Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Catherine of Siena

Scholastic philosopher, theologian, tireless worker for the unity of the church, counselor to popes, kings and queens, fearless nurse to lepers -- Catherine of Siena lived an amazingly fruitful life in her short 33 years.

Born the 23rd of 25 children (the 24th, her twin sister, died in infancy), Catherine was always intended to marry. Her father, a cloth-dyer, was part of the political party that ran Siena. An advantageous marriage would help his business and his political career.

But at the age of 7, Catherine had a vision of Jesus and dedicated her virginity to Christ. And she meant it. She resisted every attempt on the part of her parents to be a normal Italian Renaissance girl. She flogged herself, fasted, slept on a board, and cut off her golden hair in defiance of her parents. In turn, they made her the family slave for three years, hoping a life of Cinderella drudgery would break her spirit.

But Catherine merely made a prayer room in her own heart and kept on communing with God. Eventually, her parents relented. She became a third order Dominican, which allowed her to live at home. After three years in silent prayer in a room in her family home, she emerged at age 19 with a call to serve the world.

In the 14 years of her public ministry, Catherine nursed lepers and cancer victims. She studied the ancient texts and scriptures, and gathered a community of followers to work for the purification of the church. She traveled to Avignon, France, where the Pope was living under control of the King of France and lectured the Pope and harangued him until he returned to Rome. She was never shy about speaking truth to power, and wrote similar letters to kings and queens all over Europe, urging them to greater holiness.

A life of ascetic abuse and anorexia doomed her to an early death, and she died in Rome in late April, 1380. Her body is buried in Rome, but the people of Siena, knowing she would want to be buried in her hometown, removed her head and spirited it home, where it is entombed in the Basilica of San Domingo.

In the Roman Catholic church, she is the patron saint of firefighters, nurses, people mocked for their piety, Italy (along with Francis of Assisi), and television.

Television? Go fig.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Easter 7

This week's readings look ahead to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. (I don't know what that gruesome picture of the seven-year locust on the Vanderbilt lesson page has to do with anything ...)

What do you know about gathering together with dear and beloved people while you wait for something to happen? At a hospital bedside, before a wedding begins, waiting for the curtain to rise, hiding in a room to jump out and yell "Surprise!"? What is there about that waiting energy, that anticipation, that reminds you of this scene from Acts? What do you know about this kind of trust and prayer ... after all, the disciples have no idea what that is going to mean when the Holy Spirit arrives.

Think about waiting and hoping and wondering, a kind of waiting done in community, gathered in anticipation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Sacraments! Confirmation ...

Two of our youth -- Danny Gamble and Colin Ragan -- and two adults -- Bill Willebrandt and Stephanie Hall -- will be confirmed on May 10 at St. Michael's in Lansing. Keep them in your prayers as they prepare for this momentous moment. And if you're wondering just WHAT confirmation is, Father Matthew has another video in his excellent series ...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Bell is Coming!

All Saints will soon be making its presence known when our new 500-lb bell arrives this week. The bell, cast by the Verdin Company, will ring out for the first time at the Ascension Day service, this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. Don Hoopingarner has composed a bell choir anthem especially for the occasion.

The bell will be installed earlier in the day. We'd rather not have watchers in the parking lot, but a post on the fence at the Hannah Center field should give you a good view. When the bell is in place, I've been promised a ride in the manlift so I can sprinkle it with holy water and bless it to our use.

On Sundays, you'll be hearing the bell ring 15 minutes before the service, at the beginning of the service, and again at the end. There may be other set times for the bell to strike, which are still to be determined.

The bell has been a gift of two faithful and anonymous parishioners. In honor of their desire to remain anonymous, the inscription on the bell indicates whom we must really thank: Soli Deo Gloria -- to God be the glory.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Mark the Evangelist

Mark the Evangelist is shrouded in the mists of the Bible and history. He is traditionally thought to be a companion of Peter, a person who heard Peter's stories about Jesus and recorded them at a later date. He is also linked to the Mark mentioned in Acts who travels briefly with Paul and Barnabas. Tradition holds that he went to Alexandria after Peter's death, and there in Alexandria, he was martyred.

Although we know little about the biography of the man Mark, he has left us a most astounding legacy. His Gospel According to Mark is the first gospel ever to be written; he created a whole new literary genre from scratch. His story of the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus forms the core of the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke.

Mark's gospel is brief, to the point, and should be read, as someone I once heard say, "With the throttle of your imagination wide open." Yet for all its brevity, it is filled with power, grace, and with a singular focus on the Messianic Secret: namely that the only way to really know Jesus as Messiah is to discover him on the cross.

So on this feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, why not dip into that first gospel, and "Read, mark (or rather Read Mark), learn and inwardly digest" it?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Praying through finals

Finals week is almost here, and MSU students will be racing to complete their work, take their tests, pack their things, and still try and get some tanning time in while the sun shines.

In the All Saints rectory, Chaplain Sarah is holding De-Stress Week every evening for the Canterbury-MSU students. Upstairs is quiet study time. Downstairs, a movie will play each night for the students who aren't under quite as much pressure.

The students need our help this week in two specific ways. First, pray. Pray for Jenn Trusty, who is graduating, and pray for all the CMSU students as they face the week ahead.

Second, they need some snacks! If you can bake some goodies -- cookies or brownies or such -- they will need the energy and love that comes from those homemade treats. You can bring your goodies to the church office, or drop them by the rectory. Call Sarah Midzalkowski, the chaplain, at 648-3378 to coordinate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Easter 6

In the readings for Sunday, the gospel lesson goes back to the night of the Last Supper, to Jesus' last words to his friends before they go out across the Kidron Valley to the garden where he will be arrested.

Jesus tells his friends that even though he is going away, he is not leaving them, that God will send the Comforter to dwell in their hearts. Still, I imagine it must have been a terrifying moment for them. They must have wondered what they would do without Jesus, how they would manage, how they would get along.

When do you experience God as "going away" from you? What do you do in that time of distance and lonliness when it seems God is far away? How have you experienced God returning to you with comfort and presence? How has the ebb and flow of closeness with God and distance from God played out over the course of your life?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are You Missing Something?

I left church yesterday evening and peeped in the chapel. There, as he does every Monday at 6:30, Tom Jackson was reading the service of Evening Prayer. The candles burned softly in the late afternoon glow. And Tom was there, leading Evening Prayer ...


I wonder how many of us would relish 20 minutes of quiet and prayer at the end of a Monday. But we forget that it is there, forget that it is happening.

6:30 p.m.


Quiet, candlelit prayer.

Maybe it's for you ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Leading in the Age of the Quick Fix

Challenge is far more comforting than comfort. It is through challenge that one develops hope. – Ed Friedman

I have been a devotee of Rabbi Ed Friedman for years. Friedman was the first to connect Bowen Family Systems Theory to congregations and the way they function. His seminal work Generation to Generation has formed me and countless other pastoral leaders.

I spent today at the Franciscan Retreat Center in DeWitt at a seminar led by two women, one a student of Murray Bowen, the other a student of Ed Friedman. It was called "The Brain, Reactivity and Sabotage." Myrna Carpenter, the one from the Friedman Center in Bethesda, Maryland, reminded me of Ed's guide to good leadership:

1. Have a sense of self. Know where you begin and others end.
2. Observe and work on your own reactivity. What sets you off? How can you regulate your reactions?
3. Have a vision for your life. Know where you are headed. Be able to say "This I believe ..."
4. Stay an "I" when the system is demanding a "we." Know how to stand alone if necessary.
5. Watch out for resistance. It's coming ... how will you handle it?
6. Stay on course. Persist. Hang in there.

All of us are leaders in some aspect of our lives ... in our families, in our places of work, in our groups and affiliations. Ed Friedman's Generation to Generation and his posthumous work, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix can help anyone be a better parent, a better boss, a better committee chair or even just a better person.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Baptism -- Learning from Father Matthew

An Episcopal priest in Rye, New York, has made a video series explaining the sacraments of the church. The first one is on baptism.

It's short and sweet, but you will get the idea. Also the video gives new meaning into "receiving" someone into the Body of Christ.

Enjoy, and remember your own baptism!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Alphege

Saint Alphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury, back at the turn of the first millennium. He wanted to be an anchorite, a monk who lived alone and devoted himself to prayer. But he was elected abbot of Bath Abbey, then became the Archbishop in 1006.

He was captured by Viking raiders in 1011 and held for seven months for ransom. Alphege refused to allow a ransom to be paid and the Vikings killed him on April 19, 1012, in Greenwich, just outside of London.

In this time of global terrorism, Alphege witnesses to us how to face the threat of danger and assault ... with love, with peacefulness and with clarity about right and wrong.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Working for Justice in Lansing

ACTION of Greater Lansing, an ecumenical justice ministry network that All Saints is part of, is working on this year's justice focus -- housing. Janet Chegwidden and Ruth Ann Jones have been assisting with research on housing issues in the area and what course of action we might propose to community leaders.

In the city of Lansing, landlords do not have to register. So there is nothing to prevent landlords whose properties are red tagged or who lose homes in foreclosure from renting out other properties and continuing to operate residences that don't meet code. Also, when a landlord loses the property to foreclosure, the renters must move out within 24 hours. This puts renting families under an incredible strain. They have to find a new place to live with no forewarning, children have to change schools suddenly, and it creates immediate homelessness for renting families who have done nothing wrong.

These are some of the issues ACTION is looking at. We will learn what action we intend to take at the upcoming RALLY, which will be held here at All Saints on May 5 at 6:30 p.m.

Then on May 19 at 6:30 p.m., the Nehemiah Action Assembly will be held at Union Baptist Church. This is when the community leaders will come to hear our proposal for ways to correct these injustices. The power last year of 500 people assembled to ask local officials to take on the Hot Spot card program and a jail to community re-entry program was amazing. ACTION effected real change.

We want to have 600 people in attendance at the Nehemiah assembly, and your All Saints Justice team leaders have boldly committed to have 150 people representing All Saints. That means having 50 All Saints members who are committed to attend the assembly and bring three others along with them.

Are you interested in helping us make some changes in our community? Speak to our team leaders -- Janet Chegwidden, Pam Miklavcic, Wendy Hedeen or me (Pastor Kit) if you want to learn more or add your name to our justice ministry network.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Making Decisions For Your Care

Last night's session on making advanced directives for your health care was very good. We all learned some things, like Michigan does not recognize living wills. So it is important to designate someone to be your health care advocate in case of an accident or some other event when you cannot make your own decisions about care.

Dan Layman and Lars Egede-Nissen, two of our parishioners, are on staff at Hospice of Lansing and they shared some excellent resources. The American Bar Association has a tool kit for planning on its website. This will take you through all sorts of thought processes that can help you identify who would be the best advocate for you, what your values and needs might be, and how to communicate your decisions to your family and physicians.

Also, the Michigan Legislature has prepared a booklet that will help you legally designate an advocate. It's called "Planning for your Peace of Mind," and can be obtained from any legislator. Most of us are represented by Mark Meadows. His office can send you some of these booklets.

Another booklet called Five Wishes can be ordered online for $5. This is a very user-friendly tool to think through your values and desires for care at the end of life. It is a legal designation of your wishes in the state of Michigan, if it is accompanied by a state acceptance form signed by your health care advocate.

The Episcopal Church's stance on end of life care can be found here.

Finally, you can always call me if you would like to pre-plan your funeral service. We have a form here in the office at All Saints that will help you select readings and hymns and outline the kind of memorial you hope to have. Copies of all your directives and wishes can also be kept here at church. I have a private drawer with folders of people's Last Wishes to be referred to at the time of their death or terminal illness.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reading Ahead - Easter 5

This week, the reading from First Peter is catching my attention. I know the Tuesday Bible Study had a good long look at it today.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

How do you feel about that? When you think about this parish being a community that is a Royal Priesthood, what images come to your mind? How do you proclaim the mighty acts of him who called YOU out of darkness into his marvelous light? How is that your own priestly ministry?

Or do you just feel really uncomfortable thinking of yourself as part of a royal priesthood?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Got a Church Word?

If you have a Church Word that you'd like defined, explored, enhanced, click comments and share your word. We'll give it a shot at definition ...

Koinonia Farm

For those interested in following up on yesterday's sermon, the website for Koinonia Farm can tell you a lot about the history of the farm and its founder, Clarence Jordan.

Koinonia is a living community with a monastic flavor, gathering for prayer three times a day and a noonday meal for the community. The rest of the day is for work in the pecan groves or in some of the many ministries of Koinonia.

The founders of Koinonia, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England established the farm with three guiding principles: 1) All humankind are related under God's parenthood. 2)Love is the alternative to violence (pacifism). 3) Share all possessions. The life and journey of this community has survived violence, apathy, the death of its founder in 1969 and a series of shifts in direction. Presently, Koinonia works for self-reliance and dignity for low-income neighborhoods by strengthening the family and empowering the community. Koinonia is also the meeting ground for people of many different backgrounds who come together to work and study issues of social justice and faith.

Located in Americus, Georgia, Koinonia is also committed to the practice of hospitality and welcomes visitors who want to tour the farm, or stay a few days and explore deeper, or who want a period of internship and residence.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Church Words -- Eucharist

The Holy Eucharist is the official name of the worship service each Sunday. It is also known as Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord's Supper. But we use the ancient term Eucharist.

It comes from a Greek word meaning to "give thanks", and because it is a thanksgiving service, it reminds us over and over again that we can be grateful for God's gift to us of life, and God's gift to us of salvation in Jesus Christ, and God's gift to us of this sacrament so that we can be nourished by Christ, made one with Christ and with each other, and carry that thanksgiving and unity and Christ-identity with us into the world.

The World Council of Churches' document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry is an ecumenical document that describes very broadly what Christians believe happens in these sacraments. Also the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer describes our Episcopal understanding of the Eucharist.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Special Night for Canterbury-MSU

This Sunday at 5 p.m., Bishop Gibbs will make a pastoral visitation to the campus ministry of Canterbury-MSU. Chaplain Sarah Midzalkowski and the students are excited about this event because not only is the bishop coming, but one of their newest members, Nikhil Jaikumar, will be baptized and confirmed at the service.

CMSU recently moved its worship out of the chapel into the main sanctuary at All Saints. The ministry is growing and thriving. Sarah has taken the students to work on Katrina rebuilding over Spring Break, and a group spent last weekend on a retreat with other Episcopal young adults from Province V. (They missed the riots entirely because they were on retreat.) On Wednesday nights, the group gathers in a local pub or coffee shop for "Theology on Tap," where they discuss a question of faith. During finals week, Sarah opens the rectory for study space upstairs in the living room, and destress time downstairs in the family room.

Anyone is welcome to drop in at a CMSU service, Sundays at 5 p.m. at All Saints. Or on campus, Wednesdays at noon in the Alumni Chapel. This Sunday would be an especially good time to come show your support for the Episcopal ministry at Michigan State, and for Nikhil as he joins the Body of Christ.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Herod's Temple in Jerusalem

In the class "From Jesus to Christ," there was a good bit of discussion about the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus spent a lot of time in the last week of his life.

It's important to remember that this was THE Temple. There were synagogues for community activities, Scripture study, prayers, etc. But only in the one Temple to the one God in the holy city of Jerusalem could the appropriate sacrifices and offerings be made.

The largest area in the Temple complex is the big plaza called the Court of the Gentiles. Anyone could mingle here, and this is probably where Jesus did much of his teaching. This is where the animal sellers and money changers would be found, whose tables Jesus overturned. You can also see the Roman fortress, the Antonia, on the right hand side of the diagram, where Roman soldiers could look down into the Temple precincts and keep the peace.

Each move after this is farther up and farther in, closer to the Holy of Holies, where God lived. And each area after this is more restrictive. There is the Court of the Women, and any Jew, male or female could go there. There is the Court of Israel, and that's as far as ritually pure Jewish men could go. From this court, they could see the priests conducting the animal sacrifices on the altar. Everything beyond that is the Court of the Priests, where the Temple priests performed the sacrifices (you can see the large altar on the porch in front of the Holy Place) in public view.

Inside the Holy Place, there was a veil or curtain behind which was the Holy of Holies, where God lived. In front of the veil, the vessels of the temple, the menorah, the incense-burning altar and other implements were found

The Romans destroyed this Temple in 70 A.D. No successor was built in its place. Sacrificial worship ended in Judaism with the Temple's destruction, and synagogue worship arose in its place. Currently, the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy site, occupies the place on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Temple once stood. The Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) is all that remains of Herod's Temple.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906-April 9, 1945) is best known for his resistence to the Nazi regime. He was a leader in the Confessing Church movement in Nazi Germany -- the Protestant resistance to the regime. He considered taking refuge in America, but in 1942, returned to Germany to continue the resistance.

In 1944, he took part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and was executed for it in 1945. For someone who had preached non-violent resistance his whole career, it was a significant shift for him to consider a violent end to Hitler's life. But he believed that not to try to stop Hitler, even violently, was the greater evil.

His greatest work, The Cost of Discipleship teaches us how to take the Christian life and journey seriously, laying aside our attachment to worldly things and following Christ alone.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong. -- Bonhoeffer, Sermon on II Cor. 12:9

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What to Do With that Stimulus Check ...

The federal government is getting ready to mail those stimulus checks. As always, the conventional wisdom says that our economic challenges can all be met if we just get out there and buy things. Stimulate that economy. Spend that check. It was the same message we got after 9/11 and it's the same message we get any time our society and economy takes a hit. The message says "consume." Consume, and all, we are told, will be well.

This is a message that is profoundly anti-gospel. Jesus never, in my reading of Scripture, tells people to go out and buy things. He tells them to sell all they have and give it to the poor. He tells them to store up for themselves treasure in heaven. But he never says to go out and go shopping.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation offers a different approach for your stimulus check. Their "Give it 4 Good" campaign encourages each of us to use part or all of our checks to help reduce global poverty. They are asking each of us to give 100 percent, 10 percent, or 0.7 percent of our check to organizations that are working to achieve the Milliennium Development Goals. If you don't have a favorite organization, there are a number of them listed on the EGR website.

Think ahead, because pretty soon, those checks will be in the mail.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Easter 4

In the lessons for the upcoming Sunday, found here, the gospel readings switch from the post-Easter appearances of Jesus. John's gospel flips us back into Jesus' earthly ministry, when he makes a long statement about being the Good Shepherd. Because this Sunday also features Psalm 23, it is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. We'll be singing a number of hymns this week that expand on the shepherd image.

But I am interested in the reading from Acts. Do you really think the earliest disciples sold all their possessions and lived holding all things in common? We know that even if they did, historically that practice didn't last long, because in Paul's letters, he is busy doing charitable collections in his churches for relief of the church in Jerusalem. So the church in Jerusalem was struggling for support by the year 60 AD or so.

In Acts, the community lives a life of faith publically -- worshipping in the temple -- and privately -- breaking bread in their homes with glad and generous hearts. What public or private practices give your faith support and strength? Weekly worship? Daily Bible reading? Long, silent walks? Meditation? Outreach activities?

How does how you live strengthen your life with God?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Church Words -- Christus Rex

Christus Rex means Christ the King. It is the "church word" for the image of Jesus on our cross at All Saints. Rather than show a suffering and tortured Jesus on the cross, the Christus Rex shows Christ triumphant over sin and death through the crucifixion. Vested in the garments of the priest at the eucharist, the Christus Rex also symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ in the eucharist.

All Saints began in the Chapel of Christ the King, the Episcopal mission to the MSU campus. It met just up Abbot Road in what is now the Sigma Nu house. Although the name changed when the university mission gave birth to our parish church, the image of Christ the King, the Christus Rex, continued over the All Saints altar. And so it remains a reminder to us, not only of Christ's victory on the cross, but also of our church's origins in that first campus ministry.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although he was a Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr., is remembered in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, the calendar of Episcopal saints. In the Episcopal church, saints are recognized for the virtue of the life they lived on earth.

Also, as in most traditions that honor saints, the “saint’s day” to be observed is the day of the person’s death, the day that marks the end of their temporal life, the day they enter into eternal rest in God.

So although we often acknowledge Dr. King on the Sunday nearest his birthday, it is appropriate, on this the 40th anniversary of his martyrdom, to remember him today.

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.

In the name of love
What more in the name of love.
In the name of love
What more in the name of love.

This is a lovely version of U2's "Pride" covered by John Legend. Excuse the History Channel advertising aspect of it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Others

In last night's section of "From Jesus to Christ", the program talked about the diversity within Judaism in Jesus' time. Even though there was only one Temple, in Jerusalem, where the One God lived, there were a number of sects and political parties arguing with each other about the right way to be a Jew.

When we read the gospels and hear Jesus arguing with Pharisees and Sadducees, this would have been well within the customs and traditions of the time. They all argued with each other, and a Rabbi would have been expected to be able to account for his teachings and interpretations. The disputes with Pharisees and Sadducees are not what got Jesus killed. His ability to stir up the common people made him a threat to Rome, which then made him a threat to the security of the Jewish nation.

Anyway, a quick rundown on these players, thanks to Ray Brown, author of An Introduction to the New Testament.

Pharisees: A non-priestly sect that taught obedience to the Law of Moses, and also to a second, orally transmitted Law of Moses. You could become holy in your daily life by living according to the Law. They believed in angels and in the resurrection from the dead. After the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., this style of Judaism that was not based in Temple sacrifices, allowed Judaism to survive and led to the synagogue style of Judaism practiced today.

Sadducees: A group aligned with the priests in the Temple and also with the ruling Jewish aristocracy (Herod, et. al.) Apparently, they did not believe in the resurrection from the dead.

Essenes: A group that became angry about changes in Temple worship. A group of Essenes fled Jerusalem to live in caves by the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a settlement of Essenes living in strict, almost monastic, seclusion from 150 BC to 70 AD in this area. They had apocalyptic expectations and awaited two Messiahs to set things to rights: The Messiah of Aaron, who would sort out all the problems with Temple worship, and the Messiah of David, who would lead the war that would throw the Romans out for good.

Other sects: Sicarii and Zealots, and other rebels also played a role, although they seem to have been focused primarly on revolt and violent overthrow of the Roman rulers.

The scholars featured in "From Jesus to Christ" discuss this Jewish diversity here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The World of Jesus

Tonight we begin the first of an 8-week course looking at the growth of Christianity from a small movement to the official religion of the Roman Empire. Using the excellent PBS Frontline series "From Jesus to Christ -- The First Christians", we'll be moving from the world of Jesus to the world of empire.

Tonight we begin with a look at the culture and influences of first-century Palestine. The Romans, the Temple authorities, the Essenes, the political situation in occupied Palestine ... all in a half-hour video segment. Then we'll have time to ask questions and discuss what we watched.

For more information and lots and lots of background material, check the website for the series at From Jesus to Christ.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Risus Paschalis -- Easter Laughter

In Bavaria in the 15th Century, a custom arose of celebrating the Sunday after Easter as the Risus Paschalis, the Easter laugh. Priests would include jokes and funny stories in their sermons. The congrega-tion would gather after Easter services to tell stories and play practical jokes. It was a time to celebrate the big joke that God pulled on Satan by resurrecting Jesus.

Well, that couldn't last. Pope Clement X outlawed the Risus Paschalis in the 17th century. I guess folks were having too much of a good time.

An old friend of mine, Greg Risberg, goes around the country giving seminars on the importance of laughter and humor in reducing stress (he'll be at Ingham Regional Medical Center in May). He says studies show you need to laugh 24 times a day to stay healthy.

So on this April Fool's Day, enjoy some Easter Laughter. Play a prank. Tell a joke. Have a giggle or a guffaw. Christ is risen, and God is laughing at the very good joke.