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.