Sunday, 30 November 2008

Advent Conspiracy

In the chaos of the horrible terrorist attacks in India in these past days, as that was just beginning, a sign for a life insurance company was hanging from a storefront which after the name of the company read, "peace of mind, guaranteed."


As I said, it was deeply ironic. This is the actual sea we swim in. One in which we have learned the illusion that we can actually buy things such as security, safety, relationships, peace of mind. We enter the season of Advent today; the beginning of the church year. And as we do I mourn, as I do each year, the fact that we, for the most part ignore it. Instead, we as Christians, have sold out to the season of the masses, the consumeristic Christmas. Advent is designed to be a season of waiting, of watching, of preparing, of slowing down. It is, as is often the point of our faith, the very opposite of what the world sees these days as. These are the days of the frenetic, of 4 a.m. sales, with people camping out in order to get that great deal on a gift that will be forgotten completely long before we repeat this season, it is the season of literal deadly stampedes in the stores which should make us wonder about our focus. It is so off balance, that as Christians, we are actually not supposed to party right now, or celebrate Christmas, because Christmas has not yet come. Christmas is a season too, but instead of celebrating it we often also follow the societal herd. Our Christmas trees our out on the curb before noon on the 26th, a tribute to the selling out to the Hallmark Christmas season, our Advent, signifying the end or that celebration, when in fact, Christmas is just beginning. For me this is always, each year the iconic, incarnated picture which states clearly, we have forgotten Christ, just as he is arriving. On January 6th, the Epiphany, the Magi will arrive at the side of the baby Jesus, and this, in fact, is one of the holiest of days, and yet it is virtually lost in the new years resolutions and the hangover of an overindulgent Christmas and New Year celebration. But I am not cynical.


As we enter this Advent, the lines are longer at the food lines, than in the lines at the mall. That is a switch this year indeed. It was a change foisted on us by the downturn in an economy that thrives on just this scenario, but if there is a silver lining perhaps that is it; perspective. And that is just what Advent is supposed to give us each year. In some of the monasteries, it is custom each year to count their shoes, to inventory what they had accumulated in the past year, and to rid themselves of the excess. In many ways, Advent is such an invitation and event for us. We might do well to take it; to actually step back and take stock.


In these times it would be so very natural to contract, to retreat into a scarcity that rather scoffs at the reality, that even in these times we are among the very wealthiest people on the face of this planet.


We should take this inventory individually but also collectively. Many, in these times, have suggested that the church will suffer greatly in our pledge drives due to this downturn, and that may be true. IF it is, it will break all of the records and statistics we have. In the course of every recession the church has at least held its own, and even in the depression, giving continued to far exceed the losses that were experienced.

Here is what is shown in the numbers. People continue to find the will and the means to give, when they believe in the purpose and mission of what it is they are giving too. I was sent a link to a great video that I would direct everyone to! It is entitled Advent Conspiracy, and it sums up what I am trying to say better than I could ever say it. I commend it to you, and I also commend to you a holy and observed Advent.


Blessings, now go see the video…

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As it has approached I, like many I am sure, have thought about all that I am thankful for. This week started with a visitation to St. Alban's, Edmonds, where it was my great privilege to baptize a baby and a teenager. As we got to the baptism, it went about like these usually go. But the little baby was so very interested, and smiling, and she was simply enjoying this. I took her and did what I always did as a Rector; I paraded her around the church, up and down the side aisles, and the center aisle. Behind me walked the teenager, who had not really smiled during that morning, and I was bound and determined to get one out of her. I had her pick up the baptismal font bowl full of water and I told her, "You are going to follow me and you are going to get these people wet, and I mean wet!" An alert server ran outside, obviously being in the know, and brought in a cedar branch for her to use and away we went. I go on this parade to allow those present to meet the newest Christians, and to offer their blessings to them as well. The little baby was simply a charmer. There was not a soul along our path that could resist smiling and being just a bit happier about all of life. Half way through our journey I looked around at the teenager following me and there on her face was the biggest smile! She was having a ball, and she was living up to her task too! She was getting the people wet, reminding them of their baptism, and reminding them to be thankful. My day had been completely made. At the procession out of the church we marched straight out the back door to a gazebo which had just been completed as an Eagle Scout project. We gave thanks for the work that had gone into it, the bell tower that had once stood on the same spot, reportedly an Eagle Scout project of its time too, and we gave thanks for all the people that would seek out the shelter and solace of the space. After that, I was hosted at a parishioner's home, and we had a deep and wonderful conversation over a feast, about this journey we all share in bringing the Good News to the world.

Today, Thanksgiving Eve, I, along with the DHouse staff, volunteered at Northwest Harvest Food Bank where we always meet Jesus. Tonight, I was blessed to preside at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, and to once again share in the baptism of a wonderful child who could not wait to get wet, who practically climbed into the font. I sit here now, thankful for every one of these experiences, thankful for this vocation which brought me to the most beautiful place on earth, with some of the finest people who now grace our lives. And, as I look forward to the feast tomorrow, I know that the greatest blessings will be gathered around our table. I am most thankful for our God who is grace and love.

On this thanksgiving, may you know the fullness that comes from being loved, and giving it.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Broken Open

Here, in the Diocese of Olympia, we just finished our annual convention. The theme was Radical Hospitality, as we learn more and more about being the people of radical hospitality. I had hoped to model this convention off of the very good fruits that I believed came from my experience at Lambeth Conference this summer. And so we had more Bible Study, and more discussion in Indaba groups. We took up three topics in three hours spread over our time, the environment, hospitality, and human sexuality. My hope was that we would focus more on our relationships and conversation, and less on legislation with the belief that we will never be able to legislate our relationships or our growth and learning as we continue to live in community. We so often do not talk to each other. "Early returns" reveal that many truly loved the new format, I believe that is true because we don't get the chance to talk to one another much in our society or our church.

What I heard, even in this much smaller and surely truncated version of Indaba, was much the same as I heard and experienced at Lambeth; people coming away from conversations with those with whom they did not agree, but still knew they were in relationship with, thus making the strident stance we often hold a bit less easy or firm. Mostly, too, some joy in the fact that this might still be possible in the church. It was surely not perfect, there were some little problems here and there, but all in all a really good thing.

We also experienced the worship provided by Church of the Apostles, (COTA) and the Church of the Beloved, both emerging churches. There is a haunting song they sing, "Broken" with lyrics that repeat, "I am broken, you are broken, everyone is broken." It ends with the line, "I never knew broken glass could shine so brightly." I can rarely get through this tune without tears and I saw some of the same reaction around the room. Jonathan Weldon, Interim Rector of St. Paul's, Bellingham came up after the worship to say that what he sensed is that this emerging worship has brought back lament. It gives us a real way of lamentation. I think that is so true. Just as we don't have time to talk to one another about the deep issues of the heart, and our lives, we also do not have time or space enough for lament. Lament in our world is often seen as a sign of weakness, instead of strength.

We were offered both this weekend and most importantly the gift of time spent together and the courageous hope that God's Kingdom remains within our grasp, open to all, that we can still be signs of it, as we travel toward it ourselves.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Salute to our Veterans

I write this on the Eve of Veteran's Day. Two images stick with me from this past week. One, is a Viet Nam Vet who stated that they did not get respect when they returned home back then, but they were getting it now, and he said just how much he appreciated it. The other is the story I saw tonight on one of the national news programs. It comes from Canada, the Highway of Heroes. Along this 100 mile trek that every soldier lost in the war takes, people come out all along this path to show their respects. One fire department is there every time, on the overpass, saluting one and all. A mother of a fallen soldier told just how moving all of this is, and told a story of a father and son, who stood in the back of their rusty pickup truck and saluted together as the motorcade drove under the overpass.

I have to admit I have been a bit worried at how sterilized this war, or wars, is for us here. Of all days I intend to, tomorrow especially, give thanks for those who have given their lives for me. I am thankful that our citizenry has seemed to accept and live out of the reality that these men and women, no matter what your feelings about the war, the military, no matter, they do it for us. I will use the day, as on all days, to pray for peace as well. I will pray for an end to the 100 miles drives on the Highway of Heroes, and that no such tribute be necessary anywhere in this world. It is a lofty dream, but our God is an awesome God, and calls us to the miraculous and the lofty.

Monday, 3 November 2008

All Saint’s and This Election

I write this on the eve of our national election. Regardless of the outcome, I must admit I am so ready for this to end. I had the great privilege to preach in three different settings this All Saint's weekend. In each I found myself drawn to, and using, the story and witness of Ruby Bridges, a 6 year old African-American who participated in the integration of the New Orleans Public Schools in November 1960, 48 years ago this month. I was born three years after this event. Ruby became the focus of one of Norman Rockwell's famous paintings, entitled, "The Problem we all live with." It is indeed a problem we live with, even today, and yet on the eve of this election, regardless of how it turns out, I hope we as a nation can step back, take a deep breath, and be thankful for just how far we have come. Even in my lifetime I have often been doubtful we would ever see a woman on a national ticket, much less a person of color. Don't get me wrong, I am as unhappy as most people at the negative tone these seem to always go too, although the irony of that is, all the studies show that the negative ads work, and that seems to say something about us.

Still, all the way around, I believe it has been a remarkable few months to watch and live through. It is still a "problem we live with" and we have quite a few more of those. However, perhaps we can move that "problem" and others to a new place of holy conversation and realistic vision. I hope so. I think of the witness of Ruby Bridges, and so many like her, a 6 year old black girl, who though the smallest figure in that famous painting, walked taller than them all. To survive the attacks which were made on her daily as she walked to school, a school where all the white teachers, save one, had refused to teach her, she said a prayer which her mother had taught her. Robert Coles, the child psychiatrist who volunteered to work with Ruby and her family through that time, asked her one day what she was mumbling as she walked through that crowd. She told him she was saying this prayer, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I give thanks for Ruby Bridges, for the saints in this story, the teacher that kept teaching against all odds, the black and white people who helped move this along in the face of so much inertia. No matter what happens tomorrow, we have all, collectively, witnessed a victory, and I pray now, we know more, that our blind spots are less, and that the horizon which our savior Christ has envisioned, that Kingdom of love and grace is a bit closer.