Saturday, December 31, 2011

What-a-ya doin New Year's...New Year's eve?

While I remind myself that the Christmas season continues (7th day:  there be swans swimming), I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year's!

Be safe, and God Bless!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading! Kurt

Monday, December 19, 2011

Last Advent: Three years past

(A sermon given at All Saints' Littleton on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 12/18/2011)

Three years have past since I became rector at All Saints’.
3 years is an important time marker for an Episcopal rector, perhaps more so than for the parish, because 3 years means that we have completely journeyed through the lectionary together.
Other than the Sundays that I’ve been gone, I have now had the opportunity to preach on every Sunday reading offered by the Episcopal Church.
To put it another way:  we’ve entered reruns…
This could mean a few things:
It could mean that you have already heard the best of what I have to offer on every Sunday reading.
(I’m hoping that this is not the case…)
It could mean that I can now begin every sermon by saying:  “Remember what I said three years ago?” and you all will of course instantly recall everything I said.
(That’s probably not happening either…)
Perhaps all it means is that I now have another source to check in on.  For each Sunday, I can now see what was it that was speaking to me, and perhaps to you, three years ago.
So I checked in on that first sermon I gave, one week before Christmas. 
The quick recap is that I made this bold claim: 
“I believe that we have found favor with God by our coming together.”
Three years have past, and I still believe this today:  we have found favor with God.
Be clear and forwarned:  finding favor with God may not bring us exactly what we bargained for.  Things are certain to not be exactly like we dreamed.
Remember that Mary…the one told that she had found favor with God...was an unwed, pregnant teenager.  She wss among the most vulnerable in her society.  By the laws of her culture, she could be publicly shamed, exiled, or killed.  At the very least, she was one that people were whispering about, and not in a friendly way.  
Despite all of this, Mary said yes to God.
In doing so, she embraced God’s vision for the world.  She gave up the way she had envisioned her life, and opened herself up to something greater than herself.
It is the most powerful of Advent messages.
So:  what sort of favor now lies before us?
Well, it is my believe that it is now time to move from being one of the best kept secrets of Littleton, to embracing a dramatic period of growth.  I believe it is time to adjust our focus towards taking the radical hospitality that we offer here outside of these walls, while at the same time, actively inviting those outside of our membership to Come and See what we are all about.
The power and beauty of what we offer is not that we all think the same and have all of the answers.  We are, instead, a place that honestly wrestles with the complexities of human life in the midst of claiming relationship to a loving God who is still in the process of transforming the world.
We offer a model for the world:  one not based on complete agreement, but instead, a loving respect for all life.
I believe the North Country desperately needs a church like All Saints’.  
We will be asked to stretch in ways that we never have before:  graciously embracing new ideas and possibilities as we share the transforming power that God has brought forth in our community.
It is this type of growth that Advent has been preparing us for...
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"I loved you fellows, one and all": a goodbye to Harry Morgan

Harry Morgan died today. Stories on his life can be found here and here.

I did not know him, and hesitate to devote too much of a remembrance on a character he played. 

Then again, his Colonel Potter changed the dynamics of arguably the most important show on television ever. Colonel Potter brought the historic perspective of a seasoned career military man, and yet was a character who valued humanity more than anything. He recoiled at the horrors of war even as he honored the intent of those who served, and also gave the show the example of a different type of authority: one with integrity. While the writing was good, the delivery was special and always believable.

In relation to the other characters, Colonel Potter embodied the best of what a father could be:  wise and insightful, open and honest, and never to old to learn something new.
Perhaps his best known moment:  the toast to old friends, while supported by his MASH family.
Here's to you, boys.
To Ryan, who died in W.W.I, the war to end all wars.
To Gianelli, who died in the war after that.
To Stein, the joker of the crowd.
And to Gresky, my best friend who just passed away in Tokyo. 
You were the friends of my youth.  My comrades through thick and thin and everything in between.
I drink to your memories.
I loved you fellows, one and all.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does leaving as Priest require "Unfriending"???

Episcopal Cafe continued a conversation started on Twitter including The Rev. Dan Webster at Church Social Media Blog.  The entire Tweetchat is here.  On his blog, Webster wrote:
Last week’s chat focused on professional and personal boundaries in social media. I mentioned how when I left a congregation as vicar, I would "unfriend" parishioners on my Facebook page. “When you leave, you leave,” I tweeted. 
Webster recommends a helpful guideline put forth by The Episcopal Diocese of New York, which contained many fine suggestions.  

But is the severing of all relations (including Facebook friend status) the way to go?

A countering response was made by Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of on his blog:
I believe our difference of opinion about what to do when a minister leaves a church stems from different understandings concerning the relationship between ministers and laypersons.

Rev. Webster seems to view his role as priest as being purely professional. He’s not there to be anyone’s friend, but rather to perform services for them. In that context, when the professional relationship is over, the relationship is over.

My view of minister/layperson relationships comes from observing the way Jesus related to his disciples. Jesus did not separate himself from disciples. Not only did he teach them, but he also lived with them, ate with them and did everything else with them. This was not merely a professional relationship. He loved them and they loved him.

Steinbrueck is careful to say that the relationship does indeed change:

I do think that when a minister leaves a congregation, the relationship with people in the congregation will change. He or she also needs to be careful not to undermine the leadership of the new minister. But a mass unfriending on Facebook?

Clearly I agree more with Steinbrueck here.  I think that some connection in today's digital world is normal.  Relationships continue beyond the end of the time as priest of a particular community, and Facebook is an obvious way to continue.  

What HAS to be clear that there is a change in the relationship.

When I left Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland (granted, as Canon of Congregational Life), this was what I said in my final sermon:

Tomorrow will come:  and I will no longer be your priest.
I have been honored and blessed to have as my vocation the sharing of all of your hopes, dreams, and fears.  I have Celebrated the Eucharist, proclaimed the Gospel, preached sermons, baptized new members, prepared and presented Confirmants, presided at marriages and unions, and have mourned at funerals with so many of you.  Those are the big celebration moments.  What has been even more sacred is the laughing and crying we have done together.  I have spent the last six and a half years in some combination of talking and listening with all of you, and there is nothing I would trade for these moments.
This is the role of Priest.  I have been honored by your sacred trust, in the willingness to enter into the relationship that is priest and congregation member.  It’s a strange, complex, multi-faceted, and uncertain relationship:  started by some life transition, developed in unexpected moments, nurtured by gentleness with each other, damaged by assumptions and unattainable expectations; and marked by grace and the opportunity for unexpected new life.
It is a fragile yet surprisingly resilient relationship that mirrors our very humanity.  
And, like our very lives, the time passes.  During our Healthcare forum series, Jeffery Spiess offered us the inspired title, “Dying is not an option.”  This is true of the relationship of Priest and the Gathered Community:  at some point, it always ends, sometimes by members of the congregation moving away, sometimes by a priest moving on, sometimes by retirement, sometimes even by death.  Priest is a relationship that always transforms into sometime else.
I will no longer be your Priest tomorrow.  That’s what we’re saying goodbye to today.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday Advent

Three moments have affected my outlook on this Advent season.
They all happened in the last week and a half, and they all have to do with shopping...
Darlene and I were returning from Portsmouth, NH the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  We had a fun day there, including taking JJ to the ocean shore.  While there, I collected rocks for or Stewardship Gathering service:  choosing individual stones that would later be chosen by members of the parish to represent themselves during the service.  I was feeling pretty good.   
As we drove up Route 93, it occurred to me that the New York bishop election, where my friend and mentor Tracey Lind was on the slate, was likely concluded.  I needed internet ASAP. So we stopped at a reliable spot to enable my wi-fi iPad:  the Starbucks at the Tilton NH outlet mall.  I will admit that I love Starbucks coffee, and stopping here is a RARE treat since it is the CLOSEST Starbucks to our home in Littleton NH. 
(68 miles!!!)
Upon reaching the outlet mall, we were greeted by these words:
“Black Friday begins:  Thursday at 10PM"
There were Christmas lights EVERYWHERE, and worse still, Christmas music.
I connected to the internet only to be further disappointed to learn that Tracey had not been elected.  Feeling really defeated, we left and continued home.
All the way I was in a fowl mood, and not just concerning the election disappointment (I thought Tracey would have been a PHENOMENAL Bishop of New York).  I felt angry for all of the people who would have to leave their families on Thanksgiving to work ridiculous hours with frantic people.  I felt sad to those who would get sucked into the “have-to-have” mentality of the super sale.  And I was, of course, personally annoyed to be hearing Christmas carols not just in place of Advent, but even before Thanksgiving, 
Later, when I started working on the sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, I was reminded of my feelings, and thought of the movement called “Advent Conspiracy”.  It calls for a change in the way we approach this time of year.
Americans enter this season of self-created stress, spending 450 billion dollars every year on holiday shopping.  Often people buy what they cannot afford, and give things to people that they simply don’t need.  
Advent Conspiracy suggests that, in many cases, we would be better off buying less and giving something more valuable:  our very selves.  
The time we freely give to each other...within a shared conversation, a common meal, working together, or gathering for something often so much more meaningful than any gift we can buy.  It reflects the relational gift Jesus gave of himself.
The second event was the arrival of my family.  My parents, sister and her boyfriend all arrived Tuesday night.  We had a great Thanksgiving together.  My sister and her boyfriend had to return Friday, but Mom, Dad, Darlene and I all went to Vermont Friday on what I like to call the “cholesterol tour”:  Cabot's Creamery, and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory.
We ended up Montpellier, had a fun lunch together, and walked around the town.  The town had a celebration going:  they called it “Flannel Friday”.  They celebrated living in Northern New England, they discounted their goods, and encouraged people to buy locally from the small stores that make up the town.  It was great to see the local businesses doing so well.  It was a reminder to me that, when it comes to the gifts that I will buy this season, to try and purchase from our local stores, our neighbors, whenever possible.
I was feeling pretty good about myself for shunning the Black Friday mega-sales, until the third moment happened...
I was making my final preparations for Sunday’s sermon when I ran across a blog post by Diana Butler Bass on Black Friday
(Most) in lines at the discount stores are either poor, working class, or marginally middle class. These are the very people who attend church regularly, express higher levels of belief in God, and are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to those in need. Indeed, nearly every survey in religion shows that the poorer the American, the more likely they are to be both faithful and generous. 
By contrast, the rich—the people who aren’t in lines on Black Friday—are less likely to be religious, more likely to find meaning in materialism, and give a lower percentage of their income to help those in need. According to a recent New York Times story, the wealthy will spend most of their holiday cash at stores like Nordstrom, Saks, and Tiffany where there will be few sales and no door-buster specials.
We tend to think only of big-screen tvs and high-end electronics concerning Black Friday:  but it might not reflect the truth.
A reporter interviewed two women at a mall, who had arrived early for the sales. He asked, “What are you going to buy?” The woman, clearly not a well-off person, responded: “Shoes.” He said, “Shoes? You’re not supposed to be buying shoes!” She said, “But I need shoes.” He pressed the issue, “Are you buying anything else?” “No,” she replied. “I just need new shoes.” Her companion was buying jeans. The reporter didn’t know what to say. How many people on Black Friday are like these two women? 
Of course, there are plenty buying electronics and other things they don’t literally have to have. But  Butler Bass rightly points our that people who are suffering under the weight of economic inequality would like to have nice toys for their children and decent electronics...things most Americans have...and the only time of the year they can afford such things is during the super-sales pushed on us by mega-business on Black Friday. Diana rightly suggests that the problem isn’t those who stand in line for Black Friday super-sales. 

The problem is that America is mired in deep inequalities, that the middle class is dying, and that many millions can’t afford to buy nice things for their families without waiting in long lines on Thanksgiving night.

The three moments help me remember how Advent works...

Advent is the time of reflective preparation:
to consider everything anew, and from multiple angles
---To see more than what is first seen
---To think more deeply than the first thoughts
---To act intentionally and with purpose
Advent is the darkness before dawn...
The possibility of what is to come...
Advent is an invitation to consider what God REALLY wants for us and for the world,
and the real gifts we have to give for making that vision come true.
Blessings for you this Advent

Monday, November 21, 2011

UPDATE: Glee episode "The First Time"

Finally saw the episode.  I think it offers a great deal to talk about, and I am very pleased with it as a whole.

Like most Glee episodes, it is honest look at a topic (sex) that says a great deal about its subject without saying "this is what you must believe".

I think that getting the most out of this episode requires knowing these characters.  Yes, some things would have been apparent to those seeing the show for the first time, but the decisions made by these characters do not happen in the vacuum of this hour of television.  Their histories lead them to these moments, making the decisions made more authentic.

I'm going take some time to reflect before I write in detail.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My thoughts on the Glee "sex" episode? Afraid I can't comment...

A number of people have asked for my opinion on the most recent episode of Glee.  Two of the teen couples, as the episode's title alludes, had sex for "The First Time".  There has been heated debate over what has transpired, with the Parents Television Council up in arms over the episode, counterarguments that the conservative group is signaling out Glee because one of the couples are the same sex, and a passionate defense by creator Ryan Murphy.

I am honored that people want to know my response to the show, and the whole "religion and popular culture" thing, and my earlier Glee posts (Grilled Cheesus & Glee Fest) certainly calls for a post on the subject.

And I will be happy to do so:  after I've seen it.

I had a vestry meeting last Tuesday night, and a new episode of Glee, while certainly considered a priority, does not trump the church job!  We're a non DVR household, so when I miss an episode I go to the show's official website, where they graciously have the five most recent shows online. 

Unfortunately, FOX now has a new policy for non-Dish Network members:  you have to wait eight days to see a newly broadcast episode. 

I can understand a waiting period to watch the newest shows:  after all, they want you to watch their network broadcast.  But I have to wonder "what were they thinking" with an eight day waiting period??? There's NO WAY to get back on track unless they take a week off

So guess what I WON'T be watching tonight!

SIGH!  Well, thanks for listening to my rant, and I'll check out "The First Time" (for the first time) tomorrow.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Celebrating All Saints' at All Saints'

(A sermon preached on All Saints' Sunday 2011 at All Saints' Littleton, NH)

Welcome again to our All Saints’ Day celebration! All Saints’ at All Saints'!: gotta love that!

What better way to celebrate than with a baptism this morning at 10AM: where we’ll welcome Madilyn, the newest member to our community.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading to prepare for this All Saints’ morning. Perhaps too much... I came across a blog written by an Episcopal priest named Tim Schenck. He wrote:
"Lost amid the post-Halloween sugar crash and the euphoria of All Saints’ Day, is the ancient Feast of All Souls Day. All Souls is like the forgotten and ignored middle child of the All Hallows Eve — All Saints’ — All Souls triumvirate. And that’s a shame.
We have so broadened the definition of a saint to include not just the martyrs and theologians of the early church, not just those who have demonstrated heroic faith in more contemporary times, but Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry may have been a swell guy — despite his unbearable political commentary at Thanksgiving dinner every year — but was he truly a saint?"
Schenck then says that "The modern All Saints’ Sunday celebration holds the potential to dilute the impact of the great saintly heroes of the faith while subsequently elevating our own deceased loved ones to heights that would likely make them roll in their graves."

I quickly reposted his blog post to my Twitter feed, for it made me think a great deal about All Saints'/All Souls', but the more I thought about it, the more I was troubled. It’s not just that we’ve transferred everything to an "All Saints' Sunday". It’s that I’ve always had a big picture view of “saints”. Sure, there are some the church officially recognizes, and there are some the church should recognize. And there is of course those in particular communities who we just know are saints: no one here is going to argue differently with Bishop Robinson’s opinion that Carl Schaller is a saint of God (can I get an Amen to that???) But I personally have come to recognize the saintlike qualities of particular people in my life, especially in remembering those who have died. By seeing them as saints, am I diminishing the point of All Saints’?

A distinction between All Saints and All Souls is rather complicated. People have always celebrated the remembering of those who have died with everything from the sharing of stories to saying prayers to and for them.

Some individuals recognized universally by the early church became known as Saints. However, there were also individuals who, because of their relationship to particular communities, became known as saints as well. Individual communities came up with their own customs for remembrance.

Fair to say, there were LOTS of saints with celebrations in individual communities. To cover the remembrances of these many saints, the church instituted a feast day for all of the saints in about the year 609.

In 998, the abbey of Cluny set apart a special day for the remembrance of the dead: November 2nd. There is disputed memory as to the reason why. Most likely, the abbey wanted a day to remember everyone from their community, not just “the saints”. But what came about is this legend, written by Peter Damiani, about 100 years later.
A pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was cast by a storm on a desolate island. A hermit living there told him that amid the rocks was a chasm communicating with purgatory, from which perpetually rose the groans of tortured souls. The hermit also claimed he had heard the demons complaining of the efficacy of the prayers of the faithful, and especially the monks of Cluny, in rescuing their victims. Upon returning home, the pilgrim hastened to inform the abbot of Cluny, who then set 2 November as a day of intercession on the part of his community for all the souls in Purgatory. (Peter Damiani in his Life of St Odilo)

(The history of All Saints'/All Souls' comes from Wikipedia)

The practice of using November 2nd as a remembrance day spread, and was accepted by Rome in the 14th century as “All Souls Day”. Further more, all of November came to be associated with the prayers of the departed.

Unfortunately, the Western Church came to abuse this practice. In tradition with the legend of praying souls out of Purgatory, people were encouraged to offer money to help the process of getting loved ones to heaven, sometimes way more than they could afford.

This is, of course, one of the abuses that led to the Reformation.

While there have been reforms and revivals over the years, the general summary is that Catholics tend to celebrate “the saints” as those specially recognized by the church, and Protestants have infused All Souls Day into All Saints Day, and tend to see all Christians as saints, regardless of their life’s actions.

In the great tradition of the Episcopal Church, we try and find the middle ground. Currently, our calendar calls November 2nd both All Souls Day and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, although the vast majority of churches combine its celebration with All Saints.

Rightly, we celebrate the saints recognized by the church for leading extraordinary lives of example and service: an ever expanding list from the early days of Jesus to now.

But what about Uncle Harry? Do we need to differentiate between those who are remembered for accomplishing great things through the spirit of God, and the rest of us?

I’m not so sure we need to go about trying to measure one’s saintly qualities. After all, we’re likely to have some serious difference of opinion. One person’s saint is another person’s...well, not saint. Uncle Harry may not have left a saintly impression on us, but we are so unaware of how many intersections one’s life has had on others. We may have missed moments that profoundly touched or changed others lives for the better. After all, in our attempts to discern saintliness, we often look for the wrong things.

Retired priest Ken Kesselus tells the story of a boy who went to a scouting contest for homemade racing cars:

It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much. At one such event, a youngster with no dad showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slick-looking, well-made racer.
Before the championship race, the boy asked the director to wait a moment so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win; he seemed so deserving.
After the boy won the race and was given a trophy, the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.”
“Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.”

Kesselus concludes that this is the real importance: “It is understanding that we can emulate the saints, that we can become saints too, that we can become faithful disciples of Christ, following the saints who show us the way....Isn’t this why we remember the saints, some of whom are publicly known and recognized in the light of history, and others, like the Boy Scout, whom we come across in the obscurity of ordinary struggles?”

And what can be more saintly than reflecting the love of Jesus: the loving of God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and our neighbors as our self?

So what should we tell little Madilyn, who we baptize here this morning, about the saints?

We’ll tell about the saints who have inspired the world with words and actions: bright stars of God’s vision.

We’ll also lift up those around her who so clearly illuminate the love of Jesus in word and deed.

But perhaps the most important thing that we can teach her is that everyone has the potential to love in this way: and that in her loving of God, neighbors and self, she may be the saintly inspiration of another.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A quiet month for the blog

First off, a Happy Halloween to anyone reading!

I've found myself really busy this past month, and found little time to blog in the midst of a Fall programing at church and a week at CREDO.

Also, most of my sermons the last month have been the "stand and deliver" type:  with only a few notes instead of a text.  This of course means I don't have an instant almost completed blog post to then use!

I'll try to get with it in November.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Grace to you, and Peace

(A sermon preached on October 16th, 2011 at All Saints' Littleton)

This morning's gospel story (Matthew 22:15:22) features a brilliant attack on Jesus:  is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?  It is another publicly unanswerable question. If Jesus says "yes", he will enrage the crowds who want to hear movement towards an end to Roman rule.  If he says "no", well, you can imagine that the Romans will have a problem with that, and Jesus is certain to be branded a rebel, and likely will be arrested.  Jesus, wise to what they are doing, says "show me the coin used for the tax", leading to the great words of returning to the emperor's what is the emperor's, and to God what is God's.  A fantastic reading all around.

It is, however, a rather dicey way to begin a stewardship season...

I certainly want to avoid the idea that the giving of Time, Talent, and Treasure to All Saints is like paying taxes to Caesar...

My hunch is that most stewardship sermons (likely, this time of year) will focus on the “giving to God what is God’s”part, and will implicitly or explicitly say that the way you do this is by giving more money to the church.

The finance committee will be pleased to know that I don’t object to people giving more money to the church, but I do think that there is a deeper message here.

I want to begin, however, not with the gospel text, but with Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, and specifically the opening. Paul’s first words to the church there are “Grace to you and peace.”

There is more to this opening than we in the 21st century now hear. Paul is playing on a political slogan that would have been as familiar to his audience as “Yes we can!” or “Drill, baby drill” is to our ears today.

The Romans used the slogan “peace and security” over and over again. It is what the Romans promised those who lived under them: enforced by their power and dominance. Our might, (and your doing what we think is right), will protect you from the dangers of the world.

Paul intentionally contrasts the Roman household slogan of “peace and security” with his Christian counter-slogan: “grace and peace”. He rightly casts the vision of Jesus: the desire that grace and peace should be longed for and lived out in life, not a “security” that insulates people from fears and the bad things encountered.

Isn’t it true that we too often today seek security more than anything? Money is the obvious one: our first line of defense against problems and insecurities. But there are many things we do to secure ourselves from life’s difficulties. Charles LaFond, Canon for Congregational Life, observes that our tendency as Americans is to self-anesthetize our fears with overwork, materialism, and other drugs of choice with which we dull our pain rather than face it. Grace, in contrast, calls on God’s and each other’s presence to a communal life of prayer, support, and service. With God and the community, grace helps us face life’s fears together, and healing is possible.

This brings us back to the Gospel’s message this morning: to “give to God what is God’s”. In this community, we do this by giving our time, talent, and treasure. The gift we give is actually to God, given through All Saints’, and we give it here because we believe that this community reflects the grace of God. We believe that through liturgy and prayer we reconnect with God and refresh the soul. In our communal questioning and exploration of life, we develop as human beings and Christians. By our fun events, our laughter and our play, we see and experience the joy that is promised. By our listening presence and concern, we care for each other. And by our service to our greater community, from the North Country to the world, we sooth the wounds caused by hurt and neglect, as we work to make God’s vision for the world a reality.

All Saints’ is a place where the message of the Gospel shines brightly: living out the call to return everything to God...loving God with everything that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our pledge to this community reflects our understanding that everything we are and have comes from God.

Grace to you, and peace.


(Much of this sermon comes from notes provided to NH Diocesan clergy by The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond for stewardship preaching on the lectionary)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Eviction from our sandbox"

The Revs. Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel have a fantastic blog that I love reading.  I am often challenged (in a good way) when I go to read their blog "Dirty Sexy Ministry".

Their recent post Not in My Sandbox is an important reminder that "loving your neighbor" does not mean allowing people to do anything to you.  
The full commandment is love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. Life is about balancing that trifecta. We don't love our neighbor by constantly subjecting ourselves to our neighbor's hurtful behavior towards us. We are simply engaged in the emotional equivalent of constantly poking ourselves in the eye when we do that. 
Love is about care and nurture. We too often limit love to being some kind of friendship, like loving our neighbor means we have to invite our neighbor, the one who repeatedly has knocked us down the stairs, to dinner, even if we're afraid during the entire meal that s/he's going to throw Brussel sprouts at us and call us names. That isn't loving ourselves, and it's not really loving our neighbor. 
They go on to list some of the people who might need an "eviction" from our lives (with description you should read on their blog) including:
People who constantly give you an inventory of your flaws and shortcomings, while never reflecting on their own.
 People who pursue a romantic relationship with you while "in some way romantically committed to someone else."  (Kurt's paraphrasing) 
Those whose behavior is abusive.
Those who engage in character assassination. 
Just as important, they mention who is NOT on the evection list:
 Those who vote differently from us; those who disagree with us or have another viewpoint; those who are a different ethnicity, religion, race, or sexual orientation; even those who worship differently from us. 
Please consider taking the time to read their whole post.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Episcopal School of Dallas found grossly negligent for millions

(This appeared first on Episcopal Cafe)
The Episcopal School of Dallas is liable for $9 million for how it dealt with the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old female student by a 34-year-old male teacher.
The jury found that the school was not liable for failing to prevent the relationship, but was grossly negligent in how it handled the incident when the relationship was discovered.
Claire St. Amant wrote an in depth article for D Magazine of the scandal and how the private Episcopal School handled things.
The article is disturbing not only due to the details of the abuse, but by the school's apparent self-intrest in their own reputation and comfort.
The overall sense of the article is that the parents were more than willing to work with the school going forward, even though the school erred in the beginning by not telling the parents immediately upon learning the extent of the abuse.
The school then worked with the family until the rumors started flowing around the school and the girl started processing aloud what had happened.
(the article uses the name "Emily" for the former student)
No longer suffering in silence, Emily was disrupting the entire campus. Feeling Emily was a long way from closure, Mayo met with Royall and Swann, and, without input from Emily, her parents, or her therapist, the trio of administrators decided Emily had to go.
In an email that would become central to the civil case against ESD, Mayo wrote to Royall: “I don’t want the girl haunting the halls with her sad story for the rest of the week.”

The administrators then forced the family to withdraw her from the school.
The unwillingness of the school to deal with the messiness of the aftermath from the inappropriate and criminal relationship on the part of one of its faculty is a sad and shocking reality. The desire to withhold or gloss over truth to keep people from "disruption" is counter to the Gospel and the ethics of The Episcopal Church (although clearly the church has chosen a similar route at various times in its history).
The administrators of The Episcopal School of Dallas missed their responsibility to wade into the ugliness of broken trust and emerge with real healing. They could have worked with the victim and her family in facing the challenging issues concerning balancing her privacy and the need for the school community to have some understanding of the truth. By choosing the "easier" path of removing the girl from the school, the administrators failed their charges.
And it will cost them more than just the $9 million...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A sermon on September 11th, 2011

I found Sunday’s church service to be a profoundly spiritual event.  We had a Service of Remembrance within our Eucharist service.
The service started with words written by Bishop Shannon Johnston, of Virginia:
“We remember all whose lives were changed ten years ago on September 11, bless our remembrance and bless our prayers as we come before you.”
Bishop Shannon’s prayers included those who found themselves in the midst of the attacks:  the victims, those who responded directly in the moment, and those who offered their support and prayers.  They also included prayers “for innocent people who were treated with hatred or suspicion because of their religion or nationality,” as well as “for this citizenry of many nationalities, races and religions.”
Our collect prayer came from Bishop Griswold:
God the compassionate one, whose loving care extends to all of the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred.  Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future.  Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the good of all for the healing of the nations.
(Note:  both of these were made available by Church Publishing)  
We then sang In Christ there is no East or West, read the Gospel for the day, and then I began my sermon.  I spoke without a text...only a few notes.  This is my best at recalling the sermon:
In Christ there is no East or West is my favorite hymn.  I love its vision:  “One great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”
I have a “phantom memory” of this hymn, by which I mean that I have a remembrance concerning this hymn that actually did not happen.  
The powerful movie Places in the Heart, set in 1935 Texas, begins with the small town sheriff responding to gunshots.  Wiley, a young African American boy, has been drinking and firing off a gun.  The sheriff calls Wiley by name, who then tosses the bottle in the air and shoots at it a few times till the gun misfires.  Playfully, Wiley points the gun at the sheriff and pulls the trigger, and is stunned when the gun goes off.  
The sheriff dies, and the boy is lynched.
The movie tells the story of the sheriff’s wife Edna as she fights to hold on to her farm, helped by a African American drifter named Moze, and a discarded blind war hero named Will.  
The movie is full of complicated brokenness as well as heartwarming hope in humanity.  They succeed in making it though the season, but Moze is driven to leave after a confrontation with town-members in Klan garb.  Edna tells him that their success was his accomplishment, and that he should never forget this.
The final scene was church on Sunday morning:  and communion is passed throughout the congregation as a hymn is sung.  
(This is my phantom memory:  I remember In Christ there is no East or West.  In reality, the hymn was In the Garden.  They SHOULD have used East or West!)
The shock of this scene, however, is who is present:  somehow EVERYONE is there together in the passing of communion:  protagonists and antagonists, those present and absent (including Moze), and even the dead.  The movie ends with Wiley passing communion to Sheriff Royce, the man he shot and killed, with the words “Peace of God.”  
Somehow, all are forgiven.
In looking at the Gospel today (Matthew 18:21-35), I can’t say I’m happy to see a complicated passage on forgiveness.  Because, if I’m honest with myself, there are plenty of people concerning 9-11...from those who planned and executed the attacks, to those who responded with self-serving violence...who I simply don’t want to forgive.  
Bishop Desmond Tutu says that “Forgiveness is an absolute necessity for continued human existence.  Without forgiveness, there's no future.” 
So whether I want to or not, I have to take forgiveness seriously...
The Gospel passage starts with Peter saying “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Those of you may remember a few weeks ago when I pointed out the Gospel writer’s use of the word “church”.  There was no “church” during Jesus’ ministry, but after his life, his followers had to figure out how they would live in community together.   The Gospel writer is addressing the way church of his time should treat each other.
There are a number of possibilities.  What is most likely is that, in the living out of Jesus’ general teaching to forgive others as necessary, that the church used “seven times” as an example.  (Perhaps Jesus had said this in a conversation about forgiveness.)  Some took this literally, keeping tabs on the number of times someone messed up and required forgiveness.  The spirit of forgiving as needed to restore relationship was being lost.  Matthew’s dialogue has Jesus say “seventy-seven times” to illustrate the understanding, and not as the new literal number.
What follows, however, is a complicated story from Jesus about a king and his slaves.
There are those in the church who see this as a simple allegorical story:  God is the king, we are the slaves.  God’s tenedncy is to forgive, so long as we forgive others the same way.  If we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us.  
The biggest problem I have with this understanding is that it doesn’t fit the premise.  The story does not in any way illustrate forgiving multiple times.  So perhaps there is another way to understand it.
The story begins with a king settling accounts with his slaves.  One owes him ten thousand talents, and the king is going to have him sold with his family and possessions.  The slave pleads “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”  
The intent may be honest, but it’s not going to happen.  The sum has spiraled too out of control.  There is no way for the slave to ever truly “pay what he’s owes.”  
The king, however, has pity.  Having the power to do so, he forgives the debt entirely.
This slave turns around and encounters someone else who owes him money:  a hundred denarii, an attainable amount.  Despite the same words of pleading, he has him thrown in prison.
We do not know why this first slave, forgiven by the king, fails to do the same for his fellow slave.  Maybe it is his understanding of “the real world”:  a king with abundance has the luxury to forgive, but my survival depends on doing what I need to do...seizing by the throat and payment before someone can be released.    He is either unwilling or unable to see himself in the position of having the power to forgive.  It is tragic that the first slave cannot break free of his understandings.
In comes the forgotten characters:  fellow slaves, witnessing this event, demand action.  It is worth noting that their distress leads to the first slave being condemned, NOT necessarily to the second slave being released.  There is the subtle reality that the bystanders are more interested is seeing someone get punished rather than wrong righted.  For all we know, the second slave remain in prison:  after all, he still owes a debt...
Finally, we return to the king, who originally chose to forgave.  Now, upon hearing that the person he forgave did not live up to expectations, he acts in anger and hands over a man to be tortured.
I don’t think this represents God.  Instead, the king illustrates how easy it is for one in the position of power (in this case, the ability to forgive) to feel justified in resorting to violence instead of forgiveness.  
I ask you:  who in this story is not poisoned?  Everyone is damaged in the end.  All fail to live up to the vision of God and the way things could be.  
I believe that Jesus, among other things, was an extraordinary storyteller.  I think he saw the complexities of human beings and their interactions with one another, and weaved a powerful narrative to illustrate that the kingdom of heaven (which refers to how we are to live our lives) is ultimately full of people who struggle to forgive.
Coming back to today’s anniversary, I am reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, 10 years is not that much time.  We still have time to determine what kind of people we will ultimately be post September 11th, 2001.  
It occurred to me that it has been almost 100 years since the event that came to be known as “The war to end all wars”.  I have no wish to judge our actions from that time, except to observe that it now seems clear that you can’t end war thorough war.
I feel strongly that the same is true about a war on terror.  It doesn’t work either...which leads us back to forgiveness.  
What if we, as Deacon Paul observed the other week, reacted not with bullets, but with food, clothing, shelter, and clean water?  What if we sought to make our legacy of September 11th be a new age of compassion and solidarity:  that out of the ashes of destruction comes not an age dominated by control and fear, but one of new life?
What could we do together if we found the way to forgive?