Delighting in encouragement

Delighting in our gifts and perceiving the beauty in other human beings (and indeed in all creation!) may be just what we need right now as a long 2020 starts to draw to a close.

All of this might be easier if we pay heed to our reading from 1 Thessalonians this weekend. This letter is written in the context of end-time waiting, the period between resurrection and fulfillment. Here, Paul seeks to provide comfort and assurance to the early church as they struggle to discern the best way to use all that God has given them. These members of the Body of Christ in Thessalonica are reminded that they are all “children of the day,” baptized sisters and brothers together. They are those who have collectively died to darkness in the waters of life, and now have the chance to live into a life of “faith and love,” “hope,” and “salvation.” Reassured that God does not desire anger for them, they are encouraged to “keep awake and be sober” (echoing the final words of last week’s apocalyptic Gospel passage).

The Thessalonians are beckoned to continue in their good work of encouraging and building up each other in the faith. And they are not to be anxious. Because, for them, the new life of liberation has already begun. Nothing can come upon them “like a thief.” Baptism has confirmed their gifts and talents for the sake of the Good News.

Worship for the life of the world

Thomas H. Schattauer writes about the essential link between mission and worship in the introductory chapter of Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission. Schattauer reminds us that the “visible act of assembly” enacts and signifies the “movement of God for the life of the world.” That is, what we do in our beautiful worship spaces empowers us to focus on “God’s mission toward the world.” Our liturgy and worship, then, become the engine for us to witness, teach, and serve the world, rather than our worship simply being a response to what we experience of the world. Rodney Clapp puts it another way. “Far from being a retreat from the real world, worship enables Christians to see what the real world is and equips them to live in it.”

I’ve been thankful, these past weeks and months, of the way the online worship of the Washington National Cathedral has embodied this. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and Dean Randy Hollerith have provided a real-life and digital space which is open and hospitable. The excellence in music, the carefully crafted intercessions, and the present-moment preaching have all spoken to the lively activity of God during these challenging times.

The National Cathedral and its witness is a visible reminder of how important places of public worship are, even in the midst of Coronavirus restrictions. The Cathedral has truly embodied a “movement of God for the life of the world” and has encouraged me to continue my work and ministry for the sake of all living beings. This worship has not been an escape, but a recharge. Not an avoidance tactic. But a roadmap back into daily life itself.

The latest offering from the National Cathedral for “Healing, Unity and Hope after an Election.”

We may need to start from the beginning again

Reflecting on last week’s Epistle reading, Philippians 3:4b-14, Paul seems to say to us — we may need to start from the beginning again. We may need to build a whole new identity. Put everything aside. That’s what Paul speaks about doing when talking about moving away from his old life.

There’s going to be that challenge in the church and in the world as well after the pandemic subsides. And, after the political conflict (in the U.S.) of our present time, things start to look differently too. There’s the sense that there will need to be a rebuild of civility and common life together. Indeed, we will have losses, but we can be encouraged by Paul who sees this as an opportunity to make something new — to find a new path.

Paul’s journey is driven by the passion to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” — I wonder whether his passion to share in Christ’s sufferings is, for Paul, the only way that he knows how to understand the mind of Christ — the way in which we long to understand our spouse, or sibling, or friend.

Surely, for those we care for, want to know what they go through — we want to be with them, somehow, in their suffering. We want to walk through that suffering with and come to a place of redemption and light.

The Way of Jesus challenges us to something even harder: to yearn to be with the suffering of those who are different from us, those we don’t understand, those we even feel disturbed or threatened by. To be with the suffering of our “enemies” (in Jesus’s words), is that perhaps the ultimate challenge of our times?

Listening to our Leaders

In this time of awakening, this time of reflection within our nation and our national church, I believe we do well to listen to the voices which have been given voice throughout the U.S. Two such leaders are Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Diocese of Washington and Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

In a sermon preached in the National Cathedral on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020, Bishop Mariann spoke of this moment as a “crucible moment.” Noting that a ‘crucible’ points to a severe test or trial, Edgar Budde reminded us of the power of different elements interacting under pressure to test and transform.

Bishop Mariann helpfully pointed us to the witness of the 1st creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. “Creation is not a one time event,” Edgar Budde reminds us. God is always present. Perhaps this is a “Kairos” moment, a moment of opportunity for a world “crying out for change.”

This time is “pregnant” with possibilities. Bishop Mariann quoted
the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian at the National Cathedral

Why the need for change? Bishop Jennifer recently gave a reflection on a Zoom meeting with bishops and canons from across the Episcopal Church. Offering her personal family story of growing up black on Staten Island, Bishop Jennifer said: “We were…living in a segregated space,” Baskerville-Burrows recounts. “White kids took the yellow school buses to our junior high school, and black and brown kids mostly took the city bus or walked the seven blocks to school.”

Have things shifted significantly? That’s questionable. “I’ve had police in my predominately white neighborhood run my plates. Yes, I’ve already had “the talk” with my nine-year-old black son about what to do if approached by the police and how he can’t play with water pistols like his white friends. Here’s the thing, every black and brown person in this country, on this call, in our congregations, has stories like these.”

Baskerville-Burrows encourages these stories to be told to a cross-section of society. It’s important that “the stories of racial trauma” are told now, now that people are being empowered to change. Bishop Jennifer commends “hope and challenge” as “two sides of the same coin.” It’s not going to be easy, but this “gospel work” of”changing policies embedded in racist structures” is going to be life-transforming work for our nation and the world.

Deliverance On Eagles’ Wings

“…I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19.4b

There they are, the people of God, camped “in front of the mountain.” We imagine the social and emotional exhaustion of a people who have been journeying in the wilderness. We imagine the disconnection and isolation of being thrust into a new and unknown situation.

God promises, as God always does, that there is purpose and meaning in all of this. I have done this. I delivered you out of Egypt. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

This relational deliverance doesn’t come in a vacuum. For years, the people of God have been building deeper and deeper relational layers with the Divine. They have been discovering their unique gifts within the larger creation framework of God’s life. They have been uncovering what it means to be God’s people and for God to be with them.

Being lifted on eagles’ wings may be a type of deliverance, but it’s not necessarily fun or without danger. We look down and, all of a sudden, realize how far away the ground is. We look up, and realize how far we still have to travel. Yet, the warmth of those wings, and the power that they possess, means that we can trust in them, even if we are scared.

May God bear the world upon God’s wings in this time of unrest and uncertainty.

The attractiveness of truth

In the Episcopal Church today, June 10, (and in the Church of England yesterday), we remember Ephrem of Syria (or Edessa) who died in 373 BCE. Ephrem was a Deacon, a hymn writer, and a teacher.

In Hymns of Faith, Ephrem writes:

“Truth and love are wings that cannot be separated,
for truth without love is unable to fly,
so too love without truth is unable to soar up:
their yoke is one harmony.”

The reading set for commemorating Ephrem is John 16:12–15 in which Jesus speaks about God’s Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” who will “guide you into all the truth.” Jesus speaks about truth as originating from the heart of God and being reflected in Jesus’ words and teachings.

In The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality & Strategies by Robert J. Schreiter, C.P.P.S. (Orbis Books, 1998/2008) we read:

“Truth in reconciliation has to be understood in terms of the lies that wrongdoers perpetrate in a situation of violence, and the environment of untruthfulness that is created.” (P. 118)

Ephrem takes us to an attractive, adorable truth in Hymns of Faith. A truth which soars, in love, above the untruthful environment of violence and brokenness.

Truth in love is “one harmony,” writes Ephrem.

Here is a prophetic word for our time. In the U.S. and around the world, the quest for the truth continues. Often the catalyst has been graphic violence and senseless killing on our TVs and smart devices.

The question is now, “can this violence take us to a place where truth and love soar?” “Can this violence lead to a place of redemption?” If not, I fear that many more will die in vain. If not, I fear that no amount of chanting and protest will be enough.

May we find, deep within ourselves, the origins of truth and love. That place of good creation embedded deep within each of us. May Ephrem and all the Saints help to take us to a new place. A place where redemption and reconciliation is found in a new environment of peace and restoration.

July 4th, 2018: remembering John P. Lozowsky

     John P. Lozowsky was one of the 2,753 people killed on September 11, 2001 in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

John P. Lozowsky_EDIT     Today — July 4th — is the 62nd anniversary of his birth.

     John was known for his Hawaiian shirts that “raised eyebrows” amidst the east coast professional attire at Marsh & McLennan, the firm where he worked as a contractor in 2001. A naturalized New Zealand citizen, according to a co-worker John “called people “mate” and was laid back in a Kiwi kind of way.” [1]
     Someone who I wish I had met in this life, I look forward to meeting John in the next. Our lives crossed paths, beyond the grave, when I put my hand on his name after praying and asking for one name to take with me; one person who I could specifically hold in prayer after visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City for the first time on September 15, 2015.
     This day, as an Australian ex-pat, one who has enjoyed the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as spoken about in the Declaration of Independence, I’m praying for the soul of John P. Lozowsky, and all those who have died as a result of violence: all those who have had their lives, and their hope for happiness abruptly stripped from them. I’m praying too, for the perpetrators of violence, that their hearts and minds may be turned to right action for the well being of all.
     Lastly, I’m praying that all those who enjoy those gifts of Life and Liberty (including myself!) around the world may take it upon themselves to daily set aside all divisiveness and prejudice, and live in love, peace, and joy with all.

Foolishness of Love

Everyone, everywhere wants to be of value. Everyone, everywhere wants to be loved.

Christians believe that, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, love came down as one of us.

This human being, Christians contend, entered into the mystery of human violence; suffering and dying, and rising to new life to show that our inheritant violent, competitive natures don’t need to fight for God’s love. It exists already. Waiting to be claimed.

Ancient Scriptures, Hebrew and New admit that this argument is “foolishness” to many (1 Corinthians 1:23). Surely, God’s wrath and curse is on one who would die in such a terrible way (Deuteronomy 21:22–23)? This is a “new” teaching, and this is “difficult” (John 6:60).

Yet, Christians, fools that they are, believe in this Jesus, the One they call the “Christ.”

Everytime I go to a conference, one related to ministry in any way, I’m struck by the need – of individuals, communities, and the world – for love. And I’m struck by the craziness, the radical nature of this message: that God is love; that God loves all; and that in the beautiful brokenness of humanity, God truly does dwell.

2017 Season of Gratitude Day 6

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Today I’m grateful for a productive day on-site at Emmanuel Episcopal Church: for Emmanuel’s Administrator, Lisa, for her patience, energy & enthusiasm, for her willingness to process whatever comes; for a blessed time of Noonday Prayer from the BCP, for Office Hymns, for a tuned piano, for friendly visitors, for a coffee-shop pastoral meeting, for great and tightly-packed soy-latte foam! for Amy’s frozen meals saving us vegans on busy days, for the support of Julia, my spouse, for her efforts, energy, wisdom, love, care, compassion, support, and encouragement (no matter what comes our way!) (with prayers for those who do not feel that they have been gifted those things by people around them) and for those who pray for and minister to them — we give thee thanks, O God.

2017 Season of Gratitude Day 5

Monday, November 27

Today I’m thankful for a Sabbath Day Rest: for going back to bed and catching up on sleep. For a slow morning reading the Anglican and Episcopal History journal, for phone conversations with friends, lunch with the same, a gentle time of errands, a time making hummus, tomato & onion soup (and eating the same!) and for dinner around the table with Phoebe & James. For the warmth of a family home, for Hawaiian music piped out by my neighbors, for the smell of fresh laundry, flowers, and soap, for clean sheets, and a place to lay my head, for those who work to assist and care for those who go without these things — we give thee thanks, O God.