Monday, November 30, 2009

And, oh, by the way...

...I've come pretty darned close to posting every single day this month as part of the NaBloPoMo event!

Thanks for putting up with the good, the bad, and the boring.

Sometimes Monday is Just About Penance

Thus far today:

  • weigh-in at the nutritionist - lost another 1.5 pounds. That was the good news of the day. Net score= +2

  • went to Cokesbury at Big Old Seminary and found the gift items and cards I needed. Just as I was ready to check out, the power went out, so I couldn't complete the transaction. Net score= -1

  • went (in the rain) to the wonderful dry cleaners that does vestments for FREE! Got mighty wet, though. Net score= 0

  • went to the Library to pick up a book they had on hold for me. Good, except they couldn't find the book that was on hold for me. Net score= -1

  • came home and spent almost a full hour on the phone with Verizon Wireless trying to get one thing accomplished. I think I got it done, but I'm not fully confident. The task? Simply moving StoneMason's cell phone account over so that it would be billed at the same time as the other three accounts in our family. Mind you, StoneMason's cell phone account, like all of our accounts, is in my name. Life shouldn't be this hard. Net score, compounded by aggravation factor= -3

  • discovered that the diocesan folks sent my invitations for my ordination (this coming Sunday) to the wrong place, and the box arrived there a few days ago. So even if they had arrived at my house on that date, it was really too late to send them to the out-of-town folks I might have hoped to invite. Glad I posted the invite on FB. Not the end of the world for me, but it sure seems like a waste of diocesan funds. Net score = -2

  • then spent a half hour on the phone with the health insurance folks trying to get a claim paid. Life shouldn't be this hard, Part II. Yes, I'm grateful that I've got insurance. I really wish it worked a little better, though. Net score= 0, since I was able to get the claim paid, but it took me a half hour of cajoling to do so.

Score for the day so far= -5. Not good for someone who is essentially able to see the positive in most everything, and to shrug off the petty annoyances of life.

So now that I've got all the bad karma stuff out of the way, the rest of the week will be fine, right?

The image above is the infamously unfortunate Joe Blftspk, from Al Capp's "Little Abner."

Sunday, November 29, 2009


The baptisms went spendidly - neither little one cried, the ten-month old seemed to say "Amen" after she was baptized (probably more like "amaaa" but we can fantasize), the rather shaky stand that held the basin with the water wasn't tipped over by the very large number of little ones we had there today, the two year old hugged me, and I didn't burst into tears, as I feared I might, it being my first non-emergency baptisms and all that. At some point, when the family forwards them to me, I'll post some pictures, but for now I am so very grateful for the gift of this vocation and the opportunity to do this.

Time for a nap, I think. Thank you, Jesus (on many levels).

Today's Sermon: Luke 21:25-26 "Dressed in the Armor of Light"

Each Sunday, very early in the service we pray a prayer that is just for that particular Sunday in the liturgical year. It’s called the Collect of the Day, and it ties to the themes we will be hearing in the readings from Scripture shortly thereafter.

The collect that we heard at the beginning of our service today mentions a line from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” It is mentioned, of course, on this first Sunday of Advent, because the season of Advent is one in which we prepare for the coming of the light, Jesus Christ our Lord. We symbolize it in the Advent wreath, each Sunday lighting another candle, until all four of them brighten the dark days of winter as we greet Jesus, the Light of the World, on Christmas.

Why do we need the light? Certainly, in these winter months, light is a precious thing. The days are short. The shade of night falls so early each day that by 5 o’clock, all the streetlamps are on.

We need the light to warm our cold bones, to remind us that life awaits underneath the blanket of dry leaves, to fill our hearts with the sense of caring, of love, that we hope for in this season of waiting.

But we need light for something else as well.

Light feeds our psyches. Those who are particularly sensitive to the changing of the seasons, and the loss of light in wintertime, can become depressed. Science has a name for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can manifest as just a feeling of the blues or a lack of energy, or it can be full-blown clinical depression. The cure? Not necessarily the standard drugs for depression, like Prozac.

Instead, relief may be found in a light box, a device that mimics the rays of the daylight, giving light to the eyes that reaches in to cure the soul.

It’s no surprise – we know that germinating plants stretch up to the sunlight to open and bloom, and we know that when we’ve gone outside on a sunny day for a walk or a run, we feel better, rosier, healthier. Light helps us thrive physically and emotionally.

It is also a deep need for spiritual health as well, and that’s what I’d like us to think about on this day. As we need light for physical and psychological health, we need the light of Christ for our spiritual health. Think again of that prayer I mentioned: “put on the armor of light.”

In Advent, we are working to clothe ourselves in that armor of light as we await the one who is the Light of the World. So, too, in the sacrament of baptism, which we will celebrate in a few minutes. After J and C [the candidates for baptism, an infant and a toddler] are washed in the water of baptism, something else happens. They will be made ready for their life as new Christians. In ancient days, baptism was referred to as “enlightenment” because the baptized person receives the light of Christ, and in some places the ceremony of baptism includes the presentation of a lighted candle …the newly baptized is now wrapped in that wonderful light. J and C will be clothed in that armor of light to ready them, with the help of their parents and godparents and all of us who have witnessed their baptism, to go out into the world as Christians..

We pray for this, not only because we want to welcome them into the Body of Christ, to be an integral part of this faith community, but also because being a Christian is not always easy. The works of darkness are all around us, tempting us to follow other paths than the one Christ bids us follow. And that is the reminder that we receive in the Gospel this morning – another one of those apocalyptic messages where Jesus talks about some of the difficult signs and events that will take place before he comes again. The gospel names a few of the works of darkness: drunkenness, dissipation and the worries of life. It’s hard to imagine J or C falling into those troubles at this point in their lives, but those of us who are adults can certainly understand how these, and other troubles, can get in the way of living our life in the light of Christ. There are challenges ahead, for J and C, and for the rest of us sitting here today. But the gospel exhorts us to “stand up and raise your heads, because redemption is drawing near.”

Don’t be afraid to stand up. Raise your heads. Like those germinating seeds, reaching for the light. Like proud people who are glad to be wrapped in the armor of light, standing for what we believe in. We are not only washed of our sins in the water of baptism, we are enlightened by the flame of love and grace given to us by Jesus Christ. And even in times when darkness surrounds us, that light will give us the courage to live God’s Word in our daily lives. Whether we are ten months old, or ten years old, or decades past those markers, we need to stand up, cloak ourselves in the armor of light, and go out and celebrate what we have been given by our generous and loving God.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back into the Light

No post yesterday, because we were without power. We had extraordinarily high winds, some driving rain, and the power went out in the early afternoon. Didn't come back on till midnight.

It reminded me how overly dependent I am on my electronic stuff, since the sermon was on this laptop, and I had no way of printing it out. Same with the Adult Ed stuff. I can't think of any elegant solution to this problem...had the power not come back on, I would have had to drive to the Mother Ship very early tomorrow morning with the laptop, and print the stuff out there. Maybe this means I should print a couple of the drafts as I go along, although I hate to waste the paper. Maybe I should start writing them longhand on legal pads. No, that's not going to happen.

Today is a gorgeous sunny day, brisk and beautiful. Still pretty windy. The Farmer's Market was still well-populated this morning and we now have a bounty of fruits and veg for the coming week.

One more week until ordination to the priesthood. Yes!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


...for God, family, savings, a job, my education, reasonable health, the cats (mostly), losing 8 pounds, taking long walks, the fact that StrongOpinions' car is now up at her dad's house rather than in front of ours, the possibilities for the future, and for you who visit here. Some of you are friends IRL (in real life), some of you I know only through this electronic medium, but you are all precious to God and to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Miscellany

StrongOpinions is braving a Chinatown bus to come down here to retrieve her car. She got on in Brooklyn, then the bus went to Manhattan to do pickups there. Apparently, there was all sorts of commotion from people who wanted to get onto the bus and there were not enough seats. Theoretically, the bus is supposed to arrive in DC by 2, but I would be mighty surprised if they got there by 4. Ah, well.

I had the delight of a little breakfast time this morning with two of my favorite clergywoman friends. We're very good at identifiying all the problems of the world. Fixing them - not so much. But it is great to have a couple of people to whom you can say ANYTHING and they won't flinch, and who will tell you you're full of baloney when that's the case.

Holidays - they're lovely, but for some folks they are ineffably sad. Bereavement, family problems, illness, seasonal depression, job loss, it all comes out at holiday times. Spending a lot of time on the phone or email with hurting souls reminds me of how fortunate I am.

Dear Lord, pour down your healing grace on those for whom this time of celebration feels like a bitter reminder of their pain. Let them know that they are not alone and that your love is with them always. May your embrace be warmth to those who are chilled to the bone, may your words be food for the empty soul, may your love be a salve to the wounded spirit. And may we never forget our own obligation to be your hands and feet and voice to serve those who suffer.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy, happy, joy, joy

I'm out at The Mother Ship today, working with SuperParish Administrator to get our very complicated bulletin for Sunday put together and meeting with the parents of the children who will be baptized on Sunday. Since we don't use the Prayer Book and Hymnals because we meet in a Middle School auditorium, the entire service, soup to nuts, is in our bulletin. A big job, done largely by the wonderful guy who does the first draft, SuperParishAdministrator, and the Music Team Director. I simply make sure that no major liturgical gaffes occur.

I am beyond thrilled to be able to exercise my ministry by baptizing, and had great fun chatting with the two year old boy who is one of the candidates, so he gets used to me before the Big Moment. He said "I wanna be captized." Too adorable. Mom had done a great job preparing him for what is to happen, as much as anyone can prepare a two year old. I think I'm going to have Mom or Dad hold him while I baptize him, since he's big and wiggly. The other candidate, a 10-month old girl, I can manage on my own (I hope!).

With all the relatives who will be coming, our numbers may go over the 100 person mark, pretty remarkable for a holiday weekend. I'm hoping it will feel like an invitation for many of them to consider attending at St Middle School - it's certainly a family-friendly place.

The cold is mostly gone, but the singing voice is still among the missing, darn it. Hoping it will be back by Sunday!

StrongOpinions will be here tomorrow. She will retrieve her car (a 74 Datsun 280Z) since we haven't been able to sell it yet, and will drive it up to her father's for Thanksgiving. We'll have a night with her. This is not our year for the kids for Thanksgiving, but we'll see them later on.

Life is good. Whatever happens on the job front, I am truly blessed. I have a husband who loves me and shows me that every day, I have kids who have grown up to be interesting, morally centered people, I have grandbabies who define "cute," and I have a vocation to serve God in the church. Nothing to complain about!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gray, Wet, but Positive Monday

Yes, it's cold and damp here, and the sky is pretty dark at 4:30, but I'm feeling good. My speaking voice is mostly back again, although I can't sing. Still a little hacking and sniffling, but I'm no longer taking cold meds, just vit C and echinacea. Definitely an improvement over last week!

I got errands done at the office supply store, the video store, and the dry cleaners, had a good lunch with a friend, and found some lovely roses for cheap at Costco where I went to get soap.

All good things, but the best part of the day was weighing myself and finding out I've lost some weight. Now to see if I can sustain the loss and maybe even lose a couple mroe pounds over the holidays.

I have several sermons to write for the next couple of very eventful weeks. Should be fun!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Finding my Voice (Again)

TBTG, I had enough voice to preside today at Saint Middle School. Our candidate for the vocational diaconate, the wonderful Dana, gave an excellent sermon on "Impossible Possibilities" and the Search Committee did the Adult Forum, a presentation on the parish profile and the status of the search. We had a young couple visit who are interested in getting married, and our attendance was higher than it had been in months - slowly, our numbers are heading toward (and I hope past) the 100 person mark.

I took a bye on the St G's party to watch the Redskins-Cowboys game, coming home instead to tend to a few things that needed to be done, and to crash on the couch.

Next week will be exciting, with two baptisms (my first since doing emergency baptisms at the hospital during CPE) and new altar cloths (paraments) for Advent.

Two more Sundays doing Deacon's Mass, then I will be ordained a priest. I still shake my head in amazement that I have come to this place of grace. God is good!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Semi-Normal Saturday

My voice is almost back - it will certainly be enough to get me through church tomorrow, I think.

I trekked to the Farmer's Market this morning - incredibly busy this Saturday before Thanksgiving. Still lots of lovely fruits and veg to choose from. I successfully avoided the croissants and French bread and chocolates.
Then on to icon-writing. I did the haloes on St Nicholas and the tiny insets of Jesus and Mary with gold leaf. I did most of the black outlines. I may get around to doing the shadows as well this week, then next Saturday I can begin using color. I suspect this one will go quickly. It won't be done by St Nicholas' day, when I am to be ordained to the priesthood, but that's okay. It will be a perpetual reminder of the marvel of that day.
In a fit of incredible stupidity I headed over to Costco for more Kleenex and TP, and it was utterly insane. I managed to get out in an hour, but the level of chaos in the parking lot and bad behavior in the store was exhausting.
Home again, to run some laundry and do some reading. PH is away at a conference until tomorrow afternoon, so I am having some quiet time and actually getting some stuff done. I should clean up the boxes of books in my office (I had packed them a couple of months ago, thinking we'd be moving soon, and have since needed to dig through them for various and sundry things). Two of my sisters-in-law will be coming out for the ordination, and I think we will turn the office into sleeping quarters for one of them, so I need to make order out of disorder.
Praying that tomorrow goes smoothly. I'll be presiding, and our candidate for the vocational diaconate is preaching. It will also be the final ingathering of our stewardship campaign, and I'm hoping that goes well and that the numbers hold to last years' or improve. If Saint Middle School wants to call a permanent vicar, they've got to step up to the plate.
I hope your tomorrow goes smoothly as well!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Five: Thanksgiving Thoughts

A wonderfully poetic Friday Five from Jan this week:

The Cure

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk,
I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?

Probably my cranberry chutney, and also making pumpkin pie.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?

The offspring will be either with their father or on the other coast working, so PH and I will enjoy a rare Thanksgiving with just the two of us - we're going out to our favorite French restaurant for a French thanksgiving...

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?

...which means no turkey, which I can live without, anyway. I believe pate, Chateaubriand and pumpkin cheesecake will be part of the menu. And red wine. I'll give thanks, indeed!

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?

You mean outside of the fact that we celebrate taking the nation away from the indigenous people, or Thanksgiving as a concept? I like the latter. I think we shy away too much from the former. I'll still eat, though, and thank God for the ability to do so.

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

Relatively good health, PH and the kids and grandkids, my impending ordination (two weeks!), the good folks at Saint Middle School, endless possibilities.

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.

Oh, I suspect Aunt Bert lays out the old favorites, like tomato aspic, creamed onions, mashed potatoes AND mashed sweets, maybe also rutabagas, something with peas, a green bean casserole, and a massive turkey stuffed with cornbread. Giblet gravy. Cranberry sauce from the can that goes plop when the vacuum holding it in the can is released. Apple cider. Three pies: sweet potato (none of that pumpkin for her), pecan (mmmmmm), and chess pie. No apple pie, that's a northern thing, you know. Maybe some ambrosia as a digestive...and they ate the cake earlier in the week, and Thanksgiving isn't really a cake holiday, anyways.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Organization

I got a couple of emails from the Mother Ship this afternoon regarding events that we have held in the past during the Christmas season at the Mother Ship...we won't be doing them this year, for a variety of good reasons. The fact that we needed to close the loop with the Mother Ship just completely slipped by me.

It pointed up the importance of keeping a master calendar, and I must admit that, contrary to my usual practice, I've been sloppy about that in recent months. This may be due to the fact that I thought I'd be gone to a permanent post by now (lazy me), or that our calendar at Saint Middle School is relatively modest, so I thought I could keep it in my head (a bit arrogant, that), or because the prior vicar kept much of this stuff in her head (her head was naturally better organized than mine, since she had set it all up in the first place).

So part of my afternoon will be spent plotting out a calendar for the coming months. This is the sort of thing that can be done whilst reclining on the chaise longue, surrounded by Kleenex and Earl Grey tea. Wish I had thought of doing it four months ago, but better late than never.

What tools do you use to track all that you need to keep track of in your parish/congregation?


From MadPriest, who found it on Country Parson. Many thanks for a bit of beauty and truth.

If It's Thursday, I Must Be in RhinoLand

Instead of being on the road out to the Mother Ship, I'm sitting at home on the couch, since I'm still fighting this miserable cold and laryngitis. No temperature, no nasty gunk when I cough, just the usual rhinovirus kicked up a couple of notches, and no voice. Still.

I decided it was wiser to cancel my meetings and stay put rather than stressing my body more and spreading germs around. Since others are preaching this weekend and doing the Adult Forum (thanks, D & C), I can actually get some rest and do some reading. The new book on the list is "Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy" by my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Bill Roberts. I served as his TA for Church Music while at Big Old Seminary, and he was and is one of the great joys of my life. I recommend it highly - a fun read with great and truly practical might be good reading for your church's music director as well, since it sometimes seems there can be a language barrier between the clergy and the church musician.

I may also spend a little time on the current knitting project, a Mimbres vest. If you don't mind following a color chart carefully, it's a fun knit, and because it's a vest, it goes quicker than a full sweater. Not portable the way sock knitting is, darn it, but still fun.

Other than that, I'll be on the couch, taking Vitamin C and drinking green tea and hoping for the good Lord's healing grace to pour down on me. And PH will be eating leftovers for dinner, because I think I'm not cooking tonight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

The nice thing about going to a conference less than 100 miles away is that it is far enough away to get a feeling of "getting away" but close enough to be home again quickly. The glow of a good get-together fades if one is stuck in bad traffic or bad weather. Thankfully, neither applied in my case.

It was good to see my fellow seminary grads - I can see some changes as they've grown into their new roles, but much of the same things that caused me to fall in love with them.

I had no voice for the whole thing - I still have laryngitis, which I certainly hope will abate by Sunday - so it became an odd kind of silent retreat for me, reminding me again the importance of listening. Since no one could ever accuse me of being quiet, this was a good thing.

I have a meeting with my spiritual director in an hour. We shall see how we do spiritual direction with me able to produce nothing more than a whisper. Somehow I think we will manage.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday at the Maritime Institute

Our conference is being held at the Maritime Institute, the school for the merchant marine. In case you didn't know, the merchant marine is actually part of the armed forces. Lots of great memorabilia and such around here, and the food is quite good.

The conference itself is interesting, part of a three-year con-ed program funded by Lilly. Good to see old friends, good to stretch my mind in some different ways, but it is exhausting to be here and have to participate at least a little bit, but having no voice to do so. I'm tired of whispering.

Hoping the voice will start to come back soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Meandering

Still no voice, although the other symptoms have abated somewhat. I am still planning to head up to Charm City for the conference. No need for me to speak too much, I think (I hope). I sure wish the decongestant would work a little better, although the Neti Pot does help.

Ah, well, there are other folks who need help more than I. The Washington Post has just rolled out its annual fundraising campaign for Children's National Medical Center. Having done CPE there, and having worked with parishioenrs who have children taken care of there, I cannot praise them enough. No child is turned away. Some of the most gifted specialists on earth work there, including Dr Jonas, the cardio-thoracic surgeon who has worked miracles on some very tiny babies with malformed hearts. I had the privilege of watching him perform one of those surgeries, and it was one of the most remarkable things I have ever experienced, particularly since I then got to follow the child and support the family post-surgery. So I urge you to follow this link and donate to them today: .

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sound of Silence

I've been fighting a cold since Friday a.m.. It evolved into misery yesterday.

I pulled myself out of the trough this morning to go preside at church, dutifully using massive quantities of Purell, not hugging anyone (except those who insisted on huggng me first) and trying not to reathe on anyone. I presided and preached, sounding pretty bass-baritone, but begged off on leading Adult Forum, even though I was fully prepared for a session on the Daily Office, because y that time I was feeling very bleak indeed, and the drive home is almost an hour.

The rest of the day was spent mostly on the couch, reading the new Stieg Larsson. "The Girl Who Played With Fire." I recommend it highly, in addition to Donna Leon's most recent Guido Brunetti police procedural "About Face," set in Venice.

I did manage to turn the leftover turkey into turkey posole chili and made a roast pork tenderloin for supper.

Dear K stopped by to drop off my finished Christ Pantocrator icon, now appropriately sealed with linseed oil. We chatted a bit, and I could feel my voice starting to go.

Now, a few hours later, the voice is completely gone. I am supposed to go up to Charm City for a con-ed program tomorrow through Wednesday noon - the first session of Big Old Seminary's Second Three Years program (thanks, Lilly Foundation!). I am hoping to at least feel better. Not being able to speak might be a blessing, but I really do have to attend it. Prayers for at least some modicum of healing would be appreciated!

Today's Sermon: Mark 13:1-8 “Birthpangs”

Two stories of new birth this morning, and what different stories they are!

Our Old Testament story is that of Hannah, who longed for a child, and was the subject of mocking by many people, even the prophet Eli, in her barrenness. No one seemed to understand her sadness and longing. No one, of course, except God, who eventually responded to her vow dedicating a son to God’s service, and, as the passage says, “opened her womb.”

We can imagine her great joy, finally being pregnant, and finally going through labor and delivering her son Samuel, who would be the prophet who anointed Saul and David.
Going through labor, even in a situation like this where the child is so longed for, is still hard and painful work. Hannah might certainly be forgiven if, at some point in the process of delivering Samuel, she said, “I wanted a child, but I never expected it would hurt so much. If I only had known, maybe I wouldn’t have asked.”

Once the child was born, of course, the pain was put behind her, and all was joy, a dream realized. And, as she promised, Hannah raised her son to serve God as a Nazarite. God had answered her prayers. Those prayers, in conjunction with her own hard work, brought her the son she had sought.

What a different kind of birth the strange passage from the Gospel of Mark offers us today!

It is a passage called “the Little Apocalypse” by biblical scholars. The word “apocalypse” is one we currently use to talk about the end of the world, or some catastrophic event that feels like the end of the world as we know it. That’s part of the meaning of the word, but there’s a bit more than that when we use it in talking about the Bible. It is a particular literary and theological style. It usually includes predictions of the end of the world, weird stuff happening that signal the end of time, use of symbols, particularly animal symbolism, numerology as a tool to determine when this will happen. If you read the Book of Revelation, it’s pretty much all apocalyptic. The Book of Daniel is largely apocalyptic. There is usually an allegory about the battle between good and evil – think angels and demons – and there is at some point an end to the battle. In the apocalyptic view, God will intervene within a predictably short interval to end the present evil age and to vindicate the faithful; thus it is pessimistic about the possibilities of what God can achieve within history, and is preoccupied with the end of history as God’s solution. God judges at the end of history and sorts out the good from the evil.

So what is this little apocalyptic passage doing stuck in the middle of Jesus’ teachings to the disciples and what are we supposed to do with the “birthpangs” of a new age to come?

First, this is just a small piece of the whole passage about the signs of coming changes, and the details are quite ugly. Don’t read it before bedtime. And know that many popularists have used this in addition to a related passage in 1 Thessalonians as the basis of all sorts of theories about the end of the age. The rapture, so described in a series of novels by Tim LaHaye, is a construct that first was proposed by Cotton Mather, and later became more widely discussed by John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s and expanded upon and popularized in the mid 1800s. In the 1970’s, a writer names Hal Lindsey wrote a book called “The Late Great Planet Earth” that reintroduced the theory. Lindsey thought that there were many signs indicating the rapture was about to come (the Cold War, the European economic Community was the seven-headed beast mentioned in Revelation, …all signs of impending Armegeddon, before which the good guys – the church, presumably – would get “raptured” before all the tribulations came. If you think this is a radical view that is not commonly held today, I’d remind you of some of the craziness that happened around the Y2K timeperiod, and the fact that there is a new movie, 2012, that supports an apocalyptic view based upon one of those odd justifications that the world will end on a particular date for particular reasons (think numerology and conspiracy theory all wrapped up into one). Fundamentalist evangelical Christians are the primary proponents of this theological position these days – we Episcopalians do believe in an end time, when God will judge us, but we don’t believe that there is a preliminary step where the good guys get a pass on the bad stuff that may happen right before then.

So this passage talks about some bad stuff happening. Is it a marker of the end of history, or of something else? Yes, Jesus talks about birthpangs…that would be a metaphor of something major and new happening. But if we understand when this was written, we may have a clue to what’s going on. Much of what is described in the passage parallel what is happening to the Jewish community about the time of the Fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the year 70. Scholars disagree as to whether it was written before the destruction of the Temple or afterwards, but we can feel confident that it was during a time of great tumult between the Jews and the Roman Empire. And this passage may follow another of the conventions of apocalyptic: some authors write about stuff that has already happened as if they are writing far in advance of it happening, thus making their statements seem like prescient predictions rather than reporting the news of the day. So the words of this story in Mark may be talking about a radical change in the lives of the Jewish Christians, particularly those in Jerusalem. It is less an allegory than a statement of what is going on around them, and it seems to point toward a more immediate return of the risen Christ than history shows us.

And that’s both the bane and the blessing of apocalyptic: Nostradamus, Tim LaHaye and the movie 2012 aside, we have a hard time identifying when any of these things that market he beginning of the end of time will happen. But in another way, they are always happening. Open the newspaper, and you’ll read about nations taking up arms against other nations. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Fiji on November 9th. Famines in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Sudan. Brother battling against brother – wasn’t this what happened at Fort Hood? Does this mean that the world is about to end?

I don’t believe so. I believe that Jesus will come someday and the world will end as we know it. But for now, we might be better served by looking at the great shifts in our world, the reinventing of society, and see the birth pangs that mark those events. We see a shift in awareness of the needs of others for food through organizations such as Oxfam and Share Our Strength. We see a shift in the delivery of the things that help people stay healthy from groups promoting the use of mosquito nets in places where malaria is rampant, to Doctors without Borders. We see a shift in understanding how communities can live in peace with each other in some of the positive signs in Somalia and in the many activities of the Mennonite Church. None of these things is without controversy, which is certainly a sign that we are laboring to make them happen. If they were easy, it wouldn’t be work. But labor, and the pains that accompany it, is necessary for change.

And we can see this writ small here at St. Middle School, where we are in the midst of our own birthpangs of a sort. We are moving into a new stage of our existence as we publish our Parish Profile and begin to receive names of candidates to be our permanent vicar.

It’s a little bit frightening. Those of us who have given birth can affirm that when you go into labor with your first child, it doesn’t matter how much you have read about labor, how much you’ve heard other women’s stories, it’s a whole different thing when the first birth pang hits. So it is with us. This is something different and new and not without dangers or pain. So we revisit the words of the Gospel today to prepare ourselves for the next birth pang: we will not be distracted by well-meaning but unhelpful advice from false prophets nor will we be drawn into petty disagreements. We will take a deep breath and welcome the work ahead, because that labor is what will take is into a new stage of our life as a parish in the months to come.

Birth pangs. Not easy, but necessary, to move closer to the kingdom, to what God wants us to


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday Colors

Pink - especially around the nose and eyes. I've got a cold, darn it. Rather than infecting the whole diocesan leadership team, I avoided going to an ordination. Better to stay home accumulating a pile of used Kleenex. Hoping the brunt of this will have passed before I have to drive out to Saint Middle School tomorrow morning.

Blue - because two persons whose work in ministry I really admire are leaving their churches for reasons that were not their fault. Some congregations are not appreciative of what they have, sad to say. I wish I could shrug and say that in each case, it was a bad fit (that does happen, despite the best efforts fo the Holy Spirit), but this is not so, and it makes me sad for them, for their congregations, and for the church.

Gray - skies overhead, but at least the rain seems to have stopped. And they're saying that it will be sunny and almost 70 degrees tomorrow. In mid-November, that seems wrong, but I'll take it.

Green - the lovely veggies that PH brought back from the Farmer's Market. Now if only I could have the energy to cook them!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Five: Friday the 13th

A cute meme from Sophia today:

"With thanks to my dear spouse TechnoGuy for the great suggestion, it's a Friday the 13th Friday Five!

1. How is this Friday the 13th looking for you?

Actually, wet. Very wet. We're getting the remnants of Hurricane Ida along the MidAtlantic coast, and it is pouring outside and has been for a couple of days. The clogged outflow pipe in the basement added to the overall wetness last night, as PH and I spent a good hour or so mopping up. The plumber came to snake out the line this morning - here's hoping it solves the problem.

2. Have you ever had anything unlucky happen on Friday the 13th?

Not in my memory.

3. Did your family of origin embrace or scorn superstitions?

My mother was a tad superstitious (don't put new shoes on the table, a crow on the roof means death is coming). Surprising, because she was by and large a very analytical person, and a devout Catholic. My father, not at all. When people spoke of superstitions, it was usually women doing the talking. I wonder why? Are we more in touch with the numinous?

4. Are there any unique or amusing ones from your family, region, or ethnic background?

The shoe one is the best. I can't recall what was supposed to happen, just that we were never supposed to do it. I can certainly understand not putting used shoes on the table, given what we all walk through in them, but new shoes? Just doesn't make much sense.

5. Do you love or hate horror movies like "Friday the 13th"?

I hate all horrow movies. I was a suggestible child, and always sensed monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet. Movies that put pictures to my fears were and are not pleasant to me!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Positive Leadership/Negative Leadership

The Fresh Start session (a con-ed and networking monthly program for priests new to the diocese) was interesting. The plenary was about leadership styles, and evaluating challenges as to whether they were technical (your car blows its clutch so you pay a repairman to replace it) or adaptive (conflicting values that require conversation, exploration, re-education, adjustment, flexing) . I think we all came to the conclusion pretty quickly that in the church, even things that appear technical on one level have some adaptive component to them. That roof that leaks, for example, may be technical in that you hire a roofer and he repairs it, but it may have something to do with a parish that has a skewed view of stewardship of the property, or it's the original roof that grandpa paid for and it's slate, and we couldn't possibly replace it with composite shingles, even though they're half the price of slate, because Granddaddy swore by slate roofing, or some other issue.

It's an interesting way to describe challenges, but one participant rightly noted that it has the possibility of devolving into a fire-fighting, fixit, kind of leadership that can start to feel rather negative. Where's the hope when you're playing Whack-a-Mole all the time?

I wonder if, to keep that from happening, the real sequence has to be the definition of a common dream or vision, a positive one, THEN the identification of what the parish does that already helps support that vision and what the parish does that might hinder or block the vision. Then the community is invested in removing the obstacles, to the extent that they can, to reach for the shared vision/goal.

It presumes not only a positive kind of leadership, but also a collaborative leadership. It's predicated on shared vision, and that comes from the group, not one individual (often the clergy in charge) that imposes that person's vision on the whole place. The process to get to that shared vision is nowhere near as efficient as the vision-caster model, but it surely stands a better chance of making a healthy congregation than dragging everyone along kicking and screaming. Jesus was not only divine, he was a great leader because he kept teaching and teaching and teaching until his disciples got it. It would have been more efficient for him to simply use his divinity to effect change in the world, but he chose to interact with people to carry on the work. They were imperfect, but they were committed.

There's a lesson there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


My group is responsible for much of tomorrow's Fresh Start session. We will be doing worship, providing a brunch of sorts, and our mentor/leader will be doing the plenary session.

I got the worship bulletin done a couple of days ago, so tonight was spent in the very soothing activity of baking for the hospitality. I made madeleines*, those lovely little shell-shaped cakes beloved of Proust's memory, and a crumb coffeecake. The madeleines were Julia's recipe, ones that I've been making for 36 years (!). The only improvement on the original recipe is using the silicon-based Gastroflex molds, much easier to use and simpler to store. The crumb coffeecake was out of Cooks Illustrated, a wonderful advertising-free magazine for food nerds. Chemistry for gourmands. My house now smells like Mrs. Claus's kitchen. Damn this low-carb diet I'm currently on - the others will have to report to me tomorrow whether the goodies were truly good.

My mother was a wonderful cook, but she was not comfortable with baking - she usually used mixes out of a box. They weren't bad, but, oh!, the difference in making something from scratch.

One of the differences, of course, is that it does take longer to make things from scratch. I think I mentioned the other day that I had experimented with Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. It's a remarkable recipe - just a 1/4 tsp yeast for a whole loaf, made possible by an extremely long first rise - 12 to 18 hours. It is incredibly simple...the challenge is living with a recipe that becomes part of your household for two days.

In past years, I used to make my own chicken and beef stocks, actually cooking them down to demiglace. There was a difference in flavor, but I no longer have the patience or the time to do the work - at least a days' work.

But there is something most satisfying about understanding how to start something from scratch and see it through to completion. Maybe it is my age that now gives me the ability to ride the time curve, or maybe it is a desire to fully taste food that is real. All I know is that it is a pleasurable process, when I can eke out the minutes, hours, days to do this, and it is meditative work.

Brother Lawrence was right.

* No, this isn't Julia's precise recipe, but it's quite close, and the blog post is charming. My recipe is from Julia's "The French Chef" cookbook.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It looks like I'll be doing a couple of baptisms, my first, in a few weeks. An infant and a somewhat older child. I cannot express how excited I am, and how I'm looking forward to this. Thank you, God, for this little beautiful affirmation of my ministry.


"When one door shuts, another opens."

Usually I hear that when something bad has happened, and it's usually job-related. It's intended to be a comfort, but sometimes it can feel like very cold comfort indeed. In that moment, I am stuck on the shut-door part and can't look toward the open-door part.

So it was an odd thing today when I started searching through the various databases where potential calls might be, and found something sorta interesting. I emailed the Diocesan Deployment Officer and said "what's the deal with this place? Should I enquire?"

And an hour later she had left a message on my phone saying, "Funny you sent me that email. I was just thinking last night that we should put your name in for that one. It must be the Holy Spirit!"

Whatever happens with this particular lead - and it is not the only one I am exploring right now - it helped move me from the shut-door to the open-door. And that's a very good thing. Nothing new can get past a closed door, after all.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Comfort Food

I'm about to try yet another roast chicken recipe, this time courtesy of Mark Bittman, the Minimalist of the New York Times. It's a high-heat recipe. We'll see.

Roast chicken was one of my mother's go-to recipes when I was growing up. She made it with a wonderful gravy that sometimes had caramelized onions, sometimes sauteed mushrooms. Mashed potatoes. Green beans or some sort of other green veg.

I liked the chicken, but it was the gravy and the mashed potatoes that made it comfort food par excellence. The gravy would sit in the middle of the potatoes, in a crater created by the ladle, and the challenge was always to maintain that lava pool of gravy for as long as possible, not letting it flow down the side of the pile of spuds. To this day I'm not sure why it was important. It just was.

My uncle the priest usually called at about 2 pm each Sunday to see if he wanted to invite himself to dinner. If it was roast beef or pork or lamb, he'd come to our house. If it was roast chicken, he wouldn't. He didn't know what he was missing.

When the weather turns colder, I'm usually turning toward comfort recipes like this. At our house, we may modify them a little bit (we'll have caulflower puree and sauteed tatsoi with some shallots and sherry vinegar as our sides), but there is something so elemental about a simple meal like this, so reminiscent of childhood. It feels good.

That isn't to say that all the cuisine of my mother's kitchen was transcendent and pure - she was a fan of Duncan Hines cake mixes and My-T-Fine puddings. In the same way, I'm liable to zap a microwave pizza when I'm tired and hungry and craving carbs and fat and salt. Not very satisfying, except in filling the belly quickly.

But there is something so very pleasurable taking the basics (a chicken, a pan, salt & pepper, an onion, some sage leaves) and transforming them into something that evokes powerful memories.

Today's Sermon: Mark 12: 38-44 "Good Stewardship"

The other day, I saw a group of financial advisors on the Today Show talking about the choices that people make and what they need to do to stay out of trouble in challenging economic times. And, as they have said often, they told us we all need to have six months of living expenses tucked away in savings, just in case.

That’s great advice, of course, but it has little to do with the reality of most of the folks who are most impacted by the economy. Saving up six months of living expenses, when you are living just a notch above the poverty line, is well-nigh impossible. Most of the folks who call up St Middle School office asking for help for groceries or diapers or gas to get to work live paycheck to paycheck. Most are worrying what will happen if the car breaks down, or if the doctor prescribes some medicine for their child’s asthma that has a high co-pay, or if the landlord raises the rent. So Saint Middle School helps in a small way, with a grocery card or a gas card or a card to Target.

We do that because it is the right thing to do. It is what Jesus told us to do, it is what our compassionate hearts tell us to do, it is mission and ministry and love all bound together. And it is the work of the church.

Contrast that view, then with what we hear about the religious institution in today’s gospel. You may have paid attention to the widow donating her few pennies, all that she had to the temple, and we could spend some time talking about that, but before we do, we should look at the beginning of the passage.

Jesus is teaching in the temple, an expected thing for a religious teacher to do.

The very first thing he talks about is the scribes. He tells his audience "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

First, a few words about scribes. Originally they were secular officials. They were noted for their ability to write and to deal with financial matters, so they were often involved in legal issues. Over time, they became more connected with the synagogue, since often matters that were financial and legal were brought to the chief priest for judgment. Was there a pattern of scribes cheating widows out of their houses? We don’t know for certain. The Law required particular care for widows and orphans, so it would be shocking for someone connected with the work of the synagogue to cheat widows out of their houses…but something was going on here that got Jesus upset. Perhaps it was the flouncing about of the scribes, acting like they were really important, being very conspicuous in their praying, while preying upon others and exploiting them in some of their financial transactions. It was not just the cheating, but their pretending about how righteous they were while they were doing it that really got Jesus upset.

And it was right for Jesus to get upset, because the one place we expect people to behave well is in our religious institutions. We think that if we are in a place that is supposed to be all about our relationship with God, the laws of God will guide those in leadership. Sadly, it is not always the case.

Certainly that little widow with her two copper coins expected integrity on the part of the people in the temple. She gave abundantly even in the midst of her poverty, the very kind of person that an unscrupulous scribe could cheat without much societal push-back, because she believed in the institution as a place of God, a place of God’s law. She gave in faith, with a ridiculous generosity, because that is what God asks of us, since he, too, has been ridiculously generous to us. It was her expectation that those coins would go to the work of the temple, not only in the religious ceremonies, but in caring for the less fortunate. They didn’t have gift cards to Target or Giant, but they distributed funds to those in need. And by and large, the synagogues did precisely that. The majority of scribes were not dishonest, they did their work appropriately. Most widows were not victims.

But Jesus’ teaching today reminds us that we who are the church have a responsibility to behave in a way that is not like the bad scribes. We have the right to expect that Saint Middle School will follow the laws of God and the laws of the land. We have the right to expect good stewardship from those of us in positions of leadership. And that is what we as a faith community live every day.

There may be no parish in the diocese that operates as efficiently. As a percentage of income, this is one of the most generous parishes, giving much to local charities, to international mission, and to people in need. Through the Alternative Gift Fair, we have raised and distributed over $100,000 to benefit our community. And many days, we receive calls from folks who are struggling, and we can offer them a little bit of help and prayer, because of your generosity.

It’s a generosity that recognizes that God’s generosity is so much greater than anything that we can offer. And it’s an act of faith, just as the widow’s offering was a gift of faith. It is predicated on your belief that your faith family will act as Christ taught us, and that your actions make a difference in bringing the Kingdom of God to fruition.

So as you consider your pledge for the coming year, think about a couple of things.

First, God has been, as I said before, ridiculously generous to us. He gave us the goodness of creation, the beautiful world around us. He has loved us even as we were at our most unlovable. And he gave us Jesus to save our very souls. His only expectation was that we love him back.

Second, the church has been the place that has helped us connect to that loving God, to help us with our questions, to share God’s word and love and support each other in our joys and sadnesses. Our hour or two together on Sunday mornings may have more to do with the health of our hearts and souls than anything else we do during the week, feeding us in ways we may not always even realize.

Last, the work of the church is not simply the care of us here in this room, it’s the care of all those who need to be here in this room, but who just haven’t found us yet.

So think about the way religious institutions are supposed to be, not the ones that Jesus decried, but the one that the widow hoped for – a place of caring, of righteousness, of teaching, of celebration – and contribute as ridiculously generously as you can, so Saint Middle School can continue to be that kind of family of faith, doing the work Jesus bade us to do in the way that God has ruled us to do, with love, with righteousness, with humility.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Fridays Are No Longer Necessarily TGIF

Many thanks to those who offered words of sympathy and encouragement on the bad news about the call to the parish north of here. I am at peace with it and am looking ahead to what comes next, appreciating even more the blessing of my work at Saint Middle School.

Since my workweek now includes weekends, Fridays are no longer the herald to a break in the action of work. They now function as the herald to "is the sermon done yet?" "Is the educational program done yet?"

Normally, my answer to both questions would be yes. Obsessive-compulsive that I am, I like to get them done earlier in the week, and just tweak them if necessary as Friday approaches. This week, though, because of the intensity of the work last weekend and the distraction of the bad news, I'm running late. Both are not yet complete.

And for some strange reason, I'm very much at peace with that. This may be an indicator of relaxation into the role, it may be an indicator that I recognize that some weeks will be different than others.

In either case, I'm grateful knowing that the Holy Spirit will help me along.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Into the RevCave do a lot of paperwork. I've gotten the Morning Prayer service done for our Fresh Start session next week - it is such a pleasure planning worship. Still have to finish the sermon and the adult ad program, so that will be the afternoon's work. This is my mid-day break.

I am (mostly) over the disappointment of not getting the call to the church up north of here. There is no point in trying to overanalyze it, since I don't know the person who did receive the call. Got a nice note from the Bishop from up there commenting on my "prodigious gifts." Ah, well, it would have been lovely, but there is something else that God intends for me to do, not the least of which is to continue to serve at Saint Middle School, which is several months away from calling a permanent vicar.

There is a very large pile of books that are calling my name, but I WILL NOT get lost in them until the sermon and the adult ed program are completed. That way I can have a bit of a break tomorrow...I hope.

Thank goodness I've got icon-writing this weekend to look forward to! Saint Nicholas begins.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

No More Wait State

Unfortunately, they chose the other candidate. Lots of lovely language on the phone call about how much they thought of me, and how blown away the Bishop was by me, but they felt the other candidate was a better fit for what they wanted to do.

Ah, well. I'm trying hard to let go of the disappointment and look ahead to what God has in mind for me, but it really feels sort of miserable tonight.

The Wednesday Drill

Wednesdays are my day to have office hours out at the Mother Ship (the parish that planted our little mission congregation). I work with our sublime parish admininstrator, the Amazon Empress, putting finishing touches on the bulletin and the announcements, make sure we get consecrated elements from the noon Eucharist at the Mother Ship. Today I've got a homebound parishioner to visit, follow-up calls to a few folks, a drop-by for the fellow whose wife we bid farewell to last Sunday.

I like Wednesdays, because it's when I am physically closest to my parishioners (except for Sunday, of course) and it is hard to minister to parishioners who are 40 miles away from home. This was reinforced once again when I got a call yesterday afternoon from one of my peeps - a son of another parishioner had an allergic reaction and was brought to the local ER for treatment. I talked with the mom by phone - the youngster is fine now, thanks be to God - but there was a moment of indecision: "Do I drive out there (45 minutes to an hour away, depending on the traffic) or do I just call and hope for the best?" It was easy to wait in this case, but if I had gotten a call that one of my older folks had been brought in to the ER, it would have been tougher to say to myself "stay home and wait." I do not like having to make such decisions; I'd much rather just hop in the car and go.

I do much of my work with parishioners by phone or email because of the distance. I can't participate in community events where our kids are a part of the action as easily because of the distance. I just can't be as PRESENT (that wonderful CPE word) as I would like to be for these good folks, and it gnaws at me.

One of the places where I may be called has a rectory right alongside the church. The world's easiest commute. It would be a radical shift after serving part-time at a place far away. And on Wednesdays, it sure does look appealing.

Time to get into the car and drive 40 miles to the west...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Is It Tuesday Already? Is It Only Tuesday?

Today was a day with a long laundry list of things to do, including the annual mammosquish and the biennial bone density scan. I got everything on the list done except for one thing, and that was not a critical thing. The sermon is in the percolation phase and the adult ed program for Sunday is in my brain but will get on paper very soon.

I am trying to fill up my days because I am in Wait State, and as I said before, I don't do Wait State well.

On the other hand, I got some lovely sock yarn at my new favorite yarn store, and successfully avoided buying enough yarn for another Major Project, since I've got three queued up right now and heaven knows when they will be complete. My poor sister-in-law has been waiting for her sweater (2/3rds done now) for two years now. And the project for Strong Opinions (we thought about it a year ago) may now be out of style, so I may need to revisit that one. Remind me never to do major knitting projects on size 3 needles again, will you? Only chunky yarns on size 10-13 needles...

We are trying to sell StrongOpinions' car, a 1975 Datsun 280Z. A bit rusty but functional. It has been a slow process...we really need to get this thing sold before the registration expires at the end of the month. Sigh. Anyone want it? It's a really hot car, if you're sixty and balding on top but have a gray-white ponytail hanging down your back, and only the teensiest beer gut.

PH and I took a walk this morning to our polling place; it seems our votes were for naught and the reactionary will be our next governor. Since he sided with those who walked from our denomination and tryied to take the property with them (in contravention of our canons, which their clergy all signed on to when they were ordained), and since he believes women should stay home, barefoot and pregnant, we are not pleased. And the even more right-wing whackadoodle who is running for AG has also been elected, it seems. Damn.

So please say a pray for our poor Commonwealth, soon to be governed by Neanderthals, for PH and me, wondering where we will be and if I will ever be called somewhere permanent, and for all those who have much more necessary things to pray for than us.

On the upside, there is a gorgeous harvest moon in the sky, and the squirrels are really enjoying the pumpkin we set out for their dining pleasure. And we had a very nice dinner of pot roast and potatoes and salad, and now I'm going upstairs to knit and try to avoid watching election returns.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Go Vote

..and don't vote for mean people, or people who think the good Lord Jesus only judges and does not love. Just sayin'.

Monday Diverse

Well, we all got through the weekend. The memorial service yesterday went smoothly, and I believe the family found great comfort in it. All I can say is that my feet hurt mightily by the end of the day. Shoes that feel okay for four hours may not work as well for ten. Next time, I think it will be the Dansko clogs.

Bless PH. He was home after flying the redeye back from the Pacific Northwest, where he had been at a conference, and I called him as I left the after-memorial-service reception. He had already done some laundry, and he put the lasagna in the oven. When I got home, he poured me a glass of wine and made us a salad. I took out the contacts, took off the shoes, switched into comfortable garb, and had my dinner served to me while we caught up on what had happened to each of us over the few days we had been apart. Bliss.

On another topic, we have seen an increase in the number of folks asking the church for help with groceries, utilities and such. In the past, it might have just been folks within a ten-mile radius of the parish. Now they are calling from much further afield. I'm wrestling with the problem of how to respond to these folks - we will get a bunch of gift cards to the grocery stores or Target, but I am not out there in the parish office every day (part-time position and 40 miles away), and I'm debating ways of setting up a lay-led ministry to work with these folks. It's not fair to the parish secretary, who is there most every day for a few hours, to have to field all this stuff. Maybe I'll talk to those who call and ask for help by phone, then arrange for a layperson whom I've trained to give them the gift cards. Any ideas would be appreciated.

I'm planning on this being a day of rest for me, but other needful things will intrude, I would bet. Maybe it's time for me to take a walk.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sermon for All Saints’ Day – November 1, 2009 “All the Saints”

We find saints in odd places. Sometimes the stories are dramatic. Sometimes the stories are quiet, even unknown, the gift of a meal to a hungry person, the unheralded donation to keep a mission trip going. But Revelation gives us an insight into what life after death as a saint will be like: a new Jerusalem, a holy city on a hill, with God dwelling with the mortals.

Getting there, though, isn’t particularly easy.

We might consider the sainthood of Mary in our Gospel story today. She was the sister of Jesus’ very good friend Lazarus. Lazarus had died while Jesus was away, taking care of other people with illnesses and problems and doubts. Even as she wept at Jesus’ feet, she was furious with him. She didn’t kneel to honor him, she crumpled to the ground, weeping in rage that Jesus wasn’t there when they needed him, when Lazarus became ill, when his body failed, when he died. She didn’t simply keen with the other mourners as women in that time and place were expected to do – she berated Jesus. “If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died!” You can hear the bitterness in her voice, and Jesus was, as the Gospel says, “greatly disturbed and deeply moved.” He, too, began to weep, because he had made a choice not to return immediately. His intention was to raise Lazarus after death to prove God’s power working through him. But when he saw the pain his plan had caused, he wept, even as he moved to the tomb to raise his friend from the dead. Mary's anger was a kind of saintly rage, wasn't it?

Saints - they appear in all kinds of stories.

Think of the story of a man who is imprisoned, a political prisoner unjustly held. He is on the verge of death. His wife disguises herself as a man, takes a job as a prison guard, and rescues her husband almost at the moment of his death from the tyrant who had imprisoned him. This wife, Lenore, disguised as Fidelio the prison guard, is brave, a saint who saved her husband and others who were about to be executed. She has fought for the right to see her husband in the dungeon, she has fought for the right for him and his fellow prisoners to be brought up into the sunlit courtyard of the jail, and she eventually fights the force of tyranny, the evil Pizarro, by shooting him, then releasing the political prisoners. This woman Lenore, in her passion and courage, feels a bit like Lazarus’ sister Mary, doesn’t she?

This is the story told in the opera “Fidelio,” written by Ludwig van Beethoven.

A dramatic story – after all, it IS grand opera…but perhaps not so farfetched.

In the midst of World War II, a Hungarian attorney, Hans von Dohnanyi, was imprisoned by the Third Reich. The Nazis had reason to imprison him. He had been involved in a plot with several family members to kill Hitler. Dohnanyi’s crime had been to keep detailed records of the Nazis’ oppression of Jews, homosexuals, and communists.

When he first began to fear he would be imprisoned, Dohnányi worked out a clever system whereby he could communicate with his family from behind bars. His wife, Frau Dohnányi, sent her husband books containing hidden messages made by marking various letters in various words on various pages; when strung together, the underlined letters formed instructions from wife to husband.

Frau Dohnanyi sent him one such message that she was sending him a package of cookies tainted with diphtheria. He would become ill with the disease and be transferred to the hospital from the concentration camp where he was being held. Dohnányi did become ill, but he was moved, not to the hospital where they thought he would go, but to a room guarded by Nazi soldiers at a clinic in Berlin. In a striking parallel with the plot of Fidelio, Dohnányi's wife disguised herself as a nurse so she could see her husband without peril to herself. A doctor who worked at the clinic tried to help the family to escape from Nazi Germany.

It was not to be. Because the SS was guarding the family residence where their children were living, escape would have been impossible, even if their father had managed to be smuggled out of the clinic. Hans von Dohnányi, and four other family members were executed on the same day, April 9, 1945, in separate concentration camps.

Not as happy an ending as the one in the opera, but was Frau von Dohnanyi any less a saint because the plan did not succeed? Was Hans’ opposition to the Nazis any less noble because he died? But in her courage and attempt to save her family, wasn’t Frau Dohnanyi a little like Lazarus’ sister Mary? Not the most prominent name, but a saint in her bravery? And wasn’t Hans a saint for speaking out for those who had no voice against overwhelming odds? Sainthood is not a goal-defined honor – it is not about succeeding in achieving something other than faithfully following what Christ taught us about how we are to love God and love each other.

But the story of Dohnanyi is not simply about its odd parallels with the opera Fidelio, which Hans’s father Ernst had conducted in prewar Berlin and which his son Christoph recently conducted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There is yet another saint in the story…the brother of Frau Dohnanyi, one of the men who shared that imprisonment with Hans.

His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister and already a highly regarded theologian before he was imprisoned. He had been in the United States a few years earlier, studying with Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary, and was deeply impressed with the kind of muscular Christianity practiced at Abyssinian Baptist Church up in Harlem. He saw the power of a Gospel of Social Justice and the necessity for the church to speak in the world against evil and injustice. He returned to Germany in 1931 to be ordained and to take a post teaching theology at the University of Berlin, but his career was cut short by the coming to power of the Nazis, with Hitler as their Fuhrer. He gave a sermon on the radio decrying what he saw as an idolatrous cult of Der Fueher…and that was the beginning of his long walk to his death. He opposed a pro-Nazi Christian movement called the German Christians, many of whom won high posts in the Nazi regime, and allied himself with what was eventually to become the Confessing Church, a group of church leaders who opposed Nazism.A schism in the German church between those who thought that Hitler was right and those who cried out against Hitler’s racism. Bonhoeffer went to London to take a post in the German speaking church there in 1933, amidst an outcry from others in the Confessing Church, who thought he was running away. He wanted to use the message of the Confessing Church to drum up ecumenical support for its views, to oppose Hitler and Nazism. He returned to Germany to found some underground seminaries, not beholden to Hitler, and then went back to Union Theoloigcal Seminary in New York in the late 30’s. He decided, though, he had to return to Germany, to continue to fight for the true Gospel and against the Nazi’s racist policies. His words to Neibuhr: "I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the recon­struction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people...Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."

It was, of course, a death sentence. He had begun working years before with his brother in law, Hans von Dohnanyi, and another small group plotting Hitler’s overthrow. He was arrested in 1943, and taken to Tegel prison. Later, he was put into Buchenwald, and then to Flossenburg, where he was hung. Some of his writings were smuggled out of prison, and later published as “Letters from Prison.”

Bonhoeffer argued that Christians should not retreat from the world, but have a duty to act within it. He believed that as faithful people, we were required to do two things: to fight for the implementation of justice and to accept divine suffering. He insisted that the church, like the Christians, "had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world" if it were to be a true church of Christ.

A saint? No question about it. He is honored as such by the Lutherans and the Anglicans. But as powerful as Bonhoeffer’s story is, as extraordinary as his acts were, there are other saints in the story as well. The saints whose names are not known, perhaps a prison guard who had a hand in smuggling out Bonhoeffer’s writings, perhaps an Abwehr official who snuck Bonhoeffer out of prison briefly to meet with leaders of churches from England and America, to tell them what was really happening and what they must do, perhaps even the doctor who attended Bonhoeffer’s hanging, who wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer ... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” And of course, Frau Dohnanyi, who saw her brother and husband killed in the service of what Christ had taught.

All of these other saints, the ones whose faces are not carved into stone in the great cathedrals, the ones whose names are not known to us, they share the same promise spoken of in Revelation, living in the holy city on the hill, the new Jerusalem, with God among them.

So part of our work today as we honor all the saints is to remember the invisible saints before us and among us. You know the saints in your lives – the grandmother to whom you ran for comfort when your parents chastised you, the teacher who encouraged you to keep working on your math, the crossing guard who smiles at your children every day, the cashier in the supermarket who always has a smile.

Sainthood isn’t always a matter of martyrdom. It isn’t always dramatic. It doesn’t always encompass an entire lifetime’s work.

Sometimes it is just a few words, witnessing to power of the Gospel in a simple way, speaking for someone who has no one to speak for him, doing what the Gospel teaches. Saints are all around us, giving us a glimpse into that heavenly kingdom, the new Jerusalem, and a seat with God right alongside us.

Let God, and all the saints, be praised!