Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Sighs too deep for words"

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."
(Romans 8:26, NRSV)

The rhythm of parish life is the result of many forces, currents, and events.  One of those sublime days when everything seems to flow and synchronize together was this past Sunday of the Feast of Pentecost.  The combining energies of more than one kind of music, the lessons, the framing provided by those extra events, and the seasonings of some serendipitous inventions -- think “Oscar Meyer” -- made for one of our brightest days.  
Maybe especially because of the other concerns of Adelaide's memorial and Dick and Diane's marriage service and how they bracketed our Pentecost observance,  church was FUN!  
So it was interesting to read these words from St. Paul in the twilight of all the weekend's events and to reflect on them from the sagging and fatigue that a nearly constant 72 hours will cause.  
The "sighs too deep" did one thing in particular; they made room for immense gratitude!  I am so very grateful for so many things that I cannot possibly name them all here, but I am going to call on the Spirit one more time and prayerfully try.
For the way that Ann, Douglas and MG marshaled their hearts' energies to honor their mother and to make room for so many others to join them in so doing, I am grateful.
For the way that Jill, Anna and others stepped up to provide hospitality to all our weekend's guests, I am grateful.
For the way that Dan J. and Jim presented the organ's new voices, I am grateful.
For the way that Dick S. served as field engineer for the construction of the new handicap ramp into the parish house kitchen, I am grateful.  
For the way that Dan M. and the Gloria Deo choir and others graced our worship Sunday morning, I am grateful.
For the way Tim and Brian "ombudsmanned" Adelaide's memorial service, I am grateful.
For the "appropriate" way our Flower Guild adorned the church and parish house in Adelaide's memory and for Dick C. and Diane's wedding, I am grateful. 
For the way Genia and Paul dressed our chancel for worship from Easter white to Pentecost red back to white again all within 24 hrs, I am grateful. 
For the way so many of you -- your names will be known in time -- are responding to the various and important invitations to serve as members of our choir, our vestry, or as deacon, I am grateful.
For the way EVERYBODY has been stepping up or over or on or in to help this place and its people "stay on purpose" and keep becoming more than it was a day, a week, a month, a year, and an age ago, I am grateful.  
That's the thing about this Spirit and the sighing it urges; for sure from within our strength and perhaps even more so from within our weakness we are becoming more than our own prayers can name for us. And we can trust what we are becoming.  ". . . because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (v. 8:27b) And because of Pentecost we are those saints.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good Church

From Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Volume IV
God is a spirit; consequently worship of God should be in spirit and in truth. The customary Sunday service these days, however, is rather strongly designed for a sensate effect. Even more so, on the great festival days of the Church, on precisely these days the worship service moves even farther from the spiritual. Trumpets and every possible appeal to the senses are used – this is because it is one of the great festival days of the Church. What nonsense, what an anticlimax! 
And from our lessons for this Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost:
And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Acts 2:6 RSV 
Between these two readings could be an important lesson for us these days. Especially as we muster our best for the Ponders, hear the new non-pipe organ voices and celebrate with Dick Cottrill and Diane Sebba, all in the space of just slightly less than 48 hours.

My own inclination will be to work hard so that when the dust has settled I can utter my happy phrase, “that was good church!”

Maybe another way to get at that moment between the readings is to use the famous line about making God laugh, “Just show God your plans.”

Pentecost is just one of those “great festival days of the Church” that seemingly begs us to strive for a “sensate effect.” The multiple languages referred to in the reading often find their sensate effect by members of the congregation reading portions of that and the surrounding verses in as many foreign languages as can be found from within the parish population.

Specific to our current setting is our using this multi-lingual Sunday to introduce the work done by Dan Jubelt and others to add by way of the built-in electronic components twenty new voices to what has been for us up to now “just” a pipe organ. Like a C.F. Martin is just a guitar or a Stradivarius just a violin.

But before I create an anticlimax we do not desire or deserve let me ask this: what else are we to do? If God is a spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, then what are we to do in these few moments we set aside on Sunday mornings but to add as many voices as we can? Heck, we have our second ad hoc choir singing, too! 

Part of our answer should come from understanding Soren’s setting. Copenhagen’s churches were state churches. Bishops were paid through offerings AND taxes. Sundays were days for politics, socializing, “being seen,” fueling the rumor mills, and patting one’s self on the back.

The sensate effect Kierkegaard derides was like a junkie’s heroin, a fix of “good church” so that one could follow one's urges and one's less-than-holy inclinations during the week.

We need not be bewildered. Maybe the “what else we are to do” is to strive for a balance of God’s spirit and truth Monday to Saturday. When the music dies down and the many voices are not singing, when the families are home and the flowers are alone something remains.

Not by addition but by subtraction, not by exuberance but by vulnerability we can put our hearts and minds into a space between the trumpets and foreign tongues, between our orchestrated worship and evocative flowers.

God’s laughter is not AT us as much as it is FOR us. God loves us so that our Mondays through Saturdays can be with God as much as our Sundays should. God is already and always with us in spirit and truth no matter how we enfold and elaborate our worship and call it “good church.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rallying Deacons

Most of you know that I have some coaching experience in my background.  I started in 1980 when I was living in California.  Through some luck I became the Cross Country coach at Acalanes High School in Lafayette.  Soon I was offered the chance to assist the legendary Bob Warren with the Track program that following spring and in between I was asked to coach the JV Girls' Basketball team.

Having competed in high school and college provided me with most of what I needed to know in terms of training options, racing strategies, and even some of the logistical concerns of team management.

One of the things that I had to learn was how to deal with injuries, other people's injuries.  My own competitive career had taught me about the struggle of healing, recovery and training again back to that level last enjoyed when healthy.  As a coach I had to learn how to help the injured take the time it takes and not rush back just to risk worsening matters.  Among many things it meant helping the whole team rally around to fill-in for the missing team-mate.

As in so many life moments when one is hurt or grieving there is that tendency -- sometimes it's an urgency -- to race again before one is ready to go full speed.  Especially when fear is a part of the formula we talk about things like "getting back up on the horse."

Our team does not have someone in the role of deacon.  What is not happening is most obvious to us on Sunday mornings.  Some of you may have already noticed the extra chalicist coming forward at the invitation to help with serving during communion.  There are other ways that our missing Deacon Charles manifests itself.  However we know it, that he is missing from the team means that we are being called to rally around.

Part of our response -- more long term -- will be to apply to the Diocese for another person to serve this parish as deacon.  We are not in a hurry to get back up on the horse but we do believe that a deliberate and timely request will help us return to being that part of the larger team that is the Episcopal Church in Morgan County.

Another part of our long-term response is going to be to invite our own parishioners to begin saying their prayers that God might be calling them to consider service as a deacon.  Granted this consideration will feel much like being invited from the JV team to the starting 5 on the Varsity.  It should.  But it is a consideration that needs the same kind of time and attention that nursing any athlete back to competition needs.  So we will begin that now, too.  

Just like in my coaching days -- when calling an athlete back to the team -- both our request to the Diocese and our invitation to the parish are taking the risk that we may be trying too hard, too soon. Mind you, there is just as much risk that someone will miss an opportunity to serve.  

Take a look at the information linked here: https://www.episcopalatlanta.org/Clergy/Deacons/ 
and here: https://www.episcopalatlanta.org/Customer-Content/www/CMS/files/Deacons_General_Guidelines_0613.pdf,  then join me as we pray the following pray together. Let's take the time that it takes and rally together to be faithful to the calling to serve that this team already knows so well.  

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. BCP 256

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Batting Clean-up

I have had some great privileges given to me in the last couple of years not the least of which is coming to serve solely (soul-ly?) in Madison.  Some of these privileged moments came by way of hardship or sad news.  It wasn't easy but I was honored to help bury my friend Charles, and more recently to see to the interment of Eulalie's remains.
It wasn't long ago that we laid to rest Frank Kelley.  I loved the stories his sons told.  Just as beautiful was the way Bud Osborne's sons took their turns in focusing our memories as they honored his passing.
In preparation for those events I have found comfort in the Easter proclamation that we have been repeating to open and close our Sunday worship. We celebrate with extra Alleluias, even in the midst of our grieving that God has raised Jesus from the dead.  What I have told these families is that we can accommodate all sorts of eulogies, remarks and remembrances as long as we let that Easter song be the last thing we "sing."  
One time I told the family that since there were going to be three speakers, my job would be to "bat clean-up."  I wasn't thinking it at the time but looking back now I see my role as providing some comfort.  They could relax in their comments because of the cover provided by closing with a version of our Easter song.
I think the comfort they found came from realizing that there was an even greater hope than the one that could be secured by their emphasizing the goodness of the one now gone because God would still care for the one they were remembering and releasing.  Some of the memories that have come with that assurance of God's mercy and grace are more freely shared, enjoyed, and in a few cases laughed at more heartily.  
Those were golden moments made brighter by God's promise.  That same promise, the one we proclaim intentionally, especially in this season makes all kinds of thing possible.  Things that would at least discourage us if not shrink us into despair can be met and managed when we remember that God is good, so good as to raise us from the dead, too.
My imagination is of a church, that is bold and fearless, happy and hopeful, forgiving and graceful because it is so sure in that promise of resurrection.  
One of the little ways that I get to demonstrate that assurance is to do some of the clean-up.  Not only to speak the Easter proclamation in my funeral homily but also to say thank you when volunteers have stepped up, to recognize milestones, to bless offerings, to connect people in their similarities and complementarities, to encourage, and to celebrate even in the midst of grief.  
Especially when things are hard to do, it is important for us to get to the Easter promise as anchor, as frame, as foundation.  Alleluia! Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

PS: While I've got your attention let me clean-up some errors and omissions.  In recalling how everyone had helped so well to make our farewell to Deacon Charles a celebration fit for Madison to join I failed to point particularly to the incredible work done by our Flower Guild.  Both Easter Sunday and Charles' memorial service were blessed beyond believing by the flowers.   
Here are a couple of pictures.  Wow!  Thank you! 

PPS: For sure there are other missed moments in recognizing the efforts of so many.  We need to say a bigger thank you than the one we wedged into Sunday's 10:30AM service to Bunny Lawton for having designed the visitor and prayer cards which the Newcomer's Committee have just revised and replaced.  Thank you, Bunny!

PPPS: All those who attended 10:30AM this passed Sunday were party to the scheming of one Brian Lehman and Ginger Kroeber his accomplice.  For those who missed, we each sat in the same pew on the opposite side of the church from where we normally sit.  A good joke that brought a new perspective to many.  It was fun! Thanks!