Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We pray, it's what we do!

Almighty God, You have left us the responsibility of this land, we call the Untied States of America.  We pray that we may always prove ourselves a people  mindful of your favor, worthy of the task, and ever discerning of your will.  Bless our land with honorable and fruitful industry, with sound learning and a respect for all human beings.  Gracious God, save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every sinful way that pulls us apart.  Defend our freedom within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.  Gracious God, help us find ways to come together, help us find ways to offer up the many gifts you have blessed us with to serve our common good.  Fill with your spirit of wisdom those to whom we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home and that by loving our neighbors as you have loved us, we may show forth your will and example among the nations of the earth.  In times of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness.  In times of fear, struggle and suffering, let us not lose our faith in you.  All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Adapted from BCP pg. 820

I have often said that it is such a blessing that we are not all alike, what a boring world that would be.  There has not been a time I can think of when that is more true than now.  The congregation that I serve is a wonderful example of that.  We gather as a people from all walks of life, varied backgrounds, life experience, and political leanings.  

Recently we lost one of the pillars of our church, Anne Leach.  As many of our parishioners shared love and reflections about her, one of our most ardent democratic members, said with such a warm and loving smile, now there is a republican I really loved.  

We gather around the word and table, that is central to our faith.  As the faith leader in this community no one would be surprised at my political leanings, but I don't preach them.  I believe that it is my call to remind us of our role in public life.  We are called as Episcopalians to engage scripture, tradition and reason, as we make our decisions. Within the context of kindness and mutual respect I have had some really wonderful conversations with those that come to different conclusions than I have. Over the years I find myself going to the Baptismal Covenant more often than not.  

"Will you seek and serve Christ in all person, loving your neighbor as yourself? "
"I will with God's help." 
"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? "
"I will with God's help."  

There is no way literally, that I or we, could do this without God's help.  I would go so far as to say, we need others in our lives as well.  We are human after all, God made us that way.  When we are able to gather together and call God, or any form of the divine to be in our midst, we can come together and know what is important, how to treat each other, how to "be" in the world.  But, as we lift our heads, gather our belongings and wander back out into the world, we come to many different conclusions as to what is best.  What is best in our towns, on our school boards, in our states and of course for our country.  

Long before I became interested in politics or even organized religion, human nature had caused this difference to create division.  The divisions are normally around areas of great passion and great need.  It is often hard to not find yourself on one side or the other.  Recently, people from differing beliefs, people from both sides of this divide, have asked me why or how could anyone believe a certain thing. We come to different conclusions and have different ideas about where to go from here.  We live in a country that allows us to exercise our freedom in many different ways. What I believe is that we are all valued, loved children of God.  So where do we go from here?  

We pray, it's what we do.  We are all passionate about different things.  I would ask us all to remember that when we think of God's law for us, we are called to; "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and the great commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." BCP, pg. 851 We will all trip up on this mission.  We will all fall short.  Our faith teaches us to dust ourselves off, or know that by Gods' grace we are loved beyond measure, and we go forth to be the version of ourselves that God most needs us to be that day.  

We pray, that's what we do.  The prayer above is adapted from the prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, For our country.  I used it in the sermon last week and have been praying with it.  The theology and meaning have not been changed, I updated some of the language and fleshed out words like liberty, heritage, obedience to thy law.  Sometimes when I pray it helps to write or type prayers out.  It helps to really wrestle with the words.  

We are each God's beloved children, born with special gifts, talents and our own story.  We all have a different lived experience and see the world through a lens like no other.  This is a blessing.  How often do we really think of it that way?  As we move forward into this new time in our country, let us remember who we are.  Let us cherish our difference, let us learn to communicate in loving and respectful ways and let us know not be pulled off track by our fear or anger.  God is with us.  God is calling us to a new time, and a new path.  God is calling some of us to be more active and more conscious of who we are and what's important.  But, as christians, we are called to pray, it's what we do! 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Harnessing our Faith!

"Because you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing."  BCP 378

It is a gray, rather dark day here.  The cold of winter is settling in and yet, there is still not much snow on the ground.  The days are approaching the shortest of the year.  In the church right now we are in Advent.  The time in our liturgical life where we begin the story again.  What does that mean?  Why would we do it over and over again?  

This year particularly, I am again reminded that each year the story is different.  Perhaps a better way to say that is that each year I hear and reflect on the story from a new place.  Hope, expectation and repentance are all words associated with this season.   Each one of these words can mean many different things to each of us.  How do they speak to you?  

Repentance is one of those words that always feels like I"m in trouble.  I need to apologize again for all I have done or not done.  These days it is usually "things left undone."  But that is not what it means.  In it's most literal meaning it is a turning, a changing of direction.  We are called to turn from those things that get in our way, that take us away from God, and turn back, turn back towards God.  How often do we get lost, lost in time, lost in relationships, lost in work?  We are facing an epidemic of addiction today that affects us all.  How can we not just go through the motions in prayer or practice?  How can we really turn towards God, to listen, to tell God what is really on our hearts?  

In the prayer above that is said during Advent just prior to our receiving Eucharist, we hear the words, "without shame or fear".   It is with the knowledge that regardless of what we have to tell God, regardless of what we either need help with or forgiveness for, that God loves us.  We have all had that feeling when it is hard to look someone in the eye.  Perhaps we have lied to them, said something unkind, or even owe them money.  Our head hangs low, our eyes look away, usually in shame or fear.  Imagine a loving hand reaching out and gently lifting your chin.  Imagine a warm, loving, accepting face looking, just at you.  Imagine.  Repent and turn to God.  

Hope is something that can come in so many forms.  This year, I have found myself really needing to dig into what it really means to me.  As children we may hope to be friends with someone.  We may hope to get a certain gift or part in a play.  As a christian, hope for me comes in the truth of the story of our faith.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Ahhh, so easy to say.  Hope for me, is the lived experience of God in my life.  The reality that over time I have come  to know and see God's hand at work in the world.  As we await the birth of love, joy, new life in the birth of Jesus, we are called to wonder what is being birthed in us?  

"Hoping does not mean doing nothing.  It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.  And hoping is not dreaming.  It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain.  It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what He said He will do.  It is imagination put in the harness of faith.  It is a willingness to let God do it His way and in His time. "  Eugene Peterson

I love the image or phrase; "imagination put in the harness of faith."  There is something about this time in my life, where I know that I need to find ways to harness my faith.  Hope is not a passive thing for me right now.  I grew up in New England, a white girl, from a good family.  We were privileged, although we didn't really know it then.  I was never concerned about health care or being able to make decisions about that care.  Education was very important in my family and I have been blessed with a great education.  I have been able to support my family and myself in ways that I am proud of.  Even during difficult times, I was able to ask for help, do what I needed to, and get back on my feet.  As a gay woman, I have not suffered overt discrimination or abuse.  I have been able to freely marry my wife, without regard of legal repercussions.  These are just a few of the rights that I enjoy each day, without ever having done one thing for them.  I am not a political person in terms of speaking out or advocating for specific things.  I continue to believe that our politics is our own business.  As Episcopalians we are called to learn, study, pray and discern what we are called to do, how we are called to vote or be active members of our community.

I am hopeful.  We are being shaken up.  We are being called to notice, really notice those things that are important to us.  How are our lives impacted by the world around us?  I have taken much for granted.  I have worried that if I spoke up I would offend someone.  I worry..........  But I can no longer be quiet.  This advent I pray to find ways to harness my faith.  This advent I pray for the wisdom of my ancestors.  The world has changed.  There will be a day when people look back at us.  We will be the ancestors.  What will we have left? How are we "striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being?"  As we are reminded in the Baptismal covenant, it is only with God's help.  This advent I pray for the courage to live into the hope and passion that God needs from me.  Let us find our voices, let us reflect, listen and learn.  Let us find our way, and find those places God is calling us to be the light.

*Above Artwork:  Marnie Baehr, Find at Coroflot .  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The colors were there all along.

"We pray for the end to all injustice.  
Inspire us with the all-embracing love of God,  
Challenge us with the sacrificial love of Jesus,  
Empower us with the transforming love of the Spirit,  
That we and all God's children may live and be free!  Amen. "  
(From The Iona Abbey Worship Book)  

It is a beautiful fall day.  The air is brisk and the sun shines through the leaves that are still holding strong to their branches.  Holding strong to their branches.   
Each fall, as the landscape just explodes with color, I find myself coming back to the truth that this brilliant color, this vibrant expression, is all part of dying. 
"As summer ends and autumn comes, the days get shorter and shorter. This is how the trees "know" to begin getting ready for winter. 

During winter, there is not enough light or water for photosynthesis. The trees will rest, and live off the food they stored during the summer. They begin to shut down their food-making factories. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves. 

As the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can't see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll. 

The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves to turn this glucose into a red color. 

The brown color of trees like oaks is made from wastes left in the leaves. 
The way plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar is called photosynthesis. That means "putting together with light." A chemical called chlorophyll helps make photosynthesis happen. Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color. 

It is the combination of all these things that make the beautiful fall foliage colors we enjoy each year." 

You may be chuckling at me, as I inquire about how and why all this works.  But there is so much great theology in this process.  There is so much hope.  Yellow, orange, small amounts of these colors have been there all along, they were just covered up.  They were there all along.... 

"Empower us with the transforming power of the Spirit." 

The love and grace of God is always there, always within us, but oh how sometimes it feels hidden.  The good news is that when we can remember that those colors of light and love are there, all we need to  do is turn to the Spirit, turn to God. 
In the last week, I have found myself needing to step away from the news, or the noise and the information that surrounds us.  To be honest, I  search out the news and the noise.  So given this, it has been really good for me to notice. Enough, breath, pray, go get some fresh air. Action is not always what it seems.  Sometimes it is holding on tightly to the branches, sometimes it is letting go. 
Each day we are being changed, transformed by the God that loves us, even when we feel unlovable We are being changed by the light that surrounds us on all sides.  Many times that light comes in the form of those that love and care for us, and those we are able to love and care for.  Perhaps the light comes on any given day, by the well loved pet that sits in your lap or at your feet.  Perhaps the light comes literally through your window, and you are present enough to notice it.  Perhaps.......  

There are times right now when it is very easy to feel as though we are in the dark.  Who can we trust?  Who is really telling the truth?  Who can we look up to?  Where is God in all this?  God is in us.  God is in the grace and wisdom that is in our communities and in our country.  We can only see and really know the light, we can only see and really know those colors, if we know the dark is part of the plan.  The darkness is not scary or "bad" for God.  We are told over and over again that we are not alone, we will have company as we walk through the valley's. 
The passion that has surfaced in the last year, particularly around the presidential campaign tells us many things.  One thing I know, is that we are being called as a people, all of us, to figure out who we are, and what we can do to make the world a better place.  We are never going to like everyone.  We are never going to agree with everyone.  People never have.  This is not a new dilemma. I would go so far as to say it is the human condition. Perhaps we are all created to bring a vast and very diverse approach to life.  

The transforming power of the Spirit comes through the story, yours and mine.  Light comes through the dark when we are able to be open to and interested in our neighbor.  Light comes through the dark when we can remember that even if we can't see or know it, there is beauty beneath all that shields it.
Sometimes the action is in the holding on, sometimes the action is in the letting go.  I encourage us all to be as informed as we can.  To vote and be active in whatever way you feel called to. 
Often it is important for me to come back to the simple and very basic truths, or guidelines.  I really believe we can be a better people if we just show up, love God and play nice.   Let us continue to long for the transforming power of the Spirit.  


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wandering is never a waste of time!!!


"Our problem - may I include you? - Is that we 
don't know how to start, how to just close our eyes and let something dance between our hearts and lips, we don't know how to skip across the room only for the joy of the leap.  We walk, we run, but what happens to the skip and its prayer, the gallop, the useless and imaginary way we could move through space, the horses we rode before we knew how to saddle up, before we had opinions about everything and just loved the wind in our faces and the horizon in our eyes."  

Steward Kestenbaum 

It seldom escapes me how seriously I take life.  Earlier in my life I tried most often to connect with people through humor.  I love to laugh.  I love to play.  I love joy.  What I find interesting, or a bummer, is that the healthier I get, the less I laugh.  YKES!!! 

We live in a time when we have so many things that seem so important.  They seem important, because they are, but we are also called to hold up and enjoy the many blessings that surround us.  

Today, I want to offer up the prayer I just found.  My favorite line is: "we don't know how to start, how to just close our eyes and let something dance between our hearts and lips."  

Today I will be the responsible adult that I am blessed to be.  But today I will also find times to wander, body, mind and spirit.  I will try to spend some time with that playful spirit that is also God given and is also me.  

What will you do today?  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Who are we?

“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. “ 
BCP pg. 815 

It is a beautiful, calm and peaceful day here in Sanbornville.  The sky is clear and the breeze is warm.  For today the humidity is gone and a gentle October breeze has taken its place.  Earlier this afternoon, I stood in the middle of our labyrinth.  My gaze faced the direction of the stone cross that looks over our property.  Gratitude was the overwhelming feeling that came over me.  Gratitude for this day, for the life I am able to enjoy this day, and for the ground on which I stood.   

As I was aware of the peace and gratitude, I was also forced to remember those that struggle in body, mind or spirit.  Those that struggle to feel as though they are loved, as though they belong, as though they have value.   We are a meaning making people. How or why does it matter that there are those in our midst that suffer?   

It matters to me because I believe that as a child of God, I am part of something far larger than myself.  As a child of God I am connected to “the other”.  As a child of God, I am called into relationship to the world around me.  The theology here is sound and good, but the implementation of this is far more difficult.  How we live, love and care for each other is much more of a challenge than most of us care to admit.   

There is an old saying, that “God isn’t done with me yet.”  It is my belief that this is true of all of us, but it is surly true for me.   What would it be like if the whole ‘being in relationship with God, following Jesus thing’; came with a warning label?  I suppose that wouldn’t be great evangelism.  But in current vernacular, it would be a transparent or honest label.  Why, you say?  Because it is not easy.  Because we are human and long for safety, security and love.  Why, you say?  Because we will make mistakes, we will hurt others, and we will be hurt.  Why you say?  Because we will be loved beyond our wildest imagination, and we will love in return.  

Who are we?  The election this year is one that causes many of us, from all directions and beliefs to feel tired, worn and weary.  For many, anger surges right under the surface.  At other times, there is a feeling of malaise or overwhelming heaviness.  Why is this so hard?   

“Paul Tillich described faith as the way in which we order our priorities.  He said that faith is an expression our “ultimate concern.”  We may have many interests, but we can only have one ultimate concern, which means that the question for religious people is whether our lives are centered in God or in something else.” 

This is a quote from John Danforth's new book:“The Relevance of Religion, How Faithful People can change Politics”.  It has taken many years for me to clarify how I order my priorities.  I in no way claim to do it perfectly, but I do know that with Gods love as my guiding principle, my life continues to reorder itself.  It has become overwhelmingly clear to me that we are born to live in community.    We are created and are formed by and with the "other".  Why do we care?  

We care because if we are present to the world around us, if we love those in our midst, if we live and grow and move in the world with God as our guiding principle, we feel deeply.  We feel deeply for those we agree with.  We feel deeply for those who don't see life the way we do.  We care deeply about the children, the future.  If we read and pray with God as our guiding principle, we know that never has there been a time when all powers and people agreed on how to approach the challenges of our world. 

As we continue to live in the world, let us remember that we are called to action as well as prayer.  We are called to vote, yes.  But when this election is over, regardless of who wins, that is when the work really begins.  We are living in a time when the gap between those with much and those with little is larger than ever.  We live in a time when we seem to scared and angry to listen to each other.  We live in a time when those of us that can have those hard and important discussions, must model that.  The Episcopal Church has a central theme called, via media, the middle way.  We live in the tension that compromise is a central tenant to relationship.  

Who are we?  We are beloved children of God.  We are all broken, wonderful, creative, individual beings.  We all come from a story like no one else.  God created us in God's image.  We are called to, in the midst of this time of confusion, anger and fear to remember that God is with us, always.  

Who are we?  We are a people that care deeply about our world.  We care about all of God's creation.  That is the harder way.  It is hard to look there.  But it is ultimately harder not to.  

Who are we?  I have come to know yet, again, that I am a person, whose life is centered around the love and blessing of God.  Who are you?