Friday, January 29, 2016

bird bash

On the day after our great snowstorm, Glenn and I finished cleaning up the driveway.  We put a solid 3 hours into shoveling on Saturday during the storm, so when Sunday dawned, clear and bright, we only had a couple more hours of work to do, scraping the last 4 inches or so off of the drive and re-claiming the cars. 

We had not touched the deck.  There is a small deck off of our kitchen in the back and, in spite of the warning about the storm, we hadn’t managed to move any of the lawn furniture off of the deck- somewhere out there under 32” of snow there was a charcoal grill, two chairs, a table, a bird bath and poor old St. Francis (who has been through enough New England winters with us to understand.)  Also buried in the snow on the deck was our 5-gallon tub of premium birdseed.  That was worth digging out.

Within moments of putting birdseed out in two big shallow terracotta trays, our deck was the hot spot of the neighborhood.  Powdery grey buntings, fragile sparrows, neat-as-a-pin-titmouses, boisterous crows, brilliant cardinals, two-toned chickadees and, the bully of the songbird family, the big, bratty blue jay.   We watched with delight as the birds- big and small- literally flocked to the deck and carried away as much seed as their little beaks could hold.  Now, I’m not the real bird-lover in the family- Glenn is- but I have to admit that nature was giving us a real show- all for the cost of a few cups of premium songbird seed. 

The drama continued, all afternoon and even included a very dark Second Act in which a sickly mourning dove came and lay on the breast of snow just below the deck railing and weathered a shower of seed-spray as the other birds took their fill.  We watched the dove, and tried to figure out what to do (I think that I might have suggested bringing it inside in a shoebox with a towel, re-living some heroic childhood attempt to rescue other wildlife) and, as we were debating our options, the Great Circle of Life took over and, in a moment, the dove was gone.  There was a showing of feathers left in her place that revealed the struggle that the hawk must have had in lifting the dove out of the snow and into the sky.  It was a little shocking.

Later in the day- Act Three- the squirrels got into the game and, dragging their fat bellies up over the lip of the saucers, they just sat right in the bowl and ate to their hearts’ content.  Game spoilers, really.  The setting sun drew the curtain on the nature’s dramaturgy and, in a curmudgeonly way, I wondered about the mess of seed and shells and feathers and guano that spoiled the pretty contour of new-fallen snow- wouldn’t that be fun to clean up in March?

As I lay in bed this morning wondering what to write about in my blog, it seemed to me that this bird-seed bash could make a wonderful metaphor for the old “attractional” model of church. You know, the “build it and they will come” model of church.  The readership of this blog knows that we are way beyond that, now, in the Church, looking to more transformational, missional models of Church that get us out of the building, into the neighborhood and seeing how we can join what God is already up to in the world.  And, yet, there is something a little missional about a saucer of seed:  it filled a perceived need in the local context.  Those birds- and yes, even the squirrels- were starving out there. And so, we fed them.  We saw a need and filled the gap.  That’s exactly what we mean when we talk about “discerning one’s local context.”  But…(here’s where the metaphor breaks down)… in a real transformational God-moment, the situation is less about giving and receiving, and more about forming relationship.  Less about a charitable give-away from those-who-have to those-who-have-not, and more of an effort to live in common humanity and share, seamlessly, God’s abundance.  Ours. Not mine and yours.  (Sounds a little socialist.)

So there’s the rub:  how do we give, serve, care for, tend… and participate in God’s Mission… putting relationships first, and not goods or commodities?  How do we “respect the dignity of every human person” by sharing selflessly and not expecting a friendship in return?  It’s a weird tension in this new way of thinking about God’s Kingdom and our call to service that I haven’t quite settled.

(And if you can figure out how to work the dove & hawk episode into the metaphor, you get an A+.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

slow down

I got my first Pennsylvania speeding ticket a couple of weeks ago.

It happened in a spot that, apparently, is well known for its speed traps… but there was no excuse:  I was driving above the posted limit and I deserved every penny of the fine.  All 12,800 of those pennies. (As it turns out, the police officer was kind and gave me a ticket for “traveling in the left lane” which costs less than the fine for  driving 72 mph in a 55 mph zone.)

Since then, I’ve been hyper-aware of posted speed limits and extra diligent about matching the needle on my speedometer to the number on the road sign.  It’s harder than it looks.  There’s a section of road in my neighborhood that posts a 25 mph limit; as a result, I am becoming intimately acquainted with the kitchen curtains, lawn furniture and garden beds of every house in the ‘hood.  There’s a lot to look at  and take in when you drive at a snail’s pace.

 I realize that I have been conditioned (by our culture, by the measure of our success?) to do everything in a manner that is quick and tidy and efficient… and this conditioning begs the question:  Why drive 55 mph on an  empty, straight open road … when you can drive 72 mph and get there sooner?

Our culture does not support meandering, taking our time, chewing our food or dwelling on things.  And every year, about this time, I take a few conscious steps to change that – at least in my personal life.  I slow down.

Years ago, a parishioner in my church fell and broke her leg. She was put into a cast from the top of her thigh to the tip of her toes and spent the months of April and May sitting in a chaise-lounge in front of a picture window looking out on her yard and the nearby woods.  “I watch the grass grow. Literally, ” she told me one day when I paid a pastoral call.

I don’t want to break my leg, but I do want to slow down.  And so, just as Lent get ready to  descend upon us, urging some solid weeks of reflection and review, I will look to shift my daily pattern slightly:  I’ll trade in Morning Prayer for a “contemplative sit” each morning before I go to the gym.  I’ll say goodbye to the craziness of Face Book (except for Friday postings of this blog). I’ll slow down in the kitchen and use Edward Espe Brown’s meditations for preparing to cook (If you don’t know Edward and the cook books from his Buddhist monastery that blend spirituality with the work of the kitchen, check it out:

… in general… I’ll just try to breathe a little more, enjoy some intentional pauses in my day instead of rushing from one thing to another, and dial the frentic-meter waaay back.

About 10 years ago I bought a book called In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed (Carl Honore,  Harper Books, 2004).  A friend was with me when I bought it.  Weeks later, my friend asked me how I’d enjoyed the book.  I told her… that I hadn’t read it yet… I’d been too busy.  Sic.

Maybe this year, I’ll get to it.

How ‘bout you?  Is it time for you to take a breather and slow down?

PS Next week I’ll be away at  a “Living Our Vows" conference, a.k.a.“Baby Bishop’s School” and will not be posting a blog entry.  Tune in on the following Friday.  Thanks. Grace and Peace.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Time Out. Time In.

Time out. Time in.

Yesterday, as I was enjoying one of our regular clergy gatherings (this time in the Harrisburg Convocation), the Anglican Communion was imploding.  Well, not really. We- the Episcopal Church- got put in “Time Out.”

As a result of the decisions that we made last July at General Convention to change the canonical definition of marriage and provide new liturgies for same gender weddings, the Episcopal Church was issued sanctions at the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion (currently underway in Canterbury) and were told that we would have to sit-out the next 3 years, refraining from serving on international committees or participating in any actions at the decision-making level of the Anglican Communion.  For complete coverage of this story, please see the Episcopal News Service coverage at

When I was the young mother of three, I learned a variety of “parenting techniques” that ranged from Dr. Spock’s pacifist and gentle methods, Dr. Barry Brazelton’s developmentally appropriate behavior-shaping approaches to Dr. John Rosemond’s draconian theories that were “parent-friendly.”(not so much, Dr. Rosemond.)
One of the most popular parenting techniques of the late 20th century was the “Time Out.”  You know, the process whereby the offending toddler is taken by the hand and led to a little chair in the corner for a brief duration (suggested time limit: one minute per year of the child’s age) in order to give the child time to reflect on the violation and to de-escalate the situation.   The Time-Out school of thought had a cousin in the “One-Two-Three, Take Five” method of behavior shaping which gave the offender 3 “warnings” before issuing a 5 minute time-out or “break” from the action on offense number 4.  (I tried the One-Two-Three, Take Five method one time while driving from Maine to Connecticut in a car with our three young children.  Each time there was a kick or a punch or an incident of juice-box theft among the three, I would pull over to the side of the road for 5 minutes.  It took us 7 hours to make the trip….)

I feel like the Episcopal Church has just been given a big Time Out.  A 3-Year Time Out.   We’ve been put in the corner by a majority vote of the Primates and will sit there, on our little painted chair, while the world continues to spin.  I do believe that this sanction against us has allowed for the de-escalation of what might otherwise have ended up in a complete abandonment of the Communion… but I don’t think that we will, as the Time Out process begs, spend much time reflecting on the error of our ways. (And, for the record, I don’t know too many toddlers who spend their time on that little painted chair dwelling on the error of their ways, either.)  One of the most interesting things for me, about all of this, is  to consider what, exactly will happen in 3 years’ time : It is no accident that the Time Out will conclude just at the convening of our next General Convention at which point we are supposed to… change our minds? I doubt it.

For some, this is a riveting and fascinating story that will command a lot of attention, spill a lot of ink and give Face Book a reason for existing as we turn our attention from family photographs of our Christmas holidays and what-we-ate-for-dinner- to something more intellectual and, theological, even.

I’m more interested, today, in sharing what I’ve done in my “Time In,” instead of dwelling on the “Time Out:”

Last weekend I enjoyed my first “3 Day Immersion Experience” in the Susquehanna Convocation.  As many of you know, I’ve asked each of our 7 Convocations to plan a 3 Day Adventure for me so I can be “in residence” for a short time and experience what it is like to be living, working and ministering in the different regions of our diocese. 

The Susquehanna Convocation did not disappoint.  I had a grand tour that included lunch at the “Indy” Shamokin Fire House, a tour of the city with the Rev. Sarah Weedon and Bill Millbrand, the Mayor.  We saw the city through Bill’s eyes ( he’s now 56 and has lived in Shamokin all his life) as we drove past decimated buildings, neighborhoods in decline and empty mill buildings.  We also saw tidy neighborhoods where the small fenced-in yards are neat and display a variety of lawn ornaments and garden arrangements, a beautiful middle and high school built in the 1970s and a large parochial school that replaced the 7 or so closed parochial schools around the town.  We heard about the hey-day of the coal industry, the textile industry and learned about the safety of the town when Bill and his friends grew up, running up and down the steep hills, riding bikes all over the city and feeling free and strong.

My visit to the Susquehanna Convocation included a dinner at All Saints’, Selinsgrove with clergy and lay leadership (featuring some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten,) and a group conversation that was described by one person wh0 “sensed the flow of the Holy Spirit among us.” 

On Saturday I had a tour of an amazing ministry at Christ Church, Danville:  the Diaper Bank.  People were lined up at the front door of the church when I arrived and came in from the cold to collect a weekly gift of disposable diapers for their children.  They were so grateful and the people distributing the diapers were cheerful and kind.  The distribution took place right in the church (the side aisles of the church were filled with cases of diapers stacked one on the other)…and a peek at Jesus, in a stained glass window, overseeing the whole affair was a spiritual moving experience for me.

The Rev. Nancy Shank led me upstairs to a special room “where it is Christmas, everyday” and I spent some time in the Model Train Room with 3 senior gentlemen parishioners who have set up a multiple-track train display for children to visit and play with on the weekends.  What a joy!  There were several kids there with their parents and grandparents and the noise of the trains on the tracks and the excited, high-pitched voices of the children and the Christmas lights and shining Christmas tree (it really does stay up all year) was just a joy.

We spent the balance of the morning touring the Danville Community Meal in one location and the Food Bank Distribution in another.  In all, I probably saw more than 300 people who, in some way, were receiving compassionate assistance through the ecumenical efforts of the churches in Danville on Saturday.

I had a tour of the exceptional Geisinger Medical Center and Hospital in the afternoon and met members of the Spiritual Care team there.  We saw the children’s hospital, the chapel (which provides prayer stations for people of all faith traditions), the ICU, the ED and the trauma unit.  We even ran into a nurse-Episcopalian as we went to visit a parishioner in the ICU!

In the evening, the Rev. Howard Sasser, the people of St. Paul’s Bloomsburg, members of the Susquehanna Convocation and Lutheran colleagues gathered for a soul-satisfying service of Evensong in the laurel-draped sanctuary of one of our prettiest churches.  It was a formal and dignified way to put a period at the end of a very busy day by celebrating one of the best of our Anglican liturgies.

I went to bed at the Holiday Inn in Selinsgrove and watched the Farm Show on TV. (The Farm Show deserves a blog-entry all its own.)

On Sunday morning I returned to All Saints and we shared a celebration of Holy Eucharist on the feast of the Baptism  of our Lord.  The vestry stayed after church and I learned more about their care for their local community through the Meals for Seals program, Martha’s Table Community Supper and the Sundays at Six music program.  Good stuff.

It was a full weekend that left me with these words:  We (the Susquehanna Convocation) are Caring for Our Neighbors.

I was impressed with the discernment by each church to learn about the needs of the neighborhood, to discern the gifts of their own congregational community and then to  offer appropriate intervention in ways that allow the people to serve and the community to receive in a dignified manner.

The work of Jesus is alive in the Susquehanna Convocation.

We’re not sitting on little painted chairs in the corner in Time Out.
We’re active and engaged.  We are caring and compassionate.  We are spending Time In… living the Gospel Truth of Love and Service and Ministry.

What a blessing, indeed.

Friday, January 8, 2016

epiphany petitions

I am just back from a week in California where my husband and I celebrated Christmas with family and friends. We  enjoyed lots of long hikes, some wine-tasting, dinners out, plucking lemons by the dozen from the back-yard lemon tree and we submitted to numerous games of Twister with the resident 6 year-old who is far more nimble than we are.  We  arrived home in Mechanicsburg on New Year’s Eve just in time for the “Wrench Drop” and a late night dinner of chinese food, and then it was back to the office on Monday to a full desk of messages and plenty to do.

And then... along came one of my favorite feast days of the year:  Epiphany.

Epiphany is a day of light, of joy, of “recognizing Christ” and... of marking the lintel and ditching the tree.

This year, the Feast of Epiphany delivered a series of petition-prayers on the wings of the Holy Spirit for our consideration this week: 

                             Epiphany Petitions

May we all be blessed with a spirit of inquiry and openness that launches us in new directions…

May we be alert and aware of subtle changes around us that give us new information…

             2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

            2:2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

May we be blessed with the wisdom that things powerful and wonderful often come from the most homely and ordinary origins.

           2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened,      and all Jerusalem with him;

           2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and  scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

          2:5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

          2:6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’"

May we be willing to listen and bold enough to explore places where we feel uneasy or uncomfortable in our search for the Truth

           2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

         2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.

May all of our journeys be led by a steady and sure sign… and may we have the strength and persistence to continue until it is clear that we have arrived.

          2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and  there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

 May we see the blessings in our lives.  May our hearts be filled with joy.

          2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

May we know humility, discover the gift of true worship, and be exceedingly generous.

           2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And may we be wise, listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit, and choose, deliberately, the path of peace. 

         2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.