24 December, 2006

sabbath: the sabbath box

Muller's suggested practice this week: use a sabbath box. A place to put the things that you carry around, and deliberately "let go" of the attended uses. Close the lid, and be done with them until it's time to deliberately pick them up again.

This one was easy for me. In my closet, on the shelves, there's a pretty wooden box with a cross on it that my mother gave me. It tends to gather clutter, but I cleaned that out and made places for the loose change and receipts and other little things.

Every evening, when I got home for the day, I went through the ritual of putting down my responsibilities. For those of you who are dying to know the regular contents of my pockets, here was the regular litany:

Wallet: I am through buying things today.
Wristwatch: I am on family time now. I have no other time-sensitive obligations.
Fountain pen (which goes in the other box, with all the other fountain pens): I am done writing, creating, preaching, and proclaiming today.
Vial of healing oil: I am always a priest, but I am done with my ministry for the day.
Class ring, seminary ring, clerical collar: I am finished being a visible minister of the gospel today.
Cell phone (turned off): I'm finished talking to the rest of the world today.
Keys to the church: I'm done with my job today.

it worked. I was really able to put things down and tell myself later, "nope, that's in the box. Go pick it back up if you want to work." I'll stick with this discipline for a few more weeks and see what comes of it.

18 December, 2006

Sabbath: silence

given that Muller's suggested sabbath exercise was to exercise a period of holy silence, I was tempted to make this a blank post. But, then again, two people would get the joke.

Silence is something I don't get a whole lot of, given that I have a five-year old in the house. I honestly tried to do some holy silence this week, but it didn't happen.

Two thoughts on silence:

First, I agree with Megan that Muller is thinking of the experience of shared silence. Most silences between people are at best uncomfortable, or else icy. Silence is often a negative thing. This sunday, I dropped the ball on the lighting of the advent wreath. We had a first-time acolyte (who did a fabulous job, and I discovered that he has a great singing voice) who was asked to go find the candle-lighter, and light it with matches, and go from place A to place B. I was supposed to help, and I forgot. Since all this action took place behind a pillar, the congregation didn't know what was going on, only that the presider was standing still and waiting. By the time I got to acolyte, his hands were shaking as he tried to light the wick and get out to his place. I bet the whole thing took 15 seconds, but it had the time-gets-multiplied factor that happens whenever there's unplanned silence.

By contrast, I arrived two or three minutes early one day this week for morning prayer. Our reader who leads morning prayer is a dear friend, and after a brief "good morning" we just sat together in companionable silence until he decided that it was time to start. He got up, opened his prayer book, and broke our moment of silence with "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen."

Second, I've experienced a couple of evenings of keeping silence between dinner and breakfast, or between compline and morning prayers. That's been almost frustrating--it's not quite enough silence to let it settle in. Our seminary offered a week-long silent retreat, but I love the sound of my own voice too much and figured I'd come home in a straightjacket, so I never even tried to go.

08 December, 2006

Sabbath: it is good

May the One who creates and restores all things
the One who is Mary's child and child of God
the One who is Holy Spirit
may this Holy One bless you, and fill your lives with joy

this is the blessing I'm using at the end of services during the season of advent. It was written/created/composed by Bill Adams, my liturgics professor.

Muller's chapter this week invites us to remember the fundamental goodness in creation. He says that one of the reasons we don't stop and rest is that we're afraid to be alone with ourselves or alone with the world, because we fear that the world is bad. Or that we are bad.

That's certainly the message that we get pounded into us on a daily basis. We're bad, or at best incomplete, unless we eat this thing/wear these clothes/drive this vehicle. We're not happy unless we watch this Christmas special on TV. Your kids won't love you if you don't buy them the Power Rangers Ulta Mega Bonzo Blaster. It's even true in politics: Vote for me, I'll make things better. Given the barrage of input, it's no wonder we forget sometimes.

The creation story on Genesis is set against a prevailing worldview that offered a story of a destructive, violent universe. It told a different version of the story, one in which the universe is deliberately spoken into existence by God, and that over and over and over God affirms that the physical world is good.

Muller's suggestion for a sabbath discipline this week is to bless people, either with or without their knowledge. Lay your hands on their head and offer a prayer, he suggests. Or do stealth blessings--just look at people who don't know you're praying for them and ask for God's blessing. In this action, you are reminded of their goodness, and of the goodness of creation... and that goodness is a moment of sabbath re-creation.

I guess that's the connection between the ideas on the chapter (i.e., remember the goodness of creation and let that goodness allow you the freedom to rest) and the suggested sabbath exercise (i.e., demonstrate that goodness). But I had trouble making the connection, and more trouble with this week's suggestion. I spent far more time and energy and thought on it than I'm sure he intended. What Muller probably sees as a casual thing, what is a shallow pool for him, is deep water for me, and for my community.

While every praying parent I know prays for their children, very few of those do so with an actual laying on of hands. As he described his suggested activity, I found myself imagining my father's and mother's hands on my head while they talked to God on my behalf, and I ached with wishing that I was remembering instead of imagining.

Here's the other thing. Blessing people in God's name is one of the things I'm asked to do on a regular basis. Those are, more often than you might think, transcendent moments, or "thin" moments, when it seems that the fabric of heaven is just within reach, out of sight, over your shoulder.

For better or worse, (and in many ways I think it's worse), blessing people in the context of liturgical worship is something reserved (in my faith tradition) for a priest. And I struggle with that. And Muller sent me into an exercise of re-examining blessing, with a good bit of unproductive tail-chasing thrown in.

One simple way to introduce the conversation (usually about the transubstantiation of the bread and wine at Eucharist, but extendable to people with only a little stretch), is to ask whether there is an ontological shift. If I make the sign of the cross on your forehead and ask God to bless you, or pronounce God's blessing on you, have you changed?

Well, welcome to a subject about which whole shelves of books have been written, by people smarter than me. But here's my answer, for the moment: My head says no, but my heart says yes. (or at least maybe)

The biggest reason my head says no is that I'm pretty sure I can't tell God what to do. But my heart remembers times in my life when I have been on the receiving end of blessings, and experienced, physically, emotionally, financially, relationally, what I can only describe in hindsight as the blessing of God. Moments of re-creation, what I imagine Muller is looking for.

Maybe, just maybe, this happens because God always wants to bless us. And if there is a person whose understanding of the world includes the idea that I'm allowed to bless them in God's name, then when they see me, hear my voice, feel my hands or fingers, then a little window cracks open for God's fresh air to blow through.

03 December, 2006

Sabbath: mindful breaths

I'm going to tell you something now that is universally true.

No kidding. Everyone reading this will agree with it, and probably every one you know will agree too. I live in a world of shades of gray, so I don't get to make blanket universal statements very often. Are you ready?

People are busy.

Am I right? Are you nodding your head? see, I told you.

There's busy, of course, and then there's busy. We are a nation of cell phone toting, overscheduled, overworked people. There's a reason Starbucks is so dang popular, and one of them is that we've become a nation of caffeine addicts, and we started drinking high-octane stimulants to keep ourselves awake and alert.

I started drinking coffee at university. Friday mornings are what I remember vividly. Friday mornings I had math, physics, and chemistry homework all due on the same day. In later semesters, it was materials science, structures, and vector calculus, but the same pattern existed. There were some Thursday nights I didn't sleep at all. Friday mornings, I would walk through the commons on the way to class, and emerge carrying three glazed doughnuts and the biggest paperboard cup that the food service had full of black coffee. (it was about the size of the venti at Starbucks these days.) That was just to try to keep myself awake through morning classes. I'd have done an IV drip of the stuff if I coulda figgered out how to do one.

But I digress, just a little. We were talking about overscheduled people with too-busy lives.

One of what I believe to be the core disciplines of a modern day disciple of Christ Jesus is Sabbath keeping. So when I read that one of the wisdom people in my life and one of her friends (who will probably become one of my friends when we finally meet) were doing a blogwriting exercise using the framework of the text Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller, I asked if I could play along.

On the heels of that request to play along, our parish administrator informed me that I had so much vacation time left this year that I probably couldn't use it all before the end of the year if I tried, since I hadn't taken but one vacation over the course of the year.

Oops. Sounds like somebody I know needs to practice some disciplines of sabbath keeping, huh?

* * * * * * *

This week, we're reading chapter 4 and doing the accompanying exercise, and reflecting on those. This week, Muller asks us to.... breathe. Stop and take mindful breaths, create spaces of rest and mindfulness in the midst of mundane tasks. For me, for the part of the week that I practiced the exercise, it was three mindful breaths while picking up a pen, uncapping it, and posting the end on the barrel.

I was immediately reminded of liturgics class. Bill Adams, our much-beloved teacher, would occasionally enter the room, sense the collective anxious busyness in our shared space, and gently ask, "do we need to exhale?"

Ah... yes. I remember now. This is a seminary. The church sent me here becase they want me to be a priest. I'm gathered in a room with a bunch of people I love very much. and isn't it beautiful outside?

And there would exist, for just a breath, a delicious moment of collective re-creation.

28 November, 2006

Call me Quasimodo

I always thought that it took a special kind of insanity to sit there, loudly ringing the same jangly bell, hour after hour after hour.

And then a friend asked me to do it.

Don't get me wrong, I like the Salvation Army. They almost never turn anyone away, and they deal with folk who walk in their door who live in places deep down you don't like to talk about at parties. Their transparency of finances is remarkable, and their fundraising percentage phenomenal.

So, anyway, my friend Gordon asked, and I went to help ring the bell last Saturday. He wrote about it here (including a picture of me--last one on the page).

* * * * * *

To answer your question, yes, my own bell dang near drove me crazy. To anyone with a musical ear, a small handheld bell becomes an irritant, like that one slightly flat piano key in the middle of the keyboard.

First you try ringing different ways: grasping handle firmly, like you're ringing a handbell in the church choir. Then with a little more fluid wrist action. then held loosely, dangling from between your fingers. Then with a stiff wrist, ringing from the elbow. Then repeat. I started to feel like the queen of the Rose Bowl parade. wrist, wrist, elbow, elbow...

Then you start experimenting with rhythm. Double rings are the easiest: ding-DING, ding-DING, ding-DING... Single rings with that kind of bell are harder, but you eventually get that down. Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding... Then, after some experimentation, if you hold the bell right, you can get triple-rings. Ding-a-ling, Ding-a-ling, Ding-a-ling.

Then I got creative. They give you a stick so you can push all those folded dollar bills down into the crack in the plastic kettle. So I started using the stick to make the bell ring. First on the bell itself, which sounds even worse... then on the wooden handle, whack-ding, whack-ding, whack-ding. After a few minutes of this, you discover where to whack the thing so it won't ring and will just give you a percussive sound. AHA! Rhythm!

Of course, you don't want to be too obvious about trying out your ringing technique. You're kinda in public. Kinda. But Gordon's right. There's a sense in which you blend in with the architecture and the elevator music, and you don't really exist for most people.

I did a one-man, stick-and-bell rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Then it was on to "Angels from the realms of glory." My perambulating audience seemed to take no notice of the remarkable artistry being displayed. Even tried a rendition of "Jingle Bells," even though I can't stand that song, because... well, yeah, it's a jingle bell. The good news was that nobody stopped to criticize my own little bizarre brand of holiday artistry.

So, anyway, give to the salvation army. They do good work.
And say hi to the bell ringer, even if you don't have anything to put in the kettle.

19 November, 2006

pretty words

Okay, there haven't been many posts recently.

Mostly because I've been sick. The creeping crud, I guess. My physician told me to get some sleep and take my vitamins, so we'll see.

The lack of posts is also because people haven't been asking for copies of sermons, and because I haven't been writing monthly articles. I didn't turn one in one month, and the ceiling didn't cave in. And then another month, and then they got used to life without my articles. I'm not sure anyone was reading the little things anyway. I'm also going to be undertaking a self-enforced blog writing exercise on Sabbath disciplines. stay tuned.

But today, I heard something blogworthy in the ubiquitous handshaking line after church.

Pretty words, Sonny, but don't change the liturgy.

The irony was that the sermon used as one of its two foundational texts the great sermon to the Hebrews, which says, in effect, "it's not about the liturgy."

These might have been the pretty words in question: "God's people are called not to preservation, but to proclamation. Not to immovability, but to agility."

01 November, 2006

C. Robinson, DFF

SAN ANTONIO (AP)-- It's become a tradition that championship teams get invited to the president's house. The Super Bowl champs get White House tours and ceremonies in the Rose Garden. This year, the ETSS Alumni Fantasy Football League honored last year's champion with a private ceremony at the Dean's office... in the basement.

In a Cinderella story almost beyond belief, the San Antonio Monsters rode a wave of utterly improbable coincidence into the playoffs.

In week 13 of the 2005-2006 season, the Monsters ended the regular season campaign with a crushing 111-46 defeat at the hands of the Dixie Dawgs, leaving the Monsters with a record of 5-8. While the Monsters were taking a first-class whupping, however, during the final game between the Delta Blues and Tennessee Blue Ticks, coach Chuck Culpepper benched star RB Shaun Alexander for the entire second half. Alexander was playing in the snow, and the coach later said he was worried about an injury. But Alexander, who the year before came up a yard short on the NFL rushing title, once again came up a yard short. One more yard would have meant one more fantasy point... and a change in the wild card bid to the playoffs. And so the Monsters, who were ready to pack their bags after a dismal season, found themselves in the playoffs.

As the TV ads kept saying, anything can happen in the playoffs. And happen they did.

Week 14 saw the Monsters pitted against the Zydeco ChaChas. The Chas watched with dismay as Fred Taylor, Donald Driver, Joey Galloway, and the Colts defense all collapsed simultaneously, giving the Monsters the win despite a zero-point performance by their starting quarterback. Tests on the affected players' pregame gifts of cookies (which arrived in brown-wrapper packages) ultimately proved inconclusive.

Week 15 saw the Dixie Dawgs contribute to the Monsters' improbable streak by choosing to use the Seahawks defense instead of the Ravens. Despite poor lineup choices at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, the Monsters found themselves stumbling into the super bowl.

Super Bowl week, it was the West Coast Woozy Wockers' turn to lie down under the wheels of the Monster truck, as Uber-back LT2 scored a whopping 5 points. Monsters workhorse RB Corey Dillon limped into the end zone twice on national TV to seal the Monsters victory.

"Wow," said the bemused Coach Cristopher, "I ought to get an honorary doctorate for this."

And so, some nine months later, at a small but distinguished ceremony in the basement of the dean's office, Coach Cristopher was awarded the degree of Doctor of Fantasy Footballology, honoris causa. Former league champion Bob Kinney was there to hand out the honorary degree, give the graduation speech, serve the refreshments, take the pictures, sweep the floor, and lock up afterwards. "Don't know how the hell you did it," Bob said. "Musta sold yer soul to the devil."

14 October, 2006

Happy Schereschewsky Day!

I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.
--Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

Today is the feast day of this blog's inspiration (and patron saint, if you're into that kind of observance).

While I was in college, I roomed with a couple of fellow episcopalians (and a gaggle of assorted hangers-on) who once decided that we needed a patron saint. So we turned to the calendar of feast days in the Book of Common Prayer and went skimming through the odd and/or old names. Somebody saw October 14th, and made a comment like "sher-uh-shoe-ski?" (mispronouncing it) "who the hell is THIS guy?" As the longest and oddest name in the calendar of feast days, we adopted him as our unofficial patron.

Later on, we heard his story. And most of us were struck with a sense of awe at what God had done with this little man, and a small measure of shame for having made fun.

At the consecration of the new suffragan bishop for West Texas, the sermon (one of the finest I've heard in a while) featured St. Sam as its central character. Unfortunately, Bishop Hibbs either didn't use a text, didn't offer it for publication, and/or it wasn't recorded, or else I'd post it here.

a biography, taken from "st. sam's cyberparish" at www.stsams.org

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was born in Lithuania in 1831, went to Germany to study for the rabbinate, there became a Christian, emigrated to America, trained for the priesthood, and in 1859 was sent by the Episcopal Church to China, where he devoted himself from 1862 to 1875 to translating the Bible into Mandarin Chinese.

In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai, where he founded St John's University, and began his translation of the Bible into Wenli (another Chinese dialect). He developed Parkinson's disease, was largely paralyzed, resigned his position as Bishop of Shanghai, and spent the rest of his life completing his Wenli Bible, the last 2000 pages of which he typed with the one finger that he could still move.

Four years before his death in 1906, he said: "I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted."

From William Steven Perry's Bishops of the American Church (1897):

The third missionary bishop of the Church in the United States appointed to China was a native of Russian Lithuania, and was born in Tanroggen, May 6, 1831.

He was educated in the schools of his native town and in the adjacent town of Krazi, and at the Rabbinical College at Zhitomeer, in Russia. He was a student for two years at the University of Breslau, Germany, On coming to this country he was for a time in the Western Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, but afterward entered the General Theological Seminary. He received deacon's orders in St. George's Church, New York, July 7, 1859, from the first Bishop Boone, who ordained him to the priesthood in the mission chapel at Shanghai, October 28, 1860. In 1875 he was elected by the House of Bishops to the missionary episcopate of Shanghai, but declined. Two years later he was again chosen to this office, and was with difficulty induced to accept. He received the doctorate in divinity from Kenyon in 1876, and from Columbia the following year.

He was consecrated in Grace Church, New York, October 31, 1877, by Bishops Bosworth Smith. Henry Potter, Bedell, Stevens, Kerfoot, and Lyman. After most faithful labors in his field, failing health compelled his resignation of his episcopate, which was accepted by the House of Bishops in 1883.

The celebrated Professor Max Müller, of Oxford, stated to the writer in 1888 that Bishop Schereschewsky was 'one of the six most learned Orientalists in the world.' He has translated from the Hebrew the whole of the Old Testament into the Mandarin dialect. He was one of the committee having charge of the translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into the same tongue. Together with the bishop of Hong-Kong, Dr. Burden, he has translated the Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin. He has also translated the Gospels into Mongolian, and has prepared a dictionary of that language. He has (1895) just gone abroad to perfect and publish these translations, which have occupied his time since the resignation of the episcopate.

01 October, 2006

The heavens are telling

When I was a boy, I didn't see the stars very much. I grew up in Austin, which even back then was a city of several hundred thousand people, and there was lots of light pollution, and you couldn't see much of the stars. Later we moved to the Houston area, which was even worse. Houston is a huge, sprawling place, with lots of people and lots of lights and lots of smog and lots of clouds. On a good night in Houston you can see about ten stars.

I knew there were more of them up there, of course. We'd take car trips sometimes at nights, and stop for gas in the little towns in between big cities. I liked to wander just a little, out away from the buzzing fluorescent lights and out away from where the June bugs and the moths distracted you, and look up at the sky. It was a little better then. You could see lots of stars, hundreds maybe, even on the Texas Gulf Coast. I always knew that somewhere up above the dense, sticky humid air, somewhere waaaay far away, there were these lights in the sky, and it was a little secret thrill just to see them when I could.

But the real beginning of my love affair with astronomy began when my parents took me camping out at Big Bend state park, out there in the direction of El Paso, miles and miles away from any city, and up in the mountains of West Texas.

You ever seen the stars on a really dark night, up high out of some of the atmosphere, out away from the city lights? Out there, the stars are amazing. As a little boy, my eyes were drawn to the sky like iron filings to a magnet. The stars weren't little dim dots in the sky, fighting their way through the haze. They shone like diamonds dropped on black velvet. They had colors! Red and yellow and blue-white and orange and gold. They twinkled and flickered, fluttering like the beating hearts of living things.

Those were the stars that Abraham saw, the founder of the nation of God's chosen people, who heard the call to go and bless the world, and obeyed.

Those were the stars that Moses saw, up on the mountain receiving the law.

Those were the stars that Jesus and the disciples saw, as they rowed across the Sea of Galilee by night.

Those were the stars that the ancient Hebrew poets saw, exiled from their homeland and held captive in Babylon, when they wrote and compiled the scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament.

I can imagine an old Hebrew man, sitting beside a stream in the darkness, a thousand miles from his home, staring up at those same stars I see, and softly singing

The heavens are telling the glory of God
With wonders of God's work resounds the firmament.

That's certainly not what the children of Babylon were told. Do you know the Babylonian creation story?

The story is told in an epic poem, known by its first two words: Enuma Elish.
The story tells how Tiamat, the great dragon, the mother of all the gods, takes part in a great war in heaven. The gods fight, and Marduk, the chief god of the city of Babylon, crushes her head with a club. Then he takes a sword and slits her right down the middle, and from her corpse he creates the world. Her guts become the world, and her skin becomes the sky, and that sort of thing. And Marduk, because he is the strongest, sets up the laws of the universe. Then he kills Tiamat's consort, and from his corpse he takes the materials to make human beings, so that the humans can do menial tasks for the gods.

You, and everything that is, was born out of violence. You are made of the corpse of a dead god. The gods only made you for menial labor. The gods are still watching, and though there is some order in the universe, the gods might come and get you if they feel like it. The whirling things in the sky are watching you. The gods are capricious and wicked, at war with each other. The earth has meaning, but its meaning is nasty, and life is brutal.

That's what a Babylonian child grew up hearing.

But that's not the story I was told in school.

Here's what my teachers and textbooks taught me: A long time ago, a very, very long time ago, the universe began with a huge cataclysmic explosion. For a short fraction of a second, everything was heat and light, all the energy in the known universe in one place. Then everything went rushing outward, faster than we can realistically contemplate. Some of the stuff of the universe formed into great burning balls, and then those balls eventually burned up and coalesced into stuff like carbon, and then those stars exploded, and from the leftover stuff form the explosions, planets were formed.

So much later that it's difficult for our minds to contemplate, on one of those planets around a small star, conditions were just kinda accidentally right for life to happen, and so life started. We don't really know how, and we can't duplicate it, of course, but somehow the little microscopic thingies lined up in the right order and something unusual happened and the little microscopic bits did something else and then they were alive. And so life on Earth began with some kind of pond scum, probably. And some of that pond scum survived, and it grew up and became bacteria and tadpoles and dinosaurs and trees and roses and penguins and other critters.

And then, so the story goes, something called natural selection takes over. Natural selection says that the strong critters survive and the weak critters get eaten, which is okay because the weak critters are, well, weak, and I guess they deserve to be eaten. So whatever it was that made the strong critters stronger than the weak critters gets passed to their children, and after a really long time you get a species of critter that doesn't look anything like what you started with.

And the universe doesn't care.

The universe, says this creation story, is vast beyond our imagining. It is almost completely empty, and bitterly cold, with only a few accidental pockets of heat and light. The world is that way it is, and it is utterly merciless and without pity, indeed without consciousness at all. And you, you blobs of overgrown pond scum, are great cosmic accidents, who probably shouldn't be here at all. You are so small and so insignificant you can't possibly begin to imagine it. Life has no meaning whatsoever.

The creation story in the first two or three chapters of Genesis is often set against the big bang theory, and you often hear them described as diametrically opposed, as if they were mutually contradictory. I've been asked, "are you a scientist or are you a Christian?" or "do you believe in evolution or are you a Christian?"

The key point, I think, is that the old Hebrew poets who gazed at the stars didn't know the theories of Galileo or Copernicus or Joss Hawthorn or Steven Hawking. What they knew was that their children were being taught that they were born in violence, and that the universe was subject to the capricious whims of god who were constantly at war. That only the strong survive, and the weak are killed, and they deserve it.

And so the Hebrew poets told a story of creation that begins in the same way the Babylonian creation story begins: with nothing. In fact, the order of creation is the same in the two stories--first there is light, then the sky, then the earth, and so on. But the Bible's creation song has a refrain that separates it from the other story. Do you remember what Genesis says, over and over, at the end of the days?

And God saw that it was good.

And at the end of the song, God saw everything that God had made, and God said, it is very good.

In this version of the story, human beings are made by God's own fingers, scooped up out of the dust of the ground, and they carry in their nostrils God's own breath. Rather than being slaves to the whims of violent Gods, Abraham and his descendents, both genetic and spiritual, are covenant partners with God. Covenant partners to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

This leads us to the question of how God interacts with the world, and what it means when bad things happen, or at least start the beginning of the introduction to the answer to that question... stay tuned.

Today, we baptize [John Doe]. What story shall we tell him as he grows up?
Shall we tell him that he is an accident? Or shall we tell him that he is created in God's image?

I think we tell him that the universe is vast and magnificent, that it is orderly rather than capricious. I think we show him the stars, and teach him Newton's laws of motion, and show him pictures from the hubble space telescope of the birth of new stars, and let him experience the awe and wonder of the majesty of the universe. I think we teach him the ancient song of the Hebrew poets, who said "the heavens are telling the glory of God."

I think we tell him that he matters, that he is created in the image of God who made and blessed and continues to bless the world, and that his life is intended to bless the world as well.

And so is yours.

30 September, 2006

Wired Parish

I was recently offered a trial subscription to an interesting idea: Wired Parish.

It's a collection of regularly offered podcasts, provided by several big names, with exclusive content. It's not a parish in the sense of a community of people, but rather a resource.

I'm new to the whole podcasting thing. I know, I know, get with the program.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first two offerings I listened to, one by Brian McLaren and one by Reggie McNeal. Both are authors that I've read and enjoyed, and hearing their voices was a delight. McLaren offered some faithful reflections on scripture, specifically on the creation stories in Genesis.

Reggie McNeal's cast was about the difference between GenX and Boomer generations in worship, and why GenX folk tend not to fit into Boomer-shaped holes. Makes me want to play it for my vestry.

further review, if warranted, in the upcoming weeks.

20 September, 2006

The big question

I just want to make something clear, for the record: I am a Christian.

That may not come as a surprise to you. I don’t know. But if you meet me on the street and ask me who I am, if you ask if I go to church, I tell you that I’m a Christian. The next question is usually "where do you go to church?" and then I say that I’m a member of St. Thomas’ church. I guess you would say that I’m a Christian first and an Episcopalian second, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. I mean that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, that I believe that Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world (which includes me) and that I try to honor my covenant partnership with God in the best of the Anglican tradition.

I try to turn the conversations away from church and toward Jesus, and not just because we’ve been getting ourselves in trouble recently in the national press. I do that because I think that the church is a group of people who are followers of Jesus who are trying to live together and do our best to bless the world. But I don’t think the church is going to save anyone. That’s God’s job.

My first exposure to Jesus was in Southern Baptist Sunday school. I was given a Children’s living Bible translation that contained pictures of Jesus. There he was, in hallmark-quality artwork, a nice smiling Caucasian man in a white robe, with blue eyes and tastefully combed hair, carrying a spotless sheep on his back while little children danced around his feet. My Sunday school teachers had me memorize verses from my little Bible. This is what I learned in Sunday School:

Jesus loves me.
Jesus wants me to be good.
Jesus wants me to be quiet and respectful (and sit still) in church
Jesus wants me to mind my parents
Jesus wants me to eat my broccoli.
The Bible is God’s word, and you don’t argue with it—you do exactly what it says.

* * * * * * *

When I got a little bit older, I was introduced to a different kind of Jesus, or, if you prefer, a different picture, or a different understanding. I started to hear stories about blood and death and sin. I started heading stories along a basic formula: God made us, and wants us to be good and perfect, but we screw up. (duh) And the price for screwing up is death, eternal separation from God. But Jesus paid the price for my sins. Jesus went to the cross for me. Jesus reconciled me to God.

And as I grew up, the world of my childhood started to clash with my adult world. My best friend in high school got disgusted with the hypocrisy of the church he attended, and the dysfunctional nature of the family he grew up in who claimed to be Christian, and he quit going to church, and so far as I know, he’s never been back. Three or four other friends, brainy types, started challenging me on questions like “your bible says the world was created in seven days. Do you really believe that?” and “can you prove to me, with an experiment like we do in Physics class, that God exists?” And many of them have left the church and never come back.

They did what far too many people do: when the slightly more grown-up version of the world doesn’t match their childhood picture of God, they threw out God along with the childhood worldview rather than looking for a new understanding of God in their new understanding of reality.

The church has been guilty of that, in our history. Galileo Galilei, a name you’ll remember from high school physics, was considered the father of astronomy. He published and defended a heliocentric theory of the universe, or that the sun was at the center of the solar system and the planets revolved around it, rather than the prevailing theory, which was that the earth was the fixed center of the universe.

The text that got him in trouble, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632. He was ordered to stand trial in 1633 on suspicion of heresy, and later sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, on the grounds that his work was incompatible with holy scripture and the teachings of the church, based in part on references to scripture like Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

In the deep he has set a pavilion for the sun,
It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber
It rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the outermost edge of the heavens
And runs about to the end of it again,
Nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

I doubt that any of you read those lines and interpreted them that the sun begins the day in the depths of the sea, and drives across the sky. Even the church, faced with a picture of God incompatible with what we had known previously, was unable to look for a new understanding of God in a new understanding of the world.

* * * * * * *

In the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, we hear Jesus ask what just might be the greatest question in all of the Bible. In fact, if you wanted to summarize the Bible in one phrase, you might say some thing like John 3:16, or you might say something like “all is forgiven.” Or you might borrow Jesus’ phrase from today’s reading:

who do you say that I am?

The setting of today’s reading is highly significant.

Caesarea Phillipi, the site of the story in Mark 8, was the capital of Philip the tetrarch’s territory, on the far northern end of the Biblical lands. It was formerly called Panias, named after the Greek god Pan.

Panias was the site of a grotto, out of which ran a stream that fed the headwaters of the Jordan River. It was a place dedicated for worship of the Greek god Pan. Remember Pan? Half-goat, half-man, wild, capricious, uncontrollable. Pan was the god of shepherds, who were wild half-beast people themselves. A shepherd slept out in the field with the animals, didn’t bathe much, smelled like sheep all the time. A brave shepherd might take on a mountain lion with a stick. Not exactly the kind of people you wanted to bring home to meet your mother.

More important for the gospel reading, Pan was also the god of fear. The kind of fear you experience in wild, open spaces, far from help. It’s from the name Pan that we get our word panic.

Just before Jesus was born, the city had been renamed Caesarea Philippi in homage to Caesar. Herod the Great had built a great white marble temple there to his patron, the temple of the god Caesar.

So Jesus stands between the grotto of fear and the temple of power, and asks, “who do people say that I am?”

This passage is called the hinge passage in Mark. A hinge because it is the question on which the whole story turns. The first half of the story asks the question “Who is this?” The disciples even ask the question in the text—who is this, who speaks with such authority? Who is this, who casts out demons? Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

After the hinge, the rest of the gospel story asks a different question: “What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?” Jesus gives us a summary: the Christ will suffer and die, and be raised from the dead.

A hinge because it is the center point of Peter’s life. He’s done some significant things. He’s a married man. Might have a family. He’s also done some daring things—leaving his nets to go follow this traveling rabbi. But after this question, his life is different.

And the question that Jesus asks, the hinge on which Peter’s life turns, is: who do you say that I am?

Jesus stands between the grotto of fear and the temple of power, a simple man with dirty feet. I am not like the gods of the Greeks, who play capriciously with mortals, so that people are afraid of offending the gods. I am not like the god of my childhood, one who demands sacrifice. I am not the god of political power. I am not the god of the white marble temple on the hill, built by slave labor, to a man everybody knows isn’t god but is afraid to say or the legions will kill your family.

No, says Jesus, I am the god who lays down his life in obedience. I am the god who teaches that love is the greatest power there is, who tells you to turn your swords into plows and your combat helmets into birdbaths. I am the God who dies in shame on the cross, takes the worst that humanity has to dish out, and gives only love in return.

* * * * * * *

The question I think the text is asking is this:
have you hit the hinge in your story yet?
Have you turned the corner from who is Jesus to what does that mean?

Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

I told you earlier that I always try to respond that I’m a Christian, rather than an Episcopalian. That’s because being a church-goer can get in the way. Doing churchy things is easier than answering Jesus’ question. Going to meetings about ministry is easier than getting out and getting your hands dirty. It’s certainly safer.

But Jesus never promised safe.

The question for us is the same as it was for Peter, all those years ago.
who do you say that Jesus is?
And what does that mean?

18 September, 2006


I've been accused of blogslacking, since I haven't posted in three weeks.

Not guilty.

For those of you wanting to know what's been happening, here's a brief summary:
* I got sick, only one day a stay-at-home kind of day, but more a lingering, nagging, grossness.
* School has started. We have to be there, and on time, every day. So we have to leave for school at the same time every day, and we have to fight the traffic, and our schedule is thrown all off.
* I've done (performed? facilitated? officated at?) two off-site funerals, both from families who aren't regularly-attending parishioners (which means that I've had to spend more time than usual getting to know the families and planning the services), both times when the rector was out of town and I had to do all the liturgical lifting anyway.
* I led chapel for the day school for a whole week in a row, which is a new idea.
* we put on a budgetary conference for the diocese at our home parish, which involved a practice session, and then a setup session, and then a six-hour conference.

I've had several blog-worthy thoughts, but no time and energy to complete them and write them down.

01 September, 2006

Ways to tell you're in the Diocese of West Texas

I stopped at a traffic light the other day, and took a careful look at the car in front of me. It was a laborer's pickup truck--long bed, four doors, with chipped white paint, a multitude of small dents and scratches associated with moving heavy loads. One of those huge round steel bumpers, with a massive tow hitch. Pipe, or lumber, or something, sticking out the back.

It was the bumper stickers that caught my attention, though:

"Bush-Cheney 2000"

"W for President 2004"

"I only fish on days ending in Y"

"Proud member of the National Rifle Association"


"The Episcopal Church welcomes you"

22 August, 2006

someone else's ink smudges

yes, I'm the Cristopher referenced in this eloquently written article. (also here)

Amen, RLP!

16 August, 2006

Writing sermons is hard, Part 6

In response to my earlier post, "Onward Christian Soldiers," the question was asked:

Can you preach about that, somewhere along the line?

Which is a really good question. One that deserves its own post.

My answer:
Well...no. Not here and now, anyway.

My congregation is in San Antonio, Texas. We have a huge number of retired military and active military members. It's a pro-military environment, with some of the usual trappings; e.g., we carry the American flag in procession behind the cross, and veterans day is a big deal, with recognition of those who served and special prayers. I actually got a nastygram after the sermon July 4th weekend for not supporting the troops. I heard some grumbling after a one-sentence insert into one of the rector's sermons, which went something like "you can't make peace while you're lobbing bombs at somebody."

I did wrestle, hard, on the Sunday morning in question, with the idea of ditching my prepared sermon and speaking from the passion that the hymn had brought up in me. What stopped me was the knowledge that I'm not that articulate preaching while shooting from the hip, to use a military metaphor. I've tried it, and it doesn't work so well. And if I'm going to preach something that I know isn't going to be immediately well-received, I want to be extremely careful.

My current thought is that, if I want to confront a congregation, I have to have either (1) a large stockpile of relational credibility, so they know that we love each other even if I fuss at them, or (2) zero relational credibility, meaning that nobody knows me, which gives an odd freedom to speak, even if only a small fraction of the congregation will really hear. After a year, I hope there's a small positive balance in the credibility account. But not enough.

Of course, I do realize that by that argument I'll almost never say anything difficult, and much of the gospel is uncomfortable to western middle-class culture if you really pay attention, so I can't always be positive.

I've picked up a couple of books on the topic of preaching uncomfortable messages, in hopes of finding some help.

08 August, 2006

Onward Christian soldiers, part 2

More on "Onward Christian Soldiers."

one of the dearest people in my congregation took me to task last Sunday, and rightfully so, by pointing out that Hezbollah started it. This is a person who lived through the Nazi regime, and knows first-hand the horrors of what happens to the world when someone declares that someone else's very existence is offensive. Her story is precious, and it's hers, not mine, so I won't share any more of it here. Suffice it to say she's well and truly earned the right to fuss at me.

I don't dispute the nation of Israel's right to defend themselves. I don't dispute that Hezbollah is indiscriminately firing rockets into Israeli territory, or that they are using innocent (or mostly innocent) Lebanese civilians as shields.

But children are dying.


Is there anybody on the face of God's green earth who thinks this is a good thing?

I haven't written, or spoken, much about the conflict. I've been praying. Asking people to pray with me. Feeling helpless and angry. Crying.
And now I'm grateful for the cease-fire, or whatever the diplomats are calling it.

Part of the reason I've been mostly silent is that this is not an impersonal war for me. Just so's you know, I'm Lebanese-American. By covenant. My stepfather's family is from Lebanon, and I'm adopted and accepted into that family tree. I have what I think is one heck of a sermon on that subject in my back pocket, waiting for the right text to pull it out.

I have relatives we haven't heard any news of since the shooting started. The town my great-grandfather came from is scorched.

dona nobis pacem

sacred space

Imagine, if you will, one of the Thin Places of the world.

A place in the middle of nowhere, off a two-lane road in south Texas.

A river runs along one border, with gigantic trees digging their thirsty toes into the banks.

The grass in August is brown and crispy.

It's a hundred degrees in the shade.

welcome to Camp Capers.

The diocese of West Texas has run a kids' camp there since before my parents were born. I met a couple of third-generation campers there. The current bishop of West Texas, the most recent bishop of West Texas, and the bishop suffragan of West Texas all were campers there, and summer staff counselors, and all met their future spouses there. Seems like half the clergy of the diocese were campers or counselors or both.

It's not the programs. We do things like play kickball and capture the flag.

It's not the facilities, which are mostly not air-conditioned, and some are showing their age.

It sure ain't the weather.

It's God. somehow. We bring kids up there and love on them for a week at a time, and it changes their lives. Doesn't seem logical. But somewhere in the middle of the camp songs and the arts and crafts and the swimming in the river, God acts. You can see the results.

You know what I call the place? sacred ground.

I got to be the chaplain for a week. I'm dead tired. but it's a good tired.

30 July, 2006

Onward Christian soldiers

(originally written before going away for a week)

Twice now in a month I've run up against a serious problem with the hymns in church.

In general, I think hymns are some of our greatest theological stuff. Written on the cover page of my prayer book/hymnal is this quotation from one of my seminary professors: "in thirty years of ministry, I've never once heard the congregation walk out the door of the church humming the sermon."

Part of the stealth evangelism of hymns is that we don't memorize them, and they're complicated, and so we find ourselves carried along by the music, not paying particularly careful attention to the words.

But I do sit down and pay careful attention. If I'm going to lead the congregation in worship, that includes singing. I've got a big voice, and I love to pray while singing. But, for the pre-written parts of the order of worship, I want to know ahead of time what prayers I'm leading, and I study them in advance of Sunday.

At St. Thomas, in July, we're basically taking requests from the congregation. We put voting cards in the pew sheet one day, and the music director tallied up the votes. The end result has been fun, since we've been able to sing a bunch of old favorites. It's also been funny at times...we did Christmas hymns, Easter hymns, lenten hymns... and only occasionally would they directly correlate to the lectionary texts for the week. That's okay. It's been fun.

Until this morning.

This morning, the congregational choices were hymns 561 and 562.

stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey
forth to the mighty conflict in this his glorious day
ye that are his now serve him against unnumbered foes
let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

and this:

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

um...yes, acually, we are divided. And it's doctrine we're divided about.

This morning, before we got up to go gather as the church, the nation of Israel (funded and supplied by the United States) dropped bombs on Qana, killing 54 people, including 19 children. And it's at least in part a religious war. A war we're participating in, secondhand. More about that later.

I've always been able to justify the words to "Onward Christian Soldiers" this way:
the first verse clearly describes a liturgical procession. And that makes the theological statement a reversal of worldly values, i.e., the only kind of war Christians wage is in church, by opening the doors to anyone who would come in, by proclaiming the gospel of the one who said to turn the other cheek. It's an anti-battle.

But this morning, it was too much. The words to the hymns seemed to say "we're going to come kick your butt in the name of Jesus."

Instead of singing, I hung my head and walked in and out of the church in silence.

and wept, just a little, even though I tried not to.

14 July, 2006

Writing sermons is hard, Part 5

Sometimes, I just don't have any guts.

For example:

This week's gospel reading, Mark 6:14-29, tells the story of Salome dancing so provocatively before the king that he makes a rash and exorbitant promise.
In today's world, something in the neighborhod of $60 billion is spent on pornography each year, $3 billion on child pornography. Over 10% of all web sites host pornographic material.

and I'm not going there.

This week's gospel also tells the story of John the Baptizer, thrown into prison by the king for being a danger to the state, and left there without possibility of parole. There are now approximately 450 people held at Guantanamo Bay--some have been there for years--with the Supreme Court only recently granting the possibility of their release after trial.

Since I live in San Antonio, Texas, I'm not gonna go there, either.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.

04 July, 2006

in order to form a more perfect union

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This weekend's holiday is called "Independence Day." It's a day that celebrates something more than an event, something more than the historical memory of the founding of our country, something more than fighting for own government separate from the British crown. I think this holiday celebrates something far deeper, something that is at the heart of American values and American character.

Independence is almost a part of the DNA of Americans. We teach independence to our children. We teach it in our schools, and we teach it in our homes. We teach that this is a land of freedom. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of choice. As long as we abide by the laws of the land, we can go anywhere we want to go and do anything we want to do. We can do wise things and we can, if we wish, do foolish and destructive things.

This is a country where a man born in a house with a dirt floor can, and has, become the President of the United States, so beloved to our national understanding that we carved his face on the side of a mountain. This is a country where a young man with little more than an idea, and ambition, and some luck, can and has become the richest man in the world.

But our freedom has its dark side. If we are free to do anything we want to, we are also free to leave undone some things which ought to be done. We are free to walk past the poor and the homeless. We are free to ignore the sick. We are free to ignore the children without parents. We are free to ignore anything we choose. You and I live in a society where we are free to not even know our neighbors.

So, how are we to govern this great collection of autonomous individuals?

Enter democracy. The great experiment. The great pride of America, and some would say our most valuable contribution to the world.

I'll admit it, I grew up in this country. I only know one way to live. And that is a democratic way. A way that acknowledges the basic freedom and basic worth of everyone else. A way that allows every person to have a say in how we live our lives together. It's slow. It's cumbersome. It's frustrating sometimes. But it's what we have.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My first real experience with democracy was not a particularly pleasant one. Now, to tell you this story, I have to make a bit of a confession. When I was a kid, I was, well, something of a geek. A nerd. A dweeb. A dork. At the tender age of 12, I was one of the founding members of the local junior high school Star Trek club.

Keep in mind this was before "Star Trek: the Next Generation" and all of its spinoffs were created. We had old trek: ridiculous overacting, cardboard sets, aliens made of flashy blinking lights. There were a couple of movies out, and a series of paperback fiction books set in the star trek universe. The members of the club would gather and watch old episodes, reruns which aired at 10:00 at night on weekdays, and play a board game called "star fleet battles," and... well...you know what Trekkies do. And for those of you who don't, maybe it's better that I stop right there.

But of course, if we're a club, we have to have officers with funny titles. I was one of the founding members, and since we used Space-navy vocabulary so as to be spiritually closer to our galactic heroes, I was the Rear Admiral. Or something. This, of course, allowed us to send coded messages to each other and sign them with our appropriately grand titles, which I'm sure caused no end of amusement to the math teacher who confiscated a note that I had been passed, intending to read it to the class, only to find that it consisted of a string of coded gibberish signed impressively at the bottom by "Vice Admiral Morgan." I seem to recall my friend John ordering me to make up an entrance exam for the club, testing prospective members on their devotion to the cause by their knowledge of the inner secrets of Trek.

It was fun for awhile, but then we grew, and attracted more members... and there was grumbling in the ranks. Grumbling that swelled into a full-blown hostile takeover. I don't remember what the argument was about, frankly, it was probably just something silly, or else just arguing for the sake of arguing, which is not unheard of among teenaged boys. But I do remember that, being Americans, freedom and democracy and all that, we finally decided that we would do was to take a vote to elect the fleet admiral of the club, whose word was thereafter to be obeyed instantly and without question. And nobody thought that was weird.

So we took a vote, and, lo and behold, my friend John was out. And I also suffered the indignity of demotion. And it was sorely tempting to take our, um, phasers, and go home, so to speak. But what could we do? We'd voted, like we agreed to, and lost. But...we still liked Star Trek. So we stayed in the club. And we still stayed up late and watched reruns, and still played games and practiced our Spock-isms. Live long, and prosper.

I learned that year that sometimes democracy is a pain. Especially when you lose, or feel like you've lost, and you have to live with what the other side wants.

But then I grew up, and learned that we do that all the time. The modern American political system is pretty much evenly divided into two major political parties. I'm an independent voter, myself, which means that my candidate loses with distressing regularity, or the vote on the bond issue, or the change in the law, or the amendment, goes the opposite of how I wanted it. The thing is, I never stop being proud of my country. (and if that pride is a sin, then so be it.) I am occasionally ashamed of the behavior of my government representatives, sometimes even people I voted for, but I don't stop being proud of America.

And, more importantly, I never stop needing the people I live with, even when I disagree with them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Listen to some wisdom from Paul, written to Christians in Corinth.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Let's be clear: Paul is talking about the church at Corinth, not about the current government of the United States, or about the problems the church is having in convention trying to decide on which road to take. I don't think we can read Paul's letter, from another time and another culture, addressed to somebody else, and read it as if it were written to St. Thomas in San Antonio. But I do think that Paul says something wise, something that we can hold on to: we need each other.

Here's the truth: the church is divided on the issue of human sexuality. Good people of faith, sincerely trying to discern God's will, do not hear the same thing. Bishops, priests, deacons, and laity, all four orders of ministry in the church, are in the same boat. And while I might wish for the discussion to be easier, it's just not. So what do we do about it?

we acknowledge that we disagree on something. There were recently votes taken in convention, and resolutions passed and failed, but by narrow margins rather than by overwhelming majorities.

as a part of the realization that we do not see a clear way forward, we continue in discussion. Bishop Lillibridge has clearly stated that we in West Texas will continue to be a part of the Windsor process, which means that we continue in dialogue.

we realize that, while the way forward is ambiguous, we all are invited to be a part of the kingdom of God revealed here. This is the difficult part.

When I came down here, just over a year ago, to interview with Chuck and with the vestry to see if I might be a good fit for St. Thomas, this question came up. Chuck has given me permission to share my answer to the question back then with you today; I think I said something to the effect that until we hear the Holy Spirit speak clearly and decisively, until our Bishop asks us to move decisively one way or the other, or until convention speaks with something more clearly approaching a unanimous voice, that we have to realize that this is an unsolved issue. And while it is unsolved, I think our doors have to remain open to anyone who walks through. Old, young, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white, brown, green, and chartreuse, everybody gets a seat at the table, and everybody plays nice. And we have to do the difficult thing of living and working alongside people who are believers in the gospel of Christ Jesus who don't agree with us on the details.

Now, I don't know, but I believe, that the founders of our country would approve of that. The writers of the Constitution were all religious people, of varying denomination. They knew what is was to argue and lose. The wording of the constitution itself bears the marks of reasoned discussion and disagreement. But they had read the words of St. Paul to Corinth, and I think that they understood that they needed each other, when they began the Constitution with we, the people...in order to form a more perfect union.

There is something in the noblest part of the American character that knows this. There is something in us that wants to reach for the great society where hunger and poverty and sickness and abuse and neglect are no more.

This is our chance, as the church, to remind the nation what the noblest aspects of freedom are, and to disagree with one another with honor,
acknowledging that all people are created in God's image,
treating all people with dignity, respect, and courtesy,
and, as Paul says, outdoing one another in showing love.

This holiday, join me
in giving thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy,
in giving thanks to God for the peoples of many lands and cultures who have come together to create, out of their differences, this great nation.
In giving thanks to God for the richness and diversity of our heritage.

Let us remember that our work is not yet done, and rededicate ourselves to difficult work--the formation of a more perfect union.

18 June, 2006

Mustard seeds and cedar trees

Friends, I’m stuck this week.

On the one hand, General Convention is going on as we speak. The next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church will be elected later today, a person whose name we will hold up in prayer together each week for the next nine years. On the other hand, I have instructions from Bishop Lillibridge not to add fuel to the fire if at all possible. Can’t talk about it, can’t not talk about it.

So today, I want to tell you something that God has been telling me, quietly, over the last two years. Something that gives me an odd sort of comfort in these days.

Two years ago, my parents moved to Kerrville from a suburb of Houston, where they had lived for the past twenty-five years. They bought a nice little house on the top of a hill outside of town, a place with great potential. It’s a small ranch-style house, horse corral and a barn in the back, and the property includes a section down the slope of the hill on two different sides.

Sounds really nice, doesn’t it? Well, when they moved in, it had great potential, except for one thing. The guy who owned the property before them hadn’t done any landscaping or maintenance of the property for about ten years. And the property was covered, absolutely covered, with scrub cedar trees. You know what those look like? 6 to 10 feet high, mostly more bush than tree. Dark green and prickly. When you cut them down, there’s sticky sap if it’s the growing season, and the little barbs get everywhere. In the right season, cedar pollen floats like a yellow fog over the Texas hill country. And, most importantly, they were blocking the view off the top of the hill. You couldn’t see the barn from the house, you couldn't see the corral from the house, and, most importantly, you couldn’t see what was probably a very nice view, which is why people build houses on the tops of hills in the first place.

So, about two years ago, right after my parents moved in, I began an offensive campaign on the cedar trees. Cutting them down, loading them in the back of the truck, piling them in the horse corral, and burning them in a series of bonfires. Currently, this little arboreal altercation has cost me about ten weekends, two pairs of loppers, a hedge trimmer, and three chainsaw blades. I’m happy to tell you that the view from the top of the hill is indeed gorgeous.

And at the end of each day, I go get a glass of cold water, and unlace my work boots, and sit down on the porch with my back aching and my hands still buzzing from the chainsaw and my arms all cut and scratched and prickly, with the smell of cut cedar still lingering in the air, and I sit there and feel the breeze, and gaze out over a couple of miles of vista, and I think: Yes, this is better. I accomplished something today.

And that’s when God comes and whispers in my ear. The breeze blows through the remaining trees, and rustles the leaves, and whispers:
Eventually, the cedar will win.

* * * * * * * *

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus uses an odd image for the Kingdom of God.

An image that’s also familiar. Maybe even too familiar. The Kingdom of God, he says, is like a mustard seed.

Now, we all know that mustard seeds are little bitty things. Hard to see, in fact. And, as the gospel text tells us, from such a small thing, such a small seed, comes a fairly big plant. You usually hear this parable explained, or understood, as a tiny thing becoming a big thing. That the tiny church can, and has, and will, do big things from small starts.

In fact, that’s the theme of General Convention this year—"come and grow." Come, and have some faith, and believe that God can, and has, and will, continue to do great things.

But there’s another thing about mustard seeds. The tiny little seed grows up and turns into... remember what a mustard bush looks like? 6 to 10 feet high, prickly branches, it tastes bad (remember what mustard tastes like), if you cut it down it just grows back, the tiny little seeds are everywhere... in other words, it’s a weed.

Now, if you’re expecting Jesus to use some arboreal metaphor for the kingdom of God, you expect him to say that the Kingdom of God is something grand and glorious. If we’re in California, you expect Jesus to say that the Kingdom of God is like the giant sequoia, the greatest of all trees, the largest of all living things, something so majestic and grand that when you stand in the presence of the tree you feel small and insignificant, and your eyes and your soul both rise up and up and up.

If you're in West Texas, you expect that Jesus is going to say that the Kingdom of God is like a mighty oak tree, 150 years old, great thick branches spreading out as big as a house, so wide that all the community can come together under its branches for a barbecue, a tree that can weather any storm.

And I think those images might be true about the kingdom of God. But that’s not what Jesus says. No, Jesus looks at his disciples and says "you’re a weed."

And I’ve been thinking about that for two years.

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Remember that when Jesus first said that, it was to a small group of disciples, walking about the countryside, preaching and teaching. They didn’t really know who Jesus was. Remember the story about how Jesus called his disciples to him and asked, "who do people say I am?" and they respond 'some say Elijah, some say John the Baptist, some say you’re a prophet...' They really don’t begin to figure out who Jesus is until after the resurrection.

And when the gospel was first written down it also meant something else. Scholarly consensus is that the document that we call the Gospel of Mark that became a part of the collection we call the Bible was first written down in about 70 AD, two generations after the resurrection. At that time, the number of followers of Jesus was still pretty small, and many of us were Jews. Viewed from the outside, some people had difficulty telling the Jesus-is-the-Messiah believers from the traditionalist Jews. And there was an argument going on within the synagogues between the people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and the traditionalist Jews. Right about the time the gospel was written, there were murmurings going on between these two factions, and one of them was beginning to say, "I’m sorry, but what you believe is just too weird. You’re going to have to leave the synagogue. You can’t be a part of us any more."

It is to those people that the writer of the Gospel of Mark speaks. He says, remember what Jesus told us. Remember what the Kingdom of God is like. You’re a weed. You can’t be cut down. You can’t be causally picked, because your roots go deep into the soil. If they dig you up, your seeds go everywhere and grow ten more in your place. If they turn their back on you, you’ll be everywhere. The Kingdom of God will not be contained.

I’ll tell you the reason I cut down all that cedar at my parents’ house. It’s because I like a certain sense of order. I like things the way I like them, and I like things that make sense. For example, if you build a house on the top of a hill, I think you ought to be able to see the view. I’m a good Episcopalian that way—for the most part, Episcopalians like things orderly.

Right now, in General Convention, the best and the brightest of us are meeting in convention to try to order our common lives, doing their best to bring a certain sense of order out of chaos. And they’re doing their best. But sometimes I despair at what goes on at convention. At how slowly we move, when we move at all.

And when I despair, I remember what Jesus said.

The Kingdom of God will not be contained.

in spite of our best efforts, if necessary.

03 June, 2006

Pearson-Horany wedding sermon

Sermon at the wedding of Elizabeth Michelle Horany and Christopher Lynn Pearson.

I used an outline and notes, rather than a manuscript; this is what I can remember of what I said.

Posted by request of the bride.

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When we were little kids, Sweetmama taught us to dance.

(Elizabeth and Meg and I call our mother's mother "Sweetmama." For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting her yet, the name tells you most of what you need to know.) I remember it was in the kitchen of their house in LaMarque, on Westward. That kitchen, when I remember it, always smells like spaghetti and meatballs. And in my memory, it's always crowded with family.

I remember being a little boy, putting my feet on top of Sweetmama's feet, and she held my hands, and we swayed and moved together. A few years later, Elizabeth was born. And I also remember Papa and Sweetmama doing the same thing with her that they did with me. And then I wanted to play, so I put her cute little toddler feet on top of my big old clodhopper teenager feet, and we danced around the kitchen.

Everybody dances. There's something universal about moving to music. It's funny, most people don't think of themselves as good dancers, but everybody does it, in some way or another. Maybe all you do is tap your feet to the rhythm, or drum your fingers on the steering wheel while you're listening to the radio while you drive. But that's still a way to dance, to move yourself with the music.

But while dancing by yourself, just moving to the music, is easy, I'm here to tell you that dancing with a partner is hard.

Dancing with a toddler is its own unique brand of difficult. Toddlers are not the most graceful creatures God ever created, and for the adult, it's hard to move with thirty or forty pounds on your toes. When I grew up, and started taking dance lessons, I learned that dancing with an adult partner isn't really any easier than dancing with a toddler. It's just a different kind of hard.

First of all, you've got to learn to deal with another person inside your personal space. You know that we all have that polite zone of personal space that we like to maintain. Well, your partner is inside it. Pretty much constantly. Ribcage to ribcage. And while that, in itself, is its own brand of fun, it's also something unusual that you have to learn to deal with.

Then you have to learn to step together. You have to learn to move your body in such a way that you don't step on your partner, but instead step with your partner. Dance teachers call those steps "patterns," which become second nature after a while, but at first require a great deal of concentration.

Then you have to learn a whole new way of communicating. Yes, you can talk on the dance floor. But there's usually not time for verbal cues, especially in the fast dances, so you have to learn a whole new language of communication, using hands and eyes and balance and gestures.

You have to learn what steps your partner likes to do, and what steps your partner doesn't enjoy as much.

And, most of all, you have to learn grace. Not as in gracefulness, as in dance floor coordination, but as in graciousness, in forgiving one another's mis-steps and bumps and missed signals and forgetfulness.

Some of you have known our family for quite a while; a few of you were even present at my wedding to Kristina, some ten years ago. Last night someone was kind enough to remember that we had done a choreographed first dance, and to say that they remembered how nice it was. What you probably don't remember was what happened not fifteen minutes later--in the middle of another dance, with lots of people on the dance floor, I kicked my newly minted bride so hard that I broke one of her toenails, and she limped her way through the honeymoon.

Like I said, grace and forgiveness.

Now why am I telling you this?

Because, being intelligent and perceptive people, you know that I'm not just talking about dancing.

Also because tonight, if you know where to look, you can catch a glimpse of the glory of God.

The first place will be right here, in just a few minutes, in front of the altar. Two people, in the middle of a selfish world, will invoke the name of God and will vow to be together, whatever might come, for the rest of their lives. The church calls Holy Matrimony a "sacrament," which is a fancy church word for something that is a visible sign of God's grace. When we see these two pledge faithfulness to each other, we remember God's faithfulness to us, God's faithfulness to a broken and sinful world, and we remember that God is always ready to forgive and welcome us back into the relationship that God desires for us.

And, if you look just right, out of the corner of your eye, as these two people make promises of faithfulness, you will see a flash of the glory of God.

The second place will be just after the vows. We could, in the tradition of the church, end right there, and everyone go home. But Chris and Elizabeth wanted that the first thing they did as a married couple would be to share the covenant meal with all of you. The communion meal that we celebrate is rooted in ancient covenant-making tradition. When two parties made a covenant together, they would eat together as a part of sealing that covenant. When Jesus first shared the covenant meal with his disciples, and commanded us to continue it, it was at a celebration of remembrance of how God saved us from slavery and bondage and claimed us as God's own. Jesus bound the disciples together into a family, and tonight we bind these two families together.

As you come to the table, as you receive the elements from the parents of the bride and the groom, if you look just right, out of the corner of your eye, you will see a flash of the glory of God.

The third place will be over at the reception, following the service. The Horany family is Lebanese and Italian by ethnicity, and every year the Lebanese side of the clan gathers for a huge family reunion. And at that reunion we always do a traditional dance, called the dubke. It's a simple step: right, left, right, stamp, kick, repeat. One of those long lines where you catch hands and follow along.

The Eastern Orthodox church, whose thought greatly influenced our ancestral homeland, describes the nature of God as a dance. One being, three persons, in an endless circle dance of joy and love and mutual respect and honor. And into that dance, God invites humanity. God reaches out a hand and invites one of us, and another, and another, to join in the dance of joy, until all creation echoes with the pounding of feet and the laughter of children.

Tonight, as we celebrate, as Dad leads us in the dance, I encourage you to get up and join in, even if you think you can't dance, even if you only walk. And as you reach for a hand, as someone else reaches for yours, remember that God invites you to join in the dance of all creation. And if you look just right, out of the corner of your eye, as we dance, you will see a flash of the glory of God.

In the readings from the Bible that Chris and Elizabeth chose for today, Jesus says to his disciples, "I came that my joy may be in you, and joy your your may be complete." And this is God's desire for you: that your joy may be complete.

23 May, 2006

The 2nd-coolest thing that happened on Friday

The coolest thing that happened on Friday was that my sister graduated from college. Margaret Ann Horany was awarded (or will be, after her summer internship) the degree of Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, Health Promotions, and Fitness, with a minor in Biological Sciences, Cum Laude, from the University of Texas at Austin.

That was Friday at noon. Closely followed by the 2nd-coolest thing to happen that day.

Friday morning, we held end-of-school-year worship for our local parish school with the staff and teachers. I gave a short sermon, in which the names of my elementary school teachers were invoked with a certain degree of thankfulness. Three hours later, at graduation, one of those teachers walked right past my nose. I had no idea I would ever see her again in my life. Dr. Dorothy Lambdin now teaches at the University of Texas.

Nobody asked for a copy of the sermon, but I'll violate my self-imposed rule this time.

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Sermon at Eucharist at the end of the school year, St. Thomas Episcopal School, May 19, 2006.
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Nora Garcia
Sharon Black
Bettye Lumpkins
Nancy Wade
Elaine Rushing
Elaine Peterson
Susie Jenkins
Sharon Wilson
Dolly Lambdin
Lucy Nazro

These are names which will mean nothing to you. But they mean everything to me. These are the names of my teachers and principals and chapel leaders, from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Some of you know that I attended an Episcopal school as a child. St. Andrew's, in Austin, through the 5th grade. And then we moved away. I remember 25 children in a class, two classes per grade, but that may not be right. It felt small. I felt known, and loved.

What you saw when you looked at me was an enthusiastic but slightly odd child. My mother and father showed up to drop me off or pick me up with smiles on their faces, they dutifully came to field day wearing their school-logo T-shirts. What you didn't know was that my family was in the process of going through a divorce and remarriage, and at home I was not the nicest child in the world, particularly to the step-parents. Not because they were bad people, not at all. In fact, they were both wonderful people, but people who had taken my parents away, people whose very presence cemented the brokenness of the world.

At school, from my teachers, I found nothing but love. Nothing but encouragement. It might have helped that I was an exceptionally bright little boy. I made straight A's all the way through 5th grade, with a single B in long division that marred my otherwise spotless elementary school resume.

Never, never underestimate the impact of love on a child.

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In today's reading from Acts, Philip encounters a court official from Ethiopia. This is a man who's the court advisor to the queen, the treasurer of the country. One of the best and the brightest the country had to offer, and probably a little boy who made straight A's in school. When Philip runs up to him, he is reading. Searching. Searching to understand the world, searching to understand himself, searching to understand the God he is drawn to across a thousand miles of desert. Philip's question is gentle, and is exactly the right one: do you understand what you're reading? And, in a flash of the profound and the blindingly obvious, the official says, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"

Isaiah 53 is a puzzling passage from late in the work of the prophet. My servant, in whom I delight, says God, will be despised. Viewed in hindsight, viewed from the foot of the cross of Jesus, the description of the suffering servant in Isaiah sounds like someone we know. But viewed from somewhere else, it's not easy to tell who the prophet is talking about.

And, just as before, Philip meets him where he is. Starting from the text he's reading, he begins to tell the story of Jesus. And somewhere along the way, Philip saw in the court official's eyes the same flash of insight that you have seen in the eyes of your students, the same moment when the world opens up and becomes larger and more beautiful than before.

Never, never underestimate the impact of love on a child.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is the end of a long year. We're all tired, all ready for a break. Well, I'm here to tell you that being tired because you've spent your year pouring yourself out into the lives of God's children is a good thing. A noble thing. You've earned the right to be tired.

When members of the church began to come to me and tell me that they thought I should be a priest, my thoughts went back to memories of school, memories of people who loved me without condition and wanted the best in the world for me. People who gave, sacrificially, of their lives, knowing that they would never see the full return.

And I thought: I can do that.

Never, never underestimate the impact of love on a child.


17 May, 2006

Ashram Cats

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru's disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.

--"The Guru's Cat" from The Song of the Bird by Anthony De Mello

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A dear friend of mine got in trouble this year at seminary. No, not theological trouble. No, not academic trouble.

She wore red shoes to church.

As an acolyte.

For those of you who don't tie up this particular cat outside your sanctuary so that God can hear you, Episcopalian liturgical ministers tend to wear funny dresses to church. There's a long white one called an alb (or a cassock-alb), and a black one with a white thing worn over it called a cassock and surplice (or cota), and a red one called a chimere--we seem think it's even more stylish and hip to give them funny names than to just wear them and call them dresses.

The funny dresses are one of my favorite pet ashram cats. They were originally designed to keep people warm during long, cold, rainy, English winters, and I put one on every Sunday for worship. In San Antonio in the summer, the temperature reaches 110 in the shade. So we air-condition the building where the church meets. And I sit there and sweat in my dress, and wonder whether Jesus thinks we've gone quite mental.

Another of my favorites are candles. At my current parish, there are two on the table (or altar) where I preside. There are also, mounted on the ceiling, a set of theater-style stage lights. Lights so bright, in fact, that when I step up to the table, I can't see the back of the room because of the glare off the white cloth on the table (the student who fussed at my friend would want me to call the cloth a "fair linen"). I've taken to casually turning the lights down when it's my turn to preside at the liturgy, so I can see who I'm worshipping with. (I'm not kidding that I can't see, by the way. A couple of months ago, somebody fainted in the back, and I never saw her) Then I went on vacation, and when I came back, it wasn't a sliding rheostat on the table spotlights, it was a standard off-on light switch. oops.

But maybe my favorite of all is the gospel procession. Long before America was colonized, there were no electronic sound systems, and the gospel book was carried out into the congregation before it was read so that all could hear the good news of Jesus. But if we're going to have a parade, we have to carry the cross on the stick, and carry the torches so we can see where we're going...
At my current parish, we do indeed do a gospel "procession." A cross, two torches (placed where they wouldn't help even if the church was dark), and a fourth acolyte to hold the Bible while I read from it. This requires, of course, that four different families get up early and get to campus early so their kids can put on their funny-looking white dresses, so that we can do the gospel procession. But here's the best part: the building is in a cruciform shape, meaning it looks like a cross to the birds flying overhead, and the table where the Bible rests is more or less in the middle to begin with. So the gospel procession moves....wait for it.....

three feet.

The congregation in California that encouraged us to go be priests takes many of these things far more casually, but the cats are still there. (Maly, if you're reading this, I still say a gospel procession three steps to the left so you're at the top of the stairs is goofy looking. Just read the gospel from the dang lectern.)

If we were making up liturgy from scratch, we probably wouldn't do any of those things. In fact, to deliberately overuse a metaphor, you can't swing a dead cat in an Episcopal church without hitting an ashram cat. We do them because we value the long tradition of the church at worship, because we value the sense of being connected to something far older and wiser than we are, something that transcends our experience and lengthens our perspective. At our best, we're honoring the Holy Spirit speaking through the centuries of Christian worship that preserved the good news of Christ Jesus for us.

Now, back to my friend.

She's a second-year student at seminary, sponsored by the same congregation that sponsored me. At every seminary, there are people from literally all over the world, who come together to worship on a very regular basis. And you want that to go smoothly, so to establish a certain amount of orderliness in what could easily be a chaotic mess, you agree on a general standard of 'this is how we do it here.' At its best, it's a relatively short document giving guidelines so that all can get beyond the "how do we do this" mechanics and focus our hearts and minds on worship.

and then sin begins to happen.

The reality of seminary life is that the rules are complicated, because trying to learn all the liturgical traditions is a complicated business. At my seminary, the customary was over 60 pages long, single-spaced. At the beginning of every year, the first-year students have to learn the traditions of that particular place. And, unfortunately, observance of the customary often means that the focus is on the rules, on the method of worship, rather than the God who we worship.

And when my friend wears red shoes to chapel, the first thought that goes through people's minds isn't "swell shoes, Julie." Nor is it to giggle at her as she gently pokes fun at tradition. Nor is it to notice, then to notice that it irritates us, and then to ask ourselves why we give a damn and whether it's important. Instead, what often happens is that we think, and then say, "that's not in the customary," or "we don't do it that way." And that's part of the environment in which future clergy are trained for leading worship.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.

When it was my turn to do chapel duty, I often found myself peering through the customary trying to make sense of it. My first time to preside at worship was at choral morning prayer (a service I'd be willing to wager a week's pay you've never participated in if you haven't been to a seminary), which was a harrowing experience just because it was unfamiliar, and I had to lead, and I had to sing solo in public...and afterward one of the third-year students criticized me for not following the customary on a couple of details that (trust me) you wouldn't have noticed. And this was a friend of mine. I damn near ripped his head off.

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Now, here's why this drives me crazy. The western world is, ever more increasingly, a culture that is post-institutionalized religion. To Julie's and my generation, the goofy dresses aren't beautiful tradition, they're just plain goofy. At best, since you see them in church, in the company of other unexplained symbols, they get lumped in with the transcendent. At worst, they get in the way. They are a stumbling block to proclamation of the gospel in this generation.

Julie knows this. Her kindling passion is to proclaim the transforming grace and love of Christ Jesus, and she gets impatient with people and things that get in her way. In that impatience, she rubs people the wrong way. (Including me.) But she's right a lot more than she's wrong, and when she speaks, I listen.

Lenten discipline, or lack thereof

Now that Lent is over (okay, we're five weeks into the Easter season), some thoughts on Lenten discipline.

This year, my Lenten discipline was to write every day. In past years it's been to say the daily office, or something similar. The most valuable discipline so far was last year, when I found and fed a homeless person every day.

But back to writing.

Part of the trouble I've been having with sermon writing is trying to say the perfect thing. I read books of good sermons, and watch good preachers on tape, as a way of getting better (that's the theory, anyway). And then I compare myself unfavorably, and try harder, and can sometimes paralyze myself with overthinking.

So the discipline for Lent was twofold. First, don't even begin to try to write Sunday's sermon until Thursday. I did the exegesis ahead of time, and let the readings wash over me, but I wouldn't do any writing, not even scribbles, no walking around and talking it out. Just go with the first thought (okay, maybe second or third thought), say something as well as I can, but don't even try to give the sermons without notes unless they came off my fingers in easily memorable format. Do a second draft, to clean things up, but not whole rewritten drafts on second ideas.

I compare this to being a kid and tinkering with my batting stance. (There will be a whole chapter about this, someday, in my long-contemplated opus one on baseball theology, but for now, you get the short version.) When you're a kid, you tinker with the stance all the time. It's part of the fun of the game. I would try to hit like Terry Puhl for a while, then switch to the Jose Cruz stance with the bat waaaay up over my head, then the Pete Rose stance, belt over almost double. Same task, different starting point, different feel, different result. And as a new preacher (at least until my 100th sermon), I feel like I should be tinkering around. This was the equivalent of two-strike hitting: see and react, protect the plate, hit the ball where it's pitched.

The second, and related, part of the discipline was to write something down daily. Preachers see sermons in rocks and trees and kids at wal-mart. We just do. It's part of the vocation. If you've talked to me for any significant amount of time, odds are good you've heard me say "that'll preach." Problem is, I tend not to write those thoughts down. And many of them would make good homilies, or short thoughts. But for Sundays, I tend to want to expand ideas, give the congregation fully-developed thoughts.

So I resolved to discipline myself to give those little thoughts away, not mentally file them for later, and to write them down as a method of prayer. This is why some people noted an increase in posting frequency--or, more commonly, accused me of blogslacking when Easter arrived.

How did it go, you ask? Well, good and bad. I almost always slip on Lenten discipline, no matter what it is. But daily writing got exhausting. And I often had trouble getting the intuitive idea from my head to the blog, usually because it required explaining the context and situation, which would take too long for too little reward. And the Lenten sermons weren't bad, just not my usual style.

I wonder if the congregation even noticed, but it felt different to me.