Wednesday, July 19, 2017

July 19, 2017

92, 92, 88, 100.
Preseason Test Results

My new officiating group does things a little differently than I'm used to. For starters, they begin meeting in May. Another thing they do is send out preseason tests. The above numbers are my test scores for the first four tests we've been given.

My friend Jane saw those scores and said, “So you're not perfect, but you're consistently good.”

That not only sums up officiating (we're not perfect, but we're consistently good), but it's also a good way to look at our life.

Do we always to the right thing as individuals, as business people, as parents, as children? The answer, of course, is, “No.” We make mistakes. We get angry. We may sometimes act unethically. We may be more selfish than we should. We are not perfect; but if we look back over our life, have we been consistently good?

This can also apply to our life in the church and as disciples of Christ. Do we pray regularly, or only on Sundays or when facing trouble? Do we make Sunday worship a priority in our lives? Do we follow through on our pledges of time, talent, and treasure? Do we work to live into our baptismal vows of loving God, loving neighbor, and respecting the dignity of every human being? Again the answer to how well we do these things is probably, “Not as well as I would like.”

The good news is that we are not asked to be perfect. We are not asked to be mistake free, but we are asked to learn something from each mistake. We are not asked to always be the nice guy or gal, but we are asked to respect the dignity of every human being. We are not asked to be in attendance at every worship service the church offers, but we are asked to make worship a priority.

Some days we score a 92. Some days we only score an 88. Some days go right and we manage to score a 100. But it's important to remember that it's not necessarily the scores that matter, it's whether or not we are working to improve. Are you better today than yesterday? Is the sum total of our life more positive than negative?

What areas of your life would you like to improve? What areas of your life would you like to make a priority? And how do those things mesh with our baptismal covenant?

Because in the end, we aren't asked to be perfect, but we are asked to be consistently good.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 12, 2017

The Bible is not a series of metaphysical claims, but is primarily a story of how communities of faith have responded to the presence and activity of God in their midst.
Samuel Wells, What Episcopalians Believe, p. 47,

This sentence came in a larger discussion about a variety of acts recorded in the Bible – things such as creation, the origin of species, the virgin birth, and any number of other miracles. This sentence stood out to me because, once again, I happened to come across yet another church that advertised itself as a “Bible believing church.”

I don't know about you, but when I see or hear those words my first instinct is to run away.

When a church advertises itself as “Bible believing,” it tells me that one of their core beliefs is that other churches do NOT believe what the Bible has to say.

When a church advertises itself as “Bible believing,” it tells me that they focus more on segregation than on inclusion.

When a church advertises itself as “Bible believing,” it tells me that what they believe are the verses confirming their preexisting prejudices.

St. John's in particular, and the Episcopal Church in general, is also a Bible believing church – we just don't feel the need to advertise that fact. But maybe we should.

It seems that Christianity has been hijacked by fundamental dominionists with loud voices and platforms that spread a particularly segregated and virulent form of the faith. Things like a six-day creation, the sin of Ham, women must remain silent, women should submit to their husbands, a lack of care for creation because Jesus is coming soon, or any number of efforts to protect the powerful as blessed while ignoring the less fortunate for any number of real or imagined sins, are just some of how the Bible is used as a weapon by a certain segment of Christianity.

But I also am a Bible believing Christian. I believe that in the beginning, God created; the how and the time-frame are immaterial. I believe that Ex. 22:21-22, Deut. 10:16-18, Amos 5:24, Jonah 4:10-11, Micah 6:8, Matt. 22:34-40, Matt. 25:31-46, Luke 2:7, John 10:16, Acts 10:9-34, Gal. 3:28, 1 John 4:16b-21, Rev. 7:9, and Rev. 22:1-2 (among others) are just as valid today as when they were written. I believe that the Bible is not to be used as a weapon to tear down, abuse, and cast out, but that it is to be used as a tool to build up, heal, and restore. And I believe that the Bible is not only a record of how communities of faith have responded to the presence and activity of God in their midst, but that it also challenges us to live in faithful relationships with God and others in the here and now.

We are a Bible believing church. It's up to us to cut through all the noise and help people understand that that isn't a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 5, 2017

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- Declaration of Independence, second paragraph

Yesterday was the 4th of July and the annual celebration of those thirteen colonies that declared (among other things) themselves “to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved . . .” That celebration probably included some form of fireworks, too much food, music of varying tastes, and, hopefully, a recognition that in this country all men are created equal.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we must also recognize that those self-evident truths spoken of so eloquently 241 years ago are still far from being realized. We still have far to go when, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the death penalty was sought in 38.7 percent of cases in which the defendant was black and the victim was white, with that percentage dropping to 0.0 percent when the defendant was white and the victim was black ( We still have far to go when a local HOA states in its bylaws that a house may not be sold to a person of color. We still have far to go when the Texas Supreme Court voted 9-0 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is not all-encompassing and still up for evaluation ( We still have far to go when access to healthcare is based on income rather than need. We still have far to go when women consistently draw lower salaries than men.

It's not often that the secular and sacred intertwine, but when we look at the lofty ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence in conjunction with our Baptismal Covenant, they do.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

When you see the evil of discrimination rising to prominence, whether that be based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or nationality, will you persevere in resisting that evil?

When you witness the condemnation of others, will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

When you see acts of hatred being perpetrated in the name of whatever cause calls for violence, will you love your neighbor as yourself?

When you witness the ostracizing of others due to any difference or lack of perceived purity, will you strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being?

It just may be that when the Church can live into the ideals of the Baptismal Covenant, our nation might finally live into the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

Not every inclination which seems good to you should at once be obeyed; nor should every contrary emotion at once be avoided.
Thomas a'Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 11

What Thomas is talking about here is the process of discernment. This is most often attributed to people who believe they have a calling to ordained ministry. Once that calling is articulated the local parish creates a discernment team and they, along with the existing clergy, walk with the person through the process in order to validate the perceived call. It is a long and arduous process; but, done correctly, is also a valuable and healthy experience.

But we miss the point, I think, if we only apply that discernment process to people feeling called to ordained ministry because we can use it in so many other areas. A young person looking to start a career may want to have a team to help discern a life direction. An older person looking to begin a second career, start a business, or pursue some dream, may want to have a team to help sort that out.

And it doesn't have to be big, major decisions for which a team is created. Are you feeling called to volunteer in any number of opportunities in the community, or whether or not to accept a new position within your current career? Having someone (or someones) to help walk you through that process can be invaluable. The point here is that, by taking time to evaluate, taking time to discuss, taking time to pray, can lead you to make the right decision for all involved.

Several weeks ago I asked someone to serve in a particular capacity. It took about two weeks of this person talking with me, with others who had been previously involved, with the spouse, and maybe with a few others, before an answer was given. I was asked, “Are you upset that this took so long?” I answered, “No, of course not. But I would've been concerned had you given me an answer, any answer, the moment I asked you.”

We are about one-third through the summer season. On September 10 we will hold a ministry fair in Trimble Hall after both services. Here you will have the opportunity to see all that goes on at St. John's, from Adult Education to Worship (A to W was the best I could do), and you will be asked to consider participating in one or more of these ministries. But that is not the time to begin thinking about how and where you can offer your particular skills, talents, and passions for the benefit of St. John's – the time to do that is over these summer months so that when you are asked to participate in the fall you won't feel surprised and make an uninformed, undiscerned decision.

As we move through summer, be thinking about the needs of St. John's and how your skills, talents, and passions might be used for the benefit of this arm of the Jesus Movement. Do you sing, like working with children, have a good reading voice, want to include newcomers, cook or bake, or any number of other things necessary for keeping the church body healthy? Be thinking about these things. Talk them over with friends or other people who have experience in that area. Or maybe ask other people in the parish, “What do you think I have that the church could use?” Do some discernment.

And when asked, you won't necessarily give an immediate assent or declination, but can give an honest, “Let me think about that.”


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21, 2017

On Thursday of last week I received a call from my good friend Jane wanting to know if they could show up at the house a day early. They were scheduled to arrive about noon on Friday. One of my life mottoes is, “Nothing says clean like company.” Jane and Bruce are company. We were going to clean on Thursday night. But Jane and Bruce are also friends, so we let them come early anyway.

On Friday I gave them the obligatory tour of the most beautiful office in Maryland and then we spent time at Antietam and Harpers Ferry. We got home around 6:15, had dinner and some good conversation and then went to bed.

On Saturday we drove into Baltimore where Bruce looked up a couple of Aikido facilities (he is a practitioner of that particular martial art) and then on to Camden Yards. We spent some time at the Inner Harbor before entering the stadium where we watched the Orioles trounce the St. Louis Cardinals 15-7. I also purchased my very first hat from Baltimore, where it is now prominently displayed on a lamp.

Sunday was worship and Jane's promised Father's Day gift of preaching for me was redeemed. I always enjoy working with her on the liturgy, and I especially enjoy it when I get to listen to her preach. Following the two services we hooked up with old friends of hers who just happened to have spent a lot of time in Montana; so we did some west coast reminiscing. At home later that day, Joelene cooked up a great batch of ribs and we all had an excellent Father's Day dinner. Jane and I then sat on the deck watching fireflies and discussing church stuff. She thinks I'm in a good place.

Monday was bittersweet as Jane and Bruce packed up their RV to head out on the next leg of their cross-country adventure. I cherished the time we had together, soaking in every moment, every laugh, every word, every good-hearted back slap, fist bump, and hug. The blessings of good friends came up against the realities of living on two coasts.

But as she pointed out more than once, and as was pointed out to her more than once, this is a good place. It is a place I am happy to now call home. It is a place that has happily received us. And while I do miss old friends and the frequency of our conversations, I am happily looking forward to filling in those holes with new friends, new conversations, new “old” memories – because this is now home, and I'm looking forward to creating a time together that will have as strong a place in my life as Jane and Bruce now do.

Thank you to Jane and Bruce for keeping me connected to what was.

Thank you to everyone here who help connect me to what will be.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 14, 2017

My good friend Jane, rector of All Saints in Richland, WA, is currently on a well-deserved sabbatical. She called me up one day while putting the details together and said, “How would you like a guest preacher as a Father's Day present?”

I said, “Of course!” She and her husband, Bruce, will arrive in Hagerstown this Friday and she will be preaching this coming Sunday, Father's Day.

All of that to say that, because of her gift, I have some extra time on my hands where I'm not preparing a sermon. Since I had all that free time this week, I decided I needed to rearrange my office bookshelf. This isn't just an exercise to kill time, but is a much needed reorganization so I can find what I'm looking for. A week or two ago I spent longer than I should have locating a book. It occurred to me then that I needed to file my books by title, rather than by author. For instance, I might know I need to pull a quote from A Table in the Desert, but I won't necessarily remember that Paul Jones was the author. So I made the switch.

It was hard work. It was hot. It took a full three hours. My knees and back were both sore. But when I finished, I had a new system that should . . . should . . . cut down on my search time. And after years of the old by-author way of filing books, it gives me a new perspective.

Sort of like our relationship with God.

How often do we do things the same way, seeing things as we've always seen them, without realizing we should probably make a change? How often do we see God in the same way, without realizing we should probably change how we view God?

I'm not talking about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic here. I'm talking about making substantial changes. Changes that will take hard work. Changes that might be uncomfortable. Changes that take time to accomplish. Changes that make you sore, but sore in a way that you know you've done some good, hard work.

What might those changes look like? We could start with Sunday worship. Is Sunday worship just one of many activities you have the option of attending, or is Sunday worship a priority in your life that takes precedence over all other activities? Are you willing to sit with God in the quiet of Daily Evening Prayer? And it's not just worship. We have a variety of opportunities to serve and participate in this parish. Vestry, commissions, choir, Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants, gardening, offering rides for those unable to drive, monetary pledging, Community Cafe, Bester School, Micah's backpack, these and others give you an opportunity to experience God and church in a new way.

It doesn't even have to be about church, per se. In looking to find God in different places, what if you began honestly evaluating where you have fallen short (sinned) and made an intentional effort to repent? What if you made a greater effort to see Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of all people by avoiding derogatory posts on Facebook?

This will be hard work. This will take a long time. This might make you sore. This will probably be uncomfortable. This could change your perspective. And it just might change how you view God.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 7, 2017

You shall not murder. – Ex. 20:13

“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:43-45a

“Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matt. 22:36-40

“The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” – 1 John 4:21

Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” – Rep. Clay Higgins (R), LA

Those were Rep. Higgins' recent words on how he thought this country should handle Islamic terrorists and suspected Islamic terrorists. He later attempted to clarify his words by saying he wasn't talking about peaceful Muslims, just the Islamic terrorists. But until an act of terrorism occurs, one almost never knows who is a terrorist and who isn't. Like the quiet man down the street who keeps to himself and is only later identified as a mass murder, most terrorists generally lead quiet, unassuming lives in order to not get caught. And it's telling that he focuses on people who look different while ignoring far right wing and/or white supremacist American terrorist individuals and groups.

His solution, no matter how he tries to backtrack, comes down to advocating the rounding up and killing of anyone and everyone who looks different or practices a different religion. This is his Final Solution to ending terrorism – Kill them all.

We reap what we sow. Violence begets violence in a continual downward spiral. But this is also the way of the world ever since Cain took Abel out to inspect the crops. Kill them before they kill us. This is how “honor” works, hitting back faster and harder when you, your friends, or your family have been disrespected. The world is a violent place. The world wants us to play by its rules.

But as Christians we are called to live by a different set of rules. We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We are called to respect the dignity of EVERY. HUMAN. BEING.

Maybe this is why Jesus was silent before Pilate – because he had nothing to say that the world would understand. And the words he did speak, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” were words spoken from a different playbook.

Love, however, is hard. Hate is easy. When Jesus spoke of the narrow road, I believe it was this – allowing ourselves and our lives to follow the broad and easy road of hate rather than the narrow road of love.

May God have mercy on our souls,