That day when you randomly ask God to send you a sign and one arrives -- via US Postal Service. This is a ministry I've wanted to start ever since I read about it, but getting the nerve up to start it felt like an insurmountable barrier. I wrote the pastor who started this and took him up on the offer on his website for a sign. This was a number of months ago and I had given up on it - no hard feelings, I figured he was busy! Then this arrived in the mail today. I have always loved the idea of taking church out of the buildings and into daily life and gravitate towards ministries that have this component. So offering free prayers in a coffee shop fits! The fact that I also love coffee is a complete bonus.
This week Jeff Sessions announced a "religious liberty task force." Many suspect this is a thinly veiled way to allow discrimination against LGBT folk and denial of health services to women. Given his track record it's hard to disagree. I wish I had something profound to say about this. I am torn between anger and nausea at how he continues to use Christianity to justify his prejudice and hate, giving justification for others to do the same. It is a perversion of the faith I love.
So it was no small thing that, while I was checking on the readings for this week's Sunday Mass, I was reminded that July 30 was the feast of St. William Wilberforce. William Wilberforce was an English politician in the late 18th and early 19th century and one of the leaders of the movement to end the slave trade. I learned of him first from the movie "Amazing Grace" and he was one of my top choices for the name of my oratory. Looking through the liturgical materials for the day, I stopped at the two prayers below, the collect for his feast day and the collect for social justice. There is something powerful in asking for God's grace to "fearlessly contend against evil and make no peace with oppression," and today these were the prayers that I very much needed.
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that we, following the examples of your servant William Wilberforce, may have grace to defend the poor and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Some time last week I started two Twitter accounts, a professional account and a personal account, which is when I discovered that I'm not really interested in posting short, pithy items. It's the equivalent of making small talk - all. the. time. I don't mind reading my Twitter feed to catch up on new developments in my field or to read something amusing about church life, but for the most part the conversation just isn't that interesting. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that I just haven't gotten the hang it yet, or perhaps the purpose of Twitter is small talk and sharing links to longer, more thoughtful pieces. But even that has limited appeal to me. I think in some ways what I've always liked about blogging is that one has the chance to carve out some space on the internet to create something larger than the ephemeral conversations on social media. There's not enough space to think and ruminate on Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other social media platforms. But blogs have that kind of space and the breathing room to do more than react or post the latest witticism.
What if blogging, rather than being a platform for attention or monetization, could be an outlet for creativity and testing out new ideas? Or perhaps this is what they have always been but that purpose got lost in the rush for ever growing metrics for attention and approval. So what happens if one blogs without caring about views or likes or anything else but just because it is fun and a good outlet for writing and thinking?
In my growing disillusion with Facebook and lack of overall interest in Twitter, I'm beginning to rethink my approach to social media, how I use it, what I get out of it, and what I want from my interactions on the internet. So I'd like to use this blog as creative space to think and write about whatever may strike my fancy. I'm not expecting any amazing new ideas or pieces of writing. It's exactly that kind of pressure that kills the fun in blogging and makes it a chore. This is a hobby. Let's see where it goes.
Sermon - July 22, 2018: What reading Harry Potter the wrong way can teach you about reading the Bible
The Gospel for this Sunday is the one where Jesus tells his disciples that they are now going to go to the desert to rest and pray for a bit. But then when the time comes, he completely FAILS at it. At least that's how it reads in the selection for the Gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary (Mark 6:30-34; 53-56). Go ahead - take a moment and read it. Notice something missing? Like he NEVER actually stops to rest and pray because he's too busy having to take care of all the needy people who follow him and gather wherever he goes. He's workaholic Jesus!
But if you include the missing sections (Mark 6:35-52), we have a different story.
A much bigger story -- a story of kings and prophets.
And ultimately a story about God and all of us.
Full sermon in the video below:
We've been trying to record Sunday Mass at the parish to varying degrees of success (and lack thereof!). Apparently, while the audio has improved, my sermon from last week didn't really come through. It's pretty tough to give a sermon again after the fact and I am entirely too slow a writer to come up with the full text on any kind of regular basis. So I thought I'd give a try at doing a sermon reflection, which follows the main ideas in the sermon but in an informal setting. I'm a huge fan of doing church out in the world and ministry that opens up conversation and questions about God and faith, so in some ways this feels like a variation of that theme. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Sermon Reflection - 4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)
Holy Week followed by my company's annual meeting conspired to make the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter season most definitely not unbusy, and so I found myself keeping late hours both for church as well as for my secular work. The quiet time for reading and reflection disappeared quite rapidly with the start of Easter, and now I find myself into the fourth week of Easter working to re-establish the quiet patterns of this past Lent - more reading and time with loved ones; less social medial and activity in general.
In many ways, being less busy has worked out in unexpected ways and people have stepped in to fill in gaps. In other ways, I still find it a bit disconcerting. It's odd to have this kind of time and I find myself working on finding my footing on this new ground. I've spent the vast majority of my church life as a very active lay person and much of that activity transferred over when I became a priest. But what happens now when that activity is no longer there?
I was beginning to discover some of that at the end of Lent but then I hit the busiest times of my year - first at church and then at work. So now I am back to re-establishing some of the practices from Lent and making time for reading, prayer, and family. It's not quite like starting at square one -- more like square two -- and I haven't yet figured out what projects, if any, I should be acting on instead of letting them go. My instinct at the moment is to continue to let those things go. Not because they don't matter and not because I don't want to do them, but because taking them up right now would mean letting go of other things that are more important and are just at the very beginning of development.
Palm Sunday and Holy Week have come all too quickly this year, and I find myself reluctant to enter into the upcoming week. I was reading through several Scriptural commentaries this evening to prepare for Palm Sunday. But the one thing I could not bring myself to do was read the Gospel on the Passion. I just couldn't. It's been a long, long year with a number of deaths in the parish, including the sudden death of a beloved parishioner and close family members of other parishioners, and for whatever reason, tonight all that felt all too close and reading an extended Gospel passage about a violent and humiliating death was just one thing too many. I am infinitely tired of death this year.
I've been easing into Lent this year and only now beginning to enter it in earnest. My main goal was to be less busy and have more time for prayer, reading, quiet reflection, and time with loved ones. Instead Lent began with back to back unexpected parish and family commitments which meant I was even busier than usual. Slowly but surely though Lent is beginning to take hold and instead of a sudden start at Ash Wednesday, I am finding myself easing into Lent. Days and evenings are a little less busy; there's a little more prayer; there's a bit more reading; there's more time with loved ones. I've always envisioned Lent to be a time of great effort but this year the season is less about strenuous effort and more about slow listening and gradual changes. A slow turning back towards God.
This is unfamiliar territory for me in many ways. By nature, I am a doer and prefer action. So the idea that change can be grounded in slower, less busy rhythms is a new experience. This is not the passivity of inaction, stagnation, or procrastination but something akin to the slow, quiet growth of trees.
I haven't been surprised by Lent in a long time. This is a surprise.
A number of years ago I gave up Facebook for Lent and started my first blog as an alternative. I was surprised to find myself feeling somewhat wistful on Easter and wishing that Lent could continue. It was a relief to be away for the constant stream of posts and I found that I enjoyed writing longer pieces that required more than just a pithy sentence or two. The combination of time spent in regular reflection and greater interior quiet grounded me in unexpected ways, and nothing I've done for Lent since then has had quite the same impact.
We are just about two weeks away from Lent, which makes this an excellent time to begin thinking about what I want to give up and/or take on during Lent. Currently, I am pondering giving up being busy. I read Eugene Peterson's The Unbusy Pastor about a year ago and it has stayed with me since. The time for quiet and prayer in an unrushed setting is a very real need as is the need to be able to listen. So I am considering giving up being busy for 40 days. Giving up being busy for Lent isn't as popular as giving up chocolate or Facebook but enough people have given up being busy for Lent that there are a number of websites and posts on the topic. The main question is what does giving up being busy for Lent mean exactly. All good intentions aside, the commitments I have made and the tasks that need to be done don't suddenly vanish just because I've decided to be less busy. And the cessation of large portions of work or activity is neither possible, practical, nor desirable. More importantly, I wonder if framing busy-ness as the equivalent to work creates the impression that work is "bad" and anti-antithetical to the spiritual life -- and so misses the point. Because the issue is not work per se. St. Benedict in this Rule actually mandates set times for work just as he mandates set times for prayer, and frames both, along with study and holy leisure, as necessary elements of the spiritual life. The key issue then is not work but busy-ness -- the over-emphasis and value given to activity at the expense of rest/leisure and contemplation/study. As someone who is a natural doer and who likes activity, busy-ness is an all-too-easy temptation to fall into.
So what does an un-busy Lent look like? Some of those who have tried this recommend spending 15-30 minutes a day doing absolutely nothing, refraining from saying the phrase "I'm busy," or saying "no" more often. Another writer suggests developing specific habits that lead to an un-busy life. I particularly like Peterson's idea of carving out and reserving time(s) in one's schedule as non-busy time set aside for prayer, reflection, and holy leisure. And the idea of making intentional choices of how to spend my time during Lent rather than filling the time haphazardly with the next thing that needs to be done resonates on several levels.
What about you? What are you thinking of giving up/taking on for Lent this year?
I started my first blog a number of years ago, maintained it for a while, then took it down when life got busy and I needed to focus on other things. I thought I might try my hand at writing again. When I did blog, I liked the discipline of writing longer, more thoughtful pieces. Does anyone actually blog anymore or is this terribly old school for 2018? I do like this format though. I also like fountain pens and flip phones, so perhaps I am just a sucker for obsolete technology. On the other hand, vinyl records and brick-and-mortar bookstores are making a come-back, and journaling with pen and paper is hip again. Not to mention that one can only say so much with memes, postings, and tweets -- and rarely is it edifying. So, why not blog?
In true, old-school style, I'm going to turn off the social media links on this blog. Comments are on though, so I hope you comment if you find something interesting here.