Thursday, September 15, 2016

religious imagination

A cross of crosses kids made with found sticks.
This summer, Eli and I had the opportunity to play on this neat little neighborhood playground when we were passing through Boulder, CO. I don't spend a lot of time on swings, but there I did get to spend time swinging with Eli. Trying to remember how to swing is one thing; pumping my legs, and then, the big pay-off: jumping at the peak for a short flight back to the mulch covered yard. I get dizzy easier now than when I was a little kid. Eli loves to spin and swing and shake his body up to TRY to make himself dizzy. I avoid merry-go-rounds. I thought it was just because I'm past my younger years. I've noticed though, as Eli experiments more and more, and sometimes drags me along for the ride (literally) I don't get dizzy quite as easily. I found jumping out of the swing a little fun. Practicing has helped my body relearn how to deal with being spun, swung, and tipped. Those balancing mechanisms in my ear aren't old, they were just out of practice.

The same thing goes for my imagination. As Eli engages in the wonderful world of magic (Harry Potter), wonder (Santa, Tooth Fairy, etc.), and fear (dragons, ghosts, gremlins) I am along for the ride once again. My imagination, and my creativity have taken on a quality I haven't known for a while. I relish in a world of mystery, wonder, and a world where I don't need to understand things completely. It's a workout for my mind and spirit. It also helps expand my faith. William Blake wrote about the importance of a healthy Religious Imagination. It is healthy to exercise the imagination in a dynamic way, riffing off the stories we've been handed down, the way children riff off of cartoon and movie themes on the school playground. Revisit The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for an example of an author with a healthy Religious Imagination. C.S. Lewis wove a beautiful world together that incorporated themes of his church heritage. He taught it in a magical way that would engage the religious imaginations of generations of readers. He and J. R. R. Tolkien were said to have discussions about how strictly the stories should align with the religious tradition, and how they might be able to stray from, wander out, and re-order the themes. (I'm also a fan of The Lord of the Rings)
A crucifix I made with found sticks. 

As we start off the school year, and settle into the swing of the day-to-day, you might also take an
assessment of how engaged your own imagination is. Just like getting into the routine of a new year, and learning to maintain a sense of balance in exciting situations, we need to exercise our ability to imagine. If you need help, ask a child. As Jesus pointed out, the kingdom of God already belongs to them...we just forget how to live in that reality when we get bogged down by all our adult responsibilities. Exercising the religious imagination puts us in closer relationship with God. Start with a Bible story, and see where the Spirit guides your imagination. Try having a conversation with a particularly wise looking pelican! Have some fun, and discover the mystery of God's Universe and the gift of your imagination that has been planted at the center of your being.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

clean out

This week I did a bit of cleaning out. Ok, I actually did a lot. We have this closet. If you spend much time around the church, you know that with so many people, a lot gets crammed into closets, so I won't have to explain what it was like. 

One of the treasures I found was this painting and six others. I had seen a few of the series, but this gave me an occasion to see all of them together. They are unique and beautiful. There were other things that have been stored in there, and were not as beautiful, or just hadn't been used for at least the four years since I've been there. Some of them went away. 

The end goal was to straighten up a meeting room that, like the closet, is used by multiple people and groups, and had become a bit encumbered. It was usable, but now it's in much better shape. Now it's ready to be a space where people can connect with one another and with God. 

The clutter, which just happens, has to be cleaned out from time to time, otherwise it clogs things up. Cleaning up and cleaning out is a practice in priority setting. We get to asking questions like: what's really important? What do we actually use and need? What helps to further our mission, and what is just hanging around clogging things up? 

Now I feel ready to get on with the fall; with ministry; with the mission. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

my summer vacation

Summer Vacation in Sketch and Caption

 This is a snow melt lake scene we hiked up to from Duncan Park. The white areas are snow. It was really cold. I know because after hiking for miles with little kids, we were all ready to cool off. A few of us swam. I could barely breath from the cold-shock. I came out energized and ready to hike back.

While at Dunan Park, John decided to be baptized. This is him coming up from the icy cold water wide awake (see enter the Way.) Most of the group was gathered on the bank in the dusk, and I stood by in case he fell over.

This is another lake near Duncan Park where we hiked. The kids found themselves a fenceless playground and romped around the pond, while the parents watched the forest edges for lions and bears. 

We took a train from Denver to Winter Park where we stayed with the Kidds. They took such good care of us! Penthouse condo, mountain biking, including downhill, and the alpine slide: a concrete slide with little wheeled sleds. Eli liked to leave the brakes off the whole way down. The train ride though, there and back. I love train travel. I'll leave it at that for now. 

In winter park, I noticed a sign for live music. I wandered down to catch this picker (with her toddler wearing matching boots and hat) for some originals and traditional tunes. Eli and Laura were taking a nap. It was a nice chance to be I sketched and enjoyed a refreshing beverage.

We got home in time to greet my one of my sisters who came for some beach time with her family. What a way to re-enter the day-by-day. It was good to be with them, and I hope to go visit their home in the hill country soon. They found a creative way to lounge in their beach chairs AND  be in the water, watching the kids boogie board...

That's not everything, just a few sketches of moments. The sketches (like photos) help me remember scenes, and sharing them helps me remember what a great time it was. I'm grateful to have the time away, and the return to Port Aransas and Trinity by the Sea; I feel refreshed and ready for the Fall-Stewardship-Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lent-Easter experience that is about to come to us. And that's not even including our Master Plan and Capital Campaign. 2016-17 is going to be a big year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

enter the Way

This picture is of my friend The Rev. Billy Tweedie, rector of Resurrection in Austin, with his son Liam standing by ready to net a trout. Billy and his twins joined Trinity by the Sea for our retreat to Duncan Park, Colorado. He led us in reflections each night during compline (night prayer.) He focused on just a few of the teachings of Brene Brown's "The Daring Way." The first night we learned the (important) differences between guilt, humiliation, and shame. The second night we learned about compassion, and the importance of boundaries in practicing compassion. Finally, the last night, we learned about courage...the important ingredient to living a vulnerable, compassionate life in which we learn from the experiences of guilt and humiliation, without letting shame rule our decisions. The teachings were helpful, and it was something to ponder each night while on retreat.

After the first night's teaching, as we were just settling into the rhythm of the retreat, Tracy reminded me that her husband, John had not yet been baptized, and asked what was required for him to be baptized.

We have talked about baptizing him since their premarital conversation a year earlier. He was interested in an immersion in the living waters of the gulf, yet we still hadn't gotten our schedules aligned for the occasion. As if we were living the scene out of the Book of Acts, John said something like, "See, here is some water, what's to prevent me from being baptized now?" (Acts 8:36) Or maybe he just said, "Let's do it!" Most of our group had already left the creekside gazebo to get ready for bed, so we gathered everyone again, and with prayer books and flashlights in hand, we headed back down to the creek. It was a giddy gathering. We prayed for John, blessed the creek's living waters, and in he and I went. He was plunged into the icy waters, and came up with a gasp. Safe on the banks, he commented, between excited breaths, "That woke me up!" I said, "That's the idea."

The next night, we read, together, the baptismal covenant, so we could all remember what we are getting ourselves into by living baptized lives. Welcome John, and thank you for acting out the teaching! Baptism is an act of becoming vulnerable and it is even humiliating (being dunked under water, coming up cold and soaking wet), which reminds of our humanity and our dependence upon God. Ultimately, it takes courage to enter the death of Jesus, and to be reborn in his resurrection; then to practice the compassionate Way of Jesus---reread the baptismal covenant for a reminder (BCP  p. 292) In short, John's baptism illustrated for us the Brene Brown teachings (she is a student of Jesus, too.) 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

stay kewl

Today is Eli's last day of kindergarten. I can't believe it. We will go to Family Camp at Mustang Island this evening with families from across our diocese. I'm looking forward to helping some mainlanders learn to surf, and build sand castles, and spending some time with Laura and Eli away from home (even though it's not too far away from home...) It's a good way to mark the beginning of Summer. I usually take the summer off from writing, just as a rule. Not because I'm tired of writing, just so that I take a break and can start fresh in the fall. So this will be my last-day yearbook signature: "see ya next year, Class of 2017 rox!"

This is a great picture of my friend surfing in Costa Rica (not Port Aransas.)  He said list the photo credit as "Unknown." I don't know if wanted anonymity for himself, or the photographer. Anyway, I hope to be able to ride that wave someday. I better practice. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

dying musicians, living musicians

I guess every generation experiences this in turn; the dying of favorite, influential musicians. I'm experiencing it a lot lately. Merle Haggard, David Bowie, Prince, and Guy Clark have all died recently. I'm not trying to remember every single musician who has died in a certain time period, I'm just thinking of the ones off the top of my head. The ones I miss, or really appreciate. I never even saw any of them in concert. I just like their music, and the unique expression each of them in their music. They were authentically themselves, and in sharing who they were through their music, changed people's lives. Death may point us back to life, to reflect on some aspect of who we are, to consider what was attractive about the person who has died, and to get in touch with that part of ourselves... now to the living...

I've been playing music with my friend Justin Stewart for about 20 years, from time to time. After fronting a few bands, he's now solo, and has some great musicians who play with him in the studio or for shows. He has recently taken the leap to put his whole heart into his musical vocation; he is a full time musician. I hope you'll check out his website and see what you think. I think he's pretty great. Patrice Pike has become a good friend over the past ten years or so, and I've been listening to her music since I was in high school. She's always been a musical role model for me, and when I lived in Houston, I enjoyed catching her weekly shows. If I lived in Austin, I would probably go to Saxon Pub on Thursdays to hear her play, whenever I could. When I go to hear Justin or Patrice, it's not so much to be entertained, though they are entertaining. I go to be inspired. I generally take my journal with me, because I always get ideas, or want to sketch something. Music feeds me, and witnessing creativity helps me to be creative.

With all these musicians dying, all these masters of music, I want to be with living musicians. I want to hear what they are doing musically, and I want to be inspired to make my own small contribution. Concerts have their own spiritual dynamic, and I have the privilege of inviting musicians to play at church from time to time. Trinity Sunday, we had an amazing line-up of musicians play during Church-on-the-Beach. (This is the part where I name some people.) A Ukulele Band:Susan Sheehan, Laura Derkits, Suzanna Reeder, Brooke Sohl, accompanied by Gay DeMontel, Flute and Carol Elliot on Guitar; got the service started. Charlie Stovall, Ronnie Narmour, Billy Snipes, Walter Sohl, and I joined in along the way; we all played for the grand finale: I'll Fly Away.

Eucharist means thanksgiving, and I am still feeling thankful that everyone shared their musical gifts. I'm thankful that I have musical gifts to share in community.  Great musicians (known and unknown) will always be dying as time marches on; now is the time to listen to their music, and to make music of our own. I don't usually encourage taking things literally, so read this metaphorically as needed. In this case, though, if the music thing resonates...if you've got a dusty instrument sitting around, pick it up! You can re-learn. If you always thought that one day you'd learn to play whatever, make today the day. Do it to honor Prince or Merle, or your favorite musician living or dead. Be inspired by them; then live that inspiration out in your own being.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

those flags

Part of my work as a priest is to invite people to live intentionally; to pay attention to who they are, what they have received, and then to make conscious decisions about how they are becoming the people God has made them to be. Part of my own journey has been to understand what it meant for me to grow up in a small East Texas town, and to be aware of the explicit and implicit lessons I learned in those formative years. My highschool was quite diverse, and I had classmates of different racial, ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds. From time to time, something either in our town or form the wider world would raise tensions among my classmates, or at least evoke conversation. I remember distinctly hearing a white friend and a black friend pondering if they would take sides if a race fight broke out in our school. Then we all went to math class. 

Another time, in middle school, about the time Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X came out, some of my friends wore t-shirts from the movie. Another friend wore a shirt with the battle flag of the Confederate Army; the caption read, "You wear your X, I'll wear mine." Whenever asked about why that X flag of the Confederacy is flown, people often say they are just proud of being from the south. It has been my personal experience that that flag represents hatred and racism almost as powerfully as the swastika. The swastika has pre-Nazi roots that are not associated with hate, but now it carries that energy as, for many, the Confederate flag carries a message of hatred and racism with it. 

I was discussing the abundant presence of those flags on the beach in Port Aransas with a friend who is a second generation descendant of immigrants, as I am (his family from Mexico, mine from Europe.) He quipped, "I'm glad when people fly that flag! I know who to avoid. It's the bigots who don't make themselves known that I worry about." Point taken. 

The presence of those flags so proudly displayed still makes me hurt for God's fractured human family. Its presence creates a tolerance for oppressive symbols and language that helps fuel racism. I worked in Jasper Texas the summer before James Byrd was dragged to death. That summer I heard racist jokes almost every day, usually preceded by the statement, "I'm not racist but..." Now I am glad that I spoke up to my coworkers and asked them not to tell those jokes around me, even though they gave me a hard time about it. The trouble came not from those guys making jokes, it came from someone who heard other people making jokes, or perhaps flying a flag, and interpreted it as endorsing racism. 

God created us in God's own image. (Gen. 1.27) In God's wonderful and boundless creativity it takes so many different people of different races, languages, ethnicity, and perspectives to express God's image. The stubborn presence of that confederate battle flag points back to a failed attempt in our (relatively recent) history to divide God's family and impose an oppression that scripture shows God continually overturns. Christ himself being the ultimate unifier. Christians know: " Christ Jesus you are all children of God...There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3.26-28) We, of course, live in a particular place and time, but the only tribe we truly belong to is that of Christ. 

What literal or metaphorical flags are you currently flying? In what ways are you helping to unify the kingdom of God, and heal God's human family? With gratitude to my hometown and home state, I hope to be intentional about what I grow out of, and what I carry forward.