A Day of Service
January 14, 2021
The federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. is traditionally a day of service. Sometimes it's hard to find an appropriate service project, and especially these days. But on Monday, January 18, 2021, L.A. Works will continue a longstanding tradition of organizing Angelenos in service and activism (virtually and in-person) to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
You (and your kids!) can participate! Join in one of several projects at this event designed to build upon the anti-racism movement. It can be as simple as packing a few lunches for the homeless and delivering them downtown. Or as elaborate (and fun!) as taking a tour through the fully recreated National Mall in Minecraft (that's an online game that allows players to create worlds of their own--or so I'm told :-)
Click to figure out how you'd like to make this a meaningful holiday. And while you're at it, take a listen to Audra McDonald singing Lift Every Voice and Sing - fabulous!
A Day of Darkness--The Feast of Lights
January 8, 2021
During the first centuries of the Christian Era, some places observed the winter solstice on January 6. To oppose pagan festivals celebrating the day, Christians chose this day to celebrate the various "epiphanies" of Jesus' divinity.* And so the celebration of the Son of God replaced celebration of the sun.
Ironically (or sadly or disgracefully, or abominably... choose your own adverb), in our country on Wednesday--the Feast of the Epiphany, one of the greatest lights of our national experiment in self-government was desecrated by a violent mob of insurrectionists. In an attempt to overrule the will of the people, protesters destroyed property at our National Capitol Building, and in the process lives were lost and the light of our nation wavered. This day will sit among a handful of other national days "that will live in infamy."
So the question arises, can we reclaim this day? A day of deep darkness and destruction and death. I believe we can and we must.
Our national experiment is founded on God-given rights, but ultimately our hope rests in God. I believe we must turn to God in humility and seek God's help for ourselves and our nation. I believe we are called to prayer--and we have prayed and will continue to pray each time we gather online between now and January 20 for our nation and the peaceful transition of power. And each of us can pray individually as well.
you made us in your own image
and redeemed us through Jesus your son.
Look now with compassion on the entire human family;
and particularly this part of the family in the United States;
take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts;
break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love;
and work through our struggle and confusion
to accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time,
all nations and races may serve you in harmony
around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And I believe we are called to action. To open our eyes in the light of Jesus-- who on the Feast of the Epiphany was made known to the world beyond his own people--and recognize and work toward a nation that fulfills our national promise. A place where there is liberty and justice for all.
So I encourage you to choose in this Season of Epiphany what you can do to make our nation a more just place for all.
Show God's Love in the World.
There is much we can do and many places we can do it. Choose to do something--so that the light of Christ rather than the darkness of evil will shine forth in our nation.
*These showings of his divinity included his birth, the coming of the Magi, his baptism, and the Wedding at Cana where he miraculously changed water into wine.
The Christmas Star
December 18, 2020
It is not just us, you know. The world celebrates light. It is likely that early humans feared the total disappearance of the sun as the days became shorter in higher latitudes, and so created ceremonies to cajole the sun into returning. Stonehenge, that dramatic and ancient monument of astronomy, is set up to frame the midwinter sunset at the winter solstice and the midsummer sunrise at the summer solstice.
And this year there will be an extra moment of light in the night sky. Just after sunset the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will grace the sky. This is the closest conjunction of these gas giants visible on the earth since 1226 AD. And to have it happen at Christmas is a special gift of light as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the light of the world.
Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan notes, "Astronomy gives you a different kind of perspective on the universe, which is different from our day-to-day experiences. Things are going on above us all the time. They mark eras. ... It's an important connection between generations."
That Christmas Star that the Wise Men saw... an important connection between generations.
Singing in the dark
December 11, 2020
Lessons and Carols, the famous Christmas service from King's College, has been celebrated for more than 100 years. This service tells the story in scripture and carols about the loving purposes of God.
Over the years churches throughout the world have adapted the service for their own use. Here at St. Michael’s we have offered a briefer service of Lessons and Carols on the Third Sunday Advent for many years. But this year, no choir... and so it seemed, no service. Even though that decision was quite reasonable, as we have moved through the Advent season, I found that Lessons and Carols was one thing I was not willing to forego this year when we have given up so much. We couldn't do it as we usually do, but could we do it in some way?
Well, I think we can. So on the Fourth Sunday of Advent--next week, December 20th as we come to the darkest day of the year--our morning service will be Lessons and Carols. We'll sing more than usual, hear a good bit of scripture, and have the privilege of hearing some of the gorgeous voices in our congregation. On this shortest day, when the darkness comes early and long, we will sing about hope. We will remember once again that Jesus is coming. The Light of the World.
As with the King’s College Festival, our service will begin with a child soprano (although ours is a girl, not a boy!) singing the opening verse of the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City.” You don't want to miss it! Here's a preview... just so you know!
December 4, 2020
When famous editor and author Norman Cousins came down with a painful and debilitating illness that could not be successfully treated by medical professionals, he literally turned to laughter as the best medicine. He said that 10 minutes of good belly laughter could bring him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.
When William Countryman, esteemed professor of Liturgy at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, was asked to help my senior class prepare for ordination exams, he gave us little practical advice. And we were quite anxious for that! Rather, he encouraged us to breathe deeply... to laugh... "You know what you know. You can't learn more in one night's cramming. So oxygenate your brain. Watch a funny movie and laugh. You'll do better if you do!"
When I read or watch the news these days, I find myself clenching and tensing. My breathing is short and shallow. And so tonight I plan to find a funny movie and laugh.
Laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter is good for the soul.
Laughter is an instant vacation.
Laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a troubled world.
In case you'd like to join me... here's the best comedy bit of the 20th century. I challenge you to watch the whole thing and NOT laugh!
Who among us could not use the hand of God on our shoulder right now?
November 20, 2020
How are you giving thanks this year? I expect there may be some changes. There certainly will be around my Thanksgiving table. We generally gather as an extended family that includes cousins of cousins and virtual relatives--the "brothers from another mother" that my son claims as his own! This means that there may 25 or more of us gathered for turkey and all the fixings at several large tables.
It will be smaller--and quieter-- for us this year. We expect to gather as a group of five around the patio table. My sister and her husband will join us. My other sister will be with her son's family. Her daughter will be with her in-laws. My daughter and family will remain in Canada. My son's "brothers" will be on their own. It will be scattered groups with streamlined offerings. But our thanksgiving will be as real as ever.
We have much to be thankful for. But the gifts we have--enough to eat and a place to sleep, family and friends wherever they may be, several promising vaccines--seem not enough for us to endure a time of limits without complaint. A friend of mine told me yesterday, "I can complain. I can always complain. But I find that I am happier when I am grateful. So I choose to be grateful."
So for me, I am grateful for my far-flung family and friends, even if we can't gather and laugh around the same sumptuous table. I'm grateful for the love that crosses the distance and the technology that allows us to see each other even from afar. I'm grateful for all of you at your tables. And I'm grateful for everyone who chooses to endure limited celebrations now so that we can all be safer next year.
How about you? I hope you choose to be grateful--and celebrate the blessings of the day and the days as well as our hopes for the future.
And if you are looking for a prayer for your meal, I offer this one:
For food in a world where many walk in hunger,
For faith in a world where many walk in fear,
For friends in a world where many walk alone,
We give you thanks, O Lord.
Quoted from the movie
Seven Days in Utopia
November 13, 2020
God's time. I have been reminded of God's time this week.
It is not my time--and that mostly makes me impatient. I have places to go and people to see, as they say. I don't have time to wait on God's time. Or so I think. And, in any case, it doesn't seem to matter. God's time will happen. Mine, maybe not so much.
We have been struggling with how to divide the main room of our Children's Center so we can accommodate more children. The class size limits due to COVID-19 have severely reduced our ability to serve our families and keep our teachers fully employed. The high ceiling in the school room along with the Public Health requirement that a divider needs to be floor to ceiling made it quite a project. I talked with six contractors (count them, six!) about how we could build the divider. A heavy horizontal beam. Drywall above. Accordion doors below. It was a major project that after due consideration none of them was willing to undertake. Weeks went by and it seemed undoable.
But then, someone said, "How about a tarp?" And I thought, "I know a sailor. He can tell us how to hoist a sail. And, oh, by the way, he's an architect, too!" And the project went from "Hmmm, maybe." to "Done!" in ten days. The divider was installed on Saturday and we have children in two separate classrooms this week.
In God's time. The newest member of our parish family is Jeremy Iniobong Okon. His middle name means "God's time" in the native language of his family--Efik Ibibio from the southern region of Nigeria. The family knows that he is a gift that came in God's time.
We worked hard on trying to figure out a divider. And then--with the right word and the right people--it happened. When we inspected the rooms on Monday, Lauren said to me, "I knew it would happen in God's time. That's when it all comes together."
In God's time. Thanks be to God.
Twinkies for two
October 22, 2020
It's a classic quest story. A boy goes looking for God
--and the odds seem stacked against him.
It's a classic redemption story. She's hungry and alone
--and has no reason to expect things will change.
He is looking. She is seen. He has something to share.
And so does she. It's a match made in heaven.
Take a moment to watch and restore your spirit today.
Sometimes you go looking for God.
Sometimes God comes to you.
Where did you see God today?
October 16, 2020
Okay. Admit it. Church on the couch isn't all bad!
I know several people who have taken the opportunity of these days to "go to church" in various places all on the same Sunday. My sister starts on the East Coast with an early morning sermon from a favorite bishop, followed by the sermon of a former rector, and then a couple of other favorites across the country before she signs on to her "home church" service here in Pasadena.
Several of my friends (are you one of them?!) are now able to take an early morning Sunday walk without worrying that they may be a bit ripe when they join a service. No one can tell! Others join in from the great outdoors or parts unknown.
There are advantages to online church, no doubt. But I think our recent in-person, al fresco services have reminded us of the joy of community.
Even without hugs and with smiles hidden behind masks, no one could hide the joy of seeing friends again. There is truly joy in community. What do you think?
What is it about our St. Michael's community that brings you joy? Let me know. I'll report back!
October 8, 2020
I haven't been able to have chapel with the children of our Children's Center since March. The school was closed for a bit more than 2 months and returned on a trial basis in mid-June and then with a much reduced student population in July. Since then, the teachers and students have established new classroom norms and procedures -- masks, parallel play, social distancing. And cleaning, everything gets cleaned!
It's been a challenge, but the students and teachers are up to it. The little ones have adorable masks and wear them. They know how to social distance and play without touching. And they are very glad to be able to be together and enjoy school activities and the playground.
So, last week Lauren, our school director, and I decided it was time to see about chapel--but how to do it? Prior to March, the little ones came into the church so we could sing and tell stories and pray together. But we cannot do that now. So just like our regular services, this week we moved chapel onto the bike yard.
It's been a while, and it was so good to see their (above the mask) faces! We sang our regular songs and heard a bit about St. Francis and how he loved all of creation, especially the animals, and decided that we each had a "stuffie" we loved and could pray with. Mine is Purple Starlight, a cuddly winged pony that my granddaughter left for me to remember her.
How do you pray your grateful prayers each day? Some people use a thankfulness journal, others count their blessings instead of sheep, and some of us give thanks while hugging our favorite stuffies. However you give thanks, here is a litany of thanksgiving from our Book of Common Prayer.
Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises
given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
BCP p. 836
Too darn hot
October 1, 2020
Brain freeze. That's a term for being unproductive. Sittin' here with my fingers on the keyboard and a blank new screen to write on, but nothing comes to mind. It's curious that I think of "brain freeze" when in reality I'm just too hot to think. Too hot. It's 92 degrees in El Segundo, and as far as I can tell there is no ocean breeze. Looking at a weather map, it's hot all over the southwest and the map is brilliant red in southern California. The latest CBS News headline screams
Los Angeles County sets record temperature
as scorching heat wave wallops Southern California
So how are you doing? Me? I'm just too darn hot. So I went looking for just that. And I found this Broadway production from the 2019 Tony Awards show. Get a cold drink, watch these fabulous performers and listen to that incredible clarinet in the band.
It's not too hot to enjoy this performance. And to give thanks for all the talented people who enrich our lives with their gifts of music and dance.
Bless the creators, O God of creation,
who by their gifts make the world a more joyful and beautiful realm.
Through their labors they teach us to see more clearly the truth around us.
In their inspiration they call forth wonder and awe in our own living.
In their hope and vision they remind us that life is holy.
Bless all who create in your image, O God of creation.
Pour your Spirit upon them that their hearts may sing and their works be fulfilling.
Starry starry night
September 24, 2020
As a city girl, I have a craving to see stars. Lots and lots of stars. Stars and the night sky are always in mind as I go on vacation. I have had many disappointments! I have hoped to see stars when out on the ocean, or in the desert, and just last week in the low mountains near Ojai. A star or a few, but not nearly enough.
Now I have seen stars and indeed the cloud of the Milky Way once or twice in my life, but somehow the majesty of the night sky never gets old. And I think I'm in good company. David must have stood in awe of the night sky.
Praise the LORD from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.
Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.
Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.
Let them praise the Name of the LORD; *
for he commanded, and they were created.
So I have an excursion in mind the next time I visit my daughter in Edmonton. There is a "Dark Park" to the southwest on the way to Calgary-- a place that deliberately eliminates artificial light pollution so the night sky can be seen in all its majesty.
But just today I have added another starry event should I make it to Paris in time. Walking through the Van Gogh exhibit at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris will be magical! Add the "Starry starry night" soundtrack and voila! Take a look and a listen--it's a mini vacation!
To God be the glory!
September 4, 2020
It’s a complicated holiday. Is it for “huge savings” sales, or for barbecues and backyard parties? Is it the unofficial end of summer, or the last day to wear white shoes?
It is likely all of these—except perhaps that white shoes bit—and a historical holiday as well. It has its origins in the labor movement of the latter part of the 19th century and it's always been a day for parades and picnics—but originally these were community events that often featured speeches by prominent labor leaders. It celebrates the role of laborers and the dignity of work. And, most especially, the power that comes when workers band together in solidarity and strength.
The movement is celebrated in the arts. Movies and plays, novels and non-fiction explore labor themes. The works of some of our most distinguished authors and playwrights celebrate the lives and tribulations of working men and women. The actos of El Teatro Campesino were often performed on flatbed trucks next to fields or picket lines. And there’s a musical soundtrack for the labor movement that spans the 20th century. The songs are plaintive and raucous, ballads and anthems, popular and obscure.
As we celebrate this weekend—and perhaps think primarily of beaches and barbecues—I invite you to remember the origin of this day and the sacrifice of workers to raise the status and conditions of ordinary lives. Here's a selected soundtrack for the day—from the bass of Paul Robeson to the deceptively sweet harmonies of Sweet Honey in the Rock to the twang of Woody Guthrie. It’s a Labor Day Top Ten.
And I invite you to pray.
you have so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:
So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone,
but for the common good;
and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,
make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,
and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.
BCP p. 261
Walls of Light
August 28, 2020
Soaring heavenward, they are walls of blue light. That was my impression of Sainte Chapelle. Stunning stained glass forms the walls of the chapel--so that there are no walls, only the gorgeous light.
The scale of the stained glass windows is hard to comprehend--fifteen windows, each fifteen meters high. And all the more since they have been in place for more than 750 years. This royal chapel was commissioned by Louis IX--Saint Louis--and seven and a half centuries later it remains a wondrous monument to God and to human ingenuity.
Louis IX was on our church calendar this week, a man of his times and one of the saints of God. And so this week I was reminded of my trip to France many years ago and how unprepared I was to enter his chapel. They say that places that are saturated with prayer begin to have a holy sense about them. This is a place that surely knew Louis' prayers... and I suspect also the prayers of the many craftsmen as they built it. And now, for centuries, it has heard the prayers of royalty and pilgrims and me.
I invite you to take a few moments to listen to this choral work, "Sainte Chapelle," and sit in the presence of this light. May your prayers add to the light of the world.
Choral work composed by Eric Whitacre
with text by Charles Silvestri and
performed by the Wartburg College Choir.
Blessings and Backpacks
August 20, 2020
Several churches that I have attended celebrated the end of summer and the coming of new school year with blessings. We could bless almost anything! Bicycles. Backpacks. Textbooks. And most importantly of all, teachers and students. These were happy and hopeful blessings as we looked forward with anticipation to a season of new beginnings. Perhaps even more than the turn of the calendar year, back to school has always been the start of the new year.
We are coming to these days now—but they are different. So what is our prayer for these days?
I offer you this one…
Bless us Lord, in these days and times.
Bless the tools of our learning,
as unfamiliar as they may be:
computers and apps
kitchen tables and measuring spoons
wifi and routers.
Help us to adapt,
in all of the challenging ways that are required:
online and virtual
alternate days and shortened schedules
socially distant and masked.
Hold us close
as we greet one another without touching:
with thumbs up
and happy dances.
Encourage us to be kind and forbearing
as we navigate new ways and relationships:
teachers and students
parents and siblings
janitors and administrators.
Remind us that we are strong enough to do this
and flexible enough, too:
strong enough to face each new day
flexible enough to meet new challenges
cooperative enough to support one another.
And when we are able to resume a new way of being together,
bless us once again.
Through a glass dimly
August 14, 2020
As I left the house on my bike on Wednesday afternoon, it looked quite clear. There was a little coolness in the breeze, but not enough for a jacket. So I was surprised as I coasted down Grand Avenue toward the ocean. The drift of fog was unmistakable. Along the bike path itself visibility was fine. But I could not see the tankers out in the bay or the Santa Monica mountains. Gray. All gray.
The ocean wasn't interesting to look at, and so I noticed other things. As I rode past groups on the beach the fragrance of sunscreen drifted in. At the Ocean Cafe, there was an enticing but unidentifiable aroma of food. I noticed the warmth of the sun on my back and wondered that the fog could endure. I listened to the chatter of the gulls overhead.
And I wondered if this was a sign of the times. Right now we can't see far ahead in time just as I couldn't see in space. None of us can. We don't know how long we will be concerned about going out. Cautious about going to the market. Pausing to leave space as we walk past other walkers. Reaching for a mask when someone comes to talk. Seeing the same few folks day in and day out.
And we are yearning to see ahead. So when this came across my desk today I wondered if God was speaking to me through the voice of a child. Perhaps I needed to refocus. You might hear God, as well.
August 6, 2020
In the beginning, Genesis tells us, God is creating in darkness—the earth a formless void and the deep, covered in darkness. And God says, “Let there be light.” The first named of creation: Light. And so the story begins. Light and dark are separated—day and night. And great lights to rule the day and the night. And lesser lights, too. Sun, moon and stars—created lights to give light to the day and to the night.
Light—created and formed.
Let there be light!
And because light is indispensable to our life, fundamental to our existence, it is an image of God for us. Jesus is the light of the world. But even as far back as the psalms, there is recognition that God does not require light.
Even the darkness is not dark to you.
The night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
And, in fact, that God is light.
God is light
and in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5
God is light. Uncreated light. And occasionally this light is seen in our world. Moses sees this light on Mount Sinai, and it causes his face to glow. Paul sees this light on the road to Damascus, and it blinds him. Peter, James and John see Jesus revealed in this light on the mountaintop, shining like the sun with garments as white as light.
Today as we celebrate this Feast of the Transfiguration, we get a glimpse of God who is Uncreated Light. Mysterious. Unfathomable. Today Jesus is revealed in this uncreated light and we get a glimpse of what is beyond. Beyond us, beyond creation, beyond comprehension. The great unknowable, who has created the greater and lesser lights of the heavens. The great mystery who holds each one of us in the light of love.
male and female God created them
July 29, 2020
Last week I was in a family conversation that included my 12-year-old great nephew. He's enormously precocious and verbal (both parents are lawyers!) and stands his own with adults in conversation. He's active in his church and is learning the life of faith - both I suspect from his own inclinations and his parents' support and encouragement.
As our conversation wandered, Sojourner Truth came up. We had remembered her in our daily services the day before and I quoted these lines from her "Ain't I a Woman" speech:
Where did your Christ come from?
Where did your Christ come from?
He came from God and a woman.
Man had nothing to do with it.
My nephew, who was next to me, said softly, "But God is a man." I immediately clutched and replied, "Oh, be careful." And then, to save the mood, the conversation moved on. I figure I'll let his parents deal with that... or not.
But it reveals that even now, when many if not most Christians will acknowledge that God is neither male or female, our language and our training encourage us to think otherwise. When we always refer to God as "he," we unconsciously absorb the idea that God is he... and he only, Genesis not withstanding:
God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
Common English Bible
And so today, as we coincidentally mark the 46th anniversary of the ordination of women in our Church and celebrate the day set aside to remember Mary and Martha of Bethany, I think about the limits I put on God. If I see God only as male, how does that limit how I understand God? What other limits do I put on God? What do you think?
July 23, 2020
There will be crowds of fans at Dodger stadium tonight for opening day of the baseball season. Oh, there won’t be a live crowd in the stands, but the seats will be filled with fans anyway. Diehard Dodger fans—you know, the ones who bleed Dodger blue—have sent in pictures to be turned into “fan cutouts.” And so instead of an empty stadium, many seats will be filled with fans in their best Dodger gear. The seats filled with people who would be there if they could.
It makes me think of how much I miss all of you. Our pews would be filled with all of you—all the faithful who would be there if you could. I do have copies of our last group photos to remind me of our community. The group photo on the wall gives me a sense of having you all right there “in church” with me when we are in eChurch together on Facebook. But I still yearn for when we can gather again. It will likely be outside, with masks, and limited contact. Even so, it will be so good to be together! Until then please be safe, wear your mask when you are out, and keep an appropriate social distance. Our best science and scientists tell us that this can make a significant difference for our being able to be out and about.
In the meantime, we await for those opening words. Not “Play ball!” but rather, “Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!” It will be a celebration, an opening day!
July 16, 2020
It’s a harrowing, heart-stopping tale of trust, daring and deception.
Just steps outside the British embassy, a third Gestapo officer stopped them. Martha began to loudly complain about the lack of taxis and her frustration at being late for a meeting with the embassy secretary. She flashed her passport and demanded the guard tell the secretary, “Mr. and Mrs. Sharp are here.” He waved them ahead to speak with a British guard, and Martha and Mr. X walked into the embassy to safety.
And it’s only one story of one person among the thousands of stories of the “Righteous Gentiles.”* At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem more than 11,000 Righteous Gentiles are honored. And today on our church calendar we remember them, “The Righteous Gentiles.”
Here is part of our prayer today for them, and for us.
God of the Covenant
We give you thanks for all those Righteous Gentiles
who with compassion, courage and resourcefulness
rescued thousands of your children from certain death.
Grant that, in the power of your Spirit,
we may protect the innocent of every race and creed
in the Name of Jesus Christ,
strong Deliverer of us all.
* The Christians and other persons of faith who made valiant sacrifices,
often at the risk of their own lives, to save Jews from the Holocaust.
Irregardless of what you've heard...
July 9, 2020
... there are two kinds of people in this world:
1. The ones who cringed at that headline and want to mark the first word through with a red pen and discipline me harshly for such usage.
2. And the rest of you who understand what it means and have no problem with using "irregardless" in writing and speech.
This comes to mind today because the decision by Merriam Webster to include "irregardless" in the dictionary is controversial in some circles... honestly! Mostly among current and former elementary school and English teachers, I suspect.
(Ir)regardless of which camp you fall into, I suspect this highlights the differences we all have about what matters and what doesn't. We can still have heated and emotional disagreements about what is important and what is not even when we are engaged with some of the smaller issues of life. My use of irregardless is your opinion that geometry is an absolutely useless math class that students are forced to endure for no good reason.
I think of this today as we are trying to survive this COVID-19 crisis (wear a mask or not?), as we are seeing the consequences of systemic racism (or not believing it exists) in our nation, as we think about the role humans have played in climate change (or whether the weather is just going through a natural cycle). These are BIG issues that are really important. And they are hard to talk about. And perhaps even harder to listen about from someone who definitely and seriously disagrees with you.
And so I wonder, if we practiced talking about small things (geometry and irregardless, for example) could we get some practice in how to talk AND listen to those with whom we disagree? Because regardless of how you feel about irregardless, we need to learn how to talk to each other.
Wanna start? Ask me why geometry is important!
"He who sings prays twice"
July 3, 2020
That's a quote attributed to St. Augustine, and it speaks to hymns as not just words and melody, but actually prayers set to music. It's a quote for choir members, and it's the inscription on my father's headstone. He was the tenor soloist for the church all the time I was growing up, and for many years both before and after that.
If you turn to the last hymns in our hymnal you'll find some hymns for our nation. The hymns in the hymnal are grouped by theme and this last group is called "National Songs." And the very last hymn in the book is our national anthem. The first stanza of "The Star Spangled Banner" celebrates our flag and victory in war, but it has no mention of God. I think it is verse two that allows for its inclusion since includes these words: "Praise the power that hath made a preserved us a nation."
There are pretty strict standards for inclusion in the hymnal--remember "he who sings prays twice." So the words of our hymns are supposed to be theologically consistent with our beliefs. Hymns are essentially prayers set to music, so what we sing we also pray. And so I am surprised every year when we come to national holidays that "God Bless America" is not in our hymnal. It is explicitly religious. The introduction, that is not often sung, marks it as a prayer.
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
We will sing "God Bless America" on Sunday as we give thanks for our nation and pray that we may live up to and into our ideals. But even before then I invite you to enjoy a military band at play. National Hymns, in my opinion, never sound better than when they are played by a military band. Here's a rendition of "God Bless America" performed by the West Point Band for you to enjoy. And to pray.
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home.
One of God's Trombones
June 26, 2020
You likely know the name James Weldon Johnson. His work is a standard in every American Literature book I own (and I own a few!... I was an English major in college and I briefly taught AmLit at the high school level).
James Weldon Johnson is remembered as a great African American poet of the early 20th Century—active in the arts and literature movement known as the “Harlem Renaissance.” We remember him most often in current culture, I think, as the author of the poem set to music as “Lift Every Voice and Sing”—the Black National Anthem. It is a stunning and stirring hymn (#599 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982) and the name given to one of our additional hymnals. Lift Every Voice and Sing collects pieces from both the African American and Gospel traditions. Some of my favorite hymns are in this hymnal rather than our usual one. We sing them on occasion…and often I can’t resist clapping along!
You may be surprised to know that James Weldon Johnson is also remembered on our church calendar yesterday, June 25. His gifts of poetry and leadership (he was the executive secretary of the NAACP from 1920-30) are acknowledged, but the primary reason for his inclusion I believe is his gorgeous verse that seeks to capture the voice of the great African American preachers he heard growing up. The collection God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse is one of my treasured books. I found it on my parents’ bookshelf when I was young and have had it in my library all these years. I even learned and told the “The Creation” sermon when I was younger. I was delighted this week when I discovered that a poet who truly touches my heart is also acknowledged as a holy man of the church.
we give thanks for the gifts that you gave your servant
James Weldon Johnson:
a heart and voice to praise your Name in verse.
As he gave us powerful words to glorify you,
may we also speak with joy and boldness
to banish hatred from your creation,
in the Name of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.
Listen to this stirring telling of his funeral sermon “Go Down Death” and give thanks for the life of this holy man of God--one of God's trombones.
A Psalm of Sarah
June 19, 2020
Some of you know that I have a collection of "psalms" that I have written over the years. I started writing them when I was reading the Bible deeply as part of my journey (with a fabulous mentor and wonderful companions) in an Education for Ministry class. It was a way for me to struggle with and make sense of the stories, especially the difficult ones. One of those difficult stories comes up in our lectionary this week--Sarah insisting that Abraham cast Hagar and Ismael out of the community. It would be a death sentence--except that God intervenes.
And so Sarah, a woman for whom I have so much compassion, is completely self-absorbed and selfish in this moment. In the struggle, it seemed to me the question was, "Who is she?" And then, "And so then, who am I?"
Sarah, beautiful Sarah
walks as a faithful sister and wife with the man whom God has chosen.
Sarah shares in the promise of God as it was made to her husband Abraham.
Sarah, impatient Sarah
gives Hagar to bear a son for Abraham.
Sarah hears the promise of God and wants it to happen in her own time.
Sarah, laughing Sarah
bears the gift of laughter in her old age.
Sarah holds the promise of God in her hands, her own baby Isaac.
Sarah, jealous Sarah
insists on banishment for Hagar and Ishmael.
Sarah hoards the promise of God for herself and for her son.
Sarah, frail human Sarah!
The promise of God comes to you and through you in spite of how you are.
Sarah is the mother of us all.
John Johnson Emmegahbowh, priest & truthteller
June 12, 2020
Today we honor John Johnson Emmegahbowh on our church calendar, the first Native American to be ordained an Episcopal priest in the United States.
The Rev. M. Lucie Thomas, who has studied the life and work of Emmegahbowh, says of him
It was his truth-telling, always gentle but always steadfast,
that I most notice about Emmegahbowh.
He told the truth as he understood it to his fellow Indians.
He told the truth as he understood it to his bishop
and to other whites and to people in Washington
and even to several U.S. Presidents.
He was at times unpopular because of this,
but he managed throughout his life to spread the Good News,
to train new clergy,
to help found missions.
In these highly charged and divisive times in which we find ourselves, may we follow Emmegahbowh’s example, steadfastly telling the truth to one another and to those in power about the sins of our personal and systemic racism that lies in direct opposition to the Gospel message.
Exerpted from the story by Kate Hennessy-Keimig
posted in the Episcopal Cafe online, June 12, 2020
The Week that Was
June 5, 2020
This has been one of the most troubling weeks I have experienced. In the midst of a global pandemic (that has not gone away!), our nation has been rocked by horrific images of violence in our streets. How do we respond to this and go forward?
Perhaps this cartoon by Brian Gordon has something to say...
Baby Duck: This is really scary.
Papa Duck: Sure is.
Baby Duck: Why is it happening?
Papa Duck: Well, it's complicated.
But Black people are rightfully angry about how they've
long been treated by police and society in general.
When all peaceful ways of addressing racism
have been ignored or denied, this is what happens.
Baby Duck: Do we have to talk about this?
It makes me so sad.
Papa Duck: Yup. Ignoring this stuff is what got us here in the first place.
I really sympathize with Baby Duck (and others) saying, "Do we have to talk about this? It makes me so sad." But I know that Papa Duck's response is spot on. We cannot continue to ignore inequalities that simmer just under the surface. Currently, I have seen many opportunities to "do something." There are lists of books to choose from so that we can begin to understand what it's all about. There are articles to read and websites to visit and even music to listen to. We can offer financial support to an organization or two that is making a difference. And we can listen to Presiding Bishop Curry speak to this moment.
I plan to "attend" the Episcopal Justice Assembly on June 10 to hear from "Episcopalians who are leaders in the fight for economic and racial justice, speaking to this moment of crisis." You can check it out and register for the Zoom event here.
Whatever you choose to do, I hope you remember the words of our Presiding Bishop: "If it's not about love, it's not about God."
In the Meantime
May 29, 2020
The Book of Acts reminds us that between the Ascension and Pentecost the disciples devoted themselves to prayer. I'd say they are a good model for us in this moment.
A Prayer in the Meantime
God of past and future
you were with Jesus and his friends
and you will be with us in your world to come
God unseen yet ever present
you are at work in creation
and you are at work in our lives
God of all time and space
you are unbounded by our limits
yet you meet us where we are
God in the moment
you were with them then
and you are with us now
God in the waiting
although we wait
we do not wait alone
you wait with us
Come, Holy Spirit, Come
Michael, Grace and José
May 23, 2020
My father loved languages and he delighted in the Spanish words and phrases that give color to the California landscape. From Centinela (sentinel) to Sepulveda (for a prominent Mexican family) to the original name of our metropolis (“El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles”—The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels), our area is covered with names and phrases that mark our Mexican heritage. He taught me that La Tijera (scissors) Boulevard “cuts” at an angle across town from Westchester to Ladera Heights. And that The La Brea Tar Pits is a most redundant name (The The Tar Tar Pits).
Dad also taught me that understanding where a word comes from can show more about what the word means. And so today, as I was wondering about the word “grace,” I looked around.
In the catechism, The Book of Common Prayer says that grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved. The Episcopal Church website tells us that grace is God’s love freely given to humanity for salvation. And that the word is a Latin translation of a Greek word used in the New Testament. So… on to check that out. The Latin gratia, “a gift or favor freely given,” is a translation of the Greek word charis, which conjures up not just notions of grace and kindness, but of joy, generosity and love.
All of this because I found out that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is offering a series of weekly video meditations called “Habits of Grace.” Bishop Curry says that consistent habits—“habits of grace”—can be helpful in unsettling times. And so he is suggesting habits to cultivate that can help us get through. Each week he offers a word, a song, a poem, a prayer. Something for the week we are living in. This week his offering is gladness… and he says:
It may seem strange to suggest it,
but even in times of hardship,
even in times when our hearts are heavy,
sometimes, finding something to be glad about
and maybe something to laugh about
can actually help.
And then he goes on to suggest a YouTube video “Quarantine with Bishop José.” And so, today, I recommend both to you. “Habits of Grace” with Bishop Curry and a bit of silliness with Bishop José.
I hope they offer a word to help center your day…and a laugh!
May they be grace to you.
Is it safe (to let those fears go)?
May 14, 2020
I have noticed during these weeks under the "safer at home" orders that there are two kinds of people (that's always the way, isn't it?): people who are busier than usual because they are scrambling to figure out how to do their work at home via technology, and people who are posting pictures of their completed 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles on Facebook.
Initially I was in the first group, desperate to figure out how to "do church" via the internet and all the choices and support that required. But now, although things are still busy, there is time to reflect. And I realize that I had expected things to calm down by now. I had expected to be back in church. I had expected to see you all in person. I had expected things to be "back to normal."
And now, it doesn't seem that way. It feels like this may go on for quite some time. It feels like we may open up and then have to retrench again (and maybe again) before we get this thing under control. It feels like the long haul. And I'm not sure I've got it in me.
One of my favorite preachers came to my aid on this yesterday. Nadia Bolz-Weber helped me name my feelings and then put them into perspective--a perspective of faith. Here's a bit of what she had to say:
When I stop and check in with myself I must say -
I believe we will prevail.
As sh***y as this all is,
I have faith in the power of human love and creativity
and resilience and kindness and humor.
And I believe God to be the source of our love and creativity
and resilience and kindness and humor,
which means there is an eternal supply on which to draw
when we just don't have what it takes.
Also, I have faith that God is already present
in the future we keep pinning our hopes and fears to
so maybe it’s safe to let them go.
Her words brought to mind a favorite hymn, "All my hope on God is founded." The first stanza goes like this:
All my hope on God is founded:
He doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.
If you check out YouTube there are versions of this great hymn by great cathedral choirs from all over the world. There is also this little version of a woman singing alone in her bedroom-- an unmade bed in the background--with a grand choir as audio accompaniment. It seems just perfect to me--all alone, but singing faithfully with a great choir about great hope.
God is our hope. Yesterday. Today. And always. Thanks be to God.
May 7, 2020
Harriet. It's an old-fashioned name. But it has cropped up in a variety of ways for me recently. You may know that Bishop Taylor has a granddaughter named Harriet. (Check out his Facebook page for more!) If you're of an age (or have spent enough time on "classic TV "), you remember "Ozzie & Harriet." And this year's Lent Madness winner was Harriet Tubman--the stunningly amazing Conductor of the Underground Railroad. Her story is told in the 2019 biopic "Harriet." I recommend it.
But I met a new (to me) Harriet today. Harriet King Cannon is one of the holy women remembered on our church calendar--and today, her birthday, is her day.
I notice, especially in these days, that her life was marked by epidemic. She was orphaned as a baby by a yellow fever epidemic. As an adult she entered the Sisters of the Holy Communion, an order of dedicated to medical service in New York City, serving as a nurse and often caring for victims of small pox. Later, she was the first Mother Superior of a new order, The Community of St. Mary, whose sisters are remembered among the Martyrs of Memphis-- those who died caring for victims of the yellow fever epidemic of the 1870s.
Yesterday was National Nurses Day and today is the National Day of Prayer. They combine the two primary calls of Mother Harriet's life - the calls to service and to prayer. And so, in memory of Harriet King Cannon, I invite your prayer this day to our loving and compassionate God for all those who serve in this time of crisis.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy,
who through your Son gave us a marvelous example of charity
and the great commandment of love for one another.
Send down your blessings on these your servants,
who so generously devote themselves to helping others.
Grant them courage when they are afraid,
wisdom when they must make quick decisions,
strength when they are weary,
and compassion in all their work.
When the alarm sounds
and they are called to aid both friend and stranger,
let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
— Adapted from the Book of Blessings
#587, by Diana Macalintal
"A Word to the Church"
May 2, 2020
Bishop Curry released "A Word to the Church" yesterday. What do you suspect that word is?
If you said, "Love," you've been paying attention to our presiding bishop! He's been declaring the way of Jesus to be the way of love since he took office.
But that doesn't mean he has nothing new to say! His message about our current situation is powerful. Here's an excerpt.
Kingdom of God thinking is already happening. God’s rubric of love is already in action. I’ve been watching bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people of our church following Jesus in the practices that make up his way of love and doing things we never imagined. The creativity and the risk-taking – done with love – is amazing.
We’ve been trying, making mistakes, learning, regrouping, trying anew. I’ve seen it. Holy Week and Easter happened in ways that none of us dreamed possible. I’ve quietly read Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline online with you. I’ve seen soup kitchens, pantries, and other feeding ministries carefully doing their work in safe and healthy ways. Zoom coffee hours, bible studies, and small discipleship groups. I’ve seen this church stand for the moral primacy of love. I’ve seen it, even when public health concerns supersede all other considerations, including in-person worship. That is moral courage. Who knows, but that love may demand more of us. But fear not, just remember what the old slaves used to say, walk together, children, and don’t you get weary, because there is a great camp meeting in the Promised Land. Oh, I’ve seen us do what we never thought we would or could do, because we dared to do what Jesus tells us all to do.
As our seasons of life in the COVID-19 world continue to turn, we are called to continue to be creative, to risk, to love. We are called to ask, What would unselfish, sacrificial love do?
You can listen (or read) Bishop Curry's entire message. And you can hear that great gospel hymn, too! They are both good news for us today..
Lights of Hope
April 23, 2020
There was a news report last night that the National Cathedral will be illuminated to provide a "light of hope" during this time of international pandemic.
The lights will be on through the night every night (when it's not raining) and the display will be changed weekly. Stained glass windows on the outside of the church! Lights of hope shining out into the community and the world.
We have our own version of "Lights of Hope." Melissa Albers was in the church last week and took this picture of our lights of hope. Even though we are not in church, the light of Christ still shines waiting for us! We will gather again in the church as soon as it is safe. In the meantime, carry the light of Christ in your heart and life. And know that the light is still shining at St. Michael's!
Prayers for These Days
April 17, 2020
As I was browsing Facebook this week (something I've done more in the last few weeks than ever!), I was captured by this quote from Kathy Van Orden on a mutual friend's post:
God unbound by time,
help us to know that you are already present
in the future we are fearing.
So I immediately engaged, "Where did that come from?" After suggesting a source, Kathy sent me a link to the following prayers by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ordained Lutheran pastor who has a brilliant way with words and a movingly vulnerable way of sharing her life and concerns. I commend these prayers for this time:
For the layers of comfort and convenience that surrounded our lives and that we never considered a blessing but always just took for granted, forgive us.
For we who must grieve in isolation and not in community, comfort us.
For we who care for the sick, protect us.
For the ability to turn off the fear-mongering and unhelpful commentary and worst-case scenario click bait, strengthen us.
For the times when we are all out of creative ideas for how to get through this with cooped up kids, inspire us.
For we who are now cutting our own bangs at home, guide us.
For the grace to allow ourselves and others to just be less productive, shower us.
For the generosity needed from those of us who have more resources, empower us.
From our own selfish inclinations, deliver us.
For just being your children, none of whom have done a global pandemic before, love us.
For the days ahead, accompany us.
God unbound by time, help us to know that you are already present in the future we are fearing. AMEN.
For what and for whom do the people of God pray?
May your prayers be honest and heartfelt in these days. Please share them as we pray together from afar.
Easter at Home
April 11, 2020
There are so many things we will miss about gathering for our Easter celebration this year. Most of all, just being with one another. But there's also seeing everyone in their Easter best, singing out with the joyful Easter hymns, transforming the empty cross with flowers, celebrating the Eucharist, walking up to receive communion, and even our annual Easter egg hunt for the little ones.
So I was especially glad to get this Easter picture of a Lego St. Michael's from Zoey. It anticipates the time when we will all be together again at church -- with the doors open for all who would come to join us! Church is truly a community celebration that's hard to replicate online. And feast days like Easter are especially hard to match. But we will, in many ways. The hymns will be there, and the story. We will include a time to "flower the cross" - so be sure to have a flower from your garden. Or you can have paper and markers available to draw your own flowered cross. If you do this, please share! And, of course, you are invited to wear your Easter bonnet - to share at our Zoom coffee hour. I can't wait to see! Happy Easter!
April 4, 2020
We are entering Holy Week this year from a different place--physically, emotionally and spiritually. We cannot escape the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so there is fear, isolation, confusion and uncertainty. I suspect we are more like the disciples this year than we have been at any other time in our blessed and abundant lives.
Our service this Sunday has the dual character of celebration, with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and enormous grief, as we enter into the Passion story. As I listen to stories from our time, I hear these same emotions. Celebrations of lives well lived. And great grief over these same lives lost too soon. We are living with the disciples this year.
Every life lost to this horrible virus is precious, to family, friends and especially to our loving God. Some of those who have died are known to more people and their stories are widely shared. Perhaps, if we are fortunate enough not to personally know someone who has died of this illness, the loss of these celebrities brings the toll of the loss closer to us. We feel we knew them. They somehow touched our lives. And we feel their loss.
On Monday, Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful hits that still endure, died of heart disease. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during this pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difficult times. Here is a version of his song that really touches me. It speaks to the heart of the human family. It reminds us in the midst of this that we are not alone, we have each other, and we are all in this together. In this time of crisis and the coming holy week, that's something to hold on to. I thank God for each one of you!