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Wings Over El Segundo

A collection of musings by the Rector from "This Week at St. Michael's" -- our weekly email. You're invited to browse through. If you'd like to receive the email each week, click to sign up on our Home page.


"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. 

Eternal God,
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!

The Toll
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!