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!

Blessings,
Sara+

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Holy Ordinary

Dear People of Christ Church,

This Sunday, we continue our long sojourn in what the church year calls "ordinary time." Get used to the color green-you'll be seeing a lot of it. We don't call it ordinary time in the bulletin-instead we count Sundays after Pentecost (also: "ordinary"=counted after Pentecost, not just plain). Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday, all the way to Advent. We mix it up in our liturgy somewhat-we switch the service music (the fixed parts we sing every Sunday, like the opening hymn of praise, the Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy, and the short piece of music we sing at the breaking of bread at communion) in the fall, for a bit of variety-but otherwise what you see this Sunday is what you'll get. 

For the last two baptism Sundays, I've made the same comment about how all major Christian holidays, from Christmas to Pentecost, are a story of God coming close to us. The church year starts with Advent, with our preparing for the birth of Christ. We continue with Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. In each of these, there is an aspect of God's overture to come near; to be born with us, to be in the desert with us, to die with us, to overcome death with us.  The Sundays of Pentecost don't quite have that magic. If the actual feast of Pentecost-that rush of wind and riot of language-is the romantic union of a soul with its maker, then these days of Pentecost are the next day, when the cat pees on your meditation cushion and you forgot to get vegetables for dinner.  You know in your mind that God is no less present at those times, but wouldn't it be nice to have a little of that Easter magic again. You might even settle for Epiphany.

Last week I went to an interfaith Buddhist celebration and was reminded, again, of how I become a better Christian when I engage with those of other faiths.   I spent half my senior year of college in India and spent a little time at a Hindu ashram when I was there, and remembered the amazing discipline of Eastern monasticism.  Just the visual image of the monastic robe and bowl raises the question-how am I being faithful, day after long day, Sunday after green Sunday? It's easy to believe in God in the magic of Christmas. It's even pretty easy, (if not always pleasant) to believe during Lent, when we confess our sins and try to amend our lives. Easter?  Piece of cake! But in July?  In mid-October?  Have you every wished someone a happy nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost? 

This is not a scolding go-to-church-over-the-summer message.  The Gospel is sweet and joyful news, not sour and condemning. We heard on Sunday how God created us and all of creation and named it good, and God rested. We need to rest, too. But what I wonder about the invitation that the Buddhists I met last week seem to honor so well is that there's an ease in the discipline of their faith. That doesn't mean it's easy, but that there's some sweet spot of vocation where who they are meets what they're doing.  I wrote about vocation in this space last week-and I think something there is the invitation of these neverending green Sundays. God doesn't always have to meet us in flashy explosive moments, and we don't have to try so very, very hard all the time either.

Instead of inviting you, readers, into some big new adventure or challenge, for a change, this week my question for you is this: what's easy right now? What does that joy tell you about God's desire for your life and where you're headed? 
  
Blessings,
Sara+  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vocations of Gladness: Ten Years In

Dear People of Christ Church,

This week, I've been thinking about vocation, defined in such a lovely way by Frederick Buechner as "the meeting place between your deep gladness and the world's deep need." Over the weekend, I attended our diocese's ordination for the diaconate. I serve on the diocesan Commission on Ministry, the group that works with the bishop when candidates apply for ordination, so two of my advisees were getting ordained, along with Rachael Pettengill, who has worked as an intern at Grace Church, where my husband serves, and as the Protestant Chaplain at Tufts.   Even Isaiah wanted to go, since Rachael has taught his Godly Play Class at Grace. 

It was a big service-the church has 9 new deacons, who in January will all be ordained priest. What was especially neat was that the ordinations for our diocese were at Emmanuel Church, Boston, where I served for a year as an assistant before coming to Christ Church.  So a lot of vocations came together for me that morning, as a member of the diocese as well as mother and priest, all leading up to my ten year anniversary of my ordination (today, as a matter of fact).

Processing in to the church, I remembered the feeling of being so new to the work of the church. Ten years ago, I'd just moved to Boston, had only been married for less than two years, and had no children. Though I loved the way living in New York City had made me feel like I was part of something bigger, I didn't miss the low level of stress that came with Manhattan's constant buzz or the way my very traditional seminary made me feel like such a misfit. Now, I came into that space having launched into a wonderful and strong ministry with you at Christ Church. I walked with my son, whom I couldn't have imagined at that time. I've recovered from seminary-pretty much!-and I have been blessed beyond imagining in this work.  

Emmanuel Church is cavernous-you practically need binoculars to see the altar from the back. Entering in, you're engulfed by a sense of sacred space-on Saturday, with two bishops and 20 other priests and 9 ordinands, it was big. Entering in while your 7 year old walks at your side and you remember how it felt the first time you entered a church as a clergyperson, sacred space doesn't just engulf you, it slaps you in the face and punches you in the stomach at the same time, leaving you reeling and out of breath. (For another piece I wrote about priesting and mothering, in the context of church hospitality, see my blog post.)

Most often, of course, the sacred nature of our lives doesn't come quite so forcefully. The usual life of a Christian is more Road to Emmaus ("...So, I guess that was Jesus") than it is Road to Damascus ("Holy @#$,  it's Jesus!"). While we sometimes get knocked off our horses, more often you have to do the work of attentiveness and patience, watching and waiting. Sometimes you have to squint so hard to see God you close your eyes and pretend you're somewhere else. At those times, it's totally fair game to complain-the psalms are a great resource for complaint (at least 40% are legitimately categorized as lament, in which the petitioner prays for God's deliverance in anger, sadness, despair).

What is always true, though, is that vocation is in the context of the world as we know it. Your vocation is not to be found later, it's to be found where you are right now. Your vocation at this time might be preparing for something else-going to school, for example-but that doesn't make it any less than what you are called to do right now. 

How do you understand your vocation? Do you feel like you chose it, or did it choose you? Caring for a sick parent or spouse is a vocation born out of the depths of love, not always gladness. Caring for children is a vocation, but for every time you gaze lovingly on a sleeping child, there might be three nights they refuse to be still long enough to let you get any sleep at all. Just because God wants you to do it and your deepest gladness is part of the story doesn't mean that you will always feel glad  about it. 

Leaning into summer, where is God calling you? Where does your gladness meet God's love and longing for the world?

Blessings,
Sara+  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Holy In-Between

Dear People of Christ Church,

This week, our place in the holy in-between time after Ascension continues. I spent the better part of last week's piece in this space outing myself as a potential heretic, and I suspect there will be more of that today. I felt really challenged on Sunday in our kids' sermon in trying to figure out how to teach about the Ascension; it can be 100% true even if it didn't happen exactly that way. Mostly I settled on talking with the kids about their experiences of having been left behind-we've all had times when we felt unmoored, left without our bearings and familiar supports. That's certainly how the disciples felt.  Our feelings of being left behind are not the whole story-even when the disciples felt that Jesus had abandoned them-again!-they still knew that he loved them. We have their example of being faithful even in the midst of grief. We have their example that it's not faithless to grieve in the first place.

At the same time, what came next was probably not what the disciples had in mind. Pentecost is a riot of fire and language; all the disciples hear each other speaking in different languages, and a crowd comes to hear them "speaking of God's deeds of power." The crowd is not free of dissent, however-others "sneered," and accused them of being drunk. It always makes me laugh that Paul defends them from this accusation by pointing out that it's 9:00 in the morning. No, he says, it's what the Prophet Joel said would happen-the Spirit would be poured out on everyone, and everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.

This Sunday, we're going all the way with the Holy Spirit; with, if not literal tongues of fire, some extra celebration and some extra languages to hear. Rev. Christine from our Ugandan partner church will read the Gospel in Luganda after I read it in English, and different parishioners will lend their linguistic skills from Aramaic to Haitian Creole. We'll have Steve Taddeo and friends bring the jazz and have some extra smoke from incense AND we're baptizing new baby Raven Fintzel, who's just started coming with mom Kat and dad Andrew. It's a good month for baptisms-Noah Hobin will go on the fifteenth.

As Jesus ascends it's his entry into transcendence, holy "no" to being defined by the might-makes-right-world. Death no longer has power because Jesus has confronted death and come through the tomb on the power of love.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, to continue his work and givce us power to share in it. I read parts of Maya Angelou's Poem, Still I Rise, at the 8:30 service last week to bring us, just for a moment, into that sense of determination and wonder. No matter what comes, whether torture or scorn, fury or abandonment, insult or injury, in Christ we are defined by the power of God's holy love. This Sunday, the power comes crashing down on our heads, thanks be to God, and alleluia! 

Blessings,
Sara+  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Ascension: Belief with Head and Heart

Dear People of Christ Church,
   
Today is Ascension Day, which you will be forgiven for not realizing as the Thursday 40 days after Easter. It's one of the odder days of observance in the Christian tradition-we'll hear that Scripture from the book of Acts that describes Jesus being lifted up and disappearing into the clouds. It's an important one-for brothers and sisters in Roman Catholic side of the Christian family, it's a holy day of obligation (which in some places can be moved to Sunday, but not, apparently, in Boston

We affirm the Ascension in the Nicene Creed-quite clearly, we declare that Jesus "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."   We say this every Sunday.  There's something about the literalism of the image-Jesus either did or did not levitate into the sky-that I find particularly difficult.  As a doctrine, it solves some intractable issues-how, for example, would Jesus have been buried, and what would we make of his divinity alongside his holy but also mortal and dead body-but in our children's sermon this Sunday I will graciously sidestep whether it actually happened that way.Ascension Day is one of those times that, as I believe God will be gentle with me, I also will be gentle with our tradition.   The truth is, I don't know. It seems implausible, but, then again, the whole marvelous story is implausible. 
  
As contemporary believers, we just can't go back to a spatially three tiered universe of heaven, hell, and us in between. We can haz science.  Why did Jesus go into the sky? Well, if you think that heaven is "up there," then that makes perfect sense.  But the Ascension is much more about Jesus coming "in here."
The resurrection appearances of Jesus were a marvel, but they were also quite localized to a particular band of followers; individually Simon and Peter and James and John might have wanted to keep that exclusive connection to themselves, but Jesus is pretty clear that their relationship with him is not only a personal affair. The ascension is about the transcendence of the risen Christ, about how humanity and divinity are joined in a universal and no longer only particular way.  St Gregory of Nazianzus (around 390) said that Christ's ascension is our ascension. Our humanity rose with Christ.  That doesn't depend on whether or not Jesus levitated.  It doesn't depend on how loudly I say the Creed or whether I am, occasionally, just too doubtful. That depends on so much more that I can't even wrap my brain around it, which, frankly, is a pretty good place for a person of faith to stand. More mystery, less judgment.  
Thanks be to God (and the long legacy of Anglicanism)  for that.
   
Blessings,
Sara+  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Called to Rejoice: Equal Marriage, Step by Step

Dear People of Christ Church,

This week, I'm all aflutter about the decision in my home state of Pennsylvania to allow same sex marriage. Of course, it's been the law in my chosen state for ten years (we moved here in 2004, too, the same year it came through), but this feels different. Pennsylvania is such a big state-the part I'm from is basically Ohio-and while it's may not be such a paradigm shift for Philadelphia, for Erie, this changes a lot.   Admittedly there was something Onion-satire-like about the headline on the Erie Times-News: "Another same sex couple applies for marriage license."

In Massachusetts, this is old news.  Still, there's something about the place where I'm from recognizing the right to marriage for all people that feels healing. My right to marry my spouse was never questioned because my beloved happens to be male, but that is not the case for one of my high school best friends, who had three weddings with her wife-one commitment ceremony, one legal NH civil union (presided over by yours truly), and one party when that civil union became a legal marriage on January 1 2011. Phew. They had to buy a lot of champagne.

Marriage is a sacrament, a gift, and a blessing. There's an old image of the church that imagines us as "the bride of Christ"-this is not an image that I feel particularly drawn toward, but it reminds us that the covenant of marriage is holy-and the failure of the church or the state to extend equal benefits to all is just an injustice.  Of course I believe in separation of church and state, but I also want a wedding I officiate in church to be legal in the eyes of the state. I haven't been to Pennsylvania in years, but I still feel so grateful for this. Judge John Jones, in the PA case wrote, "In the sixty years since Brown was decided, 'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations, the label 'same-sex marriage' will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by 'marriage.' We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history"   

This is the country we are becoming; we're not there yet, but slowly, slowly.  This is what we say we'll do in our baptismal covenant: to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.   With each state where marriage for all becomes a reality, we get just a little closer to making that possible.  Oregon went this week, too. Now, reader, I've been sending this newsletter every week for almost nine years, and perhaps you've read this before. But it's like that parable Jesus tells in Luke 15:

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.

Every time, every time there is a victory for peace and justice, we are called to rejoice. So today, I'm rejoicing for those two couples in my hometown who've gotten their marriage licenses.  Easter continues!

Blessings,
Sara+  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The wide and wonderful Anglican "maybe"

Dear People of Christ Church,

This week in our Episcopal Church class I was reminded, as always when I pay attention, how very grateful I am to be part of the Anglican Tradition.  Every church has something wonderful about it-the Lutherans have their focus on the grace of God, the evangelicals have their intimacy with Jesus, the Catholics have their long history and diversity, the Presbyterians their commitment to democratic governance...but it's our theological breadth and flexibility where I really find myself at home.

The number of times someone has asked a simple yes/no question and I've answered "maybe" reminds me of just committed we are to this diversity of belief.  "Do I have to cross myself?"  You can, but you don't have to. "Isn't the difference between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal belief about communion that one believes in transubstantiation and one doesn't?" Some actually believe in Jesus as really, bodily present, but for others it's more symbolic. But we do teach that it has a reality independent of our own experience.  Do you believe in the Bible literally? That's actually a pretty clear no. 

Sometimes all this ambiguity feels like maybe it's because we're not sure-we sometimes get accused of being a mushy middle, not committed to anything. It's not mushy at all, though-it's incredibly centered-centered on the freedom of your conscience, and also centered on our liturgical practice. One of my favorite Anglican quotes is (said to be) from Queen Elizabeth, who, during all the Catholic/Protestant controversies imperially declared "I do not desire windows into my subjects' souls." At the same time, in consolidating the practice of the church with worship in the English Language and independence from the Pope, an undeniable center still holds us together and links us to each other and across time.

A unified community coalesces around prayer, even if we differ on the particulars of that prayer.  This humility around doctrine, I think, also leads us into a constructive humility around our place in the world.  We don't have all the answers. This means that part of our work as Christians is the work of interpretation, of contemplating new learnings from science and psychology and philosophy and theology and how our tradition can be in conversation with them. From evolution to climate science to the plasticity of the human brain, we are always learning about this good creation God has given us, and there's always more exploration and curiosity to be had. I'll leave you with the prayer we say for the newly baptized, which I think captures this nicely:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.

Amen!

Blessings,

Sara+