Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giving or receiving - which "gift" is easier for you?

I was reading a remarkable article by Methodist Bishop William Willimon this morning. He was differentiating between being the giver and the receiver, especially at Christmas time. He suggests that, generally speaking, people in our culture are more comfortable with giving rather than receiving. Folks like to give gifts to other people this time of year because, in Willimon's opinion, we enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent giving people...Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity." (Willimon, Watch for the Light, page 143."). He adds that "we" (I infer he means educated, somewhat wealthy to wealthy White adults) are better givers than getters not because of our generosity but because of our pride and arrogance. He concludes that such negatively reinforced generosity is completely contrary to the sort of giving the Bible describes as taking place at the very first Christmas.

I think that Willimon is correct in some ways but I don't think our holiday generosity is so much about our pride as it is about our disdain for vulnerability and receptivity. All of us possess some sense, if not a great deal of vanity. The more money that I spend on someone else's gift will make it (and me) more valuable to them. That's one way of thinking, however misguided such manipulation may be. We may also think that the quantitative value of our present is more meaningful than the value of our presence to someone. The folks at Advent Conspiracy suggest this is not the right way of thinking about generosity as Christmas draws nearer. The proper response: spend less on gifts and give more of yourself to those you love.

I'd Mary and the Baby Jesus suggest there's an equally if not more important aspect of giving vs. receiving. Mary, Jesus' mother, provides a perfect example of being a recipient rather than a giver. It's not uncommon to hear about Mary's obedience and humility. Both of those traits are assuredly true about her response to Gabriel's announcement of her selection as the mother of The Son of The Most High. However, let's look at her way of being in a different manner. Mary was an excellent recipient of God's Grace. She was willingly vulnerable to accept whatever the future held for her, God's Son, and God as well. Whatever God's will is.... she's willing to let it happen, freely, unconditionally. Would it be as easy for a 15 or 16 year-old girl to respond this way today? What about us? When God calls in this Advent Season, are we so busy shopping for someone else that we miss God's invitation to receive and share Grace rather than worldly goods?

Receiving Grace on our parts requires relinquishing control and power over the situations we confront. I think this reality is probably why many Christians speed up and stay busy during Advent, rather than slowing down and just "being." Remaining still and allowing God to be God within us requires a HUGE leap of faith in God's providence as well as an equally large dose of "Letting Go." Non-stop giving, well, this is very charitable activity but it may not necessarily be an extension of God's love as much as we desire it to be.

Bishop Willimon writes "This is often the way that God lovCome Thou Long Expected Jesuses us: with gifts we thought we didn't need , which transforms us into people we don't necessarily want to be. ...this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves for who we are, empty handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gives us a baby." (Willimon, Watch for the Light, page 149.)

I share my wishes and prayers for you that you'll live into the Grace of freely and responsibly accepting the beauty and holiness of God's presence in the dwindling days of Advent. May you find at least one opportunity each day between now and Christmas Eve to receive rather than give. Open yourself up to the living possibilities of welcoming the Christ-child into your presence with a somewhat unexpected hope that an angel will find you prepared to faithfully believe in God's surprising Love.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Considerations

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:1-3)

What do you want for Christmas? It's the timeless question that Santa Claus asks of children who sit on his lap in shopping centers from Westwood to Walla Walla. Parents similarly query children about their Christmas wishes. The kids' responses often create tension rather than pleasure. The ever-increasing cost of a 4-gigabyte iPod or an upgraded iPad tablet doesn't necessary bring the joy of Christ's birth into a family's holiday. “Things” do not necessarily remind children and adults alike that Jesus the Christ was born in the equivalent of a rural Motel-6 garage. If not, what does? It's probably fairly commonplace for a pastor or priest to bemoan the corporate and secular worlds' claims to Jesus' birthday. Yes, I witnessed Christmas decorations being displayed before All Saints' Day. Yes, I started receiving coupons for Black Friday sales in my e-mail inbox before the Thanksgiving holiday. There doesn't seem to be any means by which I can push back against the Amazons of December. However, maybe it isn't even necessary to do so if and when we come back to the question that Santa asks of children and, implicitly, that God asks of us as Advent opens before us. What do you want for Christmas this year? Advent offers 24 days to delve into the true meaning of Christ's pending arrival in our hearts and homes. What is it that we truly desire? Is it the coolest 3-D video game? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Wouldn't it be intriguing to delve even more deeply into the question(s) of our “wants?” What are we in want of as we turn on the (energy- efficient!) Christmas lights around our house? What are we truly yearning for as we invite friends and family to spend some precious time with us between now and Christmas Eve? The answers to these questions may reveal some prayerful possibilities as we trim Christmas trees or strive to find those perfect gifts for the people we love most.

A truth of Advent is this: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. (Bidden or unbidden, God is present). Jesus, the Son of God, who is born in a stable to an underemployed carpenter and a teenage mother, is going to gaze into their and our human hearts on Christmas whether we are aware of it or not. The angels of the heavenly host are not going to sing their Glorias only to rulers sitting on thrones in palaces of grandeur. They will also proclaim the joy of God's peace and goodwill to a bunch of smelly and forgotten-about shepherds camped out on a chilly night in some hills miles away from the glitter of grand houses or big city malls. You will hear their message when we offer Lessons and Carols on Dec. 18th. You will hear it again when we sing Hosanna on Christmas Eve. With any luck, the glory of their songs and the joy of Jesus Christ's birth will be really apparent to you long before then.
If God's love is indeed truly present with or without our direct invitation, this Advent Season is an opportune time to discover more deeply our lives' desires. The silence of prayer during our special Advent worship services may provide just the sacred space that you need to hear God's message as Elizabeth and Zachariah did. Some unbidden angel might approach you as you are standing in a store line or jotting down your “holiday greetings” on this year's family Christmas Card. I can't say. What I will say is this: yearn for something wonder-full between now and Christmas Day. Take time to get inside of your “wants” so that God can somehow respond to you in a way that Apple cannot. Ponder how you and we as a church can be a living example of the baby Jesus' love for his family and the world around them (and us). What do you really, really, REALLY desire for Christmas this year? May you discover these Advent answers even as Santa and his elves are busily working toward their big day and the Gospel begins to proclaim yet again The Lord's birth on Christmas Day.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dia De Los Muertes and other approaching Autumn liturgical commemorations

I was mowing the lawn at home yesterday afternoon; perhaps for the last time this calendar year. My thoughts drifted to the theme of Autumn as I cut the grass. I recalled that children will be coming to house for Halloween candy in a few days. And, All Saints Iconaround the same time, the Church's feasts of All Saints and All Souls will pass by. One of those events is a kinda big deal whereas two enduring religious practices will probably go unnoticed by the majority of people here in the United States.

It's odd isn't it? We've commercialized All Hallow's Eve without realizing that its roots reside principally in ancient and medieval religious holidays. I love chocolate about as much as anybody and it will be cool to hand out candy to the children who come to my door on the 31st. Nonetheless, I wish that we did a better job of recalling our ancestors and their customs.

The Celts Samhaincelebrated Samhain - a harvest festival marking the transition from summer to winter (light to dark). Samhain was also a time to note that the natural cycle of life around them was passing through its own moments of death. They created religious rituals so that living people would benefit from the energies of increase that lead out of death back to life. (Kondratiev, 1997).

Ancient Christians were coincidentally commemorating the lives of the martyrs who were responsible for instituting the faith as well as providing models of living for Jesus' disciples to adhere to in the own communities. Pope Gregory III instituted All Saints Day on the 1st of November when he dedicated an oratory for relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world."Dia de Los Muertos All Saints has been significant liturgical date in the Catholic calendar ever since.

Dia De Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that occurs on All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Family and friends gather to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditional activities include building private altars and consuming the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Costumes are a huge part of the festivities albeit this aspect of "The Day of the Dead" has similarly become commercialized.

Mowing the grass shouldn't probably be such a contemplative practice but living into the realities of our mortality, noticing the change of season, and offering thanks for our religious and familial ancestors should be. We will celebrate All Saints Day at St. James on Nov. 6. In the meantime, what does this Autumn Season mean to you as we pass from the long warm and muggy days of summer to the colder, shorter sunlit moments of Winter? Is there someone in your recent or distant past who profoundly impacted your life and faith. If so, how will you be commemorate their lives on All Saints or All Souls Day? Perhaps there's a family ritual that you can create or maybe you'll want to share a special kind of candy with the children who visit you in their costumes. I don't know but hopefully these autumn days will not pass you by unnoticed nor will God's immanent and loving presence be lost in the Trick or Treats either.

Blessings Along The Way,


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Religious Root Canals

I've spent the last few days pondering the roots of my family and faith. I have dwelt in coincidental moments of bliss, fear, fun, and bewilderment.

For example, we had a wonderful time this last weekend at St. James. Our OctoberBlest celebration was a huge success. The food was excellent. The gift baskets were beautiful! The fellowship was fun and fruitful. It was more than I could have expected and hoped for and reminded me of what a blessing it is to have wise and committed lay leaders and parishioners. We continued with our festivities on Sunday morning. The liturgy was really quite good if I don't say so myself and the music was superb! The choir performed a wonderful rendition of a hymn that was commissioned for the parish on the celebration of its centennial last year. We finished up with a rousing recessional singing of Lead Me, Guide Me. The tune reminded me and others of our Baptist roots. We aren't nearly as good as the Greater Fountain of Life Male Chorus but we surely enjoyed praising our Lord as best as we could.
In sum, it was a wonderful time. Our patron saint, St. James of Jerusalem hopefully would have appreciated the activities we engaged in to honor him and his outreach to the Gentiles. I pray that everything that we accomplished this past weekend may serve as a celebratory and dynamic springboard for accomplishing Jesus Christ's work, prayer, and play in the weeks, months, and years to come.

My thoughts and prayer have not only dwelt on what is happening at the parish where I serve. My mother has been ill for many weeks now. My sister, brother, other relatives, friends, and neighbors celebrated her birthday back in June. She had an automobile accident just a couple of weeks thereafter. She's been in and out of the hospital since that time. Thus, many of us have been wrestling with the difficulties of what to do as our 90-year-old mother's health and spirits are failing. It's not been easy and I'm learning about the experiences that many parishioners have shared with me when their parents' health declines and end-of-life issues surface and require immediate and strategic attention.

The best of times and the worst of times are spiritual and real-world "root canal" events in some ways. Church celebrations allow church members to recognize the difficulties of the past, the realities of the present, and the hopes for the future. We celebrate the dreams and inspiration that our ancestors have offered to us while fully knowing that our common life with one another has never been easy and often been complicated. Nonetheless we seize upon the opportunity to offer our thanks, raise money for our mission, and move forward with our faith and trust in a loving and blessed God who has brought us this far and will us and those that follow in the future even further.

On a personal level, my familial circumstances are not indifferent. We are coming to a crossroads when each and all of us will have to reconcile the realities of our paths, gather with one another to be with, and encourage one another in the uncertainties of today, and assess what steps lie ahead and should be trod. The root canal metaphor especially works in this case because family dynamics are never with wounds. Cleansing, forgiveness, and healing need to occur. Bandages, and in some cases, long term infectious, compassionate control needs to offered and received. It's intriguing in my own experience because almost all families, including mine, are in need of Jesus Christ's re-conciliatory Grace. Repentance and return to The Lord hand in hand needs to occur. Spiritual and real world root canals hurt. However the operation itself and the time thereafter provide clean and sacred moments for improved health and contentment to occur.

Each day of living seemingly provides us a palette of emotional shades to behold and belong in. How we experience God within the 525,600 minutes of each year presents the basis for the ways in which we live our lives.
For Christians, our births, our trials, our triumphs, our temptations, our turbulent times, and our times of total happiness reside in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ who came into the world so that we might experience God's love, compassion, and hope more fully with our families and churches alike.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Monday, September 26, 2011

Welcoming and Working Parishes

I'm glad to see that my "stand out" friend and blogger The Rev. Scott Gunn is back to blogging again. I've missed his work while coincidentally understanding how difficult it is to keep writing ingenuous posts while beginning a new vocational undertaking. Scott+ has been very busy, I think, getting settled at Forward Movement. Godspeed and blessings for him and his staff as they strive to transform that organization into a vibrant evangelistic 21st Century Episcopalian publisher. Their transformational mission is to "reinvigorate the life of the church and to rehabilitate its general, diocesan, and parochial work.” Scott+ possesses a much grander mission to accomplish in comparison to mine as the new Rector of St. James Episcopal Church - Westwood. He's nonetheless found the time to crank up his worthwhile blog: Seven Whole Days. He's consequently inspired me to get back to continuing my virtual quandary of the Christian life here.

I've missed my writing. I find blogging to be a cathartic and contemplative spiritual practice even as I ponder what it means to be a faithful Christian disciple, leader, preacher, and teacher. I infer that Scott+ and I both are interested in seeing that The Episcopal Church and its parishes that we serve and love will not continue to decline in membership and missionary influence in local neighborhoods and across the broader Anglican Communion. C. Kirk Hadaway suggests that there are some factors such as where our parishes are located and the demographic makeup of the neighborhoods where our churches reside that we have little control over as we accomplish the work that God has given us to do in our ministries and programmatic vineyards. (Image by Matt Glover) Nonetheless, as Scott+ points out in his most recent post; there's plenty that we do have a great deal of control and influence over as we "welcome" new and reluctant members to join us in worshipping God and proclaiming Christ's Gospel in innovative and life-giving ways. We can ensure that we indeed welcome guests when they come to visit our churches to worship with us. We can (re)learn how to practice hospitality and the care for newcomers in our midst. Scott+ wrote: "I’m not breaking new ground when I say that most congregations simply aren’t welcoming. Sure, the current members feel welcome, but that’s because they’re already in the club. If you show up as a new face, there’s often a distinct lack of warmth. When I visit congregations, I’m usually not wearing a clerical collar, so I get the same welcome that they’d give any guest. It’s usually not much of a welcome at all." Those are disquieting words but they are indicative of my previous visits to many Episcopal Churches around the country. These communities aren't unusual - it's human nature to form communities that are comfortable and often exclusionary. The truth is though, our parishes and our work as stewards apostolic Anglican stewards will indeed die if we don't embrace a different way of "being church."

I'll be honest. I've been so busy focusing on making sure that my microphone works and the acolytes are vested that I haven't placed as much emphasis on our hospitality as I should. I did do a couple of things yesterday though. I went out to the curb before our 8:00 am services and waved to drivers-by - just to say hello. I almost immediately noticed that someone had written graffiti on our church sign. That event led me to consider whether or not signs on the lawns outside of our churches are value-added. That thought led me to more ponder an even deeper question: What are the living "signs" of a "successful parish. I didn't have to look very far. They are symbolically there on the side of our buildings and inside our chancel. The cross, the altar, and the presence of Christ in communion with us and one another are the visible and "living" signs of who Jesus Christ is calling us to be.

I agree with everything that Scott is writing about in his blog and I think that there is even more for us to consider. We aren't only welcoming people to come and be with us so that our churches don't close and our dioceses decline. We're proclaiming a message that's counter-cultural to the people around us and to ourselves. One of our primary goals is to obediently and humbly follow Christ to the Cross and beyond. We don't live for our own well-being. We live for the benefit and Grace of others and the world that we live in.

Paul in the Second Chapter of Philippians writes: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," (Philippians 2: 3-5). The Cross is a symbol for our death-defying acts of compassion that we share with our guests. The altar is the symbolic and "real world" place where Christians offer their time, talents, and treasures to their faith community and The Lord they follow and serve. The fact that there are few East-facing and standing altars in Episcopal Churches expresses the fact that our altars are not only about some sort of mysterious consecratory, ritualistic acts. We now welcome younger and older people alike to share in the sacramental and liturgical work that we are doing with one another. Lastly, communion unites us with Christ and one another. Jesus the Christ is present with us every time we meet one another at the altar rail. We are fed there so that we can feed others.

Each and all of these living symbols are the basis for our hospitality and, still more, the reasons for proclaiming the faith that we share with our guests in our parishes as well as in all of the other hospitable work that Jesus Christ is calling us to do.

I will be spending more time thinking, writing (blogging), and preaching about Paul's Letter to the Philippians over the course of the next couple of weeks. I'll get to that right after tending to the graffiti. Truthfully, I'm thinking that the manner in which Paul shared Christ's Gospel with the people of Philippi is still true and "value-added" for us. The Church at Philippi began as a small prayer meeting house and grew over time until it became a large cathedral. Paul's ministry in that place to Gentiles from Italy and Greece thrived over time. It also thrived because there were active gold mines there too. Nonetheless Paul implored the Philippians (and us) to imitate Christ by pouring ourselves and our churches out for the people nearby. That's an alternative yet apostolic message that I believe will resonate with people who are searching for God as well as welcoming opportunities to make a difference in the neighborhoods, suburbs, downtown locations, and rural settings where our Episcopal parishes are established and yet to come into being.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who we eat with & why it so important

This morning's gospel is one of those texts that offers listeners numerous opportunities to reflect upon. For example, a person can focus on Jesus' denouncement of ancient Jewish purity codes. He obviously wasn't as concerned with public health issues as the Pharisees but he accurately describes where the root of human evil resides, in a person's selfish, destructive, and degrading vices. Certainly, one could also seek to unpack the basis for Jesus' rude treatment of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite women. Pastor and homiletics professor Barbara K. Lundblad properly states that ... "We’ll do almost anything to make Jesus who we want him to be. But Matthew doesn’t clean up this story. Matthew dares to give us a very human Jesus and he paints a specific picture of this woman. She is a Canaanite woman. She is not one of Jesus’ people."

The point that I became most interested with was (is) the multiple nuances around the term "Canaanite." Canaanites were the polytheistic religious inhabitants of the Levant region prior to the Israelites arrival in the land. Tyre was a cosmopolitan seaport were the Canaanites (Phoenicians) prospered and traded a variety of goods and services with people from all over the Mediterranean Basin, including a unique and costly purple Canaanite cloth. The woman that impacts Jesus' understanding of his mission to redeem humanity is much more complex than a simple peasant woman with a sick daughter. She is conceptually and practically much more dynamic than that imagery. She represents a historical group of people as well as a urban, socioeconomic individual who is vastly different than the Torah observant disciples traveling with Jesus. Her "line of work" may or may not have been suspect.

I mention all of these facts because it's apparent that the people we encounter who differ from us potentially offer the most profound and life-changing lessons for our consideration. It's tough to travel to a different place or neighborhood and comfortably interact with people. It's even more awkward when food is involved. Eating is such a life-giving human behavior and humans have inculcated all sorts of eating rituals and morals. Nonetheless, it's very easy to assume that our way of doing things, including the construction of our theologies regarding God and our "neighbors" are right when we only possess our comprehension of such doctrines and disciplines. We become much more entrenched in our ways of thinking and being when our experience is the only one that we know. Matthew literally has to move Jesus and his disciples out of Galilee and into Canaan in order to get this point across. The question for us remains, will we allow ourselves to be similarly moved.

It's become clear to me in just a couple of days that Cincinnati, is a city of neighborhoods. It's a terrific place to drive around and enjoy. I look forward to meeting people and eating food in Over The Rhine, Wyoming, and Clifton. I'm very much still a visitor. I don't know all of the various cultural nuances in this place. I'm however confident that people who live in one of these neighborhoods may not be familiar with some of the cultural particularities of people who live in another neighborhood less than 10 miles away. Apparently, mistakenly calling a "West-sider" an "East-sider" can be very detrimental to one's career or well being. It's interesting to think about how such rivalries have tormented and degraded relationships between people and groups of differing religious faiths.

The Canaanite Woman instructs Jesus and us that we can expand our perceptions of God and our own purpose a great deal when we are willing to take risks by eating and associating with someone who doesn't come from our neighborhood. We can also be a "change-agent" for others when we invite the Holy Spirit to offer the gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion that exist in our hearts. These are the Spirit's gifts which are best represented by a Christ-centered approach to life that offers communion that is invitational rather than conflictual. It's also important to remember that words often mean more than they seem, especially when they are not our own to define.

Blessings Along The Way,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reporting the News

Wow, I haven't blogged in a month. I didn't realize that it's been so long since I last posted some "news" here.

It's true that a fair amount has personally been going on for me in that time. I returned to New Jersey for a week and arranged for my household goods to be packed as well as began my "good-bye" process with friends and neighbors in Asbury Park and at St. George's By The River. My companion and I then traveled to Chautauqua for a "Brigadoon-like" week. We really had a wonderful time listening to terrific speakers such as David Ignatius and James Woolsey. Tony Campolo is a brilliant and humorous preacher. Alexander Gavrylyuk is probably the finest pianist that I've ever hear perform in person. Pink Martini is worth seeing if you ever get the chance as well. I loved all of it, especially when Howie+ and I were able to preside and preach with one another at Chapel of The Good Shepherd.

Then, it was time to come back to the "real world." I had a week where I wrapped up what has been a wonder-full, educational, and cherished time @ St. G's. There are people there that I'm sure I will not see again. Death happens regardless of where our vocations take us. There are other good and kind souls there that I pray I will spend more time with in the months and years to come. My last sermon in that place was heart-felt, emotional, and spoke of my hope that those Christians will continue to share Jesus Christ's gospel there. I love those people and believe that the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to be revealed there.

I next traveled to Cincinnati and towards my new call at St. James - Cincinnati. They are wonderful, friendly, and faithful Christians. Vacation Bible School (VBS) "Beach Blast" was a great success. I'm hopeful that that event is indicative of the energy and resources we're going to place upon our Sunday School and youth activities.
I can't wait to get started! My prayer is that we will feed people, neighbors, and one another even as God feeds us and beckons us to accomplish Christ's work, prayer, and play there. You should get to know and like these Episcopalians too, if you don't already.

Anyhow, that's most of my personal news; information that seems almost irrelevant in comparison to what's going on in the world around us. High Anxiety exists in the markets. Standard and Poors (S&P) has downgraded the U.S. debt despite a $2 Trillion dollar accounting error. The Cincinnati Reds were in a losing streak going into today's game. Seriously, the civil strife and war going on in the Middle East is very depressing. It is, as Howie+ alluded to this morning in his sermon at St. Peter's Episcopal Church - Peekskill, difficult to even pay attention to the headlines anymore.

Such indifference or denial however, does not make the headlines any less "real." The storms of life are as consequential for us as they were for the disciples in the boat on a scary early morning. Perhaps St. Peter provides us a worthwhile way to understand our best means for staying focused on what's happening, whether it be world news or personal transition. Reach out your hands to Jesus and don't be afraid to ask for help. It's impossible to avoid waves of chaos, tragedy, and desperation on the sea of mortal life. However, a person doesn't need to drown. The eternal and incarnational God is constantly present and supportive. Christians believe that Jesus Christ will never leave us "comfortless."

Belief in God, one another, and ourselves is perhaps the greatest virtue that we can possess, especially in times of ever-increasing unemployment, uncertainty, and insecurity. The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton blogged a few months ago: I know that the aphorism "If you always give, you will always have" sounds paradoxical, but I believe there is great wisdom in it. Furthermore, I believe this wisdom is the antidote - the 'honey' - to the caustic brew of fear and primal rage that have combined to pollute our cultural environment.

Giving is not only about charity. It's about letting go as well. It's about understanding that we have some degree of control over what's going on and about us. We don't always have a great deal of control though. We can't make our household goods show up exactly when we want or get the job that we've always desired. We should be grateful and generous when those events do occur. Moreover, We can believe and act as if God possesses a desirable, violence-free outcome for us and all who dwell on this planet. We can reach out our spiritual and physical hands to Jesus with the hope that he and his disciples will come to our aid. We should respond if and when we can when people seek our assistance.

The turbulent seas of life are not the end of life on this planet, at least not yet. I think that we need to set aside our fears as best as we can, climb out of the security of our boats albeit not by ourselves. There is work to be done, gifts to be shared, blessings to be received, and Jesus' eternally strong hands and heart to hold us, especially when we keep our faithful and hopeful eyes on his.

Blessings Along The Way (It's good to be back blogging :-))

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some First thoughts about Gardeners and Sowers

purple irisI was back home last week and one of the first things that I did was get over to my mom's house to say hello.
I noticed almost immediately that many of the flowers in her garden were either cut back, or gone.

My mother has grown iris, roses, and chrysanthemums since before I was a little boy. She told me that they had experienced a terrible freeze in February and some of her plants didn't make it. She had to remove some of the plants and pruned many others back, almost to the ground. It was sad for me, as I think it was for her. Nonetheless, we observed where a few of the plants were recovering in the shade of the house, even as the temperatures sky-rocketed over 100 degrees. Plants are very hearty, especially when properly tended to, and given the proper set of circumstances and care to grow.

The Prophet Isaiah writes: For as the rain and the snow

Parable of the Sower
Parable of the Sower - Earnest Graham

come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Isn't life on the whole somewhat similar to my mother's garden and Isaiah's hopes? Winters come and go. Summer arrives. The flowers or vegetables in the gardens of our lives suffer setbacks, contend with adverse conditions, and flourish when they receive proper amounts of sun, rain, and stewardship. Most days are ordinary, some are not.

We count on God through the ecological and environmental processes of life to offer us the circumstances that we need to live abundantly. Nonetheless, our gardens do not tend to their own needs in and of themselves. We must be observant and involved.

God expects us to properly receive the seeds of creation's bounty as well as to sow and distribute the fruits and vegetables of our labors. How are the irises, roses, and chrysanthemums of your Christian spirituality and faith doing. Are they well? Are you sharing the beauty of the God-given gifts with others? Don't take Jesus Christ's Grace for granted nor expect that all is necessarily well without your involvement and prayer. Most successful gardeners that I know love the work of their hands as well as the art of The Creator who initiates life in the first place. Taste and see that the Lord is good at church as well as out in the world where and when you encounter God.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A New Call in my Priestly Pilgrimage

I have some news that I would like to share on my blog. My guests can read about it here or you can click on the banner instead:

There are times in one' s Christian pilgrimage when one moves along to another community, another set of Spirit-led opportunities, and - in my case - to a spiritual and practical "home." The challenge for early Christian churches, according to Diarmaid Macculloch, was to choose between whether or not to heed the advice of wandering sages/evangelists, much like Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus or local leaders who eventually would guide liturgical practices and shape Christian doctrine. Early Christians eventually began to heed the the spiritual and pastoral guidance of leaders who abode with them in their towns and villages. This was probably the case because many of them were familiar with the presence of rabbis in their former synagogues and/or it is more comfortable and possible to form vulnerable and mutually affirming relationships with a counselor, priest, friend, and/or pastor when that person lives close by and is a member of one's own social community as well as one's spiritual community too. I certainly hope and pray that is what is taking place in my life and the life of the Christians and spiritual seekers who are the Episcopal Church of St. James in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati.

Today is, of course, our nation's Independence Day. Citizens of the United States give thanks for their liberties, including freedom of relocation within the nation's states, freedom of legal occupation, and freedom to worship God according to one's own morals, conscience, and the laws of the nation. I am especially thankful for these liberties this morning. I am likewise grateful that God invites people of faith to set out to new places and encounters with new people as part of their vocational sojourns. The author of The Epistle to the Hebrews writes:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

I have a sense of where I have been. I have a sense of where I am going. I have a sense of the freedoms I have experienced as an American citizen and Christian. I am grateful for these liberties that I have sought to protect as an Air Force officer and as an Episcopal priest. Thanks be to God, this nation's founders, Christian pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, monks, and other religious leaders who have called the nation's citizenry back to lives endorsing liberty, and justice for all. I am grateful for my call to St. James - Westwood and for the experiences yet to come.

Go REDS!~ Blessings Along The Way

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Making the Deal

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no onein Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.Matthew 8:5-13

There were a couple of stories that captured my attention on yesterday's Morning Edition. The first story was Andrea Seabrook's review of Rep. Eric Cantor's pull out from the Congressional Budget Negotiations conversations. Seabrook suggests that Cantor was unwilling to discuss tax increases or eliminations of corporate tax breaks. You can listen to the story here:
Jena McGregor points out the problem with Rep. Cantor's unwillingness to negotiate. She writes: "Here’s the way a stalemate in negotiations usually comes about. One side gives up a little in exchange for something they want. The other side gives up a little in order to get something that matters to them."

Conversely, there was another StoryCorps article about John Bryne. John shares his story of his coming out as a gay man to his High School English class. He "just wanted to be himself." He finally summoned up enough courage to reveal his sexual orientation to his students who in turn embraced him for who he was. They selected him to be their graduation speaker. It's notable to observe how John was willing to set aside his authority as a teacher in order to become a more authentic person to his students and himself. He gained a great deal in the process. You can listen to John's story here:

It's certainly more difficult in some ways to resolve a multi-trillion dollar budget than it is for a high school teacher to disclose his sexual orientation to a class of predominantly liberal high school students. However, Jesus' encounter with the Roman Centurion is informative in terms of understanding both of these "current events." It is also enlightening in terms of identifying how we might best negotiate difficult debates and life experiences in terms of letting go of power and ideology even as we receive healing and become closer to God and the people around us. The Centurion possesses all sorts of secular power. He is almost assuredly a pagan or polytheist rather than a God-fearing Jew. His relationship with his servant might even be somewhat "suspect." (that fact is not quite as evident in this Matthean version - see Luke 7: 1-10). Nonetheless, he sets aside his pride and power in order to obtain what he wants. He's willing to recognize a peasant rabbi and healer who he believes can help him obtain his objective, the well-being of his servant.

Jesus, from his ethical and theological perspectives, tends to the needs of someone who is an agent of oppression and death, not someone from within his own social and religious contexts. He does so because he recognizes that person's worth and want. Both of them give up something in order to gain something. Jesus and the Centurion each set aside their cultural, economic, political, hierarchical, social locations in order to benefit one another.

Is it too much to ask of our politicians and civic leaders to compromise for the benefit of the people, not just the corporations they serve? Does the centurion's actions guide any or all of us who on how we should approach Jesus Christ when we seek his comfort or healing? How might God respond when we chose faith over pride?

I think that political and economic differences should not be stumbling blocks for our moral behavior as people and as a nation. Perhaps the ideological divides between us are in fact too vast. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case between a Roman soldier who recognized his place in the life when he humbled himself before the Son of God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

Jesus said, 'As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near." Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. Matthew 10:7-13

I got my solstice walk in this morning, a little bit after sunrise. It was beautiful. I contemplated the aforementioned text from Matthew as I thought about where I am "at" on this longest day of the year.

I thought to myself how often I carry my "baggage" around with me. How do my past experiences enable or prevent me from extending Christ's peace to other people? What setbacks and/or moments of God's Grace have shaped me to become the person and priest that God is calling me to be and/or cause latent anxieties to emerge separating me from God's love and the presence of the people I encounter?

It's difficult to leave both worldly wealth and spiritual weight behind on a spiritual pilgrimage. Yet, that seems to be the path that Jesus taught his disciples to follow. He also told them not to starve or to throw the pearls of their discipleship to pigs. (Matthew 7:6). Life presents an inordinate amount of opportunities to extend one's "peace" to people who are yearning to learn more about God as well as experience the Risen Christ who is the source of all Christian healing and mercy.

The last few days for me have been a time of embracing the peace of others who are extending Christ's love toward me. They are thanking me for my ministries, honoring me for my efforts at St. George's. This is a time of striving to say good bye in healthy and holy ways even as they and I earnestly pray for Christ to reveal what will unfold for me this summer. The waiting and wondering is both exciting and worrisome.

I know that I shouldn't worry about my life. (Matthew 6:25) I do nonetheless. It's like participating in a series of good romantic dates. A person (me) becomes hopeful about where my relationship with God and God's people is headed and then ... I begin to fear that my peace, my gifts, my aspirations will be undesirable. My lack of faith sets in rather than understanding that Christ, through the Holy Spirit's guidance is leading me along the next portion of my pilgrimage with Jesus.

Today's conversation w/ Jesus and The Word suggests to me that I should take confidence in the hope that I am striving to extend God's peace (εἰρήνη: tranquility, harmony) to others as God is leading me to do. It's enough for today, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, for me - and perhaps for you - to pray, ponder, and believe that God is indeed continuing to work out God's plan of salvation for my (your) life as well as for others I (you) encounter under the summer sun or some where else along the road. Blessings Along The Way,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday

I’d like to break down this whole 400 years of Christian Trinitarianism theology into more accessible terms. How is God? Where and When can we actually experience and live into the truth of the Holy Trinity’s presence? What is the Essence of God?
First - God is Creative – God’s Being is dynamically unfolding in the universe as well as our lives. The Creator God is a Divinity that is beyond our understanding even while very much located within our own nature – God is the Divine Spark who, from a theological perspective has been present since the beginning, even before the beginning of time. and yet – God is as close as the very next breath that you do not command on your own.
The most profound act of our God’s creativity in human history
was to incarnate and become one of us as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ. God’s desire to be in relationship with us is so divinely devotional that God entered into this world to live and die as one of us. The almighty manifested this Divine affection through acts of compassion, justice, and sacrifice.

The Son of God chose human death and suffering as a means to redeem humanity from evil and death. Christ’s Baptism, communion, and Easter Victory over sin and death are the grace-filled means that God willingly expresses in order to connect with us.

The World urges us to look out for #1; to avoid confronting the realities of impoverished people.
Christ's resurrection reconciles us to God and to one another. Our secular lives provoke us to protect what is ours – to use violence when necessary to get our way. Christ’s death on the Cross and appearance to Mary Magdalene and the disciples on Easter teaches us that sacrificial love and Grace are how we will bring God's Reign and Peace into our world.>

Moreover, God is Relational, not oppressive. Jesus teaches us the truth of being truly Christian by teaching us the Good Samaritan, acting like the Woman who found the Lost Pearl, and understanding the profoundly inclusive nature of the Grand Banquet.

Lastly God is Spiritual – That principle sounds silly but some Christians believe that the Church is a social service agency or a ritualistic means for gathering with people who think, act, and believe like we do. Our Triune God beckons us to prayer. The Spirit’s Wind and Voice move over and around us to call us into deeper understanding of God, Ourselves, Our World and all of those needs.

A Christian cannot deeply discern the mystery of the Holy Trinity unless she or he is willing to intentionally live a life of Prayer. The Trinity’s Hospitality is understood not only through tithing but also through the gifts of the Spirit – Teaching, listening to God, preaching, singing, Painting, Laughing – all of the emotive and expressive aspects of who we are – at their best are the Spirit’s means of saying to us – God is Creative, God is Relational, and God is Yearning to abide with you so that you will become better at abiding with God and One another.

If little or any of this is incomprehensible – remember this. God is Love and Love is a Relationship. God creates because the endless joy and peace and shared life at the heart of God knows no other way to live. Jesus invites us into that relationship. Jesus is the one at the center of the Triune relationship who is at one with God and makes it possible for us to be one with them. This God who desires our relationship is constantly on a Holy and Spiritual pilgrimage to find companions to assist in perfecting the ongoing creation of the world. This Spirit, as she did at Pentecost is brooding over people as a mother hen broods over her chickens – God's Holy Sirit is fiery and yet she speaks softly to each and every one of us in particularly meaningful ways. Care to join the conversation at God's communion table>?

Blessings Along The Way

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecostal Promise

So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?' He replied, 'It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts of The Apostles 1: 6-8)

I inherently read texts like biblical passages that I desire to hold fast to my heart while subconsciously setting aside contrary or conflicting "truths." Today, I desire assurance that "All Things Work Together for Good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose." (Romans 8:28) I want to set aside any doubt that I may experience even as I observe matters occur that are and are not within my "control." I wonder if my personal experience isn't quite like the disciples experience here in the first chapter of Acts. Jesus informs them that they will receive power from God's Spirit even as he commands them to be his apostles. They went back to their room, prayed earnestly, and awaited the Holy Spirit's arrival. They didn't have precise clues about how and when God was going to act or when they would receive the assurance and evangelical tools that they needed. They waited, they prayed, and they hoped.

There's so much for me to learn there. Perhaps there is a Pentecostal promotion for you too.

The Holy Spirit came and descended upon them. God's pneuma came and filled the house that they were in. They didn't get a divine memo ahead of time. They didn't get ahead of themselves either. They patiently and prayerfully hoped that Jesus the Christ wouldn't let them down.He didn't.

The folks at (with thanks to the attentive people at St. James - Cincinnati who posted it on their Facebook page) have made the cool video that's located at the top of the page how we should be receiving the Spirit this Pentecost Season. We need to be thinking outside of the box. We need to be offering The Holy Spirit's "breath-giving" gifts whether we are consciously waiting for the Spirit's presence or acting upon the principle that the Spirit has already descended upon us.


We need to get out of our own self-doubts and trust that God is imagining great things through Jesus Christ's Gospel. Christ is being activated through Christ's body (us) to spiritually and prophetically claim that Christ's love and justice is present in our churches and neighborhood.

Blessings Along The Way,

Monday, June 6, 2011

Missionary Witnesses

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24: 45-58)

This "tweener" week from Ascension Day to Pentecost is a celebration of missionaries for Episcopalians. Holy Women, Holy Men invites us to celebrate the lives of Boniface today, Ini Kopuria tomorrow, Roland Allen on Wednesday, Columba - Thursday, Ephrem the Syrian this coming Friday, and Barnabas on Saturday.

Each one of their lives witnesses to their desire to know Jesus the Christ's spirit of wisdom. Their hearts were enlightened with the Holy Spirit's hope as they undertook their Christian callings.Their works, miracles, and sacrifices revealed the riches of God's glorious inheritance as well as the immeasurable nature of the Creator's great power for believers who are working out the Holy Trinity's redemptive and reconciling power. (Ephesians 1:16-19)

I am pondering what their lives mean for me as I daily discern how God is calling me to be better preacher and proclaimer of Jesus the Christ's gospel. Most of this week's Holy Men departed from their communities of origin and traveled to other locations to offer Christ's compassionate grace to strangers and seekers alike. They abandoned wealth and political power in most cases. They used their talents to translate and preach biblical texts. They transformed the lives of the people around them, not through intellectual prowess alone, but by building caring companionships over extended periods of time. How might I understand their talents more deeply and devotedly through Christ's Grace and presence?

I'm not sure but I'm glad for each of their examples and writings. Today I will have coffee with someone's whose spouse recently died. I will counsel a young person who needs comfort. I'll draft the parish's weekly newsletter. At some point, I'll do laundry. What missional words and works might you offer? Each one of these and thousands of other similar moments provide opportunities for Grace in between the Feast Days for me and you to be missionaries. God used the saints' experiences, their failures, their victories, their prayers for the raising up of the Church and as a benchmark for all of us to continue to seek repentance and proclaim forgiveness to people in our surrounding towns as well as to faraway lands.

Blessings Along The Way,

Monday, May 30, 2011

Have we Earned it?

Here's my sermon from yesterday:

Here's the scene from Saving Private Ryan that touches my heart so deeply.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Easter VI - Memorial Day

Tomorrow's Collect is very appropriate for both Easter-tide and Memorial Day Weekend. ...

Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen. Sunday's message from the Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus' love is constantly available to us through God's Holy Spirit. Christ's sacrificial love is the governing commandment for our daily lives. We are members of Christ's body because of his willingness to live in this world, die for our sins, and reconcile us to God and one another through his resurrection.

This year's observance of Memorial Day especially reminds us that we live in a free and democratic society. We somewhat complacently and unconsciously enjoy this holiday because of the sacrificial military service of women and men who willingly take vows to defend our Constitution. Our freedom to worship, work, pray, and play as we do is available to us because soldiers, sailors, marines, and Air Force personnel do everything from winning the war in Afghanistan through ingenuity to offering support to victims of the horrible tornadoes in Joplin, MO.

How often do we visibly and honestly express our thanks to God for Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection? On a more national plane: How many of us owe our lives in some manner or another because of the service and/or sacrifice of a military service member or veteran? All of us really. Do we return our thanks to God for the presence of Jesus Christ who is our ultimate savior and friend by caring for our neighbors in uniform, who willingly place themselves in harm's way?

It's interesting to note that less than 1% of our nation's population serves in the US Military. Tragically, current statistics suggest that more and more young servicemen and women are committing suicide than are dying in combat. Our political and theological views may vary about whether or not we should be prosecuting a war in Afghanistan. The fact that we are does not negate the principle that we as citizens of this nation promise to take care of the brave young women and men who serve thousands of miles away from home and often return to us with huge problems and no one to talk to other than a therapist once every three months or so.

Christian compassion commands us to care for our neighbors and we are presently ignoring young Veterans in my opinion. Check out this Brian Lehrer interview w/ Paula Caplan and ascertain whether or not you and your church should be doing more to listen to the stories and sorrows of our Vets. We can all learn more about welcoming them home here.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+