Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20, 2017

Because of my political views, which are arguably religious, it will be impossible for me to trust two attorneys that are my political and biological enemies.” – Dylann Roof

There was a story yesterday that popped up on my news feed about Dylann Roof, the white supremacist and domestic terrorist who killed nine people in a Charleston, SC, church just over two years ago. He is apparently unhappy with his two court-appointed lawyers, one of which is Jewish and one of which is Indian, and wants them removed from his case.

His hatred for non-whites runs so deep that he is repulsed at the idea of having to come under any sort of influence or contact with those he deems inferior.

Years ago I was watching an episode of “The Jeffersons,” and George mistakenly got involved with a group of white supremacists (he interpreted their talk of “cleaning up the building” to be something quite different). During the meeting, the leader had a heart attack and George was the only one who knew CPR and he saved this man's life. As he was being loaded into the ambulance, the son tells the dad it was George who saved him. “You should have let me die.”

Hatred for those not like us can run deep. And that hatred is real; not just some scripted scene playing out on a sitcom, as witnessed by the actions of Dylann Roof and others.

We are living in conflicted times when those who hold opinions and beliefs like Dylann, and those who teach and recruit others into that belief system are no longer hiding in the shadows. They are comfortable enough to come out into the open speaking out against the presence and existence of those not like them. This is bad news.

But the good news is that these people are now visible. The hatred with which these people are driven is now exposed to the world. We have the opportunity to stand up against that hatred. We have the opportunity to be counted as those who stand opposed to hatred, not only the hatred espoused by Dylann and other white supremacists, but the hatred of those opposing them.

We not only have the opportunity to do this, we have a moral, ethical, and theological obligation to stand up and speak out against hatred. We must not be silent. And we must not return violence with violence.

The hatred of Dylann Roof and those of his ilk runs deep; and that is very bad news.

Love runs deeper; and that is very good news.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 6, 2017


That word has several different connotations. In one sense it conveys a place of generosity, hospitality, inclusion, safety, and maybe comfort. People, my wife and I included, often have “Welcome” mats at their front door. I've seen many a banner or flag hanging near a front door proclaiming the same message.

I've often wondered to myself, “What would happen if I showed up at one of those doors, knocked, and asked to come in?” And then I've wondered if my reception would be different based on how I was dressed. What would happen if I showed up in a grungy t-shirt, pants down past my backside with boxer shorts plainly visible, and my Carmel's Goosetown Mafia hat worn sideways? What would happen if I showed up with ripped jeans, torn shirt, and blood dripping down my face? What would happen if I showed up in a suit and tie carrying any number of “Jesus Loves You” brochures? Or a suitcase labeled, “Fuller Brush?” What would happen if I were black?

You can play any number of those scenarios out in your mind's eye, but until you actually try it you won't really know.

It also works the other way. “What would happen,” we can ask ourselves, “if someone actually shows up at my front door saying, 'I saw the welcome sign; may I come in?'”

In essence this is what we do every Sunday at St. John's. We hang a sign out front that says, “Welcome,” and we open our doors inviting anyone and everyone to enter this house we care for. Do we mean it? If we think we do, are we prepared for what might happen?

Are we prepared for the baggy-pantsed, backward-hat wearing young adult to come in and lounge in a pew? Are we prepared to receive the well-dressed, religiously earnest salesperson? Are we ready to cope with the beaten, bloodied, victim needing assistance? Are we willing to not shush the young families with babies who cry during sermons?

I think, hope, and pray that we are.

This Sunday we will celebrate St. John's Day and Ministry Fair. This is the day you will get to see all, or almost all, of the ministries this parish supports and participates in. This is the day you will have the opportunity to offer your time and talent to any of those ministries. This is the day when we are specifically reminded that all are welcome here at St. John's.

And this is the day when we should process what that word, Welcome, means to us both corporately and individually.

And as we move forward, it's worth contemplating how others perceive our words of welcome, and whether or not we live up to expectations.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August 30, 2017

How was your day?”


What did you do?”

And so begins a typical conversation in a typical working-household on a typical night around the county after everyone has regathered at home following the work day.

What did I do today?

That can be a difficult question for me to answer because sometimes this job isn't necessarily about results or accomplishments or checking things off the to-do list. There are things that certainly have to get done . . . I have to make sure hymns have been selected; I have to make sure the bulletin is proofed; I have to make sure a sermon gets written. And those are the days when I know I'm doing something.

What did I do today?

I drove. A lot. I had four conversations. All important.

I met with the wife whose husband is dying and we discussed funeral plans. This is always good work, but it is also always hard work. It was a good conversation and I believe that she is in a place where the stress of worrying about the funeral service is now one less thing to be worried about. And we prayed.

I met with the husband. Due to timing, I wasn't able to spend very long with him, but the conversation was also good. He, too, is in a place that, for at least today, seemed to be fully aware and comfortable with this stage of life. And we prayed.

I talked with a friend of the above who has been asked to participate in the funeral. He had some good insights, for which I am appreciative. I gave him an update, for which he was appreciative. And together we will work to honor God, the husband, and care for the wife.

And I talked with the Chair of the Stewardship Commission about the upcoming pledge drive. We laid out a timeline. We set some goals. We bantered about the overall theme of the campaign. We came away feeling positive about where St. John's currently is and where we are headed.

What did I do today? Not much; just talked to a few people. But sometimes it's the conversations that make for good days.

How was your day?


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 23, 2017

Why do we not respect the traditions of our elders?

This past Sunday's gospel was a long passage beginning with Jesus' explanation that it isn't what enters the mouth that defiles, but that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. It ended with the story of the Canaanite woman persisting in her quest for assistance on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus finally granting that request. In my sermon I said that what we say, how we say it, and how we treat others is more important to God than our holding up the dubious traditions of our elders.

While I covered a lot of ground, I probably could have/should have said more about that last part. I'll blame the lectionary for that oversight.

Sunday's gospel began with Jesus telling the crowd it isn't what goes into the mouth but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person. We missed the reason for that teaching. Jesus had been approached by Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem who wanted to know why his disciples didn't wash their hands before eating, thereby breaking the traditions of the elders.

This act of washing, however, was a law only for the priests (Ex. 30:17-21). At some point this law for priests became a tradition for the people and evolved into “It's always been part of our heritage.”

Today we face the same conflict over a belief in a tradition that “has always been part of our heritage” versus an understanding of how we treat people in the name of what is morally right. That conflict today is focused on, among other things, the removal of Confederate statues.

On the one hand, we have people claiming a loss of tradition and heritage. On the other hand, there are people who recognize that tradition and heritage for what it is – an attempt to remind people of color and other minorities of who is really in control.

As we engage this issue, we might want to pay attention to the words of both Christ and the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

We should then ask ourselves if we are more concerned with holding up the dubious traditions of our elders, or are we more concerned with holding up and living into the mandate of God as reflected in the prophets, apostles, and martyrs to do all things for all people in the manner of love?

Because, really, if we are more concerned with the dismantling of the symbols of hatred and oppression than we are with our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are most likely getting it wrong.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16, 2017

When “All” doesn't mean all

There are churches who advertise, “Everyone welcome,” but experience has taught me that “Everyone” is often limited to, “Everyone who believes and behaves exactly as we do.” In response to this, I have often countered that when the Episcopal church (in general) and St. John's (in particular) says, “All are welcome,” we mean all – Democrats and Republicans, yellow, brown, black, and white, male and female, gay and straight, single, married, divorced, and remarried, poor and wealthy, saints and sinners, all means “All,” y'all.

However, with the recent rise and visibility of hate groups, the events this past weekend in Charlottesville, the news of the vandalism at Boston's Holocaust memorial, and the promise of these groups to become more active and visible, we should think seriously about what we mean by “All.”

Yes, all are welcome; and now, more than ever, we need to be outspoken about who is welcome. The list (or partial list if you can add to it) of who is welcome is in that first paragraph, and we should proclaim that as often as we can. I believe with my whole heart that St. John's is a special place where, as St. Paul said, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” is present and doing remarkable things.

At the same time, not all will be tolerated; and now, more than ever, we need to be just as outspoken about who will not be tolerated. We will not tolerate individuals who fight for segregation, removal, elimination, or degradation of others based on gender, skin color, sexuality, or nationality. We will not tolerate individuals who espouse a gospel of hate over the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will not tolerate individuals who believe the best place for minorities is under the boot of the majority. We will not tolerate individuals who twist the loving words of Christ and the Apostles into self-serving quotes of dominion and domination.

How might we be outspoken about this? Here are a few ideas. Refuse to accept stereotypes, name-calling, ridiculing, and belittling jokes by naming the offending acts, calling out the person saying these things, and ask pointed questions, i.e. “Is that really how you see/what you think of X?” Refuse to excuse bad behavior (“Boys will be boys”) and publicly name it for what it is – sexual harassment or abuse. Stop victim-blaming and speak up when it happens. Publicly question those who use the Bible as a club to beat others into submission.

And if you need some biblical help, here are a few places to begin:
You shall love the alien as yourself” – Lev. 19:34
Do justice, love kindness” – Micah 6:8
There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, for all are one in Christ” – Gal. 3:28
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: care for orphans and widows” – James 1:27
Love your neighbor as yourself” – Luke 10:27

By not bringing racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and other hateful, sinful acts into the light, we are complicit in their spread through our silent approval.

Discipleship is hard. Speaking out against hate and bigotry is hard. But if we don't do it, who will?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017

I have accepted a call . . .

With those words I notified the Vestry on August 11, 2016 that I would be leaving the parish at the end of September and begin serving the parish of St. John's on November 1. On August 12, the official notice was broadly distributed to both parishes.

It was on August 2 or 3 in which I had a conversation with David Davis following up on my visit to Hagerstown. my wife and I had plenty of time to talk it over (being stuck at BWI helped), and came to the conclusion that this was the place. It was during that phone call where I accepted the offer to become the next rector of St. John's. And knowing how things happen, I asked that we keep silent and coordinate our announcement until August 12, allowing me to notify my Vestry first.

The time frame on my arrival in Hagerstown was presented as, “How soon can you get here?” But she had a diocesan D.O.K. meeting to coordinate, and I was in the middle of overseeing a somewhat major construction project that raised the chancel floor, moved the altar forward, and sent the choir behind the altar. Add to that the issue of finding a place to live and being able to see friends, family (and the Pacific Ocean) one last time before heading east – and that's how we settled on a November 1 start date.

With the help of several friends, we got packed up and planned the trip. I worked the first half of the football season before saying goodbye to that amazing group of men. Movers were selected, a car was shipped, and the great western farewell tour was underway. Stops in Seaside/Cannon Beach and Portland, OR; Olympia, Puyallup-ish, Wenatchee, and Spokane, WA; Sheridan and Bozeman, MT; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, ND; Someplace in MN; Chicago-land, IL; Detroit-area, MI; Canton, OH; and finally Hagerstown were on the itinerary. All along the way we saw friends and family and a few unexpected sights.

Many of you have heard this story before. Some have heard bits and pieces of it. I apologize if I'm repeating myself.

But the reason I'm making this the topic of today's Wednesday Word is that I looked at the calendar last week and realized that it was just about a year ago when the official announcement was made, and it seemed appropriate to recognize that.

My family and I have been here not quite a year. In that time we have felt welcomed and loved. Yes, there have been a few moments of difficulty, but there has never been a time when we think we made the wrong decision. As I look back on this past year, and as I reflect and write this edition of the Wednesday Word, the word of the day is . . . joy. That one small word expresses exactly what it means to be here. I hope you find this place to be as joy-filled as we have.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August 2, 2017

Why do you do what you do? And do your parishioners understand what they are doing?

Every Thursday afternoon I spend about an hour and a half with a few other clergy from Hagerstown. It's a non-denominational gathering to discuss the lectionary texts for the NEXT week. There are a few regulars in the group, a few semi-regulars, and then there are those who just drop in randomly. Last week we had a good-sized group that included myself and pastors from the Methodist, Lutheran, UCC, and Reformed traditions. And Paul.

I haven't quite figured out to what church Paul is attached, but I think it's somehow linked with the Brethren. Either way, I like Paul. He looks like an old cowboy, has a slight western drawl, is smart as a whip, and can pose insightful and cutting questions. He's also from Wyoming, which may be why I like him so much.

Last week we were talking about this coming Sunday, August 6. For a majority of those gathered around the table this will be “Communion Sunday,” that once-a-month Sunday when they celebrate Communion in their tradition. The discussion revolved around why only once-a-month, mechanics (the “how” of how it's done), whether this is a memorial or sacrifice, certain people's annoyance with the process taking too long, wine or grape juice, sacraments or symbols, and a few other clergy-type issues. All the while Paul sat and listened.

And then he asked, “Why do you do what you do? And do your parishioners understand what they are doing?” This question was based on his experience of asking, “Why do you do what you do?” to any number of people of different denominations and getting what he called, “The glossy-eyed standard catechetical response that really doesn't say much of anything.”

We all had a variety of answers, and he continued to push us on our answers until we started to get away from what he thought was the right “book answer” and more into personal “honest answers.”

Talking with Paul is always interesting and challenging, and I appreciate his occasional challenges and push-backs.

So I'll ask you: What do understand to be happening in our liturgy? What do you see as your role in the liturgy? What is the role of Communion in your life? What is your role in the Communion event?
Can you articulate any or all of these answers to another person?

If you can answer these questions, then you have the basis for evangelism. If you can't answer these questions, I suggest you begin practicing (coffee hour is a good place to start), because you never know when you just might run into Paul.