Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I fought was what I needed

For years I have tried to fit in and be a contributing voice within the Episcopal Church. Time and again, I would run for an office, volunteer for a committee or simply offer to help but always seemed to be overlooked. It became a frustration and there were times of deep hurt in the disappointments. Being a white male in the United States and in the Church there was an expectation, I felt, to offer my help, to be of service, to lead when needed and to represent the whole. For over 30 years it just became one large frustration. Finally, it has recently dawned on me that this was not a rejection, but rather a blessing. By being marginalized I have come to understand what women, gays and people of color have experienced in the church for generations. It has in fact been an educational process to help me finally understand the larger church and my role in it. White men oftentimes are characterized by the stereotype or generalization as people who just don't "get it". Oftentimes they can be clueless to the struggles and challenges others experience. This long journey of being overlooked has in fact been the one way in which I can slowly come to understand how more people experience life, and how many others have also been marginalized to the great detriment of the church and society.
I prepare to go to another convention of the church, but I have come to a place where it does not matter much any more. I do not need to fit in, I am no longer desirous, nor have a need to serve and lead in any way. There are issues I might speak up on, and people I want to see.  There is a memory of hurt and pain that will always be a part of my story. But meeting and being with others in this time is far more important than being heard, or making a difference. The need that has grown more focused for me is the need to be where God needs me and that might be in the church or not.
I remember years ago a friend challenging me after a particularly hard time of rejection and my endlessly going over it and rehashing it, he said, "how long are you going to go on like this".  It has been many years on and off with different issues that reignite pain and struggles, and each new time all the past returns. But when the focus and primary need has changed it does allow for me to refocus and let some of the past drift by. I have circled through burn out a number of times and made great mistakes and dropped the ball more times than I want to remember, but always do. And these are the things that make my resume', these shortcomings along with my long-time struggles to fit in and never quite doing it, are my strengths. God has blessed me time and again, and I have repeatedly prayed for them to go away. Thanks be to God for the unrelenting and never ceasing need to bless again and again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The effects and enhancement of our image


More and more we are becoming a visual people, what once passed for a news article, or any kind of writing, could be understood without any images. Now, it seems that images are more important, or at least as important as the written part of the story. The images are what we first look at, and then the writing. Advertising texts have become more and more terse with a stronger emphasis on images.
Even in worship settings, there is more and more emphasis on visual stimulous. Though, historically this has always been the case with stained glass windows, paintings and statuary. But most of the images were aimed at teaching those who could not read the stories and messages of the faith.  Now we are using the images to reach those who can read, but whose understanding is more focused on images.
And a side result, it seems to me, is that we are losing our own grasp of living and moving our lives more and more onto the world of images. The rise of selfies, the home videos, photo shoots, it is all a way to make us feel more alive, yet in fact it is moving us from live to simply an image on a screen or paper.  The understanding of relationship in images is interesting, to have pictures of the relationship somehow makes it more real, looking at them, making the images, and finding ways to display them all take away from the actual time of being together with someone. It is important to have images, to remember the past, to hold onto who we are, where we have been and to honor such with an image. But, it is my perception that the effects of television and movies, the internet and more accessible photographic technologies have made the reality of images seem more real than the actual moments lived that are to be captured on film.
I have been trying to learn to be a better model, to have my picture taken more effectively. This has arisen after looking at my picture, as a priest, in some wedding pictures. I have come to see that the more I am able to simply be the priest and able to take better pictures, than the more the viewer will notice the bride and groom and not me – this is the way it should be.  But in learning to have my picture taken I am also learning to be more present in the living of my life and enjoying of the moment that is happening, and if the picture is taken than fine, if not then that is fine as well. But there is a desire to discover myself, that has emerged in the relationship with having my picture taken. I am seeing myself for the first time, or in ways I never knew before. It is cathartic and it is enlightening, and it is exciting. But it can become quickly more an end in itself that a tool for self discovery. And this, too, is a part of the growing understanding of life through images. Having the picture taken and thinking of how to take it, how to arrange it etc. all becomes an experience that adds identity and excitement, but there is also a let down, after the picture has been taken and days go by.  Somehow the moments that were without pictures seem to age better in my mind than those with a picture. In fact soon the picture becomes the memory and not the moment.
There are unintended blessings, epiphanies and opportunities that have emerged with the increased and enhanced technologies of image making. There are also dangers and drawbacks that are also emerging, some of these might in fact be steps backwards and not advances for our souls and minds.

New Perspectives

A hundred years ago the church was sending missionaries to places like Africa and China, to convert and introduce Christianity to those who did not know about it.  There is a granite marker on the wall of St. Andrew's Church in Newcastle, Maine, commemorating one such missionary. Their intent and work was noble and the work they did was inspirational. Unfortunately, those who followed were more interested in making money than in the relationships that faith began.

Now, I find myself in an ironic place, as a missionary to Maine, the place that once sent them to other places. The tables have been turned, and this only serves to prove my belief that the only thing wider than God's mercy is God's sense of humor.

The memory of the past also causes me to reflect upon my work. If successful, or if and when the power of God's Holy Spirit reignites the people of Maine, then what would stop the follow up of the hordes of profiteers who will see this as an opportunity. But then, the power of God has always been greater than the sins of us mere mortals.  For even in China where we unleashed a tidal wave of capitalism with the aftermath of missionaries, the church continues to grow.  Despite our best efforts to undermine the working of God, or to capitalize on it, or to "improve" upon it, the power of divine love will continue to move, more constant than the wind or tide.

On a more twisted note, it is interesting to me that the Chamber of Commerce and State officials who are looking to market Maine and build up business have not latched onto this historical trend and to start to encourage the missionary movement to Maine.




a brief litany for the Fall

With our words, and with the sounds too deep for words themselves we offer our prayers
For those we love, for those we fear, for those in need and those blinded by a lack of need.

We pray for our country, for all nations, and for the upcoming election
Give us strength to participate in the common good as best we can with an open heart and mind.

In light of changing climate, limited resources and growing expectations;
Keep us, O Lord, from the frozen place of inaction and indifference.

In a world with ebola, aids, cholera, and slavery, with a media intent on fueling our fears:
Anchor our lives in the harbor of your love, 
where we can be still and know your presence as we continue to live in hope.

For Your Church, and for all people of faith

Renew us, restore us, and remind us that we are one in you, always.


In sickness and in health

It would be an understatement to say that time has changed, especially since the time when Jesus was walking through the towns of Judea. The change in technology and industry in just the last two centuries has brought about a radically different world view and now with our modern transportation and internet the world is seen in much more global ways.
When Jesus healed someone it was miraculous and life changing. We look at such events now and try to understand them in light of vast medical advancements. When Jesus cast out a demon from someone there is a tendency to wonder how this would be seen today, and how much of these episodes were the result of mental health issues. We have no way of knowing how much, how many and to what degree the various miracles took place. Whether they were in fact greater or less than reported, many of the writings describing them were written down generations after the events. But somehow something did happen, to the effect that people were writing about it generations latter.
What is known is that Jesus healed people, physically, spiritually, and mentally. When he came into contact with people; rich or poor, outcasts or friends, he offered an opportunity for healing. The gospel of St. Luke is one that records many of these encounters, and the feast day of St. Luke is October 18th. Luke was thought  to have been a physician and is the patron saint of doctors. The experience of Christ, the gathered community  of people seeking God in the everyday drama of life through the church has always been a continued opportunity  to engage with the same power of God that is manifest in Jesus. Healing is always  possible. Sometimes it is physical, sometimes it is a result of finally finding forgiveness, sometimes it is a restoration of a relationship, sometimes it is miraculous, sometimes it happens in ways we do not want. The experience of God’s healing is not to keep us from the journey of our mortality, not to keep us from pain and death. The healing of God is   always as an opening to a deeper experience of God in our lives and leads us into a larger understanding of our interconnectedness with all life.
With the arrival of Fall and the shortening of days there also comes the growing awareness of things    still left undone with winter approaching, the ongoing challenges of life in Maine in a colder time of year, and  the reminder of the people who struggle with mental health issues in our parish and in our communities. Our mental health is one that is far more challenging to address, it cannot be simply fixed like a broken arm. And    yet the healing of God is still at work, sometimes over years of work, usually with extremely limited financial  resources and almost always with the help of family and friends. We are supporting Andrew Eddy in his pursuit of becoming an ordained deacon, with the expressed hope that such an ordained presence in our communities would add a more pronounced reminder of God at work in the mental health and healing around us. Miracles might not happen in the ways recorded centuries ago, but that is not because the are not happening. It is simply because people’s perceptions and writing styles thousands of years ago are different than those of people today. We are called to be the witnesses of God’s healing in our time, and it is always a life changing, upending and transforming experience to meet Jesus again.  It is simply our time to witness such events again and tell the story as we see it. 




Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Great Possibility of Politics in the Church


Now that the fall is here
, and in an upcoming election year, I expect to start seeing more political signs on people’s lawns. Some, unfortunately, felt the need to jump the usual timetable and have had their signs up for months.
During the course of my journey of faith I have had the privilege to pray for many elec-tions and elected officials. Whether it was Gerald or Jerry, or Jimmy or James, Ronald or Ron, The Georges, Bill or Barack it is important that we pray for those in authority. I have not always agreed with those who were elected and felt some better than others, but in the course of hon-estly praying for them, that God would use and direct them, I have found my attitude changing. Through my prayers I can come to respect even those with whom I strongly disagree. This is a concrete way in which faith can make a difference in our lives. This is an especially important task for people of faith during this time of year. We need to pray and ask God’s blessings upon those making the great efforts to serve us, and even more im-portantly for ourselves to avoid the trap of getting caught up in hateful, disrespectful talk.
In a society where we tend to demonize those who disagree with us; in a culture where the media offers more and more biased opinions and perspectives; prayer is even more important for each of us in order that we do not fall victim to the intensity of opposition that is our present mode of operation. I have heard people bemoan the loss of prayer in school, but I grieve more for the loss of prayer in all of our lives. It all begins within our own hearts and cannot be blamed on others.
And the more we pray, the more we are deliberate in our prayers, the more open we become to the larger issues, the unintended consequences, the points where we might be mistaken or misguided. The opportunity of elec-tions is a simple and direct way to offer a litmus test for our spiritual well-being. Am I more partisan and con-cerned with politics than with my relationship with God and those around me? Am I more concerned with im-mediate political gains, or open to participating in discussion and growth? Do I find myself becoming worked up by the media’s frenzy, or is this whirlwind simply the noise that is clouding out the still small voice of God?
Our culture puts more emphasis on the politics of the moment, forgetting the issues of last month or last year. The call of our faith is to remember, to reflect and not forget the larger issues and the ways in which God is working in our lives. The importance of faith is to value our relationships more than the need to prove a point. The importance of belonging to a church, ideally, is that we are brought together in prayer with those we might otherwise not want to be with; and in so doing we see more clearly, follow God more nearly and love more dearly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Time Away

In looking back over the last few months I linger upon the wonderful memories of a few days away. It is important to get away, and sometimes even a few days away in close proximity to the familiar but in a different sphere is important.
Emily and I were able to make a grand pilgrimage with Jacob Gerritsen aboard Ex Libris out to Monhegan Island. The weather was perfect, great winds took us right to Port Clyde, after a night in the harbor we made the journey  to Monhegan and hike around the island. We moored in the harbor which was a bit vulnerable and very wavy. Then for one amazing and brilliant run from Monhegan to Camden as a storm chased us in, making it in less than five hours as we were sailing into the wind with a great current behind us.
The trip was not long, but amazing.  Oftentimes, I have discovered, that phenomenal moments are very fleeting. When we try to hold onto them and prolong it, somehow it slips away. But when the moment is there and it is magic, then ride it, and we did. The wind and sailing were great as well, but the moments with friends and people you love dearly along with the sense of being clearly alive is more precious.





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