The color of grouch

Blue is the color of sadness and also of cold, so I think it’s accurate to say that I’m a little blue. I am not sure why I am feeling so gloomy, but I am. It might have something to do with me missing my friends, church, mom and Tucker. I am not getting any exercise here either so that can’t help.

Last Sunday I worked at two services at the altar. At the 7:45 a.m. service I was a chalicist, and at the 9:00 a.m. I was a chalicist and reader. While serving at the altar I ended up being on the side where President and Laura Bush were receiving the Eucharist so I actually made eye contact with both of them. They intinct, or dip the wafer in the wine.
Whatever my own political beliefs, in church we are all the same before God. We are there because it is so easy to sin or drift away from God, and we all seek a closer relationship with him. So for that moment they aren’t the President and First Lady, but two parishioners seeking what we all do in communion, union with the holy.

At the 9:00 a.m. service I read the Epistle and chaliced as well as giving the dismissal. Pretty cool. That was something I’d never done and it was a tingly experience. Sunday I also burned my fingers on a kettle on the stove at my hostess’s house. This would be the same kettle she cautioned me to check to make sure it had water before turning on the heat since another houseguest burned up the last one. Before I left in the morning for church I put water in it and not really thinking I just turned the kettle on when I came in since I was freezing. In the interim, Ellen had used all the water in the pot I’d left. So her very nice, very expensive enamel kettle burnt up and damaged not only the kettle but the burner on which it rested. In my haste to remove it from the stove I ended up getting a couple of surface burns that blistered up on top of two of the fingers of my left hand. Ouch. It hurt so bad and for so long I went up and got some Neosporin pain relief and “aqua pad” burn dressing to cover them. I also had to report to Ellen what I’d done, since she was visiting her mother in D.C. when it happened. It was hard to make that call, but she has been so understanding about it. I felt like such an idiot and was all jangled up for hours.

I’d also heard that my 16 year old nephew was car jacked in Mobile and had a couple of men put guns to his head before he was able to flee on foot. He got glass in his feet because he’d just been wearing flip flops and he lost them in his haste to get away. The only car he and my sister had was taken and the Police said they expect it to be ditched and set on fire. He also lost all his money and his cell phone. They used his VISA debit card to buy gas at 5 different places in a nearby town called Pritchard. Hopefully he will get that back since they were fraudulent charges.

I’ve decided to take a quick trip back to Roanoke this weekend to get some things I left behind. I think it will be restorative. I’ll leave Thursday night and come back Saturday night. I am at the altar this Sunday at the 9:00, the 11:00 and am supposed to shadow a Lay Eucharistic Minister here. The woman I will be going with is really cool though. I met her last night at a training session for community organizers that I attended with the Reverend Saunders. She and I talked for most of the dinner portion about how weird it is to us that everyone intincts in the state of Virginia and even here in the DC area. We both spent most of our lives in churches where most people shared the common cup and to do otherwise was perceived as Eucharistically incorrect. We had a good old Episcopalian gabfest. It was awesome.

I also had a nice noontime Eucharist today with a visiting minister who I talked about my “call” with. She said she also got a very strong call and that she used to feel weird about it in seminary where people were saying things like , it just seems like a good career. In the long run though she said it’s been a tremendous blessing because she has never felt lost in her sense of mission. I can identify with that. I also identified with being surrounded by a group of people who were more focused on the the material, social and external world reasons for church work than any sense of the holy and awesome presence of God. This never happened at St.John’s in Roanoke, but I am guessing it is a common thing in the church.

This goes back to my philosophy of church being a place to worship God, not to make ourselves feel better. What I experienced during my near death experience was enough to inspire lifelong awe, amazement and a sense of how we can be both so incredibly small before the greatness that is God, and so dearly loved at the same time. My worship comes from that place and when I work in a service it is to that moment that I turn to meditate before it begins.

Thursday I will also work with the Hispanic Youth Group and I really look forward to it. I had a great time with them last Thursday when we went bowling. They are full of energy and life. I’ll try and get some pics I took there printed to take to them.

I will write a Lent meditation for the churches in-house Lenten publication by Friday and am ruminating on a Homily I am to give at the weekday service on Monday the 26th.

Tonight I am on my own for dinner etc. so I am thinking of driving out to the Leesburg Outlet Mall, I think I might find a good deal on a kettle there to replace the one I burned up and with tomorrow’s temps and all my warmest stuff at the cleaners I am thinking a quick dash through the bargains might be in order.

Perhaps that will de-grouchify me.

Jesus was a Jew, and Vampires are SEXY

I should probably be sleeping, but instead I am watching the incredibly addictive HBO show TrueBlood. I like the irresistible attraction between the two lead characters, a Vampire named Bill, a former Confederate soldier and Sookie, a telepathic waitress. I love Bill’s obsessive protectiveness of her. She is also tender with him. Very sweet love story.

I worked for several hours on the Goth Eucharist liturgy tonight. After the Gathering at St.John’s, the Reverend Barkley Thompson led such an interesting class on the nature of the Trinity. It made me wonder what I think about the Trinity. I’ve definitely got a clear idea. Listening to Barkley describe some of the arguments theologians have made about the reason for and nature of the Trinity was fascinating. I am also in a Philosophy class at school filled with non-believers. When we read Augustine and Aquinas they found it easier to dismiss them because of their “basic backwards rationalization of a forgone conclusion”. They already believed, now they were just looking for reasons to support existing belief.

Barkley described God the Father as an ongoing force for creation, if we, the universe, galaxy…everything, are a bubble, we are being cradled in the ocean that is God the father and moment by moment he keeps us in existence by his will in creation. If at the beginning there was creation, when it began to be ordered there was the word, or Logos, and that word was God the son, and it is how he entered into the physical world and interacted with it, and how all things were made and for which all things were made. God the Holy Spirit is the breath that animates all life, the driving force that moves the universe. I think there’s probably more to it than that. Barkley now has his own blog which links from the new St.John’s website. It’s called The Rector’s Page and you can get to it by looking in the “Links to Related Sites” list over on the right. It’s definitely worth a look see.
I just sent him an email asking for extra info. It’s my fault for missing the actual class on the Trinity.

This Sunday’s actual class was about Jesus: who he was and his life and ministry. Barkley started off by dispelling some of the usual myths: Jesus was not a Western European, he probably looked more like this face made by a Forensic Specialist who created it from the skull of a Jewish man from the same time and place as Jesus and with the same skin tones as those used in frescoes and art found in the area. Like the picture below.That he didn’t float. That he was in fact a Jew, and not a Christian.
No real shockers for me, but surely some in the room felt that jolt of surprise I felt the first time someone said “Jesus was a Jew” to me.

Jewish Jesus

Perhaps not. They are a sophisticated bunch. Very smart and well read. I will share my views on the Trinity later, after I have had time to absorb these new ideas. I have been re-reading the Gospel of John, my favorite Gospel. I especially like this audio version I came across called “The Bible Experience: John“. Check it out. I am now at school after a successful Chalk It Out. The ChalkBoards came out wonderfully and the Karaoke was so successful I think we need to make this a regular event. It generated a ton of interest and we filled all the chalk boards. It will be good for us to be able to interact with the community on a weekly basis this way. To be visible and for them to get to know us and to know who we are. Plus we can order t-shirts and start selling them. Our logo is so cool that I think we can sell them like hotcakes. A lot of people asked who we were and what group we were with which is kind of neat. I also went to the Meditation chapel and worked on getting it sorted out a little. I have the vision in my mind now of what I want. I need to get a bag of sand, a lot of pillar candles and a ton of votives, luminaries and about 75 or so tea lights. Jan, the school Chaplain is going to see if Christ Church can loan us their censor or at least their brazier to burn incense on. Things are coming together, God willing, we will pull this Eucharist off.

High Tea and Workin’ For A Livin’

I only have a moment to write but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about my first day at work. I liked the manager very much. His name is Casey and he is warm and has excellent instincts as a manager. It looks like he is at the beginning of overhauling a somewhat broken system so it is nice to think I might be able to help him in some small way. He offered me an extra night of training tonight and I took it, because we ended up getting a little busy by their standards last night. The young lady who was assigned to train me, was less than enthusiatic about letting me assist her so that wasn’t fun. I did however, end up getting to talk to one really nice family and hope to wait on them myself one day. I know I did a good job because they left my trainer a great tip, and tips aren’t standard at this country club. There is a service charge added to the check and supposedly we get 2% of the pooled service charge added to our checks though many of the staff complained in my hearing that this wasn’t so. I was happy I got her a good tip. We get paid $8 an hour though so we don’t have to worry about tips, but if you are trying to pay rent with that I can understand why you would wish for tips. The people we waited on were very nice in general. I did hear one kind of racist conversation near the end of the night but I just rebutted in my head as I cleaned and reset the table nearby. That made me feel better.

I am off to have tea with my Spiritual Director and dear friend, the Assistant Rector at St.John’s. We are doing a kind of follow up to my internship. I plan on writing a more in depth review of Tropical Thunder later after a couple of conversations with people. The discussions have sparked some reflection I’d like to get down.

Barack Obama is supposed to announce his VP pick anytime now and I am hoping he will pick Kathleen Sebelius. I really like her.

My first sermon!!

Before I post my sermon I have to mention that it was unlike anything I’ve ever done. I will confess that it felt amazing, right, golden. I was so worried about giving it I didn’t even think about people responding to it afterward! After it was over, so many people came up to me to say in their words “how much I liked it and how honest it was, vulnerable in all the right places”. One woman even came up to me and said her kids, notorious squirmers, “hung on every word.” I was about to die from embarrassed pleasure.Tonight one of her kids even came up to me to tell me she liked it. I’ve never had so much affirmation. My visiting family were so wonderful too. My mom recorded it on her cellphone and just looked smug and proud. Not smug in a bad way but more like…it was proof that this journey we are on is the right one. I kept finding myself blushing and feeling a little overwhelmed at the response. I was so anxious about giving it. I think I was using it as a litmus test, a referendum on whether I am doing the right thing. I feel pretty darn certain, but I still am a little disbelieving that I might actually get to do this for the rest of my life. It is the custom in the Episcopal church to say a short prayer before getting to the sermon and that will be included at the start of it. Considering how much I worried about it, it just seemed to flow right out when I needed it to. Thank God for that.

Matthew 13:1-23

Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us, the fire of your love.

Take our minds and think through them,

Take our lips and speak through them,

Take our souls and set them on fire.

Amen

Like many Episcopalians, I have spent much of my life having the Bible read to me every Sunday. I used to think of reading it myself, but every time I cracked it open, the format, the language, even some of the content made it difficult for me to follow. So a few years ago I decided that I just had to do something about that. I went to a Christian bookstore to pick out a new Bible, and stumbled upon The Message. I don’t know how many of you have read it, but it is a paraphrase and not an actual translation and it can be comical in its choice of language in some parts. It made the Bible seem friendlier, more approachable somehow. For the first time I was able to read the Bible cover to cover.

There are lots of problems with the Message; the liberties taken with language can be surprising and shocking. Here’s an example: in the New International Version, Matthew verse 22 reads: All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s Message through his prophet. In the Message it says: This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term.

This had the effect of making me wonder what it said in the familiar King James Version or better yet, the original Greek. Soon I had amassed quite a collection of Bibles and my reading usually involved many of them.

Today’s Gospel reading recounts Jesus telling his disciples a story in the form of a Parable. The interesting and wonderful thing about parables is that you can read them over and over again and take something new away every time. In Reverend Thompson’s class on Parables he noted that the Sower is profligate in his spreading of the seed. That God is always spreading the word and His love, and that it falls on all kinds of soil: shallow, rocky, weedy… yet he is unstinting in his sowing. A peasant at the time wouldn’t waste seed like this. He’d carefully plant and husband it.

I thought about that and the idea of God raining his love down upon us always, generously, patiently waiting for a good harvest. That is comforting, exciting and also a little bit scary. Because it made me wonder, what kind of soil am I?

Honestly… I think I have been more than one.

For many years in my childhood and youth, the word of God was something that punctuated the moments in the service between hymns. I really loved singing as a child and that’s what I liked about church.

I would say the seed was a little wasted on me at that point. Fallen on the footpaths of my inattention.

As I grew older, while actually listening to sermons I would start to feel an inkling of God’s presence, and the reality of the good news. When I was in church this would fill me with energy, I would sign up for lots of things and then inevitably lose interest.

I was willing to do a little for God, but not much. Kind of like a friend you don’t see too often. You might give them a call or meet now and then, but you aren’t really committed to being a part of their daily life, or having them as part of yours. My soil was rocky and shallow.

In my early 30’s I really began to understand some of the messages that God has sent us. The truly revolutionary nature of Jesus’ call to follow Him… no doubt a natural consequence of actually reading the Bible.

I was becoming more committed in my relationship to God, but He was still a sidebar, an afterthought. After all, I was raising a daughter all by myself, excelling at a high powered career and trying to be a good citizen too. I had so many people and constituencies to please that I failed to please any of them. Bills, job stress, and the process of day to day life choked out my passion for God. My soil was littered with weeds.

But something stuck with me. In the back of my mind, whirring away, I continued to puzzle and piece together the meanings of what I was reading and hearing every Sunday. I didn’t really want to believe it. I mean what would happen if I had the kind of relationship with God that he was asking for?

I could only imagine.

Quit my job? Devote my life to charity? Make my whole life about Him? My heart lurched in fear. I looked around at the people I knew, and none of them seemed to be troubled by this element of the Bible.

I remember sitting in the National Cathedral one Sunday and thinking, if I could do this every day, worship and think about God I would be very content. Something I wasn’t used to feeling.

So I submitted, I gave in. I prayed that God would use my life as He willed. And something amazing happened. I went to my rector and talked to him, telling him all about my feelings. He encouraged me to listen to that small, still voice. He helped me understand that I was starting to feel what God can do when you invite him into your life wholeheartedly.

I left my career, went back to college and made God the center of my life. I started to get to say Yes a lot. Could I teach Sunday School? Yes! Could I serve at the altar? Yes! Could I give a sermon? Well, I can try!

I only worried about pleasing a constituency of one. Not me…God.

It’s too soon to tell whether I will be the good harvest!

But it really might not matter. Because the Good News is that there are always some favorable responses, some growth. It doesn’t matter how many, it will be enough. God provides the increase.

The story of the sower is not a scary message, it is an optimistic one. It says that God is calling us always into relationship, into PARTNERSHIP with Him. We can use our free will and choose to work with God to make the future better than the past.

God purposely limits Himself in order to create this partnership. To let us choose Him. Otherwise we would be automatons, going through the motions and blindly obeying in absolute certainty.

There is an old story that illustrates this: A minister and a parishioner were talking about her garden. The minister complimented her, saying “What a beautiful garden you and God have made.” Response? “You should have seen it when God was doing it alone.”

Jesus makes it clear in the story that God wants Him and all His followers to sow the seed. To work at growing. Even in a difficult and indifferent world. God will provide the soil, the sun and the rain to carry out His share of the partnership. That’s why he sows so generously.

Jesus understood the tension between self-centeredness and God-centeredness. After all, it took Him 40 days in the wilderness to put aside his desire for popularity and power. It might take us a little longer, but the seed will keep falling, and eventually our world will be transformed.

AMEN