How do you manage your internal weather?

In my very first parish post-ordination, I was an assistant to the rector, and mostly in charge of youth and outreach. And to prepare for developing new outreach program possibilities, I put a survey in the bulletin. What were people’s interests? The mistake I made was listing a few examples, one of which was something along the lines of a social justice group.

One of the members, an older man who had a reputation for grumpiness, came up to me after the service practically yelling about liberal, radical troublemakers and not at this church and citing some history that I didn’t know about, etc, etc, I was very bad, etc, etc. I was a little stunned by his fierce anger, and that it was directed at me. I said it was a survey and nothing was set in stone, and that his opinion was clear, and thanked him for telling me. I probably didn’t mean it.

He didn’t talk to me for a long time. And so I prayed. Maybe I was naïve to think that I could have a positive relationship with everyone in the parish, but it is still what I hope for and work toward even today. I prayed for peace. I prayed for reconciliation and common ground. I never prayed that he would change, but I prayed that I would, that I would somehow learn the best way to love him. Months went by.

Then one evening in Lent we were having a Wednesday night meeting and meal. I was there early to set up, and was fretting because I didn’t know how to make coffee (still don’t…) and there he was. He said, I know you can’t make coffee. And to his surprise, I hugged him. We didn’t have to change who we were, we just had to focus on love being the most important thing, and being right a distant second.

At the Winter Convocation last weekend, both the presenter and the musician talked about the importance of “managing our adrenaline” or “managing our internal weather”. If we cannot be in control of our emotional life, of our reacting, then we cannot be peacemakers and reconcilers.  Again, not making peace to subdue or ignore. Making peace to build healthy community.

In order to be able to manage my own reactions, I pray, I exercise, I try to see the good in people. I often ask myself how someone might have come to the position or situation they are in, as an act of empathy. I also yell and scream at the radio when no one else is around. The point of it all is to do what I have to do to maintain my own equilibrium, my own internal calm, so that when I am called on to be a non-anxious presence, a witness to God’s love, I can at least give it a try.

How do you manage your internal weather? How can it be an intentional, spiritual  practice?

Safety

I have been thinking a lot about safety. We just had a big meeting to examine all aspects of safety in our church. The speaker, who was great, said that we cannot hide behind thinking that nothing bad would ever happen. We have all seen fires and natural disasters and tragic loss of life happen, in churches and elsewhere. He said we cannot hide behind thinking that God will protect us.  And he helped us think about where we can do better, which was what we wanted. We want to do everything we can to be prepared, and live in hope that we will never need to use any of it.

I believe that God is active in our lives, constantly creating with us the Kingdom of God now. I believe that God has the power to do anything. And that God could avert disaster. But I also know that God gave me freedom, and in exchange for that, I have to live with the consequences of sin in the world, mine and everyone else’s. I know that God grieves our sin and works unrelentingly to help us be free of it as much as we possibly can.

God gives us guidelines to live by. God gives us prophets and martyrs. God gave us Jesus to show with stunning clarity how to incorporate those rules in a way that lives them from the heart and not the head. And now God gives us each other, a church filled with courageous and faithful people working to be holy. God gives us what we need to become all that God created us to be.

So it isn’t that God will not spare us, that God will not take an active role. God is calling us constantly to goodness. And it isn’t that God wants bad things to happen. God grieves every tragedy in ways that only unconditional love can grieve.  God is always with us and always loving us.

So what is safety? I think the plans we are putting into place make us prepared and prudent, and are a good thing. For me, safety is people, being surrounded by community. It is being loved. It is spending time with people I trust and who value me in return. There is no safety in isolation, no safety in hiding away. And there is no safety in physical power. There will always be a stronger person, a more powerful weapon. There is safety in love and trust and care. There is safety in building a better world for all people. And so even as I work on the list of how we can do better, I will feed people, and talk to people, and believe in the innate goodness of all people. That is our ultimate safety in my experience.

Don’t Blame God

Yesterday I stalked out of the church in frustration. I was working on a computer thing, and I am not good at that. I was looking for trouble when a car came flying down the exit ramp, circled the parking lot and parked abruptly. Coming into the parking lot down the exit lane makes me nuts—so dangerous! So, I was going to give this driver a piece of my mind, and tell her students couldn’t park in the lot. I cooled off fast when I saw she was a social worker I know, who works with kids, who is just great, and who made a mistake. We ended up laughing.

And my need to blame, someone for something, evaporated. Blaming is a lot harder in Christian community. When you look someone in the eye, see their goodness, hear their story, so much of the anger and frustration disappears, and compassion fills the gap.

But it is easy to blame God.  You can’t see God. God does not defend Godself. God is an easy target. And there is a lot of potential material for daily blaming. School shootings, unjust detention, every 5 minutes in Washington, natural disasters—take your pick. God certainly has a lot of explaining to do. I am often singing the lyrics to “Calling All Angels” by Train.  I need a sign to let me know You’re here…

Except that none of those things are God’s fault much less God’s desire. God grieves about tragedy more deeply than we could ever imagine. Most of the failings of our world are failings of relationship-and God is always offering that. Each of the people involved in hate and violence, someone, me, someone should have loved them. Love casts out hate and fear.

What we don’t want to think about too heavily is our own freedom. We want God to take care of things, but we do not want to give up the freedom in which we have been created. We do not want to be Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest post-lobotomy. If we accept freedom then we accept responsibility, and we each carry our own responsibility for making this world holy. We are all called to this every day.

The reality is that this seemingly impossible work is just easier when we do it together. We need an ever deepening connection to God in prayer, and an ever strengthened connection to each other. I can’t do it by myself. I need you. I am asking you to help me, to stand with me, to encourage me, to occasionally push me along. I will lovingly offer you the same support. And God will be greatly pleased and bless us. Hard work. But the sweetest possible reality in a harsh and sinful world.

Raising Money for the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza

When I contemplate my time in the Holy Land, there were many things that comforted me.  Seeing places that I only had heard of, the feeling of being somewhere that significant things happened, millennia of history to learn from—there was a lot that was good.

But this really got to me. One night at dinner in our guesthouse in Jerusalem, one of the staff members asked us to buy a raffle ticket. They were raising money for the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. And this is the story of why.

The hospital, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, is the only one in Gaza. They have cancer detection technology there. I remember that they told us 18,000 people are diagnosed every year and that the top three cancers are breast, lung and colon. I might be wrong on the number of cases, but it seemed big. So you get a cancer diagnosis and what do you do?

Well, if you are in Gaza, you can’t leave without a permit. And only 38% of the people who apply to go to the hospital in Jerusalem or Amman, Jordan, get the permits. The other 62%…they just die. I thought of my mother. How afraid we all were when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she had options, and she was cured. What would it be like to find out you could not get any treatment?

So, the hospital is teaming up with the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. They have the money to purchase equipment for cancer treatment. But they need money for all of the details surrounding that. I want to raise money for doctors to come to the US and get trained in the use of the treatment equipment. I can’t change the political situation in Gaza, but I can help someone else’s mother get the treatment she needs to survive cancer.

So I am asking for anyone so moved to send a check to St John’s with cancer treatment in the memo.  I will collect money until Lent (Feb 14). The National Cathedral is going to be the conduit for any money collected. If you could help, it would be a blessing.  Thank you.

Final Parish New Year’s Resolution

I like groups of 3—very Trinitarian. So we have 3 resolutions: practice offering yourself in love, commit to adult formation learning more about God and your faith, and the final one, hopefully the easiest, come to church.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I realize it is a new world. I realize life is complicated. I realize there are other commitments and obligations that vie for your time. I realize sometimes you just need a day to sleep in. I realize that the world is crazy and it seems that we have lost touch with God. Me too.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I could mention that many people that work so hard to make church lovely and meaningful. We work all week to prepare music and readings, practice and make sure we have help, print bulletins. We want everyone who comes to feel welcome and have an easy time participating and understanding. I think we do a good job, and I want to thank the ushers, the altar guild, the chalice bearers, the choir, the acolytes, the staff, people who clean and decorate, the properties committee—everyone who offers themselves to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

I could also mention that we keep statistics measuring Average Sunday Attendance, which we report to the diocese and national church every year. Our growth and health is measured this way and makes a difference in funding and support. Our church attendance needs to keep growing. People pay attention.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

But all of these things aside, we need to be a part of a worshiping community to be a whole, healthy, holy person. We need each other. We need to worship. Need it, deeply. We are drawn to God like a magnet, and we know God best when we are together doing God’s work, living into our baptismal vows, celebrating our blessings and praying for our needs, getting motivated with carry the love of Jesus into the world.

We need you here. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.

Please make a commitment of regular attendance to church on Sunday in 2018.

Parish New Year’s Resolution #2

I like lists. So there will be a short list of resolutions. And the second one is adult education. I would like the parish adults to be more active and intentional about learning more about God and the church. Studies show that churches whose adults care about growing in their faith are more successful, more likely to grow. We need to bump up our efforts.

And luckily I have a plan. The diocese has offered us a free year trial of an online adult education program. This will supplement the wonderful work that Rev. David Hill does on Sunday morning, and maybe even overlap!

In order to help us make the best use of this, the diocese has also given us money to hire The Rev. Joshua Caler to help us kick this off. Many of you met Rev. Caler when he took the services when I was in the Holy Land. He is going to study the program, introduce it to the parish, and hopefully present to us an online study option for Lent. Expect him to pick your brains about what you need and the best way to help you to learn.

Our hearts are filled with a deep desire for God. We are pulled toward God like a magnet. God wants us to know God more, to pursue God. We do that through prayer, reading the Bible, knowing the saints and the history of the church, and teasing out theological concepts. Follow your impulse to God, and we will find ways to know more together.

Epiphany!

As we endure the extremely cold weather that reminds me daily of the Christmas hymn In the Bleak Midwinter, we have left Advent hymns for another year and are moving quickly towards the season of Epiphany, starting on January 6, when we remember that Jesus came to all people. Like Advent hymns and Christmas carols, I find the Epiphany hymns tend to foreshadow his ministry and death, so that even as we sing

“Star of wonder, star of night,
“Star with royal beauty bright,
“Westward leading,still proceeding,
” Guide us to thy perfect light.”

We know that soon the verse will be

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
“Breathes a life of gathering gloom,
“Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
“Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Our priest Gayle returned recently from a tour of the Holy Land, bringing with her healing oil containing myrrh. A bitter perfume indeed, and one that lingers, it was the first time I have encountered it.

We are so accustomed to carols and manger scenes that include the Magi that it’s easy to forget that by the time of their arrival Jesus was two or three years old and presumably no longer using a manger for his bed, but I do find it disquieting to be reminded of all that awaits him. So the final verse reminds us,

“Glorious now behold him arise,
“King and God and sacrifice,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
“Earth to heaven replies.”