Monday, December 29, 2014

Interacting with My Students Drives Deeper Meditation

I've been getting back into my writing lately. It's felt really good to renew this as a spiritual discipline, and I'm making space for it again in my life. At this exact moment, that's pretty easy, since I'm in the Winter Break from teaching.

But at any rate, I wrote a poem just recently that's all about the way that I interact with my students... see, teaching is another spiritual discipline for me. There are days where I really, really resent some of my students. Which is, of course, offset by the days where I feel exuberant about the whole school thing. But the point is that the whole thing is a challenge, and recognizing it in terms of my spirituality allows me to navigate the school environment in a more virtuous way, I think.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

TREC Has Worked Its Butt Off... And Yet There Is Something Wanting

This post is one of mine that is rooted quite solidly in my severe case of Episcopal-itis. It is a congenital affliction that I have never been able to shake off. So if you are one of those who are not afflicted by Episcopal-itis, feel free to catch up with me on my next blog post. However, if you, too are a fellow sufferer, you have my condolences and I urge you to read on.

Image borrowed from Art of Manliness

All sarcasm aside, there is a topic that many of us in The Episcopal Church have been contending with for quite a while now: the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Merry Christmas!" or, A Reflection on Meaning in Five Hashtags

I'm so glad that I have the time and energy to be writing on Christmas Day! I woke up this morning at my in-laws home in central Minnesota, after going to church and opening presents last night. At the end of a very tumultuous Advent, I am incredibly thankful for this Christmas Day... and to make up for my lack of focus during the Advent season, I am hoping that I might be able to make the most of the 12 day Christmas festival!

Anyway, my reason for writing today has more to do with the fact that I woke up and hit the Twittersphere to see what's out there. And I've found a few pretty awesome movements that I would like to share with you, my dear reader. There are also a couple of things that I found which I thought were quite curious. But as I'm looking over everything, I realize that it's always useful to ask that question: "What does this Christmas thing mean?"

1. #AdventWord
The first is from the Society of St. John the Evangelist (@SSJEWord)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

At the Time of My Grandmother's Passing, or, the Kingdom of God Comes Near

My grandmother and I visiting my grandfather's
gravesite on Memorial Day 2014
My grandmother, Patricia Mary Monson, passed away last week on Thursday, December 11. She was buried on Wednesday the 17th. For me, it's an odd sensation because I had lived in her house for almost ten years and after that she was simply a constant presence throughout my life. I've noticed in retrospect that I've just kind of had this child-like sense that she would always be there, like some kind of indomitable force that would keep organizing parties and feed anyone who might walk in the door.

I've been really frustrated because, even though my family knew that Grandma was fading, it's still really hard when someone so special dies. The fact that we're so close to Christmas doesn't help that, either. For my part, I've been trying to reconcile this season of Advent (waiting for the coming of the Savior) with the sense of mourning and loss from my grandmother.

Now, I need to state that this blog post is not meant to be an obituary or a eulogy or anything else. It is just something that I think I need to do. After all, some of you, dear readers, will know that this post is me breaking radio silence in the blogosphere. I am doing this just because I need an opportunity to write out my thoughts and feelings at the passing of my grandmother. And here, at the time of her passing, there are two sets of stories that I want to share.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Time and Season for Every Matter

In large part, lately, my time has been split between my diaconal formation program and my responsibilities at the school where I work. There's not been much time for anything else (which you can see evidenced by the noticeable lack of posts in the past few weeks). This has been something that I have struggled to accept because there are so many thing that I want to be doing... but I just can't because I don't have the time and wherewithal to accomplish it all.

Through recent conversations, what has been impressed on me is that I need to reframe the obligations in my life. Frankly, I can't do it all even though I really do feel very obliged to keep up all the responsibilities that I have given myself. I guess the first person I need to forgive is myself, right? So in trying to reframe everything, I don't know whether the simple semantic shift from obligations to opportunities is enough... but on the other hand, I think there may be value in reframing them as disciplines, too.

Reason is that disciplines are things that I can freely take up and carry for a season. And when the season is over, I may set them down to pick up something else.

Gotta love organizations like who
provide stuff like this for free!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dealing with Something New, or, The School for Formation Is Wrinkling My Brain

This past week, I finished with my first course in the School for Formation! I'm already starting the next course. Like, I'm already a week into the next one because I didn't notice on the calendar that they overlapped. That was jarring. But nonetheless, I buckled down and I wrote the papers and submitted them in order to meet requirements. But I also had something like a coming-to-Jesus moment, too.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why the Episcopal Church? Because We Become Who We Are

This post is my submission to the last of three-part prompt from the Acts 8 Moment BLOGFORCE Challenge. The last prompt is this: "Why the Episcopal Church?"

Truth be told, I have struggled to answer this question since it was announced. Oddly enough, answering "Why the Church?" and "Why Anglicanism" were both pretty easy for me... in contrast, this one has left me speechless because I'm having a hard time naming anything distinct that I have not already posted in either of my other two responses.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Things, They Are a-Changing at Church, or, Moving from Problems to Possibilities

I don't think that I've mentioned this on my blog before, but this month marks the beginning of my formation to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church!

What that means is that my time in discernment is over (so all those posts I made about grappling with the process and feeling impatient don't need to be continued) and now I have a two-year track ahead of me in the School for Formation that is organized by the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.

The Episcopal Church in Minnesota's Academy for Discipleship and Mission

I know that the School for Formation will be taking up a lot of my time, but I do not want that to keep me from posting here on my blog. But that, of course, poses a problem when I usually sink a decent chunk of time into my blog. I can't continue to do that if I want to also have the time to write lesson plans for my job as well as be successful in my learning and formation.

So the conclusion that I've come to is that you, dear readers, will benefit from some of the work and reflection that I will be doing in formation.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Y.A.P. Has Its First Episode!

Hello all,

In lieu of my normal blog this weekend, I am sharing with you the first episode of a series in which my good friend, Craig Lemming, and I will be collecting and publishing the stories of young adults and young professionals who are active in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.

This is our pilot episode, so Craig and I, as co-hosts, thought it would be good to share a bit about ourselves. So in future episodes, we will dig in and begin to feature the stories of our peers. And (what I think is the best part) since this is a video podcast, we have the ability to have our friends tell you their stories as they want to tell them. I'm very excited.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Anglicanism? or, BLOGFORCE Challenge Part Deux

Before I even think about launching into an explanation of why I have chosen to be a member of the Anglican Church, I have to emphasize just that; that it is a personal choice. My being a member of the Anglican Communion is not  an assertion that every person should be Anglican. Different people need different structures from their belief and sometimes those needs change during a lifetime. But as for me, my choice to be Anglican has two seemingly opposing sides: 1) it is the tradition that I was raised in, but also 2) it has been my choice to remain a part of the tradition.

And to further convolute my introduction, I also want to clearly say that I did not choose Anglicanism because of this guy:

Henry VIII

Nor even because of this guy (though I do have to throw some credit and props his way):

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

The biggest reason why I've stuck with Anglicanism is because of this chick:

Elizabeth I

Friday, September 5, 2014

"We need more young people in the Church"

I hate hearing that. But nonetheless, I hear it more often than I would like. And it's worth noting that it's not always those words which are used. Sometimes it's an off-handed statement and the intentions behind it are totally benign. But when I hear "I'm so glad that you're here. Because, you know, we older folks won't live forever and we'll need someone to carry on this important ministry when we're gone," all I feel is shame and guilt if I'm not every bit invested in the ministry as they are.

The disclaimer here is that this issue is definitely the loose thread that, if pulled, will unravel the entire sweater. And underneath the sweater is a really pissed off young man who just lost his favorite sweater. So if you're taken aback, dear reader, or if you notice that this post is relatively disjointed among my glaringly disjointed posts, please understand that it's because these are interrelated issues that I'm in the midst of working through.

"You have been warned!"

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Letter to My Readers, or, Breaking the Fourth Wall (Again)

Hello to all my dear readers,

This week, I am not writing the same kind of narrative or spastic lists that I know many of you have grown to know and love. I'm sorry. What I wish to do this week is take a step back and share with you all the ways that you can connect with me and be a part of creating a larger conversation on the Interwebz. Because, truth be told, I don't just publish this blog because I need an outlet for all the ideas bouncing around in my head (although that is one of the reasons I publish this blog). I also write and publish what I do because I want to spark conversations online.

So what that means is that if you find something stirring in what I've written here on the blog, please leave a comment and say so. I'm sure there's at least one other person, if it's not me, who would love to say how it resonated with them, too.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why the Church?

I've been doing a lot of serious writing lately, trying to take a stand and say what I have to say about the most concerning matters of current events. And so I told myself that I was going to write on something a little lighter this week. But my mother, my father, and my wife have all told me that I have selective hearing. Apparently I even have trouble hearing myself.

However, I think what I'm doing this week is okay because, even though my topic is "Why the Church?" it comes from the Acts 8 Moment BLOGFORCE Challenge. Which means it's not just me trying to throw rocks at current events by means of my blog. No, in fact, this topic is a challenge given to everyone who follows the Acts 8 Moment. Which means that this post of mine is a part of a larger discussion taking place in cyberspace. As proof of said discussion, the icon below should route you to a collection of all the participating posts. And since it gets you into a select part of cyberspace, it means that I'm giving you my credentials.

I feel so cool... I have credentials...

Monday, August 18, 2014

#DONTSHOOT and Other Strategies to Stand with Ferguson

The previous post I made to my blog had everything to do with grappling with the Darkness inside of each of us. But now I'm grappling with what to do about the Darkness in the world around us. Sometimes it feels like we're being hemmed in on all sides and, like I said before, sometimes I'm sure that it's going to overwhelm us. I've certainly been worrying about overwhelming Darkness over the past week.

To be less abstract, Michael Brown was gunned down by a police office in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. As I understand the story, Mike was walking home when he was shot dead, even though he was unarmed, his hands were up and he was trying to tell the office as much. There are plenty of voices on all sides of this issue, but the way I perceive it, Mike's only crime was the color of his skin.

So what are we going to do about that? What am I, as a person of faith, supposed to do when I know that this injustice is going on? When I know of so many injustices throughout my society and in other societies across the world? As I said, sometimes it seems as if the Darkness is threatening to swallow everything up... but I know that I can take a stand.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Little Light of Mine...

This past Monday, August 11 we saw the passing of a great man. Robin Williams took his own life and in the week since, there have been many voices memorializing him, paying him homage while others have defamed him, calling him a coward for the way he died. And at the risk of putting myself out there and making someone angry (because I never do that), I am going to add my voice to the mix.

Yesterday, I published a review blog post about the movie Maleficent that my wife and I went to see last week. In that post, I wrote about how each of us carry in us the potential to be our own hero and our own villain. We each have Light and Dark contending in each of us and, in my observation, rarely are those forces equal.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook to a similar effect, saying that depression is a disease, that someone who contends with depression is sick. Sometimes the depression is a terminal illness. And that means that just simply preaching the virtues of positive thinking is not enough for those who suffer. I completely agree.

To move from the clinical to the metaphorical (because I move more easily in the metaphor), I want to impress upon everyone once again that rarely are the forces of Light and Dark equal in any one person. To those whose Light is able to eradicate the Darkness, I am genuinely envious. Because when your Light is able to do anything but eradicate it, the daily struggle can begin to wear you down. Lord knows my Darkness is always there and I must keep vigilant in order to keep it at bay.

Which is why Robin Williams' death rattles my confidence so much. Robin's life and work was a treasure for me in mine. I enjoyed his voice in Aladdin growing up, Hook was one of my favorite movies to watch with my brother. When I got into college, I discovered What Dreams May Come, which had everything to do with suicide and what it can do and what we're able to do when confronted with it but the movie seemed to me to maintain hope. Robin Williams' joy and energy has been infectious in my life. His joy and energy has been something I am happy to incubate. Which is why his death scares me so much. What am I supposed to do if the Darkness can overwhelm someone like Robin Williams?

While I guess my confidence is rattled, I have to believe that maintaining Hope is what we do. I'm not talking about the power of positive thinking (while I do think that helps), but we can nurture right relationships and stick together, having compassion for one another and maintaining right relationships. Helping each other to get what we need to keep the Darkness at bay and in order to live in the Light. Because I believe the Light comes from God and in maintaining the right relationships, God breaks into our lives and we join in the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Grant peace to your servant Robin, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Maleficent Changed My Heart

My wife and I went to see Disney's new take on the Sleeping Beauty story last week. Which means that what I'm about to write is really current because, you know, it was only about two months after the movie came out. And what I found, aside from a movie that photoshopped Angelina Jolie's already imposing cheekbones to razor sharpness, was not what I had been expecting. I had expected a movie that used Jolie in a role more like Beowulf or Tomb Raider, only PG. I guessed, based on the trailers, that I should expect a story about a sexy witch in a movie that allowed the audience to revel in such a sinister character.

I was wrong. The movie was incredible. And what's more, I really saw themes of grace, forgiveness and redemption running through it.

From hereon, there be SPOILERS!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

5 Reasons Why I Think the Revised Common Lectionary Is So Cool

For those of you who regard the term "Revised Common Lectionary" as an insider term, let me please  open it up so there aren't insiders and outsiders on the topic.

I take for granted that you know the definitions of "revised" and "common," and that the meaning becomes suddenly murky when those two familiar terms are thrown together with "lectionary." A "lectionary" is a list of readings intended for some kind of worship ( and Merriam-Webster phrase this in different ways). From the dictionary definitions, it also looks like printing these readings in a single book-binding is optional... I did not know that part previously. Throw those three words together and you have a list of Bible readings that is shared (in its entirety or in part) in the U.S. and Canada by the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, and some Methodists. It has also been widely adopted in Great Britain and Australia (I took that info from Wikipedia, so please let me know if it's wrong but please get mad at them).

Okay, so what is it about the Revised Common Lectionary that I actually like? I'm glad you asked.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Starting a New Fire after #Kindling14

First thing in this post, let me admit that attending any given conference is still an enigma for me. What I mean by that is that I really enjoy conferences; there is usually a really good energy and dynamism when they're well-planned. But meanwhile, a conference is not my learning style. I do much better when I'm allowed to take hand-written notes on a topic and then allowed to take a day or two to digest and ruminate on the information before I take notes on a new topic (hmm... sounds an awful lot like my college schedule). At your typical conference, I have have had anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to digest things before going onto the next workshop. And even then, the workshops and presentations may not be conducive to note-taking. So I have not been able to figure out what to do with myself at conferences, even though I think I have attended a fair number of them.

That being said, I attended this year's Episcopal conference on Young Adult and Campus Ministry. It happened at the University of Minnesota, out here in my neck of the woods. It was also dubbed Kindling '14 (because I assume we will be using the same title next year).

This is what was printed on all our itinerary and press releases

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why I think Pope Francis is a Pretty Groovy Guy

Well, my first inclination is just to be like, "Because he is!" and throw down the mic. But I know that wouldn't really have the effect I'm going for.

In all honesty, though, I've been following what the pope has been doing since he was elected for one, because Benedict's abdication was so atypical, but also for two, because Fr. Jorge Bergoglio started off his papacy with things that seemed like sheer lunacy. Of course, now those lunatic things have become somewhat normal for him as a public figure, but they persist in being so simple and revolutionary for the Roman Catholic Church as well as Christianity at large.  So I guess I need to jump on the bandwagon with my Francis crush. Or at least I'll admit that I'm in good company writing about him (seriously, this is the most recent thing I've seen about him on the Religion News Service... and there is plenty more where that came from).

Borrowed from Devoutly Catholic

So what are these lunatic things that make me so enchanted with this groovy religious leader for whom I am not obligated in any way, shape, or form to give obeisance? Oh, let me count the ways:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Do We Do This Church Thing on Sundays?

So I've been looking over the past couple of posts that I've made to my blog and I'm observing that I've had a string of really heavy topics for the past few weeks. And while I think it's important to do that, I also think it's important every so often to look for more lighthearted fare. So let's talk about the Christian day of worship!

As a matter of fact, I have been having conversations lately that involve the question "why do so many Christians find it necessary to worship on Sunday morning?" These conversations have not been particularly weighty, but I've enjoyed them and they've been on my mind, thus I'm writing about the topic. Let's begin.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What's a Deacon? or, This Is a Question that Requires Participation

What would I do without Episcopal Church Memes?

At one point in time, I had written in my "about me" section (which you can always find in the menu bar at the top of my blog or right now at this link), that deacons were the "designated liturgical Other." This is an uncomfortable statement to make, because the implications are paradoxical. I was challenged on this statement at one point in time because describing the diaconate like that isn't very kind. Additionally, it's most definitely not the ideal reputation that we, as deacons (or in my case, candidates in formation to be deacons), are striving to make for ourselves. Nonetheless, I make the statement as an observation of the way that things are in my context. That means that if anyone wants to challenge me on any point that I make in this post, I will welcome it so that I can clarify the observations I've made in my part of the world and so that I can listen to what you see in yours.

All that being said, let's first examine how things work prescriptively before I describe what I observe.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In the Words of Popeye: "I Yam What I Yam," or, Maybe That Was YHWH...

So I'm going to do something slightly odd here; I started writing this post and then changed my mind... but I want both beginnings. So I'm going to give you both and you decide which you want to read... you won't hurt my feelings, as long as you read at least one.

But before you begin, please be aware that this post, regardless or the beginning that you read, is another effort on my part to articulate what I mean when I say that "I am what I am."

Original Beginning
On Thursday, June 26, a good friend of mine, Vant Washington, was ordained to the diaconate. I've mentioned Vant on my blog before, in regard to his preaching. Along with him were a few other candidates who I have become acquainted with through various events that happen in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. All told, including my friend, there were 14 deacons ordained that evening, as well as two priests.

Vant is the one in the corner of the picture with black hair...
you can only see the top half of his head and he has his eyes closed...
a very flattering picture that I borrowed from Bp. Prior's blog

It was a wonderful celebration, my dry explanation notwithstanding. I heard afterwards that the 16 candidates who came into the worship space that evening had the entire range of emotions from holy-crap-this-is-happening-I'm-not-ready, to this-is-what-I've-been-working-toward, to the simple I'm-exhausted. What's more is that the entire place was packed. I know that in the picture I provided above, there is nobody who is not vested, but just imagine at least ten times the number of people in the picture; family, friends, faith community members, all gathered to support and lift up these individuals for ordained ministry. It was moving. And it was really hot with that many people stuffed into what seemed like a cavernous worship space.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I'm Coming Out, or, Everybody Needs Somebody

Everybody has something to come out of the closet with. No matter what it is, it's always hard to come out and publicly declare something that you know is taboo. I mean, there are times that you can declare something to a group that you're a part of, when you know that they'll affirm you and support you. But when there is something you need to admit, knowing full well that it may put you out of somebody's good graces (to put it mildly), that is the closet out of which you need to come.

So here I am publicly declaring that I am an Advocate.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dying and Rising to New Life in Star Wars

I know that many of your are disappointed in me right now... I did not post anything last week that reflected on the lectionary readings... but frankly, if you want a really awesome commentary, I refer you to the Rev. Janet MacNally's sermon for June 22. I do this 1) because she's my mentor, and 2) the lectionary seemed really inaccessible, but Janet just knocked it out of the park.

Meanwhile, last week I went to a Star Wars marathon that was also hosted at my church (my geek went into overdrive). We watched them in the Machete order, which begins with Episodes IV and V, then goes back to Episodes II and III (please note that it ignores the episode which shall not be named), and finally ends with Episode VI. It was glorious. By the time we finished Episode VI: the Return of the Jedi, I was in awe of the story arc that is Star Wars.

Monday, June 16, 2014

And Another Thing (about Trinity Sunday)

So something was mentioned in the sermon yesterday that is just too good to pass up.

The rector at my church was preaching. I got excited because he used visual aids that I also used in my last blog post (they were the icon and the stained glass learning tool). But that's not the point.

He pointed out that when it says in the gospel reading, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations," it doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means. It's almost like a process of going out, living life in the example of Christ, encouraging others to do the same, and finally having a death in the example of Christ, too.

I looked more into this, and I found out that this emphasis is in the grammar. There is just as much emphasis, grammatically, in verse 19 on the 'go' as there is on the 'make disciples.' That means that neither of those is more important than they other.

And the whole point of this supplemental blog to what I wrote on Saturday is to say that the sermon made me think of this video (included below). I feel like I've been sharing it a lot lately, but that's okay, because I think it's worth sharing that much. But for the record, I didn't find the video. My bishop did. And he shared it because he would like the Church to be more like this. What do you think?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's the Great Pictological Blog Post, Charlie Brown!

Ready? Okay, here we go...

The First Sunday after Whitsunday

Another awesome meme gleaned with thanks to Episcopal Church Memes

I've heard it said before that Trinity Sunday (which is, this year, on June 15) is a good day for a rector to hand of the preaching to the intern, or to the deacon. Basically, the rector can let someone else confuse the hell out of the congregation. Now I know that we have Thomas Becket to thank for this preaching conundrum. And for some strange reason, I'm taking it upon myself to give this a shot.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Can You Feel the Burn? Or, the Feast of Pentecost

This past Sunday was the celebration of Pentecost (which means that after this post, I will be caught up, liturgically speaking...kinda).Pentecost is also referred to as "the birthday of the Church," which takes some explanation...

In Christianity, the Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter. The prefix "pente" is the Greek word for fifty and the suffix "coste" means fire or burning. Therefore the Pentecost the celebration of the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of flame fifty days after Easter. I guess that wasn't that much explanation...

The new piece that I learned this year (thanks to the Pulpit Fiction guys) is that the Pentecost was not originally a Christian thing. The celebration of Easter coincides with or parallels the Jewish feast of Passover, and 50 days after that is the festival of Shavuot, which any Hellenistic Jew would call Pentecost. This Jewish festival commemorates when God gave the Torah to them at Mount Sinai, all of which happened after the Passover in Egypt, the result of which being the Hebrew release from slavery by Pharaoh.

What the heck does this mean for the story of Pentecost? It means that when the lectionary reading starts with "When the day of Pentecost had arrived..." it doesn't mean that God had ordained this day for the followers of Christ, but that the Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding area would be coming into the city to celebrate what God had given them. The disciples of Christ were totally bogarting the celebration with their wacky tongues of flame and speech in other languages! But Christianity has a long, time-honored tradition of taking other people's celebrations and not giving them back, so whatever...

Any rate, since the story tells that the Holy Spirit filled Christ's disciples, Pentecost is ofter referred to as the birthday of the church. And here is a meme to that effect:

I couldn't have memes in this blog
if it weren't thanks to Episcopal Church Memes!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Like Dorothy Chasing after the Wizard's Balloon, or, Ascension Sunday

I am, seemingly, behind the ball this week. Last weekend I wrote a brief post that served as part two of the post I had written the weekend before that. I felt that it was called for, so I went for it. However, I still want to write about the readings for Ascension Sunday (also last Sunday). I feel that, also, is called for. So I'm going for it, even though it is now the day before Pentecost... I blame my present state of needing to catch up on the end of the school year, which just happening this past week. But since it is the end of the school year and I've been a little punchy, here is a snapshot of what I was thinking about with the title of this post:

Is likening Ascension Sunday to The Wizard of Oz slightly heretical?
I don't think so...

And since I'm doing something abnormal with my the timing of my post, here is something I do normally; provide a humorous meme related to the topic:

Included thanks to Episcopal Church Memes

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Part 2 of "The Atheists who are Better at Christianity..."

I've been thinking over what I wrote last week, regarding what I'm looking for and the people that I see. I'm realizing that there very well could be clarification.

There is a goal that I am working toward and I must admit that it has been informed by my Christian upbringing. It is an ideal that was set forth by Christ at the Last Supper. He said simply "Love each other." It is a simple thing that proves to be very difficult to live into, which is why I call it an ideal, rather than a mandate.

In my last post, I said that "I am trying to find the people who are willing to be honest. I am trying to find the people who will whole heartedly show who they are..." What I believe is that honest people, whole hearted people, will naturally make efforts to enter into relationship with others. And once they've entered into relationship with others, the whole hearted ones will offer support and compassion and generally demonstrate a concern for the well being of the person with whom they are now related. In this, I see the ideal that Christ gave.

So I say that I am looking for people who are willing to be honest and whole hearted. I think that gathering these people together can become a force for good change; that the world could become a more humane place and less violent. However, here is where I must add the clarification that I don't think I stated explicitly in my last post: I don't care what has informed someone's drive to enter into loving relationship with others in the world. 

I admit that my sense of this drive has been informed by the stories of Christ, handed down through my religious tradition. But as whole hearted and honest people gather together, I will not refuse to work with another whole hearted person just because their sense of this was informed by secular humanist principals, or by Buddhist tradition, or formed in reaction to atrocities that the person has seen. I will not refuse to work with someone just because their path leading up to this point is different than mine. If I am to work with someone, all I demand is that this person has a concern for others and that they take action as a result of that concern.

So what makes me sad or angry is when I encounter people who set things up to the exclusion of others. It's like saying "We're going to do this good thing, but you can't help us do good because you haven't been a part of our club, so therefor you're bad and you can't do good." That's a really small minded, depressing thing to hear. I think that good is an objective value of something, so the objective Goodness of something is there, no matter the reasons why someone is doing it.

This is intended to be a short blog (which I don't know whether I've accomplished) because I only sought to clarify what I wrote last week (also not sure whether I've accomplished that). My point is that, as I seek to live in the light of the Risen Christ, I feel that that drives me to seek and serve others. And as I do that, I feel that it is important to join with others who are also seeking to serve, regardless of whether or not they are Christians. Goodness is good, regardless of who is doing it. And I think the world just needs more Goodness.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Atheists who are Better at Christianity than Christians

So I found this video a while back. It's from a series called Have a Little Faith and it's syndicated by a YouTube channel I really like called SoulPancake. The host, Zach Anner, is a really enthusiastic guy and I think he has zero qualms about asking wild questions of individuals who represent various belief systems. The video itself is from his visit to the Sunday Assembly, which is an Atheist community in Los Angeles.

From what I saw in the video, I concluded that this particular group of Atheists are interested in fostering the well-being of its members, fostering a sense of community (by eating together and hosting other activities) and they are also particularly interested in civic engagement. These areas of interest reminded me of something I wrote previously about living as Easter people. It seems like this group of Atheists are quite adept at living as Easter people, even though they don't believe in what Easter is. But regardless, it seems that the Atheists in this Sunday Assembly are more loving and compassionate than most Christians, who are supposed to be identified by their love and compassion.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Living Life While Serving Around the Table

How do we, as Easter people, live in the light of the Risen Christ? I've been asking myself this question for four weeks now. I don't think I've got any real concrete answers. I think I've got lots of ideas. Which is great; I'm glad that, through thinking about this, I've been able to discover a few things for myself. Though I do wish that others would leave comments to help me explore the topic...

This week, I'm finding that a return to the Revised Common Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter sheds some light on the issue. Well... I shouldn't say the whole lectionary is helpful. The gospel this week is from John, from before Jesus' crucifixion, which means that it's kind of odd to have as an Eastertide reading. But hey, last week was a reading from even earlier in John, depicting the parable of the Good Shepherd. So whatever.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Grocery Store Question

I'm still entertaining this question about how we, as Easter People, should live in the light of the Risen Christ. It's a perfect time of year, since we're in the season of Easter. And I'm excited to keep looking into this as we approach the celebration of Pentecost and the season that follows that. I'm also realizing that there was a lot of fodder for my question that I came across during the Three Holy Days. Some of it I saved and documented (some of it I didn't, unfortunately) but the following blog is based on one of those pieces.

So this tweet from Jim Naughton (and my response) went out on Good Friday:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Do Penguins Go To Church?

Recently in my blog posts, I said that I wanted to explore the ways that we can live in the light of the Risen Christ during this Easter season (and beyond, for the record). As a matter of tradition, baptisms are most appropriate during Eastertide (or at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday, if it works out that way), as are confirmations. These are both sacramental traditions that give an outward and visible sign to the inward and spiritual grace that we Christians can live into as Easter people.

So, yesterday was the day for confirmation in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota's East Metro Mission Area and also day one for the Mission Area Gathering. I'm not going to explain that whole phrase, just look here. The point is that individual Episcopal faith communities around the East Metro brought people to be confirmed, received and reaffirmed in the Episcopal Church and I was asked to serve at the altar. That meant that I got to sit up in the front of the sanctuary, facing everyone assembled. Which meant I could see who was paying attention, who was "listening with their eyes closed," and which kids really wanted to be doing something else on a Saturday.

For those of you wondering about the purpose of this ritual, it is essentially the renewal and confirmation of baptismal vows. Since we have a tradition of infant baptism in the Episcopal Church, the baptismal vows are (most often) made on our behalf by parents and godparents. If the individual was an infant when the vows were made, it is then up to each individual to make those vows on their own later in life. Well... it's supposed to be up to the individual. Many teenagers do it at the time that their parents or youth director think is best. And by "think is best" I mean that many programs think the end of 9th or 10th grade is a great time for teenagers to analyze, accept and confirm their baptismal vows. BUT this is not a post commenting on this facet of the tradition and I digress...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

We're Living in Christ's Life After Death, Right?

This has little to nothing doing with what I'm about to write... it's awfully celebratory, though, yes?

ALLELUIA! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! ALLELUIA!

It's good to be able to use our Alleluias again. We dusted them off last week and now we're nearly into the second week of Easter. I think this season is pretty cool, since we get to celebrate this one for 50 days, whereas Lent was 40. Lent was a season of fasting and prayer, where this is a season of feasting and rejoicing. We're just making up for lost party time, right?

But the question that I asked in my Easter Sunday post was 'How do we live in the light of the Risen Christ?' It seems like a vague and churchy thing to ask, which is intentional. I want to entertain this question for a while, so being vague helps. The first thing I have to say about it, though, is really anti-climactic. Because nothing outside of church has changed.

See, in church, we may be celebrating for 50 days, but Easter in the secular world has kinda gone the way of Christmas. People know it's coming, they know it's coming and then it arrives! And then it goes away after everyone finds their Easter baskets and pigs out on the chocolate. Nevermind that, in the case of Christmas, there is a 12 day feast, ending when the Magi arrive in Bethlehem; never mind that, in the case of Easter, there is a 50 day celebration, ending when the Apostles are given the gift of speaking in tongues by the Holy Spirit. Nevermind all of that. The world outside the Christian Church doesn't care about our celebration. For that matter, I don't know how many people inside the Christian Church care about our season of celebration. Like I said, anti-climactic.

For my part, I was working so hard to make it to Easter that it was hardly time to go to bed on Easter Sunday when I started going under the weather. I felt like crap and all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep. I didn't let myself (which probably prolonged my time of sickness) but I did what I did and now I look back on the first week of Easter and my life and all I see is a trail of tissues, water bottles and vitamin C boosters. Epic anti-climax.

So in spite of these things, I go back to my original question: How do we live in the light of the Risen Christ?

Truth be told, I don't have an answer to this and I think it would be too presumptuous of me to offer one. I don't even think there is one single answer. If any of you reading were hoping that I would give you your silver bullet here, I think you think too much of me.

That being said, here are a couple of reflections on the topic that are bouncing around in my head:

  • My mother, the priest, is fond of saying that we, as Christians, are Easter people. I know others who say this as well and I tend to agree with them. Saying that we are Easter people means that we live in the truth of Christ's resurrection, his victory over death; it means that death is not the end of the story anymore and that love wins. These are things that I believe in.
  • But what does belief in the Risen Christ get me? I mean, I know that belief in Christ gets me salvation, but it doesn't feel right just to stop there. It's like telling someone "I'm saved. What about you?" Which in my mind is as good as saying "I found my Jesus doll behind the sofa. Have you even been looking for yours?"
  • There's a hymn that I like very much and the refrain says "They will know we are Christians by our love/ by our love/ yes, they will know we are Christians by our love." If this is the metric that is supposed to be used to identify us as Christian, how many of us would even register on the scale? If showing love and compassion for others identifies us as being Christian, I think that there are many others who are better Christians that most Christians are (and I plan to write another whole post on this topic in the future).

Truth be told, asking how to live in the light of the Risen Christ is a question that I do not expect to resolve on my own. I know that trying to understand what Christ did in the nighttime before Easter is what all of Christianity has been trying to figure out since it happened. I also know that trying to live in the light of the Risen Christ is something that I will be able to do better in community, so I will be and have been looking for insight on this from those around me (which is kinda the point of having a church in the first place, right?)

Like I said, I don't want anyone to think that I have a silver bullet. I don't think I even want a silver bullet for this question. I have a lot of reflections and I'm honest when I say that I want to explore this in community. You, dear reader, are a part of my online community. I want to know about your reflections if you'll share them in the comments below.

Alleluia. The Lord is risen...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Out of Lent and into Easter!

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and Saturday night was the Great Vigil of Easter. My wife and I opted to go to the Vigil, reason being that there's a lot more liturgical stuff that happens at the Vigil.

In the Episcopal Church, if you take a look at what the Book of Common Prayer prescribes, there are four parts to the liturgy. One of them is Baptism, which can get really long, depending on how many people you're baptizing. Point is that my faith community only did three of the four parts and we only renewed our Baptismal Covenant; we didn't have any new baptisms. Nonetheless, it was still a long liturgy.

The second of the four parts is the Service of Lessons. There is a huge list of lessons that faith communities can choose from (and I know some congregations that do all of them). Saturday night, my wife and I were helping the youth group to enact the Exodus story; Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and then the Children got mad at him because they got stuck at the Red Sea and Pharaoh and his army had decided to come and get them to bring them back into slavery in Egypt. It was quite a process to take that text and enact it in such a way that it was both moving and engaging, but neither hokey nor campy. It was tough.

In the end, we made it through; the Vigil happened. We, the youth group, did not bring anything to a standstill (go us!) but as the Vigil went on, I noticed something (and this is the point of my blog today): this Easter Eve mass is both the culmination of Lent and the beginning of season when all is made new. Sunday morning after the Vigil, Christ has risen and there is an overall feeling of resolution. Friday (and even Saturday during the daylight hours) is still firmly entrenched in the Lenten penitence mode. But the Vigil is the point at which these two seasons collide and we churchgoers are thrown in the midst of it all. This may seem obvious but I say it because, last night, I could feel that statement.

Lent has been long and ponderous this year. Yes, I know, Lent is always the same length, but it felt much longer this year. And I could feel that length stretching into the Service of Lessons at the beginning of the Vigil last night. The Service of Lessons happens in a half-dark church with an aura of candlelight. As a church, we tell ourselves these stories about our tradition and heritage. We hear them echoing from somewhere in this space, somewhere in the half-light. It has been a long time that we've been in the desert these 40 days. Moreover, things feel dramatically more barren, now that the man we thought was our Saviour is dead. But I think everyone can feel that something new is about to break out.

Even though my faith community did not have any baptisms last night, it is good to remember that, after we've told ourselves these stories from Genesis and Exodus and after we've heard the words from some of the prophets, those we have nurtured in their study and prayer for the past 40 days stand up, curse the darkness and then are immersed in the water; they die with Christ and are ready to rise to new life on the eve of this season when all is made new. All the rest of us gathered also remember that we have cursed the darkness; we repeat the vows we've taken that bind us to this life, directed by Christ.

Once we've done this; once we've renounced all these things, the new thing breaks out! We find the empty tomb and nothing is the same!

But in my experience of this last night, as we began our Easter celebration, I could feel that everyone was still reeling from this desert time in Lent.

We unleashed our Alleluias! They (literally) floated up to the ceiling (attached to balloons). We proclaimed that He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! But this word has been shut away for so long that it felt awkward on our lips.

For my part, I wanted to sing at the top of my lungs, but I was so accustomed to those minor key songs and chants that the new keys felt awkward.

And really, I think all of this was okay. The Lord is risen, but who in the world expected a dead man to rise? Nobody really knows what to do with an empty tomb. An empty tomb is a frightening thing. In the Gospel reading, it says twice that we should not be afraid (which is, of course, easier said than done) but even if we disregard our fear, we still find ourselves coping with this strange and wonderful mystery; Jesus the Nazarene was killed, brutally, by the Romans and now that same man is up walking around and talking with his old friends.

I have a couple take-aways. The first I shamelessly take from my priest. He pointed out the question that is asked of the women who go to Jesus' tomb, "What are you looking for?" In Matthew's version, the angel says, "I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here." But no matter how you respond to the women, all you need to do is put yourself in their shoes. When you come up onto the tomb on Easter morning, the question that is still posed to you is "What are you looking for?" For all of Lent, we could have answered "I am looking in the desert for the presence of God." But now, if we look anyplace that we expect Christ to be, we will not find him. The truth is that the Lord has risen! Sometime during the night, he got up and now he is out there in the world.

Which kinda takes me to the second take-away: the uncertainty of the whole thing. Those reading closely will recognize that we've seen all this before, whether it's Lazarus rising from the dead or talking to the women first or just being unexpected... but I don't think any of those stories include the "what comes next?" question. As a disciple of Christ, we can celebrate that our savior is not dead, but nonetheless, we are still left with the aching uncertainty. We are still left asking "what are we to do next?"

In all honesty, I do think there is a lot of joy in the potential answers to that question as well as all the uncertainty in them. And I don't think there are any simple ways to answer what we are to do next. But for my part, I'm going to spend some time meditating on that and posting some blogs in an attempt to explore this question: "How are we to live in the light of the Risen Christ?"

I hope you'll join me on this journey. I hope you'll feel comfortable commenting now or in the near future to share your own reflections on where this path is leading.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

What are we supposed to do now?

Last week, we came into the city.
We were singing and dancing.

Yesterday, our savior died.
All bets are now off,
All we thought we knew is turned upside down.

Today we sit in uneasy silence;
Hiding from those who are trying to find us,
Like a triumphant fanfare that doesn't resolve.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

God died today.

There's a movie that came out recently that has caused a lot of controversy.

Movie poster taken from Filmofilia

It's all about whether or not God exists. Which isn't really a question that I'm interested in debating anymore. And this blog isn't about that topic, anyway.

I assert that God does exist. I also assert that on this day, on Good Friday before Easter, God does in fact die on the cross. After being betrayed last night, tortured this morning and then hoisted up on a cross to die a painful, humiliating death, God in Jesus dies.

And when God dies on the cross, all bets are off... What are we supposed to do when our King and Savior, the one who was supposed to rescue us, has died?

Taken from

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

So this is the first of the Three Holy Days, or the Triduum. It is a major turn in the Holy Week story. The name "Maundy" shares the same root with "commandment" because there are a is something that Christ commands us to do in this story. We are told to love one another just as Christ has loved us. And in doing that, in telling this story, the Church has established two things.

I've often felt that the words of this story could be slightly tweaked... What if, instead of a brief statement when we're receiving the Eucharist, we were told something like this: "Child of God, take this and eat it. It is broken for you because you are broken. Let it nourish you; let it sustain you. It is Christ. Always strive to be like Christ, who was broken to heal our brokenness."

I imagine these words whispered in someone's ear. And they seem so much more intimate. Less like Da Vinci's Last Supper and more like this:

Picture of the Last Supper taken from Kirk of the Keys

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, has been important to me because it establishes two things. One is the Eucharist, which we are invited to participate in. Christ gave it to us and it is something that I think is essential to our efforts to create the Kingdom of God. Because the Eucharist is a little piece of the Kingdom and it is given freely to us. I like imagining that this is was first offered in the company of friends.

The second thing that wasn't so much established, but kind of encapsulated at the Last Supper was Jesus' servant ministry. He had been serving others in many ways during his ministry, but then we get an image like this:

Picture of Jesus washing Peter's feet taken from Artilim

Jesus washing the feet of his friends is a really controversial thing. Because in it, we see the Messiah, this great and awesome king, humble himself to be a servant (and in the picture, Peter doesn't seem too pleased about it at all). And it is exactly what we're all called to be; servants. Our Christian mission is to serve. We're called to give from ourselves to others. Just like how the Eucharist is given as well. They're two sides of the same coin. Two pictures of Jesus, but the same God.

What else do you think about on this first day of the Three Holy Days?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Palm Sunday

I've determined what I want to do for Holy Week. Rather than providing reflections, I want to share a few items that I feel are meditative. Reason being is because the reflections I write, while I love to write them, require a lot of energy and they take me a couple of days to generate. Holy Week doesn't afford much time at all for that kind of lengthy reflection; each turn in the story just keep coming on the heels of the one before. But, in the meantime, there are images that stick with me from year to year. And those are the things that I want to share.

So let's start, shall we? I know that I just shared this clip from the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar in my last blog post, but it's directly pertinent today, so I share it again:

Some thoughts I have on this one:

The guys at Pulpit Fiction pointed out this week, among other things, that the term "hosanna" means "save us." I was struck by this because I've always been fascinated with the way this song plays with that word. So now I hear the crowd singing so energetically "Save us, Jesus Christ!"and there is such a juxtaposition there, that they're happy and excited for this person who is portrayed so humanly.

And that's the other thing I'll offer: the expression on Jesus's face is so telling as the crowd sings through the verses. The start in the song with "Hey J.C., J.C.! Won't you smile at me..." and then they go to "you're alright by me" and it really does seem like these poor and oppressed have finally got a leader who pays attention to them. And then the next time they sing that line, they say "Hey J.C., J.C.! Won't you DIE for me?" and the camera stops on the actor's face. The image in that split second is one of a Jesus who knows he is going to die for all these people and he doesn't even know whether they understand what they're asking of him. I know a lot of people who don't like Jesus Christ Superstar for this exact reason; that it portrays such a human Jesus. But I like it. It emphasizes for me that Jesus was a real person, not just some deity that co-mingled with its worshippers about 2,000 years ago.

This Palm Sunday, I'll be thinking of this image as the whole congregation participates in the Passion. We'll be the ones that both praise Jesus and condemn him.

I want to ask you to think of something this week at church, too. What are your meditations on Palm Sunday? Does this video make sense with your experience? Or is your experience far and away from it? If you want to share your thoughts in the comments, I would love to read them.

Friday, April 4, 2014


The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is completely unexpected. Or at least that's how it feels to me. And I'm already getting ahead of myself...

I'm continuing my trend of posting about the Sunday lectionary before I go to church on Sunday. But this Sunday is the last in Lent (well... last before Holy Week. Well...) and I really don't know what I'm going to do during Holy Week. I have enjoyed this Lenten discipline because I share once a week... but this stays on my mind all week. Which is really kinda the point, isn't it?

In the meantime, I'm writing now on Friday. At home. When I'm supposed to be teaching. But I'm not because they called a snow day.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Can I See a Pattern If I Cross My Eyes?

It starts becoming a strange experience to read the upcoming Sunday lectionary early in the week, thus having it to reflect on throughout the week. But, of course, come the end of the week, all the free time that I thought I would have evaporates and I'm left without time to actually write down those reflections that I made.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a monk, having that daily cycle of prayer and worship. I would definitely be a Benedictine (yes, I have given this thought) because their cycle of ora et labora, reading and work, seems so profound to me. But the flip side of that life would be that it's not restful in a physical sort of way. They've got to get up at the butt-crack of dawn for prayer and then they need to start working, really only taking breaks for food and for chapel. But what I'm driving at is that they hear the daily lectionary and they have that to meditate every day. Daily scripture, not just weekly scripture. I've tried my own version of that discipline before... I don't think it's the sort of stuff that you would try to sit down and write reflections to every day. There's just too much, I think.

Anyway, here is the lectionary for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Think There's Something in the Water...

I'm giving a shot at something new in regard to my Lenten discipline: I've read the lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent and I'm going to give my reactions before Sunday. How preacher-ish of me, no?

So if you didn't already click on the link above, let me sum up the readings:

Old Testament from Exodus: The Israelites are wandering in the desert, they get discouraged and they start yelling at Moses. Moses implores God to give him something to work with, so God tells him to go strike a rock with his staff in the presence of all the elders of Israel. Water flows from the rock and they rename the place that it happens (I particularly like the Brick Testament's rendition of this story).

Psalm 95: ... I don't like summarizing psalms. Go read it.

Epistle, Paul's letter to the Romans: Paul restates that we are justified by faith. There is a lot of philosophical description of the sacrifice Jesus made for complete love of us.

The Gospel, according to John: First off, this reading is 37 verses long. It requires a lot of attention to follow. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the conversation that she and Jesus have. But after that exchange of words, the disciples come back, asking Jesus questions, and then there is an account of the Samaritan woman telling about what happened and what the Samaritans then do.

Let me now go on record admitting that this is the first Lenten season that I've really paid attention to the readings from week to week. I almost wish that I hadn't, because, thus far, they have made almost no sense. First was Jesus going out into the wilderness (which I understand having first in Lent), but then I heard a new take on what the temptations meant. Then we had the story of Nicodemus, which is difficult to relate to the lessons learned in the wilderness. Now we have the Samaritan woman. And this is to say nothing of the other Epistles, Old Testament stories or psalms.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Two Sundays, another event, and a meme walk onto my blog...

So first, a confession: I decided to take on, as my Lenten discipline, a cycle of reading the lectionary and reflecting on it. I haven't done well by that. Mea culpa. But, on the other hand, there are more experiences than just that that I would like to reflect on and share with you, O dear reader. So allow me to do so...

The Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent:
The basic story for the first Sunday in Lent involves Jesus going out into the desert. There is no direct mention in it this year, but we teach that he goes out for 40 days of fasting and prayer. And we attribute the motive for this event to the Holy Spirit. I always chuckle at this last part, only because I found this joke last year:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stepping into the Ashes, or, A Reflection Is Better Late Than Never

I have been an Episcopalian for over 25  years now and I still find Ash Wednesday to be one of the stranger experiences each year. I mean, I realize that liturgical rituals are weird when taken out of context anyway, and I know that Christian discourse sounds like gibberish to some. But at other worship ceremonies, you leave the worship edified and revitalized. When you leave on Ash Wednesday, you have ashes stuck to your forehead.

I remember when I was younger, I struggled with that situation, having ashes on my head for anyone to see. Other boys in my confirmation class would rub off the ashes as soon as we left the church. I would look at myself in every bathroom mirror and window reflection, seeing this strange, dark smudge. I knew it had to do with being marked as one of Christ's and that it was a reminder that we are created by God and we eventually return to God, but often I felt like I was bearing that mark like it was a target. I didn't know which person would take aim on my way home and start asking me questions that I had no good way to answer.

And this was in the evening, mind you. When I got into college, I had the bright idea to go each year to get my ashes in the morning, before I started my classes for the day. Truth be told, I kind of relished the countercultural piece of that; I let myself feel superior to my classmates. I knew most of them would go get theirs later that evening, since we were at St. Thomas and that was something they did, but I would stop in front of each mirror and check to make sure that my ashes were still in place. Check to make sure that everyone could see what I believed. I'm not proud of the attitude I had, but I tell it to you because it really only emphasizes that I've had strange memories from these years past on Ash Wednesday.

At any rate, my rhetorical question to you is this: what are the ashes? Are they only good for marking you as a Christian, complete with all the baggage that secular and religious society bring to bear on that term? Is it our "cross to bear" for that day? I ask these questions rhetorically, even though I have no answers to them, myself.

The scripture readings for Ash Wednesday are multi-layered (go figure) and so it's hard to say for sure that they'r helpful. On the topmost level, they have to do with penance; putting on sackcloth and ashes. But I would also contend that the focus of them is on what happens after the penance is made.

The Old Testament from Isaiah describes the way that Israel has been fasting and making themselves right by God and the psalm has us listening to the voice of someone who is grappling with repentance and trying to find a way back to the Lord. The Gospel (this year from Matthew) tells us not to be like the hypocrites, who make shows of their penance and they disfigure their faces when they fast (I really find it interesting how the scripture is so interested in fasting on this day). So what do we do in our tradition? We put ashes on our foreheads in order to show that we are starting Lent! How odd...

But, that being said (written), I think there has to be some physical sign of Lent's beginning. I think that Lent, more than any other liturgical season, calls us to change our physicality. Worship calls us to become more visceral. We're called to introspection and sacrifice. We kneel more because it's not comfortable, physically or emotionally. We admit the things we've done wrong right away in liturgy, hardly before anybody has had a chance to say anything else. We're not surrounded by the niceties we're used to, either. Gone are the gigantic frontals on the altar. Gone are the big hangings and the flowers. They're replaced by simple purple or white garments and the adornment around the sanctuary is now limited to stark illustrations of Christ's Passion; the Stations of the Cross. All of this because the season is echoing Christ's forty days in the desert, which echoes Israel's forty years of wandering.

"Austere" is the word that comes to mind. I think this season is about paring down the pageantry. I think it's about an austerity of heart, too. When I was younger, I was told to do away with something that I indulged myself with and then to call it a Lenten discipline. The austerity I treasure now comes from self reflection. I admit my faults and I humble myself at all times, not just when I approach the altar to receive Christ. And God forgives me, which in this time of absence, seems to nearly be overwhelming. I diminish myself and God tells me that I'm worth it all. That is truly humbling.

Perhaps I treasure this desert time because it allows me to prepare myself to receive the grace that is always streaming in from God. Perhaps I treasure this desert time because it ends on Easter Sunday, when everything is made new.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Strategic Planning to Orchestrate Spontaneous Organic Growth Spurts

You have heard it said: "What the Church really needs is organic growth. And young people! More young people would be great." But truly I say to you: Organic growth can't happen when the Church's  standard operating procedure is strategizing and discussing what to expect on the upcoming Meeting for Strategy and Discussion.

It's true. I don't mean to climb up on a soapbox (though I will), but I've heard nearly my entire life that I'm the next generation church-goer and that "one day, all this will be yours," which comes across in a very Mufasa-prophesying-to-Simba sort of way. Problem is, I don't want all of it to be mine.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Psalm 7: Lions and chase scenes and child/parent relations, oh my!

The initial reason why I like psalm 7 is because of the punchy language. There are lions, heists and a chase scene within the first 5 verses.

“deliver me from all who pursue me
Lest, like a lion, they tear me to pieces

If I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered him who without cause is my enemy
Then let my enemy pursue me and overtake me.”

In these first lines, I hear someone singing about their faith in God and going so far as to say that if they have done anything, anything at all that may be anathema, then may the devil take me where I stand (which is, of course, complicated from an Old Testament perspective because they didn’t believe in a personified “devil” persay… anyway…)!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I saw something trending on Twitter today...

Never thought I would do this, but I'm going to write a blog, without prewriting, probably without editing, and then post it in an effort to explain something I did on Twitter today...

So today started pretty standard; I have volunteered to shovel the sidewalks at church, so I had to get up and do that this morning before 8 am (that's thanks to the so-called polar vortex and its effects here in Minne-snow-ta). Luckily, after I was done with that my wife and I went over to have breakfast with my grandmother. That was lovely. We also drove her to get groceries, since she stopped driving a few years ago. Then we came home and I tried to start a Twitter trend with #meaningfulchurchjargon.

I have to admit that it was a reaction. After settling into my recliner after the trip with Grandma to the grocery store, I had logged onto Twitter, thinking I would find out what's going on in the world and then get on with some other work after that. I think I may have got more than I was bargaining for.

Almost immediately, I stumbled upon a trend that had been started by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. It was #meaninglesschurchjargon. People had globbed onto it and it took off. My interest was in it because I find NBW very thought provoking and challenging. But as I pursued the trend, I kept finding hurt after hurt...

I also found some telling tweets too...

I was perplexed. My blood boiled. Everything I thought was sacrosanct was laid bare for criticism... And I realized that it was just a chip in the dike and the flood waters would come running out at any time.

To be honest, I have some of my own thoughts on strange words and phrases that Christians use without thinking. Some of them, I think, are resonant. Some of them sound silly. But I tend to keep many of my opinions to myself. So when I saw these flood waters start to gush out, I responded (with as much chagrin as I could muster):
It felt foolish and mean. But it was my gut reaction that the hurt people have felt by others' words has caused them to start tearing down and criticizing everything, not for the sake of proof and deeper understanding, but because they just needed some way to lash out against the words and people who have hurt them.

My wife suggested to me that I start a different trend, if I felt so passionately about it. And I scoffed at her because I have never been so popular as to start a trend. But when I was done, I gave it a try. I started #meaningFULchurchjargon because I wanted to see the things that gave people hope. I wanted to see the things that gave people energy and made them come back again and again to a group of people who have been told they are crazy too many times to count. Why would anyone return to counter cultural teachings and strange rituals, if there was nothing else that compelled them or grabbed their imagination?

It's a slow response initially. But there are moving statements...

So. Let me ask you. What is your #meaningfulchurchjargon?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Christianity ala Youth Group, or, Our youth group is such a photo bomber

A few weeks ago, I snapped this photo at a meeting of my church's youth group. It just kind of happened that the three items ended up on the table in front of me. I asked afterward and nobody owned up to intentionally arranging the items... in fact, no one else noticed the significance until I had said something.

Anyway, this is what I saw:

Each of the items has a practical significance; Goldfish crackers have been a staple of church youth ministry since time immemorial because they never go stale and you can buy them for $20 a pallet. Any wise youth worker carries a water bottle because getting dehydrated (especially in Minnesota) is just asking to catch the latest bug that all the cool kids are sharing. And candles are great because, even when you have a kid who doesn't like the games or isn't interested by the lesson plan you've written, you know that every pyromaniacal kid will be into the closing prayer when you're passing around an open flame.

But, of course, me being me, I saw these things reflecting deeper meaning in this gathering of youth at church...

Goldfish are crackers, but that also means that they're bread products. And there is another bread product that is essential to sacramental theology: communion hosts. You wouldn't be able to make Eucharist without some kind of bread product. And it's even better that Goldfish are actually in the shape of fish! I have long valued the Christian fish in my life because of the symbolic value it has had in Church history. I think I could talk anyone's ear off on this topic, if they were to let me (which is why my wife doesn't let me anymore).

That water bottle holds something essential to human life, but you also can't mention water in church without talking about Baptism. And baptism, in a youth group context, is a really weird thing. Most kids in a youth group have been baptized because their parents wanted their kids baptized. And the kids are usually in the youth group because their parents want them there. So, often, there is that common experience, but it happened when they were so little that they really don't remember it, let alone have been able to find a deeper significance to it. But nonetheless, the waters of baptism are important because they affirm that these kids are full and equal members in the Body of Christ, along with the oldest little ladies in the faith community.

The candle is our own Christ Light for the youth group. While still acknowledging all the light metaphors in scripture and Christian tradition, I value the Christ candle most as the sign of Easter. I love hearing that Christ is the light shining in the darkness and that the darkness cannot quench it. And, moreover, may I also say that I finding the symbols of the two Great Sacraments flanking the reminder of the Easter Christ Candle was incredible? I might go so far to say that Easter, when Christ's triumph over death is celebrated, is when these two chief sacraments are even more wonderful.

Now, taking a step back, I will admit that I was a pretty big geek to suddenly make these connections when a water bottle, a candle and a box of goldfish were sitting on a table. But I also want to admit that I find such richness in reflecting on seeming coincidences. I rejoice in being able to find reminders of Christ's story is such mundane things like this.

Almighty God, who made the heavens and the earth, who filled all of creation with such wonderful things, I give you thanks and I rejoice for the small things in my life that remind me that reality is so much bigger than what I can see right in front of me. I pray this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen!