Thursday, February 26, 2015

This Disjointed Never-Ending Winter

The new conversation starter in New England: "so this winter..." 

Storm after storm and freezing temps have made January and February 2015 one for the record books. It has taken a heavy toll, much heavier than the snow piling up on our region's roofs.  A recent op-ed in the New York Times described the tragedy in Boston as the "Winter from Hell."  It is especially hard for hourly workers who do not get paid when they cannot get to work. 

Here at Christ Church, our sections of flat roofs have caused melted snow water to pour into our sacristy, causing significant damage and leading us to remove cabinets from the walls before they collapse.  

The human side of this hard winter is harder to know. What I sense is that many of us are just trying to make it through to spring. Many are hibernating indoors. Worship attendance is down, not having been helped by the cycles of Saturday evening storms. 

All of this reminds me of why we need community. Christian, church-based community. When we go weeks without seeing one another we miss things. We may not have heard who is grieving the loss of a loved one, who is celebrating the birth of a grandchild (Pete and Chris Baldwin) and who is thankful for a clean prognosis.   We probably have not seen the donated items for Cuba pile up for our upcoming mission trip in two weeks.  

This is all to say: this Lent will take some extra strength to endure and learn from. It is as if many of us were in the wilderness of weather before we started this annual 40 day liturgical wilderness. 

Hang on. Hang on to your faith. Hold dear the relationships that sustain us through difficult seasons. Phone or reach out to those far off.  

Jesus is with us in our wildernesses and exiles. The hope of new life and Resurrections pulls us through the night into new days.

Hang in there people!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Impostors

Ash Wednesday
February 18, 2015
Sermon at Christ Church, Exeter

The invitation that follows the Sermon on Ash Wednesday lays out the history and purpose of this season that ends with Holy Week and Easter.

I recall my favorite line from the C.S. Lewis Narnia series: When it was always winter, and never Christmas. Winter has a grip on us, yet it will give way to spring.

The Epistles of late have been the focus of my recent sermon reflections. I have been drawn to Paul’s words to a community in Corinth that is wrestling with a whole host of issues.  Power, authority, ritual cleanliness.

The passage from 2 Corinthians is read today on Ash Wednesday, this day to begin the Lenten season with the imposition as ashes and the reminder of our mortality.  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are perhaps the most haunting, challenging and honest words we hear in the course of coming to the altar rail week upon week.  It is God’s way of saying to us: know your roots, your beginnings because in time we all end up from the same created moment.  Scientists might tell us that we are collection of carbon molecules and other properties.  God simply reminds us that we are God’s making and imagining.

A few sentences stand out for me in the passage to today, beginning with:

Chapter 5: v. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation means a whole lot of the things to different people. It is the goal after the hard work of truth telling, naming the pain caused by another or by our own actions, and the granting and receiving of forgiveness.  Over the past month a number of us have been reading and talking about Archbishop Tutu’s The Book of Forgiveness that he co-wrote with his daughter.  From the moment we learn the Lord’s Prayer, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we know that forgiveness is high up on the Jesus agenda.  What Tutu suggests is that we need a manual or a primer on how to forgive another person, receive it ourselves, re-establish relationships and perhaps most important, learn how and why it is so essential to forgive one’s self. 

Reconciliation is a central theme for Lent. It fits in nicely into the wilderness time frame: Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness facing temptation and 40 days of Lent (not including Sundays which are feast days) for us to look at our world, our relationships, our inner lives and the desires of our hearts.  This time of intentional soul-searching and reflection should prompt the questions: with whom do I need to be reconciled? Where are the wounds and holes in our lives that will not be healed or filled until the inner hard work of forgiveness is tackled?

Yet as important as the relationship around us matter – loved ones, friends, colleagues – we should see them in the light of a larger relationship.

Our path to reconciliation is not simply to will it. 

For Christians, it begins with understanding how Christ makes it happen. 

Christ reconciles us to God. 

2 Corinthians 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

Yet Paul offers us these contrasting images:

6: 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: v. 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute.  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

As created piles of holy dust, each one us are more than we will ever know.  We are certainly more complex, layered, flawed, and contradictory than we project outward.  

Much ink has spilled with commentary on the fall from grace of Brian Williams at NBC news.  Accused of stretching or bending the truth, not an easy thing to overcome in the news business.   The judgment has been fierce. 

The whole drama reminded me of what I have heard described as “Pretender or Impostor syndrome.”

When people ask themselves: do I really know what I’m doing?  When will people find out?

This is especially true when someone starts a new job, gets a promotion or is given more responsibilities.  Even is one is a fairly confident person, self-doubt pours in.

We must be fooling people, right?

I believe Paul speaks to this:  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known.

So here is my suggestion for today: Ash Wednesday and the beginning of another Lent.

If we ever, even for a moment, feel like we are fooling others or our ourselves -- how strong we are, how good, unafraid or certain, how faithful, loyal we are…  this yearly reminder of our mortality reminds us, reassures us, we are human. We are but dust.

In our mortality, imperfection, complexity, we become ambassadors for Christ.  And Lent begins...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Praising God after even more snow

Christ Church in Exeter, NH before our latest snow overnight

I loved snow as a kid. Growing up outside of Cleveland, Ohio we saw a lot of it.  

I still love snow. Sort of. This year has seen almost, what?, 5 feet of snow fall on the Seacoast of NH. This morning I am home because we cancelled worship services -- something we rarely do and I never like to do. 

The snow is covering our windows and now snow drifts are well over our heads. Crazy!  

Yet beautiful. 

"Praise God" is not something I say as often as I say "thank God." It sort of means the same, but yet it is different.

This is one of the psalms for today.  Read and pray it. Praise God for your life today. For our creation. For being our God.  

Psalm 150 Laudate Domi
1    Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the blast of the ram's-horn; *
Praise him with lyre and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.
Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cuba Night turns Harris Hall into the Tropicana Nightclub: Raises awareness and funds for mission

On Saturday, February 7 between snowstorms, 100+ people gathered at Christ Church, Exeter for our first Cuban Night. There was abundant Cuban food, pictures from our trip last year, information about our water filtration project, and a professional salsa instructor from Hartford to show us how to move to a Latin rhythm.  In addition, donations were collected of items to bring with us in March and over $1700 was raised for the Episcopal Church in Cuba. 
The only time you will see a Cuban flag, the Tropicana nightclub sign, and a fireplace in one shot
A sample water filter that will be brought to Cuba for installation. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Naming the Hurt and Granting forgiveness: Notes for today's Living in Faith at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tutu’s The Book of Forgiveness:

Naming the Hurt

What is the cost of dismissing a hurt, stuff it down, put it away, pretend it didn’t happen, telling ourselves we really shouldn’t feel the way we do? (pg. 96)

When our dignity if violated, it serves no on if we stuff the injury away in the closet.

Have to dig the hurt out at the roots.

When is it necessary to name the hurt?  How do I know when an injury must be named or shrugged off?

What are the costs of being wounded psychologically?

A psychological wound is harder to name. 
Pg. 100 the cost of never naming the hurt.

The role of grief: grief happens whenever we lose something that is precious to us. (p. 102).   Stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Consider this: whether we are grieving the loss of a loved one, a marriage, a job, a treasured hope, or some other measure of self-worth, when we allow ourselves to feel the pain, we can quickly move to anger… the next step. (p. 103).

Getting in touch with pain and hurt.

What happens when we ignore pain…? (in general).. in our bodies?

In face of pain, we need to stop the “impulse to try to make it  better, to fix it, and to try to take her suffering away.” 

p. 111 Reclaiming our ability to feel. 

Granting Forgiveness

How to exercise the forgiveness muscle in the small daily acts of forgiveness that makes family life more than merely tolerable and give us access to joy as we walk in the world.

Using the Dalai Lama’s “giving and taking” meditation. Pg. 121

After tragedy, forgiveness has “allowed me to keep my heart open and soft. I chose to forgive because I knew that if I did not, the unforgiving world would have kept me closed and hardened inside. “ Pg. 124

Key: recognizing our shared humanity. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more.

We are, every one of us, so very flawed and so very fragile.

True forgiveness:

Examples of people establishing a “veneer of peace that is more of an uneasy truce than a genuine forgiveness.” Pg. 128

How do we know when we grant forgiveness that we truly mean it?   Huge weight lifted, feeling of peace.  

Listening to the “shoulds” of forgiving. 

Growing through forgiveness.  We can’t circumvent the natural process.