Monday, July 31, 2006

On the Theory and Practice 

In seminary, a great deal was made about a subject broadly called the "Theory and Practice of Ministry".

There is a great divide between the two.

I was given charge today over the baptismal preparation of an infant, and consequently, the parents and sponsors. I said I would need their phone number if I am to try and meet with them 4-6 times before the baptism. The boss man looked and me smirking, "More like, hopefully you can make it out to their house once between now and then."


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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Food for Thought in Trying Times 

" 'I have seen such a sickening of men in masses, and of causes, that I would not cross this room to reform parliament or prevent the union or to bring about the millennium. I speak only for myself, mind - it is my own truth alone - but man as part of a movement or a crowd is indifferent to me. He is inhuman. And I have nothing to do with nations, or nationalism. The only feelings I have - for what they are - are for men as individuals; my loyalties, such as they may be, are to private persons alone.'

'Patriotism will not do?'

'My dear creature, I have done with all debate. But you know well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.' "

~ Patrick O'Brian, "Master and Commander"


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I spent last night having dinner with a friend whom I had regrettably not seen in far too long; we were both shamefaced for it. We talked of many things, reliving some fine fond memories and looking forward to what the future might hold for either of us.

We talked of DaySpring. I know I've written of this place before, and many of you faithful readers know it as well if not better than I. But each of our experiences there are unique, so perhaps you will indulge me once again. I said to my friend that it was strange, all I had to do was to step onto the deck at DaySpring, that old wooden, weather-stained creation, and the memories came flooding back in a torrent. I don't even have to close my eyes to see beloved faces and hear voices raised up in prayer, song, and laughter. It was an innocent time, that's to be sure. I told her how I was now nominally in charge of the youth group at St. Mark's, and how there were none among their number who had yet been to Happening (this being the seminal event in my young life; a youth renewal weekend) at DaySpring. There are a couple of high school seniors for whom Happening can still have a powerful impact on their lives as they prepare to enter the jungles of college, but it is the younger ones, the sophomores and freshmen who are in abundance here at St. Mark's, who have not been, that I am most excited about. Some of them burn with a passion for God that puts me in mind of a place I used to be, a place to which I long to return, leaving far behind all the knowledge of theory taught at seminary. To return to experience of God and leave the professors to the talk of God. (This is not to say they don't also experience God, for they surely do.) I said to my dinner companion that they want to go to Happening, and I likely will be called upon to serve as Spiritual Advisor - imagine that! I said I was so excited for them. That my Rector said he thinks there is great potential to this group but he doesn't know how to tap into it. I paused in my excitement and said to her, "DO you see what I see?" She replied, "Light the fire."

We then talked ponderously about how this kind if thing seemed to us generational. That those who lit our fire, so to speak, were those self-same persons who in their youth had been touched by the fire of God at Happening, at DaySpring. We laughed as we remembered Chris Keith, God rest her soul, and Neil Keith, and Anna, and Jim, and Steve, and all of those leaders who showed us what they had experienced. And now the torch has been passed to us. SHe told me of how when she and another friend returned to their home parish not too long ago, the preacher paused in the middle of his sermon when he saw them, and said, "Hey! Look! It's THE youth group kids back!" Now, they were full blown adults, but still known as THE youth group kids. That's what we're talking about when we say generational. That for whatever reason, God saw fit to use our generation of people in a special way, and now it is time for us to give back. To light the fire again. Pray God, that what we were given, we may have the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the love to give back in equal and greater amounts.


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Monday, July 24, 2006

I Look Down and Feel as if I'm Dreaming 

I've said before to many people over the years that there are defining moments in our life, which, when they occur, we almost immediately know two things: we will never be the same again, and we will never forget the moment.

Such a moment happened to me this past weekend, around 10:20am, Saturday morning. I had just finished ascending a pulpit, which I've done a few times now, and was preparing to preach, which I've also done a few times now. But, I was in my home church, serving for the first time there in a clerical capacity. The occasion for my sermon was the celebration of a marriage of two friends of mine. The bride I've known since I was a tot; we grew up in that church together and have been friends for a long time. We even found our way to the same college, and then to Chicago, chuckling about it all the way. The groom I got to know well in college when he started dating the bride, and even better once he showed up in Chicago too. The maid-of-honor was a long time, dear friend of both the bride and I. The church was filled with familiar faces.

And the moment occurred as I got to the top step and looked down to find I felt as if I were dreaming. All of a sudden, my Deacon's stole, my alb, my collar - it all felt a bit like a costume. There was my friend, playing the role of bride. There was my other friend, playing the role of maid-of-honor. It was all make believe, or so it felt for a brief moment. I did not know it then but our parents, and many old time congregants, felt tears well up in their eyes as we went about playing at being grown up. And doing something very holy. It was a moment I'll never forget, and know I have been changed by it. A part of my new identity got more attached as the first words of my first wedding sermon proceeded forth from my lips. It became...more solid, I guess I'd say. As the bond between man and wife was sanctified, I felt a holy presence whisper in my ear as well, encouraging me, helping me to accept the strangely hard fact, "You're not playing dress up, and you're doing fine." I almost turned around to see who had patted me on the shoulder. But my attention was too focused on the bride and groom, and a smile broke out of my solemn Deacon's expression.

God bless you two.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Anglo-Catholics Never Did VBS 

For all my love and study of anglo-catholic practices, one thing I never learned from them was about Vacation Bible School! But, what a blast I have been having this week, singing, dancing, painting, acting, teaching, and generally just being silly with the kids. Many of them have already figured out that sticking their tongue out at me is an acceptable form of greeting, so long as they are prepared to recieve it in return! The theme of our particular brand of VBS is the broadway musical "Godspell", and, more importantly, the parables of the Gospel of Matthew. Though I think the way they have many of the parables portrayed speaks more to the judgment of God rather than to the love of God in Christ, the module is decent.

One of the biggest joys of working at St. Mark's so far has been some surprising reconnections. Several of the youth group members apparently remember me quite fondly from when I was a summer camp counselor at DaySpring, summer of 2003. I was embarrassed to admit that I did not remember them, to which one said that was fine and another cried out, "I was even in your small group!" What saved me, though, is that they are teenagers, and so what they look like now and what they looked like then are not necessarily the same thing. Later, I did recall a pastoral conversation I had with one of them who had just lost a loved one. She recalled it word for word.

So, this afternoon, after VBS, I was hanging out with the youth group members who are VBS volunteers. We were working our way through a praise and worship songbook, singing old favorites (and I became 15 again, it was wonderful!). Then one of them asked a question about the Bible. Then I answered it. Then more questions. The hymn sing came to an end and a 3 hour, impromtu bible study broke out. It was fascinating and wonderful and a blessing to me. At the end of this sudden biblical fervor, at no prompting from me, they had developed two lists. One was a one page list of topics they wish to discuss with me ranging from the Bible to theology, to the perennial teenage question: sex. Another was a two page list of "lapsed" youth group members who they, of their own volition mind you, are going to call to tell them to "come back to youth group - it's going to be fun again!" They all left excited and overjoyed, and I didn't do a thing but chat with them! They make it easy on me!

Not 15 minutes later did I receive a call from an ecstatic parent, thanking me from "the bottom of [her] heart", for inspiring her daughters so. She said, "It's been a long time since they've been so spiritually excited." All in a day's work, ma'dam, all in a day's work. And what fun and blessed work it is.

I'm excited for all that is to come.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


My brothers and sisters, faithful readers and visitor alike, I beseech you, pray, right now, for peace among Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Iran. Pray that the situation over there calms down. Pray for the safety of all people, especially those with no blood on their hands. Pray that the Lord's hand will be outstretched over His people there and guide them in the paths of peace. I find I am chilled by what is happening, chilled to the bone and I don't know why. I pray this is not as I fear it will be, that is to say, getting worse before it gets better. I find that some of my prayers are selfish. I have friends in the war zones. I have friends for whom I fear. And I pray no ill or harm comes to them. But I also pray for the area, for the leaders, for the people who speak for the righteous, the religious. For the people who truly have the word of God on their lips and in their hearts; for the prophets, may they be heeded.

Why do I feel so called to pray for this Lord? It is so far away? Why do I fear you may send me over there yet again? Why am I, as I sit here in the safety and comfort of my own home, afraid? Lord, lift up thy hand and stretch it out over the people of those places embroiled in bitter, bloody strife. Stretch out you hand with your chastening rod and bring them back to the way of peace, which is your will for your beloved creation. Help us all to know, deep in our souls, our hearts, our minds, that the path of violence is not the path you would have us to take. Comfort those who mourn this night, O Lord, and on the morrow. Be with those who are sorely wounded. Heal them, Lord. Bring reconciliation. Come, Lord, come. Your people need you desperately. Pray, Lord, come.


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Saturday, July 15, 2006

All Sorts of Excitement 

I'm giving my first sermon at St. Mark's tomorrow - reading the passage from Amos led me to a line of thought about just what a prophet is and does, so I'll be talking about that and connecting it to the Gospel passage via the theme of faithful response to God's call.

My good friend Lauren is coming for a visit (albeit short) on her way to ole Fort Misery from Baltimore. She is having dinner with her grandmother just a short ways south of me, so will be able to stop by for a brief period of time in the afternoon.

The reason Lauren is coming down is because she is a bridesmaid in another good friend of our's wedding next weekend. I'll be serving as Deacon for it, so it will be a grand ole time! Congratulations to Katie and Adam, two fine people tying the knot!


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Monday, July 10, 2006

Reflections after the First Week 

Last Wednesday I began the rest of my life. Mostly move into my new place (a house!) in Tampa, I carted a few boxes across the yard to the Office, St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Now, I've been there for a few days and one Sunday and it's been and promises to be a great place to work, worship, and live. I've spent a lot of my time settling into my office and talking with the boss man. We've done quite a bit of pastoral visiting, and I've even been sent out to do some on my own. The highlight of those experiences had to be on Saturday night, around 8:30pm when my phone rang. It was the boss man asking, "Can you go do an ER run?" Now, his initial thought upon hearing the news of a parishioner in the ER was to put on his clericals, grad his BCP, and head out the door. Then he stepped back a bit, laughed, and thought, I have an assistant now, an assistant who lives twice as close to that particular hospital as I do! There was a moment of joy as he picked up the phone to call me. Now, my first thought when I heard him was, in the middle of the ballgame?! My second, quick second, thought though hit closer to the mark - I'm not a field ed seminarian any more. I don't get to pick and choose what I want to do or experience. The boss man calls; I'm on the road. So it was that I was the one donning my clericals and heading out the door, thankful for my new fangled DVR device. I just put the game on pause! See, settling in means more than getting comfortable in a new home and new office. As many of my colleagues can probably tell you just as well, it means getting comfortable with a whole new identity. But the people here at St. Mark's are making that settling in process easy, for which I am thankful. I visited a woman today who injured herself in a fall and she was elated the "good looking new priest" (well, deacon really, but soon enough...) was her pastoral visitor. So, I'd say it's going very well. I know I'm being kept busy, as I am exhausted at the end of every day, and the end of the day seems to be coming a lot sooner. No more 1am nights for me! It's 11 now and I'm pooped! All that is to say that so far, so good. And many more good things to come I hope. I'm preaching for the first time here this coming Sunday, so pray for me, faithful reader.


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Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Voice from Gaza 

As many of you faithful readers will know, in the summer of 2002 I particiapted in an international scholarship program that cahnged my life, called the Caux Scholars Program, held in Caux, Switzerland. Its focus was international peacekeeping, non-violent conflict resolution, and personal and spiritual transformation. Recently I received an email from a fellow Caux Scholar, Ibrahim, who lives in Gaza. His words bring the current aspect of the crisis in Israel and the Palestinian Territories into sharp relief, and so I offer them to you here, more powerful than anything I could say.

"The voice of wisdom and diplomacy must be the judge of resolving the detainee Israeli soldier in Gaza. The re-invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an even more volatile situation. It also is in danger of derailing Palestinian peace negotiating platform among the different factions that was reaching fruition. This attack probably endangers the life of the Israeli soldier held in Gaza, whilst bringing misery to over one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It is hard to see one positive outcome from this action." The attacks on Palestinian electricity plants and water facilities constitute a war crime for which there is no excuse or justification in international law. It is a clear and grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinians in Gaza were already living on the verge of a grave humanitarian crisis due to the sanctions imposed by the donor community and the siege imposed by the Israeli army. The lack of electricity is already having a massive impact on Gazan hospitals, medical centres and Palestinian lives generally. The damage to the water infrastructure has also made it difficult for Palestinian firefighters to handle the fires. The destruction of the bridges in Gaza imperils essential movement around the Gaza Strip cutting it off into three areas but making it impossible to provide proper humanitarian and medical services. A credible and honest intervention by international community should be taken immediately to resolve the crisis that the complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and cessation of all attacks on Palestinian civilians. Israel must facilitate and pay for the immediate rebuilding of all the water, electrical and other infrastructure destroyed in this invasion. Israel must allow the opening of the borders into Gaza allowing the free flow of people and goods.



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