Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unvirtuous Abbey

Unvirtuous Abbey is a twitter/Facebook page which regularly posts...well...I'll call it "different" religious sayings. Their description is this:

After watching Facebook statuses and tweets of motivational quotes, pious prayers, and religious platitudes, the Abbey was born.

Here's an example from an interview they did on The Virtual Abbey:

Some believe religion is sacrosanct. We obviously don’t and wondered: What if everyone actually prayed what was on their minds? Our prayer for those whose closest thing to prayer is texting “OMG!” was retweeted a lot. We believe that’s because readers realized we were pointing out how texting “OMG!” has less to do with God and more to do with something else.

People also enjoy irony, such as praying for those who spend countless hours on Farmville and then heat up something for lunch in the microwave. There’s a disconnect.

Sometimes we tweet a song lyric with the words “Jesus said.” A recently popular tweet was, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said: “Whoa, oh, oh, sweet child o’ mine. Whoa, oh, oh, oh, sweet love of mine.” Yet, a few followers still wrote and said, “Um, I think that was Guns and Roses?” to which we respond, “Oh, they said it too?”

This morning one of their "monks" posted this intriguing post on the blog "Two Friars and a fool" called "Unicorn Theology and Unplugging Your Head". Here's an excerpt:

Christianity is definitely having a public relations problem now. So many churches are trying to market themselves in a different way. Sometimes they market themselves well, like the church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where someone spray painted the words, “God is dead” on the side of the building, and the minister (rather than get angry) wrote above it, “Not so fast. Happy Easter!” And sometimes churches have marketing fails, like the church having their Worship, Teaching, and Friendship conference. (WTF?)

Some of our most popular prayers at Unvirtuous Abbey have to do with the disconnect between perception and reality. What is poignant for us is when we hear feedback to a prayer that has drawn someone closer to the holy in their lives.

Some of the more recent prayers that generated lots of comments are:

“For those who deny global warming yet think that human morality affects plate tectonics, we pray to the Lord.”

“Lord, you who told Lazarus to “Come out!”, we pray for religious leaders who tell people it’s wrong to do that. Amen.”

“For those who claim to be holy but burn others’ holy books, Lord have mercy.”

“For those who say ‘Everything happens for a reason’ because, honest to God, that’s a really dumb thing to say. Amen.”

“For those who insist on the literal inerrancy of something they’ve never really read, Lord hear our prayer.”

...In some cases, churches are going so far to the theological right that people have to unplug their heads before they enter the building; and in other cases, churches are going so far to the left theologically in order to attract the masses, that they describe themselves as “post theistic”. In a way, they are offering what one person has called, “unicorn theology.” (And even though unicorn theology sounds kind of awesome, it may not have many practical applications, other than being awesome.)

We, the monks of Unvirtuous Abbey, believe that as Christians we are called to be keepers of the story, and tellers of it. We are encouragers of its sharing, and we are enablers of its hearing.

I am curious about peoples' respond to this!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chocolat's Easter Moment

(Easter Sunday sermon, preached at All Saints' Littleton NH on 4/24/2011)

I’ve had a vision of Easter in my head for a few weeks now...

It happened during our film discussion program.

The movie, was Chocolat.

For those of you who have not seen it, it concerns a little town in France, under the strict leadership of a Count.

This town is really good at the practice of what they understood to be Lent:


keeping appearances

holding fast to traditions


It appears that they have come to live this way all of the time.

However, just as they are entering Lent, a woman named Vianne blows into town and opens a chocolate shop. She has the ability to open the senses of people through her craft. She starts to transform the people of the town, one by one.

It quickly becomes the impression of the Count that all hell is breaking loose. He is determined to conqueror the threat to his town.

While the characters are all delightful in their own way, there is one that I am particularly drawn to this morning: Pere Henri, the very young village priest.

Pere Henri has been with the town five weeks.

He is reminded, by the Count, that his predecessor had been with them for five decades.

Pere Henri goes from being intimidated by the Count...sharing his sermons ahead of time for delivering the Count’s words verbatim from the pulpit: suggesting that Satan’s work is being accomplished through chocolate. It puts the fear of an angry, punishing God into the people: driving them away from Vianne.

The night before Easter, as the Count yet again reworks Pere Henri’s sermon, he is driven to frantic, drastic action. The Count rushes to the chocolate shop at night, breaks in, and starts destroying the chocolates one by one. As he does so, a sliver of chocolate falls on his lips.

He tastes it.

And the man who had denied himself of all temptations finds himself out of control: laughing hysterically, eating every morsel of chocolate in sight.

But gradually, the laughing turns to the heavy burdens of pain, loss, and shame...all the feelings he had buried deep in himself and hid from all others...comes to the surface and are finally released.

Easter morning arrives: and Vianne and Pere Henri find the Count curled up...sleeping in the delicious mess of chocolate.

The Count wakes up...looks at them, and whispers “I’m so sorry.”

They treat him with kindness and dignity.

The Count turns to the priest: “The sermon. I didn't finish it.”

The priest replies: “I'll think of something.” is our shared moment. Pere Henri slowly makes his way into the pulpit. He shares these words:

I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be.

Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord's divine transformation?

Not really, no.

I don't want to talk about His divinity.

I'd rather talk about His humanity.

I mean, you know, how he lived his life here on Earth.

His kindness. His tolerance.

Listen, here's what I think:

I think we can't go around...measuring our goodness

by what we don't do...

by what we deny ourselves...

what we resist...

and who we exclude.

I think we've got to measure goodness...

by what we embrace...

what we create...

and who we include.

This little sermon in the movie reveals a powerful truth: that Jesus’ divinity means little without embracing his humanity.

Easter is not just a call to believe in Jesus' resurrection: it is primarily an invitation to live our lives in his Spirit...valuing life and each other in the way that Jesus lived his life before us.

Thanks be to God

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week 2011

Hard to write anything in the midst of planning and participating in liturgies...

Will get back to blog posting next week!


Friday, April 8, 2011

NH Deputation Responds to Draft Anglican Covenant

9 March 2011

The New Hampshire Deputation to General Convention 2012 hereby responds to the request of the President of the House of Bishops, the President of the House of Deputies, and the Chair of the Executive Committee D-020 Task Force for its comments on the 2009 draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

We are grateful to those who drafted the proposed Covenant for their labor and dedication and to our Executive Council for this opportunity to express our thoughts on it.

We have studied and deliberated the proposed Covenant, utilizing the suggested Questions for Reflection to guide our discussions. We gave particular attention to questions 2, 3, and 5, which led us to reflect on the Anglican Communion.

In that reflection, we discovered a disconnect between the proposed Covenant and our understanding of the Anglican Communion. We have concluded that our best and most authentic response to the proposed Covenant is to express what we understand the Anglican Communion to be and to articulate those qualities that reflect its most deeply held values and are vital to its identity.

  • We understand that the Anglican Communion comprises numerous autonomous local Churches around the world that share a common ancestor in the historic Church of England. The constituent members of the Communion affirm those inherent parts of the faith and order committed to Christ’s Church expressed in the four principles of unity set forth in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral–the rule and standard of scripture, the symbol and sufficiency of the ancient creeds, the two sacraments ordained by Christ, and the historic episcopate, locally adapted.
  • As independent, autonomous Churches, we have developed in different ways to respond to the unique environments in which we advance God’s Kingdom, even as we are held in community by the common theological and liturgical perspectives inherited from our common ancestor. As praying shapes believing, our shared patterns of common prayer and liturgy provide the foundation from which we may discern the fullness of truth into which the Spirit leads us.
  • We are confident that communal practice, respectful discussion, and prayerful study enable us all to grow toward the full stature of Christ. We believe that discernment is best tested in community and that God will be found at the place where our differences intersect. It is precisely at those intersections, persistently and lovingly entered in the presence of the Spirit, that the bonds of affection unifying us are created and nourished for our mutual growth.

While we affirm the description of our inherited faith in Section One of the proposed covenant, we believe that the perspectives listed above are unique features of Anglican Christianity. We treasure these precious qualities, perhaps summed up by Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he characterized Anglicans as people who "meet." It is in meeting with one another that we live into ubuntu--sharing our different values, celebrating our different stories, and living into the fullness of Christ’s Church and our Anglican vocation.

We are deeply concerned, however, that the proposed covenant would establish a centralized authority and create classes of membership in the Anglican Communion.

Our beloved Anglican spirituality has always provided a restorative structure that has encouraged souls to freedom and faith. The Covenant negates that tradition by institutionalizing a structure that is punitive and constricting. This would pose a grave disservice to the Anglican quality of honoring difference within bonds of affection and common practice that we so deeply treasure.

The world desperately needs a religious community where all who travail and are heavy laden may be refreshed. Anglicanism at its blessed best is and can continue to be that gift to all God’s people through the covenant with God conferred at Holy Baptism.

New Hampshire Deputation

2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church


The Rev. William Exner
The Rev. Celeste Hemingson
The Rev. Susan Langle
The Rev. Susan Buchanan
The Rev. Jason Wells
The Rev. Susan Garrity
The Rev. Suzanne Poulin
The Rev. Kurt Wiesner


Canon Judith Esmay
Margaret Porter
Bonnie Chappell
Betsy Hess
Kellie Denoncourt
Cate McMahon
Anne Plumer-Fisher
Sloane Franklin

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sin: The Barriers We Put Up

(A sermon on John, Chapter 9, preached at All Saints' Littleton on 4/3/2011)

This morning we get a rare occurrence: an entire chapter of a Gospel.

(This makes for a long Gospel reading. Good thing UCONN won late last night: its likely only the afterglow of victory that’s powering the Deacon this morning...)

The action of John’s account centers on the healing of a blind man. Those in our All Saints’ Bible studies encountered this in Mark’s Gospel: complete with mud and spit. John has taken Mark’s account and has expertly expanded it for the sake of his reader’s insight.

This story hinges on it’s opening question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It is my hope that this is a repugnant question to your ears: thankfully very few people still believe that someone being born blind has anything to do with sin. Unfortunately, the mentality still exists: whether its someone saying Japan or Haiti deserved the earthquakes that devastated the countries, or if it is someone’s individual struggles is seen as punishment from God. People are quick to recognize brokenness, (especially in others), and use the term “sin” to both assign blame to individuals and suggest that God is controlling the situation: that the bad thing happening is somehow just and deserved.

My understanding of sin is this: it’s “the things that we do, say, or believe that isolate us from God and each other.” That immediately rules out things like earthquakes and medical realities, although our reactions to such events can produce sin. The things that we do, say, or believe that isolate us from God and each other are particular to individuals or perhaps a group of people, and it’s worth noting that these things may or may not be “bad things” in and of itself, nor do they universally cause sin.

Here are some examples: Alcohol is commonly seen as sinful, but in truth can isolate one person and not another. Television, while not inherently bad, can numb as well. Even something good like religion itself can clearly divide us instead of bring us together. Also, it is often the failure to do, say, or believe that causes isolation in people. The point is: sin is not punishment from God, but is instead the barriers we place between us, God and the rest of humanity.

Fortunately, the overall Gospel message is really clear: no barrier that we put between us and God can isolate us forever. Grace, God’s gift of love and reconciliation, ultimately cannot be unearned or blocked by sin.

I think that’s what Jesus means this morning, when he adeptly says to his disciples “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus rejects a simple understanding of blindness as related to sin: someone did this so God did that. Instead, for Jesus, the reality of blindness provides for an opportunity to see God at work.

So Jesus does what he does, and the blind man is now able to see.

Ironically, it is now where sin enters this Gospel story. Everyone around this formerly blind man loses their sight: by which I mean their ability to see God at work. First off, his neighbors fail to recognize the man. “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” If one was to ask “who is this man”, the first, and perhaps only thing most of his neighbors would have said is “well, he is blind.”

I’m afraid there is a certain reality demonstrated here: difference from what one perceives as normal is often all we see about someone. The truth in this story is that no one really knew the blind man, except for the fact that he was blind. No one said, “Wait, this is so and so. He’s friends with George and Larry, Sarah is his sister. His birthday’s in June, and he loves sharing stories, especially during cool summer evenings.” No longer blind, his defining characteristic gone, people are not sure who they now see.

The Pharisees, as a group, fail as well to see God in this moment. They are looking for any reason to condemn Jesus, so they focus only on what might be wrong with this situation: that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. When those among them still insist that this still a sign from God, they attempt to clarify the situation, bringing in the man’s parents.

“Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

First off, a word about John’s use of “The Jews.” Everyone in this story, including Jesus, is Jewish. The words “The Jews” refers to the leadership of the synagogue, which includes the Pharisees in this story. So when John’s Gospel says “The Jews,” he is referring to those who had the power to speak and make official decisions on behalf of the synagogue. When we say today that “The Church did this”, we are speaking in the same way: the leadership acted in a particular way, not everyone who is part of the church.

Certainly it is sad to see the leaders of the synagogue abuse their power: clearly this is a major point Jesus makes during his ministry, well illustrated throughout the Gospels. But what is heartbreaking in this story is to see the parents of the blind man choose to protect themselves, instead of stand with their son. Understand that the pressure was intense, and that they were clearly fearful, not spiteful; but it is tragic that what should have been the hour of rejoicing for the formerly blind man and his family was instead a moment of new barriers.

So the story reaches it’s climax:

“For the second time (the leaders) called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that (Jesus) is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes....Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

This should have been the moment of restoration between the man and his religious community. Instead, in the midst of fear, sin does indeed happen: the barrier is thrown up, and the man is cast out.

It is important this morning that we see not only the isolation present from a time past, but how easy it is today to give into fear and throw up barriers...

As in last week’s Gospel of the woman at the well, the story ends with Jesus speaking plainly.

“Jesus heard that they had driven (the man) out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.”

This morning’s tale is one of joy, freedom, and caution: Jesus is here today to break down the barriers that exist between us, God, and each other. As they come down, things always change...and business as usual is often not possible.

The choice to be made is this: will we embrace a world where everyone matters, or will we construct new barriers to replace the old ones?

Thankfully, the Good News does not depend on our choice: regardless of any barrier we put the end...we cannot keep God, or anyone else, out.

Thanks be to God.