cairns me home

being still in God's big world

Perpetua the Every-Woman

The following sermon was preached at the University Chapel at Glasgow University for the Feast of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. The gospel text was John  4:1-26 (Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.)

—————–

Imagine the scene: Crowds of spectators flooding the stadium to watch the brutal torture and murder of people guilty only of faith in “the wrong God.” Wild beasts and soldiers bearing arms are set to task, tearing the martyrs apart in front of the glee-filled assembly. Sounds terrifying, but not unbelievable – which I think is the scariest part of the whole scene.

Today we memorialize the martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua – two women imprisoned in northern Africa in 203CE and put to death along with 3 male companions after their baptisms in the prison. As the lore goes, Perpetua was a widowed young mother and noblewoman who was in her catechumenate (time of study before being baptised into the faith) when she was arrested. Felicity, a pregnant servant, was arrested alongside Perpetua and is said to have given birth in prison before the sentence of death was carried out. Perpetua’s father tried to intervene several times, but each time Perpetua refused to deny her faith in order to be released.

We have record of their story by virtue of what is thought to be Perpetua’s diary. Perpetua spent her time in prison recording testimony of her faith and her visions of a miraculous life to come in Heaven.

This testimony, or diary, reminds me of another such document that we have in more modern literature – the Diary of Anne Frank. Frank, who was imprisoned in a different way – in an effort to keep her and her family safe, dreamed of a better life when she might once again be free to experience all that the world had to offer.

And further, as I think about the plight of these women: Perpetua and Anne, my mind is brought to Pakistan, and the then 15 year old girl, shot in the face by a Taliban soldier who was sent to kill her for speaking out as an activist for equal access to education for women and girls. Malala Yusafazai, now 19, lives in Birmingham and continues to fight for equal access to education. From there my thoughts travel to Syria and to Bana Alabed, the 7 year old girl who took to twitter to tell the world, 140 characters at a time, about the atrocities happening in Aleppo.

The list goes on and on and on. Throughout history, women like Perpetua have fought to get their stories out even in the face of unspeakable odds.

In our lesson from John’s Gospel we hear of one such woman, whose experience is recorded by our Gospel writer. Though her name is not preserved, as was so often the case with stories of woman in the scriptures, her encounter with the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ, illuminates for us the life changing power of meeting God face to face.

The Samaritan Woman learns from Jesus about a new type of water – of living water – that quenches the deepest thirst of our souls. She desires this water and Jesus tells her how to obtain that well of eternal life. Jesus demonstrates that he knows this woman in all ways, both her sins and her virtues, yet instead of condemning her, he tells her how she might be atoned. He offers her a path to a better life instead of condemning her to death by beasts or gas chambers or Taliban fighters or cluster bombs. Jesus reaches out his hand in love and offers the Samaritan woman another way.

What would happen if more people responded to difference the way Jesus does in this story?

The fact that this woman is a Samaritan matters. Many of us likely remember the story of the “Good Samaritan.” A man is beaten and robbed and left for dead by the roadside. A priest and then a Levite (both presumably good, Jewish men) pass by the man, crossing the road to avoid an encounter. But then a Samaritan comes by, stops, and takes the beaten man away to safety.

The Samaritans practiced a form of Judaism that was outside of the mainstream and was considered unorthodox and blasphemous. Thus, the Samaritans were often thought of, in biblical times, as a crowd worshiping the wrong way and thus not people you wanted to fall into company with.

So, who are the Samaritans today?

I guess it depends on where we are looking: In the US the Samaritans would probably be the illegal immigrants who are being rounded up and deported without due process or they might be the Muslims who are being denied entry to the US simply because of the God they worship. In Britain, the Samaritans might be those who voted for, or against, Brexit – depending on what side of the political arena one finds ones self. They might be the immigrants wondering how long they will be welcome here after we leave the European Union. In Glasgow the Samaritans might be the Protestants, or the Catholics, once again, depending on which side of sectarianism one finds oneself.

There are Samaritans everywhere we go – who they are is determined by where we live.

In many places, the Samaritans are the women who are striving to get their stories out into a world where gender is still a major factor when considering what rights an individual is entitled to.

Today we commemorate Perpetua and Felicity for their strength and courage in the face of a world that not only sentenced them to death, but also a world where it is a miracle that any account of their lives still exists.

We relate to their story because women are still fighting to be heard today.

Whether it is women who were condemned for having too many husbands in biblical times (when the reverse would have been perfectly acceptable) or women who have the audacity to expect the right to be educated in modern middle eastern society, the rights of women and men are still different. But what we take from today’s lesson, is that in the eyes of God we are entitled to equality not only in this life, but in the life that is to come. The Living Water is equally available to all who seek its nourishment.

The Feast of Perpetua and Felicity is unique not only because we have an early record of the visions and dreams Perpetua experienced during her captivity and because of the recorded accounts of the peace and “ecstasy” she and her companions experienced as they were put to death, but also because the record of this occasion is the written account, authored by a woman, that survived against all odds in a place and at a time when the written accounts of woman were destroyed and cast off as heretical. Today we celebrate the lives and legacies of these two women – as they represent the every-woman.

Our call today is to look out and see where we find Samaritans in this world and to seek to give them voice. Our call today is the same as it has always been, to be the hands and heart and voice of Christ in this world and to proclaim the existence of a God of love who desires to uplift and hold close the hearts of all human beings – regardless of the markers that divide us – because we were all created in God’s own image. Our call today is to follow in the bold and brave footsteps of Perpetua and Felicity; to tell the truth, come what may, all the while seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

 

Guidelines for Living

A sermon for Epiphany 4, Year A 2017

Preached at St. Margaret’s, Renfrew

Gospel Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Let me tell you about my day yesterday – it was a rough one. We’ll start from midnight, because that is roughly when I arrived home from the airport after a few days away. It took forever to fall asleep because my dog just couldn’t settle in. At 4am – the dog started barking maniacally. I tried to soothe him – then the doorbell rang. A young woman was knocking to point out that I’d locked my keys outside in the front door to my house. I took the house and car keys inside and headed back upstairs to try to get more sleep – it did not come.

In the morning I’d planned to drive to Ayrshire to drop off a birthday present for a friend. Since we’d be near the beach I thought it would be nice to take my puppy for a run by the seashore. As I packed the car, the phone rang and a contractor who we were expecting to come on Monday to finish some work on the house called because he was on his way and couldn’t find us. Ugh. So we delayed leaving so the contractor could come 2 days early.

We finally loaded up the car, drove to the coast, bought a present, and dropped it with my friend who was home and invited us in for tea. After an hour of tea and sympathy, my husband, dog and I went out to the car to head to the beach for what would now be a very short walk before the sunset. As we pulled away from the curb something loud and metallic made a bang and the steering on the car went heavy. We drove slowly the 4 blocks to the beach, with a terrible sound coming from the front end of the car. I threw the ball for Alasdair in the sand for a few minutes while Chris looked at it.

We got in the car and I urged Chris to drive to Kwik Fit rather than starting the hour drive home. We got to Kwik Fit at 415 and after a long wait they diagnosed us with an un-drivable vehicle. From there we walked, in the pouring rain, with the dog to the train station a mile away. Took a train to Central, another train to Anniesland, and then, finally, Chris’ dad drove us home. We arrived home last night at 9pm.

Then I read the news – legal residents of the United States were being sent back to their countries of origin, without a chance to plead their case because of where they were born. Syrian refugees, living in camps in Turkey, learned that after years of waiting and vetting processes to start a new life they would have to wait longer because of where they come from. A vet student from the Glasgow Uni Vet School can’t get home after vacation because she is not allowed to fly through New York since her passport is Iranian – it doesn’t matter that she is also a UK citizen. Families are being torn apart, hope is being taken away, and all of this because of our fear of the stranger. — Oh, and a goalie from Shettleston relieved his bladder behind his goal and got a red card…

In light of what is happening elsewhere in the world, my day seems a little easier than at first glance.

The dean of the seminary where I studied liked to say that Westerners are a people who like to “feel persecuted.” When we have a hard day or a frustrating encounter we externalize it and feel put upon. We take things so very personally that when encountering real persecution we struggle to know how to respond. As Christians, we are blessed to have literal written instructions reminding us how to respond in our Holy Scriptures.

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In this section, which we know as the Beatitudes, which are so well known that they seem a poetic piece of literature rather than an instruction manual for living. They feel unattainable, while being something to aspire to. We often break them up and look at them one at a time in an attempt to try on “bite sized pieces” of them since taking them as a whole seems too challenging. We will leave that to the modern saints around us like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, or Desmond Tutu. They can’t possibly be for all of us.

And yet, they are. Jesus did not intend these instructions to be an impossible bar – he meant them as an instruction manual for living. They can be the outline for our rule of life if let go of our very Western need for perfection and instead focus on the biblical perspective from the prophet Micah to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

The Beatitudes offer us an alternative way of living. They invite us to a life of simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion.

Just this past week, Pope Francis spoke in response to US President Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the US from majority Muslim countries in the context of the beatitudes. He said that one cannot be a Christian and deny the rights and needs of refugees around the world – this is spelled out for us in the beatitudes. These simple yet extraordinarily challenging invitations are the hallmark of what it means to be a Christian.

For us in the Scottish Episcopal Church they are as relevant now as they were 2,000 years ago when Jesus first spoke them. In the past few weeks, our cathedral has been showered with hatred since inviting our Muslim brothers and sisters to share in the Feast of the Epiphany with us as a form of interfaith cooperation. Additionally, Glasgow has long been plagued with Sectarianism which often prevents ecumenical cooperation from collaboratively addressing the needs in our communities. And I say all of this while recognizing that my accent betrays my status as “other” in this context where we find ourselves. I can say “us” and “we” all I want, but I fully acknowledge and recognize that I’ve only been here 9 months and there is still so much for me to learn.

We are small, but we are mighty because we are a people who love justice. The Scottish Episcopal Church has a rich history of working for justice and peace and our call today is the same as it ever has been – our call is to be a church of the beatitudes. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Even when we feel like our voice is too quiet or our hands are too small. This is the purpose of our MAPing process. We are called to create Mission Action Plans that put justice and outreach at the centre of our communal life together. It is our mission as a church to live into the beatitudes.

In light of everything else happening in the world, I’d like to take another stab at telling you about my Saturday: After the blessing of 5 days in the sun, I went to bed late because my puppy was so excited to see me. A good Samaritan saved us from having our cars stolen or house broken into when she ensured we brought our keys safely inside the house. A contractor, who is often someone we complain about being late or unreliable, turned up early and did some work we’ve been needing done. My friend got his birthday present and a smile on his face. By the grace of God, our car broke, not while we were on the highway, but while slowly pulling away from the curb, only a few miles from a garage who will fix it on Monday and we were not hurt. Because of the public transportation infrastructure in this great nation, we were able to get home with only minor inconvenience. And I ended my day with a nice cup of tea, a warm bath, and finally slept safely in my bed at the end of it all.

When I look at it like that, I have a whole lot more energy to remember and speak out for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and persecuted. When I remember that my Saturday, while inconvenient, was actually a fine and potentially amusingly long day, I can also remember that when Jesus promised that comfort will come to those in need – He is talking about comfort not only from God, but God’s comfort that comes through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the hands and heart and voice and love of God moving on this earth here and now.

We are the collected body of Christ, called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour –

Our gay, Muslim, catholic, atheist, Jewish, poor, drug addicted, grief-stricken, persecuted, Tory, Labour, SNP, Liberal, UKIP

Neighbour as ourselves.

It can seem entirely overwhelming when we look at the news and consider what our tiny hands and small congregations can do to help – but when we remember that each voice joining together forms a chorus we can remember that together, “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

 

Love Will Win

One of my favorite people in the world wrote to me asking for help with how to pray about the unthinkable tragedy in Orlando today. Here is the response I sent to her and that I have for anyone who is struggling with that question:
 
Prayer is not a passive response as we so often experience in the hollow words we hear in response to a horrific and malicious hate crime like this. Prayer is action – prayer is being the literal hands and feet and voice and heart of Christ living and acting in the world.
 
Mr. Rogers (stay with me) said we should look to the helpers in times like these if we want to find God. I would like to go a step further – we need to BE the helpers.
 
My prayers today started with Eucharist, and will continue as I give blood, call my senators, and REFUSE to be silent. I am so angry – and I don’t get angry. Sadness is my usual response. But I am mad. I am so mad that we live in a country where this is now “normal.”
 
But underneath that anger is an extreme fear. This man committed a hate crime. The media still won’t “confirm” that – but let’s be clear. This man walked into a known gay nightclub after a 2+ hour drive with the express plan to murder beautiful, innocent, LGBTQ children of God. There is no excuse, mental illness or otherwise, that can talk that away.
 
As a lesbian woman I cannot imagine the fear and sadness that stirs in you. That is the place from where my anger most comes. I am sitting next to Tricia’s wife Lisa watching President Obama. It is unthinkable to me that ANYONE could hate Lisa, Tricia, Andrew, Chett, Thomas, You, or anyone else. I believe God is distraught that the world God made has been so defiled by the choices humans have made.
 
So how do we pray?
 
1. We cry. Our tears mirror the waters that were present at the beginning of the world and the waters through which we were baptized. Today’s Gospel lesson was about tears: One of the religious officials invited Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the religious guy’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was eating in the religious official’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind Jesus at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment… The story goes on to find the religious official saying the “sinful” woman should be embarrassed and ashamed and Jesus turns it around to point out that the cleansing tears of this woman and her generous hospitality was a selfless act of love that washed her clean. The religious official offered no such welcome. Our tears are prayer and those who claim to speak for God do not always represent the Love God so desperately wants to share with us.
 
2. We mobilize. This is a justice issue. The gay community deserves to feel safe when they walk in the sun, dance in a club, work, play, love, and live. All people, including all Americans, deserve to go about their lives without the constant fear they will be murdered. Our prayer becomes action when we refuse to be silent until common sense gun laws are passed.
 
3. We give blood. We give hugs. We refuse to live in fear. As Christians we know that death died through the waters of baptism. The Resurrection promises Hope in the face of unconscionable evil. We have looked into the face of evil today, and as Christians we believe that Love will win.

How Long, O Lord?

In just the last few weeks there have been horrific terrorist attacks in Maiduguri, Nigeria; Ankara, Turkey; Istanbul,  Turkey; and Brussels, Belgium; and, I am sure, several other places which were not deemed worth of media coverage.  My heart is broken each time I hear of these attacks. I feel small and inadequate each time I hear the news and then go about my day. What are we to do? How are we to help? Ignoring the pain is not the answer; nor is making it about our fears and inadequacies.

Our Gospel passage on Sunday featured the famous verse in which Jesus tells the Pharisees that if his disciples were to stop shouting out that Jesus was the “King who has come in the name of the Lord” their silence would only mean that “the stones would shout out.”

refugee stones 2

Stone art depiction of the Syrian Refugee Crisis by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Bader (نزار علي بدر)

When the Paris attacks happened the world took notice. We changed our profile pictures to the Eiffel Tower as a peace sign and the French flag. We were Charlie. We shouted out for justice until those 5 minutes were past. But as attack after attack happens we become dulled to the pain and feel helpless in our warm homes a world away.

I don’t know how we can help aside from using our voices. We can unite with those who are hurting. We can cry out to our political leaders and let them know we won’t stand for this violence. We can cry out to God who cries with us:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Opportunity to Choose – a sermon for the first Sunday in Lent

There was recently a social experiment shared through a video online.  Forregret one full day a chalk board hung on a fence in NYC with the question: “What is your biggest regret?” written across the top. Throughout the day passersby were invited to take a piece of colored chalk and write their regret on the board. No one was interviewed; the organizers never even learned the names of those who wrote those intimate thoughts on the board. At the end of the video they highlighted that a majority of the “regrets” started with the word “not” – they were chances not taken, paths left unexplored, etc… The board was littered with what ifs…[1]

I found the video interesting and shared it to see what response it might get from others in my circles. A high school classmate engaged the question and asked another in response: What if the question they explored was phrased as a positive rather than a negative? What if they asked folks what they didn’t regret in life? Would they get the path that lay opposite from the “regret?” The path that was taken?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.[2]

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where, for forty days, he was tempted by the devil.” (John 4:1-2a)

Did Jesus regret the road not taken?

We learn in our Gospel lesson for this morning that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan immediately after his baptism in the River Jordan. This marks the beginning of his ministry and I can’t help by think that Jesus might have hoped for a better “first assignment.” What other opportunities were in front of him at the time? What did he have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to the Spirit’s leadership?

That’s the thing, isn’t it: Life is full of choices. In order to backpack Europe for a year after college one has to forego the internship at the prestigious company that will set you up for the future. In order to stay home caring for the ailing parent one has to pass up the opportunity to finally have an empty nest after 18 or more years of a full house. In order to become what we are called to be we have to make a hundred choices a day – and sometimes we will wonder what would have happened if we went the other way.

Once Jesus enters the wilderness his time of decision-making is far from over:

  • Turn these stones into bread or starve.
  • Deny God and have kingdoms, realms, and power handed to you.
  • Prove your worth by doing as I say or be called a coward.

Even after Jesus “passes” every test, the last line of our passage says the devil only “departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) This implication that these trials were not the end of Jesus’ temptations on earth fly in the face of what is commonly assumed about Jesus – that he was immune to temptation in his ministry after the desert trials. But if we look to the Jesus of our scriptures: sometimes angry or hot headed, expressing frustration, retreating for communion with God – we find that our Lord was truly fully human AND fully God – he faced the temptation of decision-making just as we do.

When we come to the divergent paths in the woods we always must make a choice – it won’t always be a cut and dry, right vs. wrong decision. There are many times that we must choose between two good things. There are times when we must choose between the known and the unknown. There are times when we must chose between action and inaction; silence and busyness; companionship or desert times. Lent is a season when we choose to make choices aimed at bringing us in closer relationship to God – saying no to distraction and yes to spiritual practices. Why is it that we need a season of invitation to do this?

Probably because the temptation is too great and we need an annual reboot to remind us to: turn our hearts away from sin and towards our God. (Acts 3:19)

As we talk about turning our hearts we cannot forget that today is Valentine’s Day. But rather than making each of you a construction paper heart edged with lacy doilies, perhaps instead we should consider the life of the Saint from whom this day is set aside. There is not much reliably known about the Saint aside from the fact that he was martyred on February 14th, likely in the year 269.[3] The popular story goes like this:

vdaySaint Valentine was a Roman priest at the time when Emperor Claudius was persecuting the church in a variety of ways. Among the persecutions against the people was Claudius’ edict against the marriage of young people. Claudius believed that young soldiers in the Roman army would fight more bravely if they were not worried about wives and children back home. Thus, Claudius condemned the sacrament of marriage for all men of fighting age. Valentine believed that Claudius was overstepping his bounds and continued to marry young Christian couples in secret. Claudius learned of this and flew into a rage. He summoned Valentine who tried to convert the emperor – this further upset the emperor and Claudius ordered Valentine tortured and imprisoned to stand trial for his crimes.[4]

When it came time to stand trial, a man named Asterius was assigned his judge. Asterius’ daughter was blind and legend has it that Valentine prayed for Asterius’ daughter and she was healed of her blindness – causing Asterius to convert to Christianity. Eventually, Valentine’s trial resumed and he was sentenced to a three-part execution of beating, stoning, and finally decapitation.[5]

Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – doesn’t it?

It is rumored that the last letter Valentine wrote was to the Asterius’ daughter and that he signed it: From Your Valentine – inspiring the tradition of sending love notes to one’s significant other on Valentine’s day.

“What Valentine means to me as a priest,” explains Father Frank O’Gara, “is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that — even to the point of death.”[6]

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where, for forty days, he was tempted by the devil.” (John 4:1-2a)

Usually when we hear that someone is full of the Holy Spirit it is a time of joy, mystery, and wonder. Yet in the example of Jesus and of Saint Valentine we learn that the power of the Holy Spirit can inspire us to walk in the path laid before us, even when that road is challenging or long. The question the experiment leaders in New York City asked was wofork-in-the-roadrded in just the right way to get the answer they were seeking. If I were to do the same experiment I would ask: “How have your regrets been redeemed?”

When asked in the negative we can all come up with decisions we’ve made that we wish had gone another way – but without each of those choices we would not be who we are today. This Lenten season, we have the opportunity to be intentional about the choices we make and the pathways we follow. What will influence the choices you make?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.[7]

 

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R45HcYA8uRA

[2] The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

[3] http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159

[4] http://www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story

[5] http://www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story

[6] http://www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story

[7] The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Practice Being Interruptible

“Practice curiosity or wonder as you interact with this neighbor… Practice being interruptible.” – The New Parish by Dwight J. Friesen, Paul Sparks, and Tim Soerens

222515_10151493381074606_1023573600_nAlasdair, my pastoral care sidekick and general wonder-pup, came into my life in the fall of 2012. I’d moved back to Boston after three years at seminary and all of my friends had moved away from the city in those years I’d been gone. I got Alasdair for the companionship he’d provide, but had no idea that he’d also introduce me to the neighborhood I’d been living in for the past 6 months.

There is something about a dog that makes you approachable. All of a sudden I was meeting my neighbors. They would stop us during our walks first to pet Alasdair, and then to ask questions about where we lived, what I did, and so on. In 6 months of living in that neighborhood alone, no one had ever talked to me when I was out for a walk. I might get a polite nod if the person weren’t engrossed in their smart phone, but it was rare. We have become a population of people who are too busy to say hello. We are no longer curious about the stories we could learn simply by looking each other in the eye.

I am reading a book called The New Parish, about the idea of getting back to the organization of neighborhood parishes. The authors looked at the fact that since transportation became a “given,” people are able to engage in faith communities as consumers. If the “product” the local faith community is “selling” doesn’t meet one’s expectations they can go elsewhere. Christianity has moved from a community religion to one of personal relationship. When we start thinking of our faith exclusively as an individual venture we no longer have need of companions on the journey and we become insulated from the very human experience that God entered into in the form of Jesus.

It is in relationship that we learn about ourselves and the world around us. We become less selfish and more aware when we take a moment to step outside of ourselves long enough to see the world through the experience of another. We learn cooperation and collaboration when we are forced to live in long-term relationship with others: in good times and bad. Staying in relationship, even when it is hard, helps us to grow into the likeness of Christ. We cannot be in relationship if we allow our busyness to rule the day, preventing us from engaging with others on the journey of life with us. In this day and age when we are being pulled in every direction and told all the things we need to accomplish to be viewed as valuable we don’t have time to say hello to our neighbors – but those are the relationships which empower change. How could our lives, and the lives of those around us, improve if we “practice[d] being interruptible?”

runningI have recently restarted running after some time off for a nagging injury and persuasive laziness. When I started running three years ago it was something of which I didn’t think I was capable. I got up every morning at 5:30 to pound out a few miles. I had a very specific playlist of motivational songs with the perfect beat to encourage my pace at a healthy rate that was neither too fast nor too slow. I could not run without those headphones, it would be impossible. I passed numerous strangers on the bike path each day, never saying hello to a single one. As I restart my practice I’ve learned to run without music which not only allows me to hear the sounds of the city and the voice of God, it meant I could hear when Ed, my 94 year old neighbor, shouted “Way to go!” as I trotted by this morning. I stopped to give him a smile and return the greeting before setting off again, and my day is better for it.

 

The Interim Priest’s Address to the 49th Annual Meeting

1 corI want to begin by thanking each and every one of you. This has been a challenging year for Saint Dunstan’s. Beloved staff members have departed, some parish members have taken a break from participation, and the path towards calling a new rector has felt long and challenging. All of this may be true, but through all of this change and uncertainty something beautiful and important has remained the same – you, all of you in this room, and others in our community who could not be with us today, have remained committed to the mission and ministries of Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church: The Spirit of Saint Dunstan’s is Strong.

When I arrived at Saint Dunstan’s on Monday, June 1st, I arrived bright and early to prepare to officiate at the funeral of founding member, Bill Dolan. Over the previous week, while still technically working full time in Winchester, I had met with Bill’s family and a few members of Saint Dunstan’s who all wanted to make sure I fully understood what an important and lovely man Bill was. I arrived at the church, a bundle of nerves. I entered the nave, where the choir was practicing, and looked around to familiarize myself. I noticed the paschal candle in the front, near the pulpit, and decided – since clearly the new girl on the first day knows best – that the paschal candle should be closer to the center. I went to lift the candle only to discover that a wrought iron candleholder that is as tall as I am is heavy! I didn’t let this deter me; I took a deep breath, bent my knees, and proceed to not only lift the whole thing, but also to spill the reservoir of water in the top all over the floor and myself. (That, my friends, is one way to introduce yourself to the choir!)

I had to laugh at myself as I realized that I had just been baptized into this ministry at Saint Dunstan’s by the paschal candle itself!

paschal candleThe paschal candle, which is the candle lit from the new fire at the Easter Vigil and which represents the light of the Resurrected Christ is used in our liturgy during Eastertide and when we celebrate certain rites in the church, such as Baptism and Burial of the Dead. One of my favorite liturgical elements of the service of Holy Baptism is when we light an individual taper from the paschal candle and give it to the family of the baptizand inviting them to, “Receive the light of Christ…”

There are so many ways that I see the light of Christ shining brightly in this place:

  • In the immaculate flower arrangements put together by Dorothy Bartlett, Sue Fitzgerald, and the members of the flower guild.
  • In the prayerful conversations between Jim Nail, Marie Nagode, Mike Jones, and Todd Young as they prayerfully and skillfully auditioned and interviewed musicians in an effort to continue, and perhaps even elevate, the tradition of excellent music at Saint Dunstan’s.
  • In the loving support Lynn Petrasch, Joanne Crispin, and the pastoral care team faithfully offer to support the sick, homebound, and grieving members of our community.
  • In the skillful facilitation of Catherine Belden has facilitated our efforts to provide supplies ensuring equal access for local families to a homemade Thanksgiving feast.
  • In the creative and collaborative new outreach effort designed by Kate Haviland and Amelia Slawsby that connected a fun local holiday tradition to those in need.
  • In the fantastic celebration at the Giannini home this past fall where friends gathered for food, fellowship, and fun.
  • In the driveway-turned-water park where B-SAFE participants squealed and delighted on a carefree Friday in Dover.
  • In the weekly dreaming and scheming done by Bill Wickham, Amelia Slawsby, Carol Chirico, Todd Young, Grant Stephen, Catherine Belden, and Joanne Crispin as they have led us in our search for a new rector.
  • In a confirmation class prayer activity designed by Fiona Vidal-White that opened teens minds and hearts, in a brand new way, to the wonder of the Triune God.
  • In the TIRELESS advocacy of Deb Reinemann and Linda Eason who have been the very definition of faith, hope, and love as they have championed for needs and concerns of every member of this congregation, in big ways and small, on a parish, community, and diocesan level.

You are a tenacious church. You are a church that gets stuff done. You are a church with a heart for mission. You are a church with a longing for God. You are a church standing on the precipice of a crucial time in your history, and together we are going to continue walking forward in the path God has laid before us.

I have spent a lot of time over the last several months preaching about our call to be fed together at the table of the Lord and then to use that food as fuel – sending us out into service to the world. This Lent you will hear a slight alteration to that message – you are a community that needs rest and revival; rest that will enable you to “go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” You work so tirelessly to care for others, both inside and outside of this community, that it can be difficult to find the strength to accept care for yourselves. I have heard from more of you than I can count that you are tired; that you need a break.

The balance of church is that it is a cooperative structure requiring leadership and organization from within. Church is not a building, a staff, or even programs – church is a community of people coming together to share the Love of God with the world. The balance is in finding ways that participation and leadership can renew our energy rather than depleting it. The irony is, as we hear in the prayer attributed to Saint Francis, that it is “in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.” That’s why we see the Paschal candle at both baptisms and funerals.
We learn in our Gospels that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5:16) There is no shame in refueling you soul – God the creator took the seventh day to rest – and commanded us to do the same!

stained glassElizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” Like the paschal flame we receive at baptism, we must tend the light of Christ that is inside of our hearts in order to allow our colors to shine brightly for all to see. You, the people of God called to be Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, are a kaleidoscope. It is our work together over these next several weeks to see what it is that we need to put down in order to free ourselves to dance into the next era in the life of the church.

  • Most of the Rector Search Committee is unable to be with us this morning because they are out visiting candidates to become the next Rector of Saint Dunstan’s.
  • The 50th Anniversary of Saint Dunstan’s is right around the corner and the Vestry has voted to appoint Chuck DeBevoise to chair the committee that will design a number of events to help us to celebrate the history and future of this remarkable community.
  • And, as our new presiding bishop Michael Curry has told us, we are members of the Jesus Movement. If we are going to go boldly into the world sharing the love of Christ that we know in our lives, we need to make space for the Holy Spirit to buoy our hearts with Her love.

And so, as I have done once before, I am going to give each of you a stone to take home today. These stones are from mystones favorite place to “be still and know that God is God” – middle beach in Kennebunk, Maine. This stone is to represent the weight that each of us carry. This stone is a physical reminder of the burdens we bear and that God is inviting us to give up to Christ. Over the next few weeks I invite each of you to prayerfully consider what God is inviting you to personally give up: either at church, at home, at work, or anywhere in your life where there is a weight that is inhibiting your ability to dance with the Spirit. Once you’ve identified and feel prepared to truly offer that burden up to God, I hope you will bring your rock back, infused with your prayers, and place it into the bowl that will be in front of the altar throughout the season of Lent. You can bring it back any time that you want, on a Sunday or in the middle of the week. During a service or when the sanctuary is empty. We will commit these stones to the garden during Holy Week as a symbol of our fresh start and new life in Christ.

I joked two weeks ago, after watching the State of the Union address that I wanted to say in my sermon, “The state of Saint Dunstan’s is Strong.” You generously laughed at my lame attempt at political humor, but I hope you realize that the funniest part of every joke is the truth that lies therein. The State of Saint Dunstan’s IS strong: It is strong because, to paraphrase our Epistle lesson from this morning, “faith, hope, and LOVE abide; and the greatest of these is Love.”

I love you, Saint Dunstan’s. I am grateful for your faithfulness. And I cannot adequately express the great hope I perceive for this next period in the life of this small, but mighty church of God.

Learning to Read: Books for Myanmar

168176_10150171286574606_6079099_n

In January of 2011 I spent five weeks traveling around Myanmar with a group of my classmates from Virginia Theological Seminary. We were there to learn about the Anglican Church in Myanmar and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, half a world away. During our time there we visited Holy Cross Theological College in Yangon and St. Peter’s Bible School in Toungoo. We were asked to bring a few theology books in our suitcases to donate to the schools. While touring one of the school libraries I was shocked to see an entire set of Hardy Boys Mysteries. On one hand, it is nice that the students have access to a fun set of easy books to help improve their English. On the other hand, I was so sad to see that in this small, one-room library at a theological college there was room on the shelf for a set of kids mystery books. I wished the shelves were so over-flowing with theology books that other texts would be in a classroom or dorm somewhere else on site. But, as we were learning, when you live in a country like Myanmar you don’t have access to the resources we have – and you make due with the donations that come your way.

 

165365_10150171282204606_5071805_n   167978_10150171459894606_158285_n  165190_10150171445324606_6639687_n

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Fredrick Douglas

Growing up, my house was filled with books. A floor to ceiling bookcase, built by my father, was installed in our upstairs hallway and was covered with books. Books about gardening, early childhood education, theology, cooking, special education, and Irish heritage (along with several mysteries, novels, and a few romance novels) graced the shelves. There were bookcases in every room of the house – all of which were piled high.

The irony of growing up surrounded by books was, I was a kid whose dyslexia made even the idea of reading abhorrent to me. Reading made me feel stupid and angry. I hated reading so much it became a source of amusement for my friends. In seventh grade my friends wrapped my birthday present in layers of bubble wrap and duct tape. The anticipation grew as I struggled to open what must have been a magnificently cool present since they put such effort into concealing it. After a struggle that took the entire lunch period, I got into the package to discover three classic novels including the Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, and one other I seem to have blocked out. I choked back tears as they all laughed. They intended the gift to be a joke, but to me it served to highlight my insecurities about the secret I carried and which felt like a scarlet letter on my chest. (Point of clarification: I never read The Scarlet Letter. When it was assigned, like all assigned reading, I read the back of the book and a few paragraphs inside and then wrote a paper, which earned an A. I was very, very good at fooling teachers into thinking I’d completed my assigned reading.)

I did not read my first chapter book until the age of 15. And even then, the novel I chose (Forrest Gump) was one in which I could anticipate key plot points after seeing the movie with my mother. I graduated high school without having read a single assigned book. I did read chapters in history texts or excerpts from sociology – but reading an entire novel or biography? Impossible. Yet, I graduated with honors. I was convinced I was incapable of reading. I lived in a house surrounded by books I had no intention of ever reading.

Fast forward to college. I went to Wheelock College in the fall of 1999 with grand intentions to become a Child Life Specialist and to make a difference in the world. I struggled with the adjustment to college life – the workload was much more strenuous and teachers actually did notice if I didn’t do my reading. But I wanted to succeed. At the same time my mother was felled by a mystery illness so I attacked the only part of the scenario I had any control over: my work. I made an appointment with the learning center and buckled down. I read my texts and I figured out was that when I was interested, and when I employed the necessary strategies, I could read them. It took me three or four times as long as my peers, but I could read. In the spring of my freshmen year I signed up for an intermediate philosophy course about world religions and I was hooked. Philosophy became my minor. Not only had I learned how to read, I was intentionally signing up for courses that required me to read primary source documents that were more complex than anything I’d ever seen before.

In my sophomore year, my mother, the woman who loved books more than anyone else I knew, died from cancer. My world shattered – but I didn’t miss a single day of school. Mom died during Christmas break, and I was back in my dorm room in mid-January with the rest of my classmates. I graduated college, had a successful career in child life, went to seminary, and now I am a priest. All the while, books have been a source of comfort and nostalgia. In college I learned how to read for knowledge. In the summer after college, when I devoured books 1-5 of the Harry Potter series, I learned to read for pleasure. When I think about my life I realize that I truly learned to read at the age of twenty-two. And since then, I feel blessed each and every time I open a book and understand the thoughts contained in those pages. Bookshelves full of musty pages smell and feel like home. I am a priest who gleefully surrounds myself with books, floor to ceiling – in every room of the house. My books remind me of my mother and the countless hours she spent in used bookstores acquiring her treasures. They remind me of my father, who despite his own severe dyslexia, loved to read books by Patrick O’Brien, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy. I am reminded of the loving work my parents put into not shaming me for my learning challenges but covertly offering strategies to help me overcome them.

 

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis

 

During my vocational discernment I met one of my mother’s friends whom I’d never met. She told me about my mother’s own discernment about a call to the diaconate. Suddenly, all of my mother’s theology books came alive for me in a new way. She had countless books about God – many focusing on feminist theology and the roles of women in the church. Suddenly, this knowledge that my mother was discerning her own call before her untimely death at forty-three, made abundantly more sense and introduced me to a side of my mother I’d never had the privilege of knowing. My nineteen year-old self was not ready to know that part of my mom, but my twenty-seven year-old self desperately hungered for her presence.

Five years later, with a crisp new Master of Divinity in the back of my overloaded Lancer, I arrived in my new apartment following a grueling 15-hour drive from Virginia Theological Seminary. I walked into a home filled with boxes. My bed was made for me. The living room was set up. Fresh towels, soap, and shampoo waited in the bathroom. And my mother’s prized collection of religious books waited for me in her antique bookcase: A gift from my father. I have loved those books. They’ve been a blanket around my heart reminding me who I am and from where I’ve come.

 

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” – Vera Nazarian

 

As Chris and I have begun to seriously think about our impending move I’ve had to seriously look at my collection *hoarding tendencies. I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and decided to use those strategies to begin to pare down my belongings. The book’s author, Marie Kondo, suggests one-tackle books first. Oh dear. As I really considered the question of whether or not my books were bringing me joy I came to the difficult answer that they were not. Aside from Harry Potter, I did not plan to reread any of the books on my shelves. Moreover, many of the books had never even been opened. They were solid theological titles, but at this time in my life and journey I did not want to read them. I realized that my books were holding up the walls and reminding me of a happier time when I could moodily slam the door of my teen-bedroom and hear the thumping of mom’s books falling from the shelf outside. I was reminded of hours spent in the used bookstore as mom browsed the shelves. I was reminded of my dad sitting in his ugly recliner reading a novel before bed. But they were not necessary for my joy.

12108059_10154268888474606_4382198053857369767_n

After coming to that realization I initially decided I could donate them to the Virginia Theological Seminary library. I had benefitted many times in my seminary career from library book sales and I could just see the joy on the current seminarian’s faces as they purchased my mother’s books for a dollar or two. Then, I remembered those sparse library collections in Myanmar. What if, instead of enabling the hoarding tendencies of American seminarians, I found a way to actually enhance the education of Burmese college students? Could it be possible? The answer, as you’ve probably figured out, is yes. For a price, I could mail my mother’s and my b168404_10150171443704606_573547_nooks to Myanmar to the Diocese of Toungoo for them to share with the students there.

I wrote to other Myanmar “alumns” who’d visited the country with the seminary and asked for donations to help offset the cost of
shipping. Several came through and generously made the shipment possible! Once you’ve been to Myanmar and met the amazing people there and learned their stories it is impossible to walk away unchanged and this project is evidence of that.

20151020_133450 copyFinally, after months of sorting and packing, this week, I collected a lot of steps on my fitbit as I ran up and down the stairs packing over 300 pounds of books into my car. The amused post office employee asked me what I was mailing, assuming I was a Peace Corps volunteer mailing supplies to myself. When I explained he paused for a moment, looking at me seriously, before saying, “That is kind of awesome.”

It is kind of awesome. In a few (?) weeks my mother’s collection of books – all of which have hand written book plates in the front covers and the year of acquisition written inside, will be shared with students and priests in Myanmar. My parents who loved God, each other, their children, and reading will be memorialized in the form of love and knowledge being shared with our friends half a world away. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute than that.

168172_10150171453994606_2006170_n

 

 

Faith or Fear?

The following sermon was preached at Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Dover, Massachusetts on June 21, 2015. The readings for the week can be found here; the primary text referenced was the Gospel lesson of the day.

charleston AME victims

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.” – Isaiah 62:1

I have a confession to make: my heart is broken and I’ve got nothing for you this morning but raw emotion and unfinished reflections.

I wrote my sermon early this week – it was about David and Goliath – I figured I couldn’t make someone read that incredibly long text and then not talk about it. It was about the David and Goliath story and I had this great theme: you see, the dean of my seminary liked to say that we like to claim to be the persecuted ones because it’s easier to feel small than to accept that we are big and need to work towards humbling ourselves to a point that enables us to use our power for good. We’d rather claim weakness and complain than to steel ourselves, claim our authority, and work for change. I had this week in the bag.

When I led the vestry in bible study on Wednesday night about the Gospel passage I joked with them that they could rest assured I wasn’t using their reflections to write my sermon because that was already finished. I wasn’t writing on the Gospel passage.

I felt confident about my sermon. I felt inspired. And then, on Thursday morning, I woke up to learn that the night before – while our vestry was studying the Gospel together – something horrible happened to another group studying scripture in a church several hundred miles away. That group invited a stranger who walked in to join their intimate circle. After he participated in the bible study with them, he stood up and killed 9 peaceful people because of hate – pure and simple – except it’s not simple… not at all.

We live in a nation that claims to have liberty and justice for all, yet my children will not have to grow up being taught how to avoid racial profiling by our police forces. We live in a nation that claims to be the birthplace of freedom; yet we built our economy on the backs of enslaved black citizens whom we kidnapped from their homelands. We claim to be a post-racial society, but in just the last year we have learned the names Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner who join others like Tanisha Anderson, Trayvon Martin, Miriam Carey, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and countless others who have been killed for the crime of existing as black people in this free nation we call home.

I say we, because as a white woman in America today I must claim the privilege that my skin color affords me and I must chose how I will use that privilege.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus, exhausted from teaching, healing, and preaching, asks his disciples to journey to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Four of Jesus’ disciples are experienced fishermen, so when they leave the docks, with other boats nearby on the same journey, he retires to rest on a cushion in the back of the boat. Jesus has faith in his disciples to get them safely to shore, and he trusts his Father in heaven to protect them from peril.

Jesus trusts that the disciples will use their knowledge and skill to get them safely across, but when the storm comes even the experienced fishermen panic and everyone gets upset with Jesus for “falling asleep on the job.” Jesus stands, rebukes the wind and the waves, and then he challenges the disciples asking them why they are afraid – where is their faith? Jesus gives us the choice right there: will we live in fear, or will we have faith?

Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them and do nothing.”

Which do we choose?

We are called to be Christ’s body here on earth. His hands, feet, heart, and mind are in each of us and we are called to act as Christ’s instruments bringing the kingdom of God closer each day.

The families of the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson preached that Gospel for the world on Friday as one by one they stood in the bond hearing and told the young man who confessed to this brutal attack that they forgave him. They named their anger – but showed the true Gospel of Love as they professed their faith, not in the words of a creed, but in the words that echo the radical love and forgiveness enacted for us by our savior.

Jesus slept on the boat not because he didn’t care, but because he was exhausted and he trusted in the skills of his friends and the care of our God. Now it is our turn to stand up in the boat and battle the winds. We are in the midst of a storm of racism – one that our brothers and sisters of color cannot simply stand up and walk away from – they live it every day. Some days might be calmer than others – but the storm is always there. As white allies we have to choose to walk into the storm. We have to choose to batten down the hatches, patch the holes, and bail the water. We all like to claim we are the ones being persecuted for this little thing or that little thing, but when we stand in the face of real racism and persecution the temptation will come to ignore it and pretend it isn’t there.

Resist the temptation. Resist the urge to walk away. Resist the urge to go back to a life that ignores the storm we are living through.

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

They are the ones living the hard work. They are the ones living lives that some judge to be less worthy than those of white people. They are the ones who live in fear of being stopped by police based only on the color of their skin. They are the ones who have to work twice as hard to get half as much. They are the ones who are expected to explain time and time again to their white brothers and sisters that racism is real and still a problem today. They are living the hard work and now we chose: Faith or Fear? Will we join our brothers and sisters in the boat or will we leave them to fend for themselves?

The name of the church where these murders took place, ‘Mother’ Emanuel AME Church, is a reminder to us all to hold fast to the faith. Emanuel, after all, means “God with us” and “Mother” reminds us that God want to be as a mother hen protecting her chicks under her wing. So, on this Father’s Day, let’s trust that God, who is our Mother and Father, is, indeed, with us.* (Thanks to the Rev. Thomas Mousin for this reminder and image)

If we are Christians who truly believe that God is with us and we honestly believe it is our calling to follow Christ than it is time to get in that boat. Jesus is in the boat. Jesus never left the boat – and we can’t either – not until we all get to the other side – together.

Vegetables and Mindfulness

Trisha’s daughter, Lydia, in the Whole Foods. We agreed she

looks a lot like I do when I am on a juice kick.

It’s been a week since this “no food” resolution began. The plan was simple: nothing but vegetable juice for Lent. It was a cute idea. Really it was. It was also unhealthy and unrealistic. A friend mailed me a great book that arrived on Shrove Tuesday called Christ Walk: a 40-day Spiritual FitnessJourney. I started using it on Wednesday along with my ridiculous all juice no food plan. The walking has continued; the juicing has… changed.

I was thinking entirely of discipline and sacrifice when I came up with my planned Lenten practice. In the year since my dad died my healthful habits have all but disappeared. I think often about going for a run or eating a salad instead of the pasta, but then I make the easier choice. I’ve never spiraled out of control, but I have longed for the consistency that discipline brings to my life. I’ve longed for the easy connection with God that has felt more like work this past year. I started running again last fall and promptly tore my calf muscle. I have resolved over and over again to watch my dietary habits – but each time I’ve not paid enough attention.

This week of paying attention – of changing my plan each day in response to how my body feels or studies I’ve read – has shown me that my discipline was never juicing, my discipline was mindfulness in health. I feel healthier and stronger than I have in months – and that is after just a week of *almost entirely clean eating. (Sunday was tough – note to self, Sundays need more calories.) I’ve gone from a stringent attitude to one of listening. I listen to my body and my heart and in the listening I am starting to find God again.

God is in all of this. God is present in the hunger pangs and the reminder to get up and walk away from my desk. God is in the grocery store when I want ALL OF THE PRODUCE despite knowing my fridge is only so big. God is in the moments of overwhelm when I desire nothing more than to feel held.

So the new plan has been to juice during the day and then eat mindfully at night and on the weekends. Nothing is “officially” off limits, but I know what will nourish my body and what will work against me.  In a meeting with a lovely parishioner this morning I learned that she is actually doing the same thing! So we have a lunch date to swap juices coming up – and I couldn’t be more excited.

« Older posts

© 2017 cairns me home

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑