopate.   To some degree we've already been having our own parish-wide version of this since the Dinners with Dann.

Those conversations rendered answers more in the program and activity direction.  These new questions will want us to look at our history, the healing we've experienced and the strength and renewal we are recovering.

So . . . who is God calling us to become and IS frDann the one best suited to walk with us and lead us as we make this new road?

Don't be afraid.  We want our "rector letter of agreement" to be drafted from a place better than the Facebook standards of friending or liking.

We also want to acknowledge that the way in which we have served with each other has already brought us at least a mile or two. To say it another way, we are not at the beginning of our journey with each other.  Yet what remains may need something else from us and with miles to go we may need to re-solve those promises in order to keep them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Agonists, Instead

I know I took a risk last week using "protagonist" as the category to name our part in this mission and ministry God is calling us to share.  Really, God -- and especially God as revealed in the life, death and ressurrection of Jesus of nazareth -- is the protagonist.

I was working through Brian McLaren's thoughts about our "making the road by walking," and I was hoping to motivate us to keep moving even when we are dissuaded by obligation or pedantry, by standards and forms that seem to reduce our lives to the most common denominators of one size fits all reports and records.

The risk is important to note because we have to be honest about the other roles we play in this pilgrimage with God.

Sometimes we are just agonists, struggling no matter whose bidding we follow.  Life does that and we know it when we say things like "getting old ain't for sissies."  Most of us are able to at least be grateful to be IN the struggle.  Like many of us say when asked "how are you doing?"  I thank God for getting me up this morning.  Or when others share their insights or epiphanies from learning to live in the world in the present and not some fictionalized past or future.

These and the other "agonists" who are the Church of the Advent are not IN agony at all times. Indeed most of us are on more of a steady march than a limping trudge.  Yes there are plenty of challenges but there are also plenty of joys and lots of neither in between.

The root word "agon" comes through Latin from Greek and originally meant contest or competition.
So before we break it down too much let me share this.  I am competitive.  I love competing and loved it even more when I was younger.

In high school I was more jock than prep or nerd. Until I broke my leg in a game my junior year, football was my prefered fall sport.  Basketball got me through the winter, then spring was a balancing between track and golf.  In college I competed for Furman's Cross-Country and Track & Field teams all over the southeast and beyond from Gainesville, FL to College Park MD. to Columbus OH.  I have the scar tissue and bad knees to prove that I trained hard and raced when I shouldn't have run at all.

I learned something during all those laps on the track.  I learned that the competition in running is different than in most other sports like football, baseball, tennis.  The other sports I loved were the ones where my opponents were more fellow agonists, and not antagonists.  Their efforts and my efforts did not obstruct or limit each others' but promoted the whole to a better result.  We ran in the same direction and the faster runners helped us all be faster runners.

So maybe instead of holy protagonists -- I'm feeling that's Jesus' role -- we should think more in terms of those struggles as a shared striving WITH each other.

There are plenty of difficulties along the way and we needn't create extra obstacles for each other.  Instead we can share the loads and keep each other waking up and help each other see the light we see and continue to "make the road."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Holy Protagonists!

The joke goes like this:  Q. Why did it take forty years for the children of Israel to get to the promised land? A. Moses wouldn't stop and ask for directions.

But before we forget we should admit that the sojourn was made as long as it was because of the people's AND Moses' lack of confidence in God.
“Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” Numbers 14:20-24, RSV.
And so for 40 years a new people were made by their walking.

This comes to mind because I have been rereading portions of Brian McLaren's "We Make the Road by Walking."  Right at the very beginning McLaren says
"I believe that all of us play a role in choosing and creating our futures— as individuals and as communities. We don’t need to wait passively for history to happen to us. We can become protagonists in our own story. We can make the road by walking." 
It's OK for both to be true at the same time but it seems like the Exodus was a lot less "McLaren-ish road construction" and much more "God's people forming."   It's OK for us to say we make the path by walking as long as we also say that while walking together, the path makes us.

It is especially OK as we are at the mid-point of our two year long agreement to walk together.

The review for which our agreement calls is kind of like asking for directions AND sending spies AND trusting God AND doing our part.

So I like how McLaren talks about us being "protagonists in our own story."  Sometimes more Joshua and Caleb than even Moses.  He's also talking about a kind of energy as much as he's talking about particular roles.

That energy, the energy of a protagonist, can be our energy.  That energy is an energy of resolve.  We can want it.  We can choose it.  Once chosen, we can act on it.

You can probably count on us responding to this mid-term review with a tweek in our direction or effort.  We may even have to make some bigger changes.  But do not think us lost or punished.

We are making the road God is calling us to make by walking and trusting God together.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

God's Dream

The dust is settling but we still have a long way to go to live together with so many things changing around us.  Horrible events in Charleston's Mother Emmanuel church, all the cries to remove confederate flags from all sorts of venues, rulings from our Supreme Court that will have lasting effects on many of us, and our own church in General Convention responding to the ruling by the Supreme Court and fashioning a standard for marriage that no longer regards male AND female as necessary distinctions.  We have voted to divest from fossil fuels.  We elected our first African-American Presiding Bishop. Heady days for what once was known as the Church of the Frozen Chosen.  Whew!  

One clergy opinionator and friend wrote in a Florida newspaper that we were experiencing a revival in the Episcopal Church.  Rev. Fishburne closed his column saying, Bishop Curry says we are called to be evangelists to spread that hope: 'Jesus has shown us the way out of our nightmare into God's dream.' There is no reason this dream cannot be realized in Tallahassee and in Charleston.  

Bishop Curry was talking about the hope that his father experienced in first worshipping with the woman who would become Bishop Curry's mother.  

It's a great story that speaks from a level greater than all the legislation of General Convention, greater than all conversations about change, greater than all the ways we have chosen to respond to the a troubled world around our beloved denomination.  

It is important for us to continue to let the dust settle and when our turn comes to start telling our own stories about how we have found something precious in this house of God's.  Maybe even better, to learn the story that tells how we were found instead of our doing the finding.  

What happened in Salt Lake City, Charleston, Washington DC and Columbia these past weeks will bring about many changes in the lives we share officially, canonically, structurally, nationally.  But it will likely not match the story we are called to tell the world about our part in this dream of God's.