Friday, July 28, 2017

Wholeness. Circles.

There’s a word that I’ve been using, lately, in my meditation and prayer to guide me in living faithfully.  It’s not a new word to spring forth from my mouth, but I’m giving it some extra attention these days.  It is: “wholeness.”


I think of wholeness as a state of being complete, of “roundness,” of “full intention” and as close to perfection as possible.

I think of wholeness as a circle.  The shape that is complete when its two ends meet, that creates a container, of sorts, that is fluid and can move with some grace (think of a ball rolling down a hill).

Isaiah knew about circles and in proclaiming God’s omnipotence, painted this picture:

"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing." 
(Isaiah 40: 22-24)

The circle, a symbol of wholeness and completeness, is regarded by many cultures and religions as sacred:

“The Circle Christian Symbol represents eternity. The circle symbolizes eternity as it has no beginning or end. Because of this many early Christians believed that there was something divine in circles. Early astronomy and astrology was connected to the divine for most medieval scholars, the circular shape of the sun, moon and the planets were related to God's act of Creation.

To the Native North American Indians, the circle is the sun, the moon and her children... man and woman. Consider the circle symbol meaning in conjunction with the Native medicine wheels. The medicine wheel gives the sense of the integration of spirit and man, combined for the purpose of greater spiritual understanding and evolution.

Circles were protective emblems to the Celtic mind. Circles were often drawn as protective boundaries, not to be crossed by enemy or evil forces.

In Chinese symbology, the circle expresses the shape of heaven, with earth signified by a square. When we see a square inside a circle in Chinese art, it represents the union between heaven and earth. The deeply significant yin yang symbol is circular, encompassing the whole of duality with a unified balance.

                   (from  symbolism-3454058)

And so, I’ve been looking for circles in my daily walk and considering how it is that I contribute to healing, restoration and reconciliation to create wholeness in the world.  It’s kind of like playing “I Spy,” walking through my day with a particular item that I am seeking in every setting or context that I enter, looking for circles- signs of wholeness- and looking for brokenness- and how I might be part of restoration.

When God created the earth and all that is… it was complete in six days.  Sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, rivers, oceans, mountains, sea creatures, insects, birds, and animals of the desert, alps, prairie and forest.  It was good.  It was better than good, it was “very good.” (Genesis 1:31)  God put humankind in charge of caring for it all. (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15). And, because God also gave us free will and we used it in a way that separated us from God, we were both agents and victims of the first brokenness- sin.  Since then, God’s mission has been to restore that wholeness, and we, God’s people, even in our frailness and flawed-ness, have been called in our faithfulness to assist in that restoration.  Does God need our help?  Probably not.  But it is the call of the faithful, the way that we love God, to participate in this work.

Where is the brokenness in the small sphere of your daily world?
And how might you be an agent of reconciliation?

I speak to people everyday who are despairing about the current state of affairs-  not just in our country, but in the world over.  As I ran on the treadmill at the gym this morning and watched the news, I learned that  North Korea should have a nuculear  weapon that could destroy us in just a few weeks, that our transgendered brothers and sisters were to be banned from service in the military, that healthcare for millions of Americans was in danger of being taken away and that an infant in England was losing his life over regulations that prohibited international experimental trials to address his medical issues.  Oh, and the Dow was up.  Way up. Go figure.     This is a broken world, friends.  You can find it in spades by turning on the tv.  You can find it in listening to your neighbors whose children are depressed and anxious, by counting the number of opioid deaths in your municipality by the dozen each week, and by watching food banks and clothing banks and all sorts of assistance programs strain to keep up with the demand for assistance.

It can be overwhelming.

 And,yet, in the words of St. Paul, “… we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16)

It is our inner nature, our grace filled souls, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that will give us what we need to be agents of reconciliation, wholeness and peace.

Look for the circles that you can make.

Pick up the broken bits, beginning right where you are, (perhaps even with yourself) and see how wholeness and healing can come about.

It is good and holy work, circle making.

Friday, July 21, 2017


It’s been more than a week since I returned from the amazing youth event, EYE (Episcopal Youth Event) 2017 held in Oklahoma City.  I am still hearing the songs of the worship band in my head, laughing to myself at some of our “inside” jokes among our delegation (Yee Haw!)  and am just so grateful for the outpouring of love, energy and enthusiasm that filled my heart and the heart of the other 1,200 participants all week long.

But there’s one thing that I just can’t shake.  It’s “stuck in my craw,” as my grandmother used to say.

It is the egregious use of Styrofoam and plastic plates, cups and utensils that we used all… week… long.


Now, this is not all on the EYE staff; we were on a college campus and ate at the college dining room that used a third- party food vendor.  The food was what you would have imagined for this particular audience:  pizza, burgers, tacos, cereal, scrambled eggs.  But it was all served on foam plates with plastic cups and plastic utensils.

1,200 people X 3 meals a day X 4 days = 14,000 meals served on plastic, and eaten with plastic.

That’s a heck of a load to dump into a landfill.

When Presiding Bishop Curry was elected to lead our Church and to cast a vision for our future, he chose the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” as the central idea to focus our work, worship and life together.  Not long after that, three priorities of the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” were articulated for us.  They are:
Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and Environmental Stewardship.    Here’s a handy chart to see how it all fits together.

And still, in spite of our focus on caring for creation,  in spite of committing one third of our missional energy towards taking care of our planet, Styrofoam sits at the center of many of our tables. 

Here’s some excellent facts about why using Styrofoam is a bad idea:

"Polystyrene is a type of plastic manufactured from non-renewable fossil fuels (which is where its connection to climate change comes in) and synthetic chemicals. It usually comes in two forms: “Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is the stuff that’s made into cups, plates, take-out food containers, and packing materials; and “solid polystyrene,” which gets turned into plastic forks, CD and DVD cases, even smoke detector housings.

‘Styrofoam' is how most of us generically refer to the EPS material, but it’s actually a term trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene that’s used in thermal insulation and craft applications.

Now, here’s why polystyrene is a problem:

  It does not biodegrade. It may break into small pieces, even minuscule pieces. But the smaller EPS gets, the harder it is to clean up.

  It is made of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Those chemicals may leach if they come in contact with hot, greasy or acidic food. Yes, they keep your coffee hot – but they may also add an unwanted dose of toxins to your drink.

  Animals sometimes eat it. Turtles and fish seem to mistake EPS for food, and that can kill them. Not only can they not digest it, but the foam could be full of poisons that it has absorbed from contaminants floating in the water.

  It can’t be recycled. Some commercial mailing houses may accept packing peanuts, but for the most part community recycling centers do not accept throwaway foam food containers.

Some places in our country have taken a stand.

Some cities and town are starting to ban Styrofoam.

Throwaway polystyrene coffee cups, soup bowls, plates, and trays have gotten the boot. So have those foamy clamshell-style cartons fast food comes in. Even packing peanuts are going the way of the dodo.

Here’s a list of cities that have completely or partially banned Styrofoam
  New York City (and several other cities in New York)
  Takoma Park, MD
  Seattle, Washington
  Washington DC
  Miami Beach, FL
  Freeport, Maine
  Portland, Maine
  Nantucket (City & County), Massachusetts
  Minneapolis, Minnesota
  Portland, Oregon (and several other Oregon cities)
  Los Angeles County and San Francisco, California (and many other cities and counties in CA)."

to read the whole article, use this link

In my travels around our amazingly beautiful diocese- a place of fragile, natural beauty- I run into Styrofoam about ½ of the time at coffee hour.

I am also, at non-Styrofoam parishes, frequently gifted with coffee mugs bearing the name of the church I am visiting. These ceramic cups are used on Sundays in lieu of foam or plastic.

It’s not that hard to use ceramic.  Washing them up is a chore, sure, but think of it as a little extra time for fellowship.

Or use alternative cups.  There are biodegradable cups being made from things like bamboo, hemp, mushrooms and sugar cane, now.  My hunch is that they are pretty expensive, though, so why not just buy a bunch of mugs?

I’d love to hear what our congregations are doing in terms of environmental stewardship initiatives.  Please comment! 

It’s the little things.  Really.  When we can commit to the little things, then the bigger things come easier and soon, we are on our way to preserving our planet.

Our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will thank us.

I have learned from a blog reader that the leadership of the EYE team did question the food service people about the use of foam plates.  They were told that water is a precious commodity in OK and that it was in response to that that occasioned the foam plates.  See the list of comments on my Facebook plate that documents some research I then did on finding biodegradable plates at a reasonable price point.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

the stewardship of souls

I’ve just returned from the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Oklahoma City, a triennial gathering of the youth of our Church for worship, fellowship, study and prayer.  This was my first time at this traveling event (last time it was in Philly) and it was an honor and a privilege to accompany our delegation of 12 youth. The youth in attendance from Central Pennsylvania were Emily Sipe, Brittnie and Courtney Betteley, Noah Runkle, Devinee Tucker, Kyler Hammill-Torres (St. Paul's, Columbia), Anna Kwasnica (St. Andrew's State College), Emma DiPace (St. John's Lancaster), Leah Doyle (Christ Church Coudersport), Carter Ishler (St. Edward Lancaster), Slate Johnson (Mt. Calvary Camp Hill), and Molly Souders (St. Thomas Lancaster). Besides our youth, we had three adult chaperones in attendance-  Mary Ellen and Bob Kilp and the Rev. Gina Barrett. 

We stayed on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma.  Following along in the tide of the well-planned and executed events, we moved from meals in the cafeteria to plenary sessions in the field house to smaller workshop events, beginning and ending each day with worship.  When we worshipped together it was 1,200-strong and with an amazing band on stage that kicked it up, and when we worshipped in our small group it was sweet and gentle, as we sat in the dark on sidewalks still warm from the day’s sun and during Compline named out loud the places where we had seen Jesus during the day.

The workshops at EYE invited us to explore a variety of subjects all focused on this year's theme:  "A Path for Peace-"  from the polity of the Episcopal Church to methods of non-violent resistance,  to unpacking the Jesus Movement and learning from people involved in programs that are making a difference:  the Young Adult Service Corps, Episcopal Relief and Development, Refugee and Migration Ministries and Peacemakers in the Middle East.

We learned about out host city, traveling around in 21 coach busses on Wednesday in a 12- hour adventure that took us to art museums, a horse show, a museum of Oklahoma History, on a boat ride, to the downtown botanical gardens, to a suburban church that hosts a program for children with incarcerated parents, and to the cathedral church that reaches into the neighborhood through their “St. George’s Guild,” addressing all sorts of social problems faced by the homeless and the working poor.  The centerpiece of our Oklahoma Day was visiting the Murrah building site and museum which is dedicated to the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building that claimed the lives of 168 people including  19 children.  We were primed for our trip the night before with a visit from 3 people who had been involved in bombing and who courageously shared their stories with us, peeling back the protective skin that they had developed in the past 22 years to share, in all of their vulnerability, their remarkable stories.    We shared a candlelit Compline service under the stars on Wednesday night at the edge of the reflecting pool at the memorial site, looking across the water at the 168 empty chairs that represent the lives of those lost in the tragedy.

Through all of this, I was keenly aware of my role.  Not as “ecclesiastical authority,” but as shepherd and overseer, privileged to watch our 12 young people absorb all that this trip had to offer.  I watched them wrap their arms around each others’ shoulders and sing familiar songs; reach, instinctively, for each others’ hands to clasp each time we prayed the Lord’s Prayer; cover themselves with face paint and rub-on tattoos and balloon animal crowns during the Wednesday night carnival; listen with wide eyes to the docents at the Murrah building museum; overflow with excitement about the possibilities opened to them in the workshops; and patiently wait in long lines for the evening’s dose of tater tots and pizza and hot dogs.  Our kids are remarkable. They really are.  Open and willing and vulnerable and joyful and thoughtful and free.    I felt like it was an enormous responsibility in accompanying them here, and to participate in the stewardship of their souls.

I had to leave before it was over.  Only one day early, but it was hard. It was hard to step out of the circle of these sweet ones.  My prayer for them is that the the Spirit’s work of this week will continue in them and that they will be encouraged by what they learned and experienced.  My prayer for us is that we continue to seek experiences for our children, our youth and for the adult members of our community that we, too, may be continually transformed by the love of Christ.