Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One Foot in Front of the Other

Yes, it is the holiest week of the church year. It is also the busiest.

I've talked about the challenge of all the bulletins before, so I won't bore you with that. Most of you who are part of the churched world know that there are a number of services this week, so I won't bore you with how busy I am with that either.

It's all the other stuff that continues in the midst of this that makes the week feel like a sausage stuffed to the edge of bursting. A dear parishioner with metastatic breast cancer who was hospitalized two days ago with pulmonary embolisms. Trying to schedule a few last meetings with folks prior to my departure from St Middle School. Trying to get the moving logistics worked out, as well as lining up the contractors to do the necessary work when we take possession of the new house. Conversations with key people in the new church about some things that need relatively quick attention, and conversations about holding off on a few things because they (and I) are not ready to tackle them yet. Discovering that my three weeks between leaving the old job and starting the new one have become very full with all sorts of necessary stuff.

The good news is that most of these things have been are or being attended to. The better news is that Jesus loves me whether they all get done or not. It ain't about me.

And the Maundy Thursday homily is done, so now I can turn my attention to Easter Sunday's sermon(s).

Sunday, March 28, 2010


We had a great Palm Sunday service at Saint Middle School today. New altar frontal and lectern parament in oxblood with palms attached. Lots of palms decorating the church. Good music, both outdoors in the chill for the Liturgy of the Palms and the processional, and indoors for the rest of the service. The dramatic reading of the Passion, with many voices participating, went quite well, and the sermon didn't smell too badly. A small but tasty potluck afterwards. Our attendance was off, since this is school vacation week (grrrr).

Then PH and I got in the car and drove across the Potomac to the fancy-schmancy new National Harbor where there was a show - Metropolitan Food, Libations and Luxury Home Show. It was an multiple-personality-disorder mishmash of artists and artisans, home remodeling people, and wine and beer distributors. Most of the crafts and art were not to our taste, although a friend of PH's had some stunning pieces in wood. The wine that they were offering tastings of was plonk. and the only useful thing amongst the home remodeling folks was the super low-flow toilets and the slightly scary bidet-style toilet seats. I found a little Chinese drawing of a rooster for my new kitchen, and PH found a chocolate covered pretzel (the same folks were offering chocolate covered Peeps - oh my!). Not much else to be excited about, but I think my sense of ennui about the thing was related to my lack of the usual Sunday afternoon clerical nap.

The week ahead will be busy, as it is for most of us in the church. Tuesday morning Litigator, my 26 y.o. son, will be coming for a few days. Tuesday night is the Tenebrae service, Thursday morning is the renewal of ordination vows, Thursday night is the Maundy Thursday service with foot-washing, Friday morning is singing at a Good Friday service at Big Old Seminary, Friday night is the Good Friday Stations of the Cross, and Sunday is a sunrise service outdoors and then a 10 am service with all the attendant big-service stuff, trumpeter included. Potluck brunch followed by Easter Egg Hunt.

It goes without saying that I will be taking a nap after that one...but wait - we're supposed to go to K&P's for Easter dinner. I'll sleep the following Monday, I think.

Reflection on the Passion: Sunday, March 28, 2010 : “How Glory Goes”

There’s a wonderful song from a rather obscure musical called “How Glory Goes.” It’s a reflection on what heaven will be like, and how little bits of our life on earth give us an insight into what might await us there. The hero, dreaming in rural Kentucky of a more hopeful future than he has in his life on earth, sings,

Do we hear a trumpet call us an' we're by your side?
Will I want,
Will I wish for all the things I should have done,
Longing to finish what I only just begun?

Or has a shinin' truth been waitin' there
for all the questions ev'ry where?
In a word a' wond'rin' suddenly you know;
An' you will always know...

Will my mama be there waitin' for me,
Smilin' like the way she does,
an' holdin' out her arms, and she calls my name?
She will hold me just the same...

Only heaven knows how glory goes,
what each of us was meant to be.”

We wonder what heaven will be like when our lives seem so limited, so broken. And we try to wrap our minds around a world that would take someone like Jesus and put him to death. And then we try to understand why Jesus would allow this to happen.

Today’s gospel readings certainly raise these questions once again.

I mean, after all, if you knew your work was going to be dismissed and you were going to die, would you still climb on that colt and take what looks like a victory lap going into Jerusalem?

That’s the big question for me as I participate in this Palm Sunday service of Holy Eucharist…we’ve re-enacted Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with all the people laying palms down on the road and praising him. We hear about the glory, about all the people waving those palms. But no sooner do we get back into our seats here in the auditorium than we start to hear about how short-lived this glory moment really is.

Today, as we hold our palms in our hands, we cannot sense the irony of the triumph unless we are reminded of what is to come. When we feel the stiff sharp-edged palm frond in our hand, we need to be reminded that is not simply an instrument of honor, it is also the reed that will be used to beat Jesus. And we are the ones who will use that reed as a weapon. We take the glory and crush it.

When we deny Jesus, as Peter does on Friday, as the elders do in Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, we are causing him as much pain as if we were beating him with the reed. We get that. If there was any doubt in our minds, it was banished when we cried out “Crucify him, Crucify him!” as we read the Passion just now. Our sins are the reason that Jesus dies, and his death is what redeems us from our sins. He suffers for us, because of us, and he goes through the journey to Jerusalem knowing that this is what waits for him at the end of that journey. But although we take the glory and crush it, glory will not remain crushed.

But why does Jesus go through what seems like a charade, riding on the colt as if he is a king welcomed home into the city? Is it merely a dance that he participates in, knowing that it is all artifice?

No, something different is going on.

It is an ironic moment, to be sure, but it is also a preview of a time beyond time when the glory that seems to accompany this first ride turns into a new reality. Jesus is showing us how glory goes. It is a new, uncrushable glory.

We cannot fully understand the enormity of Jesus’ gift to us. We cannot know what heaven will be like, or how the experience of that glorious second coming will transform us all, but in hearing the story once again of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the hard work that he took on to be our salvation. We see a glimpse of the place we hope to go to eventually, after we, too, do the hard work of being worthy of our salvation. That is how glory goes. Not without pain, not without sacrifice, but ultimately triumphant. As we go through the story this week, as we remember the cost, we know that this is the necessary path to how glory goes.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Because Jesus Is Big Enough to Have a Sense of Humor...

I do believe he would enjoy this.

TOH to the brilliant Eugene Cho, who created this.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All in all,

...not as crazy a day today as it has been on other ways recently.

Momentary rant: two people at St Middle School were quite insistent that I send out copies of the Passion for Palm Sunday with their reading assignments so they could properly prepare. So I sent out the script of the Passion with the reading assignments two weeks ago. Ample time to sort this all out, right? The same two folks just told me they will be away for Palm Sunday. The grumbler in me says that next year I will simply hand out the assignments on Palm Sunday morning to whoever shows up, but that doesn't work terribly well, either.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the schools are on vacation from this Friday through Easter Monday, so many families go away. The schools swear that they don't schedule their vacation based upon the date of Easter, but it sure looks like that to me and every other clergyperson I know. Would that they just decided that the last week in March would be their vacation week every year, then we could deal with it. But the other part of the problem is the usual one with volunteers who have very busy lives and precious little down time. For all my talk with them about finding Sabbath, often finding Sabbath means not being in church, even on major feast days, and that saddens me. I hope those who are away for Palm Sunday and/or Easter Sunday go to church wherever they may be. They may take vacation, but God doesn't.

Okay, rant over.

That said, things are moving apace for all the various and sundry things that will make the next ten days' services the wonderful celebrations of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that they should be. I am so grateful for the gifts of TS, our music director, who goes way beyond the basic scope of work every day and every week, and our Parish Administrator, who is bravely fighting the good fight to get the bulletins for all these services done, with the assistance of a parish volunteer who does the first draft of many of these bulletins.

Stuff that needs to be done yet:
  • Printing out of the various bulletins for Palm Sunday, Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
  • Doing the bulletins for the two Easter Services (one a sunrise service outdoors, another a festal celebration at our normal meeting place with trumpet, childrens' choir, adult choir, a zillion guests).
  • Making sure we're on track for the Newcomers' brunch this Sunday and the Easter potluck brunch/Easter egg hunt.
  • Finishing homily for this Sunday and starting the sermons for Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday.
And in the midst of this, I am busy doing logistical stuff for the purchase of the new house and the move. One major change from the last time we bought a house: emailing docs for signature, then signing them and scanning them and then re-emailing them back. Folks don't seem to use fax machines much anymore. That's fine by me.

One little joyful moment: we decided we would get ourselves a new bed. I think I've mentioned before that we've been using the one that PH got from a parishioner some 30 years ago. It's still a good serviceable bed, but it's time we got a new one, this time a queen size. So I went to a wonderful resale place near here on a whim, and found a beautiful Henkel Harris pencil post in dark cherry, for a fraction of what such a bed costs new. Yay!

Off now to run an errand, then get a haricut, before settling in for a long afternoon of sermonating!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Morning Lists Beyond Lists

In theory, at least, this is my day off. From a practical standpoint, this is not so.

Have to drop PH off at work since his car is in the shop, have to drop off dry cleaning, have to drop off books I borrowed from Big Old Seminary's library, have to drop off some research materials on a project for which I was RA. Have to list the large glass tank that used to house the late lamented Moses the gecko on Craigslist - I don't want to move that stupid thing. Meeting with my clergy mentor at 1 pm.

The bulletin for Palm Sunday (big, big, big) is not yet done. Because we will have the whole Lukan passion in it, we'll go to a large format rather than the little booklet size. Makes for some interesting challenges with Microsoft Office Publisher.

We've got the Tenebrae and Good Friday bulletins prepared. I'd like to get Maundy Thursday done this week as well, so that we can concentrate on the Easter Sunday and Easter II bulletins.

Since Easter Sunday is my last day at St G's, and since doing seasonal transitions in our bulletins are a bit of a bear, I will get the Easter II done as a parting gift to the short-term interim.

I will miss much about my time at this church, but I will not miss this aspect of St G's.

I've got sermons to write for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter (2 services, very different in nature. Don't know if I will write two sermons).

In the meantime, I'm glad to say that we finalized the deal for the house in Richmond. we will close on April 26th in the morning, then spend several hours going to Home Depot or Lowes to get a washer and dryer, contracting with the roofer and plumber to fix the various things that need our attention, getting a small table and chairs for the breakfast nook. It should be an interesting time. I've pretty much decided what colors we will paint the bedrooms. TBTG, the main floor is move-in ready without any painting. I'll have some window treatments to sew, and maybe a duvet cover for the new bed, but all in all, it will be an easy move (and God said "HA!")

But before all that is the planning and the organizing for a move. I've done it a zillion times before...well, actually 18 I know what's involved and how to set up for it. But I don't enjoy it.

Oh, well, suck it up, Mibi.

PS: Houseguest this weekend (delightful friend of PH's brother - she works in the same profession as PH, going to the same professional conference he will be attending in Your Nation's Capitol this weekend), followed by eldest son Litigator coming for a brief visit next week. See what I mean about it being a busy couple of weeks ahead?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today's Sermon: John 12:1-8 “The Wheel Turns”

His sister stood at the window of the pharmacy, nervously tapping her foot. She was waiting, yet again, to hear the number. The cost. How much she would have to pay for her brother’s medication. Something to ease his pain, something to soothe the nerve endings. Something to make him forget the disease that was ravaging him, driving him down to death.

Her cousins thought she was foolish. “He’s dying,” they said, “and he’s dying because of that lifestyle of his. He’s a freak, a pervert, a homosexual…and that disease is a proof of what God thinks of people like him. Why spend your money taking care of him? He brought this on himself.”

And now she was at the pharmacy again, and the man behind the counter was delivering the blow. Another $400 co-pay. That was more than the food money for the month. She’d be eating Mac and Cheese or cans of Campbell’s soup all month, not just the last week of the month like it used to be. She tried to get her brother food that he could eat, but now he couldn’t keep much of anything down, no matter how hard she tried to find the right thing.

She knew he was dying, even though they never said the words out loud. She chuckled bitterly to herself as she thought, “as if not saying those words would make a difference. As if pretending would make the pain go away.”

She sighed, and took out the credit card, hoping that the card wouldn’t be declined. $400. A lot of money. But it was necessary. Her brother was dying. She had to do what she could to soothe him, to ease his way, down the long road to the darkness and the light.

The pharmacist handed her a receipt to sign – thank God the card went through – and then a small white bag. Felt awfully light for something that cost $400. But it was what he needed, and in a way it was what she needed, too. She had to know that she was doing what she could for him, no matter what those nasty cousins said.

What they seemed to forget is what he had done for her.

Twenty years ago, when she was sixteen and he was a gorgeous, outrageous 23. When her mother died, at their father’s hands. When she had no place to go. They hadn’t been close. Growing up, he had lived with his own mother. The only thing they had in common was the damage their father had done to both of them. But when her mother died, and their father was hauled off to jail, and she had no place to go, he said “You come over here and stay with me for a bit. I’ll do a makeover on you, girl. We’ll make you look SASSY!”

He always was out there, no closet for him, loving who he was, loving life. She was a little afraid of him. He was too exuberant, too easy with his love for her and for many others. But she had nowhere else to go, and he was family of a sort. So she stayed with him in his little apartment, decorated with castoffs he found on the street, a thousand wild colors, posters, music playing at all hours. Two more years of high school, then another two years while she was working at the salon during the day and going to beauty school at night. Then she got her own place and a man in her life for a while, until he left her. That was something she had in common with her brother – men came and then men left.

She’d see her brother from time to time over the years. They weren’t all that close after she moved out of his place. He didn’t like the men she was with. She didn’t like the men he was with. But then one day, he came to her door, and he looked different. The old exuberance was gone. The joy, the hope…no more. His beautiful face was lined, and there were dark marks on his skin. She thought “Somebody’s been beating on him,” until she realized this was disease, not bruising. They talked, for a long time.

The wheel was turning. She moved him into her little place. Nowhere near as pretty as his apartment had been, but it was serviceable, and she put him into her own bed, and went and slept on the couch.

He was ill. The disease was killing him. For many years after he was diagnosed, he had been able to fight it, but now there was nothing left to fight with, and he needed her.

The wheel was turning, and now it was her turn to give back to him. She couldn’t make him over, and she couldn’t make him sassy, but she could give him a safe place and a comfortable bed, and she could give him her company and her love.

As he became more ill, it took more meds to keep him comfortable. Now, at the end of the road, the doctors pulled out the big meds. They helped him, easing the ache in his joints and his bones, but damn, they were expensive.

She went to the cousins, asking for just a little help…they had nothing to offer but cruel judgment. No surprise there. They hadn’t offered her a place to stay when her mother was killed, they had just tsk-tsk’d and said what a fool her mother had been to love that man. No, only this dying man, this man they said was such a sinner, only he helped her.

So she stopped asking, and she just took a deep breath and paid the bills. She’d run into the cousins on the street and they’d say “You’re throwing that money away. You want to help somebody? You could be taking care of other folks, worthwhile folks, instead of that bad brother of yours.”

All she knew was that his love for her had been so extraordinary, his care for her so generous, with no expectations in return but her love, that she actually wanted to spend that money to take care of him. Creams for his dry, ashy skin, pain meds to get him through the night, special milkshakes that would slide down past the sores in his mouth and rest easy in his stomach. Nothing was too much.

Never mind what the cousins said. Never mind what the pharmacist thought as he rang up her bill. Never mind anything, except her gratitude for this dear dying man, so misunderstood, so outside the norms. He was still able to make her smile with a sly wink, even now. Of course she would take care of him. How could she not?


For most of us, gifts become currency. My husband gives me a GPS, I give him a leaf blower. My sister gives me a cookbook, I give her a pretty scarf. My child gives me a handmade card, I give him some milk and cookies. It’s not a game of measuring relative value, but there is a sense that if you give me something, I’ll give you something back.

But what happens when the thing we are given is so beyond measure that we cannot possibly give something of equal value back?

Think of the whole story of the woman in this story. Mary is the sister of Lazarus…yes, the same Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. She’s the same Mary about whom her sister Martha complained: “That Mary doesn’t help me in the kitchen, Jesus – she just sits at your feet and learns what you teach!”

This woman is unusual. She has seen, perhaps more than the other people around her, the gift that Jesus is offering to his followers. That chance to hear the Word, to sense that one is in the presence of God, that’s a gift beyond measure. And something tells her that he is doing more than just teaching, that there is something larger at play here. She doesn’t know what it is, but it frightens her and reminds her how precious he is, and how much she loves him.

No, it’s not romance that she’s feeling, it’s something more like awe. So as her sister Martha prepares the meal for Jesus and the others, Mary slips out to go buy something that feels like the right response to that awe…a pound of rich perfumed ointment, costing as much as the month’s food. And as the meal is served – lamb stew again – Mary comes quietly through the door. She seats herself on the floor by Jesus. Does she know that the gift is not just his teaching, not just his presence, but that fact that he will soon die for them all? Most likely not, but it doesn’t matter. She knows he gives them a gift beyond recompense, and she is strangely sad that she cannot give him anything of equal value. But she bends over, crying now, and massages his tired feet with that ointment. Rich men use that much ointment over the course of several months. But she doesn’t stint. She uses it all, and when she is done massaging it into his feet, she wipes away the excess, not with a fine linen cloth, but with her hair. She has been touched so intimately, to her very soul, by this man – it requires an equal intimacy. Cloth would be too distant and impersonal. It must be her hair.

We are given an extraordinary gift. The wheel turns. Jesus knows us, and invites us to know him, in a deep and intimate way. Our response should be equally intimate. Can we be brave enough to open the most distant corner of our heart to him, to let him in and let him change us into something even more wonderful? How could we say no?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yes, I've been busy...

Sorry I've been a bad blogger lately. Too much to do, not enough time to do it in.

So the bullet-point version of my life right now is as follows:

  • Wrapping up my work at St Middle School on Easter Sunday.
  • Last Vestry meeting this evening - went well - good folks - I'll miss them.
  • Trying to get the land transaction for the parish done, or mostly done, before I go. Meeting with the county tax assessor next week regarding this. Don't ask - government isn't supposed to be logical, you silly goose!
  • Visiting some parishioners in need of attention prior to my departure. Sad to leave some in mid-crisis, but God will be with them and he is ever so much more effective than I am at Pastoral Care.
  • I'm trying to get slightly ahead of the curve on bulletins, because we do the whole service in the bulletin, not just page numbers and hymn numbers, and it's a chore an interim shouldn't have to do right out of the box.
  • We have a contract on a really lovely house. Negotiating an adjusted price now based upon the findings of the house inspection. Old houses are an interesting challenge.
  • Thinking about the physical move gives me the fantods. Mover is coming tomorrow to give an estimate.
  • Thinking about where to begin with the Church by the Lakeside...I suppose a good way to start is to just get to know the people and get to love them before I start to move the chess pieces around, right?
  • Church by the Lakeside is planning an insert in a ValPak mailer - one of those collections of little ads that comes by snail mail - advertising my impending arrival. I feel sort of like the new model year Prius - will she be good and really energy-efficient or will she just race around and the brakes won't work? When they asked for a picture of me that I liked to include on the ad, I about spat up my coffee. No such thing exists.

Thinking about StoneMason, whose 24th birthday is Monday. I wish he were here so I could bake him a cake, but his sibs are all going to the North Country to go snowboarding with him, so he'll have a fun time. He has another competition next weekend, then flies out west to coach at the snowboarding nationals. What a guy!

So very tired. Time for bed. BBL.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

House Adventures

Yesterday was a very long day.

A parishioner was having surgery, so I drove 40 miles out to the hospital by Saint Middle School to "pray him in." His sister and brother-in-law were with him, but when they brought him back to prep him, he wanted me with him rather than the relatives. Don't really know what that was about - I'm sure he'll tell me at a later point in time - but I was glad to be helpful.

Then I drove 98 miles south to Richmond for the house inspections. It was raining, which made the back half of the back yard a bit like the Everglades, but we were able to get done what needed to be done.

The case of characters were my real estate agent, me, plus Chimney Guy (very earnest and sweet and full of recommendations), Slate Roof Guy (very British and sweet and full of recommendations), HVAC/Plumbing Guys (seemed, Lord forgive me, like Dumb and Dumber, but correctly said that they weren't the right guys, that we needed an estimator to come in and price the fix that is necessary for the water hearter), Home Inspection Guy (witty, sardonic, full of very useful information, really detail-oriented). A couple of big problems, a whole bunch of little ones. This is the reality of buying an old home: stuff breaks, stuff hasn't been replaced, stuff has been replaced but with shoddy workmanship. We got the 35 page home inspection report via email last night, and are awaiting the HVAC/plumbing estimate as well as the slate roof guy's estimate. Then we add up all the costs for the fixes and start negotiating.

I still love the house, with all its quirks, and it will be wonderful. We've just got a bit of work ahead of us.

And, no, we still don't know if the hot tub on the back patio works. That's a challenge for another day, and besides, it's too cold in Richmond right now to take it for a test drive anyway.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Today’s Sermon: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 ”Advice”

The Galilee Post, March 14, 33 Style Section, C3, Carolyn benWax Advice Column

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

My father is such an enabler! The problem is my little brother – let’s call him Prod. He has been a screw-up and troublemaker since he was BORN, practically. And the past couple of years have been the worst. It started when he decided that he didn’t want to stay at home and work the livestock. We were boring, he said. He wanted to go to live a more exciting life in the city. So he went to my father and asked him to give him money – the cash value of what he would inherit when Dad would die – so he could leave this “dusty, nothing-ever-happens, hole of a place” and go live “a real life.”

What a slap on the face of Dad! Cash me out, Dad, as if you were already dead. And oh by the way, big bro, you’re a loser too if you want to stay here with the parents and the sheep and the goats.

I was shocked – SHOCKED – when Dad just shook his head and say, “Sure, son. I’ll go to the First Bank of Galilee in the morning and cash out my IRA – never mind the early withdrawal penalties – and I’ll give you the money. Then you can do what your heart dreams of.”

I said, “Dad, this is nuts.”

But no, he didn’t listen to me, even though I’ve been the one who has helped out here with the livestock and all for all this time. No thought of what it would be like for me, without a brother to help me out as Dad gets older – not like Prod was much of a help, but it was better than nothing – no thought of how it hurt Dad to be treated as if he was already dead, for heaven’s sake!

So Dad got the cash, Prod hit the road, and we resumed our quiet, herding life out here. It was quiet without Prod around, sort of a relief, since he was always getting into trouble before he left, and we just did our work every day.

Dad seemed a little sad that Prod was gone, but I wasn’t.

But then one day after a couple of years, Prod showed up again. He was a mess. Clothes in rags, scrawny from lack of food. Was any of the money left ? Of course not! He had squandered it all on wild living in the city.

Now any reasonable father would say “Get out of here! You treated me as if I was dead, now I’ll do the same for you.” But my father? No. He told the servants to wash him up and give him some nice clothes, told them to prepare a FEAST. A FEAST, Caroline, for this slacker jerk! This from the father who didn’t even throw me a birthday party last year.

I ask you – is this fair? Do I have to do an intervention on my father, since he’s turned into such an easily manipulated old fool?

Signed, Big Bro

Dear Bro:

Is this about sibling rivalry? Did he beat you at a game of Risk twenty years ago and you’re still aggravated about it? I think you’re overreacting.

Dear Caroline:

Prod here. I am not sure what Big Bro is so steamed about. I’m home. I learned my lesson, and it was a hard one. People aren’t nice to you when the money runs out, and frankly it’s embarrassing to come home with your tail between your legs, thinking you’ll have to beg for just a few scraps from the table, since you’re not really a member of the family anymore. I was stupid. What I did was wrong. I suffered for my stupidity. So it was really great of Dad to welcome me with open arms and forgive me, and treat me like a member of the family again. I swear I’ll never leave home again, and I’ll even help Big Bro, that pompous jerk. So why is he so bent that Dad forgave me? Is he still afraid Dad loves me more than him?

Signed, Peaceful Prod

Prod, I’m wondering if you’re denying Big Bro’s feelings. Doesn’t he have a right to be angry if he thinks you’re getting more generous treatment than he is? Give him a little credit – he DID stay home and help your parents while you were living the wild and crazy hipster life.

Dear Caroline:

As the mother of these two boys, this present unpleasantness is nothing new. I need to tell you that they fought all the time as youngsters. It’s so silly. They have always fought to get their father’s attention. But he already gives them his attention, in so many ways. More attention, I might add, than any of these three give me, their wife and mother! Nobody remembers how sad this makes ME! But I’m just the mom….all I want is some peace in the family, and maybe some grandchildren.

Signed, Silently Suffering Mother

Mom, you really haven’t had a voice in this story, have you? I know that women out in the country where you live generally let the men make the decisions, but I suspect if you had had a chance to make your feelings known, you might not have given Prod the cash unless he promised to come home with a wife and a couple of kids. Am I right about that?

Dear Caroline:

It seems that I have all my decisions questioned by my sons (and perhaps a bit by my wife, though she’ll never say anything out loud). I love them both. Big Bro has worked alongside me since he was a teenager, learning to herd, learning to sell livestock, reading the weather, getting the flocks to water. He is my firstborn, and I love him with all my heart. He will inherit this business when I am gone. He is a dear and faithful son, even if he does get up on his high horse every once in a while. I couldn’t love him more.

Prod – he’s my baby boy. He’s wild and imaginative and funny and yes, he gets into trouble. I can’t stop loving him because he gets into trouble, can I? I love him, too, so very much.

I know he has made mistakes. When he came to me and asked for his inheritance, it was like a knife to my heart. I knew it meant that he would go away and I wouldn’t see him again – I would be dead to him. But then, when he came back, he was changed. He saw that what he had done was wrong. He begged for nothing more than forgiveness. He had grown, learned from his mistakes, he had become a mensch, a true man. So of course I forgave him. I love him! And I threw a little party.

Is that so bad? When an awful situation somehow miraculously turns itself around, you celebrate!

But this really angered Big Bro. Boy, was he angry. He wouldn’t even come into the party. It was like he was eight years old again, and Prod was six, and they were fighting. If Big Bro didn’t come out on top, he’d sulk. And now he’s sulking again.

You know, Big Bro thinks that I only have only one bucket full of love for the two of them, and if I pour some on Prod, that means there’s less for Bro. But that’s not how it works. My love is a bottomless well. There’s so much love that no one ever gets shortchanged. And if I show my love and forgiveness to Prod now, when I am so grateful that he seems to have turned his life around, why can’t Bro understand that someday he may need me to show him the same love and forgiveness for some mistake that he makes?

I love them both, and I love that silent wife of mine as well. All I ask from my family is love. If they do something wrong, turning away from me, and then realize their mistake and turn back to me in love, I want to celebrate. That’s joy. And that’s what I intend to do.

Signed, Dad

Dad, you’ve said it all. This isn’t about sibling rivalry, or fairness. At the heart of it is your great love, bigger than anyone can possibly imagine. That’s why you forgive, even when we think we’ve done something so awful we aren’t worthy of forgiveness. That’s why you celebrate, even when some think it inappropriate. That’s love for you, generous love…thanks for showing us the way.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hump Day

Normally, I go out to Saint Middle School on Wednesdays, but today will be different - I did office hours there yesterday, and will be there later tonight for Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent. I've got my clergy group after lunch, so this morning I will wander a bit and look at fabrics, hoping for inspiration for the bedrooms in the new place. I find if I start with a piece of fabric that I like, the rest of it falls into place. Just a couple of hours of indulgence, before the real work of the day begins.

And yes, I've already started the sermon for Sunday, and the Adult Forum is done.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It's a deal!

We came to a verbal agreement on the house. TBTG! We'll be doing paperwork tomorrow.

I'll go down there on Monday to do the house inspections and such. Hoping there are no major hiccups there, although with a house that is 80 years old, there will most likely be some issues that we'll need to talk about. I'll be busy with a camera and a tape measure as well.

The most wonderful thing, of the many wonderful things, will be to have my piano back again. While we've been living in seminary housing, my piano has been living at my sponsoring parish. They have taken loving care of it and have put it to good use, and will pay to move it to our new abode. But what joy to have it back again, even though my pianistic skills are pretty limited by arthritis and lack of practice.

If all goes well, we will close the week before I start the new position.'s really happening...

On the Verge

...of having a contract for a new house. We have been in negotiations all day, and I just made the final counter offer (we are very close in price now). Only downside is that the beautiful window treatments in the master bedroom will not convey, since they match the owner's headboard. Ah, well, I can do window treatments.

There is currently no washer and dryer, so I guess I get to go appliance shopping, so if you have any experience with recent High Efficiency washers and dryers, you are welcome to offer your suggestions.

We have also decided to buy ourselves a new queen-sized bed, and relegate full-sized one we currently use to the guest bedroom.

Since that full-sized bed was an "inheritance" from one of PH's former parishioners - it was old when she gave it to him 20 years ago, and since the mattress is probably also 20 years old, we feel no guilt. Or maybe just a little.

If you're wondering why I'm so very excited about this house, check out these pictures of the kitchen and the breakfast area:

Yes, there is a gas cook-top, as well as a grill cooktop with a downdraft vent.

And yes, there is a separate little bar sink in the breakfast nook...I think its primary use will be to load water into the coffee maker that will probably live on that counter. There's some other good stuff, too, like an amazing back yard, lovely bedrooms, a rec room for PH to finish in the basement...dear God, let this thing come to a good conclusion!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Long Day

As you can see below, today was the day I told the folks at Saint Middle School that I had been called to another church, down in the Capital of the Confederacy. The Vestry already knew, which meant - despite a vow of secrecy - a few others knew as well, since Ben Franklin's old saying is true : "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead."

Folks took it well, since they knew this day would come. That is the nature of serving as an interim. The time comes when you leave. A few were a bit teary-eyed, but all were grateful for my service there and happy for PH and me.

They will have a month to prepare themselves for my departure. Easter Sunday will be my last day. They will have a leave-taking party for me the following Friday, since Easter should be about the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, not about me.

In the meantime, there are pastoral issues to address, sermons to write, a few more Adult Forums (fora?) to prepare, Holy Week services to finish planning...

...and then there is the whole thing of where we will live, since the new place does not have a rectory. Logistically, it would be so simple to just pack ourselves up and go move into a rectory, but psychologically and financially having our own place is better. More of a sense of our own private space, you know?

So on Friday we went down and signed the Letter of Agreement with the new church, and then looked at 15 houses.

Yes, you read that right. 15 houses. In 7 hours. Thank goodness I took a lot of notes. Two houses seemed to be at the top of the list. Funny, because they were very, very different. In any case, we decided that one edged out the other, and this afternoon, we made an offer. We'll see if they accept it (prayers would be gratefully appreciated) or if we have to do the pushme-pullyu negotiations. Given the soft housing market, and the fact that it has been on the market for a while, I hope it will go quickly. If this one doesn't work out, the other house would be fine as well.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm tired now. I'll let you know what happens...

The Letter to Saint Middle School

March 7, 2010

My brothers and sisters in Christ-

In a few weeks, Easter will be upon us. We will celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. His triumph over the grave and rising in glory reminds us of the many times in our own lives that we felt we were going down to the grave, failing, falling apart. Somehow, with God’s help, we rose, scrambling out of that pit and into something that felt like a little triumph.

When Pastor J announced her departure from Saint Middle School, some wondered if the parish would survive. Would this faith community go down to the grave? A few were so shaken by this change that they left, to find a place that felt safer. But most of us stayed, firm in the belief that God had work for us to do here, that we were a faith family, and that we would continue.

Part of that intense desire for continuity as a faith community caused you to ask me, someone who had come to you as a mere seminarian, to remain during this time of transition. In the first months after J’s departure, I was simply a “continuing pastoral presence,” someone who helped those in trouble, someone who helped make sure the bulletins got done, someone who helped the supply priests. After my graduation and ordination, I was your Deacon-in-Charge, able to perform more of the role of pastor, but not all.

Despite my limitations, you warmly encouraged me.

Because of my limitations, you took on more of the responsibilities of ministry, and your lay leadership flourished and grew.

Nowhere was that more evident, and nowhere was your response more exciting and encouraging, than in this year’s stewardship campaign, where your generosity meant that pledge dollars increased by almost 30% over last year, and we had a more than 25% increase in number of pledges. Your faith in the future of Saint Middle School is strong, and so is the faith of this Diocese. Several large parishes in this diocese have committed funds to guarantee that the position of permanent vicar here at Saint Middle School will be a full-time one. This is as it should be. To grow and prosper, and to meet the pastoral needs of this wonderful faith family, you need a full-time vicar.

In the months since my ordination to the priesthood, my work with you has continued and deepened. I have mourned with you as you grieved; rejoiced with you as we celebrated blessed events, baptized new Christians, and remembered our past commitments of love; and talked with you as you have struggled with hard decisions and deep questions. I have taught you in classes, in preaching and in conversation. Your willingness to accept me as your priest has been an honor and a blessing, and I am grateful.

But change is a part of resurrection. As the beautiful altar cloths will change from austere Lenten Array to the deep red of Holy Week, and then to glorious white on Easter Sunday, as the spring will wipe away the memories of the harsh snows of December, January and February with daffodils and tulips, we know that Saint Middle School will change as well. In the coming months, you will call a new vicar who will lead you to the next phase of your life as a growing community of faith.

And I will change, too. I have accepted a call to be Priest-in-Charge of the Church by the Lakeside in Richmond. I will complete my time with you on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, and will begin my work in Richmond a few weeks thereafter.

In preparation for my departure, the Vestry will work with the diocese to put in place an interim priest to pastor Saint Middle School until the arrival of your new permanent vicar. Saint Middle School needs a priest who can provide for all your needs, not simply a supply priest who will come on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and a short-term interim will be able to meet those needs. The Search Committee will continue with their thoughtful and prayerful process to find the vicar God will send to this place; please do not press them to rush through this process. The call will happen in God’s time; trust in the Lord.

Change is a bittersweet thing. I am looking forward to this new call, but I will be sad to leave you all. You have formed me as a priest and have celebrated my growth. I know that some of you wish that I could have stayed, but that was not the purpose of my role with you. You have grown in large part because you knew I was not meant to stay, and because you needed to prepare for a new vicar. This is all good. I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I know that Saint Middle School will be blessed with the vicar you need to continue to flourish.

Thank you for everything. Please keep me in your prayers as I move to this new call, and know that you will always be in mine.



Today's Sermon: Luke 13:19 "Fruitless"

“Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.”

What does it take to make us fruitful?

Patience? Good fertilizer? Good ideas?

There is a tendency, I think, to dismiss people whom we don’t think are fruitful, or useful. My children used to have a phrase for that kind of judgment: “Oh, he’s just a waste of space.”

It’s certainly easy to look around and see people whom we judge as being a waste of space. The person who seems to be sitting in Starbucks all day, reading who knows what. The kids handing out in front of the 7-11. The clerk in the store who is too busy talking on her cellphone to her friend to come help me.

And in this penitential season, I worry sometimes that God thinks I’m a waste of space. I’m nowhere near as fruitful as I wish I could be. I get distracted, don’t get things done, get lazy. Does God see me as a waste, as someone who has not lived up to the gifts he has given me? He certainly could. There are days when I would judge myself that way.

I’m not alone. As a young man, Abraham Lincoln went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a failure as a businessman. He was not a particularly successful lawyer in Springfield. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. At about that time, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth." He would be judged as unfruitful, wouldn’t he? He certainly judged himself that way.

But somehow, someone dug around his roots and gave him a little fertilizer, so that, given a little time, he grew fruitful.

Albert Einstein was mute until the age of 4. He did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was "sub-normal," and one of his teachers described him as "mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams." He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. At that point in his life, he would have been judged as unfruitful, wouldn’t he?

Somehow, someone dug around his roots and gave him a little fertilizer, so that, given a little time, he grew fruitful.

So, too, was the apostle Peter. He was hot-headed, impulsive, didn’t always pay attention to what he was taught, and in the moment when it counted most, he denied his relationship with Jesus three times…but he was the person upon whom Jesus built his church.

Somehow, Jesus dug around his roots and gave him some fertilizer, so that, over time, and not without a number of errors along the way, he grew fruitful.

This parable of the barren fig tree in the gospel gives us some comfort in our own feelings of fruitlessness. Let’s review the story: there’s a fruit tree in the garden. It’s supposed to be bearing figs. Figs, those luscious delicious fruits…a thousand recipes are running through my head of things you can do with figs….so sweet and fragrant. The man who owns the garden comes to pick some figs. It’s a young tree and didn’t bear fruit for the past couple of years, but it’s mature enough now so that there should be some nice figs on it. He may have a recipe in mind as well...maybe figs with some goat cheese and honey…can you imagine how delicious that would be? He’s got a taste for figs in his mouth and in his brain, and he wanders into the orchard looking for some. After all, if you’ve got fruit trees in your orchard, that’s the pleasure of it, going into the orchard to pick some nice ripe juicy fruit.

He wanders over to his fig tree. Fig trees, by the way, are a very easy fruit tree to grow in warm climates. They’re not fussy about their soil, you don’t have to pollinate them, although you do need to prune them a bit and make sure they get enough water. But they really are fruit trees for dummies…anyone can grow them. So imagine the man’s consternation when he looks up and sees not a single fruit on the tree! It’s a useless tree…what’s the point of a fruit tree that doesn’t bear any fruit?

No figs with goat cheese and honey. The man is angry – he had really wanted those figs. So he says to his gardener, “It’s useless. Cut it down!”

He says, “This tree is a waste of space.”

Those of you who are gardeners know that sometimes you have plants that are productive and sometimes you don’t. You don’t waste a lot of energy on the unproductive plants, you get rid of them and replace them with something productive. If you have a diseased tree, you cut off the diseased parts, or you remove the whole tree. Gardening is harsh work.

But the gardener in this story may be the most tender-hearted gardener in history. Even though this tree hasn’t borne any fruit for three years, he begs the man to give it another year. He promises to dig around it, to add some manure to fertilize it, to coddle it a bit. He hopes that the tree will then bear fruit, but says that if it doesn’t, he will then cut it down.

A little bit of patience, a little bit of extra help, in hopes that this tree will turn around, be productive, be something other than a waste of space and precious water.

Jesus tells this parable in response to some news that some people brought to him. The Romans were persecuting the Galileans again. The Romans had killed some Galileans as they were worshiping God, mingling the victims’ blood with the blood of the animal sacrifices. The question the people who brought the story to Jesus seemed to be asking was, what sinful thing had these people done to be punished this way?

That was the ancient belief, of course. God would exact a painful price on those who sinned. They must have done SOMETHING, or their parents must have, or their grandparents…mustn’t they?

Jesus gave them a surprising answer. He said “they were sinners, you are sinners, everyone is a sinner. All humanity is full of brokenness. God doesn’t work that way, zapping people for their sins. So what are you going to do about your brokenness? Are you going to turn yourself around, turn your eyes and heart toward the God who loves you? Are you going to be reconciled to God?”

Jesus told them not to analyze other people’s stories, parsing out their sins and judging them. He told them to look into their own hearts, to see how they had behaved in a way that tore the fabric of their relationship with God. And he told them that they needed to fix their own bad behavior, because being in relationship with God is the most important thing.

Here’s the thing: because of Jesus and his death on the cross, we are forgiven of our sins, of all the thousand ways we turn our back on God because we think what we want for ourselves is more important. But we have an obligation to own up to those bad behaviors and to work on changing. God loves us, but he expects us to honor that love by keeping on trying to do better. The only way that we lose God’s forgiveness is if we don’t admit our brokenness and ask for that forgiveness.

A few decades ago, a very bad novel and an even worse movie had as its tag line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I’d beg to differ – in our relationship with God, love means you want to say you’re sorry when you make a mistake. The gift of the parable of the barren fig tree is that our gardener, our God, loves us so much that he wants to help us be fruitful. He is willing to give us a second chance, another year to bear fruit. He is willing to give us the Miracle-Gro, dig around our roots, give us another opportunity to prove ourselves fruitful. But we have to try, too. We may be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to do better. We may be distracted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop and say a simple prayer of thanks. We may be in this world, with all the competing claims that the world has on us, but we don’t have to be entirely of this world. We can look to the world our God gives us, to the loving care and the second chances, and say “I want to be fruitful. Give me the tools, give me the second chance, help me be what you want me to be.”

Like Lincoln, the failed lawyer, politician, businessman. Like Einstein, kicked out of school and deemed intellectually limited. Like Peter, who ran away when his Lord needed him most and cursed those who said he was a follower of Jesus.

Sometimes being fruitful takes time. Thank God that our God loves us enough to be patient.


Thursday, March 04, 2010


Headed south tomorrow for some future-oriented activities. I will tell you all about it on Sunday, when I can. For now, keep PH and me in your prayers. Traveling mercies and all that.

For tonight, it's time to go watch some mindless TV and knit a bit, and plan what traveling clothes to wear for a 250 mile day. I have to decide how ladylike I need to appear.

Sleep well, y'all.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

Monday Greenery

"I need to get a new battery for the ThermaPen [the fabulous food thermometer without which I cannot cook]," I said to PH last night.

"Where are you going to get it?" He knows it is a nonstandard size.

"I was thinking they might have it at Staples, and I'll be over near there to get rid of the dead compact fluorescent bulbs - they have to go to Hazardous Waste."

"No, no, Staples won't have them. You've got to go to Radio Shack."

So this morning, in the midst of my long list of errands, I went to the library, then to the town Hazardous Waste disposal depot (a hazard in itself getting there because of construction in the area), and thence two miles out of my way to go to Radio Shack, because, as I said, I cannot cook without the ThermaPen. The lovely lady who runs the place smiled serenely and said "We're out of stock on this one. They'll be in on Friday."

On a whim, I drove back across town to the Staples that is two blocks from the Hazardous Waste Disposal Center. Yes, they had the battery I needed.

So much for living green.