Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Posting for Isabelle

I posted something for Izzie on her own blog.  You can find it at Ruminations of a Church Dog Right now she's sleeping on my foot. She does that to make sure I don't somehow leave without her knowing it. She does have abandonment issues. I probably would too if I'd been given up for adoption twice, once at two and once at age four.  She really hates cages.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spreading the Seeds of Resurrection

Jesus tells us that the grain of wheat has to die before it springs to life. Of course he was telling us of his upcoming death and resurrection, but there is resurrection everywhere, if you just look for it.

I recently read about a date palm that rested for 2,000 years and now is growing. It comes from a date pit found in the rubble of Masada in Israel This is the oldest known seed to germinate. Scientists have looked at the sapling’s genetic fingerprint and have decided that it is probably a Judean date palm, a variety that is mentioned in the Bible and thought to be extinct.

They don’t know yet what a fully-grown 2,000-year-old Judean date palm looks like. But they do know from the Bible, from wall paintings from Mesopotamia and relics from Egyptian tombs, that Judean date palms once flourished in the Middle East. However, by the time of the crusades, these trees were no longer. The date trees now grown on Israeli farms come from trees originally imported from elsewhere in the Middle East and from California. For some people, the resurrection of a date pit buried for 2000 years symbolizes hope, and strength and life.

More than 120 years ago, on an island between the two major Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, the volcano Krakatoa erupted with an explosion ten thousand time the energy of the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima. Nearly 40,000 people died and its shock wave was felt around the world. Some nearby islands were buried in up to 130 feet of ash and there was no life left. The intense heat from the volcano wiped out wildlife, seeds and topsoil. Yet today, if you go there, you would find that nature has healed itself and the islands are green again. They stand as testimony to the hope of resurrection.

When the first expedition arrived in Krakatoa, just a few months after the eruption, no sign of life was found. Nine months later, scientists found just one spider, spinning a web. How did it get there? Like some plant seeds that are spread by the wind, many spiders spin a sail and can fly long distances on the wind. This one happened to land on solid ground rather than in the ocean, but it very likely starved, since there were no prey. And then six years after the eruption, scientists found spiders, flies, beetles, and butterflies as well as the pioneer specimens of the plant kingdom;, some of them made it there over the water, some of them in the stomachs of birds and some through the air. Within twenty years, there were trees over 40 feet tall draped in vines. Now there are more than 400 types of plants, in addition to many butterflies, birds, land mollusks, bats, and reptiles. Life has come back from the dead.

That is how nature repopulates itself. To feed our stomachs and our need for beauty, we tend to plant seeds. I have a basket full of seed packets here. Some of them are vegetables or herbs and, some flowers. Now the seeds in these packets are large or small. None of them are particularly pretty since seeds tend to be small and often wrinkly. But after seeds have lain in the ground and germinated, what comes out is fascinating. If we didn’t have a picture of what we were going to get, we couldn’t even imagine the beauty and wonder that would come from these homely little seeds, like beautiful flowers and all kinds of vegetables. Think about the stately hollyhocks, vibrant asters, bright tomatoes, peppers and sunflowers and fragrant marigolds. Where did they come from? All of them came out of seeds--small and homely seeds. Even though a seed is small and not particularly attractive, it has life in it. When the time comes and when it has been nourished with water and good soil, the beautiful and glorious body that God has given it comes forth. When the seed falls--and dies--God is transforming it to achieve its potential. Of course things can go wrong--weather might not cooperate, or we plant it in the wrong place or we might forget to water it, but the potential is there. What is true for seeds is true for us. But the problem is that we want to be servants of God without the sacrifice of dying to our old seed selves. We hope to flower without going through the step of sowing seeds. That is one way we reject the possibility of resurrection. There is a danger that we will remain only a single seed and will never experience God’s glory in our lives.

I picked up some packets of seeds this week. Some of them are vegetables or herbs and some are flowers. Some can be started indoors and some need to be put directly into the ground. There are annuals and perennials. I challenge you to select just one packet. Take it home. Read the instructions on how to plant it. It may be that the seed you chose can be started indoors and put into the ground after the danger of frost is over. It may be that you have to plant the seeds directly into the ground. Then I’d like you to consider how you could share your packet of seeds. Could you give a few to someone else? Could you share the abundance of your harvest with the food pantry or another person? Could you bring the flowers that you grow to put on the altar this summer? I’m not going to be around to see the harvest of your seeds. It is you who are here who can spread the seeds of resurrection.

Some of the seeds for the harvest have been around this place for a long time. Like the date pit from Masada, it may have taken years to find the right soil and conditions to germinate. Or like the seeds that repopulated the devastated islands of Krakatoa, even the harshness of past events is not enough to stop the seeds from taking root and flourishing. Resurrection is possible.

May God help each one of us to become seeds that fall to the ground and die so that we can experience God's resurrection in our lives and in our church as we grow into the people God calls us to become. Remember the picture of what we can be is already written on the package that is us.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Unless the Seed Dies...

The snow is melting and we are getting closer to Spring and new life springing from the cold ground.  I have a vase of Daffodils on the kitchen counter and their yellow brightness cheers me up a bit.  It's Friday and I'm still working on Sunday's sermon.  I've procrastinated by making a loaf of bread. I went to the hardware store and bought a number of packets of seeds, some for food and some for flowers.  One idea I have is on how seeds disseminate:  by wind, water, hitch hiking, by being swallowed and dropped, and by explosion.  And of course there is the work of fire that helps some seeds spread.  Still don't have a coherent picture in my mind as to how all this is going to work out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dividing by God?

The BBC has an on-line article in my favorite field: science and theology.  The title is "What do you get if you divide science by God?" They give responses from scientists who were: an atheist, a sceptic, a platonist, a believer and a pantheist.    The "believer" was my favorite scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne. 
The ordered universe science reveals is only what you'd expect if it was made by an orderly God. However, the two disciplines are different. He [Polkinghorne] calls them "intellectual cousins".
The title, though, is what intrigued me.  None of them seemed to answer the question. Nor did the equation in the picture divide by God-- God seems to be the result. In trying to answer it myself, I posit that if God is infinite then the answer to the question is unknowable. Unless of course, science is a very large number itself, then the answer could be zero.  This whole thing taxes my brain, which today doesn't need taxing.  I'll content myself with believing that God is both unknowable and the source of our searching. 

Monday, March 23, 2009


I read the LA Times online in the morning to see what's going on in the part of the world where my children live. I also like their crosswordpuzzle. This morning had an article which is interesting, and says a lot about the "spirituality" of Lalaland. It's the latest article in Beliefs about a tour that is given there called "City of Seekers."

In the bit about a meditation center we learn that "Burbank talked lovingly to a cactus, so reassuring and calming that the plant dropped its needles. A cutting from the cactus was planted at the Self-Realization Fellowship and still flourishes, free of spines." I just appreciate it when my plants don't die. The only part of Christianity on the tour is Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple. My choice would have been All Saints' in Pasadena.  The author of the article ended with "That's what tied Angelus Temple to the other tour venues. Like that cactus at the swami's retreat, many people are looking for a safe place to grow, a place where there's no need for spines."

A spine=free world! It seems to me that many of our leaders are spineless as it is.  At least the staff at All Saints' have a spine.

More that you want to know about spineless cacti:
The Luther Burbank Home and Garden Luther Burbank tried to produce a spineless cactus (the photo above is from the garden) which could provide forage for desert cattle. He did, but the problem is that this cactus needs more water than the desert types, and wasn't useful for that purpose. My kids and I love cactus candy though. Some uses for the spineless cactus:
  • It can be grown as a fence
  • The juice from the pads can be spread on water, like oil, to smother mosquito larva (this makes sense since it needs a wetter climate and that's where you find mosquitos)
  • It can be boiled down and used in whitewash or in mortar.
  • Young shoots can be used in cooking: either boiled or fried like eggplant.
  • The young shoots can be cooked and pickled with spices or cooked into jams, preserves and candy. 
  • It can be used as food for cattle and poultry (Luther Burbank's original plan)
  • Juice from the fruit can be used as food coloring and can be used as a natural dye for yarn.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunday's Sermon-An Allegory

Once upon a time, as so many fables start—except this is an allegory, rather than a fable— there was a church that was asking itself. “What shall we do? What is it that God is calling us to become? We know we have a mission and that mission forces us to look at ourselves and leave our comfort zones to do whatever it is God is calling us to do. But what exactly is our mission and why should we leave our comfort zones to find it? So they found themselves going on a pilgrimage led by Aging Hippie from California.

As they started out the front door three figures blocked the way: We’ve-Always-Done-It-That-Way, Inertia and Comfort. “Where are you going?” Comfort asked. “To find our mission,” replied  Aging Hippie from California. “What! and leave this beautiful church? Go back,” Comfort said. “You don’t need to leave. The church is fine, just the way it is,” said Inertia. Yes, said We’ve-Always-Done-It-That-Way, things are quite OK the way they are. Why do we need to find our mission?”

Doubt and Bitterness joined the first three. Now there were five figures blocking the door. They yelled, “You can’t leave. Things are fine just the way they are. It’s a hard world out there. It’ll take too long and you’ll never make it!”

Of course voices came up from the Congregation: “Well, maybe you are right.” “Maybe we should just go back our to old ways of thinking and doing—it’s easier that way.” “Maybe we should just wait till we get a new leader.” “But wait!” said Aging Hippie from California, “Abraham did it and so did Moses. Let’s ask Moses what he has to say about this.”

Moses answered, “Hey, I had doubts too and was undecided when the Lord told me to leave my father-in-law, Jethro. ‘Why would I want to go back to Egypt?’ I asked. Anyway, I wasn’t qualified and I can’t get in front of people and speak.” Two more figures came up to the door, just behind the others while Moses finished what he was saying, “When I came to the Red Sea with the People of God, I just prayed and trusted that God would lead us out of Egypt and slavery.”

The two new figures, Trust and Prayer, opened a path between the five that stood in our way. We made our first step to find our mission. The path looked clear but it’s mud season here in Maine and the ground is not as solid as we would like. Going through the mud slowed us down and we went up to our ankles. Those L. L .Bean boots helped, but the bottoms got really caked and made it hard to move. Now two more characters show up: the twins Worry and Fear.

Fear said, “Don’t bother trying to get through that mud. Wait till the ground is dry. You’ll get stuck.” And Worry yelled, “You don’t need to tire yourself out. You won’t have any energy left for mission. Go back! You can do it later.” Then Worry added, “Someone could break a leg in that stuff and you know the hospital is so far away and anyway you might run into a cow moose and her calf and get gored. People say there are no poisonous snakes in Maine, at least according to most experts, but there are copperheads in the streams and we’ve got to cross rivers and all.”

“Let’s think about this for a bit,” said Aging Hippie from California. “We call ourselves the Church of the Good Shepherd and King David left us a psalm just for this occasion.” “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me to water in places of repose. He renews my life: He guides me in right paths as befits his name. Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me. You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant. Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years.” (Tanakh Translation)

She pointed out, “we don’t have to walk through the mud. There’s a dry path right there.” Some of us almost lost our balance in the mud, though, when Fear shouted “Stop!” but Fear is found only in our imaginations and as FDR said the only thing we had to fear is Fear itself. We all felt a bit weak but you could tell the congregation was proud that it was able to tell Worry and Fear to “get lost.” They might show up again along the way, but we can always count on our Name, Good Shepherd, to call on whenever we need courage and strength.

The path to our mission is not going to be easy. We’ll need to call on Sense of Humor and Compassion, two old friends to help us on our way.

Good grief, there’s a bunch of copperheads right across our path just ahead. I thought we’d run into them much later on. The leader is Control with a bunch of followers: Gossip, Negativity, Pride, Blame, Anger, Selfishness, Criticism, Prejudice, and Jealousy, all hissing.

Now Aging Hippie from California lived in lots of places with snakes during her life. They never really fazed her. It seemed as though they were just part of her life and the lives of the people around her. She found it kind of fun and maybe even a bit ego boosting when Blame could be used to cover her mistakes, or Gossip used to belittle others. Prejudice toward those not like her helped her fit in wherever she was, and Jealousy just made her want to outdo others. And then, of course there was Anger—a great tool to get others to do what she wanted. Over time, though, she learned that those snakes made life difficult. They often bit and she wasn't the only one who got hurt.

To help explain this to the congregation she pointed out Moses standing a distance away, raising up a bronze serpent on a pole. The Israelites had blamed him for bringing them out into the desert with its terrible food and sparse water. “Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

Maybe Moses was trying to tell the People of God they needed to use their creative energy for their mission and to stop complaining, gossiping and criticizing and work on bring about God’s Kingdom. John tells us that just like that bronze serpent is lifted up so people may see it and not die from the snake bites, Jesus, the Son of Man, was lifted up on a cross so that those of us who believe may have eternal life. That’s the message we need so we can go forward to find our mission in spite of those snakes.

Moving on, there was a mountain on our journey. Again, there was something blocking our path. It was dark out and just ahead were four wildcats: Deceit, Pretense, Falsehood and Ignorance, all snarling and wanting us to stop and there was a lot of talk about turning around. What those four wildcats did not want to hear was the truth. They preferred to stay in the darkness. They had forgotten what John had said about the light coming into the world but people loved darkness rather than light so that deeds would stay hidden.

A bright light appeared and Jesus lifted high on the cross was the source of that light. This light is what we needed to continue on our journey to find our mission. It is the light that makes the wildcats slink away into the night. It is the light that drives away Fear and Worry and helps us find our mission so can see that what we do is from God.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Sand Labyrinth and Resolving Conflicts

I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. I've stirred up a hornet's nest and am getting stung. This morning in the office I "walked" my fingers through a sand labyrinth: bringing to mind all that is bothering me (including my own role in it}; leaving it in prayer at the center trusting that God is with me; and then moving back out to do the work I'm called to do. 

I reminded myself that Rob Voyle has developed a Coaching Spiral (see picture above and go to his site to read all about it) that has helped me before in my interims. I pretty sure we're trying to solve problems of environment, skills and abilities when we need to agree on a common identity and purpose. 

Voyle's wisdom on resolving conflict
"You can not solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it." Albert Einstein.
"Conflict can not be resolved at the same domain as it occurs. We must go closer to the Source of Life to find places of commonality upon which we build community.
While many church arguments appear to occur in the domain of environment, such as deciding on the shape of worship; or the domain of skills and abilities, such as deciding on who can or cannot be ordained. These conflicts can only be resolved by discovering commonality in the domains closer to the Source. Where there is fundamental disagreement over the purpose of the church, no resolution will be possible to conflicts occurring in the other domains. At these times it is probably best for people to sit in silence with each other until they can hear each other’s heart beat and together listen to the heartbeat of the Source of Life.
Don’t try lighting a fire under people to motivate them. All you’ll get is burnt butts. Rather, find the fire that is within them and fan it."
I've been having a hard time finding the fire here, at least during this long winter season. The summer folk come and there is lots of energy, and a lot gets done then, but maybe it's not just the bear who hibernate.  Some more good words from Rob:
"Resistance occurs when we initiate change outside the person or groups' perceptual reality.
Resistance occurs when some part of the system has not agreed to participate in the change.
Resistance occurs when a client perceives that the change will result in a loss of something of value that will not be outweighed by the apparent benefit."
Good and useful concepts. I'm trying to create a positive urgency to help them through the change. The Search Committee is working faithfully and well together and the congregation knows this, but I think some people  are hoping that things will just go back to same ole, same ole when the new priest comes so they can stay in their comfort zone.

I didn't get a lot of sleep last night.  I've stirred a hornet's nest and some of the hornets are stinging.  So this morning I did a "Sand Labyrinth" and as I wound my way to the center I let the frustrations at other people and myself  come to mind.  In the center I prayed that God would give me the strength and courage to continue in this work.  So coming out I thought of both Einstein's quotation about problem solving and Rob Voyle's 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not AIG, that's for sure

Moral responsibility should be our guide
By Brenda J.Norris, Bangor Daily News March 14, 2009
On Feb. 13, Maine made the national news in a positive way. The Oxford School Department needed to reduce its budget by $400,000 in order to keep things up and running. After slashing everything they could, they still came up with a figure equal to seven positions that would have to be cut. Rather than seeing their friends unemployed, everyone volunteered to work one day a week without pay.

This is nothing new. Several years ago, a small company of six employees in the town of Robinhood was faced with a slowdown in business. The most recently hired would have to be laid off if they were to remain open, but they all decided to donate a day’s pay a week so that person could remain on the work force. Eventually business picked up and everyone was back on full salary.
I enjoy reading the religion section of the Bangor Daily News. I don't always agree with what is there, but it is frequently uplifting. One of the nice things about living in a state with a small population is that people genuinely care for their neighbors. Our local food panty is sponsored by all four churches in town and when a local person is in need the town rallies behind that person. Ms. Norris ends her article with:
Shame on us if we sit back with folded hands and say, “It’s not my fault; I didn’t vote for them.” Rather our hands should be folded in prayer, as per 1st Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

Let’s pray it forward!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Appreciative Inquiry in the Interim Time

I've been neglectful of work I've been trying to do on a thesis for a D. Min.  It's on preaching in the interim time.  I started going over some of my resource material and I re-read this essay on compassion by Rob Voyle of Clergy Leadership. Rob has been a teacher and mentor to many of us who have taken his Appreciative Interim Ministry and Appreciative Leadership courses. He writes:
One of the dangers of simplistic, black and white thinking is to assume that some human behaviors are righteous while others are not. A more comprehensive view of humanity would suggest that all human behaviors, character, and personality needs to be redeemed or transformed. For example, even our capacity to love, needs to be redeemed from self interest and liberated from all the fear-based conditions we place on who and how we will love. Until we are as liberal with God's love as Jesus was then our ability to love needs ongoing transformation. As we explore the nature of compassion we will see that all the faces of compassion need to be transformed so that we don't offer a simplistic and inappropriate response to the multitude of human conditions we encounter.
It's been a long and hard winter and I needed to be reminded of that paragraph. I so often find myself guilty of limiting myself and falling back into the trap of finding solutions to problems rather than embracing the mystery and my supply of love gets depleted. But things are getting better.  My change of mood must mean that spring is just around the corner. It has taken three winters in Maine to remind myself why March is the cruelest month even though TS Eliot claims it is April.  Christina Rosetti has this poem about the months of the year:
January cold and desolate;
February dripping wet;
March wind ranges;
April changes;
Birds sing in tune
To flowers of May,
And sunny June
Brings longest day;
In scorched July
The storm-clouds fly,
August bears corn,
September fruit;
In rough October
Earth must disrobe her;
Stars fall and shoot
In keen November;
And night is long
And cold is strong
In bleak December.
- - - Christina Giorgina Rossetti "The Months"
March winds are appropriate since it is VERY windy here.  We're even thinking of putting in a windmill to generate most of the power for the church.  I keep reminding myself that it's just weather. I do miss the more even clime of California, though. I think a trip away is in the offing soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not Much Fun

Yesterday I spent the day driving 45 miles to have a colonoscopy, being driven home (45 miles) and spending the rest of the day sleeping.  It was just a screening.  It's been almost 10 years since I had the last one and it is time.  Not the greatest way to spend a day off.

It's an important screening test for anyone over the age of 50.  My mother had colon cancer, so of course I'm worried.  The Miami Herald's Dave Barry wrote a byline called Dave Barry's Colonoscopy that I recommend.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thinking Like a Trinitarian--3 Lent B

This sermon was partly in response to the grumbling in the congregation.  There are some who want to spend money on fixing things up and there are those who think the church (really, the pastor) is there to just serve them and then there are the ones who really want to grow in faith and mission.  Normal parish.  We have a core of people who teach Godly Play, but it helps the program to let the "adults" hear a story now and then.

I want to tell you part of the Godly Play story called The Ten Best Ways to Live
The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go into the desert unless they have to. There is no water there, and without water we die. There is no food there. Without food we die. When the wind blows, it changes the shape of the desert. People get lost. Some never come back. In the daytime the sun is so hot that people must wear lots of clothes to protect themselves from the sun and the blowing sand. The sand stings when it hits your skin. The sun scorches you by day. At night it is cold. You need many clothes to keep you warm. The desert is a dangerous place. People only go there if they had to.

The people of God went through the water into freedom. They were free, and Miriam led the dancing!. Now the people are free, they can go anywhere they want to go and do anything they want to do. Where will they go now? What is the best way?

God loved the People so much that God showed them the Ten Best Ways to Live. Sometimes these are called the Ten Commandments. As the people traveled across the desert, they followed fire by night and smoke by day. They began to complain. Some even wanted to go back to Egypt. There was not enough food. There was not enough water. God helped Moses find food and water. Finally they came to the great mountain.

The People came close to the mountain, but they were afraid to touch it. Mount Sinai was covered with fire and smoke. Moses was the only one who had the courage to climb up into the fire and smoke to meet God.

When Moses was on top of the mountain, he came so close to God, and God came so close to him, that he knew what God wanted him to do. God wanted him to write the Ten Best Ways to Live on stones and bring them down the mountain to the People. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Moses gave them to the People and they gave them to us.

They are about how to love God.; how to love people; and how God loves us.

So how can we love God:
  • Don’t serve other gods
  • Make no idols to worship
  • Be serious when you say my name
The next commandment is about how God loves us. Because God rested on the seventh day, God wants us to do something similar. So God tells us to
  • Keep the Sabbath holy
And the last of the ways are how to love people:
  • Honor your mother and father
  • Don’t kill
  • Don’t break your marriage
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t even want what others have.
These are all hard. God did not say that these are the “ten easy things to do.” They are the Ten Best Ways to Live. They are hard, perhaps even impossible, but we are supposed to try.
There’s another way of looking at loving God, loving people and God loving us. It has to do with worship. In the Alban Institure book “Imagining Church: Seeing Hope in a World of Change”, Gary and Kim Shockley view worship as having three dimensions: from us to God, from God to us and from us to us.

The “from us to God” dimension is about how we do worship. “The clergy, organist, choir and ushers are the cast and God is the audience.” The way we all pray, sing, offer our money, listen to scripture and the sermon—in other words, everything we do when we gather together to worship is directed toward God.

The “God to us” dimension is about what we receive from God in our community of faith. We receive the bread and wine, we listen for God speaking to us in the sermon. “We come to uplifted, motivated, comforted and reminded that God is with us.” Part of worship has to do with who is welcome at the table. Now I know that among us there are different opinions as to when a child should be allowed to receive the sacraments. One Sunday a few years back, I switched churches with a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor. He did the Episcopal service at the church I was serving and I did the Lutheran one at his church. He warned me that children did not normally receive communion until after confirmation, but he said if a child asked and I gave the child communion he wouldn’t object. So when it came time to distribute the bread and wine, one little girl of about 4 or 5 stuck her hands out and so I placed a piece of bread in it. The persons giving the cup, followed me with a chalice of wine and a tray of little cups with grape juice. I was involved with my own part, and didn’t see what went on behind me. After the service was over the little girl’s mother said her daughter was so excited. She told her “I got bread, but no shed.” The lay ministers obviously passed her by. What a shame. The little girl knew exactly what was going on. “God to us” was real to her.  We gather in community to receive something from God and it is our shame when we try to restrict “God to us” because we can't.

The “us to us” dimension not only speaks of how we minister to each other as we worship together, but in our lives. In many modern seeker-oriented churches, people are spectators or observers rather than participants. One of the pastors of one of these large mega-churches has said one of the mistakes they have made is that unless a great deal of care is taken not to just meet people’s need for material things, they will never grow in faith and service. Worship ends up being just entertainment. A community of faith is a place where “us to us” is a good part of the reason why church works. People want to feel welcome and the way that happens is from “us to us.” But part of “us to us” is serving each other and growing in the faith and helping others to do the same.

Now on to just “us.” We, the individuals, who are part of the community of faith. I once heard someone describe the people in a congregation as being either Abrahams, Marthas or Mary Madgalenes. Think about the people around you. The Abrahams are the people of vision—always willing to try something new, ready to go off in a new direction because they know in their hearts that’s what God would like them to do. Who are the Abrahams here? The Marthas are those who are concerned about the smooth running of the church. They are often found on the Buildings and Grounds Committee or serving on the Altar Guild or part of the ECW. The Mary Magdalenes are those who are concerned about the spirituality of the place. Prayer and contemplation and growing in faith are their concerns. Our Daughters of the King is one place where Mary Magdalenes have a home. The Men’s Prayer Breakfast serves a similar need for some of our men. Look at the people around you. Are they Abrahams, Marthas or Mary Magdalenes? Is one of those areas over-represented while you find yourself hard-pressed to find people in one of the others?

All three types are needed for a healthy church community; just as all three parts of the relationships between us and God and us and us; and just as all three parts are needed in the Ten Best Ways to Live. Jesus found at the Temple a community that wasn't functioning in balance.  The story we heard today seems to point to a community that had lost its spirituality.  The connection between "us and God" and "God and us" had broken down. A three-legged stool will stand, but if one of the legs is considerably shorter that the others, it’s pretty hard to sit on it without sliding off.

Looking Back

Photo of Popo Agie Wilderness in the Wind River Range courtesy of Shoshone National Forest-USDA

I was looking for a sermon I wrote about 4 years ago and I found this one, which is not what I wanted, but I think it's help up pretty well.  I was on my way back to the church in Wyoming where I was doing an interim when I heard of the vote at General Convention after a week of backpacking in the Wind River Range.  This  sermon is from August 10, 2004.
The wonderful thing for me about going backpacking is that I have time to think or not think; to enjoy God’s creation in the splendor of mountains and wildflowers and lakes and mosquitoes and gnats and lightning and rain and sunshine and wind. There is the pleasure of sitting around a fire and taking the time to learn more about the people I’m with and to laugh at our different ways of doing things, especially preparing dinner. The Wind River Range, like all of the mountains in Wyoming, are spectacular and I felt privileged to celebrate the Eucharist with six other Episcopalians. 
I brought with me a book called “Ornament of the World” by Maria Rosa Menocal. The subtitle is “How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a “Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.” I have only a couple more chapters to go. It’s not an easy read, but it is wonderfully written. What the author does is show us how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam flourished side by side, not only tolerating each other, but borrowing language and art and architecture from each other. And, what to me was more important, in spite of their unyielding differences, these three religions in medieval Spain believed that their differences could be productive as well as positive. It doesn't mean that everyone there believed that. There were individuals and groups who neither understood, nor agreed with this culture of tolerance. There were people who couldn’t (or wouldn't) live along side  those who believed differently. There was always tension between those who had a particularly fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible or Islam and those who were able to take what was good from the various cultures around them. 

I’m sure many of you are wondering why I’m going on about a book, when it seems to some that the Episcopal Church has lost its way and to others that it is moving forward with the times, and to others it’s a bit puzzling or confusing, but things have always worked themselves out before in God’s good time. The confirmation of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay man to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church has, of course, made headlines all over the place. The vote in favor was approximately 2 to 1 in both the house of deputies and the house of Bishops. Of course this is will have an impact throughout the church. The ratio of 2 to 1 is far from unanimous. I know that some people will leave our church, and I know that some people will be too embarrassed to discuss the issue and want to hide for a while. Some people are angry, some overjoyed and some just confused or worried. We’ve been talking about change here and this is serious change. Most parishes will adapt, but I think that the parishes that will adapt the best are those who take the long view. In my time as an Episcopalian I’ve seen the Prayer Book and Hymnal change, and every Sunday communion become the norm. I’ve seen women finally be allowed to serve at the altar, to be on Vestries and become Wardens and to vote at Convention and to become priests and bishops. So what is so different about this change?

Let me share with you an e-mail on the subject. The Rev. Ann Fontaine from Lander, who was one of the Wyoming delegates, wrote about the vote in the House of Deputies. “ The vote was held in the context of prayer—prayer before the discussion, after the discussion and following the vote. There was a lot of silence in the room during the prayers—the huge hall was packed with observers and press plus the near 1000 deputies. Wyoming sits near the press area so you may have seen us, especially as Canon Robinson sits with New Hampshire on the other side of us with the bodyguard that has accompanied him (and the presiding bishop) at all times at this convention. The ugliness of hate has encouraged a few to make threats against them and the Episcopal Church—the building has had a large police force and security presence all week and especially yesterday. The demonstrations of hate have been astounding to see—the Deputies pass through a gauntlet of shouting, angry people saying the most obscene things and holding up signs with crude drawings and hateful words. At noon we had relief in the form of a demonstration of hope and love. I had not realized what an impact the other was having on me until I experience the opposite. Although I have seen it all before (not quite at this magnitude, however) and am doing my best to ignore it—the impact on one is physical as well as emotional.”

We have been reading from the Gospel of John these past few weeks. Today we hear that Jesus says he will never drive away anyone who comes to him. He also tells us he is the living bread, the bread that is his flesh that he has given for the world. We are the body of Christ. It is a broken body, but it is still one body. The reason I break the host in two in the Eucharist is partly a symbol of our brokenness, yet we all partake of the one bread.

So what do we do with our brokenness? If we can acknowledge that all of us are broken and none of us has all the answers then like the Christians and Muslims and Jews of Medieval Spain, we can stay together and grow and flourish in spite of our different interpretations of Scripture and our different understanding of human sexuality.

Very few of us take all of Scripture literally and even the most theologically liberal among us take some of it literally. The part of the New Testament I take most literally is when Jesus tells us to visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of widows and orphans and when Jesus says he came to save all of the world. My Jesus is inclusive of all people. I tend to gloss over the parts of scripture where Jesus is more exclusive, like when he restricts his ministry to the Jews. Some of you may have scriptural objections to homosexuality, yet not to divorce and remarriage, or to having jobs that require you to work on Sunday, or not to eating pork, or not to allowing women to come to church with our heads uncovered We all bring our biases to the table. Some of them are conscious and some unconscious.

I would guess that most of you have had very limited contact with homosexuals and in a small town this is to be expected. Many gays move to large cities because of the anonymity it brings. Many marry and have children to try and fit in to our culture. Suicide among gay teens is very high. Being different in any way is hard. Yes there are some people who are gay who can put aside their desire for a same sex relationship, but not all. If it is true, and I believe it is, that some people are born gay, their sexuality, like ours is a gift from God. But it is hard for us to understand people whose orientation is radically different from ourselves and we label them as bad, or sinful. It is hard to live side by side with someone whose basic beliefs are so completely different from our own. But it can be done. The Christians and Jews and Muslims of Spain did it for a number of centuries. It’s hard to hold our own beliefs and to allow others to hold theirs and to remain in dialog, but if we can manage to do it, not only will God’s truth eventually be shown, but something creative and wholesome and life giving will come from this.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Nice to Know You're Not Alone in This

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists has written a great post which clarifies a lot of my thinking the past few months and help me realize where some of my own exhaustion is coming from.  She calls her post The Pain of Transformation and I thank her for it.  I've done interims in healthy growing parishes and in reasonably healthy stable ones.  To try to help a parish face the facts they need to change is exhausting. I especially appreciated the question "How can we avoid letting disgruntled members sabotage faithful efforts to move our churches into the 21st Century?"  I read the Alban Institute article on the Power of Feelings earlier this week and I've got both the Vestry and the ECW reading Alban books on change so we can discuss their contents.  Still the hard work will come with the priest they select as their new rector.  One of the downsides of being an Interim is the fruits of your labor are reaped by others.  Hopefully there won't be too many weeds left for that person to hoe.  Thank you Jan for your post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dear Ones with Autism Spectrum

I've been thinking a lot about autism these days.  One of my dearest friends has had a very difficult time throughout his life in maintaining relationships. He was successful as a researcher-engineer, and is brilliant in his ability to make connections where others can't find them, but really has few friends.  In the last couple of years he came to the conclusion that he probably has "Aspberger's Syndrome" and he does seem to fit the profile.  He has a hard time with change and finds it very hard to read people.  He is either completely taken in by them, or totally distrusts them.

Our lives have continued to intersect over the years even as my career took me from California to Denver then the Washington, DC area, then Vienna, Austria and back to California. He came to my ordination and we speak on the phone nearly every day even though at the moment we're at opposite ends of the country.  In some ways I'm his anchor to reality and one of the few people he trusts.  I listen to his latest ideas on the causes of illness and he listens (when I remind him I haven't gotten a word in edgewise) to my ravings about Maine winter weather.

Last summer my only grandchild was given a similar diagnosis.  He is approaching the age of four and has had a difficult time in nursery school essentially having been kicked out of two. Any kind of change is hard for him and social interactions with other children are very hard.  He will hit out, push away, or just ignore. He's always gotten along pretty well with adults, though so most people don't see there's a problem . My son and his wife have fortunately gotten help for him and they're working with him every day.  He's gone from non-verbal last summer to having a pretty good vocabulary, although it's mostly concrete.  He loves pirates, but really can't make up stories or make believe adventures even about them.  He's a lovely little boy and I have have every confidence that with God's help he will grow into a productive adult.  

My friend somehow managed to get through college and even picked up a PhD, but I wish for him that 70 years ago there had been the knowledge and resources to help him with the social aspects of the disease.  He did have an understanding mother and one teacher who helped him figure out how to study.  In our conversations I'm trying to get him to work on figuring out what he's feeling.  I've been reading some books by Paul Ekman on reading faces to help us figure out what other people are feeling and have recommended them to him.  The one I'm finding most helpful is called "Unmasking the face: A guide to recognizing emotions from facial expressions."  My grandson is learning some of the same skills.  The big problem is getting either of them to look at people's faces.

I'm finding the book a help to me, in my work as a priest, as well.  It's sometimes important for me to know when I'm speaking with someone, especially someone I don't know well, if they're trying to put me on.  Other times it's just plain useful to pick up clues as to when parishioners are irritated or mad or suffering, or many other emotions.  Mainers are very close-mouthed and getting a better feel for what they are about is very useful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Owl Attack, Owl Attack

There was an article in the Bangor Daily News warning us: Owls Attack:  Warnings posted at Bangor city forest.  The author, John Holyoke reports: "For some cross-country skiing enthusiasts, there's nothing like heading into the woods on a crisp moonlit night.  Beautiful trails. Pristine snow.  Peace.  Quiet.  Idyllic.  Idyllic, perhaps, until a great horned owl swoops down out of a tree, talons outstretched and smacks you on the head."

They sure this isn't Hedwig looking for Harry.  The rest of the article is at http://www.bangordailynews.com/detail/101028.html.  Seems as though it's nesting time for these majestic, but ornery birds.  Another quote from the article by a wildlife guy:  "It's the boldest nocturnal raptor and the one that has the best reputation for the occasionally bizarre."  Sounds a bit like Mad Priest.

The Hazards of Cross Country Skiing in Maine

The Bangor Daily News had an article written by John Holyoke titled "Owls Attack: Warnings posted at Bangor city forest." See http://www.bangordailynews.com/detail/101028.html.   The lede: "For some cross-country skiing enthusiasts, there's nothing like heading into the woods on a crisp moonlit night.
Beautiful trails.  Pristine snow. Peace. Quiet. Idyllic.
Idyllic, perhaps, until a great horned own swoops down out of a tree, talons outstretched, and smacks you on the head.

Grand Canyon Adventure

My daughter took this video at the Grand Canyon.  Monkey travels everywhere with her and her husband.  She and monkey got to sit in the front with the pilot.  Granmonkey got to sit in back.  music:  Jim Pepper's "Wichi tia to."

Fly with monkey over the Grand Canyon

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Week Away

Took a much needed break a couple of weeks ago and went with my daughter to the Grand Canyon. She took this picture our first morning there.  The air was wonderfully clear.  The stars at night were magnificent.  Our conversations satisfying.  Got to see my grandson  before I flew back across the country.  Can't get better than that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This is Miss Isabelle.  She's a shelter rescue dog.  We found each other in Wyoming during an interim there.

Fear of Blogging in the Interim Time

I do Interim Ministry.  I love it. Most of the time I'm with a parish for 12 months or so.  This one is taking a bit longer.  I've been here 18 months and although the search is going well, it's been a long and hard slog.  Two winters in a very snowy clime and a parish that has been in decline is hard on my normally optimistic self.  The title for this posting includes the word "fear" because I'm concerned that what I write could be misunderstood and make my work even more difficult.  I've started a couple of blogs over the last few years, but have never put them up on the web.

Even with a bit of trepidation on my part, I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There is a healthy core of people here and some very caring souls.  My faithful companion Isabelle is generally forgiving (unless I go away for a week and leave her with people) and keeps me laughing.  She loves coffee hour because that's where the cheese is, although we discovered today that she doesn't like American Cheese nor Provolone.  She has a great fondness for Cheddar and will wolf down Monterey Jack with red pepper.  Now that the snow is melting she avoids puddles because she doesn't like to get her feet wet.  She keeps looking for patches of snow to walk in.  Anyway Isabelle keeps me sane and I love the little fuzzy thing.  If I mention "road trip"  her tail wags like crazy and she pops into the car anticipating going someplace new.  Can't imagine a better dog for an interim.

Today's attendance was way down.  Of course we had snow overnight AND it is March.  Those who have gone away for the winter haven't returned and of course the summer people won't come until June, but I wonder if the time change also had an impact.  I got up a half-hour late (thinking it was a half-hour early) and was nearly late.  Of course that was better than last summer when I was enjoying my coffee and reading the news when I was startled by a phone call asking if I were ill.  Izzie isn't much help when it comes to keeping time.