The Irrational Christian

Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 8:31-38)  03/01/2015

Earlier this week I was attending a gathering with my clergy colleagues. We met at a church located close to a college campus and the topic of young adults and faith came up in our conversation. Someone shared the observation that a number of college students who regularly attend worship services and claim that the practice of their Christian faith is important in their lives had been questioned by their peers for their faith in God; often challenged for their faith and devotion…behavior deemed to be irrational. Irrational…meaning one exhibiting behavior that lacks normal mental clarity, reason or understanding. As I listened to my clergy colleague tell this story that placed such a great value on reason and understanding, I was reminded of a recent interview on an Irish TV show called, “The Meaning of Life,” hosted by Gay Byrne. The guest of the show was Stephen Fry, (well-known actor, author, and atheist), and Byrne asked him, “[I know that you do not believe in God, but] suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will you say?” Fry responded, “I would say this: How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.” Fry’s words are quite strong and perhaps a bit unedited toward the One we believe is holy and almighty, and perhaps like the host of the show your jaw has dropped a bit from its normal resting place. Continue reading

Advent Reflections: make straight the way

Advent reflection: this week during Advent we encounter John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of the Lord as he courageously stands in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Make straight the paths for the coming of the Lord. In the reflection offered below from Stan Purdum’s Advent study book, we consider the paths of our lives, the obstacles, roundabouts, and narrow ways of those paths; and, finally, reflect on how we might begin to uncover our obstacles to God and smooth the way for the coming of the Lord. Continue reading

Welcome to Advent!

Welcome to Advent! The season of Advent is one of my favorite times of the year…I wish it was a little bit longer, and perhaps it could be a bit longer if we are able to devote ourselves to the season until the Magi arrive on the feast of the Epiphany. Advent asks much from us – Advent asks us to patiently wait while the world urges us to hurry up; Advent directs our attention to the hope filled future while grounding us in the now while the world tempts us to focus our energy on the here and now (as the catch phrase “You only live once” YOLO promises); Advent points toward holy ground while the world calls us to the shopping malls. Advent is an invitation to spend time in reflection of God’s many gifts of grace: the grace of Christ’s presence among us, the grace of the earliest Christians’ courageous devotion and faith, and the grace of our gifts as God’s children. These gifts of grace can be challenging to discover in our “noisy” world, and I invite you to consider taking up a few practices to quiet the noise and discover God’s grace among you. Throughout this season there will be many opportunities for corporate worship, study and reflection, but these are just a few among the many ways to find God’s grace in this holy season. Throughout this season, I will try to offer a few thoughts for prayer and reflection…an Advent discipline I hope to keep!

“May He whose second Coming in power and great glory we await, make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Amen.” (Advent blessing from Book of Occasional Services, p. 22)

Pulling back the weeds from the Saints of God

All Saints Day (Matthew 5:1-12)  11/01/2014

Last weekend was my first opportunity to participate in the gathering of delegates at Diocesan Convention. The experience was a great day for me filled with wonderful opportunities: sharing stories on the ride to convention and back, meeting new people throughout the diocese, listening to the Bishop’s annual address, and doing the important work of the church. One presentation that really made an impression on me was the report of the Youth Group, introduced by the diocesan missioner for Christian Formation, The Rev. Hilary Bogart-Winkler. Several youth of the Diocese attended the Episcopal Youth Event in Philadelphia this past summer. The event is a week long gathering of youth from across the country and is held every three years. After the week long gathering, there is an opportunity to remain in the area and participate in a three day urban mission experience. The group of young adults from our diocese took up this work and were assigned to work at St. John’s Church in Norristown, PA, (an urban town northwest of Philadelphia). Soon after arriving the group discovered they had been assigned to clean up the church cemetery, which was in need of some general cleanup and care. The group was surprised to be sent out to the cemetery, thinking they would be assigned to take care of other areas more central to the mission of the church. However, after spending several hours working in the cemetery, the importance of the cemetery became more obvious and the value of their work of cleanup and care became more obvious as well. I can appreciate their story of summer mission work because during the past few years I have taken up the hobby of researching my family history, a hobby that has many twists and turns. Often times, the research requires one to leave the library and spend several hours walking through cemeteries in search of elusive family members. As I have traveled to many different cemeteries, I have discovered beautifully maintained landscapes and I have discovered places that seem to have been long since forgotten. One small cemetery in central CT is one of those “long since forgotten” places; probably selected for its once beautiful landscape of rolling hills, it now sits at the edge of an industrial park with a railroad track just feet away. As I stepped over broken branches and pushed back the overgrown weeds, I read the names of my ancestors from more than 200 years ago. I have since returned a few times to clean up the fallen branches and pull up the weeds and moss from the stones that tell the names of those that lie beneath. And as I performed that work, I was reminded that the cemetery had its own story to tell. The overgrown and forgotten state of things seemed to speak of the separation we can experience with each other, while the work of cleanup and care seemed to speak of the restoration of relationship that God hopes for us. As I did the work of cleanup in the cemetery, I read the stones and remembered their stories, their joys, their sacrifices and I felt connected to them in new  and personal ways. Continue reading

Wolves, Rivers, and changing God’s World

Pentecost 19A (Matthew 22:15-22)  10/19/2014

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Matt 22:17), said the disciples of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, to Jesus as they stood in the temple. An interesting question posed by an interesting group of people; a strange group of “friends” you might say. The Pharisees were more concerned with religious “correctness” and righteousness, while the Herodians, supporters of the royal family of Herod, would have been more concerned with political power. But these strange friends found common ground in their challenge to Jesus…a question that by its very nature had a lose-lose response: if you suggest paying tax to the emperor, you are a friend of Caesar and the Roman empire which was set against the Jewish people; and if you suggest withholding your tax payment, well you are a religious zealot and a dangerous insurrectionist. These Jewish authorities had been listening to Jesus teach the crowd about the kingdom of God and they seem to have had enough of his rhetoric…they were determined to entrap him with a unanswerable question. The problem for the Jewish authorities, however, was that the question is only a trap if you think in black and white, right and wrong: the Roman empire or the kingdom of God, devotion to my worldly life and its success or devotion to God and all that God invites us to be. In this black and white world, the question posed to Jesus was fraught with challenges beyond belief! Jesus’ response to their tricky question might appear black and white in our hearing: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21b) But Jesus does not live in this black and white, earthly or divine world; Jesus lives in the fullness and abundance of God’s creation, and his response amazed the authorities and sent them away as they considered all that was given to them from God; and how their lives would change if they listened to Jesus. Continue reading

A Holy Patience

Pentecost 18A (Exodus 32:1-14)  10/12/2014

Several years ago I was on a business trip to Cardiff, Wales (this occurred many years ago, in a land without smartphones and GPS…imagine that?). I had been to Cardiff a few times before this trip, but always a short trip during the middle of the week. This time around I arrived on Saturday and had a good part of the weekend free before starting work on Monday. I thought this would be a great chance to see Llandaff Cathedral, the cathedral church of the area and a place that has been holy Christian ground since the early sixth century. Sunday was a beautiful fall day and I decided to set out right after lunch. I decided it might be nice to walk to the cathedral on this beautiful day, so I asked the man at the front desk if the cathedral was close by…”yes, the cathedral is just down the road,” was the cheerful reply. Wonderful, a nice walk to the cathedral! My only pair of shoes were leather dress shoes, but the nice man at the front desk said the cathedral was “just down the road,” so I was sure I would be just fine. I walked through the city center and began walking down a road that led to a large park. After about 20 minutes of walking, with no cathedral spire looming in the near distance, I decided to ask a passerby if I was headed in the right direction; “Oh yes, the cathedral is just down the road,” pointing in the general direction I was headed. As I continued on my pilgrimage, I must admit I began to think more about a taxi than the beautiful cathedral that was promised to be “just down the road.” I was also beginning to think my definition of “just down the road” was significantly different than the nice Welsh people I had met along the way. After nearly three miles of walking, I finally passed through a clearing and the grand walls of the cathedral stood just beyond a cluster of trees, quietly sitting in a little neighborhood of its own. A beautiful spot for a cathedral church nearly 1000 years old, but not a good place for finding a lift home! My cathedral pilgrimage had just started and I found that I was already a bit confused, tired, and short of patience from the long road traveled. Continue reading

Witnessing God’s love in Community

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 18:15-20)  9/07/2014

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These last few days there has been a lot going on in the world, both near and far; the news media would say, “it surely hasn’t been a slow news day!” There has been continued unrest in the Middle East, with continuing reports of extremist activity; there has extreme weather, with tornadoes as close as Worcester; and of course, there is the busy time of packing up the summer vacation period and heading back to school. As you might imagine, even with all the activity going on, I cannot help but be preoccupied with the idea of community. Yes, that’s right, the change of communities and the community of St. Francis in particular. And as I have considered this topic, I have wondered…how is it that we are “community” in the Christian sense? Some characteristics of community are obvious, while some are not so obvious. The obvious ones might be easy to pick out: we gather in the same building for worship and meetings, we support the same ministries, and hopefully we are setting our future in the same direction. The “not so obvious” ones may be a bit harder to plainly see: we faithfully pray for each other, our lives are transformed by the presence of others, and our communal presence transforms our broader community and the world in grace filled ways. And some characteristics of community can be just plain hard to do, like forgiveness and open-hearted conversation. These last characteristics, these challenging characteristics are the ones on the mind of Jesus today in our Gospel lesson. Continue reading