My church didn’t have the usual children’s Christmas pageant this year, but we certainly did rejoice in evidence of God with us. The third Sunday of Advent included 5 Baptisms and 11 Confirmations, Receptions, or Reaffirmations! It was a bittersweet day, however, for while our new Bishop came to help us celebrate, we also bid a formal farewell to our Rector who is retiring after ten years of faithful, fruitful ministry. Whew! There was a lot going on.
Today, we vote. And hopefully, we pray.
I have heard time and again from people that they’re so frustrated with this election season, with the vitriol and mud slinging, that the only thing that’s left to do is pray. And I agree. Except on one important point: Prayer is not the last resort in an untenable situation. It’s not what’s left when we’ve mustered all of our own strength to muscle a problem. It’s not scraping the leavings off the turkey tray.
God doesn’t say to work really hard, implement all of our own solutions, then try a few suggested by others. And when all else fails, pray.
On October 11, 2016, Christian author and pastor Max Lucado posted his prediction for November 9 on his website. Lucado acknowledged that folks are “ready for this presidential election to be over,” adding, “There is a visceral fear, an angst about the result.”
More about Lucado’s prediction in a minute. For now, the election isn’t over yet. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to pray an invocation at a community meeting. I went to my go-to source and found a prayer that has been in print since at least 1928. Please join me in this prayer “For our Country” today and long after November 8:
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Many Episcopalians strive to accomplish that with each use of our beloved liturgy. We enliven the treasured words with beautiful music that inspires us to, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!"
In between our soaring Sunday worship services, how is your congregation helping people become familiar with Individual spiritual practices designed to draw us closer in relationship to our triune God? The power of these practices was discovered hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years ago.
The day moves along. I’m editing and answering emails, troubleshooting a print delay and catching up with coworkers, when a Post-it note jolts me back. Michael, it says, in purple ink. Check on status of the Advent app.
Without warning, I’m thrust back into grief, remembering that Michael can’t check on the status of anything anymore. He died suddenly about a month ago. He was 46. And it wasn’t fair. Isn’t fair.
Of course, death doesn’t play by the rules and only take the old, those who have lived long and fulsome lives. Sometimes it snatches a father and husband, a talented graphic designer who after a lifetime of searching found a place where his work was his ministry, his gifts an offering.
When Facebook feeds are filled with political vitriol, when newscasts are rated NC-17, when loved ones who espouse a different opinion want to convert you, pray.
This election season, perhaps like no other in recent memory, has left many speechless. Whether you back Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we can find common ground on the lament that the campaigns have been ugly and the hate on both sides deep-seated and frightening.
For most of my ministry, people have been wringing their hands about the decline of mainline churches. From my first days of service as a priest, I heard people say that we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The image prompted a cartoon in six frames: As the ship disappears into icy waters, one could hear words from the top deck, one word per frame: We’ve… never… done…it… that…way.
I’ve wondered about the decline. Does it have to do with style of music or liturgy? Is it due to a lousy spirit of welcome? Is it about formality among the frozen chosen? Does it have to do with divisions on social or political issues? Or with indisputable hypocrisy, with shortcomings and abuses by church leaders, too many to number.
The fall equinox is here. Days are growing shorter, and even drought-scorched Los Angeles is showing signs of cooling down.
It’s been an overwhelming summer. The unrelenting violence around the nation and the world has gotten to me. Police shooting people. People shooting police. People on trains, in airports and hospitals, celebrating at weddings, seeing their lives turned suddenly to carnage. Earlier this summer, a mom and her 4-year-old daughter shot to death on the way home from the grocery store two blocks from a church I served. Today, news of four people shot, two killed, a block from another church I served. Trouble here, there, everywhere.
Amid the various back-to-school traditions of churches, one congregation has struck gold. They tap into the community’s strong support for the schools – and particularly for its athletics – by offering yard signs: Pray for a Pirate. Pray for a Titan. Pray for a Panther.
In the week before the special school kick-off Sunday service, the church’s front lawn is full of these signs – a powerful testament for passersby of the church’s connection to the community. Who doesn’t want to pray for young people as they return to school?
The church also invites a few student-athletes to speak during worship about the role that faith plays in their lives.
Maybe it comes with the job. I couldn’t help but notice the ways people prayed at both political conventions. There was a good deal of what I call horizontal praying going on. What do I mean by horizontal praying? Though the message is bracketed with a “Dear God” and an “Amen,” it’s really meant to make a point with those hearing the prayer, for example, the prayer at the dinner table: “Dear God, help my sibling, spouse, parent, child to stop being such a jerk. Amen.”
In the past two weeks at the conventions, I heard some beautiful prayers. I also heard some prayers I thought were really political speeches. Some seemed manipulative. A few seemed heretical. After a long time of trying to sort through the nexus of faith and politics, I am finding this election cycle distinctively vexing and perplexing. How about you?
Will this time be different? Will this be the moment when the pressure for change will grow instead of subside, the straw that finally breaks the veil of complacency that settles over many of us once the reporting of this latest tragedy fades….
With two of ECF Vital Practices’ bloggers on hiatus, the plan was to schedule ‘reruns’ of some of their more popular posts. Instead, yesterday and again today, what seems appropriate are reflections related to past tragedies. In today’s offering, Richelle Thompson shares her struggle to reconcile “what should be and what has become too hard to see together” and invites each of us to consider the contrast between our faith proclaimed and faith lived out. How big is that gap?
In her April 17, 2013 blog post, Richelle writes:"I keep circling back to the image of a toothy, twinkling 8-year-old Martin, one of the three fatalities of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I think of other pictures that haunt me: men and women jumping from the top floors of the World Trade Center, the slumped, broken shoulders of a father learning his 7-year-old was shot to death in a second-grade classroom, police tape around the neon of a movie theater.
Who would have thought to use last year’s Christmas cards as a prayer cycle?
We received a note in the mail from a friend in New York. A talented and committed priest, we served together on a diocesan staff before she returned to parish ministry and I came to Forward Movement.
In her note, she explained that she had been praying for us this week. She kept her stack of Christmas cards and each week, pulls one out and prays with special intention for the sender.
I love this idea and plan to adopt it next year. It resolves some a small problem: I always hate to throw away all of the Christmas cards that people have worked hard to select, sign, and send. More importantly though, it can serve as a guide for an intentional, focused practice of prayer.
Many of us are probably pretty good at praying for specific concerns and in response to requests. But God works in all kinds of wonderful ways, and you never know when your prayer for a friend or family member may be just what they need—even if they didn’t ask for it.
I know what you are thinking. As we have come to the end of Advent, and are at the crest of the snow bank that is the season of Christmas, you are thinking, let's look once more at the Song of Zechariah. You're not? Well, that's what I was thinking.
If you don't know the Song of Zechariah, it comes from the Gospel According to Luke (Luke 1:68-79) and can be found on page 92 of the Prayer Book as one of the canticles for Morning Prayer. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sings this song on the occasion of his son's naming, shortly after – at least in the text – Mary has sung the Magnificat. Zechariah, like Mary, is filled with the Holy Spirit. (A popular image in the Gospel according to Luke and the Book of Acts, aka Luke II: The Holy Spirit Strikes Back). And like Mary, he is so full of joy that he sings. He sings of the promises of God to the People Israel.
Song is big with us liturgical types. Hymns, Carols, Canticles, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs are all part of who we are as followers of Jesus. The Book of Psalms was Jesus' Hymnal 1982.
It’s harvest season here in the Pacific Northwest, a season to celebrate the abundance and generosity of God. The abundance from garden is always a little overwhelming at this season, inspiring creativity and generosity in order to cope. I love experimenting with new recipes and writing prayers and liturgies that express my gratitude. I love inviting friends and neighbors to share God’s generosity, and I love to take time to look back over the year and remind myself of the new things God has grown in my life that are part of this abundant harvest.
This is a great time of year to inspire our congregations with gratitude and generosity. Helping those we shepherd see the world from a perspective of God’s abundance, rather than the economy of scarcity our culture constantly bombards us with, is very important. Harvest festivals can be combined with services of thanksgiving or opportunities to share from our own abundance with those in need around us.
The following prayer is one I wrote several years ago that has been extensively used by congregations for celebrations at this season.
It’s fall and everyone’s busy. Programs have started up again, kids are back in school, and days feel shorter. During these times, when deadlines are approaching and I feel short on time, I find I have the most trouble being generous. Not generous with my money so much as generous in my attitudes toward my coworkers or fellow community members.
When I’m waiting on a coworker or fellow volunteer to send along some information so I can finish a project, it can be hard to remember that they probably have many tasks on their to-do lists and many other things demanding their time. When I’m stressed, I’m a little less likely to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
Being generous with others, being stewards of our good will and the time we take to understand each other, is part of loving our neighbors as ourselves. I’d like others to give me the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes I have to put volunteer activities aside so I can focus on a project at work for a week or two, and sometimes a high priority request at work means other tasks have to wait. This happens to everyone.
Imagine yourself on your worst day. Imagine the dumb thing you said or the deadline you missed because you were overworked or the blog you wrote too hastily. Remember how much it means to hear others say out loud that they like your work or express sympathy when you were ill. And remember that everyone else feels basically the same.
On Sunday, I went to an English-language, Anglican church in Rio de Janeiro, where I am visiting my wife’s family. It was a relatively small congregation - about 50 people - and the Brazilian priest spoke English, only occasionally stumbling over words.
In his sermon he quoted a rabbi, whose name and exact words I cannot recall, but the gist of it was this: even good things are bad for us if we do not give thanks for them. Food to eat, shelter, friends, even these things can corrode our soul if we are not thankful.
This message struck a chord in me, perhaps because I am on vacation in Brazil and have many things to be grateful for. I have more than I need. For this reason, perhaps, it is especially important for me to remember that what I have is a gift. Remembering this from time to time helps me to hold a little less tightly to what I have. If everything is a gift then it’s a little easier to give it away.
As my wife pointed out to me, there is a danger in telling other people to be grateful for what they have. It doesn’t acknowledge the parts of their lives that are difficult, the ways in which they’ve worked hard, the obstacles they’ve overcome, the disadvantages they’ve been born with, the suffering, seen and unseen, that they endure. No one wants to be told to be grateful for what they’ve had when they’re struggling to make ends meet, for example, or when they’re fighting cancer, especially not by a privileged, healthy person like me.
Con nuestros propios ojos vimos al Señor en su grandeza. 2 Pedro 1:16
Hablé con una amiga durante la semana pasada y hablamos sobre algo que he escuchado mucho en el ministerio. Este tema es uno que he vivido y me han contado durante todo mi tiempo como líder. Pero creo que como Latin@s/Hispan@s no nos gusta aportar el tema. He visto y escuchado de muchas personas que brincan de Iglesia a Iglesia. Parece como que estuviéramos de compras o saliendo con la Iglesia (en inglés se llama dating) y no nos comprometemos a una. Como líder y sacerdote, esto es difícil ya que las personas se van, a veces sin explicaciones, y nos dejan con sus responsabilidades en nuestras manos. ¿Las razones? Es que el padre nos regaña. Es que la reverenda nos pide que demos diezmos y ofrendas. Es que me hizo una cara fea la encargada de l@s niñ@s. Es que me quieren cobrar por usar el espacio para tener mi quince/boda/aniversario. “Es que” parece ser más importante que “sé que”. Sé que Dios me pide que cambie. Sé que Dios necesita que sea Sus manos y pies en este mundo. Sé que tod@s somos human@s y tenemos días malos. Sé que la Iglesia necesita de mis ofrendas para seguir ministrando y bendiciendo como lo ha hecho por mí.
Pero realmente, como leemos en las lecturas para la Fiesta de la Transfiguración del 6 de agosto, necesitamos ser transformad@s. Necesitamos ver con nuestros propios ojos la grandeza de Dios (2 Pedro 1:16), permanecer despiert@s para ver la gloria de Jesús (Lucas 9:32) y hablar con Dios para que nuestro rostro y vida resplandezcan (Éxodo 34:29). Así cambiaremos y nos comprometeremos y dejaremos de brincar o ir de compras para ver cuál iglesia nos queda mejor. La mejor Iglesia es en la que estás. Dios te ha puesto ahí. No es fácil, lo sé, pero cuando decidimos a estar y ser comprometid@s veremos los beneficios de ser una parte íntegra e importante de un ministerio. Somos parte del Cuerpo de Dios y nuestro mandato es orar, escuchar, y actuar.
It has been a few weeks since my last post. I have been doing that quintessentially Fringe Episcopal Ministry thing: traveling around telling Southside Abbey's story in hopes that money will come our way. While we fell far short of our fund-raising goals, we did deepen some relationships, and that is impossible to put a price tag on. There was also a wonderful side effect, I've come to accept that maybe it's not so bad out there.
Earlier this month, I was blessed to teach a class at the School of Theology at Sewanee and preach at a parish in a Toronto suburb. I don't know what I was really expecting either place. The last time Sewanee was foolish or brave enough to unleash my brand of this-is-how-it-is on their students, I was not invited back for two years. I found that two-year-ago class utterly naïve to, or in denial of, the realities facing the Church.
This year's class was very receptive to my dispatches from the frontline of missional/emergent ministry. They are aware that in the next fifteen years 17 Trillion dollars (with a “T”) will change hands, and the Church is pretty low on the list of where benefactors are distributing said money. The students are aware that the Church is shrinking, as individual churches and as a denomination. They are aware that there are no jobs, especially for those seeking full-time employment. Seminarians know these things and they are there, studying to be priests anyway. They are there, giving themselves to God in service to the Church.
The day’s events had me going from an early morning meeting, then answering several emails about an ongoing project, to a hospital call in the city, to, at last, an Evensong at the Virginia Seminary to kick-off their new Center for Liturgy & Music. It was a full day and an exciting one, at that.
Arriving early at the Virginia Seminary – thinking I could steal away a few hours in the library and get some more work done – I noticed a sign on a door saying that Emmanuel, a brother from the Taize community, would be stopping into the seminary’s new chapel that afternoon to lead some prayers and talk about the shape of that ecumenical, contemplative religious community in the Burgundy region of France. That was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, so I gladly left the computer bag in my car and popped over to the chapel.
It was a quick visit, one of many Brother Emmanuel was making through the Washington region, marked by some words from him and some back-and-forth questions. Then we moved to a transept in the chapel and gathered for singing and Taize prayer. “I will sit among you,” Emmanuel said to the large group who had gathered. “For in Taize we do not like to put the musicians or a leader in front of the people.” We sang. We prayed. We sat in silence. We dwelt in God and, as Brother Emmanuel said, “we renewed ourselves in the God of love.”
“There is so much we do in worship, in liturgy,” Emmanuel said at one point: “we kneel; we sit; we stand; we recite; we move from piece to piece. We do not often allow ourselves to pray.” That’s the genius of Taize, and so many other forms of liturgical music and art which have flowed from Brother Roger’s mid-20th century vision of a worldwide, ecumenical movement of Christians seeking after reconciliation through common prayer. “We do not often allow ourselves to pray,” Emmanuel summarized his movement so simply.
About two years ago I wrote a series of reflections for Forward Day by Day. For those who didn't grow up in the Episcopal Church, these are booklets of reflections on the daily scripture can be found in the narthex of nearly every Episcopal Church in the country. They now have a readership of about 500,000.
I received a bit of mail in response to my reflections. I'm embarrassed to say I did not respond to a lot of it, though I appreciated the response. I remember in particular one email. The writer had noticed that I began many of my reflections with the word "I". Why, she wanted to know, did I do this?
I just completed another set of reflections for the 2016 Forward Day by Day publication, and so I've been thinking again about this two-year old email exchange. This time around as I wrote my reflections I was conscious of my tendency to begin sentences with “I,” yet I couldn't seem to avoid it and eventually gave up trying.
And here's why: I like to tell stories, and most of the stories I have to tell are about myself. Especially in the context of short reflections about faith, I don't believe I can or should speak for others most of the time.