Thursday, January 5, 2017

The beginning of the good news

Originally published in the South Jetty

"The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way..." So begins Mark's gospel (1:1-2), and soon Jesus is coming up out of the water from John's Baptism, off to a wilderness of temptation until he gets clear about his calling as the Messiah. No nativity with Mary and Joseph as in Luke and Matthew; no "In the beginning was the Word..." as in John. For Mark there is an urgency to Jesus' life and ministry so we get right to it, no messing around with a birth story or the beginning of creation. A quick quote from Isaiah, and away we go. This is a fast moving gospel that uses the word "immediately" again and again to stress a quick pace: There is a message to be shared.

The feel of Mark's gospel seems, at first, to match the feel of our world today. We are two steps ahead of ourselves, and wondering where the time went; we are trying to get more things done, and multitasking if possible. We don't have time to wait. We don't know how to wait. If we are looking for a gospel to connect with this busy season, Mark's may seem to be the most appropriate. We don't read about where Jesus came from, we just know he's baptized, tempted, and then he's calling people to learn his ways and change the whole world.

And therein lies the big difference between our perceived busy lives in our world, and the laser-focused-urgency we find in Mark's gospel. If we allow in the world's changes and chances to toss us about as a ship on a rough sea, then the world will be glad to tell us how and when we are to distract ourselves and how to make ourselves busier and busier. We are told that we can't miss the sacred economic holiday of Black Friday so we leave the table to start shopping. We can be pulled in a thousand directions.

In contrast to that is the immediacy and focused urgency of Mark's gospel. It is not distracted but carefully aimed on an message of cosmic importance. Mark's urgency comes from the reality of Christ's truth. It isn't a response to the world's frenetic pace, it is a way to move through it with purpose in spite of all distractions. It is a focused urgency. Jesus has a purpose that will not wait. He has come to liberate the world from it's bondage.

Where is your focus this season? Christmas begins on December 25 and continues for 12 days. In what ways will you be focused on the truth of your mission and purpose in life? What worldly distractions might you do well to ignore? Unique among the gospels, Mark's story telling gives us a model that is so focused the healing-feeding-raising from the dead ministry of Jesus that leaves us no doubt that he must be God Incarnate. Mark's gospel presents a way of living in the world that places a sense of urgency on the life-giving movement of God in the world, but not of the world. If the world is the sea, the gospel of Christ is our motor and rudder. The rest of Marks' quote from Isaiah is, "I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Good thing, too, because Jesus came in hot! When God moves, God really moves. How might you prepare for God to move with such urgency in your life this Christmas? The time is now. It's here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

layers of giving

I want to give thanks, in this Christmas Season--a Season of God Incarnate, for all the volunteers in this town who give from their hearts all year round. I am continually amazed at how much people give of their time, talent, and treasure to support one another in Port Aransas. 

The miracle of Jesus birth, that should blow your mind when you try to think about, it is that God was born into God's own creation. We do not worship a God that is far off, but one that is right here among us, between us, and within us. That's what we call the Incarnation: God enfleshed. God is not sitting high and away from things, but right here amongst us, in the thick of it. God volunteered to move among us and Jesus gave of himself his whole life long, culminating on the cross, and in his Resurrection. He volunteered to give of his love so that all might know the love of God, even if we have lost our way from that Love. 

I suppose it should not be too surprising if we know the whole story: God also chose to create in the first place; from the void, God moved across the waters, and the creation of all things culminated in humanity made male and female in God's image. 

When we volunteer; when we give of ourselves to others, we live into that image. Our God gives, and when we give ourselves away, we take a step closer to our divine identity. 

If you ever wonder what that looks like in action, stop by Trinity by the Sea's Second Time Around Shop any Saturday morning. You will see a divine dance of creation and care for our fellow human beings. People give their possessions to the shop; volunteers sort and organize those donations; volunteers then assist shoppers and collect money for items; then the money is all given away through a variety of outreach ministries. From the void (starting with nothing) something beautiful is created. Each week, I hear of another layer of this creative generosity: the relationships that are formed between volunteers and people who come to shop. It is a living Incarnation of God's love. It's certainly not the only place it happens here, but it is a shining example. 

So thank you to the Second Time Around Shop volunteers, and all the volunteers, wherever you choose to serve. Thank you for fulfilling your identity as a child of God, and for participating in the divine act of creating from nothing. Through your action, you make the Incarnate God tangible for others, and join in the divine and eternal dance of the life of God. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Originally Published in the South Jetty
"O Come thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go." (Hymn from the 9th Century) 

Throughout the season of Advent, we will sing through all eight verses of "O Come Emmanuel," until we, at last receive the gift of God-with-us. St. John's Gospel calls it Logos: the Word. It is the ordering principle of the universe. It is Sophia, the Holy Wisdom who was there in the beginning of creation with God. She who dwelt with God and moved through prophets through the ages and in the fullness of time is birthed through Blessed St. Mary in the person of Jesus Christ. Emmanuel means "God-with-us" and that is what we pray for through the song. Week by week, we wait and watch for God who "orderest all things" in the beginning to come dwell among us to order the chaotic corners of our lives and our world. 

We also pray that when the Wisdom arrives that we are open to be shown the path and to follow. That may be the most difficult part of this whole experience of God-with-us. Will be be open enough to follow, or will our hearts remain hardened? Will we bunker down behind internet sales and inflatable snowmen trying to barricade ourselves from the transformation that comes with encountering God-with-us? Will we be too blinded by twinkling lights to see the new things God is doing among us? It may seem easier to stay in the sentimental realm that we call Christmas, than to open our hearts allow a force so powerful as God-with-us being birthed into the creation in Jesus Christ. 

It's no wonder that John the Baptist headed out to the wilderness; out away from things, out away from any distraction as he quoted Isaiah's ancient words: "In the wilderness, prepare a highway for our God!" 

When we dare to invite Holy Wisdom to reenter the creation she created with God, we had  better get ready. When we prepare for Christ's Incarnation, we had better prepare. We might start with a song of invitation and continue by opening our eyes to God's work in the world around us. In the end, it is about what God-with-us initiates and reveals, and our faithful response: being willing to follow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Between-the-Bayous Musings

The first week of Advent brought the celebration of 6 years of St. Mark's Between-the-Bayous, and a farewell to the weekly worship life of that community. As I wrote on their Facebook event for that celebration, the life of that church shaped me and my ministry, it taught me to be out in the community. I couldn't be at that particular celebration because Trinity by the Sea was doing a labyrinth on the beach.

I probably should have written and posted this blog last week, before the big celebration, but this week will have to do.

After meeting for about 6 months for conversation, planning, searching for a place to meet, St. Mark's Between the Bayous had it's first night of Eucharistic worship at Block 7, a wine bar and restaurant near the intersection of Washington Ave and Shepherd St in Houston, TX. Pittman McGehee, Sr. was a big part of those early conversations, and his book the Invisible Church remains an important text in my learning about spirituality. We imagined what a local, organic, and sustainable Episcopal community would look like. How could local artists and musicians help us to bring new life and deeper understanding of the story and mystery of the church as we received them? We sought to be a community that invited people into conversation, and shared Christ's love, rather than one that sought to enforce right doctrine and dogma of the church. We hoped to move toward the experience and trust side of belief, rather than thinking of belief as agreeing with a set of statements.

With a chalice and locally made bread, the Bible, and handful of songs we'd learned or written, we launched. We had the perfect location in a growing and changing neighborhood in Houston. We bought a glass of port, and had our first worship service wiht about 45 people who wanted to be there to support the launch. Then we got kicked out. There was a miscommunication between the owners, so we were even more nomadic than we even thought we would be. We sought to use borrowed or rented space, and when we lost our perfect spot, we received the grace of hospitality from Roni McMurtrey. She invited us to use her gallery as a temporary location. There we got to interact with new art each month. There my son Eli was baptized with his Bayou buddy Samuel (immersed in a 5 gallon tub that sometimes held beer, but that night held the waters of baptism.) At McMurtrey gallery,
we developed our worship style learning from other communities like St Gregory's, San Francisco, and St. Lydia's, New York City. We used paperless music, gathered and developed by All Saints' Company, and even hosted a couple of their Music that Makes Community events. It fit well with our simple style, focused on conversation between people, rather than focus on a text. We used the ordering of worship from the Book of Common prayer, rather than reading directly from it. From the Order for Celebrating Eucharist, we developed seven phases of our worship: Gather, Center, Reflect, Offer, Feast, Respond, Send-out. While McMurtrey gallery was not in the neighborhood we were targeting, it was a great incubator for us.

We found a more permanent residence at MECA, Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts. We rented an old classroom there, and started to find ways to connect with our neighborhood. Through this time, the BtB was completely funded through St. Mark's. While at MECA, I started exploring fundraising outside the church to help support the community. Our first Good Friday at MECA, we did a tree planting in collaboration with Trees for Houston, and in the process of planting new life, discovered an old root-base that was left-over from Hurricane Ike. We asked if we could make something out of it, and with Murray Powell's and Marvin --- 's expertise in woodworking, cut out a beautiful altar with a simple glass top. Our altar was a new living symbol for the community. It was the tree of life. It rooted us in the Ground of Being. The first week of having a glass top, I noticed condensation gathering. Though it looked dead, it was still living, breathing out moisture.

Liberty Station was a pub near MECA, and that became a place we met for a monthly movie night,
and occasionally had worship there. The owner Charles Bishop was welcoming, and it was another step in getting connected with our neighborhood. During this time, we also collaborated with Houston Baptist University to do a film series at MECA. We also collaborated wiht a Comedy Improv group. Our schedules didn't overlap, and they helped with the rent. A win-win. With that relatively new partnership, we started looking for a more visible location--MECA was tucked back in the neighborhood, and we wanted to be in more prominent location. In 2012, I moved to Port Aransas to be the vicar of Trinity by the Sea, and Eric Hungerford became the priest missioner of St. Mark's to work with BtB.

My time there taught me about inviting people to share their gifts as part of worship and otherwise. It taught me about welcoming people into a community, and blessing them on their way. It taught me about being out in the community, and to think creatively about how and where church meets. It was also, I realize now, a time of discernment for me. Eli was born not long after we started worshipping, and he certainly changed my perspective. Some deep stirring in my soul began to shake me loose, and led me to Port Aransas. It led me to move out and try fundraising; it led me to commit to leave St. Mark's. It even led me to turn down some great opportunities for next ministries that came from the Diocese of Texas. All of those decisions are somewhat illogical, and the moves away from Between the Bayous, St. Mark's, and the Diocese of
Texas weren't easy decisions to make. It was because of those communities, and my mentors, that I was able to start listening to the voice of God speaking in my soul. I found my way to a geography, a community, and a church that fits so well, it seems we were made for each other--that we had been prepared for to join in ministry back in 2012. When I could not attend the 6th Anniversary Celebration, it led me not only to reflect on my time there, and my journey with them, it also led me to reflect on how BtB is still alive in me and my ministry, how it shaped me to be who I am as priest. As Between the Bayous evolves, I am grateful for all the support I was given, and the community has been given; a missional community seeking to be church in new and creative ways. A missional community that helped "keep the story alive and the mystery present," as Pittman taught us. A community that the rest of the church is learning from, and will continue to learn from as we grow and evolve to bear the love of Christ to the world, and follow the whispers of the Holy Spirit, guiding us onward.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What's the meaning of this?

I've just about O.D.'d on news in the last couple of days. I watched Tuesday night (Wednesday morning) until Donald Trump made his acceptance speech. I watched PBS because they make an effort to get a variety of voices and perspectives in the conversation. I was personally surprised that we elected Trump as president of our country. I saw a couple of the debates, but didn't see any of the political ads. Watching a celebrity and reality TV star rise to the White House seemed surreal to me, yet, here we are. It's our reality. 
I'm reminded of advice from a couple of my mentors over the years as I listen to people who are excited about the outcome, and people who are devastated by the outcome. During seminary our small group was struggling with something, and one of my professors, Kate Sonderegger asked us, "What is the spiritual learning?" I resisted that question. I just wanted to be upset by whatever I was facing. I wanted to lash out, not seek meaning. 

A more recent mentor, Jim Hollis, has related to me the difference between "eastern thinking" and "western thinking" in this little parable: When people in the west have a car accident, we look to see who caused the accident; we ask, "Who's fault is this?" People in the east in a car accident may ask the question, "For what purpose have we been brought together in this way?" In short, it is a story about seeking meaning in life. What is the meaning? What is seeking to be understood by this situation, whatever it may be? 

I find it difficult to understand how Donald Trump has become president, especially because of the way he has spoken about women, minority ethnic groups, immigrants, and people of religions other than Christian (and perhaps even a narrow group of an American brand of Christianity.) My Christian, Episcopal tradition teaches me to seek Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being, so alarms go off in my heart whenever people, especially leaders, make comments that go so directly against the understanding that of all humanity is created in the image of God. (That includes seeing Donald Trump as one of God's children, as I was reminded.)

My fear at this time is that some will use what President-elect Donald Trump said about people who are non-white-straight-male as permission to intimidate, bully, and do violence to God's children they view as "other." Part of my own meaning-seeking quest is to acknowledge my place of privilege, since I happened to be born a straight white American male, and consider how to help dismantle the systems of hatred, bigotry, and exclusion that come from our fear of the "other."  

The greatest "other" we encounter is God. God beyond all knowing; God in the mystery; God showing up in the stranger, the needy, the sick, the hungry; God emerging from these moments of confusion and discord; God who will lead us to the peace which passes understanding; God who created us all. I just quickly glanced at facebook and saw posts of graffiti swastikas and hate rallies on a college campus; these are not imagined fears. Instead of attacking what we see as "other" it is an opportunity to discover a new dimension of God's image revealed in humanity. 

The reality is we have elected Donald Trump as our president. So what does that mean for us as individuals? What does it mean for us as a nation that we have elected (if not by a popular majority, certainly by the balance of the electoral college) him? What is seeking to be understood? Do we have the capacity to seek the spiritual meaning? And as we discover the meaning, will it shape who we are as we move forward? 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

forget Quirinius

Originally Published in the Port Aransas South Jetty Newspaper

Remember Quirinius? He was so powerful in his day; Governor of Syria during the first Census under Emperor Augustus. And surely you remember Augustus! The Emperors were like gods in their day. The most powerful, the highest office, the eyes of the world were on them.

It was into that context, with all eyes on Rome, God was born in Jesus Christ. His birth was not really even noticed by anyone outside his family, at the time. Except for a few foreign Magi who were paying close attention. But that's in Matthew's Gospel, and Quirinius is in Luke's. St. Luke seems to offer the governor's name as a time stamp, or to point out that things that seemed to be really important in their time were happening, but the focus of the Gospel moves far away from Augustus and Quirinius, and even past Jerusalem. The attention is on the Good News happening in Bethlehem, where something earth shaking was taking place. Something that would actually change the world forever, and leave Quirinius a forgotten name on a census.

I know this is a little early for Christmas, but it is an important reminder as our nation turns all its attention to who will reign in Washington DC, and anxiety rises as people put more and more energy into the next Emperor in our own day. I don't want to belittle the importance of elections and I encourage you to vote your conscience in the election, but as a religious person, remember it's not the most important thing.

Turn your attention, instead to what is truly important. Find where is God's presence being born into the world. Where is the Bethlehem of our own time? What is being missed? In the scale of eternity, there are much more important, and lasting matters that will be remembered beyond the name of a particular governor of a particular region.

photo from Episcopal News Service
I have a sense that one of those mostly unnoticed places that God is at work right now is in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where Native Americans, and religious people are standing up to protect their land against our government that has trampled so many treaties time and time again. Bishop Michael Curry, my Presiding Bishop, has invited the church to stand with the people protecting their land against an oil pipeline that will cross through their land and go under the Missouri River. While it has some environmental implications, it is mostly about honoring a trust that has been broken time and time again. My Bishop believes it is worth gathering as many people in Standing Rock as possible. He believes it is of spiritual importance, and as most things of spiritual importance, there is not a lot of media coverage, all eyes are on Washington D.C.

I may not be able to personally go to Standing Rock, but I want you to know about one instance where God is at work in the world; when all the attention is on the Quirinius of our day. Where do you find Good News, and where is God at work in your world? Find that, and you will be tuned into the Kingdom of God, instead of the temporal rulers of this world.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Capers


Just a quick note about my quick trip to Camp Capers. It was good to catch up with fellow clergy, hear from our Bishops, and to be in such a beautiful place. I was on the summer staff at Camp Capers in 1998, but started going there a couple of years before with our Canterbury from SWT (That's a college ministry from what is now Texas State University...in case you missed that.) On one our trips, probably to the college gathering we did each winter, a friend taught me how to fly fish. I was hooked. (haha) It was nice to get back on the Guadalupe and catch a few perch. I threw them all back, they had great meals for us... 

I also went for a nice run on the new property that is completely undeveloped. It is beautiful out there. It is more river-front property where they have some trails and take small groups to camp out during the summer. It is certainly a different feeling to be under a canopy of cypress and oaks, than to be in the wide open environment of our coast. I love both environs. 

Being in familiar places always brings back memories. I have a lot of good memories from Camp Capers with campers and friends. I also have memories of important conversations with clergy who mentored me, and helped me along my journey at that point in my life. It's a good thing to remember.