Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, I'm Powerless.

Just thinking about how things went haywire at my old church -- really not so much with the whole church, but with just a couple of people, but that was enough, given their positions.

Stepping off the mea culpa express -- no more guilt trips for me. I am responsible for my part in the bad situation. Others are responsible for their parts. And I am powerless to change what has already happened or what they chose to do or what they choose to do. I can only, with God's help, change what I choose to do now and in the future.

Found the Serenity Prayer in my email this morning. Twelve step groups use the first four lines as part of their meetings, here it is in its entirety:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Amen and amen! Be blessed!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Well. Isn't It Ironic

From Alanis Morissette:

I'm getting settled in my new church home, and then hear that changes, including the transfer of Fr. X, are taking place at my old church.

I'm no church-hopper. Besides, I think the stability of our present church will be good for our family.

Hm. Isn't it ironic, don'tcha think.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Micro and Macro

Reading about the ongoing problems within the Episcopal Church and my conversation with Father Y made me think about this: What goes on in our personal lives is often reflective of what is going on in the world around us, and vice versa.

Based on that thesis, I have these questions:
Can people of goodwill disagree on important issues without straining the bonds of affection for one another?

Should people who wish to live their faith in community set aside "rightness" in order to pursue a greater good?

If we agree that in general, divorce is to be avoided, can there rightly be a time when a person must end a relationship with a community in order to thrive spiritually?
There is also another aspect to this "micro" and "macro" idea. That is, an individual church can be seen as kind of a microcosm of the Church, and moving from one church to another is like simply moving from one "room" to another in the larger Christian Church. This is a comforting idea, because it reminds me that we are all one as Christians, no matter what church (or part of the Church) we join or leave.

John 14:2
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." (KJV)

So many incomplete thoughts...I'll just stop here for now.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

A little counting of blessings here...

I was my friend P's guest at her family reunion today. Had a very nice time listening to family stories, looking at old photos and eating lots of BBQ. We were even treated to a nice rain shower, which was much appreciated, since Texas has been like a desert these past several months. Missed the hailstorm that my family experienced at home.

It was good to be welcomed so warmly. I guess even with the dysfunctional parts (which all families have!), I can see that my friend P comes from good folks.

Makes me so glad to have her and her husband T as friends.

Thanks be to God!

I guess I've turned a corner here

I mentioned to my husband last night that, being at my present church, this will be the first time I have ever had a pastor younger than me (even though it's only by a few months).


Luke 15:25-32 – The Parable of the Loving Father (July 2004, edited Nov. 2005)

Gentle Readers,
This blog entry is an attempt at a sermon I wrote a few years ago. Yes, I do things like this "for fun". It seems to fit in with the rest of the blog, so I'm including it here. Feedback is always welcome.


In the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remember that story Jesus told about the “prodigal son,” the young man who gets his inheritance early and blows it on loose women and fast living? Remember how he decides to come crawling back to dear old dad when his funds run out and finds the pigs’ slop better than his own food? And what did dear old dad do? Say “I told you so”? Lay a guilt trip? No! The old man not only welcomes his son back, but also throws a big party in his honor.

I have heard this parable discussed many times in the context of the father’s great forgiveness of his younger son. This understanding has been and continues to be a source of great comfort. After all, I have often strayed from the right road and I’ve been grateful to those who have forgiven me. I have read this story and placed myself in the shoes of the younger son, being willfully self-absorbed, seemingly bent on self-destruction and then, when that path proved fruitless, being grateful to the Father who always forgives.

But lately, I’ve wondered about the elder son. After all, he was the one who obediently stayed home and helped his father keep the family farm running smoothly. Could he really be compared to the legalist Pharisees, as one study Bible asserts? Was he simply a jealous, ungrateful son? And why did I start to feel like I identified more with him?

Let’s take a look at the situation. The elder son is angry. And why not? His father was overjoyed about the return of his brother and yet, seemed to care so little about him. I could see him standing outside, feeling neglected, ignored, unloved – invisible. Why didn’t his father appreciate all that he had done – the years of being obedient, working hard? Didn’t that count for anything?

Mark Muesse, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, re-titles the story as “The Parable of the Slighted Son.” In his article he describes the elder son as “the one who stays on the farm with his father, tending the cows and threshing wheat while his no-good brother is off whoring god-knows-where. The elder brother has always done what he was supposed to do.”

Muesse continues, “He has played by the rules, obeyed his father, and worked himself to the bone. No wonder he raises hell when the reprobate shows up one day seeking to get back into the father’s good graces… It’s just not fair. What’s the point of always doing what you’re supposed to do if it doesn’t earn you a few advantages?”

The father’s response is telling – he doesn’t try to make his other son feel better by putting his brother down. He doesn’t try to placate him with flattery. He offers no excuses or apologies for his actions. In fact, he seems to believe that his elder son is missing the point – he has never left him; he has never stopped loving him. The elder son has always had access to his father and to his father’s love. The father actually seems a bit taken aback that his elder son has any doubts at all about that.

The younger son receives all the attention at the moment because he hasn’t had the same access, even though he brought it upon himself by leaving the family home and leading a dissolute life. Now the father wants to show his younger son how much he loves him. This celebration is not only a show of joy over his son’s return, but also a tangible sign of his continuing love.

Why didn’t the elder son (as he complained) get a young goat so he could party with his friends? Maybe the father thought that his elder son didn’t need such a tangible sign. Maybe if the elder son were more observant, he would have noticed all the ways – great and small – his father already showed his love. Maybe he simply didn’t ask, “Dad, can I have a goat?”

The elder son has the same misconception about love that many of us have – love is finite. But the fact is love isn’t a pie in which giving someone a large slice means less for everyone else. Showing a great display of love for one doesn’t mean that others are less loved. Love does not exclude – in fact, as it is given, it grows to embrace more. The elder son was not left out of the celebration. He was invited – even begged – to join in. Jesus continues the story … “His father came out and began to plead with him (15:28).”

No doubt the father had been through something like this before. I imagine he didn’t let his younger son go without a struggle. I’m sure he pleaded with the young man to reconsider his decision to take the money and run. Now the situation is similar. But this time it is the elder son who chooses to alienate himself from the family and the father again humbly asks his son to come back.

You see, in this story, both sons got it wrong. Both disrespected their father. Both would have been deserving of punishment. Yet their loving father embraces them both.

We know what happened to the younger son. He showed humility and true repentance by leaving the immoral lifestyle he had been living and returning home. He asked his father to forgive him, knowing full well, he didn’t deserve it. He depended on his father’s love to restore his place within the family. And his father welcomed him back and celebrated his safe return.

We don’t know what happened to the older brother. Jesus leaves the ending open, like one of those 1970s school films where the action stops at a critical decision point. If this were one of those films, we’d probably see a close-up of the older brother’s face as he ponders what to do, then a fade to black.

So what does he do? What do we do?

While we are pondering, let’s consider another title for this story – “The Parable of the Loving Father, the One Who Forgives.” And let’s remember the words of the father – the words of our Father – “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”


Monday, July 13, 2009

Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulder in the sun,
And make gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there,
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

For some reason, I thought about this poem today. Frost is one of my favorite poets.

So, do good fences make good neighbors? And why would we continually go through the exercise of building walls, only to see them broken time and again?

One interpretation has to do with the necessity of having and maintaining personal boundaries. Indeed, it's a good thing to have healthy boundaries, and sometimes things break them down and they need repairing. But in relationships, healthy ones anyway, the repairing is a communal process.

But the neat thing about poetry is that there is rarely only one reasonable interpretation. Frost himself never gave interpretations of his poetry, preferring that readers come to their own conclusions.

It is interesting that the narrator questions the act of wall-building even as he is actively involved in it. His neighbor, on the other hand, does what has always been done, without thought. "He moves in darkness..." he has no need for the light (of thought, of reflection) because the task is so well-known that he can do it in the dark.

Might there be a parallel with our faith, that when we question it, we force ourselves to look deeper into why we believe what we do? I think when we don't question, we lose the opportunity to look deeper into ourselves and our faith. We lose the opportunity to deepen our relationship with our Lord.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:4

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Well, it's been a much happier day than I have experienced in a long time. I am guessing that God is working, even as I grieve my departure from my old parish, to show me that I can indeed rejoice in all things, that things are working together for good. I've contacted the appropriate people to serve my new parish in ways that match my gifts, and I pray that I will serve God in a fitting manner through these ministries.

Already I am slated to sing as part of a duet for our offertory anthem next Sunday! Well, I guess we'll see how things go during practice and see if the duet actually happens. I think it will be fine, but I'll reserve judgment until Tuesday's practice. I'll read during Mass sometime in August, which is just fine, because I can spend some time observing how things are done at this church.

After seeing some friends from my old parish (who are also at my new one), I am starting to make some sense out of the whole sad experience regarding my former parish. For the record, I did not share any details of my experience, but rather listened to theirs. And not everything was negative, sometimes things are just a better fit someplace else. (I add this for the benefit of my readers who still attend my former church, and whom I love.) As for my experience, it's a shame, because things started out so well. I am a bit afraid that a similar experience might happen at my present parish, though I must remind myself that these are different people, different situations. I'll talk with Father Y next week about this.

Just as a side note...Facebook has played a significant role in connecting with my new parish. I had "met" several people there, including Father Y, even before considering a transfer. And FB still plays a role in maintaining connections from high school and my former congregations.

It just shows again that all things, including social networking, work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Amen! Alleluia!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Update and Clarification

Gentle Readers,
Some things have changed recently and I have transferred to a new parish. Still sorting out what that means to me, so it will be a while before any thoughts on that reach the blog.

However, I noticed that I have some posts where I mention things said by "my priest". Of course, beginning now, "my priest" will be a different person. I may go back and edit some posts, referring to the priest at my old church as "Father X". Then any new posts will refer to the one at my present church as "Father Y".

Probably not important to anyone but me, but I like to keep the "cast of characters" straight.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Personal Satan?

I am sure someone with more theological knowledge will correct me if I am blatantly wrong.

My commute to and from work is about a good 30 minutes one way. So the drive gives me a lot of time to think and pray.

This morning an interesting thought came to mind: What if there is a such thing as a personal Satan?

Mind you, this is NOT something I want.

What I mean by "Personal Satan" is all those things that keep me away from God -- my areas of weakness, my Achilles's heel.

I thought about it for a while and concluded that the thing that keeps me furthest from God is very close to the thing that brings me closest to God -- my relationships with other people. Sometimes it's a person that helps me see what God has in store for me, what His will for me is. Many times finding God's gifts and discerning God's will is achieved in community. But other times, it's worrying about what people think, what they will do (which is beyond my control), how do they feel about me, that lures me away from God. A Personal Satan.

Maybe I'll come back to this and expand on it. But that's all I have for now.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Forgive Us Our Debts

The King James version of the Lord's Prayer goes like this:
After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our
debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13)

I found this meaningful quote on forgiveness in Blake Coffee's Blog "The Church Whisperer"
Forgiveness is more about wiping away a debt. It is saying to a person, “You owe me nothing more…no money, no apology, no hugs, no sympathy cards, nothing…I really am no longer looking for any of that from you…you are released from any moral or ethical or legal obligations to me for this pain…as much as is possible, we are going to move forward now and I will not be holding this over you any longer, waiting to hit you on the head with it if you mess up again…I will not be keeping score because where I am concerned your slate is now wiped clean…I wish the very best for you and God’s blessings on you.” Forgiveness isn’t something we wait to feel, it is something we communicate to the person who hurt us irrespective of how we feel.

We don't use this version very often in our churches, but the use of the word
debt really struck me today. When I forgive someone, I'm charged to wipe the slate clean, to let go of any expectation of "payment," so to speak. No further explanation, apology, or expression of regret is required, because the debt is forgiven. Yes, I might feel that I'm "owed" one or more of these things, but now I'm making the decision to forgive the debt, to allow the debtor to start fresh.

It's a very concrete way of looking at forgiveness. Like if I had a problem with a credit card debt and the company allows me to pay part or none and forgives the debt. Afterward, I can start fresh, without late fees or other penalties hanging over my head. I respond best to concrete examples, things that I can wrap my head around.

Oftentimes, I have had trouble forgiving because I felt that I had been "paid" part or none of what I was "owed" for my suffering. The quote marks are intentional, because these words are indicative of my feelings, whether or not they are based on fact. When I forgive my debtor, I let go of keeping track of whatever I feel is owed me. We have the opportunity to start fresh, to restore and repair without old debts hanging over our heads.

I am looking forward to using this definition of forgiveness in the situations I encounter in my life. I think it's very do-able. Hard, but do-able. By using the concept of forgiving a debt, I'm able to separate my feelings from my forgiveness, and maybe I can give my feelings a fighting chance of catching up.


I'm Not Who I Was -- Brandon Heath

"...Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

To paraphrase Father X, we are changing, every second, every fraction of a second. We can choose to let God be the change agent in us.

I'm not who I was! Thanks be to God!


Saturday, July 4, 2009

What's Love Got to Do with It? Part 2

I'm going to attempt to describe several attributes of love in this post. First, let me list a few things that Love is Not:
  • Unconditional Approval of what a person does or thinks
  • Being inseparable from the other to the point of losing one's self
  • Mushy, gushy sentiment (OK, mush is good sometimes, but not without substance along with it.)
  • Appreciation of what another does for you (It's loving to do so, but it's not Love.)
  • Trying to mold another, or the relationship with another, into something you want.
I can probably go further, but I think you get the picture.

So...what IS Love?

Love IS...
Unconditional Acceptance of a person as beloved of God. When we look at others as God's beloved children, we look beyond anything that they do or believe and love that which belongs to God. Do we approve, like or ignore that which is wrong or evil in some persons? No. It would not be loving to do so. I'll expand on that a little later.

The lesson in this for me is to accept people as they are. To accept what they are able to give at a given time. To accept changes in people as neither good nor bad, in most cases. I will see even the annoying and hurtful people in my life as beloved of God, and accept that they are doing the best they can in a given circumstance. This is so, so hard sometimes, especially when there are people who hurt not only me, but members of my family.

Now to expand that previous point about not allowing wrong or evil to go unnoticed. Love means sometimes allowing people to experience the consequences of their actions, for good or ill. For example, if someone breaks the law, it would be unloving to allow that person to get a free pass and continue breaking the law. To deal with the consequences sooner rather than later, allows the law-breaker the opportunity to repent and lead a more Godly, productive life. It reduces the number of people victimized by that particular person's actions. Pursuing justice (not revenge) is a loving act.

Love sometimes is telling the beloved something he or she would rather not hear. I call it getting a "reality check". Some reality checks confirm what I think, some challenge those thoughts. I trust certain people in my life to tell me the truth as they see it, because sometimes clarity is achieved by seeing something from another angle. I believe that telling the truth -- gently, and with great care -- is one of the most loving things a person can do.

Love is -- sometimes -- the mushy, romantic stuff. Depends on the relationship, of course, but I treasure those times when my husband surprises me with remembering our first date, or says he loves me with all his heart. When I express my love for him in words and actions, spiritually, physically -- this too, is Love.

Love is reaching out to meet the needs of the beloved, and placing my own needs lower on the list. That's kind of countercultural nowdays, as conventional wisdom urges us all to fight, argue, and stand up for our own needs first and foremost.

Love is what St. Paul described to the Corinthians in the popular Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Be aware that Paul was writing to a church in discord. Members were arguing about practices, whom to follow, and these conflicts were threatening to tear the church apart. I see this around me not only in some of my personal relationships, but within my beloved Episcopal Church. It pains me to see such division in the Church, with each side believing it is in the right. But I when I read what I wrote above about love, how can I fault either side when each claims to be working in the name of justice and God's will? I see troubling beliefs and practices on both sides, and I wish both would somehow merge what is good and right and allow the rest to fall away. Good Lord, deliver us.

Love is forgiving the beloved when they hurt you. I found a wonderful blog comment that describes what I believe:
"But simply because you might get angry or annoyed with someone, even if you don't like them for a time, that does not mean that you do not love them. Love and like are two different animals...If you want proof of God, or more particularly, of the Holy Spirit, here it is, because that is something that we could never do on our own all by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit, not us, that allows us to do that. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to do the impossible, to love even those we do not particularly like, to forgive those who have injured us to the core, to be patient with those who annoy us to no end. Such things are impossible for something that is merely the accidental product of evolution, but because there is God, the impossible is made possible."
"Bender" Blog Comment, "Conversion Diary"
There's also this from the Book of Common Prayer, the Rite of Reconciliation, p. 451:
Priest: "Do you forgive those who have sinned against you?" Penitent: "I forgive them."

Love also includes myself. Jesus said, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39). My take on this is in the form of a poem I wrote in my college days:

Can I love you
As I love myself?

Would you want a love
Based on conditions,
And impossible demands?
Would you want to feel
The guilt of always falling short?

Then I’m afraid I can’t love you
As I love myself.
I must change the love I have
So that it becomes a fitting gift to you.

Because I must first love myself
As I want to love you
Before I love you.

1985, revised 2008

I know greater minds than mine have written about this, but hey, what's a blog if you don't write what you think? It's far, far, from complete, but I hope I've given you, Gentle Reader, a little food for thought.

My continuing challenge -- to live as I profess to believe. God help me.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

What's Love Got to Do With It? -- Evelyn Underhill

I've seen her name come up in a friend's blog (Fr. Mike Marsh's "Interrupting the Silence") and also a post in the email list for the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops and House of Deputies. (I'm a read-only member of that list.) I think Underhill will be on my reading list very soon.

From Wikipedia, a brief biography of Evelyn Underhill:

Evelyn Underhill (December 6, 1875June 15, 1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism.

In the English-speaking world, she was one of the most widely read writers on such matters in the first half of the twentieth century. No other book of its type—until the appearance in 1946 of Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy—met with success to match that of her best-known work, Mysticism, published in 1911.

Here's a quote on love:

This wide and generous spirit of love, not the religious egotist's longing to get away from the world to God, is the fruit of true self-oblation; for a soul totally possessed by God is a soul totally possessed by Charity. By the path of self-offering, the Church and the soul have come up to the frontiers of the Holy. There we are required, not to cast the world from us, but to do our best for all others as well as ourselves.

Underhill's quote speaks of an expansive love, not "love" that constricts, or isolates people from the world around them. Love is not just between the lovers in a couple, or among members of a family, or in a community. When one is filled by God -- by Love -- that person has so much love to give, he gives it all those around him.

(Now, love is not just warm fuzzies given to a person no matter what, or mushy, gushy stuff. I'll write about what I think love looks like in another post.)

And because I like the song, and it's my post title, here's Tina Turner's song of the same name:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Convicted by God

There are some religious folk who use the phrase "convicted by God." I don't hear it much -- if at all -- in Episcopal or Catholic circles, but it's a useful concept. Basically it's God making me aware of where I fall short and calling me to repentance. Some people hear God speaking in a human voice; however, I experience God's voice in a variety of ways, often in music.

Making amends, allowing God to work in me, following His will, turning away from thoughts and behaviors that hurt myself and others -- this is repentance to me.

Here's a song through which God spoke to me. It's by Sanctus Real, a Contemporary Christian group:

Here are the lyrics:

It's time for healing time to move on
It's time to fix what's been broken too long
Time to make right what has been wrong
It's time to find my way to where I belong
There's a wave that's crashing over me
And all I can do is surrender


Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but somehow there's peace
It's hard to surrender to what I can't see
but I'm giving in to something Heavenly

Time for a milestone
Time to begin again
Reevaluate who I really am
Am I doing everything to follow Your will
Or just climbing aimlessly over these hills
So show me what it is You want from me
I give everything I surrender...


Time to face up
Clean this old house
Time to breathe in and let everything out
That I've wanted to say for so many years
Time to release all my held back tears

Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but I believe
You're up to something bigger than me
Larger than life something Heavenly

Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but now I can see
This is something bigger than me
Larger than life something Heavenly
Something Heavenly

It's time to face up
Clean this old house
Time to breathe in and let everything out