Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Knitter's Guide to the Universe
(a reflection on encouragement)

When people ask me why I knit, the answer comes easily.  I tell them about the people who encouraged me at the beginning: friends who encouraged me to branch out and try it, and then kept encouraging me to keep it up, not give up.  When people ask me why I knit, I tell them that the knitting community encourages like no other.  I tell them that if evangelists of other disciplines could learn to encourage one another like knitters, the world as we know it would soon not be as we know it.  I tell them that I mean that in a good way.

Last night, knitting as I spoke with friends around a circular table, I remembered my early encouragers.  The knitting was coming easily.  Goodness knows, though, that knitting has not always been easy for me.   My first weeks back in November were marked by wild swings between elation and frustration.  I required so much help.  My hands were unsteady.  Many were the nights that the discovery of a previously undiscovered error put a halt on all progress.  Sometimes for weeks.  As in all of life, knitting without mistakes is easy; navigating through mistakes is much, much harder.  As in all of life, knitting without mistakes is a pleasant fantasy; knitting through mistakes is true.

In the early days, I would pull out whole rows and hopelessly attempt to realign the thread on the needle.  In a reflection posted elsewhere, I observed that forgiveness is not unlike learning to undo a single stitch, I think.  It beats the hell out of tearing up the whole thing.  Been there, done that, might have given up hope.  Almost certainly would have.  Without encouragers.

All of which brings me back to last night.  I was knitting in mixed company at a church gathering.  One parishioner especially had been keen to check my progress from the week before.  Thankfully, I had made lots of progress.  And, as I'm knitting, and smiling, and talking, I notice a botched stitch coming at me on the needle.  The kind of botch that previously would have either paralyzed or enraged me.  The kind of botch that might have been my defeat.  My eyes got big.  I might ask for help, but I could not afford a melt down here; there could be no acquiescence to discouragement.  But what could I do, in the context of the conversation, save put the needles down?

I looked at the looming botched stitch one more time.  As I continued to listen and speak, I recognized the flaw as a simple split of the doubled yarn which could be resolved moving forward, not backward.  Not undoing, if I was right.  But was I right?

I decided to believe that I was.

Two rows later, I sighed a sigh of relief.  All was well on the stockinette front.

Later that night, I got to thinking about the slow work of good habits, new skills, the closing of recognition gaps, and the translation of experience into embodied knowledge.

New skills are so daunting at the outset.  The progress is so slow.  Most of the time, awareness of the degree of difficulty keeps us from beginning.  But simply beginning, just showing up, we discover that a thousand baby steps nevertheless move us forward, that we have been shaped for the good more than we ever suspected, that we are freer to enjoy that which first came as a stretch.  Indeed, if we can take steps back from time to time to mark the progress - which is in itself a lost art and discipline - we can begin to appreciate that we have an abundance of gifts to share with others.

As I shared these reflections with Rebekah last night, she observed that it's easy to discount one's own progress, that we see it most easily in others, and that others see it most easily in us.  Which brings us back to encouragers.  I hope you have some.  I hope you are one.  And I thank God for knitters.

A Prayer for the Portland Chamber of Commerce

I was asked to begin today's Portland Chamber of Commerce meeting with prayer. To lead civic leaders in prayer is a humbling responsibility.(1) This particular meeting focused on appreciation of our educators and a presentation by Bill English of Cheniere Energy, a liquifier of natural gas, and a company that will soon be our neighbor.

Heavenly Father, gracious God, you have given us all that we need to love you and one another, most especially in and through the gift of your Son.  I thank you Lord for also giving to those of us living in Portland these leaders.  Bless and support them, I pray.  May your Spirit generously strengthen and empower them for the work that you have given them.  May they model for our community your wisdom, generosity, and love.

Lord, give to our whole community a heart to serve and uphold these friends who serve us, especially our teachers.  We remember that your Son came among us not to be served but to serve, washing the feet of his friends, and becoming poor for the poor, even to death.  Grant that we may have grace to do the same with one another. 

Lord, bless this time, these friends, and the words and the food we share.  It is with grateful hearts that we ask these things in the Name of your Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. 


(1)  Stanley Hauerwas named the potential awkwardness of such times and such prayers in the following prayer from his book Prayers Plainly Spoken:

God, you alone know how we are to pray to you on occasions like this. We do not fear you, since we prefer to fear one another. Accordingly, our prayers are not to you but to some "ultimate vagueness." You have, of course, tried to scare the hell our of some of us through the creation of your people Israel and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But we are a subtle, crafty and stiff-necked people who prefer to be damned into vagueness. So we thank you for giving us common gifts such as food, friendship and good works that remind us our lives are gifts made possible by sacrifice. . . Through such gifts may our desire for status and the envy status breeds be transformed into service that glorifies you. Amen. 

I sidestep Stanley's conflict by simply praying in the name of the Triune God, figuring that the God to whom I pray is more true of the me they have invited than anything else.  I don't pretend that this erases all of the tension of civic prayer.  My two-fold goal in this prayer was to ask God's blessing on the gathering and to pray that those of us gathered would grow in the cross-shaped love of Jesus.

Accounting for a Crucified Savior

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they will see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, "You are mad, you are not like us."  
Abba Anthony

In the April 2012 edition of First Things, Eric Cohen reviews Stanley Hauerwas' new bookWar and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity.  Hauerwas is a (in)famous Christian pacifist.  Cohen is neither a pacifist nor a Christian (he's Jewish).  Toward the end of the article, Cohen makes this especially sharp critique of Hauerwas' political theology:

[Hauerwas] makes no effort to envision what history would become if sane states and sane leaders loved their enemies unto death, leaving the world to concentration camps and suicide bombings, to well-armed and deluded men who would kill our children and make us all slaves of their power within history.

I have no desire to divide up into teams of pacifists and militants in this space just now. I simply want to name the captain obvious point at the heart of the tension with which Hauerwas would undoubtedly like more of us to wrestle.  This is the captain obvious point: when Hauerwas commends us to love one's enemies unto death, as Cohen observes, Hauerwas is not positing original material.  It's old stuff.  Really old stuff.  "Love your enemies," Jesus said.  And then he did.  "Father, forgive them..."

How does one's thinking about war and violence - wherever it leads - faithfully account for a crucified Savior?

Cohen is not the first to call Hauerwas' position unrealistic or worse - Cohen prefers it "eschatological madness."(1)  The problem, though, as already noted, is that Hauerwas is not being original.  Nevertheless, Cohen's word "madness" in this context is intriguing.  It calls to mind C.S. Lewis' famous apologetic framework: that Jesus, by claiming to be God's Son, was either a liar or a lunatic or true.  So Hauerwas is always talking about the Church as a people unintelligible apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Christians cannot be expected to make more sense than our God.

That Hauerwas' position on war would come across as madness apart from Jesus he probably takes as the highest compliment available to his position.  The charge to those who are seriously interested in constructively challenging and engaging his position begins in the heart of days almost upon us - that great Holy Week.  The charge is not academic, but finds each of us in turn.  It's the question of Good Friday: in my own life, and in our life together, how do I account for a crucified Savior?

(1)  Cohen prefers a more realistic world in which decent, God-fearing people drop the bombs that we were afraid the ones we bombed would one day drop on us.  That Cohen's argument peaks with appeal to nuclear devastation is beyond ironic and morally callous.  Madness, indeed.  For his part, Hauerwas has previously claimed the deepest threat to Christianity is sentimentality, which he calls the refusal of Christians to see their children suffer for their beliefs.  A friend of mine shared this exchange with a student that captures something of the challenge here:
Student: Wouldn't your child being hurt by someone be the worst thing for you as a parent?
Me: No, that would be my child hurting others.
Student: Dr. Harper, you should write a book
(That book, my friend, has already been written.)


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Making All Things New:
a Guest Post from Rebekah

Rebekah has been assembling lesson plans for our children's Sunday school class for the better part of two years now.  Behind the scenes, every month, she focuses on a story, picks out key theological themes, and also outlines the basic plot points of the passage.  This makes it easier for our amazing teachers to jump in and go on a given Sunday morning.  The goal is a comprehensive survey of the Bible in three years.  She does an amazing job.

Rebekah sent me the draft for April's lesson, the last supper, yesterday.  I was blown away by its comprehensiveness, simplicity, and beauty.  She wondered out loud to me if she had done justice to what goes on in the Eucharist.  "Um, yes.  Yes you did."

Anyway, with her permission, here it is: sketched from Mark 14:10-26.

The Last Supper 
Mark 14:10-26

lesson themes

here are the themes we will be emphasizing during the workshop rotations this month:

  • Jesus knew that He would die and that his death would make possible a new and restored relationship between God and God's people
  • Jesus is our "passover lamb" (recalling that in the time of moses, the israelites' firstborns were spared by putting lamb's blood on the door frames of their houses the night before they were freed from their bondage in egypt)
  • When we meet at church to break bread and drink wine each sunday, Jesus is sharing that meal with us, feeding us with Himself, and reminding us that He makes all things new and makes it possible for us to be friends with God and one another
lesson summary

  • the disciples follow Jesus' instructions in order to prepare for the passover meal
  • during the meal, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him
  • Jesus also reminds the disciples that He will die, in fulfillment of the Scriptures
  • Jesus marks a new covenant and promise between God and His people as He blesses the bread and wine that recall the unleavened bread and lamb's blood at the first passover in egypt and shares them with his disciples

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When God's Kingdom Is Scary

It’s Spring Break.  Woohoo!  At least for another twenty-two hours, it’s still Spring Break.  And you’re here.  A minor miracle.  Praise God: we’re here, praising God.  As a kid, when Spring Break shared time with the Daylight Savings Time change, as it did last weekend, I always figured it was my teachers’ fault.  I imagined my teachers circled up in that mysterious room they called the "teacher's lounge," conspiring to make sure that my Spring Break week was as short as humanly possible.  “Give them the week they lose the hour,” I imagined them saying.  

Spring Break.  And I think of the beach and Frisbees and all kinds of games.  Outdoor games, mostly.  March Madness, of course, college basketball.  A few nights ago, on our family walk, I saw some wee ones - they couldn’t have been more than four years old - and they’d been collected by their parents in a parking lot and given over-sized mitts and hats that fell over their eyes.  Learning baseball, during Spring Break.  Picking up that great American pastime. 

Of course, not everyone learns games like these so early on in life, as children.  My father-in-law remembers hearing the neighborhood kids outside in the streets, playing some kind of ball, as he stared down a stack of sheet music, cello in hand.  He wanted to play the french horn, or - even better - to be outside with friends, playing ball.  Alas, on most days, this was not to be.

My own father would take my brothers and me outside frequently, in the days of longer light, the days of Spring, and gently teach us the fine art of the button-hook route or the bank shot or the high fly ball properly caught, with two hands.

And whether baseball or football or tennis or golf or racquetball or soccer or basketball (at least on defense) or softball or anything else, it seemed like the instructional refrain was always the same: “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Keep your eye on the ball.  Those sweet, familiar words.  Because situations around you may change.  But your responsibility in the moment never begins with more or less than your relationship to the ball.  In the midst of great excitement, pressure, and change, can you both read the situation and fundamentally remain unchanged in your focus?  This is the great challenge.  Because if you miss the ball, whatever other plans or great plays you had imagined for yourself or your team come up empty.  Everything depends on the commitment of each teammate to these six words:

Keep your eye on the ball.

Because it’s easy to become distracted, even - indeed, especially - by important looking things.

You’ve probably gathered by now that the preacher is talking about more than pop flies and well struck volleys.  Or at least he intends to.  I want to suggest this morning that “keep your eye on the ball,” is more than good sports advice; it’s the fundamental chorus of the season we’re walking just now as Christians: this season called Lent.

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday in Lent, and I want to share with you three short stories about distraction and focus: keeping one’s eye on the ball. 

The first short story comes from the Old Testament lesson: the people have been delivered out of slavery in Egypt by the Lord their God.  The Lord their God has promised them a good land of rich promise: overflowing with milk and honey.  A few books back, the people complained: they had grown hungry on the road-trip.  God heard their complaints and arranged for the people to eat manna from heaven - the bread of angels - and as long as they only gathered enough for that day (but not more - no stuffing it into their pockets, a la Napoleon Dynomite), they had more than enough.  Today, though, they’re tired of culinary reruns.  They’re grouchy.  It’s not that they’re not being fed; they just don’t like the food.  Like cranky kids is a school cafeteria.  The people are a half step away from preferring the food and slavery of Egypt - or starving! - to the promise and provision of God.  They are distracted. 

In the story, God sends snakes to bite their feet because he’s tired of their ingratitude.  The people get the message, they repent, say they’re sorry, and the Lord instructs Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole, and the people who look at the serpent will be healed and live.  The bronze snake serves as an occasion for repentance for the people and a visually symbolic refocusing of the people by their obedience to God.

The second short story of distraction and focus comes from John’s gospel: Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and Jesus tells Nicodemus that the people, some thousands of years later, have become as distracted by their sins as the Israelites in the wilderness were by their appetites and the snakes.  Jesus especially names the sin of deception, which is the people’s desire to hide their sins from others.  They don’t want their deeds exposed.  Somebody told me once that nobody wants to be deceived, but everyone wants to retain the power to deceive someone else, you know, in case it ever comes in handy.  Consequently, the people have grown to prefer darkness to light.  And the only ones they’re fooling - the only ones they’re deceiving - are themselves. 

The people are distracted, Jesus says.  They need to be refocused.  And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, Jesus himself will be lifted up on the cross.  An occasion for repentance and refocus in the obedience of God’s Son, even to death.

The last short story of distraction and focus - keeping one’s eye on the ball, on that which has the power to heal - is us.  We who are four weeks into this Lenten journey.  You’ll remember that two weeks ago, Jesus told his disciples that God’s victory would lead Jesus to Jerusalem, where he would be killed.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...” we remember from our gospel.  But this made as much sense to Jesus' friends and followers as looking to a snake to be rid of snakes must have made to the Israelites.  At the time, Peter rebuked Jesus and told him that that was no way to run a Kingdom of God.  Jesus told Peter he didn’t know what he was talking about.

So you and I become the last short story of distraction and focus when it becomes clear that the Lord that we love is preparing to die for us - even when to all eyes this looks like the end of the game - and we discover the question:

“Will you keep your eyes on Christ - even when things get scary?”

Even when you see him going to places that frighten you.  Even when you find yourself, like one of the trembling, first disciples, wanting with all that is in you to see him choose a path not as costly as the cross.  We’re told that when Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem, many disciples turned away.  Indeed, nearly all of them will desert him by the time he’s left for dead.  Like the wandering people in the wilderness, the disciples learn what it is to feel God disappoint their expectations.

I wonder if God has ever disappointed your expectations?  I wonder what those expectations were?  I wonder if you’ve ever wanted to turn back to Egypt?   I wonder if you've ever disappointed your own expectations of yourself?  I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself lingering in an empty, stomach-churning place, wild in the wilderness, seemingly beyond all hope?

Can you, will you, keep your eyes on Christ - even when it’s scary?

Will you keep your eyes on Christ, even as Lent gives way to Golgotha - when the only promise given you there is that you will find him?

Keep your eyes on Christ.  Even when to do so is frightening, keep your eyes on Christ.  Like Peter walking on the water through the storm.  Because situations around you may change; they almost certainly will.  But your responsibility in the moment never begins with more or less than your relationship Christ.  In the midst of great excitement, mounting pressure, and great change, can you both read the situation rightly and fundamentally remain unchanged in your abiding focus on him? 

Keep your eyes on Christ: spiritually, yes, and concretely, by two things - as close to homework as you’ll get in church:

Go back to page three hundred and four of the Prayer Book this week.  Take a Prayer Book home if you need to.  Pray through the five questions asked of you at your baptism.  Read it yes, then pray it: Lord, how might these questions come to greater life in my life?  Pray the questions of your baptism - your baptism, at which you were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And second, read one of the passion accounts in these last two weeks before Holy Week.  By "passion" is generally meant that part of Jesus' story beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and culminating on the cross - we'll save resurrection for Easter.  Commit to reading through one of these narratives in the days before Holy Week.

In Matthew’s gospel: chapters 21 through 27.
Mark’s gospel: 11 through 15.  (And consider that Mark’s gospel only has 16 chapters and that the last six of them - or 3/8ths of his gospel! - concern the events of Holy Week.)
Luke’s gospel: chapters 19 through 23.
John’s gospel: 12 through 19.

So pray through your baptism, and, the second bit of homework: choose one of the gospels and read through the events of Holy Week.  As you read it and reread it: keep your eyes on Jesus.  Imagine yourself as one of the crowd.  What do you notice about him?  What stands out?  What impresses you?  What perplexes you?  What flat-out scares you?  Let your eyes follow him. 

As you pray and as you read, keep your eyes on Jesus. 

This is the great challenge.  Even when it's frightening.  Because if you miss Jesus - if we miss Jesus -  take our eyes off of him, whatever other plans or great plays we had imagined for ourselves or our team come up empty.  Everything depends on the commitment of each teammate to these six words:

Keep your eyes fixed on Christ.


[A sermon preached March 18, 2012, Lent 4, at St Christopher's by-the-Sea]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This Week on the Blog (Mar 11-17)

SATURDAY, MAR 17:  St John's, Joel Martinson, and John 3:16
Tomorrow's readings, for Lent 4, feature that great verse from John's gospel: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him...[These] words inspired countless and gifted composers, and the results of their inspiration were devastatingly beautiful.

FRIDAY, MAR 16: Thank you, Rowan Williams.
There will be lots of things that make for good scuttlebutt on the Anglican front in days ahead: who will replace him, implications for the Communion, all the rest, but I am thankful for the wherewithal to be grateful for Rowan's ministry today.

WEDNESDAY, MAR 14: The Day I Stopped Preaching
I will forever remember this meditation with special fondnessIt was Holy Week - my first as the sole priest at a church - and I had a total block.  Overload.  Too much.  I could not preach.  Bek said, "Then don't."  Huh?  "Just respond."  Oh.  My perceived burden relieved, I sat down and fell in love with God's story again.  

TUESDAY, MAR 13: A Punchy Priest Recaps a Long Day
This is how the Body daily washes one another's feet; tired, behind, lagging, at the end of the day, still all the way present, all holy privilege; another altar perilously constructed on the edge of daily living; another midwife moment in the stable as our Lord patiently joins our lives, our deaths, to the work of his own... 

In the original post, I offered some tangible examples of what I imagined sacrificing sacrifices might look like.  Mostly, they involved unhooking myself from what Donald Miller has called the imaginary script in which I am the hero to every scene in a movie about me.  As I've made my way through the Lenten journey, however, another thought linked to concrete practice has returned to me again and again.  This is the thought: sacrificing one's sacrifices has everything to do with adoration.

What does it mean for God to be jealous? A sermon preached March 11 for Lent 3 at St Christopher's by-the-Sea.

St John's, Joel Martinson, and John 3:16

Tomorrow's readings, for Lent 4, feature that great verse from John's gospel: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  These words have inspired countless sign-wavers in football stadiums the world over.  Before that, these words inspired countless and gifted composers, and the results of their inspiration were devastatingly beautiful.

One of those settings was frequently sung at St John's Episcopal School in Dallas, where I attended from second through seventh grade.  Unfortunately, I was in second through seventh grade at the time, and so lacked the wherewithal to know - or care - who composed it.   All I knew is that heaven broke open and the angels leaned in when my friends gathered to sing it.  Without knowing the composer, however, I faced a real problem: would I ever hear it again?

As an aside, this dilemma reminds me in a superficial way of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of in the opening of his classic Life Together.  Namely, that it is not to be taken for granted that Christians have the gift of worship with other Christians.  I am unalterably marked for the better by those six years of daily chapel and Friday Eucharists and the blessing of gifts lifted up, blessed, and received.  I often remark that Wednesdays in Lent are among my favorite days of the year, and I think this is because they most closely resemble the daily, communal commitment and gift of life together that I knew in those childhood years.

To end the suspense, after years of dead-ends, I did some expert google sleuthing today and at long last discovered the composer's name: Joel Martinson.  Fittingly, the only performance I could find of the piece comes from the vantage point of a pew, at a junior choir concert.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thank you, Rowan Williams.

Two Wednesdays ago, I sat around a table full of friends collected in the Parish Hall for our weekly Lenten Study.  In this small group format, I usually begin by asking each person to introduce themselves and answer a short "get to know you" question.  That Wednesday, I took my question from the headlines - Peyton Manning had just been released from the Indianapolis Colts, for whom he has played the last fourteen seasons - so I asked the question, "Can you tell us about someone you admired in a seemingly unchangeable role who, against everything you thought was possible, suddenly found his or her role unalterably changed?"

My own example was Magic Johnson.  My childhood hero.  I was a week-and-a-half shy of my eleventh birthday on the day he announced he was retiring because he had a disease called "HIV."   None of us knew what that was, and I remember well the fear and uncertainty the other players felt around him.  Some refused to play with him.  Though he would play in the 1992 Olympics and come back briefly during the 1994-95 season, the enduring feeling for me was one of abruptness - and incompleteness.

Twenty-one years later, I'm reading the Facebook wire this morning and another rock of stability makes an unexpected change: Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury since 2003, is retiring at the end of the year in order to take the position as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 2013.

Now, a lot has happened since 1991, and I'm thirty-one, not eleven.  Long gone are the illusions of permanence that are hallmarks of childhood.  Loss, death, change - these are more than abstract words to me these days; they are realities I have felt.  What's more, as a Christian, I know loss, death, and change to be realities not untouched by the Reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Change finally brings death even to death:

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. (1)

Of course, I don't mean to call Rowan Williams' retiring a death.  Indeed, it probably feels to him like a great return to life in some ways, after the sacrifices of his position as Archbishop over the last decade.  I pray that it does.  Still, the Church will feel his loss as he steps aside.  Which is also to say the obvious: those of us who have called the Anglican Communion home over the past ten years have much today for which to be profoundly grateful.

Which brings me back to Peyton Manning.

Two Wednesdays ago, when the world was wondering where Peyton would go next and who would replace him and all of the other things that make for good scuttlebutt on sports radio, ESPN's Rick Reilly wrote a short piece entitled, Thanks for the Memories.  It began:

Thank you, Peyton Manning.

This might be the beginning of something better. Might be the end of everything good. But before we slog into what happens next, where you'll go, what you'll do, we owe you a thank you for what you've done and who you've been.

There will be lots of things that make for good scuttlebutt on the Anglican front in days ahead: who will replace him, implications for the Communion, all the rest, but I am thankful for the wherewithal to be grateful for Rowan's ministry today.

Peyton expressed, at his parting press conference, the minor identity crisis he was experiencing: he had been a Colt for almost the entirety of his adult life, he explained.  I feel a bit the same just now: Rowan Williams has been the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion for the whole of my priestly journey.

The year that Rowan took up the See of Canterbury, I was a senior at Wheaton College in the midst of discerning my own call to ordination.  The consecration of Vicki Gene Robinson was on the horizon, and the Anglican Communion was beginning to feel the first shakes of polarization.  I remember well how the resulting tensions shaped aspects of the discernment process for those of us who were in it.  Likewise, I remember well some early conversations with Father Matthew Gunter, who oversaw parts of my discernment at St Barnabas while I was at Wheaton.  Specifically, I remember confessing to Father Matt that it wasn't obvious to me that faithfulness belonged to either of the extremes that were beginning to divide the Church - extremes into which many of us were feeling pressure to accept.  Indeed, it seemed that the camp in which one found oneself revealed too little of how one got there to be helpful to the way of faith.  As we talked, Father Matt spoke of a middle way not of undecided compromise (2) but of a decided insistence on Christ as the center and the resulting willingness to humbly go the long way around, to look for and find Christ present even in sides in apparent opposition, and to insist on the language of theology, which of course is simply the language of prayer.  These conversations gave me confidence that the way of the cross could be tangibly entered and explored.

Not long into these talks, Rowan Williams' name came up.  By his writing and leadership, I quickly came to experience him as a person equally committed to the long way around (frustratingly so to his critics) and always to Christ and the cross.  As in my conversations with Father Matt, I found in Rowan a gentle leader walking the middle way not for lack of conviction but precisely out of the conviction that the mystery of the faith is not an extra to be discarded for the sake of expediency; on the contrary, the mystery of the faith is the Crucified and Risen Christ Himself, and this mystery is beautiful and daunting, and we do not master the mystery, but we pray that they mystery will come in time to master us.  Rowan consistently modeled and encouraged entrance into the beautiful, daunting mystery: the way of the cross as the path open to us.

I am eternally thankful for that.


(1) John Donne's poem, Death Be Not Proud.

(2) Of course 'the middle way' is common Anglican-speak, but it is so often misunderstood, I think.  As I read George Herbert at Duke, for example, I remember discovering to my surprise that he his writings on the Eucharist and Christ's presence related to the Eucharistic prayers did not advocate a spectrum between Catholic and Orthodox positions along which anyone was free to find her mark; on the contrary, Herbert seemed to be arguing that the Anglican reticence to name a single "moment" did not represent an open field of possibilities but rather represented an intentional silence, a purposeful restraint based on the assumption that the matter that mattered most had been joyfully resolved: Christ is present.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Day I Stopped Preaching

I first shared this as a Good Friday meditation, back two years ago, but it's been echoing in my mind as I listen to this coming Sunday's readings for Lent 4: the snake on the pole to heal the people, with John's gospel to tell us that Christ is the snake lifted up on the pole.  I don't offer it now as a direct engagement with those readings - they only score a passing mention here.  That said, as I reread this meditation, I find it a helpful point of entry as we approach Holy Week.

As a personal aside, I will forever remember this meditation with special fondnessIt was Holy Week - my first as the sole priest at a church - and I had a total block.  Overload.  Too much.  I could not preach.  Bek said, "Then don't."  Huh?  "Just respond."  Oh.  My perceived burden relieved, I sat down and fell in love with God's story again. 

Once upon a time there was a forest full of trees, and it wasn’t so much the trees but the one tree that caused the trouble. You know the story. The woman; the fruit; and the man. Serpentine transgressions. Was it gluttony, lust, or pride, I wonder. Peek a boo with God. Selective hearing, maybe. Exile, swords of fire.
A friend of mine said, “avocado.” Avocado? Yes, he said, the fruit that marked the sin. He was probably projecting, but I wonder sometimes what fruit would be shiny enough, just ripe enough, enticing enough that I would dismiss God’s voice to me.
Before too long, the man and the woman were fruitful, found with child, but that had long stopped being an obvious good thing. And it’s fruit again, the parent’s sin, the cry of Abel’s blood. And Abel’s blood’s still crying. Good God, is Abel’s blood still crying.
And every night on channels one through nine, you can see him, hear him, they call him different names, but you can still hear Abel’s blood.
And it’s Abram and Sarai, Moses, Elijah, David, Elisha, Jonah, God bless him, and Nahum and all of God’s prophets, his judges and kings, the high priests of the people, trying to give God back his blood.

Sometimes I pray when I hear it, and sometimes I laugh when I hear it; other times, when I hear it, I sink into my sofa and drip through to the ground, the weight of the sadness slaying my tears and as heavy -- oh, as heavy -- as the flickering light is blue against the wall.
They sprinkled blood, not Abel’s, on their beaten, wooden, doorposts that first, black night called Passover; that first last night in Egypt, just as God commanded. Prefigured Lamb of God. The Egyptians were howling; God, he was faithful, and the Hebrews walked out on dry land. Pillars of cloud. Columns of fire. And the Hebrews walked out on dry land.
But college freshman everywhere will tell you, when they’re talking to you at all, that unexpected freedoms are the hardest kind to handle. And the people who walked free from their mud bricks in Egypt had a hard time believing that the One who had freed them from their mud bricks in Egypt, would keep them, could keep them, from their mud bricks in Egypt. That they would be cared for. That God would bring them home.
And so, in an ironic twist, somewhere along the wandering road, somewhere among the endless, numbered, days that followed, the people who wandered and followed griped one time too many, and God brought back the snake. You know, the one that started the whole mess in the first place. He brought him back. With friends. Satan had been busy. Snakes to bite their heels. Some were even dying.
Moses said, “What the heck, God?” and God had Moses fashion a separate snake, this one made of bronze, and put it on a pole; the people were told to look on the pole in order to be saved. And the ones who did were saved. And some millennia later, the disciple Jesus loved, the one called John, he saw that snake, and called it Christ.
Which brings me to a second tree that caused the trouble. One tree from the forest. You know the story. A man. With some women. And some men. They found him in a garden, with their torches, flaming swords. Sound familiar? Exiled Son of God. Or at least that was the goal.
The disciples had swords, too, but there would be no battle here. No second spill of Abel’s blood. The cup first drunk at Passover, now come before the Lamb. And Peter, who would have fought for him, would not, will not, die with him, and the cock crow names the hour.
They gave the man a trial, the people did. Or close enough to one for their intentions on that day. And they dressed him like a king, and pranced before the powers, and the powers lost their power to the madness of the night. The night as dark as blood. The day that looked like night. And they crucified our Lord.
Once upon a time, this mother, she could smile. But darkness knows no friend.
Two trees by which to see the grief, to hear the cries and taste the blood of wars that will not cease. The rivers flowing blood. Infernal blue light flickering. But eyes to see and ears to hear pick out a pin-prick hope against the darkness, amidst the blood, if faint, if far off, flickering. And this is the pin-prick hope -- God’s own happy sadness -- the moment despair loses hope, becomes futile -- this is God’s secret: the two trees are one tree and his wounds heal the first.
The flaming sword extinguished now, Life’s tree holds high its fruit; and Christ himself, pressed, crushed, for us, becomes the very wine of heaven.
And heaven prepares the song.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Punchy Priest Recaps a Long Day

I'm about to trek up to the church for an evening meeting with the Habitat board.  The day has buzzed with the usual and unusual combinations of administrative tasks, people, pastoral care, study, prayer, planning, and broken copiers.  [I have this recurring dream in which St Augustine stops St Peter's routine interrogation at the pearly gates as I approach.  Augustine calls Pete off - he wants a shot at me.  Specifically, Augustine wonders why the *heck* I needed a computer and accompanying technology for the work of the Kingdom of God.  I have no answer.  After last week, however, I can at least retort that not having a copier meant that Augustine never had to shovel raccoon poop off his.  Other duties as required...]  Anyway, that's just to say it's been a typically hectic, or quite possibly fulsome, day.  In a day or three, I'll maybe be able to tell you which.

Needless to say, I haven't come into this time and space today with preparation or premeditation, but I did stumble upon a Captain Obvious grace that I want to remember.

The moment was spurred by a sermon a couple of weeks ago, in which I observed that the Collect for the Monday of Holy Week is also the Collect for Fridays in Morning Prayer, both rites I and II.  In the sermon, that observation became a point from which to question what it means to be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and also to ask how the cross can possibly be "the way of life and peace."

So I've got that reflection and that prayer in my mind this afternoon as I stumble up to the door of a dear parishioner who is recovering from hip replacement surgery.  For four weeks she's unable to leave her home.  And we talk, and she's short on time, and the physical therapist is waiting, but he's gracious and understands out of his own faith the importance of her receiving the sacrament.  I set up the makeshift altar I've set up a thousand times before - on trays still bearing their day-old, stale, hospital food, on tables, lawn chairs, bedsides, strategically placed wheelchairs - and I flip open the book to page 396: Communion under Special Circumstances.  I always think of the manger - the manger as the first home visit - and the TV trays become like unsuspecting donkeys: oblivious bystanders made holy as God makes a home in their midst.

We're praying our way through the brief liturgy when I land on another collect that, like the Collect for Fridays, also serves does double duty:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

I have become so accustomed to the words which I pray in makeshift mangers - almost daily - that I am startled today to recognize the prayer from its other, obvious, perhaps more proper home: "the night before he suffered."  The Collect for Maundy Thursday.

And suddenly I'm awash with God's gentle beauty: this is how the Body daily washes one another's feet; tired, behind, lagging, at the end of the day, still all the way present, all holy privilege; another altar perilously constructed on the edge of daily living; another midwife moment in the stable as our Lord patiently joins our lives, our deaths, to the work of his own; and here, the strength to take up the work of the Kingdom, whatever it will be, in the words of that first, last night:

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

St Christopher's Lent / Easter Newsletter

Monday, March 12, 2012

Your Prayer Life Wants to Read This

A few weeks ago, in Everything You Need to Know about Lent, I suggested that instead of - or in addition to - abstaining from chocolate or cola this Lent, it might be spiritually constructive to consider what it would mean to sacrifice our sacrifices.  Admittedly, that phrase requires unpacking.  In brief, I observed that the death and resurrection of Jesus ends any illusion that we can deserve (and therefore manipulate) God's love.  The same Lord that Peter denies comes back to Peter, finds and forgives Peter, and on this foundation anchors God's Church.  Lent begins that season which ends with the unsettling and wonderful news that salvation will not be produced at my own hand.  Just to the extent that our identities from time to time become wrapped up in illusions of self-sufficiency, we receive the freedom in Lent to sacrifice our sacrifices and receive God's love as gift. 

What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?  

Heck no!  In the original post, I offered some tangible examples of what I imagined sacrificing sacrifices might look like.  Mostly, they involved unhooking myself from what Donald Miller has called the imaginary script in which I am the hero to every scene in a movie about me.  As I've made my way through the Lenten journey, however, another thought linked to concrete practice has returned to me again and again.  This is the thought: sacrificing one's sacrifices has everything to do with adoration.

That sacrificing one's sacrifices has everything to do with adoration risks being a Captain Obvious insight.  Even so, it's an insight with legs and the power to nuance and open one's prayer life in significant ways.

The call to adoration is woven into the fabric of Lent.  Walking the Stations of the Cross, in particular, adoration marks the familiar chorus: "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you: because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."  What if, even if I didn't grow my prayer time during Lent - which would be a very good thing to do - I examined the shape and proportion of my prayers, with a special eye for accentuating adoration?

Some of us are familiar with the ACTS tool of prayer.  ACTS, an acronym, for the four chief kinds of prayer: 

Adoration - praising God for who God is

Confession - naming my sins before God, asking forgiveness
Thanksgiving - thanking God for the blessings of my life
Supplication - asking for God's help and interceding for others

When I learned ACTS as a child, it was explained to me that all four kinds of prayer ought to be present each time one prays - that is, it's not multiple choice.  What's more, order is important.  Rather than skipping to the wish list, it's proper to stop and say out loud just who this is I'm addressing, and to marvel in this miracle for just a moment: "Bless the Lord, O my soul.  And all that is within me, bless God's holy name."  Then confession - naming the obstacles in my life with God.  Then thanksgiving - recalling those times for which I gratefully perceive God at work. Then, and only then, the supplications, which might - God helping - be shaped at this point by the prayers which have preceded them.  

Of course, this isn't rigid.  Life necessitates exceptions.  But in the same way that workout gurus will tell you that the order in which you exercise your muscle groups can significantly alter your body shape for the better, I find ACTS a helpful rhythm for the cultivating of my prayer life.  

Assuming, then, that these four kinds of prayer are already present in my life, what if Lent - by virtue of its foundation in the chorus from the Stations of the Cross - meant the accentuating of my adoration muscle group?

I remember being a student aid at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center, and Diane, my boss, would call me and Brent, my other boss, into her office every two weeks or so for prayer.  We were the grad school Scholarship Office, so we prayed, primarily, for students and their corresponding missionary organizations.  I remember being initially intimidated by no-holds-barred evangelical prayer.  No books.  No rules (at least not spoken ones).  No limits (an hour or more was not uncommon between the three of us).  And yet, the more we prayed, the more I relished it: twenty minutes in adoration - the three of us taking turns recalling to one another the greatness of God - one praise inspiring the next.  Sometimes Diane would insist on a hymn - a brave move, regrettably unsuited to our strengths.  But all glory.  Beginnings of timelessness, or kairos time, as I later learned to call it.  By the time we came to the intercessions, the anxiety that usually leads so many of us to prayer was gone.  We stayed still in God's presence and discovered prayers we would not have thought to pray on our own.  God began to give us eyes for the world his sacrifice had saved.

If sacrificing sacrifices sounds obtuse, keep it simple: adore him.  Come!  Let us adore him.  Armed with the reminder that God comes as gift, use Lent to grow in adoration.  Make time, find friends, with which to practice adoration: "...for the great One in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Choosing the God Who Has Chosen Us

What do you think of when you hear the word “idolatry”?

What does it mean to say that someone has made an idol of something in his or her life?

Do you resonate with the challenge to resist idolatry?  Or is idolatry, to you, a kind of outdated word that points back to ancient times and golden calves and pagan gods - all with a general lack of application for our present circumstance?  Many people these days don’t believe in any gods, much less the wrong ones.  Surely idolatry is not a pitfall that enlightened people like you and I face today.

What’s more, I wonder if our showing up here – our being in church today, the front end of Spring Break, time change to boot – doesn’t prove that - even if idolatry still happens from time to time - we, at least, have not been fooled into lifting up our hearts to shiny bovines?  What I’m looking for is the honesty to ask: why do we even bother anymore with readings like our reading from Exodus today?

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

“You shall not make for yourself an idol.”  None of us do that.  Is this simply another case of preaching to the choir, a message for the heathens out there, with the bizarre but unavoidable realization that the ones who need to be called away from idolatry will, by definition, never be in church to hear that word?

Not so fast, says Martin Luther.  Luther believed that idolatry remained a challenge for Christians.  Indeed, Christians experience the challenge, he thought, more acutely, exactly because Christians commit through baptism to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Christians state our living intention to trust wholly in the living God.  We have promised ourselves to God.  And so, relative to those who never give themselves over to God in baptism, we experience the pull of idolatry, unfaithfulness, perhaps more destructively than they do.

Writes Luther:

Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such a firmness and assurance as to care for no one.  Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth.  He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise.  On the other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God…So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor has also a god, but not the true and only God.  This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are withdrawn.  Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts…[So] ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to God alone or not.

Three observations here:

First, Luther is adamant that idolatry afflicts believers in God.  Idolatry finds us all, even in Church.

Second, I’m struck by Luther’s observation that love of money affects rich and poor alike, to the extent that money is the place wherein our hope comes to rest.  Being a poor person or a poor church does not insulate us from putting our hope in the false god of Mammon.  And of course, wealth almost certainly means we will require the daily reminder to not rest in - not become attached to - that which does not actually belong to us.  Hope that is not in God is not our lasting hope.

Third - and most significantly, I think - notice Luther’s language at the end: “…ask and examine your heart…you will find whether it cleaves to God alone.”  This language of cleaving is familiar; it comes from Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will be one flesh.”  Sometimes the word “cleave” is translated “be united to.”  A man will be united to his wife.  Made one flesh.  And Luther asks us if our hearts cleave to God like this.

This language of cleaving is helpful, I think.  It takes idolatry from the land of stone pillars and golden cows and places it in the context of living, intimate relationship.  Like husband and wife.  Bridegroom and bride.  In the introduction at the beginning of the marriage liturgy marriages – somewhere after, “Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God” – we hear these words: marriage “signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church.”  The Church cleaves to Christ as a spouse cleaves to her spouse.

Does your heart cleave to God? asks Luther.

I think this is why, just after the commandment to not make idols, we hear these words in Exodus: “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”

A jealous God.  But isn’t it bad to be jealous? we think.  What does it mean for God to be jealous?  The jealousy of God makes sense, I think, when we remember that word “to cleave.”  God’s desire is marriage to God’s people.  Holy union.  What I’m trying to say is that idolatry understood in the context of relationship with the living God is less about laws of stone and more about temptations to lust: the constant, furtive, and faithless glances we cast at false gods, even ourselves - idols in whom we place the trust of our hearts meant for God alone.

I remember a sermon I heard on marriage once.  The pastor didn’t beat around the bush.  He said, “Some days I come home, grab a beer, and hole up by myself, don’t check in with my wife, my family, don’t offer to help with the routine of the evening chores.  I just check out.”  He went on: “On those days, my actions say out loud, ‘I’m acting as if I don’t want to be married.  I am un-choosing my marriage today.”

Does your heart cleave to God?  Are there days, times, in which you un-choose the promises of baptism (which is analogous to our marriage, as a people, to God)?  Which are the short-skirted culprits that most often steal your eye and your trust?

What truths do our actions speak about the priority of God and the places of ultimate trust in our lives?

This is something of what Jesus is on to when he tells his friends and followers that he didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill the law.  For it is exactly in Christ that the relationship between God and His People finds its fullest expression.  Idolatry not as a breech in the tax code but as un-choosing the union, the marriage, that God re-chooses, perfects on the cross.  Because he is jealous.

One early church theologian writes of our gospel today - the jealous Jesus, chasing out the money changers and all the rest from the temple - that: “Christ is [also] jealous for the house of God in each of us, not wishing it to be a house of merchandise or that the house of prayer become a den of thieves, since he is Son of a jealous God.”

So what began as a consideration of golden cows becomes admission of our unfaithfulness by which we discover the Good News of the jealousy of God.  The Good News of the jealousy of God is this: God has not, will not, give up on you.  God’s love is from everlasting.  And the invitation of that love is to receive it.

Thus Lent comes with the invitation to repentance and self-disciplines.  We acknowledge that, some days, in our life with God, we come home, grab a beer, and hole up by ourselves, don’t check in with the church family, don’t offer to help with the routine of the evening chores.  We just check out.  There are some days, that by our actions we say, ‘I’m acting as if I don’t care that I am God’s wholly beloved child.  I am un-choosing my baptism today.”

We name this truth about ourselves in Lent, and then we are confronted with the glorious and honest question with the power to defeat even bad days like this – God’s question when he comes to you and says, “I love you.  I forgive you.   I am wildly jealous for you.  I pray that you will become wildly jealous for me.  But just now, will you believe me – this is the question – will you trust me when I tell you that I choose not to un-choose you - ever?


[Sermon preached at St C's, March 11, 2012, Lent 3]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Week That Was (March 4-10)

Sunday: Baptism and the Cross
"...Our baptismal promises pose the question: will you also stand with the one God stands with?  Will you stoop to be affiliated with a Savior who looks like this?  Whose way is the cross; whose path is forgiveness, mercy, truth, who overcomes the powers of the world by exposing their weakness..."

Monday: Hippolytus and Holy Oil
"The Church cannot take for granted that health means more than the work of pastoral care for the critically or obviously ill; health must be at the heart of our ministry and mission; in a real sense, health names our participation in the work of God for the world."
Tuesday: Are Christians Hiding from Health?
"Audibly spoken forgiveness...names a point of mutual accountability: the sin has been named and forgiven, the grieved and the griever have gone public in their intention toward visible reconciliation and peace."

Wednesday: Lent Madness Bracketology
"Monnica v. Augustine may have all kinds of Freudian intrigue, but Monnica against the Blessed Virgin Mary is probably more honest for the first round.  In this mother of all match-ups, the BVM walks away in a landslide."

Thursday: When Ministry Doesn't "Work"
"Like so many others, our church members, on their honest days - in the midst of all of these really good things - have the courage to ask: What if it doesn't work?"

Friday: Finding Our Passion in Christ
"One of the biggest obstacles to passion is fear of not having enough.  Passion can seem like a luxury in the face of an uncertain future.  But holding on to what we have in the face of uncertainty is not just contrary to the Gospel - “whoever holds on to their life will lose it” - on a practical level..." (click on the link to continue.)

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Phil 3:10-11.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Finding Our Passion in Christ

Last Saturday, St Christopher's Vestry gathered on the Island for our Spring Vestry Day.  Our theme was Finding Our Passion in Christ, and - with God's help - we began to.  I offer a modified outline from our time together here for those in our parish family who wonder what we did on that day - where the leadership of the congregation is focused and moving - and also because I believe the exercises and the questions we engaged can be helpful to all of us as people, and that on some level all of us in the Church share the desire to locate the true selves God has given us in the presence and power of our Lord.  I pray this can be a helpful place of engagement toward that end.

peace to you.
father j+ 


Daily Devotions for the Morning (BCP)


The theme for our Spring Vestry Day is Finding Our Passion in Christ.  When Kirk Mason came down to visit with last year, he knew about our financial concerns, he told us that the diocese stood ready to help, and then he said the first and most important question that would help us and also help the diocese help us was this: Where are your potential pledging units?  No, he didn’t ask that first.  He said, What are you passionate about?  What do you like to do? 

Our theme for today is Finding Our Passion in Christ. 

I don’t believe that passion is something we can delegate or assign to others.  I don’t think it works if a group of leaders gathers together and assigns roles like, “Who is going to be passionate for young people this year?”

Passion is authentic, right?  Passion can be learned, but it comes out of who you are.  Passion is a lot like the oxygen mask that the flight attendant is always talking about: you can’t talk to others about their passion until you have taken the time to name - to know the source of - your own.

What are your passions?  How can we learn to lead, to serve, to glorify God, out of that?

Video # 1: Juice, featuring Dewitt Jones

Video #1: Juice, Finding Passion

Small Group Questions:

What was your earliest passion?  Do you have passion now?  What are your passions? 

Dewitt Jones shares elsewhere that he has a six-word mission that fixes him to his passion before his feet hit the ground in the morning.  What would you like your six words each morning to be?


One of the biggest obstacles to passion is fear of not having enough.  Passion can seem like a luxury in the face of an uncertain future.  But holding on to what we have in the face of uncertainty is not just contrary to the Gospel - “whoever holds on to their life will lose it” - on a practical level, when we put passion on the back-burner, we make it difficult for others to join us in our pilgrim walk with Jesus.  Most people can survive on their own; they are energized to join others in the project of thriving.  Passion thrives because its strength does not depend on others - it is a fire that burns from within.  Think of passionate people: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bono, Bill Gates.  All of them have that burning perseverance in common. 

Even as passionate people, we plan to encounter the fear of not having enough.  How will we respond to that fear?

Ask someone in your group to begin with prayer.  Have another person read the lesson:

Matthew 6:28-33
Jesus said, “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

How have you seen the capacity of worry to distract from passion?

Have you ever known someone who was a picture for you of striving “first for the kingdom of God”?

What are the central worries in your life right now?

What do you know about God that speaks to your worries?


Worry distracts us from passion and also other people.  For example, worry is what makes us think we are too busy to take extra time with someone in need.  Or maybe worry is what makes us think, as people in need, that other people will certainly be too busy for us. 

Part of what it means when Jesus tells his people not to worry is that we have been given all the time in the world to be God’s People to and for one another and the world.

How would practicing the belief that we have time to be passionate and be present to one another change the possibilities we see?


Exercise: Take 30 seconds to look out toward the water just now and write down everything that you see.  Remember, you only have 30 seconds.

Now, look out the same window, but you have 3 minutes this time.  The instructions are the same: write down everything you see.

How are your vision and your ability to be present connected?


Chic-Fil-A: Everyone Has a Story (a training video)

It's an obvious but needed reminder: everyone has a story, and everyone is carrying some form of burden.  Give yourself permission to feel your own pain right now.  Assume that it is represented ten times over just in this room.  Take your own hopes, and do the same.  They’re not the same hopes, but everyone has his/her own.  And of course, God experiences pain and hopes, too.

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional -people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If -people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase —  that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as -people —  each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”


What is your story? 
Describe your last year with God. 
Describe your hope for this next year with God.
(At the retreat, we did this visually, through art - give yourself a medium and at least 20 minutes.)

Video before break: Why Your Church Doesn’t Feel Like a Family, Mark Driscoll (for fun)


An Order of Service for Noonday (BCP)

After lunch video: Celebrating What's Right with the World, Dewitt Jones
Write down 2 questions you would like to ask the group about the video on possibilities and vision.


Jonathan’s questions: How do you understand the difference in “being best in the world” and “being best for the world”?  What possibilities do you see for your church family in the next year?  The next two years?  The next five years? 

What do you love about yourself and your church?  How does these gifts begin to bridge the distance between where you are and the possibilities to which you believe God is calling you?

Daily Devotions for the Early Evening (BCP)

2020-21 Annual License Renewal Letter

Each year, just before Advent, I request the Bishop's renewal of my license to serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. These annual le...