Standing in Our Belovedness

Last week I presided over a lovely outdoor wedding. The families were wonderful and supportive, the couple was a delight. Everything was beautiful, thoughtful and (important to me) well organized. At the reception that evening, I was asked to start the meal with a prayer. Happy to do it. And on the way back to my seat, a woman pulled me aside and said how happy she was to be at a “Christian wedding.” Me too, I said, and wondered exactly what she meant.

I was thinking later that whether I had prayed before the meal or not, whether I had presided or a judge or someone’s best friend, whether we had a Eucharist or the whole thing took 15 minutes, God would have still been present.

We can work pretty hard at pretending we are riding solo. We can convince ourselves that we do not believe, or that God is only around when we are paying attention. We can pick and choose times that include God and times that we think we exclude God. And the truth remains. God is always, always, always there. God is always with us, always calling to us and inviting us, and always loving us.

And that is the hard part, isn’t it—standing in our belovedness. I think it is easier to imagine a vengeful, punishing, judgmental God than it is to realize that God is always loving us. We know we rarely live up to our own expectation of what that means. So in defense, we just look the other way, pretend not to pay attention. And yet, God is always loving us. Absolutely, delightedly, abundantly.

Prayer is spending intentional time welcoming and trying to live into God’s love. Prayer is standing before God as we are and allowing God to love us into our best selves. When we let go of all of the negative baloney we carry and just let God love us, we are changed. And we want to share it. But prayer is a discipline, a practice. So spend time practicing being loved, practicing being delighted in, practicing accepting that love. And see where that moves you. How will you become that love in a world that sorely needs it? Who will you tell about it, invite to pay attention?

God is loving you this minute! Open the door of your heart and let God in!

Why I Wear a Collar

I am an Episcopal priest, and so I wear a religious collar.  You have seen these collars.  The Roman style is a tab, a white square surrounded by black cotton, worn around the neck.  The Anglican style is wraparound, white, about an inch and a half thick.  You have to purchase a special shirt that can hold the buttons that keep the collar in place.  My church tradition favors the Anglican collar, and I have a collection of black, grey and white shirts that I wear to work that will accommodate this peculiar ornament that I hope will identify my priestly vocation.

People ask me various questions about the collar.  Question 1: Is it comfortable?  After more than a dozen years of wearing it, I don’t really feel it anymore.  It is like a wedding ring or a wristwatch.  You know it is there, but you don’t notice it.  It can get hot in the summer though.  Question 2: What is it made of?   Mine is plastic; some are cloth.  You have to iron and starch the cloth ones so mine is plastic.  Question 3: Where do you get them? There are catalogues of church supplies and priestly vestments and clothing.  You can get them online.  And no, I will not let you borrow it for Halloween.

But people rarely ask me why I wear it.  I think they assume it is a requirement of the job, though many of my colleagues in this area don’t wear one except on Sundays.  I don’t have to wear it. No one monitors my compliance.  I choose to.  My choice to wear a collar, to wear something that sets me intentionally apart, does not have to do with my need to be an authority.  Any priest will tell you that those days are gone.  There is little privilege to being a priest, which is probably a good thing.  So I don’t wear it to be powerful, or to avoid speeding tickets or to get a free lunch.

In fact, for me, wearing a collar is a spiritual discipline hopefully grounded in humility.  Wearing a collar doesn’t make my life easier.  Actually it makes it more likely someone will want to tell me their problems or ask me for money.  It makes it more likely that I will get asked why there are starving children or what I believe about complicated social issues.  It makes it more likely that I will be challenged about the hypocrisy of religion, or that I will be told about how Sunday mornings are too valuable to waste on church.  People love to tell me they are spiritual but not religious.

And frankly, that is just fine.  I love the hard questions.  I love the challenges.  I love that people ask me to pray for them or their relatives and friends.  I love it when I am a reminder of when church might have been important in someone’s life or a sign of hope that it might be again.  I love it when I can assure people that I believe in a God of love and mercy and compassion.  I love to let people know how much it means to me to be a priest.

I wear a collar because what I believe matters to me.  Just like someone might wear a cross or a Star of David or a burka, or carry a set of prayer beads.  I deeply respect when people are willing to proclaim who they are, are proud to be a part of something bigger than themselves, especially those who proclaim it with humility and graciousness.  I aspire to that. And that is why I wear a collar.

God Intermingles Everything for Good

“We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose,  and turns everything to their good. ”  Romans 8:28, New Jerusalem Bible

In one of her Starbridge novels, Susan Howatch uses the phrase “God intermingles everything for good” and compares intermingling to sunlight and shade.  Sometimes we can have too much shade, or sunlight.   We need one to appreciate the other.   If I pay attention I see this intermingling in many places.   When I was diagnosed with cancer, my despair was intermingled with hope for successful treatment.   Everything changed, but everything was not gloom and darkness.

Each week in the hospital’s infusion room I meet people of faith and hope.  People from all around the Mahoning Valley, some who’ve lived here all their lives, others who came here from Puerto Rico, Palestine, the British Isles  (me), all of us fighting cancer, all, it seems, people of hope, of faith.  We offer each other hope, encouragement and prayers.  We don’t ask what faith we claim, we trust in God to hear and answer our prayers.  There are times of discouragement but also times of rejoicing–when a course of treatment is completed.  The nurses are beacons of light and hope, explaining procedures,  reassuring us through their skills and compassion.

The Chaplain reminds us of God’s presence and love even here.  A high school student, a recent immigrant from Nepal, is a breath of youthful fresh air.  She practices her English on us, and we exchange information about Nepali, American and British customs.  Everyone congratulates her when she passes her driving test,  and offers encouragement as she prepares for the ACT.

The infusion room is a microcosm of the world, and when I pay attention I see God’s intermingling of all things for good–the secret is to pay attention!

We are St. John’s Episcopal Church

We are St. John’s Episcopal Church.  We are a place where everyone is welcome and valued. We are a church that asks questions and seeks to find the answers together. We are a community that reaches out to our neighbor in an effort to be brothers and sisters together.  This blog contains the thoughts, hopes, dreams and struggles of members of our parish. Our deepest desire is to grow closer in relationship to God, deeper in our understanding of ourselves, and more relevant in our broken world. Please join us!