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Lent 2016

“You are about to enter unchartered territory”
my internal GPS announced
as I sat in traffic
on I-84
northbound.

I looked at my fellow travelers
stuck in their cars
and wondered,
“How is this commute different
from all other commutes,
this pilgrimage,
in a post modern
wilderness?”

Lent starts soon
and giving up chocolate
isn’t unchartered territory.

“We confess…” I thought to myself.
What sort of Lenten discipline
echoes that?
Giving up our addiction to fossil fuels?

Somehow, that sounds like world peace
not only unchartered,
but probably unattainable.

What is attainable,
with God’s help?
How do we discover
our unknown, undone deeds?

How do we become
more conscious
more loving,
while stuck in traffic?

That would be unchartered,
maybe even life changing,
a worthy Lenten discipline.

The Theology of Michael, Florence, and Evelyn

Recently, I was asked,

According to Scripture, how has God chosen to accomplish God's mission in the world? What is the role that the church has been given? How do you define "church" in the context of that role?

These are the sort of questions I’m inclined to struggle with right now, all as part of a bigger question of what sort of role is God calling me to in the church. Yet it is only Wednesday, and I’m exhausted. Perhaps it is in part because I’ve been very busy at work. Perhaps it is part because it is a rainy day and I’m not getting enough vitamin D. Perhaps it is in part because I went to a memorial service on Saturday. So, I think about these questions and don’t feel engaged.

Evelyn had gone to the church I attend for many years, long before I ever started going. She and her best friend had always served coffee hour, that time of breaking pastries and drinking coffee that comes after the time of breaking bread and blessing wine. She lived out her final days at a nursing home I sometimes visit. After the memorial service, I wrote in my journal the idea for a blog post, The Theology of Michael, Florence, and Evelyn.

By Michael, I mean the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. In a message to the church, Presiding Bishop Curry says,

This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world...Now is our time to go. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.

This doesn’t sound like some task force report, the answer to some divinity school or ordination exam. This is about being moved by God.

By Florence, I mean Florence Nightingale. Between working in health care and learning about Nightingale’s brilliance as a scientist and statistician which she put to work on the gritty front lines of health care, and her deep religious belief, she also shows what it is to be moved by God.

Of course, by Evelyn, I’m talking about Evelyn whose memorial service I went to on Saturday. I’m talking about a person who loved receiving the Eucharist, how loved sharing food with people around her, who might not have been able to put her faith into words that would sound good on a task force report or as an answer to a theological examination, but who instead embodied what it was like to be moved by God in daily life.

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Relevance #Discernment #SavingSweetBriar

It‘s Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or day after the Iowa Caucuses, depending on your orientation. I was thinking of writing about these for my blog post today, until I came across this article

Sweet Briar College gets record number of applicants.

Students and faculty say the number of applications – which increased from 751 at this time last year to 1099 this year — is just another sign of a community that has banded together to pull itself back from the brink.

I decided to retweet it, and so I checked to see if the #SavingSweetBriar hash tag was still active. It is, and from there I found an even more interesting article

Making the Most of Stakeholder Revolt: The Recapturing of the San Diego Opera and Sweet Briar College.

This article starts

Over the past few years, NPQ has been tracking nonprofits whose stakeholders rose up to save them after their boards voted to close the doors. They are in a larger field of organizations that have felt the sting of stakeholder rebellions when a board has somehow broken faith with the community it serves.

I skimmed over the beginning section and the part about the San Diego Opera. I haven’t been following that story as closely as I’ve been following the Sweet Briar story. The section on Sweet Briar starts off presenting some of the history, and then has this quote:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over about a ten-year period—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that women’s colleges weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from classes of an earlier date, when Sweet Briar was the option because…

This particularly jumped out at me, and I’ve included the quote, leaving out the reason people had gone to Sweet Briar on purpose. You see, this Sunday will be my last day as Clerk of the Vestry of Grace and St. Peter’s Church in Hamden, CT. I have loved serving on the vestry. For those not acquainted with Episcopal Church governance, being Clerk of the Vestry is a kin to be secretary of the board of directors.

It is a difficult time. Like Sweet Briar, we have had dwindling participation and have had to rely on our endowment. As a board, we have explored cost saving measures while trying to stay true to the mission. I’ve brought up what happened at Sweet Briar at Vestry meetings. If we had been a different church with different leadership, our story might be more like Sweet Briar’s. As I read the paragraph, I thought of how it would read if it were talking about various churches:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over the past few decades—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that churches weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from churches of an earlier date, when you went to church because…

I remember singing Hymn by Paul Stukey

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You.

I don’t know if there were people at Grace and St. Peter’s who believed this, but it certainly wasn’t the case when I got there. At Grace and St. Peter’s there remains a strong faith in the mission, worshipping God, feeding the hungry, visit the sick, sheltering the homeless.

I don’t know what God has in store for Grace and St. Peter’s. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I know that the mission still matters, and like Sweet Briar College, it will continue in unexpected ways, even when many people question its relevancy for today.

February 2016

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, Caucus, Groundhog, Primary, Pancakes, Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down. It is the beginning of a new month, what looks like a busy month, a month of changes. I start off with “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”, the old invocation from childhood for a good month.

There are many hoping this will be a good month for them. This evening are the Iowa Caucuses, where our political landscape will, perhaps, become a little bit clearer. I’m not involved. It is a strange year for politics.

Tuesday is Groundhog’s day. What will we be repeating, over and over again this year? Will the groundhog see his shadow cast by all the television lights? What sort of shadow will the candidates see after the caucuses? Perhaps that is part of what will get repeated and repeated. Will it be two weeks or six weeks of additional political spectacle?

Of course, Tuesday is also the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas. This year, Easter comes early, which means Lent starts early, a week and a day after Candlemas. Next Tuesday, is the day before Lent starts. A time to clean out the cupboards and use up meat and lard before a season of fasting begins. It is a time for pancakes and carnival.

Then, the next day, we start our fasting, having ashes placed on our heads to remind us of our own mortality. Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down. On Saturday, I went to a memorial service for an old friend from Church who passed away during the most recent superstorm. I think back to the passing of my mother, a little over three years ago, during another storm. Storms and major life changes. I think of my daughter Miranda, named after Prospero’s daughter, and wonder what other tempests I have to face.

Perhaps, I should listen to more poems about wrecks, the Hesperus, the Deutschland, the Edmund Fitzgerald.

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