Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

Advent Musings – Uncertainty, Simplicity, and Transformation

Three words that I have been thinking a lot about as this Advent gets off to a start are uncertainty, simplicity, and transformation. Coming into Advent, I was thinking a bit about uncertainty. Recent events in my life, and in our political life has increased my sense of uncertainty.

To add to this, I’ve been listening to a recording of The Cloud of Unknowing. I am trying to live into uncertainty.

One of the Advent study guides I’ve been looking at is all about simplicity. I tend to think of uncertainty as being complex and not simple. How do uncertainty and simplicity fit together? What is simple uncertainty? Somehow, this makes me think of Zen stories. Somewhere, I have my copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones kicking around. Perhaps not the typical Advent study guide, but well worth it.

In a different Advent study, the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking about studying the Bible. A key point that he talks about is approaching the Bible with the expectation of being transformed. It seems like we should be approaching much of our studies, much of our lives, with the hope of being transformed.

So, now I’m wondering about how uncertain simplicity can lead to transformation in my life.

Advent Musings - Simplicity of Heart in an Online World

Last night, as part of my Advent discipline, I read the first section of Practicing Simplicity with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind. This reflection was on practicing simplicity with all your heart, which for the writer meant focusing on one thing at a time. In an earlier part of the introduction, they spoke of two areas of wellness in the heart, relationships: “The ability to create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others” and emotions: “The ability to process, express, and receive emotions in healthy ways.”

While I appreciate the ability to focus on one thing at a time, I do have to wonder about whether this is really part of simplicity and really part of wellness in the heart. The author expands on her thoughts about this saying, “Multi-tasking is a hallmark of our culture” and goes on to talk about smart phones, the 24 hour news cycle and the ability to quickly learn about suffering around the world.

While I recognize the importance of being in the world, but not of the world, when I read this, it sounded a lot like a digital immigrant bewailing the ways of the new culture of the digital native. If these ideas, Digital Immigrant and Digital Native are new to you, I encourage you to read Marc Prensky’s essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. While I am older than the typical digital native, I grew up with technology and find the culture of digital natives more in line with my own.

I also work in health care, and spend a lot of time focusing on “cultural competency”. We need to meet the people we interact with in the contexts of their culture. It is, to borrow from the books introduction, part of how we “create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others”. Suggesting that part of simplicity of heart means rejecting part of the new culture doesn’t sound right to me. Indeed, I’ve always loved that part of our Anglican tradition which is about translating the Good News to the vernacular.

Let me expand a little further on this. Another key essay to read is Linda Stone’s essay, Continuous Partial Attention. It describes how digital natives relate to one another.

To pay continuous partial attention … is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment.

To a digital native, this makes a lot of sense. To a digital immigrant this may sound foreign. This is not to say that we shouldn’t put down our phones from time to time. We should. We should do it very deliberately. We need to determine the right time to put down the phone, not because of some vague idea that being a live node in the network is somehow bad, but because through doing it, we can further enhance the attention we give to others.

Another key online resource to consider is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, Changing education paradigms. Listen to what he says about growing up today and pause to wonder about how this relates to focusing on one thing at a time.

As I was thinking about this, I thought about when the Lord appeared to Elijah. We hear that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the gentle whisper. I’ve often heard people suggest that this is an indication that we need to listen for God in quietness instead of in the chaos of daily life. However, it feels like this may not fully understanding the text. We need to make ourselves present to hear God in unexpected places. If you are expecting to hear God in the wind, the earthquake, or in fire, maybe you need to listen to a quiet whisper. Yet if you are expecting to hear God in the quiet, or perhaps in a symphony, or see God in nature, maybe you need to work at being more present in the chaos of daily life. Perhaps you need to be more present around the verbal altercations that take place amongst homeless men near where you were. Perhaps you need to be more present in the twenty-four hour news cycle and all the posts online, to hear God’s voice there, and connect more deeply with those we need to serve.

This response in longer than the reflection it is a response to, but hopefully it will cause people to stop and think more carefully about their relationships, both positive and negative to digital culture.

Practicing the Presence of God in Today's Political Landscape

Recently, a Facebook friend who is a priest ask his friends how he should be thinking as he prepares for this coming Sunday's sermon, the Sunday after an election that has caused such strong, polarized feeling. The first thing that came to my mind was 1 Samuel 8 where the Elders of Israel asks Samuel to appoint for them a king. It is a stern warning about looking for earthly leaders instead of heavenly leaders. It is pretty bleak, but I know it is what a lot of people are feeling right now.

Yet as an Episcopalian, I prefer sermons based on the lectionary. The appointed Gospel for this Sunday is Luke 21:5-19. It is also pretty bleak, with lines like, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven”.

Where is the Good News?

Perhaps we can find it in the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

This may not sound what many are experiencing. It may sound a little too pie in the sky, but I think there is something there.

“I am about to create new heavens”. Have you ever lived in a house that was being renovated? I must admit, I’ve never really lived through that, but I know friends who have. They struggled with sealed off rooms, sawdust everywhere, the kitchen being available and having to live off meals of bought already prepared and eaten off of paper plates in the living room. It isn’t fun, but they endure it because they believe something better is coming. As they endure it, they change. Their ability to endure difficult situations grows, their ability to understand other people who struggle daily increases.

I know many people who are very concerned about the future, perhaps less about their future, and more about the future of others, whether the others be Mexican, Muslim, handicapped, transgendered, or female. There are others who are excited, who think that finally their voice is being heard. How do we share good news with everyone? How do we lovingly comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Recently, I’ve been reading some of Brother Lawrence. The second conversation with Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God starts off:

Brother Lawrence told me he had always been governed by love without selfish views. Since he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.

Perhaps this is where the real challenge lies and the real opportunity. How do we treat those different from ourselves, whether they have different religions, different countries of origin, different ability, different gender identities, so simply just different political views? How do we model, with our words and actions, practicing the presence of God, of making the love of God the end of all our actions?
I don’t have a good easy response to this. Perhaps all I can say, all any of us can say and do is to reaffirm our baptismal vows.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God's help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God's help.

Elections, Poetry, and Prayer

For the past few months, I’ve been advocating filling social media with poetry as an antidote to much of the vitriol in the U.S. political discourse. Some friends have been sharing poetry. I especially enjoy it when they share their own poems and when the poems are focused on the beauty of the world around us.

A couple weeks ago, the American Psychological Association came out with a survey about election related stress: APA Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans. The press release makes some suggestions about dealing with the stress.

“If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption”. I get most of my news online and I try to read enough to be informed, but not enough to stress out. I try to fill my time with poetry and prayer instead.

“Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict.” There are two thoughts I have on this. First, if joining the discussion is unlikely to have an impact, which seems to be the case in most political discussions, just avoid it. However, three are times that you need to speak up, just because the voice needs to be heard.

A quote from Thomas Merton comes to mind:

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."

Indeed, concentrating on “on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself” seems key. Yet it also seems lacking in many of the discussions about the election.

“Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about.” I’ve seen people post, things like, “If you check FiveThirtyEight constantly, but aren’t phone banking or door knocking, you’re doing it wrong”. Many of my friends have travelled this weekend to battleground states to get the vote out. Pundits have said that at this point, it is all down to the ground game. The candidate that can get the most people out knocking doors will most likely win. This gives me some reassurance, but that doesn’t always work out to be the case. Door knocking gets people to the polls that might not otherwise make it. It rarely, at least in my experience, especially this late in the game, changes people’s opinions.

“Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter.” If you don’t go out and vote out of your hopes for our country, at least go out and vote as a means of relieving stress.

With this in mind, let me share a poem. My choice has probably been affected by the current political climate. Here’s an annotated version of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Here are links to various chances to pray with others for our nation and the election
Moral Revival Watch Party - A Call to Action and to Vote at New Haven Peoples Center 37 Howe St. New Haven CT, Sunday, November 6 at 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM EST

Healing the Rift: An Election Eve Vigil for the Well-Being of the Nation” at Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave, Hartford, Connecticut 06106on Monday, November 7 at 7 p.m

Election Eve Prayer Service at Church of the Redeemer New Haven Monday, November 7 at 7 PM - 8 PM EST

Prayer Vigil for the Election at Zion Episcopal North Branford Nov 6 at 12 PM to Nov 8 at 7 PM EST

Collect For an Election (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 822)
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ ...

And, a final link, Taize - Stay with me

Reflections: Poetry, Funerals, Retreat, and Convocation

It has been a long week already, and the big stuff is just about to begin. Sunday was Poetry Sunday at Christ Church Norwich. I read a poem I had written in response the readings and had a good time talking with fellow poets from around Connecticut.

In the afternoon, I received a phone call from daughter in Boston. We had a nice talk about many things, but a key reason for the call was for her to let me know that my ex-wife’s brother had died in a car accident. This came on top of my wife’s uncle’s death and the death of a long loved canine companion of a friend.

Monday was the funeral for Kim’s uncle, Joe. I was surprised to see a couple friends from other contexts there, a friend from church that used to work with Joe and a friend from town politics who is Joe’s widow’s first cousin.

Tuesday and Wednesday were days trying to catch back up at work together with preparing for and attending a board meeting about NIMAA, a medical assistant training program I am working with. It was also spent preparing for the South Central Region Convocation.

I am really excited about the convocation. The spring convocation was great and my journey to this convocation has been interesting. Years ago, I was active in the Stamford Deanery. It was a good group trying to do some good stuff, but the meetings weren’t particularly engaging.

The regions are part of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s new effort to promote inter-parish collaboration and could easily be called Deanery 2.0, but so far, they feel different, or at least the South Central Region does. Some of that may be what is going on in the Diocese’ life, some of it may be what is going on in my own life. Hopefully, all of it is Spirit filled.

A year and a half ago, I began the discernment process to get a better sense at what God is calling me to, which I believe may include ordination to the priesthood. My eldest daughter likes me to refer to this as my priestly journey. I’ve spoken with my priest, the bishops, a discernment committee, and things continue to move forward. This weekend, I will go on retreat with the bishops, members of the Commission on Ministry and others walking a similar journey. As I read about the areas I should be versed in for this journey, I stumbled across Missiology.

While, I’ve been in plenty of discussions about mission, the idea of missiology was new to me. As I sought to find out more about it, I went to the Missional Voices conference at Virginia Theological Seminary. It was a wonderful conference which I came away from hoping we could do something similar to in Connecticut. To me, the regional convocations are a step in this direction and I’ve been glad to have an opportunity to help nudge them along in that direction.

When we started planning our fall convocation, we spoke about it in terms of preparing for the annual convention that comes up in November. It sounded a lot like those meeting from vestry, to deanery, to convention, that get bogged down in talking about budgets and resolutions and too often lose sight of the underlying mission.

As a communications professional, I like to focus on the mission statement of an organization, so focusing on mission makes a lot of sense for me when thinking about convocations and conventions. Here’s what the catechism says about the mission of the Church

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

How does the convocation help restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ? How do the resolutions and budget to be considered at do this? I think by focusing on the Ministry Networks and asking how the resolutions and budge enable and empower such ministries is a good starting point.

One of the things that I really liked about the Missional Voices conference was the use of a deconstructed Eucharist. The whole conference took place in the framework of a weekend long Eucharist. Could we do something similar for convocation?

One person suggested Table on the Green as a model for doing this, so I’ve started going to Table on the Green and thought it did provide a great approach.

So the South Central Region Convocation this coming Sunday will be seeking to restore each of us to unity with God and each other in our shared ministries from different parishes by celebrating these ministries in the framework of a Eucharist and as a means of sharing ideas with one another and especially our delegates to convention about how we can work more closely together in our region and in the work of convention.

I’m pretty excited about this and I hope others are as well. If you are from the South Central Region of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, please consider coming. If you can’t come, please pray for the convocation and also pray for all of us seeking discernment with the bishops and the Commission on Ministry this weekend.

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