Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall 2014 Education

Dear People of Christ Church,
Today I’m super excited about plans for fall Tuesdays for all ages—as we did last in Lent, Erin Jensen is graciously leading a program for kids concurrent with the adult program. We’re adopting the same format as worked well last Lent, with groups meeting at 6pm for everyone to eat dinner together, and then kids and adult separating from 6:40-7:30. Then we rejoin for Eucharist at 7:30 for those who want to stay, and welcome group 2, a second adult module that begins at 8pm after the service. The 8pm group will again be facilitated by Anna and Victoria, and my partner for the earlier group will be Heather Leonardo.

But what is the program? God, dirt, and love: Five Conversations about Things that Matter. Each week we’ll have a different topic and begin with readings from Scripture or other writings to begin with, and then explore what their meaning is in our own lives. The schedule, so far, is:
9/30: Spirituality + Church
10/7: Creation + Place (all ages together for the early group)
10/14: Family + Relationships
10/21: Peace + Justice
10/28: Money + Stewardship

The kids will be doing a similar program, but with some activities around the topics in addition to the Bible study. Erin Jensen will lead the program for school aged kids, and we’re hoping to offer some more nursery-like care for the younger ones.
 One of the things vestry has been working on is discerning around different opportunities for us to be in deeper community with each other—to go beyond coffee hour (great as coffee hour can be, of course). I got the idea building on last fall’s group, which read the book Free: Spending your Time and Money on What Matters Most—and was thinking about, exactly, we do build our lives around what’s most important.

How can church be a place of nourishment and grounding, rather than just another thing to compete with already-full lives of kids’ sports and work meetings? What are the places you love, the dirt that calls you and makes you want to care for creation because you love it, not just because you ought to? What makes our families and partnerships tick? What does Scripture say about the relation between God’s love and human love? How can we honestly engage in financial decision making, to share our resources in important ways but also enjoy the fruits of our labor? 

I know what my questions are—what are yours? Each group will have leaders, of course, but the content and direction of the conversation will be different for each group. See you then!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgiving Again

Dear People of Christ Church,
Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
77 times.

Peter, here, in the Gospel we’ll read this Sunday, thinks he is going after the gold star. He knows Jesus is a big fan of forgiveness—so, he thinks, I’ll just suggest some wild number of times to forgive, and he’ll be impressed with me.  As usual, Jesus blows him out of the water—not 7, but 77.

How many times do I have to forgive.  How many times do I have to feel the tightening in my throat, the stinging in my eyes, the sense of exposure. How many times, again and again. 13 years later, now, and probably 23, 10 years from now.

Today, the thirteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, how many times do I have to tell the story.  My first day of seminary. Living 2 ½ miles from the World Trade Center, the chapel bells ringing and ringing. How many times remember the blue of the sky, how many times grieve war without end, today as President Obama commits the US more deeply into strikes against militants in Syria and Iraq.  How many times forgive. Not just terrorists, not just politicians starting wars, not just myself, for feeling like I’m not doing enough to work for peace. How many times.  How many Saturdays will Sue and Jose and Norm and friends stand on Waltham Common keeping vigil for peace, as wars turn into other wars.

Yes. I am tired of remembering and tired of forgiving.
Forgetting, of course, is not an option. Last year in this space  I complained about the “Never Forget” slogans about 9/11/01—nobody’s forgetting that it happened.  Maybe, though, we are forgetting about the long work of mourning and forgiving, and the way that forgiveness means living differently.  Maybe we’re forgetting about that initial drive not to be defined by the attacks themselves.   My seminary classmates and I were all gallows humor in 2001—you HAVE to have another piece of pie, because otherwise “the terrorists win”—you have to go to the movies, buy some beer, finish your ten page paper— or “the terrorists win.” There were many examples.  President Bush at the time said we should go shopping—unfortunately he wasn’t kidding.

“The terrorists” is not a moral category. Violence, however, is. The “powers of evil that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (as the Baptismal Covenant puts it) is a moral category, too. And violence does win when we respond to violence with violence.  That’s the whole point of the cross—it becomes the way of life because Jesus lived, and died, in peace and love.  Only the full, self-emptying love of God can overcome death.  Difficult to translate into foreign policy, for sure, but what’s the alternative?   More death? Today President Obama said Americans never give into fear. But it is not fearless to march into another war.

The call to peace is complicated. It’s messy. The way is not always clear. In our own lives and in the world, we have to tell the story again and again. We forgive again and again. We get angry again and again. But in the labyrinthine ways of the will of God, our spirits do come closer. We can live into the power of Christ that transforms the world through love. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “hate is too great a burden to bear.”


Friday, September 5, 2014

Chasing Newness

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, we’re back to our regular schedule at 8:30 and 10. It’s been nice to have a more relaxed pace on Sunday mornings with just one service, but I miss our 8:30—it’s quiet and contemplative and I pray so well with that shape of liturgy! We’ll bless backpacks and laptops and lunch boxes and whatever else you bring—prayers for new beginnings and new endeavors.

A lot is new, but a lot is the same. Still, there is a spiritual quality to newness. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth that whoever is in Christ is a new creation. In the book of Revelation, the fantastical vision is of a new heaven and a new earth. In Ezekiel, God promises a new heart and a new spirit. Why do we need all this newness? Aren’t things fine the way they are?

Yes, yes, and no.
Putting my son on the school bus to 2nd grade this week, I was vividly aware of how much everything changes, and fast. Next fall his sister will be on that bus with him—to kindergarten—how I became the parent of school aged children already is anyone’s guess. I have a front row seat to everything new in their lives, but there’s plenty new in my life, too, and yours, I’ll bet—new presences as well as new absences. Not all the new is shiny and compelling; sometimes it’s raw and tender. When someone we love dies, we change, too. There’s newness of tragedy, too, when we thought the world was safe and it turned out not to be. The stray bullet out of nowhere and the tumor that doesn’t shrink both bring their share of newness, a kind we’d never wish on anyone, nevermind seek for ourselves.

I wonder, too, about the newness in ourselves that we don’t notice. Our brains are primed to crave novelty—we want new stuff to buy, new stuff to look at—the pleasure-centers in our brains light up and crave that kind of transient newness again and again. We can be insatiable. But it takes more sustained attention to seek the spiritual newness that, I think, is more like what the apostle Paul and the prophet Ezekiel are talking about. What’s the newness that comes when you let go of a fear? What’s the newness that comes when you make a commitment, the newness that comes out of faithfulness over time or learning something about yourself you’d never seen? What fears have you released over the years? What anxiety over status or appearance or the judgment of others have you let go?

What is the new, really new, that you’re looking for? Something more solid than novelty, but a good and life-giving change? Let me know what you’re thinking about, and let’s talk about how we can support each other in those ventures. I’m still planning for October Tuesday education, so give me your ideas.

But still bring your STUFF that brings newness on Sunday… your new diaper bag or lunch box (daughter Adah has one with a transformer on the front with flashing lights for eyes). The gear might not change your life, but it’s still fun.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Racism, healing, and providence in the real world

Dear People of Christ Church,
On Sunday in my sermon, I was wrestling with the idea of God’s providence—God has a redemptive plan and will give us what we need—and the idea of our freedom, a crucial aspect of the gift of human life.  The idea of God’s will sometimes can seem like it conflicts with our will.  This came up in the context of the story of Joseph, forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery, as he ascends to the heights of power and ultimately saves their lives when famine strikes. How does God allow terrible things to happen to people? If God was planning for him to be powerful and wealthy, couldn’t God have just as easily have prevented him from getting thrown into that pit in the first place?   Does the positive outcome outweigh the suffering?

So, too, with our Gospel on Sunday—Jesus behaves terribly toward a Canaanite woman looking for healing for her daughter—he calls her a dog. In response, she bests him—even the dogs get the crumbs, she snaps. BAM.  Even Jesus needs to be converted sometimes.  Was he testing her? Treating her cruelly to see how she’d behave? I don’t think so. Jesus’ encounter with her shows us that even the Son of God can be transformed, that transformation is essential, like freedom, to what it is to be human.

Jesus was transformed—he was pushed out of his previously narrow assumption of what he was called to do. Joseph was transformed—he forgave his brothers for their violence, and saw God’s hand in the world around him.  God was working there, but I reject entirely the notion that God intended the events that lead up to them. Our world is a place where God dances—but it’s not always God’s choreography from the beginning. 

I can point to all kinds of places I need to be transformed, and this week, I’m particularly aware of where our country needs that grace, too.  A study was released on Tuesday  that said that 37% of white Americans believe that the shooting and protest in Ferguson, MO raises important conversations abut race.  80% of African Americans think so. So, just for the record, let me say: The events of the last ten days raise important issues about race. Our country is an amazing experiment of seeking equality, democracy, and fairness (see my July post about patriotic humility). There is a lot that we get right. But the evidence at how we think about difference, and how people of different races are treated in the courts and in law enforcement, makes it clear to me that we’re not all there.

God’s providence means that there will be reconciliation, there will be salvation. But, like Jesus and the Cannanite woman, like Joseph and his brothers, we have to take some risks around vulnerability and truth-telling. What could we do at Christ Church to more faithfully embody God’s healing for this world? Where does God’s providence lead us in fighting racism and confronting prejudice?      

I’ll close with a prayer I found from the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, and their anti-racism work:

God, Creator of all things, we come broken with a heart that has been torn like Jesus on the cross, the cross that draws together your children of many colors.
You know our suffering.
We ask in Jesus' name that you heal your people.
Where there has been unearned advantage because of the color of our skin,
give us courage to repent and to fight the injustice and sin of racism.
Holy God, who created all colors of people, allow us to honor your light in every soul.
Help us to see you in one another, to hear your voice in all people, and to work to end racism in our church, our communities, and the world. Amen.

Blessings, Sara+

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Church in the world: Anchored but open

Dear People of Christ Church,

Back from vacation, I'm glad to be settling back in with you, but so aware of how much changes. I was almost to Wyoming, where Jim Hewitt grew up, when I got the news that he died. I was so, so sorry to hear it. Jim was the junior warden (working with Marcia Luce as senior warden) when I began at Christ Church 9 years ago, and his unfailing sense of generosity, respect, and overall kindness covered my many errors in leadership as a relatively new priest. I remember one particularly tough call (the circumstances of which now escape me, so I assume it turned out fine) when, as senior warden, Jim looked at me with a kind of devilish glint in his eye and cheerfully declared, "Well, you're the CEO!" Which of course I wasn't, but his confidence in me made me much more brave than I felt at the time.

That's the magic of church; we are here, not because we are the same, but because we are one. Most of American culture is constructed on the assumption that you want to be with people who are like you; you watch either Rachel Maddow or Glenn Beck, and never the twain shall meet.  In church, we have the latitude to be a bit more creative.    Jim taught me that in a profound way.

Church is changing, the world is changing.  St Paul would have been incredulous at the notion that churches would own large buildings and pay their clergy to preach, teach, fundraise, and run them like non-profit organizations.   In the late nineteenth century, Frederic Fales would have been shocked that in addition to English, we also had services in Luganda (St Peter's Ugandan) and Spanish (Missionary Church of Christ) all held under the same roof, with French thrown in once in a while with Mission Maranatha's occasional rentals.  Fifty years later, Francis Webster would have thought we were crazy to let a secular organization use our east lawn for an environmental education program-you didn't have to create meadows at the turn of the century. Fifty years after that, George Ekwall, rector from 1930-1960, would think that a man on the altar guild was an April fool's joke (nevermind women instead leading the service!).

But church is a living, breathing, recreating thing. It's a thing that's dying and a thing that's being raised.  Churches aren't intended to be fortresses against the scary world outside. Instead, we're called to be as porous as we can-not to say "yes" to every whim, but to look at a broader sense of our mission and our gifts, to look around ourselves and be rooted enough to be open.  It's Episcopal Churches in St Louis holding prayer vigils for Michael Brown and for peace in the city. It's Good Shepherd, Watertown, hosting a kids' craft table at the farmer's market. At the same time as we are anchored in the eternity of God, we are also called to look around us at the world as it is now.  I'm grieving Jim but I also know that he's still part of the same holy Church as I am. He's returned to God's eternity; I just catch it like a hummingbird flitting just out of the corner of my eye.  But I know it's still there.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
(Romans 8: 38-39).

Amen, Amen.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prayers for Listening

Dear people of Christ Church,

This week, I'm praying for the Middle East, for listening there and listening everywhere. Wednesday's Daily Office reading had the story of Jesus weeping for Jerusalem, which felt particularly poignant given the heightening of conflict that's erupted in the last week. Scripture tells the story of the people of Israel-those descended from Jacob, whom we're reading about in our Old Testament lessons this summer.  Jacob wrestling with the angel is a far distance from rockets fired into Gaza.  

As Christians, we are given a place to stand that offers us some resources. I heard a story once about someone asking Ghandi about what he thought about Christianity and he said something to the effect of "I think it's great. Christians should try it out!" The not-so-subtle critique there being that his own enacted philosophy and practice of nonviolence were more consistent with the teaching of Jesus than those who follow him. Ouch. Non violent change is slow, impractical, and expensive. But practically, it is the only thing that can actually work. Trouble is, so often in politics and global conflict it seems that violence is the only way. This is a deadly thing to be so confident about.

I heard an interview last week on my way to church on the show, On Being, about the religious founding of our country. Yes, absolutely, it was founded on Judeo Christian values-I can share that perspective with the Hobby Lobby.   The difference, though, and the founding attitude I think we need more of now (notably apart from the desire to impose our beliefs on others) is humility. Steven Waldman said that the major difference between religion in public life now is that we no longer have a sense of humility about our nation. We can get this wrong. We do get this wrong. Often! In America the Beautiful, we sing our prayer for God to "mend [America's] every flaw" because there are flaws. How are we, as a country, treating the most vulnerable? How are we coming to the aid of those in need, in our own borders and out of them, and in the boundary in between? Not very well, right now.

Along for peace in Israel and Palestine, pray, pray, pray for a sense of humility to enter our conversations. In my sermon on Sunday I was thinking about how our failure to be in relationship with those whom we differ is the source of so much conflict-if you're not in relationship, you can't listen. The Hobby Lobby isn't listening to scientific research about birth control, and the Supreme Court isn't listening to women. A border patrol agent almost by definition can't listen to the child who's just turned himself in. Listen, listen, listen.  

And pray:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  
...Prayer for the Human Family, BCP 815



PS: For some good witnessing to the power of presence, see how St John's Episcopal Church in McAllen, Texas, is aiding asylum seekers in partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development.  Also for a nice rendering of Earth and All Stars, which we sing this Sunday in the praise of the Lord for boiling test tubes and knowledge and truth, see here.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

We are Here! Wild Goose Festival 2014

Dear People of Christ Church,

Last week, my family and I drove 925 miles (and, again, 925 back) to the Wild Goose Festival, our second time joining other Christians and questioners for a four day festival of "justice, spirituality, and music." Thankfully this year we came out of the Cherokee National Forest with no wild tow truck stories as we did last year! I'm not sure how many hundreds of people were there, but it's kind of a pop-up Christian community of campers, speakers, and musicians, with a combination of Episcopal progressivism and evangelical Jesus-fervor. Wild Goose is a good example of how Christians of many different stripes can learn from each other.

Some of the speakers were big names, both in the Episcopal Church (music workshop with Ana Hernandez) and in the wider world, including, a rousing altar-call to social justice sermon by the Rev.William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. I also heard Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners talking about racism as America's original sin. Most of the time, though, I hung out in the "Carnival" tent. It was hosted by the Carnival de Resistance, a crew of poets, dancers, artists, and activists. Also academics: Jim Perkinson talked about American white supremacism and how living in inner city Detroit and learning from the African-American community there had saved his soul. Ched Myers, whose work I've long been interested in, talked about the Christian invitation to love our watershed, not just change our light bulbs because we ought to.

From their welcome sign:
We wish with our bodies to contradict claims that civilization has made about how necessary its gifts are to a life well lived and again to playfully produce, if not proof, some early evidence that a life of another stripe might be realistic, even necessary.

In addition to all of these great ideas and discussions, The carnival space felt liturgical. At the end of one session we wandered into, we were invited to greet each other with this: "We are here! We are here!" which would not have been out of place (maybe without the puppets and face paint) here as we pass the peace on Sunday mornings.

We are here! This is the human interaction that says, "I see you, and yes, we are here. We have been created for more than buying and selling. We have been created to see each other." We are here! We see each other! We remember! We remember, not just each other, but everyone. Poor people in Detroit whose water is getting shut off. New immigrants, whether or not they have the correct paperwork. People you disagree with. Women who have lost their right to their full health care benefits. We are all here. God made me. God made you. Before we're supposed to "witness" God's love to each other, God invites us to witness the Other in the first place, see each other at all. Jim Perkinson pointed out that the beginning of the Gospel-the beginning of the Gospel, that we so often remind ourselves is "good news"-is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. The cry is the beginning.

All of this raises the question: how are we seeing each other? How do we see each other here at Christ Church, as well as those not within our doors? How do I live out these values in my comparatively comfortable life? What was great about the Carnival tent was the shimmering, holy joy of finding a way to live differently: the bean bag toss game "Cleanse the Temple" to remind us of Jesus' invitation to faith without commerce, the puppets, the parades, the anti-clock tower that asks, "Do you have time or does time have you?"

I imagine-I hope!-I will spend some more time thinking about this. One of the talks I went to was called "Slow Church,"   about how very, very long it takes to establish yourself in a community and to listen to what the community needs, to respond authentically to those who are there and where God might be leading not necessarily with more programs, but with more attention. As we finish our ninth year together rand enter the tenth, I am grateful for all of you traveling together with our little carnival!


(For a longer reflection on this, and to see pictures and links to all the speakers, look at my post on my own blog.)