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Summer Reading and Listening

Yesterday, I handed in my last paper of the summer semester, so now, I have a few weeks of where I can read and listen to stuff for fun before I start reading for the fall semester. It seems like there is a lot on my list, so I thought I’d try to organize a little bit of it and perhaps draw others into a discussion about some of this.

Listening

In a few days, I’ll be heading off to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I’m listening to play lists of performers who will be there, especially those in the Emerging Artist Showcase and who will be appearing on The Lounge Stage.

Also, last Thursday was the feat of St. James the Apostle, which got me thinking about caminos. I found a podcast I’ve started listening to, The Camino Podcast. It’s worth the listen.

Preparing for Sermons, Eulogies, and Sabbath

Unfortunately, I’ll miss the Performing Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge this year because I will be at a memorial service for my father. He enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost, so I’ll be re-reading a bunch of Frost’s poems as I prepare to say a few words there. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be preaching on texts related to Sabbath. A couple of my classmates recently read Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann, so I’ve started that. Another book one of my classmates recently read is Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath by Anita Amstutz. I’ve added that to my “Want to read” list.

Poetry

As I mentioned above, I’ll probably re-read a bit of Robert Frost Hopefully, I’ll add some others into the mix, like Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sarah Kay, and maybe even some T.S. Eliot or Christina Rossetti. Suggestions are always welcome.

Dissertations and Syllabi

The reason I mention Christina Rossetti is that a friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Anglo-Catholic quality of Christina Rossetti's apocalyptic vision in The Face of the Deep”. I have that on my reading list, but I suspect I may not get to it this August. Likewise, one of my professors wrote his dissertation on Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick. He also sent me the syllabus for a course he teaches on “Theology and Liturgy in the Digital Age”. It has a great reading list I will have to explore later.

Racial Justice

A couple friends have recently mentioned books they are reading related to social justice. One person mentioned Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by by Lenny Duncan. It is high on my reading list for August. Also around racial justice is the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. These are both books that it seems would be best read in a discussion group. I’m wondering about online discussion groups, either on Goodreads or Facebook. Anyone up for such a group?

Affinity Groups Online and other reading

I recently finished reading Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) by Mizuko Ito et al. I’m especially interested in discussing this book. I’d really like to talk about it in terms of personal learning networks, faith formation networks, and the future of the church.

The idea of online reading groups around racial justice is one such place to explore this. Another would be around climate justice. There are few books on this list, like one by my Christian Ethics professor, or another that friends are talking about called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Preparing for the fall

And, when I get through all of this, assuming nothing else pops up on the list, or around mid August, whichever comes first, I’ll start reading for my fall courses. Some of those texts I’ve probably already read, and either need to be re-read, or read for the first time.

So, what are you reading?

What's My Plumb Line?

My sermon as prepared for delivery on July 14, 2019, Pentecost 10 C, at Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Hamden, CT.

You can listen to the recording on Soundcloud

O Lord, mercifully receive our prayers and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When I preached here last March, I started off with a request for forgiveness that I’ve borrowed from the Orthodox church. If I have sinned against any of you or hurt any of you in any way, known or not known, I am deeply sorry, and I ask your forgiveness. Thank you.

Let me start off today with a question. How many of you have heard the story of the Good Samaritan before? [Raise hand…Pause… look for hands] I kind of figured that would be the case. The story of the Good Samaritan has become part of the fabric of our society. As an illustration, let me tell you a story of when I was in college.

One of my classmates did a research project on whether or not reading the Bible had any effect on how likely someone is to help a person in distress. She had two groups of high school students that participated in the research. They were told they were being tested on how much they would remember of a text they were assigned to read. Half of them were given a text about some scientific information and the other half were given the story of the Good Samaritan.

After they had read the text the were told to go to a different location to take the test. On the way, they passed an actor dressed as a homeless man who would start coughing and collapse. I was that actor.

After the experience, the researcher asked me if I did the same thing each time. Some people claimed that they saw me but that I didn’t cough or collapse. Others said they didn’t see me at all. In the Gospel, we read that the priest and the Levite actually saw the person who had been attacked by robbers and quickly passed by. I suspect that many of us are more like some of those students. We don’t even see the suffering around us. We don’t see how we contribute to that suffering.

I don’t remember the details of the results of that experiment, but I seem to recall that it was something like, listening to someone speak about the story of the Good Samaritan for ten minutes didn’t really have much on an impact on people’s lives.

This leaves me with the question, what am I doing up here? Maybe we should just sing another hymn, or something. Or, maybe the reading from Amos can help us. How many of you know what a plumb line is? For those who don’t know, a plumb line is a line with a weight on the bottom to help in building straight walls.

On our first lesson, the Lord says to Amos, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people”. Taken by itself, that sounds like good news. God will set things straight. When we hear from Isaiah, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God”, it is in the context of God comforting God’s people.

But Amos is a different story. The Lord says to Amos, “the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste”. As we look at changes in the climate driving storms like Hurricane Barry onto our coast and at children of God being held in horrible conditions at our border, the doom Amos talks about may feel a little too close to home.

As I was reading the description of Amos’ audience in one of my commentaries, I was struck how similar things sound today to how they were in Amos’ time. In her commentary on Amos, Amy Erickson writes, “The audience of Amos’s message is one familiar with luxury and wealth. Amos directs his words to a society he characterizes as dominated by structural injustice.” We are a nation today, burdened by structural injustice. Erickson goes on to speak about the “deep divide between the living standards of the rich and the poor”. You see this, oh so clearly, around San Francisco where the average rent for a 800 square foot apartment is $3,612 a month and where many are homeless.

There do not seem to be easy clear answers to the problems we face. We need to think about how we can best be neighbors to the homeless, to those facing flood waters, to those fleeing violence in their native lands; to those who have fallen among thieves. We need to have serious, respectful discussions about how we live out our baptismal vows to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. It isn’t easy.

Maybe we try to address these problems be arguing with people we don’t really know on Facebook. I suspect that in most cases that is at best as effective as yet another sermon the Good Samaritan.

Amos provides a different starting point. God showed Amos “a wall built with a plumb line”. What is the plumb line in our lives? It seems as if for too many in our country right now, the plumb line is money, power, or influence. For too many, it does not seem to be about loving our neighbor, especially if that neighbor is somehow different from us, is facing tough times, or has fallen among thieves.

Isaiah tells us about God’s plumb line. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line”. Elsewhere, righteousness is spoken about in terms of concern for the poor, the widowed, and children. How are we doing at making righteousness and justice our plumb lines?

Last week, Bob encouraged us to think about what’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we should be doing going forward. We’ve done a lot of great things: Abraham’s Tent, Dinner for a Dollar, Girls Friendly Society, Vacation Bible School, Arden House, Faith Study Group, and the Older and Wiser group Are just a few examples.

These have all furthered righteousness and justice, but have we been intentional about righteousness and justice? Are there ways in which we are unintentionally thwarting righteousness or justice? Are their people who have fallen among thieves around us that we are not noticing?

As a final thought: Recently, I saw a post online in which a family is leaving church after the service and the husband is saying, “That was a great sermon on sin, I felt like the pastor was speaking directly to the man two pews in front of us.”

I hope there aren’t similar reactions to this sermon. I would like each one of us to think about our plumb lines. What is it that centers us, that drives our every action? How can we align this more closely with God’s plumb line of justice and righteousness? How can this inform our discussions going forward on what we ought to be doing as a worshipping and serving community? As we think about how we should love our neighbors, remember the words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise.”

O Lord, mercifully receive our prayers and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Personal Reflections CDSP Summer Intensive 2019 - Early Sunday Morning

It has been a very long winter and spring. I’ve done almost no personal writing since the beginning of the year. It’s been over three months since I posted here and even longer since I wrote any poetry or an ember letter. Today, however, I am on the west coast, but still on east coast time. So, I’ve gotten up early, started updating stuff online, spoke with my eldest daughter and now I am taking a moment to write.

Today is Father’s Day. I had a good chat with my eldest. However, the day is about to start, and we’ll see if I get a chance to connect with other family members. In the Episcopal Church, June 16 we celebrate the life of George Berkeley. I am celebrating by being in Berkeley, CA. Last night, I had dinner with some of my classmates. At times, I would sit and just soak it in. This is one of my happy places, surrounded by some of the people I love most in this life, talking about things that bring me great joy.

Soon, I will shower and prepare for the day; church with friends, finding some time to read, maybe even catching up on my sleep which has been thrown off by my travels. Life is good.

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Lent 3C 2019

On March 24, I preached at Grace and St. Peter's in Hamden. I've been very busy with school, life, and work, and it is only on June 16, that I'm getting a moment to post it.

You can listen to the audio on SoundCloud (Lent 3 C).

Below is the text as I prepared it.

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

As some of you may know, I sometimes worship at an Eastern Orthodox church and one of the things they do there is, at the beginning of the service, that is really like, is the priest asks forgiveness of the congregation. So, in that spirit, let me start off by saying, if I have sinned against any of you or hurt any of you in any way, known or not known, I am deeply sorry, and I ask your forgiveness. Thank you.

When Bob asked if I would be willing to preach this week, he suggested that maybe I could talk about the Lenten Study Group and what we’ve been talking about after church. I replied that I’d have to see how the scriptures appointed for today fit with what is going on in our group.

Well, it turns out that they fit together pretty nicely. A starting point for our discussions has been where we see God at work in our daily lives. Some of this comes from a discussion that took place at the faith study group sometime ago when we were reading Acts. Do miracles, like those which took place in Acts, or like Moses experienced when he saw the burning bush, take place today?

I suggested then, and I maintain today, that miracles are still happening, or to use a motto from the United Church of Christ, “God is still speaking”. One way to approach this is from one of my favorite quotes from Jewish wisdom, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed”. Let me explain by looking at the text a little more closely.

The lesson starts off, “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.” Moses wasn’t out looking for some great spiritual experience. Moses was simply doing his daily, and I imagine, somewhat tedious job. When Moses stopped to look more closely, he wasn’t looking for God. He was trying to figure out why the bush wasn’t being burned up. It is only then, when Moses stopped to look at something that seemed a little out of the ordinary in his daily life that God spoke to him.

To bring this into the present day, I work in Middletown. It is a long and tedious commute. One day, I was passing the reservoir on Route 66 and it struck me that it looked a lot like a section of Route 6 heading into Provincetown out on Cape Cod. Two similar views: one part of a tedious commute, the other part of a vacation. What if we could see the miracle of God around us all the time, and not just when we are on vacation, but also when we are commuting to work or facing tedious chores? This is a challenge I offer to each of us for the coming week. Look for the beauty of God’s creation around us in our daily lives.

Now I know some of us difficult challenges right now. If this applies to you, the sermon up until now may be enough, and you’re welcome to tune out until the final part. However, I’m not satisfied to end the sermon here as a sort of Pollyanna feel-good sermon. Sorry. Because that’s not where this week’s lesson goes. We must now look at what God said to Moses when Moses stopped to look and listen. God said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry”. Where is the misery of God’s people today? What is their cry?

The city of Beira, Mozambique was 90% destroyed by Cyclone Idai a week or so ago. The death toll now exceeds 700 and now cholera is starting to rear its ugly head. It illustrates what climate scientists have been telling us all along: As the earth’s temperature rises, the poor are going to be hit much worse than the wealthy, and it is the wealthy that contribute most to climate change. In a sense, we, through our lifestyles are contributing to the suffering of others. And we only have to look at the flooding in Nebraska and Iowa to see that it strikes close to home as well.

This is where Jesus’ words in the Gospel might apply to us today. Adapted to the current day, “Do you think that because these Mozambicans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than the rest of us? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, we will all perish as they did.”

In New Zealand, they are still grieving the mass shooting of people of God who were shot at their weekly services. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in her first address to parliament after the shootings spoke of the dead saying, “They were New Zealanders. They are us. And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.” We are gathered here to pray, just like our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand were. They are us. We all suffer because of white supremacy and deep seated racism.

So, once we stop to notice the suffering in God’s creation as well as the beauty, what do we do? God sent Moses to set his people free. I believe God is sending us to set people free today. It is much more complicated today than it was back in time of Moses, and we all know how complicated it was for Moses.

We are caught up in human systems that contribute to goal warming. We are caught up in systems that contribute to the hatred by white supremacists toward people of color. When we confess our sins after the sermon, we will start off by saying “We have sinned”. Sin is not just individual poor choices. It is also corporation actions we are part of, at times even unconsciously. We will confess that we have sinned by what we have left undone. We will confess that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Think about these words as you say them today.

I know that some of you already get this. Yesterday, I saw people from Grace and St. Peter’s share a post on Facebook that says, “You cannot love your neighbor while supporting or accepting systems that crush, exploit, and dehumanize them.”

Of course, ending here might leave us paralyzed with guilt, shame, or lack of hope. Yet that is not what happens to Moses. It is not what the Lent is leading up to. The collect acknowledges “that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves”. The Epistle reminds us that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond our strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”. I know this is not something you say to people in grief, but I do want to emphasize one part of it. One of the ways out that God provides is the love of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we rely on those around us to get us through tough times. Other times, those around us rely on us. I hope we can all be the sort of people that can rely on others and that others can rely on. And, the Gospel ends with the fig tree that hasn’t yet born fruit being cared for, nurtured, and given yet another year to produce fruit. Let’s be cared for, nurture ourselves, that we may bear more fruit this coming year.

So finally, join us for the Lenten Study Group after church to talk more about how we can produce more fruit. And this week, as we keep our eyes open for the burning bushes in our own lives, let us keep our eyes open for chances to help one another and to disrupt systems that crush and exploit our neighbors.

Amen

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