Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seeking Sabbath Rest

(A sabbath chant played on a lyre, similar to what would have been used in the Biblical Temple in Jerusalem)

I'll be offline for a couple of weeks. On vacation, yes, but even more so, seeking Sabbath rest and peace.

Sabbath is such a difficult concept for hard-working North Americans. To just stop everything and worship God and rest and restore doesn't fit into our ideas of time or valuable uses of time.

In this fabulous little article from Calvin College, it is observed that while Christians happily can sit around on Saturday night talking about all the chores or work they have to do the next day, no one sits around and says, "Well, I'm going to commit adultery tomorrow." Or "I think I'm going to go shoplift at Macy's tomorrow." Why do we hold this Sabbath commandment so lightly among all the "Big Ten"?

I hope in the intervening weeks, you might follow the link above and spend some time exploring its resources on Sabbath and Sabbath-keeping. Rest and refreshment in the arms of a living, loving God is surely the remedy for most of humanity's ills ... if we could only see it.

Back in August!

+ Kit

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Night for Singing!

Last night, about 50 people gathered around the piano in the Undercroft for an hour of hearty hymn singing. The selections (all requests) ranged from "For All the Saints" to "Precious Lord," from "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus," to "Marching in the Light of God."

There were sweet harmonies and powerful fortissimos. There were a few false starts, and boldly confident descants. There were a host of regular choir members, and some very welcome visitors who are not regular members of All Saints.

At the end of all that singing, we deserved those ice cream sundaes! Thanks to Steve Findley and his crew for wonderful fellowship and food. Thanks to Michael Crouch (still post-surgery and not feeling at all the thing ...) for playing for a solid hour. Thanks to all who came and lent their voices in joyful, prayerful singing.

+ Kit

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Pew With A View

Back in the day, a hundred years ago or so, many churches made their incomes by renting pews. You purchased the right to a pew and your family sat there -- sometimes for generations. You can see this especially in colonial churches, with the box-style pews, some even with little gates. Your family name would go on the gate, and that was your pew.

Now we have annual pledge campaigns to raise funds, and people no longer rent their pews. But there is something peculiarly place-oriented in the Episcopal mind. A seat, even at a two-day conference, becomes "My Seat," a little home away from home.

When I was in seminary, I liked to play around with this penchant for sitting in the same place. We had all our classes in one enormous lecture hall. And every day, sometimes even at each class period throughout the morning, I would change my seat, just to get a new perspective.

One morning, one of the more irritable members of my class came in and found me in "her seat." "You are in MY SEAT," she said. "I ALWAYS sit here. I want to sit here NOW."

What is it that makes any old seat My Seat? Or any old pew My Pew? What creates that sense of ownership? What is it in our psyches that longs for a single vista, a single unchanging viewpoint?

What would you see if you looked at things from a different angle?

+ Kit

Friday, July 18, 2008

Church Words -- Orthodox

After several recent discussions that involved the words "orthodox" or "orthodoxy" (used in the sense of "I'm right and you're wrong"), I started wondering a) what people mean when they use this word and b) what the word meant and might still mean.

Orthodoxy is becoming a word of indeterminate meaning, standing for all sorts of things, including fundamental evangelicalism, conservative Catholicism, and the Right Way to Be an Anglican. It seems to mean, as Humpty Dumpty said in "Alice in Wonderland," what the speaker wants it to mean.

So I went to The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology and found this definition: "The word 'orthodoxy' is ambiguous. It can mean 'right worship' (ortho means straight and doxa means praise) or 'right belief.' The Athanasian Creed affirms that, 'We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.' Orthodoxy is not a matter of purely intellectual assent to propositions, it involves giving glory to God. This emphasis on worship shows clearly that right belief, assent or opinion, correct dogma, was not understood in abstraction from practice." (p. 422)

In my mind, orthodoxy comes down to holding the basic tenets of faith ... One God in Trinity of Persons, God as creator of all that is, Christ as fully human and fully divine, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the single redemptive action that reconciles humanity to God, the gift of the Holy Spirit as the ongoing presence, guide and power of God in the world.

That is the God I praise and worship. All the rest, I think, is details, discussion and disputations.

+ Kit

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Saint of the Week -- Bishop William White

We have William White to thank for so much. For the survival of the Anglican faith in the United States following the Revolutionary War. For the democratic structure of The Episcopal Church. For the insistence on democratic election of bishops by clergy and lay people combined. I suppose we might even thank him for Gene Robinson. Or the existence of the Anglican Communion.

Rev. William White, an Anglican clergyman, was one of the very few clerics in the Church of England to support the Revolutionary War. He was chaplain to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1789, and then served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate. Anglicanism in America almost died out after the Revolution -- after all, if England was no longer in charge, what place was there for the Church of England? The number of Anglicans in the U.S. dwindled after the war to only about 10,000 members as clergy and Loyalists fled to Canada or England. Churches sat empty across the colonies. It looked like Anglicanism would perish in the new nation.

There had been no Anglican bishops in the colonies because church leaders did not want to give the colonial church that much independence and power. So the first order of business to preserve Anglicanism was to get some bishops. Samuel Seabury was the first U.S. bishop, and he was ordained in Scotland, where he would not have to take an oath swearing allegiance to the King. In 1787, William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York traveled to England and were consecrated there under a new British law providing for Anglian churches in countries not ruled by England.

It then remained to create an American Anglican church. The church was named The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (to get anything even sounding like British authority out of the title). Episcopal comes from the Greek word for bishop, which showed that this would be a hierarchical church under the authority of diocesan bishops. This was the first church outside the United Kingdom to be in relationship and communion with the Church of England. It was, you might say, the beginning of the Anglican Communion.

William White established the governance of our church ... including election of bishops by clergy and lay people in a diocese. "The power of electing a superior order of ministers ought to be in the clergy and laity together, they being both interested in the choice," White wrote. (In most of the Communion, bishops are not elected, but appointed. This causes much confusion as the U.S. church tries to explain how it is that New Hampshire ended up with a gay bishop. Because the church in New Hampshire -- clergy and lay delegates -- VOTED for him!) He made sure the voices and opinions of lay people would be heard on vestries, in diocesan conventions and at the triennial General Convention of the church.

In this month when we celebrate our nation's independence from Great Britain, and when bishops from all over the Anglican Communion are gathering in England for the Lambeth Conference, it is appropriate for us to honor and celebrate dear Bishop William White, who made it possible for us to have a church that is representative of all its people, while still maintaining the ancient orders and authority of bishops, priests and deacons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Pentecost 10

This week's parable is about the weeds and the wheat ... how an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat, the servants want to pull up the weeds, but the Master says no, leave them all alone till the harvest, for fear of pulling up the good wheat along with the weeds.

One of the hardest struggles people have is how a good God allows evil and suffering in the world. The parable helps with that in one sense ... that we do not know how rooting out evil might also root out the good you desire along with it. But why the evil in the first place?

This is a long-standing theological question. It is called theodicy -- the question of why God allows evil in the world. We all do our time in the fields of theodicy, trying to distinguish weeds from wheat, wondering why the weeds at all, why not bring in the divine Roundup and spray them all?

The parable says the question is not that easy. I find it very hard to let go of the question and let that be the answer. In fact, the most irritating person I learned about in college literature courses was Alexander Pope, who wrote "Know thyself, presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man."

I never bought that argument. Do you?

+ Kit

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Playfulness and Healthy Responses

In Ed Friedman's posthumous book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, he describes how families and organizations become more and more anxious and reactive as they lose their sense of playfulness.

Playfulness, he says, is part of our mammalian make-up, and is necessary both for developing intimacy and for maintaining healthy boundaries. "You can, after all, play with your pet cat, horse, or dog, but it is absolutely impossible to develop a playful relationship with a reptile, whether it is your pet salamander, no matter how cute, or your pet turtle, snake or alligator. They are deadly serious (that is purposive) creatures," he writes.

Summer is a good time to develop the ability to be playful, while the sun is shining and the weather is warm and you can relax a bit. Then when winter sets in and the world is dark and the weight of work and responsibility and family presses in upon you, perhaps we might remember the lightness and humor, the joy and silliness of the sunnier season. Then perhaps we can react less like purposive reptiles and more like the playful mammals we are.

Bring a little light-heartedness into your next anxious moment... as Indigo Girls sang, "the best thing you've ever done for me. Is to help me take my life less seriously ... it's only life, after all."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Praying for Lambeth

Bishop Gibbs is on his way to England for the Lambeth Conference, along with other bishops from all around the world. They will meet together through the remainder of the month and ideally, there will be conversation and communion and a deeper understanding between the bishops.

The media frenzy is already underway in the UK, with New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon in a British church yesterday. This, coming on the heels of the Church of England General Synod vote to approve women bishops, is bringing issues of gender and sexuality to the forefront in the UK. It is no longer possible to pretend that these are issues only for the United States and Canada. There are many gay clergy in the Church of England, operating under a generous sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy of their bishops. They are now making their presence known. British women clergy, who have faced tremendous resistance from their fellow clerics, are also getting their chance to speak.

At any rate, everyone needs lots of prayer over the next few weeks. Episcopal Life has posted this series of prayer requests to cover the Lambeth Conference. Print it out and keep the bishops and their gathering in your own prayers.

+ Kit

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Pentecost 9

"A sower went out to sow some seed ..." It's a familiar parable of Jesus's, one of the first ones he tells. And because of its familiarity, it is easy to let it pass by without really thinking hard about it, with a sort of general appeal to God to make us more like "good soil."

But the word "parable" comes from the Greek parabole, which means to throw alongside. So a parable is a story or series of images that is set into conversation with our own thoughts or ideas about how the world works.

So try this ... very few of us lie around like dirt, waiting for seeds. But many of us keep our own gardens, planting flowers or herbs or tomatoes. How does throwing this image of the Sower of the Word of God alongside your own planting experiences work for you? How are you yourself a Sower of God's Word? How does your spiritual planting work in your life and with the folks you come in contact with? Where do you find thorns? A hardened footpath? Good soil? Where do your words and deeds land with success and where do they fail?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God's Big Backyard -- Day 4

Last night was the final day of Vacation Bible School. The Bible story was about Peter healing a lame man, and then Eric and Colleen Hegg took the kids into the library to show them the Domino Effect ... how one nice action can spread and affect many other people. There were water balloon battles and ice cream sundaes and making clay feet, to symbolize walking in Jesus' footsteps. Chaplain Sarah came and talked about her experiences in Africa, and how many children go to bed hungry every night. We ended with a slide show of the week's events, and then a rousing chorus of "Big Backyard," which the kids will sing in church on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

God's Big Backyard -- Day 3

One of the best parts of Vacation Bible School is the dinner that we share before the sessions start. Teachers, parents, helpers, children all gather for a simple meal that allows time for us to get to know one another and enjoy some conversation, a cookie or two and a smile.
Today's Community Corner activity was serving the neighborhood by picking up litter around the church, and then along the high school lot and the library sidewalk. The Bible story for the day was about Zacchaeus climbing the tree to see Jesus, then coming down to have Jesus over for dinner and announcing to Jesus that he would share his wealth with the poor. The craft was to make a Community Bag to collect clothing, old toys, and housewares to donate to a local charity. The trees on the bags are Zacchaeus trees, made by tracing the children's helping hands, then by gluing real leaves on the bags.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

God's Big Backyard -- Day Two

Today the children learned about serving neighbors. In Community Corner, Barb Backus told the children about making meals for Advent House. Then they made cards to send to our parishioners who are serving in the military.Then they made and decorated pots and planted basil in them to give away to neighbors. The Bible Story for the day (told with great animation by Eric Hegg) was the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the snack included making a rocky road for the Samaritan out of graham cracker, chocolate pudding and marshmallows for rocks. It culminated in a wild game of fox and rabbit designed and led by two of the children. You can see what it looked like in this short movie ...

Monday, July 7, 2008

God's Big Backyard -- Day One

It's the first day of Vacation Bible School! Eighteen children gathered in the sanctuary this evening to begin four days of learning how to serve God by serving others. Today's theme was "serving our families." The children learned about how Miriam helped to keep her brother Moses alive. They made snack packs to take home to their families and "service kits" to wear on their belts. There was lots of singing and fun. More tomorrow!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mosquitoes -- A Gift for Spiritual Growth

OK, I'll be the first to admit that mosquitoes are NOT COOL. Besides being extremely irritating and discomfiting, they carry diseases and in many parts of the world are responsible for tremendous loss and suffering.

But mosquitoes can also be an aid to spiritual growth. You can ponder the mysteries of creation -- why would God want a world with mosquitoes, which have been part of the landscape for 30 million years? When they bite you, you can pray for people in parts of the world where malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases add to human suffering. With the exception of widely scattered West Nile cases, our mosquitoes will not make us sick. Others are not so fortunate. Or you can think of them as God's own way to mortify your flesh -- teeny tiny hair shirts as it were, to disturb your comfort level and remind you of your dependence on God.

But my favorite way to use the mosquito for spiritual growth is to practice compunctio. This is a term coined by St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century. It means the sudden sense of wrong-doing, the "puncturing" or sharp, sudden stab in one's conscience after one realizes one's sin. This quick piercing of the heart is good for the soul's growth, because it immediately turns one back in the direction of God.

So each time a mosquito punctures your skin, take an instant (before smacking the little sucker ...) and examine your conscience. If you are pierced by your own knowledge of falling short, release it to God, turn back to God, find yourself in the forgiving and loving arms of God.

+ Kit

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day

This day, July 4, is an official feast day in the Episcopal Church, although it is not often officially observed. Folks are off at the lake, or firing up the grill, or making fireworks plans. It doesn't feel like a very "spiritual" day.

Yet freedom, true freedom, not some sloganized, flag-waving kind of freedom, is at the heart of the gospel. "For freedom Christ has set us free," Paul writes to the Galatians. It is a freedom of a different sort, not a "do what you want," but the freedom that comes after fully accepting the yoke of Christ, letting his vision, his direction, his compassion, take over your entire life.

So celebrate the independence of our nation today, but think a little more deeply about the freedom that comes once you have given up your self and thrown yourself completely into the loving arms of God.

+ Kit