Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

Wishing all of my readers and visitors a Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seeing God in schools

The call is going out, drummed up by public conservative voices, to “Get God back in schools”.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," said Governor Mike Huckbee on Fox News. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn't because "God is not going to go where he is not wanted" and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer.
I reject this understanding of a God who makes or allows bad things to happen to teach us a lesson.  It is a manipulation of scriptural text and understanding used by people in power or seeking it.  

God’s role in tragedy has been authentically expressed in numerous essays and prayers, including ones by Diana Butler Bass and Ian Douglas.  There is my own offering as well...

I do know that there are some who do not see God as causing or orchestrating tragedy who still think the call to “get God back in schools” is a good thing.

This is based on a false premise:  that God was driven out of schools.  This is simply not true.  God is not banned from schools, as this sad and abusive t-shirt suggests.

Mentioning God in a forced pledge each morning says nothing of God’s presence.  Neither does any mandated time of prayer.  Teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science is misguided as well.  One dominant group forcing their particular understanding of God actually dishonors our vast understandings of the divine, and suggests how divisive religion is when brandished as a way to control.  Students will see the hollowness of this practice, and reject it as another means by which adults attempt to gain unquestioned authority.

This is not to say that somethings should be done to change the cultures of our schools.

One thing that might be helpful for those in schools is a commitment to the sacred.

This is not achieved by requiring or elevating the use of the word “God”, or that everyone should be Christian, Jew, Muslim or Atheist.   And yet, ironically, banning or avoiding those words and distinctions is unhelpful as well.

Young people experience the sacred when they value themselves and the people around them.  They have the opportunity to learn this in multiple ways:  in the care and concern for others, in the space for exploring honest questions, in the moments where adults take them seriously, and, yes, in the faithful (but not mandated) practice of religion where difference and common values are held in esteem.  They find the sacred in a structure that manages their time without overwhelming them.  They encounter the sacred in athletics when they witness the desire to do one’s best, but not in the win at all costs mentality.  They experience the sacred in communal opportunities like clubs, teams, and ensembles.

Do you really want room for the sacred in our schools?  Stop mandating the focus on standardized tests and school status.  Let go of the power struggles between administrations, school boards, and teacher unions.  Work to create an environment where educators can get back to teaching critical thinking, life skills, exploration of the world through history and literature, an appreciation and experience of art and culture, and valuing respect and dignity for all life.  Allow the truth to be told concerning our American history:  good and bad.  Broaden our sense of wonder for the fragility and the resilience of people and the environment.  

Trust that in the opening of hearts and minds, the vision of God’s dream for the world will indeed be worked out.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Risky business

(A sermon preached at All Saints' Littleton on December 16th, 2012)

Sustaining and redeeming God,

In sadness and in the tragedy of awful loss, we offer before you those young lives lost as a consequence of human violence this past week.

We raise in the distress of this time the families of whose children are no longer to share life and joy with them.

We mourn those other families also fractured by the needless killings of that day.

As Jesus first came to his people and lives of the young and innocent were lost in the cruelty of one individual upon others, so now 2000 years on we stand alongside those whose similar grief is beyond our imagining.

Holy and loving God bring all consolation that can be brought to those most in need of your presence today, and never cease to make your presence real in this their hour of need.

To you we voice this prayer, Amen. 

Written by The Rt. Rev. Robert Gilies, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church for their companion Diocese of Connecticut, and shared by Ian T. Douglas, Laura J. Ahrens and James E. Curry, the Episcopal Bishops of Connecticut


It is the place we all begin when faced with a horrible tragedy.  

We often look to God to answer this, but we do so in vain.  God didn't allow this to happen:  human beings have free will.  For all God hopes for us, even as we are called to be part of God’s vision for the the world, human beings have the capacity to act out God’s nightmares.

Risky business:  creating in one’s own image.

For those of us trying to make sense of it all, it helps to begin with the truth:  there is no making sense of this. It is not surprising that we don’t know what to say:  we usually don’t when it involves the death of children.  

I am no different than you. 

The Rev. Emily C. Heath was a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children's hospital with a level one trauma center, and saw so many senseless tragedies.  She also says she heard some of the worst theology of her life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren't.  And despite good intention, they often made the situation worse.
Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends: 
1. "God just needed another angel."  Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents. 
2. "Thank goodness you have other children," or, "You're young. You can have more kids."  Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have. 
3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.  The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents' hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief. 
4. God doesn't give you more than you can handle.  Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn't come from God. Don't trivialize someone's grief with a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality. 
5. We may not understand it, but this was God's will.  Unless you are God, don't use this line.
Loving God, when our heart breaks in grief, we know your heart is already broken. Hear our prayers for the community of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Receive the souls of the dead, into your merciful arms of love.

Heal the wounded in body and the savaged in spirit.

Bless all those who seek to calm a community in crisis: police, medical workers, government and school officials, counselors and pastors.

Soothe the fearful and dry the tears of all who mourn.

Enfold families in your compassionate embrace: little ones whose safe world has been invaded, mothers and fathers who must put frightened children to bed this night.

Help us to remember, when our knees go weak and our hearts melt like wax, that your arm is ever strong, and your loving kindness never fails from age to age. Draw us closer to one another in community, and closer to you, O God, so that the inhumanity of mankind, which threatens to destroy our faith in you, may somehow gather us all into the infinite heart of God, in whose name we pray. Amen.


Finding the right words is really hard.  But those who are grieving, for their own loss or in fear for their families, need our support and voices to help all of us go forward.  We must not be scared into silence.

1. I don't believe God wanted this or willed it.  A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God's will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be. 
2. It's okay to be angry, and I'm a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.  Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don't know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn. 
3. It's not okay.  It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn't get said. Sometimes the pieces don't fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won't sugarcoat their grief. 
4. I don't know why this happened.  When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain "why?" The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it's best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know. 
5. I can't imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.  Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying "I know how you're feeling" is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don't want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.
On this Shabbat, on this Seventh Night of Hanukkah,
When we crave peace and celebration
We stand in grief with the devastated families of Newtown,
We weep over the loss of lives of children
We weep over the deaths of their teachers,
We cry out with shock and confusion and pain 
with the devastated families of Newtown.
We mourn again over a senseless act of violence and destruction.

Be with us, God in this time of sorrow and fear. 
Help us, God, to offer comfort
To those whose hearts are shattered,
Rekindle hope and trust and courage within us and them.
Help us, God, to see in the lights of the Hanukkiah
The promise that even in the darkest times
That even when we feel most discouraged
There is reason to trust that 
love is never extinguished
and that light and spirit will prevail.

Help us, God to rededicate ourselves to building 
a world safer for all children,
On this Shabbat, on this Seventh Night of Hanukkah,
Bring comfort and peace and hope and light
to broken hearts and a still broken world.

The author Joyce Carol Oates wrote on Twitter that there is a “Strange doubleness in American life. Grieving over "tragedy" is genuine--but does not convert into action to prevent the next tragedy.”
If we are truly a people of the light, then in the weeks to come we must follow our grieving with change. In this land where we have so much, it is also senseless that we lack the ability to keep safe these most innocent among us. We have the capacity to change that, if we can find the will. We lead the developed world in so many things; tragically, that includes gun violence. May the darkness of these hours lead to a light in which we see clearly our responsibility to change that and find the courage to do so.

It was, of course, a tragedy. Yet tragedies happen all the time. Terrible storms strike. Cars crash. Random violence occurs. As long as we’re human, we’ll never be invulnerable. 
But when a gunman takes out kindergartners in a bucolic Connecticut suburb, three days after a gunman shot up a mall in Oregon, in the same year as fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, a coffee bar in Seattle and a college in California — then we’re doing this to ourselves. 
We know the story. The shooter is a man, usually a young man, often with a history of mental illness. Sometimes in a rage over a lost job, sometimes just completely unhinged. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the air was full of experts discussing the importance of psychological counseling. “We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House. 
Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god. 
This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns.
I am aware that I live in the North Country of New Hampshire:  Live Free or Die.  I do not wish to keep people from hunting game.  I am not saying that people should not be allowed to purchase a gun for protection.  I know people who collect historic guns, like my uncle, and I know firsthand how beyond responsible he is with his collection.  

I also know the often repeated saying:  guns do not kill people, people kill people.  It’s true.  But I can’t help but notice that, unbelievably, on the same day as the tragedy in Connecticut, a man in China attacked 22 children and one adult outside a public school.  He had a knife, and thankfully everyone there is still alive.

I know that this is in part just good fortune, but it also illustrates the reality that guns make it easier for people to kill people...and it is just too easy to get guns in our society.  In many places, there is more oversight required to get a dog, catch a fish, or to feed someone a meal.

Of the world's 23 "most wealthy" countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22, and has 80% of all of gun deaths of those countries combined.

In second place is Finland, with two entries.

Adam Gopnik writes that “Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.”

I find a summary by returning to the words of Gail Collins:

We will undoubtedly have arguments about whether tougher regulation on gun sales or extra bullet capacity would have made a difference in Connecticut. In a way it doesn’t matter. 
America needs to tackle gun violence because we need to redefine who we are. We have come to regard ourselves — and the world has come to regard us — as a country that’s so gun happy that the right to traffic freely in the most obscene quantities of weapons is regarded as far more precious than an American’s right to health care or a good education. 
We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear.
We grieve with the many families and friends touched by this shooting in Connecticut. We mourn the loss of lives so young and innocent. We grieve that the means of death are so readily available to people who lack the present capacity to find other ways of responding to their own anger and grief. We know that God’s heart is broken over this tragedy, and the tragedies that unfold each and every day across this nation. And we pray that this latest concentration of shooting deaths in one event will awaken us to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day. More than 2000 children and youth die from guns each year, more than the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Will you pray and work toward a different future, the one the Bible’s prophets dreamed of, where city streets are filled with children playing in safety? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop calls for prayer

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori calls for prayer following the tragedy in Connecticut:
We grieve with the many families and friends touched by this shooting in Connecticut.  We mourn the loss of lives so young and innocent.  We grieve that the means of death are so readily available to people who lack the present capacity to find other ways of responding to their own anger and grief.  We know that God’s heart is broken over this tragedy, and the tragedies that unfold each and every day across this nation.  And we pray that this latest concentration of shooting deaths in one event will awaken us to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day.  More than 2000 children and youth die from guns each year, more than the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Will you pray and work toward a different future, the one the Bible’s prophets dreamed of, where city streets are filled with children playing in safety (Zechariah 8:5)?

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs
Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Africa for Norway

This is brilliant satire with a real point...



Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?
If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.
The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.
The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.


  1. Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
    Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.
  2. We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
    We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.
  3. Media: Show respect.
    Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.
  4. Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
    Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The point of "Political Correctness"

My friend Jill Bernard, who I went to High School with, posted this on Facebook Sunday:

The people that hate "political correctness" can't understand it's something we invented because we couldn't wait around for them to get a handle on actual correctness. Your mouth is a gun and you can have all your words back when you take the bullets out.

The post received a lot of play:  73 likes, 25 comments, and a lot of passion.  Some of the conversation  centered around words you can and cannot use, and what power words really have.  I was intrigued by the conversation, and I weighed in:

The metaphor “words as bullets” illustrates that words are used to wound and hurt people: often intentionally, but sometimes by collateral damage of being unaware or uncaring. 

I think this metaphor is basically true.  

However, I find the quote “Your mouth is a gun and you can have all your words back when you take the bullets out” to be less than helpful. I think that misses the heart of “political correctness”. 

Being “PC” is the attempt to choose words that are sensitive to the people likely to hear them, with special awareness for people who are different than the speaker. It is a good thing to be aware of one’s words, and to consider how different people will hear what is said. It is careless to not know how a word has been used in the past, and the affect that it is likely to have on others.  

PC does not ultimately forbid words: each individual has the power to choose and say their words. Words are not to be taken away by others. Free speech is indeed free speech. This is where the taking bullets away from people metaphor, for me, breaks down. It is illegal to shoot people with bullets: it is not illegal to use words, even hurtful ones. 

But there is a cost for choosing to use certain words: usually in terms of our relationships with others. And it is naive to think that words don’t damage the psyches of others. PC is supposed to be a call to awareness and caring, rather than a list of words to avoid. 

And, ironically, the statement “I hate political correctness” then misses the point as well: with people reacting to a list of words they think someone has decided that they aren’t supposed to say, rather than hearing the call to be aware of what different people are likely to hear.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rape and aftermath: Where is God?

For the second time this political season, we have a politician making a horrible statement concerning rape.

Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Tuesday when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape, "that's something God intended." 
Mourdock, who's been locked in one of the country's most watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. 
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said.

The video and transcript has quickly spread nationally, with potential influence even on the presidential race:

Romney distanced himself from Mourdock on Tuesday night — a day after a television ad featuring the former Massachusetts governor supporting the GOP Senate candidate began airing in Indiana. 
"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email to The Associated Press.

Mourdock later explained that he did not believe God intended the rape, but that God is the only one who can create life.

"Are you trying to suggest somehow that God preordained rape, no I don’t think that,’’ Mourdock said. ‘‘Anyone who would suggest that is just sick and twisted. No, that’s not even close to what I said.’’

But this is a major problem with using the statement "God creates all life" as the ultimate anti-abortion argument that anything that prevents that life must then be "against God's will". The line of reasoning here is that if the rape victim gets pregnant, it must be because God intentionally decided to create life. It is a terribly flawed concept and leads to incredible guilt and shame for the victim: and an ultimate portrait of God who "does terrible things for a reason".

Human free will seems to be at issue here. Part of what has been given freely to human beings (and other animals, plants, and life as well) is the ability to potentially create in their own image (as we believe God originally did). We know from scientific fact that the relationship status the man has with a woman (life-long partner, casual lover, or violating rapist) or his motivation for sex (to create a child with his partner, expressing passion through consensual physical intimacy, or to dominate, control and abuse a woman) does not factor in to whether conception happens.

Isn't God's role here really relational more than anything? God's relationship with the victim of a rape seems primary. We proclaim a God who comforts, consoles, and even weeps with those who are afflicted. We proclaim a God that promises that life is not over even when we feel like it is, and that there is always a way forward.

That way forward may include choosing to embrace a new life created, but it may also include preventing a child from this act of violence: it is the victim's choice, not anyone else's.

What must be done to transform the conversation of God's role with us: one that explores the ongoing relational one, rather than the shut down argument "God does everything for a reason"?

This was the end of my Episcopal Cafe entry from yesterday.  Someone commented that I was focusing on the wrong argument.  He said:

Kurt, these are very charged topics, but I think you have a "straw man" of the argument (that is, a version nobody is really advocating). The stronger version that I hear in the argument at stake is not "God does terrible things for a reason," but "God can choose to intervene even in terrible things and bring good things out of them." 
I don't know whether/how that theology should be applied to issues of rape. But there are, as a facebook conversation on this topic has reminded me today, children who were born from these circumstances, and mothers who call themselves survivors.

To which I responded:

Of course there are. And the mothers are survivors, and the children who were born are blessed. But it misses the point entirely that it is up to the victim to decide if the potential "life" from rape might be seen as God bringing something "good from something terrible." 
If you legislate a law that prevents a victim from choosing abortion, a woman who does not see this as God "doing something good with something terrible" is in essence being told "God does terrible things for a reason." 
I am also challenging the idea that "conception" is the will of God here. As I said, human beings have already been given the ability to create new life. Insisting that it is God who is "bringing something good" by conception in the case of rape, rather than acknowledging the science that shows what potentially happens whenever sperm and egg meet, is in my opinion wrong EVEN IF some victims come to understand their situation this way. 
I stand by my argument.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Come and See: ("We are Able")

A sermon preached on Mark 10:35-45 at All Saints' Littleton on 10/20/2012

Most of us are now used to the disciples of Jesus not getting things in the Gospels.  

Having said that, is this the most outrageous, incredibly stupid disciple moment ever?
James and John’s impudence and lack of understanding seems beyond belief. How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children? And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request appears truly astounding.
But perhaps we are the ones that are missing something...

James and John say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” In other words, promise to do what we ask before we ask it. Jesus says nope, I can’t make that promise until I hear the request. This reaction can't really be unexpected, as they make their request anyway:  to sit at Jesus' left and right hands, in his glory.
This seems like a grab for power.  The persons to either side of the ruler are the most trusted and the second in command.
However, before finalizing that opinion, consider the text that comes before this event.  There are three verses between the end of last week’s text (the account of the wealthy man) and this week’s passage.
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.  (Mark 10:32)

(What are they afraid of?  By going up to Jerusalem, Jesus was provoking a showdown with the temple leaders. They were right to be afraid.  Continuing...)
[Jesus] took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
This is the third time Jesus has said something like this. The first time was back in Chapter 8, just after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus proclaims he will be killed, and Peter openly rebukes this path, and Jesus in turn rebukes Peter with the powerful “Get behind me Satan.” (Mk. 8:27-33)
The second time Jesus says something like this is in Chapter 9, while passing through Galilee.  Jesus says, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mk. 9:31)
This time, the disciples’ are more cautious.  The text says that they did not understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask him.
The Gospel of Mark is all about threes: the third time is often the charm. Combined with the fact that they are heading towards Jerusalem, it is not unreasonable to conclude that James and John have figured out some of what is to come. So there request to sit at Jesus’ hands in his glory isn’t just about a heavenly place, like one might suppose, but a request to stand alongside Jesus as he squares off against the temple leaders. There is more than a bit of courageousness to their request.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” The students James and John are saying to their teacher: “allow us to take our place standing next to you. We’re don’t have to protect us.”
Jesus’ response is with a raised eyebrow: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They replied, “We are able.”
Jesus responds: 
“The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
I don't think this is a rebuke. In fact, it appears to me that Jesus is pleased with this answer, approving the enthusiasm and boldness of James and John, even if their request is a bit off.
The other disciples react negatively to James and John for their request, but Jesus does not affirm their anger.  Rather, Jesus again reminds them that they are to live by different standards:  not as wielding power to put one into submission, but using their power to be a servant...”a slave to all.”
James and John are willing to stand up and take on the power that Jesus calls them to. Perhaps they overestimate their abilities.  Perhaps they attempt to bite off more than they can chew.  Perhaps they don’t really understand what Jesus is asking of them, and what it means to wield power not in dominance, but as a servant.  But their willingness to try and put themselves forward is essential for us today.
Most of you are now familiar with All Saints' yearly ask for a commitment of time, talent and treasure.  It is a case we make each year in order to continue our ministry here in the Church, in Littleton, the North Country, New Hampshire, and the world.  I believe, as does your elected leadership, that our common ministry is worth your time, talent and treasure, and that we need your support for our future together.
This year, we are asking for something else:  something that's a bit scary, because it is beyond what we are used to.  We are asking that you commit to inviting people to "Come and See" All Saints' on a Sunday morning.
We are called to share the Good News:  that's what it is meant by evangelism.  But our fears, either in offending or in being associated with offensive behavior, keeps many of us from doing so.  We say "this Evangelism thing is for a different type of Christian. Episcopalians don't do that."

And so we have left it to others to talk about what it means to be a Christian, and that has come at great cost.  Many today now believe that being a Christian is about ignoring science and facts, believing impossible things to be true, being bias towards difference and stuck in the past, and blindly following a bunch of rules.   

Worse is the evangelism that goes something like this:  "I've accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior...and if you do to, you'll be saved."

This is not the Good News, but rather thinly veiled threat of damnation.  It counters the very spirit of the Good News.

For a growing number of people, these are the assumed messages that Christians are offering:  that you must believe the way we do.

This keeps people from the real Good News:  that God loves you.  That God cares immensely about every living thing.  That our relationship with God and each other is not based on making a wrathful God content, but to fulfill the hopes and dreams that God has for those made in God's own image.  That kindness, justice, and forgiveness matters.  And that, no matter how you isolated you may feel, that you are never really alone.

This is what Jesus embodied in his ministry, and he went to the cross for it.  James and John said that they were able to stand up as well, and eventually, they did so.

What about us?  We may not be risking our physical lives, but the vulnerability is nevertheless real.  Talking to someone about religion is one of those things that we are often taught not to do, because it is so often a source of conflict and abuse.

But talking about religion is also needed.  The world is full of brokenness and estrangement.  People feel isolated despise having all of today's technical advancements that are supposed to make us more connected.  As people struggle to find community, many are convinced, through assumptions based on media or bad experiences, that a Church community has nothing of substance to offer.  We here know that's not true, and the Gospel calls us to say so.

The pledge of people to Come and See is not convincing someone to become a Christian.  It might not even lead to someone walking across the church's threshold.  It is an commitment only to invite.  It is a pledge to offer someone you know an opportunity to see something important in your life.  There is no have to, and no veiled threat:  only gracious opportunity.

I hope that you will prayerfully consider making a pledge to invite people to Come and See.  That might be having one conversation, or perhaps more than a few.  There may be many people who come to mind, or you might think there is no one you know of.  I am asking you to be open to the possibility that God is calling you to invite someone to All Saints':  and that you might find, just as James and John realized, that you are able.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Leafy joy

Yesterday I was driving down from the house to W. Main Steet Littleton.  The wind was blowing good, and leaves were really flying.  

When I reached the street, I looked over into the cemetery.  There was a family there with two young children under a huge tree.  The kids twirled in delight, raising their hands into the air to receive the rainfall of brightly colored leaves.

I saw God...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A "favorite text" this Sunday

At the local pastor's monthly meeting, we were all asked to share a favorite Biblical verse or text.  I offered Mark's story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman and shared why.

At the time, I had no idea it was this week's Gospel text.  I have an additional twist coming this Sunday, but to prep, here's my basic understanding of the story from years past.

(and yes, I do think Jesus called this woman a dog...and he wasn't testing her)

I'll post again after Sunday...


Monday, August 6, 2012

Post-shoulder surgery blogging

It is NOT a coincidence that it has been about a month since my shoulder surgery!

To recap, I had a SLAP tear (Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior) of my right labrum.  The SLAP tear occurs at the point where the tendon of the biceps muscle inserts on the labrum.  I managed to do this likely in two parts:  I think I hurt my shoulder snowboarding, and then I really tore it when I slipped on the ice walking JJ back in the beginning of March.

Then my shoulder froze as well...  

So on July 9th, I had arthroscopic surgery, along with conventional surgery in my bicep.  

That, believe it or not, was the easy part...

The hard, excruciating part was the next day, when I really work up, realized I was in pain AND my right arm (and, my right writing hand) was rather useless.  And I didn't get to just stay home:  because they did not want the shoulder to refreeze, I went to Physical Therapy that first day, where my shoulder was manipulated into various places.

(Luckily for him, my physical therapist also owns one of my FAVORITE restaurants in town, Chang Thai, and the thought of being banned from there kept me from physically harming him.  That, and I was in no condition to hurt anyone...)

So, a few things are true:

1)  Darlene, my wife, can apply for sainthood.

2)  I've had good reason not to write blog posts (at least, for awhile)

3)  Facebook and Twitter are much easier to get back to then full fledge blogging.

4)  I'm feeling MUCH better now.

Lots of things have happened (the rest of Convention, two horrible mass shootings, a new bishop for NH, and the Olympics), but it is also summer, where it should be time to relax a little.

So I might get to a few things past, or perhaps I'll just jump to the present.

ANYWAY, thanks for reading, and I hope you will continue to do so.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Family Gatherings 2012

(I wrote this three years ago the last time this Gospel came around, and General Convention was happening.  Seems just as true this time, so I made only minor changes.  But in case you are wondering, this was NOT my sermon this morning...)
“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
This is a popular saying of Jesus. It is found in some form in every Gospel, including the Gospel of Thomas.
It seems a most appropriate subject matter after a July 4th week, for my hunch is that as families gathered, there’s been at least one instance of someone thinking (and hopefully not saying aloud) “who does she think she is.” I’m also willing to bet that the flipside is true: that someone in the family felt disrespected among their friends and neighbors this weekend.
There just might be some instances of this at the “Family Gathering” happening in Indianapolis this week…
So, in this spirit, I’d like to explore the Mark’s version of the story (Mk 6:1-6) in terms of family dynamics.
Now, there’s an inherent danger any time we use a “Jesus conflict” to relate to our human conflicts. The assumption is that if one of us is pegged as “Jesus”, then they must be in the right, and anyone opposing or countering Jesus must be in the wrong.
Let’s resist that temptation for now, and speculate on the story.
Jesus is in his hometown. The Sabbath day arrives, and he started teaching in the temple.
I wonder if this was the intent of the trip, to teach in the synagogue, or was he primarily home visiting family and neighbors? Had the local rabbi been bugging Jesus: when are you coming home and sharing your good news with us? Was teaching the primary reason to return to his hometown, or was this some work on the side while visiting family, or perhaps even an excuse to get out of the house? I can’t tell, but it seems clear that Jesus ultimately places himself in the public domain.
So he does his thing: he astounds people with his insight into the scriptures, with his healing abilities, and with his general wisdom: and then they begin to resent him.
The question is: why do they resent him?
Well, the other people who resented Jesus were those in power: the synagogue leaders and the scribes, who felt threatened by him.
Something similar must have been going on...why would Jesus’ family and neighbors feel threatened by him?
The answer again is a change in dynamics and established order. Jesus’ place in the hometown was clearly perceived: son, brother, neighbor, carpenter.
Jesus comes back very different, and it clearly shows. His perceived place no longer clearly fits, and it produces anxiety. Some may be unnerved that this guy had changed so much, and some might even be resentful that their lives have, in comparison, changed so little.
It’s not surprising that the reaction is strongly negative.
Jesus shares some responsibility in this reaction. Remember, he has been transformed: transfigured by God. In the Gospel of Mark, he left his hometown a carpenter, and came out of the waters of baptism as God’s anointed. He is a changed man.
So he enters his hometown, knowing he’s a very different person then when he left. Jesus can’t, and shouldn't hide who he is. He should not simply play along like everything’s the same. But the situation called for a different approach than “business as usual.” Honest, intimate conversations on who he’d become, and what he now understood, would surely have gone over better then mass teaching in the synagogue. His family and neighbors perceived that Jesus had spiritually changed, and, unsure of where they still connected to him, they reacted negatively.
The results are striking: an inability to carry out the ministry. Jesus is unable to transform anyone’s life.
We have all been on both sides of this spectrum: the one who’s changed, and the one who’s unaware of the change, and upon realization, unsure what the change means to the relationship.
There’s no easy way to handle this: change is difficult, and produces anxiety by its unknown quality. Change is, however, always happening in one way or another, and pretending otherwise does not make it go away.
We are called, like it or not, to honestly explore our changes and new understandings with a gentleness in nature...whether we are the one who’s changed, or we are the one unsure as to what the change means.
Transformation does not absolve us from our relationships to our families and our neighbors. The only way to reconcile these relationships, however, is to be the change that God has called us to be: loving those who are still our family, searching out the quiet moments for the sharing of stories, and boldly proclaiming that God has called us to something new.