Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, May 19, 2019

It's off to Scotland, then

And, it's almost packed and ready for me as I leave on the morrow for Scotland. I'll fly into Glasgow by way of Heathrow from Philly, starting in Wicomico Airport in Salisbury, MD.

Then I'll do "touristy" things to places sacred and profane in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

On the 24th I meet my group and travel from Glasgow to Oban where we'll spend the evening. On the morning of the 25th, we travel to the Isle of Iona by private coach and ferry to and then walk to the St. Columba Hotel.

The rhythm of my days will begin and end with prayer with the ecumenical Iona Community in the historic abbey church.

The leader of our group has her doctorate in storytelling. She will share a sacred story or two about Iona and some of its sacred spots. Then, we are free to walk - alone or together, or weaving 'round each other - to enter into walking meditation and sacred exploration.

This is just my cuppa tea: Start the day with prayer and breakfast. Tell me a story. Let me walk and think and pray, with a choice to be alone or with others.

I'll come back from my walk and get a wee bit of rest and refreshment. Off I go again to walk and pray and explore until supper.

Maybe there'll be some story sharing of the day and, if all is well, some raucous laughter. A little prayer in ecumenical community to end the day and then alone to my room to reflect and read and write and sleep, perchance to dream.

The pilgrimage ends on June 2nd but I've padded the end of my trip with a few more touristy things in the Highlands to see the Loc Ness Monster which has got to be far less scary than the present state of affairs in America.

Besides, there are some distilleries there which are known to serve the finest spirits to ease the weary soul.

Being a bit of a tourist will be a way of re-entry from the sacred time of pilgrimage. And then it will be home-again-home-again-jiggidy-jig for me on June 4th.

I'm not looking for anything in particular. I don't have a Great Spiritual Quest or a Goal or a Plan. I'm not going there to lose weight or get healthy/ier - although that would be lovely and might happen anyway.

I am simply longing for the time and the space to look inward and outward, upward and downward, forward and backward, in a place where millions of others have made the same journey.

Pray for me and I'll pray for you and, by God's grace, we'll get to Scotland together in spirit.

I will carry your heart in my heart.

(Yes, watch this space for reports of my journey.)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Motherhood and The Good Shepherd

The Trouble with Sheep - And, Mother's Day
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE
May 12, 2019

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s also the Fourth Sunday in Easter which traditionally is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’. 

Mother’s Day – like Father’s Day – carries with it its own set of difficulties. For some of us, it is the pain of having lost our mothers to death.

For other’s it’s the pain of having our mothers alive but part of the relationship is, if not painful, less than satisfactory. Some of us live with regret of never having had children, while others are working hard to keep our delight at not having had children a secret so as not to be judged abnormal. 

And then there are those days when we scratch our heads and wonder why we had children at all – until, one fine day, we become grandparents and it all becomes clear.

There are lots of other complicating factors like miscarriage, stillborn, adoption, foster care, etc., but you get the gist. It’s a preaching field loaded with pastoral landmines.

Truth be told, I have never liked ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, either, but I’m feeling suddenly grateful to have to preach about good shepherds and sheep than motherhood. 

So, then, let’s talk about sheep, shall we? It’s ever so much easier than talking about mothers.

It’s not that I have a problem with Jesus as ‘the Good Shepherd.’  It’s that, if Jesus is the Shepherd, then we are the sheep. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much like being considered a dumb sheep. If I’m going to be part of the Flock of Jesus, I’d much rather be part of a flock of birds, thank you ever so much.

Let me restate that: I have never liked ‘Good Shepherd’ imagery – until – I was in England about 20 years ago and had the opportunity to talk with an actual shepherd.

I was spending the summer of 1998 in England, finishing my work on a diploma in Urban Studies at the University of Sheffield, before heading down to Canterbury where I would be attending my first Lambeth Conference.

As you may know, driving in England is a bit of a challenge – they do, after all, drive on the wrong side of the road. I’m here to tell you that they do this knowingly and willfully, having had this pointed out to them many times by both the French and the Americans. The only people the English hate more than Americans telling them how to speak English or how to drive is the French telling them anything (Right, Robert?).

At any rate, while I was at University, I drove a car. The other challenge about driving a car in England on the wrong side of the road – besides the fact that the roads are so narrow and winding and the British drive as if they weren’t – is that, when you drive in the country, you are apt to come to a full stop, right in the middle of the road, for sheep crossing.

It’s not just that you have to stop, it’s that you are at a full stop for quite some time. Ten, fifteen, oh, sometimes twenty or thirty minutes, depending on the size of the herd – and, to be perfectly honest, the attitude of the shepherd. 

That happened quite a bit when I was in Britain that summer, so I often found myself striking up a conversation with the local shepherd. Eventually, over the next few weeks, we developed something of a relationship. In the process, I got to know quite a bit about sheep.

Here’s the thing I learned best about sheep: the problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. They are decidedly not. Sheep have a very keen sense of smell. They can actually smell the new green grass and they can smell where the water is and they know how to find it. They really don’t need a shepherd to find it for them.

That’s not the problem. The problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. The problem with sheep is that they get very excited when they smell the new green grass and the water.

The problem with sheep is that they can get so excited about getting to the new green grass and the water that they don’t watch where they are going. They can trip over each other and hurt each other – especially the new little lambs. They will run into big trees or stumble over rocks. They have even been known to head over a cliff because they smelled the water and grass beneath.

As I considered what my shepherd friend was saying, the whole Good Shepherd thing began to make more sense. We’re not dumb sheep, but sometimes, we do get excited about life. 

Well, at least I do. I have been known to go running off with half-baked plans that were doomed to fail until, in prayer, Jesus sort of tapped me on the shoulder with his shepherd’s crook and said, “Hang on. Wait just a minute. Have you considered every aspect of this idea of yours?”

I was feeling a bit better about the whole Good Shepherd Sunday thing, but a question continued to nag at me. 

As luck would have it, I got a chance to ask the question of my friend the shepherd before I left.

My question to him was this: “Why is it that the sheep follow your voice and not mine? They know my voice after all these weeks, I can see that, but they follow your voice. Why?”

“Ah,” said my friend, “that’s the other thing about sheep. Not only are they not dumb, but they have a great sense of smell.”

“Well, yes, you’ve already told me that,” I said, wondering whatever any of that had to do with the price of wool.

My friend smiled and said, “You see, I smell like them. When I help with the birthing of new lambs, or when I sheer the sheep, there is a sort of lanolin that is given off. After a while, that lanolin gets under your skin. You can’t smell it, but the sheep can. They know my smell and they know that I am one of them. And so, they follow.”

And then, I got it. Like a dumb sheep finally smelling the new, green grass, I got excited and said, right out loud, “Oh, I get it! Duh! It’s the Incarnation, stupid!”

My shepherd friend, thinking that I was talking to him and questioning his intellect, got a bit startled and then distressed. I quickly explained to him that, suddenly, this passage of scripture from John’s gospel made sense to me.

We like to say that, “God came to earth and put on human flesh”. God got ‘under our skin’ the same way that the lanolin from the sheep gets under the shepherd’s skin. Ah, see? God in Christ Jesus smells like us, so when God speaks to us in the name of Jesus, we hear and recognize God’s voice. And, we follow. It was a very exciting new thought, I told my friend.

Well, I got so excited about this new insight that I tripped over a rock and fell flat on my backside. I called to the shepherd, “The problem with sheep is not that they are dumb but that they get excited, right, mate?” 

And, I started to laugh. So did my shepherd friend.

Some of the wee lambs and momma sheep came over to check me out and make sure I was okay.

“Careful now,” my shepherd friend called out. “Besides the smell of lanolin, the other way sheep know you is if they pee on you.”

I wasn’t that dumb. And, my mamma didn’t raise no fool. I got up very quickly.

Jesus said,
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

So, happy Good Shepherd Sunday! And, happy Mother’s Day!

Please join me in this prayer:

Gracious God, who got “under our skin” in the incarnation of Jesus and whose voice we hear and know and follow, on this Mother’s Day we give thanks to you for the divine gift of motherhood in all of its diversity and various forms. We ask your blessing upon all the mothers among us today; for our own mothers, those living and those who have died; for the mothers who loved us and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children and for those who have mothered the children of others and made for them a home; for all those – women and men – who have been our mothers when we needed mothering most; and for Mother Earth that gives us life and provides our sustenance. We pray this in the name of the Holy Trinity, One God, who comes to us in all the diverse ways we need God: Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Guide and Friend - and, sometimes, by your grace, as sheep and Shepherd.     


Thursday, May 09, 2019

Pilgrimage Snob

Everyone, it seems, is going on a pilgrimage.

At least, that's what it seems. At least, that's how they're advertised.

One can take a pilgrimage to Rome, Italy or Jerusalem, Israel; Santiago, Spain or Stonehenge, England; Fatima, Portugal or Iona, Scotland; Machu Pichu, Peru or Oberammergau in Bavaria.

All of these places are identified as having something about them which is "holy" or "spiritual".

Some are connected to an event or events with an established a religious story; others are "thin places" where pilgrims have traveled for centuries, drawn by the way the light dances to the charge of electricity in the air and the way their spirit is called to deeper places of thought or creativity while they are there, in that place.

Other people prefer to make a pilgrimage to places where people have been martyred, like the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed; or they walk the route from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, retracing the Civil Rights March on that "Blood Sunday" on March 7, 1965 to Montgomery.

Many Episcopalians take an annual pilgrimage to Hayneville, Alabama, to the storefront where Jonathan Myrick Daniels, then a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School and civil rights worker was martyred while saving the life of 17 year old black civil rights activist, Ruby Sales, on August 20, 1965.

These are some of the many, many varied and different ways people make a pilgrimage which is defined in Wikipedia as "a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone's own beliefs."

Last October, I went on pilgrimage, walking 167 km (103 miles) from San Sebastian to Santiago, the place where the body of St. James (Sant Iago) is interred in the Cathedral build on that site.

That experience changed my life. No joke. It also made me a self-avowed "pilgrimage snob". Or, perhaps it's not as bad as that. Maybe I'm a "pilgrimage elitist".

Nah, "snob" it is.

As I've checked into various opportunities advertised as "pilgrimage" I've come to understand what some well-intentioned souls are actually offering is a "spiritual guided tour".

Which is fine. I'm sure they can actually be spiritually satisfying. Especially for an extrovert.

But, it's not a pilgrimage. Not as I've experienced them. See also: snob.

Well, let me have a run at that again: A few years ago - okay, maybe 15 or 20, actually - I discovered, much to my surprise, that I am an introvert.

I know. Ridiculous. How can an activist and a preacher and a community leader be an introvert?

What I've learned over the years is that I am an activist and a preacher and a community leader because I am an introvert. I draw from the very deep well I am blessed to have. I have a great appreciation for silence and actively seek out opportunities for quiet contemplation and reflection.

It's also why I come home from a day of church or a protest march or a demonstration and find it absolutely necessary to take a full one hour nap. Sometimes, longer.

In order to be a "parson" - a public person - I have to draw deep from my "shadow side", as Jung would put it, which leaves me feeling exhausted and depleted.

What could be perceived by some as a strident stance about pilgrimages, and my need to protect the essential meaning of what it means to be a pilgrim, is probably best understood as coming from being an I/E NF P/J on the Myer's Briggs Scale.

Folks who can flip in and out of their Introvert/Extrovert selves are often perceived at "snobs" or "elitists" or "standoff-ish". I admit, it must be confusing to see someone who appears for all the world as a "bubbly," "enthusiastic," and "engaging" person to suddenly seem quiet and set apart and, as one person angrily described me "all into yourself."

Ah, the church can be such a loving, understanding, accepting, forgiving place. (/sarcasm//).

My first experience of a pilgrimage was actually in Thailand. I was there to visit a friend and to experience something of living in a country which couldn't be more "foreign" to me and my life as I had lived it. I didn't intend to go on pilgrimage. I just suddenly found myself on one.

Let me try to explain.

It was Makha Bucha Day, which occurs on the full moon day of the third lunar month. The third lunar month is known in the Thai language as Makha. Bucha is also a Thai word meaning "to venerate" or "to honor".

Makha Bucha marks "the four auspicious occurrences", nine months after the Enlightenment of the Buddha at Veḷuvana Bamboo Grove, near Rājagaha in Northern India, which was 2,500 years ago.

On that occasion, 1,250 Arahta - or "Enlightened Ones" (priests) - without so much as a memo, email, text or tweet much less an appointment - suddenly and spontaneously arose together and came to see the Buddha.

That was 1,250 people. Spontaneously. Let that sink in for just a moment.

When they arrived, the Buddha ordained those Arhantas as his priests and gave them principles of Buddhism - known in Thailand as the "Heart of Buddhism". Those principles are:
To cease from all evil
To do what is good
To cleanse one's mind.
On the full moon day of the third lunar month, devote Buddhists in Thailand make a pilgrimage to their local Wat or Temple. They carry a candle and a bouquet of flowers. They begin with prayers and listen to a "sermon" about the three principles of the Heart of Buddhism.

They begin their pilgrimage by walking in silence or very quiet conversation once around the Wat counterclockwise, thinking about ceasing from all evil. Then, again, they walk in the opposite direction, clockwise, meditating on what it is to do good. A final, third time, they walk couterclockwise and end their journey by cleansing their mind.

In between or at the end of each circumambulation, they spend time in the Wat, reverencing the statues of the Buddha and the Arahta whose teachings have helped people in their journey to the Heart of Buddhism.

I suppose one could liken it to a labyrinth walk, except it is much more purposeful and intense. It's also pretty amazing to see hundreds, if not thousands of people - men, women with babes walking in the darkness with their candles and flowers, everyone quietly focused on how to cease evil, how to do what is good and how to cleanse one's mind.

I made this pilgrimage and had an amazing, powerful Spiritual Awakening which I documented here.

Click on the link and read for yourself. It was pretty incredible. Life changing. Transformative.

I think this was the moment I understood in a place deep in my inner understanding the difference between a "spiritual guided tour" and a pilgrimage. When you've experience it, nothing else will do. You become an unrepentant snob.

I think this is especially true if you have any tendencies toward being an introvert.

Likewise, I suspect that an extrovert might find a pilgrimage more than a bit tedious and pointless.

Where you are - the place you find yourself - is not as important as where you've been and where you are going - because that's what makes this historic or holy place important or sacred.

It's not just what happened there but what has happened SINCE and BECAUSE OF what happened there.  It's the connection to the story - our connection, my connection - from that deep place of knowing that which is unknowable except through the sharing of stories.

The present is important but its importance is not limited by the significance of the place.  You understand, as a pilgrim, that the present is a vehicle through which one can take the lessons of the past to transform and make yourself and the world a better place.

Not perfect. Better. You understand what St. Paul said about: "It is perfected in the doing."

And, that's what makes it "sacred" or "holy".

That's why the travel to and from this place is so important.

When I was on Camino, there was time in the early morning to learn about local history as well as current events - the sort of "tour guide" part of the journey.

But, the bulk of the day - as much as half of it or 12 hours - was spent walking and considering spiritual or ethical or moral questions - or memories that touched joy or sorrow - which arose from walking many kilometers by yourself in a place where you are surrounded by the energy - felt it pulsing up from the very ground on which you walked - of millions of pilgrims who have walked this way before.

I don't know how to explain it - what words to use to describe it - except that it is transformative.

Having felt that, I've not only become a pilgrim snob, I've become a pilgrimage junkie.

I'm totally and completely hooked.

As I write this, I'm preparing for another pilgrimage the end of this month. I leave May 20th for Scotland. I arrive in Glasgow and I've padded the beginning and ending of my pilgrimage with a few days to allow for some visits to Edinborough and the Highlands.

The main pilgrimage will be on the Isle of Iona, where St. Columba reportedly brought Christianity to the island and then onto the rest of Scotland.

Our pilgrimage leader has her doctorate in Sacred Storytelling. The rhythm of the day will be to have breakfast together and then to gather to hear a Sacred Story. We are then free to explore a part of the island on our own or with a small group of friends.

We're on our own for lunch and then we can continue to explore the island on our own or to do whatever it is that nourishes our soul. We gather again for dinner and then community prayer and then it's off to bed - or, whatever it is that brings rest to the mind and the body and the soul.

This, as I have come to know and understand and appreciate it, is the ancient rhythm of a pilgrimage.

A little community with breakfast and the morsel of a story as spiritual food to begin the day.

A solitary walk for miles with, perhaps, by the working of the spirit, an unexpected, unplanned, brief encounter and, perhaps, conversation with an Anamchara - a stranger who becomes a soul friend.

And then, perhaps, the evening of sharing in community: A meal to nourish the body, the stories and laughter of the day to feed the spirit, and the deep thoughts and ideas and revelations learned along the day's path to fuel the imagination with creativity so as to sleep with pleasant dreams.

It's the balance - or the attempt to balance - solitude and community, silence and conversation, sacred and profane, familiar and foreign, present, past and future which makes the journey holy.

It's what makes it a pilgrimage and not just a "sacred guided tour" in another place.

In some ways, no matter where I am, no matter where I go, I'm still on that very first pilgrimage I took in Thailand. I am still working out in my body, mind and spirit, what it means to live a life committed to the three principles at the heart of the Buddha:
To cease from all evil
To do what is good
To cleanse one's mind.
I am drawn to this work. I am called to this work. In some way, it is the most important work I've even done in my life, affecting everything else I do in my life when I'm not actually on pilgrimage.

It's the work of Buddha but it's also the work of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, Sarah Mariam and Mary.

It's the work of the apostles and disciples of holy people, teachers, rabbis, priests, prophets, saints and martyrs of every age and place, ancient and modern, knowing and unknowing.

It's the work of every day people everywhere, no matter their race, religion, or creed.

I am not able to do this work with as much satisfaction or efficacy in the normal activities of my daily life. Neither am I strong enough to do this work on a weekend retreat or a "spiritually guided tour" in another land.

I suppose I'm just a pilgrimage snob.

Pray for me.

And, I'll pray for you.

Together, each in our own way, we'll work to cease from all evil, do what is good, and cleanse our minds so that we may be free to hear where the spirit is calling us next.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Where do YOU find the Risen Christ?

Good morning, church! Happy Easter!

Look at all of you. You look amazing in your Easter best! Okay, a few of you look like you haven’t been here in awhile. Maybe a long while. Maybe some of you are here because you were  . . . umm . . . . “encouraged” . . . . to be here? You know who you are.

I am intrigued, once again, by the Gospel report of the resurrection. 

Did you notice how many women are mentioned? There’s Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene – whom many scholars believe was not a prostitute but, actually, the spouse of Jesus – and Salome and Joanna, and “other women”. 

They had come to the tomb, bringing spices to tend to the body, as was the religious practice and tradition at that time.

They were all startled to find an empty tomb. In Luke’s gospel, which we heard this morning, two men in dazzling white clothing appear before him and say to them, 

“Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here, but has risen.” 

In Mark’s gospel, the women gather at the empty tomb and encounter a “young man, dressed in a white robe”.

In John’s Gospel account, it is Mary Magdalene alone who finds the stone rolled away. She tells the other disciples and they come, look in and see the empty tomb and then they run back home. 

But, Mary stays by the empty tomb, weeping in her confusion and grief. She, too, sees two “angels” who ask her why she is weeping. 

When she turns, she sees Jesus but at first does not recognize him. It is only when he calls her by name that she realizes that it is the resurrected Jesus standing in her midst.

So, we have these different accounts of what happened on that day that we call “Easter”. I am most intrigued that, while the women were the ones to first see the empty tomb, it is only Mary Magdalene who actually sees the Risen Jesus. 

Yet, she does not recognize him at first.

I have always been intrigued by John’s report. 

How is it that she didn’t recognize him? This is the man she knew and loved for several years. She cooked for him and ate with him, laughed with him and cried with him. She washed his feet and listened to his stories and his teachings. She wiped his brow and dried his tears. 

She followed him as he walked the road to Calvary and sat at the foot of the cross with his mother and wept as she watched him die.

How could she not recognize him?

As I’ve thought about this particular scene and the various reports of that first day of Easter, I’ve come to an understanding something about Mary’s temporary amnesia. I understand it because I recognize it in myself. I see it all around me in the world.

The resurrected Jesus, whom we call the Christ, the one Anointed by God, is all around us in the world, often standing right in front of us. 

And yet we, like Mary, do not recognize him.

Part of it is cultural, of course. We Americans are very busy people. We have been carefully taught that very busy people are very important people. And, important people simply don’t have time to stop and notice things that are not significant to the busy, important work we have to do.

I’m struck by the fact that other cultures are not like this. There are many examples but I’ll give you two. 

In Hindu culture, when two people – even strangers – greet each other, they always bow. Why would two strangers bow to one another? One may be a scoundrel and the other a thief. That’s not what matters. What they are acknowledging in each other is that there is a divine spark in each one of us. When they bow, they bow in recognition of that divine spark.

How would our world change if we did that? If we looked for and honored the divine spark that is in each of us? Just imagine. 

In South Africa, when people greet each other, they say, “Sawubona" meaning "I see you" and the response "Ngikhona" means "I am here". 

As always when translating from one language to another, crucial subtleties are lost. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and its grateful response, is the sense that until you saw me, I didn't exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence.

Think about that for a minute. Let that sink in. Until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence.

A Zulu folk saying clarifies this, "A person is a person because of other people".  

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that this is the foundation for what South Africans call Ubuntu Theology. 

It is to say, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. South African Zulu people say, "A person is a person through other persons."

What if . . . what if . . . in this busy American life of ours, we took a few minutes to slow down, to dial back the pace of life just a bit from 11 on Life’s volume control to somewhere around 7-8? 

What if we lowered our speed limit from 65 mph on the highway of life to the residential rate of 25 mph? 

What if, when we pass someone on the street or in the supermarket or at the drug store or at the gas station, we took the time to smile and say, “Hello”? What might happen?

I can tell you one response. 

Every Sunday after the 7:30 AM Service, a group of us go over to the West End Diner for breakfast. As I enter the diner and when I leave, I always look people in the eye and say, “Hello” or “Good morning.” 

I don’t mumble it. I say it right out loud. “Hello!” I say, or “Good morning.”

A very few will return my look, even fewer will return my smile. Mostly they look down at their shoes. They might mumble “Good morning.” 

But, mostly, they just put their heads down and keep walking. Now, this is not a critique of the people of Milford. I can assure you that this is a common response whether I’m in Wilmington or Philadelphia or Boston or Seattle. 

Don’t even get me started on New York City. Well, Manhattan. The Upper West or East Sides are different.

I’ve often thought that my collar is a serious handicap. I mean, a woman? In a collar? What’s THAT about? What am I supposed to call her? Father? Mother? Sister? Oh, God, if I acknowledge her presence, she’s not going to start talking to me about JEEE-zus, is she?

I acknowledge the potential anomaly of my situation. A woman in a collar! Seriously! 

My own particular experiences aside, I want to acknowledge that at our baptism, we affirm our belief in the words of the Nicene Creed and are asked to take five vows. 

The fourth vow asks, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves?” 

The fifth vow asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” 

To both vows, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”

On this Easter Day, I want you to carefully consider these two vows. Indeed, I’d like you to commit yourself to living your life in such a way that would make it clear that you are striving to be true to the vows that you took when you were baptized, and reaffirmed at your Confirmation.

Start by inwardly imagining yourself bowing to the divine spark that exists in the other person. Try looking strangers straight in the eye and saying “Hello!” or “Good morning!” 

Say it right out loud and like you mean it.

In fact, let’s practice that right now. I know you’re Episcopalian and a proud member of God’s frozen chosen, but I’d like you to turn to the person to the right and say, “Good morning.” Ready? 1, 2, 3 “Good morning.” Now, turn to the person to the left and say, “Good morning.”

Now, I want the left side of the church to face the right side, and the right side to face the left side. Now, find someone on the other side of the church, look them in the eye and say, "Happy Easter!"

Practice that a few times at church, then, at home in your neighborhood and then put it into action in every aspect of your life. 

After awhile, you might just be amazed to see what a difference living your baptismal vows can make. You might find that you become more of yourself when you understand that when you are acknowledged you are called into a deeper awareness of your own existence. 

Likewise, when you acknowledge others, you understand that your humanity is inextricable linked with theirs in a bundle of life.

How might the world change if we all started doing that? 

You may say that I’m a dreamer. But, John Lennon assures me that I’m not the only one.

Bishop Tutu is right, in that “a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”

I hope we are able to take a lesson this Easter from the women who gathered at the empty tomb. I hope we are able to learn that it is futile to look for the living among the dead – and that means leaving behind that which is not life-giving in our own lives.

My Easter Prayer is that we can all open our eyes and see the Christ in me and the Christ in you, and always work to call forth the very best in each other, even when that’s hard to do. 

Even when we are dazed and confused, or sad and grieving, or afraid and angry, or just don’t feel like it.  Imagine – just imagine – how the world might change if we all did that?

In the words of 19th Century Swiss philosopher and poet, Henri-Frederic Amiel, which I use each Sunday as my benediction: “Life is short and we don't have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this earthly pilgrimage with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to do kindness.”

Happy Easter! Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Now, go out and try to live your life as if you really believe that.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Baptismal Love Letter at the Great Vigil

A Baptismal Love Letter for R.C. L.

About 15 years ago, I started writing what I call Baptismal Love Letters. My intention is to reflect on the gospel of the day in such a way that it might provide some future guidance for the newly baptized, perhaps as preparation for Confirmation, or during one of the difficult times life inevitably presents us with when our faith is tested and we wonder why God has abandoned us or we feel our prayers are not being heard or simply why it is we call ourselves Christian.

So, this is a Baptismal Love Letter for R.C.L. Now, if, as I’m reading this letter, the rest of you should want to listen in, well, so much the better. If you nod off, just please, try not to snore.

Dear R.C.L.

I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you have chosen to be baptized. 

When we first talked about baptism, you told me that you wanted to be baptized so that you could receive communion. That’s a wonderful reason to want to be baptized!  I’m so excited for you that you will receive your first communion at the first Eucharist of Easter. 

And, I confess, I’m excited to have the privilege of providing that important sacramental moment for you at the Great Vigil of Easter.

Tonight, you – and we all – have heard the story of our salvation, from the chanting of the Exultet, a beautiful love song to the Light of Life, to the Creation Story and the story of Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea. We then moved onto the Prophet Isaiah’s assurance that salvation is offered freely to all and heard the magnificent story from the Prophet Ezekiel and The Valley of the Dry Bones. 

The final reading we heard was from the Prophet Zephaniah’s call to “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” for “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.”

And now you are adding your story, the story of your life, to the salvation story. Yes, your story is important. 

When you spend some time reading the bible and discover some things about some of the characters in scripture, you’ll find that there is no story too humble, no origins too lowly, no sinner beyond redemption and grace, forgiveness and renewal of life.   

The love of God is unconditional.

Indeed, what you’ll find is that God seems to have a special preference for those who have struggled, those who have suffered, those who are far from perfect. 

God is constantly lifting up the lowly, raising up what has been cast down, making new what has grown old and bringing all things to their perfection.

And, that’s the other thing, the thing I want you to know. You don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God. Far from it. That’s because no one is perfect. 

Oh, we may look like it. Some of us wear nice clothes and live in lovely homes and drive good cars. Many of us smile and seem very happy and, in fact, many of us are all those things.

Here’s what we’re not: perfect. 

We are being perfected . . . we are being made, to borrow a phrase from the US Constitution, “more perfect”. Not perfect. No. God wants us to be something harder than perfect.

God wants us to be real.

The way to become real is by being made “more perfect”. And, “more perfect” is achieved by falling, sometimes, but more importantly, getting back up again, anyway. 

You remember the story of Pinocchio we talked about in preparation for your baptism, right? You’ll remember when the Blue Fairy cut the strings off Pinocchio she said, “Little puppet made of pine, arise the gift of life is thine.”

That’s sort of what your baptism is like. It sets you free from the strings that have bound you, but it doesn’t make you perfect. It sets your soul free to be who you are, to be more of the person God had in mind when your soul was called into being.

Pinocchio made a lot of mistakes, didn’t he? He didn’t listen to his conscience – Jiminy Cricket – and skipped school and made some bad choices with people who didn’t care about him and told lies that made his nose grow. 

Even so, he still had the chance to pick himself up and have another chance. In fact, he exceeded even his own expectations of himself by putting his own life in danger to save his father.

All Pinocchio ever wanted was to become a real little boy. That’s all God wants from us – to become authentic, real, to grow more fully into the person God created us to be.

So it is with your baptism. The prayer, the hope, is that, in the gift of spiritual freedom you are given, you will also receive the spiritual gift of grace to become a “more perfect” person which God made you to be.   

You will become more of a real human being.

And if – when – you make a bad choice, when you fall, please know that this community of faith, the people of Christ Church, Milford, will be here to help you get up, to help you dust yourself off, to find forgiveness and the assurance of God’s pardon and forgiveness and the absolution of your sins.

Congratulations and God Bless you as you begin to take these first few steps in your new life in Christ. 

Know that you are a precious child of God. 

Know that God loves you beyond your wildest imagination. 

Know that you were born because there is something in this world that God needs to have done that only you can do. 

Your baptism frees your soul to discover that unique calling, what the church calls your “vocation”.

Know that, as you set off on this wonderful new adventure we call Christianity, that you have a church family, here at Christ Church, who will love you unconditionally. 

This is your church home, and, as a wise someone once said, “home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

God loves you. God bless you. Welcome home. 


Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Camino of Foot Washing

 Maundy Thursday - April 18, 2019
Christ Church, Milford, DE

Last October, I walked The Camino. For those of you who don’t know, The Camino (Spanish for The Way), is an ancient pilgrimage known formally as The Camino de Compostella de Santiago.

Compostella is the name the Spanish call the Milky Way and Santiago is Spanish for St. James. So, it’s the Way that follows the stars in the Milky Way to Santiago, the place where the body of the Apostle, St. James, is buried.

The most ancient route of The Camino starts in France, and leads over the Pyrenees Mountains, and on to Santiago near the coast of Spain. There are over 240 different routes to Santiago, from the United Kingdom and Portugal.

I walked 167 km (103 miles), from San Sebastian in the Basque region near France, all along the Northern Route, following the Atlantic Ocean with breathtaking views of the ocean, walking some of the beaches, then headed south through farm land and eucalyptus forests to Santiago.

As you can imagine, 167 km does not always wear well on a person’s feet, even though I took great care in terms of the boots and socks I wore and the pre-treatment I provided for my feet. 

Even so, there was one point in time when I felt a tingly-burning sensation in my left foot and began to worry that I might be developing a blister.

So, I came upon a farmhouse with a lovely stonewall in front. I took off my gear and sat down, taking off my shoes and socks. I had been walking for a few hours. It was a surprisingly hot day and my feet were a bit red and swollen and sweaty. I’ll spare you the descriptive of the odor.

And yes, there on the side of my big toe was a reddened area – ripe for the formation of a blister. I started to rummage in my backpack for some moleskin when a woman came out of the farmhouse. 

“Buen Camino” she said – the standard greeting in Spain, wishing the person a, “Good Camino”. She had a large glass of water which she kindly offered and then, she in her broken English and me in my broken Spanish, began talking about my foot.

She wanted a closer look. I demurred. I really didn’t want her anywhere near my sweaty, smelly foot. Just then, another woman approached. 

A German woman who spoke no English but some Spanish. The woman from the farmhouse spoke some English and some German. Which was lovely if not a bit confusing but I really didn’t want either one near my feet.

Before I knew it, the German woman pulled out her backpack and pulled out some moleskin and some ointment. She then grabbed my foot, firmly, and inspected it carefully. I didn’t even have an opportunity to offer an honest protest. She poked here and pressed there.

Then, she stood up straight and pronounced her verdict. “Iss gud. Iss – um – Oh-kay, ya?” The Spanish woman looked at me and translated, “Bueno, si?”

I didn’t even have a chance to get out the giggle that was dancing in my throat when the German woman reached out her hand like a surgeon and the Spanish woman slapped the glass of water in her hand with great efficiency, which was suddenly being poured on my foot. It was cold and I let out a yelp.

That didn’t stop her from vigorously rubbing my foot dry with a towel she had hanging from the side of her backpack. Then, she applied the moleskin to the reddened area, inspecting it carefully after its application. 

Then, she put out her hand. I wasn’t sure what she wanted. The Spanish woman knew immediately and came ‘round to my shoe and pulled out my sock. 

I was horrified! I mean, my smelly sock was in her hand. It made no difference to her. She put it on my foot and then picked up my shoe and put it on my foot.

“Yah, das gud” she proclaimed. “Bueno! Bueno!” said the Spanish woman who turned on her heels and went and got two glasses of water, one for the German woman and one for me. 

We chatted a bit longer – German to Spanish to English – in what now seems like a hilarious comedy of conversation, and then the German woman took off and the Spanish woman went back into her house.

I had never before met those two women but I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll ever forget them. Their kindness. Their compassion. Their willingness to tend to my physical needs, even if that meant seeing me while not at my worst, certainly not at my best.

It was a moment of humility in the midst of a fairly prideful time of feeling independent. See how strong and capable I am? I can walk The Camino. By myself. And, into the midst of that came the very humbling message that, no, I was not alone. 

And, no I was not independent. God, I am convinced, sent those two women as messengers of the mutual interdependence of being human. 

We humans are mutually interdependent. The sooner we learn that, the better.

Somewhere in the midst of that mix up of German and English and Spanish, the message of my vulnerability came loud and clear. It was humbling. 

And, it fed and watered my soul in a way that awakened me to the fact that I didn’t even know how hungry and thirsty I had been.

Jesus said:  
"Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
And then, Jesus said, 
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 
We observe and celebrate this new commandment tonight, as we wash each other’s feet and feed each other communion. It is uncomfortable. It is humbling. 

Iss gud, ya? Bueno, si? It is good. 
May it awaken you to the hunger in your soul and nourish you for the work of servant ministry.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Proclaim and Show

Photo Credit: Susan Forsburg 

"Say what you mean and live life to mirror what you say -- proclaim and show." 
Bishop Kevin Brown, Delaware

That was the main thrust of the message the bishop gave to the clergy during the Annual Chrism Mass wherein deacons, priests and deacons are invited to renew their ordination vows.

I've participated in this service in five dioceses over the years and they are, for the most part, not as inspirational as intended. Most often, the bishop preaches, which, more often than not, is met with mixed reviews from clergy, depending on the spiritual state of the individual clergy person and their perception of the spiritual status of the bishop. 

I heard Bishop Keven's message as both inspirational and heartfelt - enough to spark the imagination and creativity of this Dinosaur Priest.

So, I made the following modest "What If" proposal: What if we did what you say. What if this liturgy was about all of us "proclaiming and showing" what it means to be an ordained servant minister of the Church?

What if, instead of repeating the words we said when we were ordained, we summarized our ordination vows (that's what the bishop did, actually). And then, what if did something to "show" what we had just "proclaimed"?

What if we washed each other's feet?

I'm serious. What if we did that? Those of you who are purists will immediately say, "But . . . but . . . you CAN'T wash feet on TUESDAY in Holy Week!! That's for THURSDAY."

Look, I'm not saying to have the Maundy Thursday service - although the 'disruptive' nature of that appeals to my sense of the kind of disruption Jesus caused over and over again to the religious proscriptions and expectations of his day and time.

I'm saying let's wash each other's feet as a way of "showing" the vows of servant ministry we just "proclaimed".

Bishop Kevin seemed genuinely intrigued by my question and proposal. He gave it serious thought for more than the usuall few passing seconds. I felt heard, in the very best sense of that word.

It doesn't really matter, you know, if we do it or not. It's really more important that the preacher (the bishop) knows that he waas listened to and heard and that I, in turn, was listened to and heard. It's that seeds were planted for creative use of the teachings of Jesus.

I think that brings as much delight to God as do the fruits of those seeds.

So, in good ancient Rabbinical tradition, I'm making a modern adaptation and asking this question of the social media "mind hive"

Laity, deacons, priests, and bishops: How do you read? What do you think about clergy putting into action the vows that they have reaffirmed?

Oh, and P.S. Here are some "Words of Comfort" for Holy Week:

"Clergy and church workers, here's our yearly reminder: Jesus will rise from the dead even if you forget to print out the right hymns, even if there are typos in the bulletins, even if the lilies arrive wilted, even if the whole choir gets food poisoning. Nothing will keep the stone from being rolled away. You are loved." Nadia Bolz Weber

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Golden Bees of Holy Week

The Sunday of Passion: Palm Sunday
Christ Church, Milford, DE
April 14, 2019 

The story of the Passion of Jesus takes us deep into the middle of the middle of what it means to be human. I want us all to take a deep breath because we’re going in deeper – to the middle of the middle of you and the middle of the middle of me. That is the journey of Holy Week.

The only way to get to the middle of that mystery is to follow the path of poetry and metaphor and simile. So, stay with me now. I need you to pay attention. This isn’t going to be an easy ride.

As I consider the significance of this day – Palm Sunday – and the beginning of what we Christians call Holy Week, I have been visited by the continued buzzing of piece of a poem called “Last Night As I Was Sleeping” by the great Spanish poet, AntonioMachado.

There are fou stanzas but it is the second stanza that continues to visit me:

Last night, as I was sleeping.
I dreamt - marvelous error!
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And that the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures

If you listen closely – if you dare – you will hear them. There, in the far distance. – a low hum is beginning  deep in your soul.  The hum will grow steadily into the sound of a buzz, which will grow fuller and deeper and louder as the week continues.

Holy Week begins the gathering of the Golden Bees of Heaven.

The Golden Bees of Heaven need you. They need your regret and your grief, the memory of which causes your heart to ache again in the places where it has been broken. They need the sense of loss and anger which have left a sour taste on the back of your palate.   

The Golden Bees of Heaven are especially fond of betrayal and disappointment, but, oh my, how they love the rich, deep, bitter darkness of depression. 

All of these human failures are pollen to the Bees. 

They will buzz all ‘round the story of Holy Week, and wait and watch as the story of the Passion of Jesus draws out the pollen of regret, grief, anger, betrayal, disappointment and depression from the depths of your own heart and soul. 

They will take them – all of these human failures – to their very bodies and carry them to the Queen of Heaven where She will make of them a gift to be wept over and blessed with Her tears.

Then the Bees will return them to us and begin to make of these, our old failures and regrets, brilliant white combs of wax, which will provide the framework for us to find our own salvation.

I know. I understand. This is not what you were taught as a child. God, we were very carefully taught, is the Great Master Puppeteer, and we are Pinocchio with Geppetto-as-God-our-Father, controlling all the strings of our lives.

God is supposed to remember the sacrifices you made – the chocolate or wine you gave up for Lent. If you sacrificed enough and prayed really hard, He – God – was supposed to bring you that brand new bike or those spiffy new shoes or get you on the team or help you pass the test for your driver’s license which would open the door to unspeakable freedoms. 

Later, that same Geppetto-Father-God, you thought, would get you that job. Or, save your marriage. Or, heal your child.  And when He – God – didn’t do these things, you would shrug your shoulders and figure you weren’t good enough or deserving enough.   

That Santa Claus must have whispered something in God's ear which made it to God's Big Book of Failure. And your shoulders slumped and your heart was heavy and you feared asking for anything else. Of God. Or yourself. Or life.

Or, perhaps you repeated the cheery mantra that “When a door closes, God opens a window,” and you would try to get on with a life of magical thinking, hoping against hope to find a Genie-In-a-Bottle of sorts who would help you find the right mystical incantation to unlock the Gates of The Treasures of Heaven as your own.

Or, maybe you would get angry and blame something or someone – sometimes, even God – and never really trust God enough to let yourself really be vulnerable and pray. Ever. Again.

Some of us grow up and come to be spiritually and emotionally mature enough to understand that life holds an abundance of sophisticated irony and paradox and absurdity. That all of these, our human failures, are God’s repeated attempts to offer us the sweet honey of grace and mercy and the opportunity for a new, transformed life.

Ernest Hemmingway once wrote: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards, many are strong in the weak places.”   Some of us don’t – won’t, can't – understand that. 

Yet God is persistent, battering down our hearts with three-fisted Love in the form of mystery and incarnation and spirit – all of which are especially present to us in the midst of the Passion of Jesus in Holy Week.

Antonio Machado’s poem ends with this stanza:

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

We are more able to find God inside our hearts when we get a glimpse of the failures and fragility of our human lives. When we do that - when we are able to look at the absurdity and paradox and irony of life - we awake from our waking dream and discover our marvelous error.

Something is set in motion. The whole field shifts and sets loose some strange mystery which we can neither comprehend nor control. That is the work of Holy Week – to awaken us to the failures of the human enterprise which, paradoxically begin to create the framework for us to find our way to salvation, and open the floodgates of the waters of new life which we taste again as if for the first time.

We are born again and “that which was old is being made new and that which has been cast down is being raised up and everything is being brought to its perfection in Christ Jesus.”

It is Palm Sunday. The Bees of Holy Week are beginning to gather. If you listen – if you dare – you can hear the hum of their buzzing. 

They are here to gather to their bodies our human failures – the pollen of regret, grief, anger, betrayal, disappointment and depression from the depths of our own hearts and souls. 

We will walk with Jesus this week, as the story of his Passion unfolds. We will follow Jesus to the middle of the very middle of our very souls where all of our secrets are kept. 

The Bees of Holy Week will take all our human failures, if you surrender to them and don’t mind if they sting a time or two, and make of them the sweet honey of Easter Resurrection. 

We know the story. We know how it ends. 

The Bees of Holy Week are gathering. 

Let them come.