Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Many Episcopalians Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

The traditional answers to this question are:

1) My grandmother GAVE the church that light bulb!


2) What was wrong with the old one?

I would add a third ...

3) Remember that light bulb we USED to use? Can't we have that one back?

George Clifford writes at Episcopal Cafe this week about the human longing for stasis, and the inevitability of change. He says in a changing world, humans often think of religion as an anchor, something to hold them fast amid the storms of life.

He suggests a different metaphor ... that religion should be not an anchor, but a rudder, helping us to steer ourselves toward God. As we continue in the waning days of Lent, it is important to remember that Lent calls us to change, fundamental change, and that our religion can be the rudder that guides us through that change.

Clifford writes: I still find myself reluctant, at times even unwilling to change. Lenten self-examination requires me to overcome my psychic inertia, dislike of conflict, emotional preference for stasis, and other opposition to change. I know that religion that fails to change loses its ability to serve as a rudder for navigating toward God's light and life abundant. A healthy, dynamic faith frees us from dysfunctional stasis and moves us forward on the Jesus’ way, more fully experiencing the abundant life we celebrate at Easter. So I engage in the hard and often unpleasant work of self-examination and of examining my understanding of Christianity.

How is YOUR "hard and often unpleasant work of self-examination" going this week?

+ Kit

Monday, March 30, 2009

Down the Lenten Home Stretch

The Episcopal preacher Fleming Rutledge says we all "flunk Lent." How is your Lent going? Ready to take a big W and withdraw from the course? Or are you willing to go all the way and get that 55% overall grade for the six weeks?

There is one week left before Holy Week. This is a good time to examine the past weeks of Lent. What has been working for you in your discipline and devotion? What have you neglected? Have you gotten closer to God? If not, why not? If not, what might happen in these last few days to help you hear the voice of the Holy One?

Above all, take time between now and the flurry of devotion that begins next Sunday to STOP. BREATHE. BE AT PEACE. Let the silence and austerity of Lent invade your mind and soul for five minutes at least. God can work miracles with any small scrap of ourselves that we are willing to hand over.

+ Kit

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bracelets in Action

I've moved mine twice so far. It's proving a good reminder to not let my tongue run away with me.

James 3:5-18 The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Complaint-Free World ...

A while ago, I noticed that Pastor Sam Duncan, of Lansing Church of God in Christ, had a purple rubber bracelet on his arm. When I asked about it, he told me about the Complaint-Free World project. Based on a book by Will Bowen, the project aims to create a world of positive cooperation. It starts with a purple bracelet. Because theory says to change a habit takes about 21 days, you put a purple bracelet on your left wrist. The goal is to keep it there for 21 days. The only problem is, if you complain, gossip or criticize, you have to move it to the other wrist and start over again.

This is not to end positive work for change, or to become a doormat. As Eckhart Tolle says, "Complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or deficiency so that it can be put right. And to refrain from complaining doesn’t necessarily mean putting up with bad quality or behavior. There is no ego in telling the waiter your soup is cold and needs to be heated up—if you stick to the facts, which are always neutral. ‘How dare you serve me cold soup…?’ That’s complaining.”

Lately, I have found it all too easy to take the complaining route instead of the positive change route. It is fun to complain about the weather, the students, the economy, the people who cut in front of me at Meijer, the people who don't pick up after their dogs, people who don't think like me or who don't like the same things I do. It is easy to find fault with others, instead of looking for fault in myself. And it is way too easy to join in with a group of others to tear down some other person or some other project, rather than to build it up.

So Pastor Duncan brought me a bag of purple bracelets. I am on day 1. I have about 30 more bracelets to share with anyone else who might want to try this experiment.

In the meantime, before I open my mouth, I'm giving it the complaint-free test: Is it necessary? Is it truthful? Is it kind?

+ Kit

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back Safe and Sound

We got home late last night after a long and tiring week. But we accomplished much in a short time.

At the orphanage, we left behind a thoroughly cleared garden. A compost pile, with directions on how to continue to compost. A variety of vegetables planted now that the rainy season is coming, and the children helped put the seeds into the ground. I cannot say enough how hard this group worked, in 90 degree weather, to accomplish the garden. Marlene Cosgrove, Colleen Hegg's mom, was the master gardener coordinating the vision. Colleen, Gina Mazzolini, Wendy Hedeen, Pam Miklavcic and Carol Mader, a priest from this area, (and me too, a bit ...) worked to remove pounds and pounds of trash, to dig out buckets of rocks, to trim back foliage and dig beds, and create pathways, and establish the compost pile. We hope that by involving the children in cleaning and planting the area, that they will want to continue to help the garden grow.

Inside, Eddie Aparicio, a friend of my son Andrew's, coordinated the mural project. Eddie is a student at the Maryland Institute and College of Art, and this was his first mural. He and Andrew prepared the wall, then began the arch in the color of the Haitian flag, with the seal of Haiti at the top. On Wednesday, the children took turns donning a surgical glove, having their hand coated in paint, then leaving a handprint behind in the arch. The adult staff at the orphanage, and all the adults from the mission team who worked there, also left their print on the wall. Thursday, they spent the day finishing up the mural.

Two solar ovens were left behind with the cooks at the orphanage to practice with. While the ovens are too small to really be used for cooking for all those children, it is our hope that the cooks will experiment with them for bread and other goods and think of ways to use more ovens in the future. Also, Wendy Hedeen and the orphanage children created drainage areas for the pipes that shoot water off the roof of the orphanage when it rains. This will help prevent erosion of the yard in the rainy season.

We left behind toys and soccer balls, jump ropes and games, which the children seem to enjoy using when their homework is done. They play nicely with one another and treat the toys with care and respect, so we hope they will last a long time and brighten their lives.

On Wednesday night, there is always a program for HOM volunteers by the local churches. We were all as excited as any proud parent when the children from St. Blaise Orphanage led off the evening with a song. They were beautifully dressed, their few dress-up clothes having been carefully ironed by the orphanage workers during the day. You should know that one woman washes all 52 children's clothes each day by hand in a metal tub. From 9 till dinner she sits at the side of the orphanage and scrubs each article of clothing until it is clean then hangs it to dry. The children looked beautiful, thanks to her, and sang even more beautifully.

Also, a beautiful group of women from St. Pierre Episcopal Church sang at this event. They sing a capella with the most exquisite harmonies and hand gestures. Pere Jeannot says they are going to make a CD this summer and he promised to bring many copies of the CD when he comes to the U.S. next fall for the annual HOM meeting. I know I am going to want to give them as Christmas gifts, and they will make a wonderful addition to the alternative Christmas market. Take a listen ...

Finally, Thursday was a glimpse at a potential future for the fisheries project that was outlined in the most recent issue of the diocesan newspaper The Record. Pam Miklavcic and I, along with Roger Matthews and Jim Schairbaum from the HOM Board, and Pere Jeannot, went far into the Haitian countryside to explore this possibility. We went past the town of Cange, where Paul Farmer founded his famous Partners in Health program, over the mountain to the town of Thomonde. There, the project leader from Food for the Poor showed us their fish ponds which are in the process of being dug, along with a second site for six more ponds.

But more exciting was discovering a site nearer to Mirebalais. One of Pere Jeannot's churches, St. James, is out in the countryside near a river. The church also has a small school, with students up to age 19 or 20. They need to learn trades and crafts that can help support themselves and they are very interested in tackling a fish pond program of their own. Not far from the church, we discovered a beautiful piece of sloping land that has great potential for as many as six ponds to raise tilapia to feed the community and to sell at market. The property is owned by the man who owns the hotel where we stay every year, a man who has created fish ponds like this on his own farm, which we also looked at. So there is hope that this site might become a pilot project for the people of St. James's church. Much more remains to be done, but there is a vision.

This is in addition to the many other HOM projects going on this week ... the clinic, the mobile clinics out in the mountains, the dental teams going to the schools with fluoride treatments, the construction crew building shelving in the orphanage, the dentists at the clinic pulling hundreds of teeth, the ESL classes taught by the priests Chris Yaw and Carol Mader, evening Bible studies for Sunday School teachers at St. Pierre, VBS activities for the orphanage students, teacher in-services for the instructors at St. Louis and St. Pierre's schools. So much was accomplished, but so much more remains to be done.

Finally, in the marketplace in Mirebalais, Pere Chris discovered the dirt cookies we have read so much about. They cost 12 cents apiece, and are made from oil, sugar, and fine dirt from out in the mountains. I will have them to share tomorrow at our Sunday services. Despite everything we did, this is a country with profound issues of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, poor health, subsistence agriculture, and a government that is disfunctional at best. Nevertheless, the Haitian people endure, with dignity and courage, with intelligence and hope. There are many, many more things we can do in the future.


+ Kit

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Working Hard

Day two of operations. A lot got done yesterday in many different locations. A medical team went to Desvailleux, up in the hills, to treat people there and do dental care. In addition to seeing 200 people, they saved the life of a baby that had accidentally drunk gasoline through an amazing emergency intubation.

In Mirebalais, the clinic is open, and Dick Johnson is seeing patients in the front office, and Monica Stafford is yanking out teeth back in the dental clinic. There are so many babies this year. I had a prayer station in the courtyard in the morning to pray with the patients as they waited for their prescriptions.

The orphanage project is coming right along. The garden is being cleared of amazing amounts of trash, including razor blades, glass and silverware. Marlene Cosgrove, Colleen Hegg, Carol Mader, Gina Mazzolini are all digging in the hot sun to get ready to plant and to prepare compost piles. Inside, Eddie Aparicio and my son Andrew are getting ready to lead the children in painting a huge mural on the wall of their dining room.

The many, many toys and art supplies that we sent were received with nothing short of amazement. These children had never seen an Etch-a-Sketch or Legos, or had ever done a pattern matching puzzle. They had no toys at all. At the end of the day, each child received one of the Beanie Babies donated by Cindy Collins and Heather Spotts. Now every child has at least one toy to call his or her own.

In the afternoon we ran a Vacation Bible School. I told a Bible story to one group of children and led them in a related game. Another group worked in the garden to learn to care for it. Another group played in the toy room and another group went out in the yard with all the soccer balls we brought. Then they all rotated around. We are going to run the VBS for three days this week. It is fun for us to spend time with the children.

Today we put the solar ovens to work, and showed the orphanage cooks how they work. We are hoping that the rice will be done by the time for the noon meal. The children should be able to start painting their mural tomorrow.

Much to do in a short time. There is also the fishery project to explore. Pam Miklavcic has just finished explaining sustainable fisheries to a class of high school seniors. Pere Jeannot is trying to find ways to get education and employment for his graduates, and we are hoping to interest some of them in working with us on fish ponds, perhaps in exchange for scholarships to university later. We hope to travel into the country tomorrow and Thursday to look at potential sites, and to see one fishery already in operation through Food for the Poor. This is a potential area of interest for us, but it is still in the very early stages.

That's all from here, for now. Peace and prayers to all. We are well.

+ Kit

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We are Here!

Just to let you know the HOM team arrived safely in Haiti, in two batches. One group on Friday and the second group on Saturday. Our folks arrived, and the Episcopalians promptly went off to church. Friday evenings in Lent, Pere Jeannot does the Great Litany, with a long teaching sermon and prayers. It was an excellent introduction to the culture for the first-timers, and also good for our souls.

Saturday was spent sorting vitamins, Tylenol, Tums and other medicines to get the clinic ready to run on Monday morning. We did good work, and it is ready to go.

Today began with Mass at St. Pierre at 6 a.m. There were many special musical offerings, and a longish sermon by your rector ;-) so we finished around 8 a.m. After breakfast, it was a ride up the road to the little Episcopal church, St. Andrew, at Trianon, where there is also a school. We had Mass again, with slightly less music and a great sermon by Father Chris Yaw from St. David's in Southfield.

It is now after lunch and most of the group has gone off in buses to see Cange and some of the other HOM schools and churches out in the countryside. Pere Chris and I are going to Pere Jeannot's Sunday School at 4 p.m. I'll be talking with the young ladies about women's ordination and being a female priest.

Tomorrow the hard work begins. Keep us in prayer.

+ Kit

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leaving for Haiti

Tonight, the All Saints contingent of the Haiti Outreach Mission team will leave the parking lot around 2:30 a.m. By 2:30 p.m., we will be in Haiti for the second time this year, participating in HOM's annual mission trip to Mirebalais.

Our work there will include helping in the medical clinic, where Dick Johnson and Monica Stafford will offer their services. And also an intensive week of work at the St. Blase orphanage, where we will reconstruct the garden, start a composting system, provide solar ovens for the cooks, create a mural and offer Vacation Bible School activities for the children. Pam Miklavcic, who built fish farms in Togo in the Peace Corps, will also help explore fishery opportunities in the area.

I'll be blogging if possible, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can support our trip and the people of Haiti in two ways:

1) Take a day to be in solidarity with the people of Haiti. Eat like a Haitian ... one meal at mid-day of a bowl of rice and beans. Drink only water. Let this be a Lenten fast for you, and pray during the day for Haitians (and for millions of people around the world) for whom this is their daily fare.

2) Please pray for every member of the Haiti Outreach Mission, but especially for our team: Wendy Hedeen, Monica Stafford, Dick Johnson, Gina Mazzolini, Colleen Hegg, Marlene Cosgrove, Andrew Carlson-Lynch, Eddie Aparicio, Pam Miklavcic, Carol Mader and me. Pray that our hearts will be open to meet Jesus as he comes to us in the people of Haiti. Pray that our work there will be of benefit. Pray for our safe journey and a safe return home.

Remember also our friend and seminarian, Wisnel Dejardin of Mirebalais, as he continues his studies in Virginia.


+ Kit

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Despising the Pleasant Lands

My son remarked last night that almost all of his Michigan-born friends continually complain about living in Michigan, and can't wait to move somewhere else. Coming from Maryland, where people are rabidly proud of their Orioles, crab cakes and Baltimore (even though it's a lot like it's pictured on "The Wire"), this continues to surprise him. "Even my New Jersey friends love New Jersey, and everyone knows that it's a hell hole," he said.

No, all his Michigan friends want to move to Florida.

Which is funny, because my younger sister has lived in Florida most of her life. And she hates it. She calls her town of Bradenton "Bradentucky" and says that every time she gets on a plane to go somewhere else, she thinks, "At last! I'm going to civilization!"

She wants to move to San Diego or L.A. I imagine out there, there are people who hate California, too ... for its wildfires, pollution, traffic, pomposity, etc. I bet some of them want to move to that paradise on Earth, Hawai'i.

Which is funny, because people who live in Hawai'i can also start to hate it. In her new book, "Acedia and Me: Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life," Kathleen Norris (who grew up in Hawai'i, and spends a good part of her life there now, caring for her aging mother) writes about a terrible phenomenon that the island dwellers experience.

Many people stationed in Hawai'i with the military or large corporations come to feel a nagging contempt for the place. They hate the ocean because it reminds them that they are living on an island in the most isolated island chain on earth. They dismiss paradise as "the rock," and refer to their sad condition with perverse pride as "rock fever."

Norris sees this alienation from place as a symptom of a spiritual illness that prevents us from being happy where we are, that cuts us off from joy in our lives, joy in our relationships, and joy in God.

Look outside. This is one of the ugliest sorts of days Michigan has to offer. Can you see the beauty in it? Can you figure out a way to love this pleasant land and not despise it? To be at peace where you are planted?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Addendum ... If They Only Knew How Hip We Are!

As a follow-up to the previous post, I note this blog entry by Brett McCracken, who asks "Are you a Christian Hipster?"

The sort of Christian he describes comes from the new "emergent" movement in young, GenX and GenY Protestantism. These younger folks are eschewing the megachurches of their Baby Boom parents to re-invent or reclaim a Christianity that, well, to me it looks awfully Episcopal. See what you think:

Things they don’t like:
Christian hipsters don’t like megachurches, altar calls, and door-to-door evangelism. They don’t really like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart or youth pastors who talk too much about Braveheart. In general, they tend not to like Mel Gibson and have come to really dislike The Passion for being overly bloody and maybe a little sadistic. They don’t like people like Pat Robertson, who on The 700 Club famously said that America should “take Hugo Chavez out”; and they don’t particularly like The 700 Club either, except to make fun of it. They don’t like evangelical leaders who get too involved in politics, such as James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, who once said of terrorists that America should “blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” They don’t like TBN, PAX, or Joel Osteen. They do have a wry fondness for Benny Hinn, however.

Christian hipsters tend not to like contemporary Christian music (CCM), or Christian films (except ironically), or any non-book item sold at Family Christian Stores. They hate warehouse churches or churches with American flags on stage, or churches with any flag on stage, really. They prefer “Christ follower” to “Christian” and can’t stand the phrases “soul winning” or “non-denominational,” and they could do without weird and awkward evangelistic methods including (but not limited to): sock puppets, ventriloquism, mimes, sign language, “beach evangelism,” and modern dance. Surprisingly, they don’t really have that big of a problem with old school evangelists like Billy Graham and Billy Sunday and kind of love the really wild ones like Aimee Semple McPherson.

Things they like:
Christian hipsters like music, movies, and books that are well-respected by their respective artistic communities—Christian or not. They love books like Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. They tend to be fans of any number of the following authors: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, John Howard Yoder, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Soren Kierkegaard, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robison, Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris, or anything ancient and/or philosophically important.

Christian hipsters love thinking and acting Catholic, even if they are thoroughly Protestant. They love the Pope, liturgy, incense, lectio divina, Lent, and timeless phrases like “Thanks be to God” or “Peace of Christ be with you.” They enjoy Eastern Orthodox churches and mysterious iconography, and they love the elaborate cathedrals of Europe (even if they are too museum-like for hipster tastes). Christian hipsters also love taking communion with real Port, and they don’t mind common cups. They love poetry readings, worshipping with candles, and smoking pipes while talking about God. Some of them like smoking a lot of different things.

It's clear that the Episcopal ethos has much to offer the rising generations. So what are we doing to tell them that?

+ Kit

Whither Christianity?

A survey released today, The American Religious Identification Survey, shows a dramatic drop in the last 18 years of people who identify themselves as Christian. In 1990, 86 percent of those surveyed said they were Christian. That number is now 76 percent. Of those who say they are Christian, fewer are willing to identify with any denomination at all. As USA TODAY put it, "When it comes to religion, the USA is now the land of the freelancers."

This survey describes something that many of us in organized religion have observed for years now. Our society is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, or simply ignorant of it. In 1992, Episcopal priest and author Loren Mead wrote "The Once and Future Church", describing a world that is post-Christian, a world in which the old meanings of religion and religious institutions have broken down, a world which more closely resembles the mission field of the earliest apostles than at any time in history.

Word of this shift has not, by and large, made its way into the local parishes and congregations of the United States. Most of us have not noticed that our peers, our co-workers, the students we teach, our neighbors, may not have any knowledge of Christianity, or any interest in it at all. We wonder why birthday parties, soccer games and other events get scheduled on Sunday mornings. In large part, it's because Sunday is more available because many people have no affiliation with, or interest in, a local church.

So we work under old assumptions that no longer apply to the world we now inhabit. Assumptions like, "they'll all come back when they start having kids." Assumptions like, "we need to teach people how to be Episcopalians." Assumptions like, "it's rude to talk about faith or invite people to share my church."

What is happening in our world is unprecedented, and it is happening fast, as the survey reveals. This is not even about the survival of the Episcopal Church. This is about learning how to share our Christian faith, our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, with people who no longer understand what this means, because they have never been raised in the faith.

Look around our own parish, and make an estimate of the average age of our members. Look at the average age of newcomers who seek us out. I will tell you quite frankly, they are Baby Boomers and older. We have some younger families, some younger members, but they are not here in the numbers they were ... twenty years ago, say ... when Baby Boomers were young parents, teaching Sunday School and running committees.

When I ponder the future of All Saints, I honestly wonder where we will be in 20 or 30 years. We are a wonderful community with much to share. Our faith in God and our love for one another has sustained and supported us for 55 years. But unless we learn to share this faith and this community with generations yet to come, generations who find us increasingly meaningless in their world, I wonder what will happen to this parish, to the Episcopal Church, and to American Christianity in 50 years.

Because as the survey shows, this is not simply an All Saints issue. It's not even just an Episcopal Church issue. This is a national issue that reflects the decline of religious participation across America.

One thing is for certain. The old assumptions no longer apply. The old way of seeking and incorporating new members no longer applies. The old way of speaking, or more likely, NOT speaking, about our faith no longer applies.

What do you think?

+ Kit

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Author Thomas Lynch Comes to All Saints

Michigan native, poet, author and undertaker Thomas Lynch will launch our Lenten educational series on the spirituality of the end of life.

Author of "The Undertaking: Tales from the Dismal Trade" as well as other books of essays and poems, Lynch has a deep, yet whimisical approach to the craft of tending to the dead and their families. We are delighted that he'll join us at All Saints.

Bring a friend, because all are welcome to this event. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m. in the main sanctuary. The evening actually begins with a service of Healing and Holy Eucharist at 5:30 p.m. in the chapel, followed by our Lenten soup supper at 6 p.m. in the Undercroft.

See you there!

+ Kit

Monday, March 2, 2009

I am an Episcopalian ... Are You?

On Ash Wednesday, the national church launched a website called I Am An Episcopalian. Here, short videos offer real Episcopalians a chance to tell their stories about this church and what it means to each of them.

The site offers a chance to upload videos from other Episcopalians, which will be reviewed prior to posting. What might each of us at All Saints say about being Episcopalian? What stories would we tell? Would anyone be interested in posting videos of our stories to the iamanepiscopalian website?