Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010

Tradition at All Saints' Episcopal Church, here in Littleton NH, is a 7PM Eucharist service for New Year's Eve.

Did I mention it was OUTSIDE???!!!

I didn't do it my first year, since it was only brought up in hadn't been done recently, and perhaps the congregation thought it might be too much, 2 weeks into a new ministry that included Christmas services, to have the new guy do an outdoor winter evening service in Northern New Hampshire...

(Perhaps they were afraid I'd pack my bags and move to Florida!)

Lat year, however, 19 of us gathered on a cold December 31st night, to have a short Eucharist service under the Gazebo at Remich Park, a few blocks up the street from the church.

It was REALLY cold...but I have to tell you...I found the occasion to be powerful in a simple and beautiful kind of way!

There was something really peaceful about being gathered there together in the darkness and cold. We used the special "An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist" found in the Prayerbook. We all held candles (a tiny bit of warmth). We shared a Gospel verse about being light in the world and talked about it for a few minutes (fitting on the final day of the year and holding our candles). We prayed for the world, greeted one another in the name of peace, shared the common meal, and before we knew it, we were sent on our way to "be Christ's hands and heart in this world."

I have a different reading for tonight, but otherwise it's the same service. It's not supposed to be as cold, but we have to trudge through the 2 feet of snow to get to the Gazebo.

Actually, I'm looking forward to it....

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Digital Christmas

A few creative ways to share the Christmas Story digitally!

Bravo to and

(and thanks to You Tube)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Joseph's Moment

(A Sermon on Matthew 1:18:25 for the 4th Sunday of Advent, preached at All Saints' Littleton, 12/19/2010)

A sermon does not always end up as it intended...

This morning, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we get our only pre-Christmas Gospel story.

In the year of the Gospel of Matthew, the focus is on Joseph.

Only in the Gospel of Matthew tells us anything about Joseph. He is never mentioned in the Gospels of Mark or John. The Gospel of Luke places Joseph in three stories: in the traditional account of traveling to Bethlehem for the census, at the temple for the newborn ritual, and in the story of the young Jesus who stays behind in the temple for three days on his own. In all of these stories, Joseph is simply there, but almost as an afterthought. While we learn a little about what Mary is thinking in these stories, we are never told anything about Joseph except in statements like “and the child’s father and mother were amazed”. Joseph almost always remains unnamed. You can make the argument that, in Luke, only Joseph’s attendance matters...and just barely.

The Gospel of Matthew, in turn, barely mentions Mary outside of Joseph’s context. In fact, it is in this morning’s Gospel account where Mary is mentioned the most. Every other time, Mary is mentioned only as being with the child. Joseph is told in a few post-birth dreams, “Joseph, get up, take the child, and his mother, and go somewhere...” Mary matters little in the Gospel of Matthew.

Today, we consider Joseph’s moment.

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew makes two clear points to his audience: the child is not Joseph’s, and the child was not conceived in the usual matter. It should be noted that Matthew, having told us that Joseph and Mary were engaged, has to tell us additionally that this is “before they lived together.” In the first century Judaism, when a couple became engaged, they would then soon live together, before they were married. It was actually not uncommon for a woman to become pregnant after engagement, but before the formal marriage.

Now, here’s Joseph’s moment:

19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

In a single sentence, Matthew suggests a great deal about Joseph’s character. For a young Jewish man, after study of Scripture, there could be no greater focal point of one’s life than engagement and marriage (and you can imagine which parents were most likely to focus on with their sons). Joseph would have dreamed about the day when his wife-to-be would finally be given to him in formal engagement. He most certainly hoped that she would become the most treasured possession of his life. For a moment, suspend the problem our 21st century self should have with this reality, and try to focus on how devastating it must have been for Joseph to find Mary to be with child (remember, he does not know about the Holy Spirit’s role in all of this). For Joseph, this meant personal betrayal, public embarrassment, and a shattering of the dream and vision that he had for himself.

Now, Joseph had all of the power here: he could have had Mary charged with adultery: in other words, he likely could have pressed to have her executed. Even if he didn’t go that far, Mary’s value in 1st century life was based on her suitability for marriage...a few words from Joseph would have ruined her.

Joseph’s decision to “dismiss her quietly” meant that Mary’s family would have likely been able to find someone, likely a man of lower social class, to quickly marry her and claim the child as his own. So long as she was not publicly exposed, she could have still found a place in the culture. Joseph was willing to keep his sense of betrayal and hurt to himself, because, as the text says, “he was righteous man”.

While Matthew’s point is to come away with a positive view Joseph’s character, I think now is the time to admit that the story invokes great sadness and anger in me, on so many levels: how hard and unfair it must have been for women at this time! What makes it worse is that there are still plenty of places in the world where this is all still true, and even more where the mentality survives. I can also see other parallels, where the brokenness shown in this story still exists within our own culture towards people we have power over, and tend to either publicly disgrace or dismiss quietly because they do not meet our expectations.

Part of our charge as 21st century Bible readers is to both understand what the Bible is saying in its context AND not dismiss the limitations that the Bible illustrates of people at various moments in history. Taking this passage seriously should lead to both a positive understanding of Joseph’s character and empathy for the women of Joseph’s time. I think it also leads to a thirst for justice and change.

I didn’t intend for this to be the point of this morning’s sermon, but perhaps it’s not surprising that it has become so, amidst a flurry of Congressional activity this week, which included yesterday’s repealing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the failed vote on the Dream Act, concerning some legal status to benefit children who were brought illegally by their parents to either attend college or enlist in the military.

In both of these, we have multifaceted realities where mostly well intentioned people with power are directly determining the fates of those with status beneath them.

I could not escape the parallels with today’s Gospel...

I’ll still finish the story:

20But just when (Joseph) had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’

It is in a dream that Joseph comes to understand the truth: Mary has not betrayed him...instead, God is doing something wonderful through her. Joseph has a choice: he can dismiss Mary quietly, and pursue the vision that he has always had for himself. Or, he can go forward in God’s vision along with Mary, letting go of the way things have always been done to instead embrace the new thing that God is doing.

For a righteous man, there really only one choice to be made...

24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pink Advent Candle

(A sermon given at All Saints' Littleton on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, 12/12/2010)

The General Ordination Exams of the Episcopal Church, the GOE’s, are taken in January of your final year of seminary. These are a series of essays over a week’s period of time. Some were open notes and sources, which meant you needed to cite your work and quickly provide concrete examples, while others were closed: only your brain (and sometimes a Bible or the Prayer Book) was allowed.

There use to be a section of the exam referred to as the “Coffee Hour Questions”: they were random questions, potentially on anything, that a parishioner might come up and ask you. Most of these questions, however, were not seeking a pastoral response, but a factual response: who is so and so, and what does such and such mean. Oh yeah, no notes or sources were allowed on this section. You were supposed to be ready for what people might ask you “after church”: in an unknown parish, potentially anywhere in the Episcopal Church, and at any time of the year. Well, only about 10,000 years of history and theology to potentially worry about. Even if you limited your cramming session for this exam to the time of Jesus, that’s still 2000 years of things to remember!

Now, in real life, when someone asks me a Church question I don’t know, I respond “I’m not really sure, but I know how to find out. Why don’t we meet in the office sometime this week and we can talk about it?” Or, since we’re wireless here at All Saints’, I can respond: “give me a moment to Google it…” That’s a reasonable response: after all, very few people really expect a priest to be a walking church encyclopedia (which is a really, really good thing…)

Answers like these, however, do not earn any credit on the GOE’s. So, on this exam, you’d have to fake your way though answers you didn’t completely know, hoping you’d get enough stuff right (and sound confident enough) to get some credit.

It’s my experience that clergy, even when they’re not sure, sometimes still give GOE answers to people, perhaps thinking something like: “I’m not sure, I think it might be this, but I’m going to tell you in a way that makes it sound like I really know, since you must be thinking that I should know…”

That is the way I answered a question a couple Sundays ago on the Pink Advent candle, as to whether it was to be lit. I said “Oh, that’s for later in Advent.” When it was clear that the person wanted a little more said, I responded, “It’s a tradition, and it, um, has connections to Mary.”

In my defense, let me say that I was doing some multi-tasking at the time, and that technically I'm not that off the truth. However, it wasn’t a very good answer, and “I’ll have to get back to you to give a more compete answer” would have been a much better response.

Since I’ve had a few more people ask me about the Pink Candle, I decided to do some research.

I started online: Roman Catholic priest William Saunders writes that the Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath

From a quick look at a few other websites, you can quickly discover that the Pink candle has been traditionally lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It was called Gaudete Sunday. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice!" in Latin. Some Protestant churches light it on the 4th Sunday, where it is associated with the Nativity of Jesus, and the impending breaking of light into the world with his birth.

I wanted, however, a Episcopal definition, so I turned An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians (edited by Don Armentrout & Robert Boak Slocum).

There was no entry on “Pink Candle”

There was also nothing about the Pink candle, or the 3rd Sunday of Advent, under the entries for “Advent” or “Advent wreath. I had to look under "Gaudete Sunday" to finally find something:

The third Sunday of Advent in the Roman Catholic calendar of the church year. The term is derived from the Latin opening words of the introit antiphon, "Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always." The theme of the day expresses the joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration. This theme reflects a lightening of the tone of the traditional Advent observance. It was appropriate for the celebrant of the Mass to wear rose-colored vestments on this day instead of the deeper violet vestments that were typically used in Advent. This Sunday was also known as "Rose Sunday." This custom is not required by the Episcopal Church, but it is observed by some parishes with a traditional Anglo-Catholic piety. This custom is reflected by the practice of including a pink or rose-colored candle among the four candles of an Advent wreath.

Finally having an Episcopal definition, I returned to the internet to see what some Episcopal Clergy have said on the subject.

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton writes that a Choir member in her congregation told her that, as a child living in England, his aunt used to know when to start the Christmas Pudding because she'd listen to the collect prayer for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. The prayer begins, "Stir up your power, O Lord . . ." No wonder some call this "Stir up Sunday." It is also known as "Mothering Sunday " or "Refreshment Sunday." This has a long tradition in England, beginning in medieval times when servants were given this Sunday off to visit their mothers and family members. During the long season of Lent, the church adapted this tradition and it became customary in some places to visit the 'mother church' or the cathedral of one's diocese mid-Lent, or the fourth Sunday in Lent. It was a time of refreshment and relaxing the penitential discipline of Lent. Rose-pink vestments were allowed to take the place of the purple vestments of Lent.

(I know I said Lent over and over again here, I’m not misspeaking, but the explanation comes later…”

“Traditionally, the church invites us today, half way through Advent, to lighten up a little on our penitential practices. The pink candle on the Advent wreath, as well as the rose-colored vestments seen on this day in some churches, reminds us of the hope and joy to come in the Nativity of the Lord.”

Hegedus notes the irony of this in today’s world, noting that few “…need a break from fasting and prayer in the hectic final weeks before Christmas. Quite likely, just the opposite is true. Would that we were so earnest about our Advent observance that we needed a break from its rigors. Perhaps what we really need is to lighten up on last minute shopping and social engagements and allow the Lord to genuinely stir up our hearts in anticipation of what this season is really about: Emmanuel, God With Us.”

The most memorable explanation of the pink candle, however, was given by the Rt. Rev'd Cate Waynick, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Southern Indiana, who set the record straight her very first Advent Season as bishop. When asked why the third candle on the Advent wreath was pink, she responded:

“I'll tell you the truth no one else dares tell you. The third candle on the Advent Wreath is pink because," intoned the new bishop, with great authority and certainty, "Mary really wanted a girl." (cited in Rev. Kaeton's 2005 sermon)

It was, however, The House Church Network Association, which provides one of the most complete answers on the web:

In the earliest years of the church the only church season was Lent, the seven weeks prior to Easter. Lent was a season of fasting and prayer as the church commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus. The traditional color of banners in the church during this time was a deep purple, signifying royalty, repentance, and suffering. During Lent the church lit seven candles, one for each week of the solemn season. However solemn the season, the story of Lent also has a twinge of hope and joy since the death of Christ prefigured the resurrection. So, on the (fourth) Sunday of Lent, the church was encouraged not to fast, but to feast. In ancient times on this particular Sunday the Pope would honor a citizen with a pink rose, and as time passed the priests wore pink vestments on this day as a reminder of the coming joy.

When the season of Advent was instituted the church viewed it as a mini-Lent, a time for reflection and repentance (thus the purple). In so doing, the church adopted the first four candles of Lent and changed the third candle of Advent to pink in honor of the Lenten tradition. This is why we have a pink candle in our Advent Wreaths.

To further heighten the sense of anticipation of Christ's coming during Advent, the church named each candle in the wreath -- the first being hope, the second peace, the third joy, and the fourth love: there are a number of other traditional names as well, though these are some of the most ancient. (The author concludes) It has always seemed fitting to me that the pink candle is the candle of joy, the one that speaks to us with its twinge of color.

So there you have it. The pink candle, ultimately, is about joy to be found in the season of Advent: the joy to be remembered during periods of reflection, the joy promised in the hope of new birth, the joy found in the life of Jesus, and even the joy to be found of God’s stirring in the world.

This morning, hear Jesus’ joyous news: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (from this morning's Gospel, Matthew 11:2-11)


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Focused on Advent

(A sermon preached on The First Sunday of Advent at All Saints' Episcopal Littleton)

The tension between Christmas and the period of time that leads up to it is nothing new to our society. People claim that it has gotten worse in recent times, and perhaps they are right: after all, those who wait until October 30th to get their Halloween costumes are more likely to find Christmas decorations in stores. But the tension of the season goes back to at least before 1920.

While it has been overshadowed by the Macy’s Day Parade, the oldest of the Thanksgiving’s parades was in Philadelphia: The Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I found on Wikipedia that Ellis Gimbel, one of the founders of Gimbels Department Stores, wanted his toyland to be the destination of holiday shoppers everywhere. He dressed up over 50 store employees and sent them out on their first Thanksgiving Day parade: with Santa Claus arriving at the end of the parade.

The idea was picked up by a number of other stores, including Macy’s, whose New York City parade began in 1927. The culture of it all, the association with Christmas and sales, was now a strong force.

It would be wrong to place blame for the commercialization of Christmas solely on Department Stores: after all, Gimbel’s decision to have a parade to drive sales was built on the reality that people were already buying more things leading up to Christmas. There’s actually a great deal of fascinating history to the whole development of Christmas as an American Holiday. The point I wish to make, however, is that the struggle to keep the religious tradition of the period before Christmas has long been a difficult one.

This morning, I wish to share with you one attempt to re-frame the season of Advent.

In 2006, 5 pastors looked to refocus the time before Christmas by started what they called Advent Conspiracy. They wrote:

The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love.

So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.

And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?

Advent Conspiracy’s starts with the commitment to buy ONE LESS CHRISTMAS GIFT. America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas, and many of the gifts are either in excess, or out of obligation. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.

Additionally, Advent Conspiracy suggests a shift in the tenor towards gifts in general.

“God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. “

What the Advent Conspiracy accomplishes is both a change in focus and a common mission project not unlike our MDG work. Overall, I really like it. And I think it can be successful in challenging our outlook towards Christmas.

Advent Conspiracy says:

This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year.

There’s one thing that still bothers me a little: Advent Conspiracy defines Advent solely in terms of preparation for Christmas.

I was talking with Alison (from our church) the other day, and she told me that Advent church services are such a drag. We’re supposed to be part of this joyful preparation, and then we sing dreary things like O Come O Come Emmanuel.

I think I know what she means: we think of Advent as the season that builds up the joyful spirit, to be fully released at Christmas. A little more focus on joy in the Advent services would then be a good thing.

Maybe that’s what Advent should be. Perhaps it would make more sense.

However, for better or for worse, the Church season of Advent is more than just preparing for Christmas.

Every first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new church year, we get an adult Jesus telling us in dramatic and somewhat scary fashion about the coming fulfillment of God. That’s clearly not just about preparing for Christmas.

I don’t think it’s necessary to analyze this morning’s Gospel passage (Matthew 24:36-44) beyond its tone of urgency: this is after all part of the apocalyptical section of the Gospel of Matthew, and any apocalyptical text needs to be considered as a whole, not as an excerpt. (Although perhaps it’s worth remembering that Jesus will finish this whole section of readiness by saying that the righteous will be those who served Jesus by giving others what they need: food, drink, clothing, care & concern.)

As far as the tone of urgency, this passage captures an important part of what I call the Advent moment.

I would metaphorically describe the Advent moment as the darkness before the dawn: before the sky bursts into radiant hues of reds, pinks, oranges and finally brilliant sunshine...before the light breaks the darkness…it is really, really dark.

That darkness isn’t’s not where we want to stay, but it does serve a purpose.

The Advent moment is the time to pause, and turn around with open ears, an open mind, and an open heart. Advent refocuses the question. We are redirected from wherever the world and our lives have taken us, and called to turn our attention back on Jesus and the Kingdom of God: holding on to what each of us believes, while at the same time considering what’s still to be seen.

Kate Huey sees it this way:

“For so many reasons, we live with a powerful undertow of anxiety; isn't it understandable, then, that we'd rather think about shopping, and decorations, and carols, and a sweet baby in a stable long ago and far away? What does the church have to say about all of that? The church turns our attention toward the future, and the present, not just the past, although that past helps us to remember who God is, and how God works in the world, in our lives, so we can get a much better sense of where we are headed, and what the promises of God will bring. And that's why Advent is such a beautiful season: it remembers and re-tells the story of people who, like us, were waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled, and striving to live faithfully as they waited.”

Huey’s commentary finishes with words from Barbara Brown Taylor to help inspire and move us on this first day of a new church year, as we look towards Christmas, as we long for a new heaven and a new earth, to seek to live our lives right here, right now, in ways that are pleasing to God and utterly trusting in God's goodness:

"Every morning when you wake up, decide to live the life God has given you to live right now. Refuse to live yesterday over and over again. Resist the temptation to save your best self for tomorrow." (From "On the Clouds of Heaven" in The Seeds of Heaven)

Peace be with you in this season of Advent.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

I finally went to see the new Harry Potter movie yesterday. Really enjoyed it. The acting, again, was excellent, the pace was great, and there were plenty of lighthearted moments amidst the dark story.

As I've said throughout the movie series, they have done a great job balancing being faithful to the books while making changes to make it work as a movie. I think this has been crucial to the success of the movies: they have given us a good story while maintaining the overall ethics found in the series. Movies adapted from books are at a disadvantage storytelling wise because A) they cannot completely convey the characters thinking and reasoning (Harry's point of view, so crucial to the books) and B) thousand page books can vividly create pictures that movies can only be faithful too, not completely reproduce. Things had to be left out (and some new material created) in order to capture the detail and the themes of the book.

Overall, the movie gets things right. But I think, since this is only "Part One" of the final book, that it's not time to reflect on the movie as a whole. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to focus on some of the changes and cuts from book to movie that stood out to me, to consider what themes and ethics were lost (or gained) by the movie.

(If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to stop reading this blog post now. In other words: SPOILERS AHEAD)

CHANGE: Hermione wipes her parents minds of her memory. (Instead of her parents leaving the country to keep them safe)

Results: Might seem like a little change, but it was very effective in conveying the high stakes of what is to come.

(NOTE: It was pointed out to me that this does happen in the book!Hermione tells Ron & Harry that she's modified her parents' memories. The movie shows it in time order with a scene not in the book. Thanks to LaVonne Neff for mentioning this! As I think about it, the movie does a really good job about addressing Harry's instinct to go off on his own to protect others, and Ron & Hermione's countering of his "hero tendency". The movie conversation with Ron as he catches Harry trying to leave is another effective illustration.)

CUT: Dudley expressing concern and respect for Harry

Results: I think this was an unfortunate cut. Growth in a non-magical Muggle is not found in many places, and, after years of horrible treatment by his blood family, Dudley extending his hand to Harry is proof that anyone can change and open his heart. This knowledge is critical to Harry's growth, and is shown in his choices as the book concludes.

CHANGE: Hedwig is killed while defending Harry (instead of her being stuck by a stray wand bolt while in her cage)

Results: I understand this change: it would have been really hard and complicated to show Hedwig mad with Harry and refusing to speak to him, hiding her face in her wing. I like this ending better for Hedwig and Harry: she died while trying to protect him. However, I believe what is lost is a critical point of the book: death can come at anytime, and it won't always wait for you to reconcile arguments. Life is short and precious, and when we leave things at a place of anger, we may never get the opportunity to express our true feelings. There's a clear word of warning here (as well as a clear sign from the author that no character is safe from death), and while it makes sense movie-wise to change it, I can't help but feel we lost an important point.

(By making Hedwig's sacrifice the "sign" to Voldemort, we also lose Harry's choice to disarm instead of hurt/kill those attacking him, which alerts the Death Eaters that he is the "real Harry" by his use of his trademark spell. I think this is another nice ethical question lost by the movie, but it is demonstrated in other places of the story.)

CUT: Lupin's attempt to join Harry, Hermione & Ron.

Results: I missed this. A lot. The results of this moment is that Harry, in the book, calls Lupin a coward, shocking everyone. Harry's anger at Lupin for his willingness to abandon his family to go off with them is a big loss ethics/theme wise to the story. Harry gets plenty of things wrong in the books, but he rightly points out that Lupin is giving in to fear with this request. I will say that this might make it's way into Part Two. Tonks was going to tell Harry something (Lupin and I are having a baby!) right before they all took flight, and Mad-Eye shuts her down. So I get the feeling that they will touch on this somehow. They may have the Lupin/Harry confrontation out of order (which would work), or they might bypass it to simply tell Harry that he's going to be a Godparent (which would be unfortunate).

CUT: No change in Kreacher due to kindness by Harry, Ron & Hermoine

Results: BOOOOOOOO!!! One can argue that one of the MAJOR THEMES of the book is the impaired relationship between wizards and non-wizards due to wizards thinking they are better than others, and nowhere has it been more crucial than the House Elves. Furthermore, Harry's MAJOR weakness is that hate tends to blind him. I re-watched the 6th movie the day before going, and Lupin says aloud "Harry, your hate (for Snape) continues to blind you!" Harry blames Kreacher for Sirius's death, and cannot see that Kreacher is a product of wizard hate. The book transforms Kreacher in dramatic fashion, and starts Harry on his way to learning not to give in to hate. The movie even sends Kreacher on the task the book does, but fails to "convert" him to a way other than hate. A big missed opportunity, although there is still some hope that the movie may have this happen in Part Two.

CHANGE: Harry & Ron overpower Wormtail (instead of Wormtail's hesitation, resulting in his silver hand taking over)

Results: It means we still don't know about what it means to be in a "wizard's life debt" to someone. However, Wormtail is still alive for now, so I have a feeling that the movie will get to this later.

CHANGE: The big foreboding movie ending, with Voldermort obtaining the Elder Wand (early)

Results: I thought this was a really effective ending to the first movie (at least, what I could see of it, my eyes watery because of Dobby). Now a day later, I wonder what is lost by Harry, Ron & Hermione not having the conversation about trying to beat Voldermort to the wand. In the book, it's a critical moment for Harry (he resists his tendency to prematurely go off to be hero, and instead sticks to the task of eliminating Horcruxes). I wonder how (if) the movie will now address this.

It sounds like a lot of criticism, but what this really points to is how strong and packed the Harry Potter series is. Even by missing a number a things, the movie is an example of powerful storytelling of real-life human themes.

(There are also many more cuts & changes that I didn't touch on: feel free to mention them!!!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Odd Ending to the Church Year

(A Sermon preached on "The Reign of Christ" and Luke 23:33-43 at All Saints' Littleton on 11/21/2010)

If you’ve been coming to church for any length of time, you may now be used to hearing things that seem odd, or a bit out of the ordinary.

Sometimes its Jesus words that seem to go against the norm: blessed are the poor, love your enemies, do good to those that hate you. Even though we may have heard them many times before, Jesus words can still strike us as odd.

The church itself also has its share of odd things, ranging from the beliefs it holds to the way it does things. Often, it seems to be out of step with the usual, or at least, different.

Take, for example, its sense of the year: most of you have heard before that the church year starts with four weeks of Advent. New Year’s for the church is not January 1st, or the kickoff of Fall programs every year, but the first of four Sundays before Christmas.

Next Sunday, it’s appropriate to make a big deal of the start of Advent: the beginning of the church year. That’s a little odd when January 1st New Year’s is so firmly part of our culture (and in reality, is something that is still celebrated in most churches).

At least the explanation makes sense: we can see the value in having Christmas, the birth of Jesus, near the beginning of our Church year. Advent, in large part a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas, then easily fits into the start of the Church year. Story-wise, this all makes sense.

Today, we have the final Sunday of our Church year: the Last Sunday after Pentecost. Sometimes this is referred to as “Christ the King” Sunday, or “The Reign of Christ.”

The day begins as might be expected, with the Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

Along with the next two readings that follow, we seem to have perfectly set up a final great image of Jesus in glory. One might expect that an image of the resurrected Jesus will close the story and end the Church year.

Instead, we get a crucifixion story: Jesus hanging on the cross, dying.

This seems to be more than just a bit out of the ordinary…

Our Church year ends with what is easily perceived to be a great failure: Jesus, called God’s Messiah, the chosen one, the King of the Jews, is executed like a common criminal. He is disgraced. People now used the names that once expressed exultation as mocking public ridicule. Go ahead Jesus, Chosen One, save yourself!

Eberhard Busch writes:

“These last moments of Jesus’ life all seem to be in contrast to what is valued as great in our world. The world presented to us in newspapers or on television is not poor, but is a world of glamour. In this world, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. The pressure of this ideal is like an infection that overtakes us as we strive for it. In this world, one has to be successful. In this world, the slogan is “Help yourself!” and with this slogan you may survive.”
(Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylors, eds., 2010, p. 332)

In terms of ruling in the way it was always understood, Jesus fails miserably. He did not meet the world’s expectation of being “chosen”.

His followers, however, came to realize that Jesus in truth accomplished all he was called to do, and more. Jesus offers a drastically different image of what it means to be exulted, what real power is, and what God’s world is really about. Jesus transforms the understanding of chosen. No longer is it climbing the power ladder. It is not about succeeding on the world’s terms: acquiring money, resources, and the power to dominate others. It is not about creating a new system that defines where some are in, and others are out.

The vision of the Reign of Christ, the end of our Church year, is a vision of a world that lives in the hope expressed by the final words of the Gospel passage: “today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is not about being whisked away to heaven, but an understanding that, even now, in the midst of brokenness and uncertainty, God’s love for us is here to stay. It is not necessary to “help ourselves” to a portion of what the world has valued as “great.” We already have what we need: we have already been chosen.

At the close of the Church Year, the hope is that we can now begin to see the whole story. We are hopefully starting to understand that what Jesus values in us and the world is not the stuff that the world has associated with success, but the love and presence of God in everyone. The hope and challenge for us is to believe that our lives can be part of this vision: that our lives can ultimately reflect the transforming love of God.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1 out TONIGHT!!!

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention that HP7a comes out tonight at midnight.

Since I'm currently in San Antonio for the Episcopal Schools Conference (on behalf of The White Mountain School), Darlene and I will see the movie next week.

Here's a link to my blog post on the 6th movie, and an Ash Wednesday sermon featuring Harry Potter. I'll write a blog post on the new movie after I see it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bishop Robinson’s Retirement: The Hope in What Comes Next

The news accounts of Bishop Robinson announcing his plans to retire in January 2013 have all focused on the toll that the past seven years have taken on the Bishop.

Certainly it is true that there have been a great many challenges along the way. I’m not sure that anyone knew the extent of reaction (and reaction...and reaction...) that has taken place since the bishop was first elected.

However, I think that there’s a great deal more that needs to be said about not only the decision by Bishop Robinson to retire, but what comes next, then what has been found in the press.

And, I believe I’m in a position to voice some of these things...

Now, I’m well aware (from my own past experience) about the potential dangers of saying out loud any speculation concerning what a Bishop (especially a clergy person's Diocesan Bishop) might be thinking....

Despite this, I have decided to risk saying a few things: perhaps because I both feel good about where I am right now (rector at a wonderful church), and yet I’m still young (naive?) enough to think that this won’t come back to bite me...

And to be clear: these are MY impressions:

I was present when Bishop Robinson publicly announced his retirement the other week. I saw and heard how emotional he was during his address as he defined an end to his time as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

The press picked up on this, in the quotes and tone.

The Associated Press article, picked up by the majority of the mainstream press:

Bishop V. Gene Robinson...announces that he will step down in 2013, citing the 'constant strain' of the controversy surrounding his election.

"The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and you," the bishop said in prepared remarks released by the diocese. "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark."

First of, it must be said plainly that nine years is about the average time for the tenure of a Diocesan Bishop: retirement at this point is not out of the ordinary.

It seemed to me, however, that he was not that emotional recounting the abnormalities of his time as bishop, but at the prospect of leaving the relationship as Bishop for the Diocese.

At our Clergy Retreat, a few weeks ago, he gave no hint that an announcement was coming. But upon reflection, I see perhaps another part of his reasoning to retire.

Bishop Robinson had just filmed an “It Gets Better” for YouTube: videos have been made in the wake of the alarming trend of GLBT teen suicides. In his video message, the Bishop spoke hopeful words to anyone struggling, and offered himself...a gay man, and a bishop in the Episcopal an example that it will get better. It was a beautiful, powerful message.

Referring to the video, Bishop Robinson paused and became quiet among his clergy, and said something to this effect (my memory’s version, not the exact quote):

“I always wonder when I speak on GLBT issues on the effect it has on you and the rest of the Diocese. I have to speak sometimes, but I always pause and wonder what you all must be thinking...”

We as a group assured him that we were proud of him, and pleased by his message.

Thinking of it now, however, I see a very clear reality: Bishop Robinson has always said what a great honor it is to serve as Bishop of New Hampshire. He’s said numerous times: “It is only here where I am no longer ‘the gay bishop’, but just ‘The Bishop.’”

Along with the honor of being a Diocesan Bishop, comes a great weight. I’m guessing that every time Bishop Robinson speaks in public, he must ask himself, “What will this mean for the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire? How will my words be interpreted, and reflected back on our churches? While my words may be true, I wonder if they will make life harder for the people in our churches that I love so dearly?”

I think that this is the unspoken truth influencing his decision to retire.

Look closely again at the context of the words most quoted by the press (the capitalizations are Bishop Robinson’s):

“The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and YOU. Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, YOU. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate."

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the “gay bishop,” has become the best-known Episcopalian in the world. People are passionate about their feelings for him (whether they have met him or not). He is as close to “rock star status” in the general public that an Episcopal Bishop will ever be (yes, even more so that John Shelby Spong).

Ironically, those who have been against him are responsible for pushing him into this position: there’s no other way an Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire becomes so famous.

And, incredibly, there are even more people currently OUTSIDE “the church” who hold Bishop Robinson in high regard.

If there is anything that has held him back from being a BIGGER voice for inclusion in the world (painting a radically different portrait of what Christians are called to be), it’s his love and his sense of responsibility for the Episcopalians of New Hampshire. There can be no doubt that his primary focus has always been for the people who have elected him to be their bishop.

We in the Diocese of New Hampshire get to hold onto him for a few more years. He has assured that we will continue to grow as a Diocese, even as we move towards an Episcopal search and transition process. His retirement changes nothing about our commitment to a radically inclusive church that welcomes people where they are and explores life’s questions within the framework of the Good News of Jesus.

The hope, however, lies beyond the Diocese of New Hampshire. I expect (and pray for) a very visible and vocal Gene Robinson. His unique perspective as the first openly gay bishop in the church, and his commitment to widening (and even bursting) the current drawn circles (real or assumed) of who’s in and who’s out of Jesus’ picture of God’s community, promises to shine light on a type of Christianity that is still far too unknown. Freed from the beloved responsibility for the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, I expect a bold new focus of ministry for the Bishop: a message to those who have previously given up on the church for being too hypocritical, too closed, and too unlike Jesus, that today’s (and tomorrow’s) Episcopal Church now offers something old AND new.

That vision is desperately needed in today’s world, and Bishop Robinson is once again in the position to open the door and reveal what has been previously hidden: the truth that God’s grace is so much more than we have previously been told, and more without bounds than we could have possibly imagined...

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strange Good News for the Saints of God

(A sermon preached on All Saints' Sunday at All Saints' Church, using Luke 6:20-31 on 11/7/2010)

All Saints' Sunday is a joyous day, and a GREAT day to be at a church named All Saints'!

It is the day that we, as the hymn goes, "Sing a song of the Saints' of God". Some of the "Saints" we celebrate are those who are remembered for special service. That would include some people from New Hampshire like Philander Chase, born in Cornish, NH in 1775 who served in the church as a clergy person for years, before becoming the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, while attending seminary, heard the call of Dr. Martin Luther King and traveled to Selma, Alabama in the summer of 1965. He was killed as he shielded a 16 year-old African American girl from a bullet fired by an angry white man.

All Saints' Day is not just for those who ended up in the history books: we are all called, by virtue of our Baptism, to be Saints of the Lord. All Saints' is not just our feast day of our church, but is the celebration for everyone, of everyone.

This morning, however, we have strange Good News for the Saints of God:

(Jesus) looked up at his disciples and said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Some wish list: being poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. At least in Matthew’s version (5:3-12), much of it gets spiritualized:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Matthew’s version we can say okay to: in them we hear the spiritual side of the blessings.

Luke does no such thing, and puts a strange truth in our face.

After all, the truth is that the poor would not choose to remain so. Those who are hungry would like something to eat. Those weeping do not wish to remain overcome by grief. And there’s no doubt that it’s painful for our souls to be hated.

Jesus does what he always does throughout Luke’s Gospel. He brings words or hope, healing where he can, and a constant reminder of the presence of God. The good news is that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and the defamed are blessed: that’s counter to the conventional wisdom, which said that their afflictions were signs of cursing from God. Those in trouble, and those pushed to the outside are well aware that they do not have the power to control all things. Jesus states, without a shadow of doubt, that they are God’s beloved no matter what judgments other people make about their life’s situations.

Jesus, however, has more to say:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Here’s some more truth: in general, Jesus’ words here are about us. While it is true that this economy is tough for many of us, most of us know where we will be sleeping tonight. Most of us will eat something today. Most of us will not be weeping constantly today, and few of us are hated and despised (or at least, there is someone who loves us and speaks well of us).

I’m pretty sure that Jesus doesn’t want us to suddenly become poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. I think, however, that it’s very easy to believe the conventional wisdom that the good things found in our life: our homes, our food, our reasons for laughter and the good words people speak of us, are blessings from God. When we think of these, we often can’t help but say that we are blessed. And, after all, we are blessed. But what really makes us blessed? Are we blessed by what we do? Are we blessed by what others say about us? Are we blessed by what we have? If our ability to do, if the good things people say, and if the things that we have disappeared tomorrow, wouldn’t we likely assume that we must have done something wrong? Why is God doing this to me (or at least allowing it)? What have we done to be cursed?

We are easily seduced by the lie here: that God’s blessing is shown by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. When things are good, and compared to most of the rest of the world, things are good, we tend to think that we have the power to control all things in our life. There’s not much need for God if that’s true.

We miss the truth that we are God’s beloved not by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. We are God’s beloved simply in our being.

Finally, Jesus has these words for us:

But I say to you that listen:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What we say and what we do does indeed matter, but it’s not about earning God’s love or securing a place in heaven. Instead, it’s something even bigger.

Using this text yesterday at Diocesan Convention, Bishop Robinson said that we know a living God who loves us and enables us to do all sorts of things.

We are, however, faced with a decision: We can be admirers of Jesus, or we can be disciples.

In truth, Jesus doesn’t need any more admirers. What Jesus needs are those willing to give up some of their blessings for others. And, ironically, Jesus says that we will be cursed if we don’t use our blessings.

I happen to agree.

God desires wholeness for all. God yearns for a world where no one is poor, hungry, hated or defamed, and through all of us God is working to make this vision, this dream for the world, a reality.

Clearly, we’re not there yet.

I think Jesus is suggesting radical action on our part. We are to say and do things and ultimately live our lives in a way that counters the usual.

As Christians, the things that we have often called blessings: things like our time, our abilities, and our money, are to be used in Jesus’ name towards reconciling God’s beloved, in other words, for everyone.

I believe that this is living life as a Saint of God. And fortunately, the afore mentioned hymn reminds us, that there are people out there willing to live their lives this way:

You can meet them in school or in lanes, or at sea,

in a church or in trains, or in shops or at tea,

for the Saints of God are just folk like me

and I mean to be one to.

Blessed be the Name of God. Amen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I would have loved to go to this: it's my kind of protest.

Marching for real dialogue. Committing to talk to others despite deep divisions or difference.

I believe Steward's point of the rally is that the majority of the people want to work together and respectfully hear what others have to say, but the vocal minority (who insist the other side is the enemy and less than) dominate the airways thanks to many in media who look to sensationalize the story.

I want to point out that this "vocal minority" is not necessarily the "activists" on either side: you can be very active, passionate, and looking for major changes and still do so respectfully. I think the key is checking the ego and being honest about motivation: who benefits...why is it do you feel this way, who have you listened to, and who's missing from your perspective.

It's the yelling and demonizing that Steward points out as a major part of the problem (and the press playing these things up). I happen to agree with him.

This haunts many a religious discussion as well...

Click here to read John Avlon's op-ed of the rally

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Just heard the event you're at sucks...": When Real Time isn't the Right Time

I was really surprised by a post on my Facebook Wall last week from Charles LaFond, the Canon for Congregational Life of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. He wrote me:

How was the retreat? I have heard some disliked it but expected that. What did you think?

This was rather shocking because I was still at the retreat. We had a few minutes of break before our closing Eucharist, so I checked Facebook with my iTouch.

I also knew that Charles was on a vacation at Disney World. He had, for some reason, taken time out from Mickey and friends to seek my opinion on the retreat.

What I found out later is that Charles, in the process of posting some mobile photos from the Magic Kingdom, came across a "Friend's" post that, on some level, expressed dislike for the retreat. (I didn't ask who, or exactly what was said.) There were additionally some responses of agreement.

Turns out, Charles was the one who suggested the speaker for the retreat. Anxiety kicked in.

Charles told me later: "I Facebooked you quite literally to hear that it wasn't a total disaster, so I could get back to enjoying the roller-coasters."

One of the aspects that Facebook and Twitter encourage is the real time response to what you are currently doing. It's fun (and, sometimes, interesting to others) to post witty comments about life as we experience. It occurs to me, however, that in the ever growing world of real time expression, one should consider pausing on certain things that come to mind, like, for example, before posting what might be understood as a critique on a gathering of colleagues: especally in the close-knit community of a church.

(There's also something to be said here about avoiding Facebook, email and the like while on vacation...)

Most of us have been in meetings or the like where we would rather be anywhere else in the world. In the age of cell phones, many of us have texted or emailed a confidant expressing a virtual groan or sigh, or other choice words.

Facebook and Twitter (like email's "reply all" button ) are rather different animals. What is often intended as playful banter or expression quickly becomes critique or evaluation: and a public one at that.

My hunch is that the Facebook posts expressing dislike for the retreat was not intended to be a formal evaluation of the event. I also realize that anyone who posted anything resembling a critique of the event may feel bad upon reading this post: that's not my intent. The reality of Facebook and Twitter, however, is that everything you post on your Wall or in your Tweet Stream is public. While you may intend it for "friends only", are you really sure of every connection of those who will see what you write? Do you really want your 120 characters of reaction interpreted outside the context of a constructive evaluation or a face-to-face conversation (especially concerning people who you have a professional relationship with)?

As a clergy person, I imagine the perfect nightmare of a Facebook or Twitter post in the middle of one of my sermons: "OMG I am SO bored by this guy!!! When will it end!!!"

I'm also reminded of a story of Anne Lamont: Kookaburra, in her book Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

Anne was in charge of the big Faith Fair of the church. Exhilarated (and exhausted) after a great day, she emails her bill from the event to the committee. Ten minutes later, she receives an email back from a committee member requesting receipts: Visa bill, cancelled checks.

Moral outrage kicks in. Anne writes:

"I reread the second email. And then I ratted the man out: I emailed everyone on the committee, and included a copy to our pastor, so she could see how unjustly I was being treated, how I was being hassled. I wrote, "Clearly, I do not have what it takes to be a Presbyterian," which means to be an anal-retentive petty bureaucrat. And, I added, "I simply cannot spend one more second on this matter." Then I hit Send.

I felt powerful and righteous, for several minutes. Then I felt like hell. I was a snitch. Why had I sent that email? It was clearly the kind of thing you wrote to get off your chest but not to send. Now the real me was being revealed in the high school showers of life."

This was not the end of the story. Anne reached back out to her friends. "I am sorry; ignore my earlier email," she writes to the committee and pastor. "Please forgive me. I know you already do."

By the next morning, everyone had emailed her back. The man who requested the receipts wrote: "We are here with only love for you, Annie."

In retrospect, I'm really glad that Charles posted to me, for I was actually enjoying the retreat:

"Been good Charles: I'm currently eating M&M's, sitting next to Sarah right before our closing Eucharist."

As it turns out, Sarah, the woman next to me, was the chair of the committee that put together the retreat! How thankful am I today that I really did like the program!!! If I hadn't enjoyed it, I could have easily responded with "Oh, I didn't really like it," potentially compounding the hurt feelings.

Reflecting now on the whole story, I hope to remember for myself that there's a right time and media to express the next time I'm discontented with an event...