Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Rachel's children

We have been studying the psalms in adult bible study on Sunday mornings before church. I didn't pick it, not sure if I like it, but we are using a guide written by Eugene Peterson. So be it.

Since it wasn't too hot yet, folks who arrived first decided that we could sit outside in the shade again. Metal folding chairs are metal folding chairs, I guess, regardless of where you place them! So, after a time for communal prayer, we began the lesson for the day, Psalm 137. It's one of those psalms of lament which didn't make the psalter in the Lutheran Book of Worship but, given the news from the Middle East, it seemed timely although I must confess, I didn't think of the coincidence until later.

Psalm 137 begins with familiar words
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.

It is a psalm written after the Israelites had been exiled to Babylon and while it begins with what is a poignant recollection, in its nine or so verses, it quickly spins down into a vengeful plea.
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Not exactly what the lectionary might have us sing about on a given Sunday. They are troubling words. They talk about payback, payback meted out on the heads of the most innocent of innocent, the children. Yesterday, I thought of the dozens of innocent children upon whose heads a ton or so of bombs fell. Bombs which had their origin in the US of A. As Dr Rice flits about the world, our munitions dealers are providing all of the tonnage of bombs to destroy Lebanon in pursuit of the Hezbollah.

A colleague suggests that we ought be about the business of evangelize Hezbollah. I am sure that they are as eager for our brand of Christianity as they are our American democracy. Perhaps we might seek to understand why they reject our values, our beliefs, our form of government. Perhaps we might seek out Imams who are faithful adherents to Mohammed and the Qu'ran, and help them get their people back on track. Maybe, just maybe, when they start to think that we respect them as people, that we see ourselves and them, all of them, as children of Abraham can we be about the business of community.

Until then, please do what you can to help the innocent. Lord knows there are a lot of them. Please contact Lutheran Disaster Response today.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lutherpalian??? What's up with that?

I allude, in my bio, to being, in fact, a "Lutherpalian". It is a contraction of the words Lutheran and Episcopalian, not original with me. It reflects a couple of things but most importantly, my faith journey.
Growing up, my family wasn't exactly churchgoers. My mother is Greek Orthodox and, while her father had been responsible for helping develop a couple of GO parishes, the only time we went to that church was for special occasions- my baptism, some weddings, and some funerals. For the latter, I think my sister and I waited in the car with our father. He was a disaffected Roman Catholic who, whenever the priest said something silly in a homily, would trot down to the Episcopal congregation. So, when I was in the fifth grade, he took me to Sunday School. Most of the year. Then, that was it until I started attending the local Lutheran church. On one hand, it was the church of my German ancestors. OTOH, it was basically the only place for teens to hang out and it was a block or so from the girl I was dating. Regardless, it took me in and my journey took off.
About the time that the Lutherans (my ELCA ones) and the Episcopal Church finally worked out the details of our "Call to Common Mission," I learned that the Washington National Cathedral (aka The Cathedral Church of Sts. Peter and Paul) was in need of daily chaplains. I had been taking my acolyte corps there each October for the annual Acolyte Festival and was in awe of the place. I soon became the sole Lutheran chaplain in that House of God for all Peoples. Initially, I was commissioned(?) by Bp Jane Holmes Dixon. So, on the second Tuesday of each month, I drove down and took my turn. What a wonderful experience it was!
The chaplain du jour had several responsibilities. One was to be present. Not hard, I really liked being present in the bookstore/gift shop! Second, was to preside over the noon mass and I thankfully had several helpful vergers (Dr. Judith Greene, to mention one, is a retired MD and, to the uninitiated, a mighty stern woman. Though I knew otherwise!) to get me through the Book of Common Prayer. Regardless, it was an inspiring opportunity, preaching in the same room as Dr King, and so many others. Thirdly, we offered the Intercessions of the visitors in one of the chapels at about 2:00. If you have never been there, there is a place where you can make your prayer request known on paper and it is offered that day. I've saved several of those requests and look at them each day. One was sought by a young girl named Becca W. who wrote "My DAD kieth he is in the war PRay that he will not die." I do, Becca, I do, every day. Another youth wrote "For all those who died before their voices could be heard." Another "I hope no wun gets sik." And there were the prayers written in Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. I believe God knew what they had written even if I was clueless.
One September, I got in my car around 9 and headed down to DC. It was the 11th. As I always have the radio on in the car, I heard the news from NY and as I approached Washington, I could see the smoke in the distance, coming from the Pentagon. When I drove onto the grounds of the cathedral, it was eerily quiet. I parked the car and saw Judy and Bp Dixon confering in front of the Diocesan office. We decided to close the cathedral that day because there had been a joint Christian/Muslim conference scheduled that day and they didn't want to be a target. Made some sense I guess but, in my heart of hearts, I thought we should be open for business, as usual. Since that day, the cathedral pauses at each three-quarter hour and a prayer for peace is offered.
As I was preparing to leave the congregation in Baltimore, I contacted Bp John Rabb at the Diocese of Maryland and had my credentials accepted for ministry in the Episcopal Church. And that, my friends, is how I became a "Lutherpalian."
Aren't you glad you asked?!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Away to a deserted place...

A central theme of yesterday's Gospel reading (RCL) was finding some peace and quiet in our often hectic lives. Jesus' disciples, having been out beating the bushes in the countryside had come home to share with Jesus all that they had experienced. Because there had been a single focus to their activity, they were quite exhausted. So, Jesus invites them to get away for awhile in a what they hoped would be a quiet, deserted place. But, this was not to be.
If we, Jesus's 21st century disciples, do not have an opportunity for R and R regularly, we will be of no use to him, to ourselves, or to those who love us and whom we love. I know from firsthand experience that this is the case. I was never good at getting away. When I did, I spent so much time in preparation that when I did get away, all that I could do was worry about what was going on while I was away. Something was wrong. As I look back, I wasn't even taking some short time, every now and then, to take a break.
A few years ago, thanks to a friend named Bettye, I discovered the labyrinth. The labyrinth is an age old meditation tool, dating back to before the Common Era. Around the year 1200, labyrinths began to take on a Chrisitian purpose. Things were bad in the Middle East, just like they are now, and the faithful were not able to safely make their pilgrimages to the Holy Land. So, they began to walk the labyrinth.
A labyrinth looks, at first glance like a maze. But there is a distinct difference-a maze has several dead-ends which can confuse you and cause a feeling of desperation to come over you. A layrinth, on the other hand, has but one circuitous path. There is a beginning and an end. This labyrinth (my personal favorite style because there are at least a half dozen varieties) image is (like) the one found on the floor of the cathedral in Chartres, France.
While early Christian pilgrims would often walk the path on their knees (ouch!), I would recommend just taking your shoes off and walking barefooted. I do this regardless of the time of year.
I soon came to realize that the labyrinth was the only place where I could totally block out the world. Even though I often have music playing in the background (Taize, Gregorian Chant, Oriental flute music, etc), it is mainly to drown out other noise. So, I walk in peace, often praying, sometimes talking to God although I am not sure that there is a difference. When I have gotten to the center, I pause for a while and then follow the path back out. I am usually totally refreshed. If you have never walked a labyrinth, I would encourage you to click on the Labyrinth Society button on this page and learn more.
I didn't walk a labyrinth in preparation for my sermon but I did find another quiet place recently as you can see from the final words of that sermon:
A week ago last night, I dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house for a few hours. I hoped to run a few errands but quickly found stores closed, friends not at home. I wondered what to do for the next few hours. I headed towards Catonsville until I came to the Episcopal Convent and Retreat Center. It was quiet there; the sun would soon be setting. Driving up the main entrance, I paused to watch two young deer in the field. I noticed a nun, asleep in a chair beneath some trees. Parking the car, I found a place to sit, read and meditate. I got up and walked through some of their gardens. Time passed and I heard the chapel bells tolling to call the order to the Service of Compline. I decided to wander over to the chapel and sat in the back as the nuns sang their worship. It was a peaceful time, if brief, and when it was over, I walked to the car and slowly drove out, back into the world.
Jesus wants us to be out there in ministry and he wants us to be out there in the deserted place where we can rest. Neither is easy. In fact, both are hard. But he has also promised to go with us. He will go with us and help us and uphold us as we seek to be in a place where we give the gift of our time to others and minister to their needs. He will also be with us when we “come away to a deserted place all by ourselves and rest a while.” Neither place is lonely. Both are places where God is. Amen

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Triple Filter Test

I don't know if this is true or not but I thought I'd share it anyway. It seems to make sense to me:
The Triple Filter Test
In ancient Greece, scholar and intellectual, Dr. Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said,

"Do you know what I just heard about one of your friend?"

"Hold on a minute," Dr. Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

"Triple filter?" asked the man.

"That's right," Dr. Socrates continued.

"Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you're going to say. That's why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and wanted to tell it to you"

"All right," said Socrates. " So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?"

"No, on the contrary, it is bad "

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, but you're not certain it's true. You may still pass the test though, Because there's one filter left: the filter of usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really." Replied the man.

"Well," concluded Dr. Socrates, if what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good, and nor even useful to me, why tell it to me at all ?"

Unknown author

Whatcha think?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Come on in

I recently read an article on baptism in the July issue of Soujourner's, a magazine which you absolutely have to read, and it really struck a nerve.

I must confess that, as a pastor, most of our time preparing for baptism is spent working with the parent or parents who are presenting their child for the sacrament. I worry about the practical things-water, a candle, a towel, anointng oil etc. I hate to say this but alot of the other stuff is rote. But the author of the article has made me realize what is realy at stake here.

Too many people see baptism as an obligation, often a family or social obligation. We don't always give a lot of thought to what we are actually committing to, the vows which we are making.

If walking wet, as someone wiser than I once called it, is to mean anything in this life, or the next, we have to take baptism seriously. We have to allow our baptism to set the tone for our life as Jesus' sister or brother (isn't that what baptism makes us?). I mean, it's serious stuff. It's life changing stuff and we sure better act like it is. It should mean more to us than guilting us into going to church. It means taking what we get in church out into the world and making that place better for all concerned.

Oh, yeah, the quote:
Water, words, community. Offering our child back to God. We would stand with Abraham at the sacrifice. We would give her to a God who models the cross. We would invite her to listen for a voice calling in the night, to vigil, to put herself at risk, to leave family and friends, to speak clearly a truth for which one can be executed. We would thereby invite her into the risks we have already elected and, by God’s grace, still will elect to take with our own lives. In the act of baptism we would wash away the possibility that our concern for her might justify a diminishing of our own obedience to our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.

And so it begins

This is a bit odd. I don't journal although I email with great proficiency. I've been reading other folks' blogs for sometime now and a recent Washington Post article (Cyber Pastors blog when the Spirit Moves Them) seemed to make a lot of sense. So, with the encouragement of my on-line support community (isn't it great to have one?), I begin.
I've been a Lutheran pastor since 1990 although my journey began back in 1968 or so. I've bounced around a bit, am a stickler when it comes to worship but most of the rest of the time I'd be just as happy to be out in the streets in bluejeans, clerical shirt (black only, please) and flip flops.
Sometimes I think we in the church create unnecessary barriers to meeting God in our lives. I'd like to think that, through this medium, we can pull some of them down. I guess it will depend on both of us. I've gotta write stuff that makes sense and you've gotta respond. We'll see how it goes.
Oh, yeah, I am still figuring this format out. Please bear with me.