Sunday, February 28, 2016


I recently had a talk with a man who considers himself an agnostic.  His reasoning is that he cannot and will not believe in a God who allows such horrible things to happen to children, to the world at large, to people far and near.  And of course, as with all really good conversations, the best argument I have in opposition didn't occur to me until well after we'd finished talking.

Contrary to popular belief, God's not Santa Claus.  He's not keeping track of who's naughty and nice in some book so that presents and coal are properly distributed to the people on Earth.  And if you're going to blame God for every bad deed that happens to people, conversely, you have to credit him for every good act that happens to people. 

In our Old Testament reading, we note what God says to Moses:  "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows."  It doesn't sound like He arranged for them to live in sorrow and subjugation to the Egyptians.  It sounds more like He watches His creation and what they do to one another, and knows their sorrows, because how could any parent be happy that their children are miserable?  And at this point, He steps in, to put His people back onto the path He laid for them by making Moses a leader.

As our New Testament reading points out, He gave them experiences in common, binding them together as a people.  The journey they took, the food they ate, water they drank, the metaphorical baptism they all experienced upon escaping the Egyptians – God provided all of these to them to strengthen them as a people, to give bonds on which they could rely in times of temptation.  Even to today, we reaffirm those gifts, just as they were reaffirmed by Christ.

During Lent, we address the uncomfortable aspect of our often "feel-good" religion:  we look at our sins, and we look at our reactions to sins, our attempts to explain them, to hide them from sight, and the really hard part – to truly repent of them and change our ways.  Saying we're sorry but doing nothing different doesn't actually indicate repenting; it represents lip service, and means nothing. 

Each week, in our confession of sin, we confess that we have sinned, by what we have done, and by what we have failed to do.  I was talking with my son about this sermon, and he pointed out that in each case, we often do the exact same thing that Christ talked about in the Gospel lesson – well, yes, we've sinned, but look at these horrible people over here and how heinous their sins are.  Why, by comparison, we're nearly faultless.  And Christ points out, no, we're not.  Not only have we sinned, but we have failed to act in defense of the defenseless.  We have failed to protect others, not only from those who would persecute them, but in allowing that persecution to continue.  All too often, we fail to act for a variety of reasons – the problem's too big, there's no way for me to make a difference, let someone else handle it, or the general response – why does God allow this to happen?  I think in many instances, it's the basic fear that if we did something, we'd have to actually address our own sins, and that's what Lent reminds us to do.

Sometimes, it's looking at the totality of the task involved that makes us hesitate to even begin.  As someone once advised on how to eat an elephant, the wise reply was, get out your knife and fork, and begin, one bite at a time.

There's a story about some missionaries to Indians in the Amazonian region of Ecuador, particularly the Huaorani tribe.  This tribe was exceedingly savage, killing anyone who wasn't part of their tribe with spears and knives, and sometimes killing just because they could, like people who annoyed them, including their own children.  The missionaries were saddened by the lives of people who hadn't been touched by the word of God.  They were, however, warned away by other missionaries and people who had experience with trying to deal with the tribe, advising them not to even try, for they would surely die in the effort.  The missionaries began making regular flights over Huaorani settlements in September 1955, dropping gifts, which were accepted and reciprocated.  They were able to communicate with a few members of the tribe on several occasions.  After several months of exchanging gifts, on January 3, 1956, the missionaries established a camp at "Palm Beach", a sandbar along the Curaray River, a few kilometers from Huaorani settlements.  They finally felt that they were ready to meet with the rest of the tribe as a whole.  Their efforts came to an end on January 8, 1956, when all five—Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian—were attacked and speared by a group of Huaorani warriors.  The five missionaries had guns with them in their camp, but they did not use them to save their own lives.  They were trying to teach about a peaceful and beneficent God.  To shoot their attackers would mean the Huaorani would not have the opportunity to hear about Christ.  So they chose to let themselves be killed, to be an example of Christian love, and let the tribe have another chance to hear the word of God.  Several years after the death of the men, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to live among the Huaorani. This eventually led to the conversion of many, including some of those involved in the killing. While largely eliminating tribal violence, their efforts exposed the tribe to increased influence from the outside.  Which, of course, led to both good and bad results.

Five men didn't just agree with other missionaries and the advice to leave the tribe to their savagery.  They did something about it.  And their deaths ended up having meaning to the Huaorani, because they showed trust in God and faced their deaths with faith and courage, rather than fear. 

The parable of the fig tree in Luke, as opposed to how it is told in Mark and Matthew, is giving us one last chance to truly repent.  Now, while spreading manure may not seem like a particularly desirable change for people – if we do look at the allegorical meaning, we realize that we need to change the situation somehow – to do something different, to nourish our roots, feed our souls, and nurture the faith that allows us to face our sins, repent of them and move forward.  We have time to make a difference.  We still have time before the final judgment comes.  But since we don't have knowledge of just how much time that is, we need to do it now.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lent: Prayer

Creating space for prayer is at the root of today's video from SSJE.  As Br. Geoffrey points out, when our lives get busy and hectic, often, it's prayer that gets the short end of the stick - we take away time usually set aside for praying, for meditation, for taking care of the body God provided to us, to fit in time for more busy-ness.  How important is your relationship with God?  And if, like many people, you put God at the head of the line in order of importance for your relationships - then shouldn't you make time with God a priority?

So today's task - find a definite space for time with God in your daily schedule.  And put that time into the schedule in pen.  Any additional time you spend with God is great, but make sure that your scheduled time has a prominent space in your schedule.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lent: Spiritual Practices

There's a sermon (by Br. Tristam) that goes with today's video (by Br. Keith) - two separate pieces of input on developing spiritual rules and practices to help us grow into the people we feel God wants us to be.  Both are well worth listening to, and might answer some questions you have about developing a Rule of Life.

The question today asks what spiritual practice will help you grow.  It's asking you to choose one to put into practice now.  How do you choose?

As Br. Tristam says, first, you need a goal - what do you want to achieve?  Then you can ask the question about which practice will lead you further down the path to that goal.  The church has plenty of resources for you, but one rather comprehensive site for such practices can be found at Credo.  Take a look at the categories they have there, and see what appeals to you, what will help you in the path you've set.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lent: Rule of Life

The Brothers from St. John the Evangelist are allowing the calendar to catch up with their postings, so today, we're sharing this video from the first portion, or pre-Lent thoughts about the Rule of Life.

We gave you a lot to think about and do yesterday, so today's only question is, how would a Rule of Life be helpful to you now?  Listen to Br. Curtis, and think about that.  It may affect how you look at what we're trying to achieve this Lent.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent: Cultivation

In today's video from SSJE, we are reminded that reflection can be a very good tool in the cultivation of your life.  Using our site again, to cultivate means:
1.  to prepare and work on (land) in order to raise crops; till.
2.  to use a cultivator on.
3.  to promote or improve the growth of (a plant, crop, etc.) by labor and attention.
4.  to produce by culture:
5.  to develop or improve by education or training; train; refine:
6.  to promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.); foster.
7.  to devote oneself to (an art, science, etc.).
The seeds that God has planted within us (I wonder if that's in the DNA...), that make us unique, provide us with the opportunity to pursue anything we set our minds to.  So today's task is going to be a lot of reflection, and then some contemplation and prayer:

Reflect on:
Twenty years ago, where were you?
What did you do with your time?
What did you learn about?
What did you dream of doing?
What sort of goals did you have?

And 10 years ago?
Did you pursue any of the dreams?  How?
If not, what did you do instead?

And 5 years ago?
What have you accomplished?
Are you where you thought you'd be?
How did you get where you were?

Contemplation and Prayer
Write down the answers to the questions.

From the Book of Common Prayer:  O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What seeds planted by God long ago have sprouted?
What have you accomplished in those areas?
What else would you like to accomplish?
Have you felt drawn further down the same path?  Are you pursuing that?  Why or why not?
Have you felt drawn in a different direction?  (Perhaps there's a different area of the garden to tend.)
Are you doing anything to further the growth of those seeds?
Have you been praying about it?

Write down two areas you'd like to see grow.

Under each area, write down small, definitive steps towards achieving those goals.  Begin each one with prayer.

Give yourself a schedule to accomplish the smaller tasks or steps.  Remember to include in the schedule regular times to repeat this process, evaluate what you've achieved, and if a smaller task needs to be further broken down to see progress.

Decide who you're going to share your decision with, or how you're going to keep yourself accountable for pursuing these goals.  God is a perfect accountability partner, if you're willing to listen.

Feel free to share here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lent: God's Time

Patience, the boon of parents everywhere, is the subject of today's video from SSJE.  God's time is rarely our time - we think that things should happen within our scope of understanding, not quite understanding that God's timing is perfect.  As Br. Luke expounds, what he's expecting in a month, God may be granting in ten years - so, knowing that God's timing is perfect, our responsibility then is to change our expectations.

There's actually a "joke" that fits perfectly with this theme.  But it leads back to the parable about the man who gave each of his servants a number of talents, and what they did with them.  Looking at talents in the modern meaning (rather than the coin), what talents has God planted in you?  And what have you done with them?  How will you answer when God calls you forward?

God has provided you with the seeds, and as yesterday's message indicated, we have to be the best soil possible for those seeds to grow.  In His time, he will come to see the harvest and the fruit you bear, all the while nurturing you, providing you water and sunshine.  

So today, make a list of your blessings - the seeds God planted in you or gave you at Baptism.  And then on another column, list what you have done to develop those seeds.  Does it have to be written down?  No, but seeing it in black and white sets your responsibility directly before your eyes, where you can't ignore it, or perhaps set it aside for another day.  We're here to become part of the beautiful garden of humanity - where are you in your growth cycle?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lent: Growth

Getting more into the concept of seeds and how they're planted, today's video talks about the process of growth over which we really have no control, but God does.  The best that we can do is provide the best soil possible for that seed to grow.

In this very cute animation about the Parable of the Sower, where we see the different types of ground on which seeds can be planted.

We know that God's Word are the seeds, but what we need to figure out is how to make the soil of our hearts the best atmosphere in which they can grow.  Letting our hearts be hardened like stone from our experiences will likely make it very difficult for God's Word to take root.  Being sandy and unfirm will ensure that God's Word takes shallow root and the growth is rapid, but dies quickly.  Having vices which can overpower God's Word in our hearts is like choking it with weeds.

But if our body is the Temple for God's Word, then we take care of it; we nurture it, and give it light, room to grow, prayers, and God's plan for us will grow to be what God intends for us.  Even if it may not be what we have in mind for ourselves to start with.

So what sort of "rules" might you think of for being a good Temple, for being good soil?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent: Awareness and Intention

Today's video reminds me of a wonderful young man by the name of Luke Nothaft.  Yesterday, Luke's family celebrated the fourth anniversary of his second birthday at home with God.  The way they celebrated was to ask his friends and family to celebrate with them this way:  "Luke loved a lot of things. He loved them in the full-throated, unimpeachable way of someone drunk with the possibilities of life. So, we'd like to ask you to do one act of love this week. One act that puts others or the world above yourself."

When Luke was born, he had a couple of organs outside his body.  Between all the surgeries and hospitalizations, the doctors told Luke's parents he only had a 3% chance to live at all, and would likely never see 5.  Then they decided, he'd never live to get to high school, let alone be able to comprehend enough for school.  God, however, had different plans, and Luke lived until he was 16, and like most of his family, spoke both English and Spanish.  He made a huge difference in people's lives during the short time he was here, affecting family and community alike.  As his sister pointed out today when she and her family set out to feed the homeless, Luke never met a stranger - just a friend he didn't know the name of yet.  Luke's goal was to be a film-maker just like his big brother.  You can actually see some of the videos he and his family did on YouTube.

Luke epitomized what Br. Mark talks about in today's video - the awareness of the love of God in others, and intentionally displaying the love of God to others.  To continue the garden analogy the Brothers of SSJE have been using, this is the food you're choosing to feed your plants, or your life, and the fruit you're choosing to produce.  What sort of things do you want to surround yourself with?  And what kind of things will you be giving back?  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lent: Observations

Pick something in God’s creation to “consider” today. Today's video from SSJE asks you to do homework again.  And to use the original meaning of the word "consider" - don't just think about it, but look at it closely, and observe what lessons it might have for you.  What did you notice or observe?

Richard Migliore Photography
As Br. Geoffrey points out, Christ often asked us to consider small things in nature - lilies (Matthew 6:28, Luke 12:27), ravens (Luke 12:24), the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31, 17:20; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19, 17:6).  Is it a coincidence that the smaller it gets, the more it's mentioned?

So let's consider a subject of Romans 1:20:  "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead" or DNA.  The article linked there is the subject of study all over the world, and there's no doubt that this was not an accident of evolution, but a design of the Creator.

We won't ask you to study something as small (and complex) as DNA, but we will ask you to pick something out of creation today and consider it.  What did you find?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent: Meaningful Connections

When you connect with nature, what makes it meaningful?  That's the focus of today's video, but you're going to have to reach for the answer - it's not spoon fed to you through Br. John's words.

In answering that question, consider the definitions of "Nature" (as per
1.  the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
2.  the natural world as it exists without human beings or civilization
3.  the elements of the natural world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.
4.  natural scenery
5.  the universe, with all its phenomena
6.  the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.
7.  reality, as distinguished from any effect of art.
So we're not just talking about connecting to elements outside of humanity, but also including humanity.  We're talking about how we connect with reality itself.  So what makes the connection to any of it meaningful?

If you become so inspired, you could go to The Center for Humans & Nature to write an essay on the topic.  Much of what they discuss concerns ethics, and as such, it fits in well with our study here.  The discussion of creating a rule, and why we would want to do such a thing is an important step in understanding why we choose to worship in the way we do.  Some feel drawn to it; some want the structure that rules provide; some want to help others when they seem lost - to give them a code by which to live. And we often realize that Christ gave us that code, reiterating commands given by God so long ago - in broad strokes:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  (Deuteronomy 6:5)  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)"  (Matthew 22:37-39)

Some of us know and love the concept, but even as the Jews had difficulty accomplishing it still by the time Christ came, we have difficulty in actually carrying them out today, and so we create additional or "sub-rules" that help us to fulfill those two great Commandments.

So, what makes your connections meaningful to you?  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lent: What's Thriving in Your Life?

The garden metaphors grow thickly on the vine in today's video.  Being fairly new to gardening, myself, I was answering the gardening questions first as the Brother was speaking.  And about half way through, I remembered that this was to grow a rule of life, no matter how useful the questions were about the garden.

 There is a great deal that can be read, researched, meditated upon, etc. regarding how one develops a personal Rule of Life for themselves.  SSJE offers a workbook for your contemplation, meditation and prayer, which is free to download.  You can also see the 49 rules which govern the lives of the brothers living under the SSJE monastery, by purchasing their book that discusses each of the rules and how they came into being.  There's a video series on the freedom that one can experience in living under rules that they have created themselves, nurturing and planting, planning and harvesting throughout their lives.  Links to all of these can be found here.

So, taking a page from the workbook for this Lenten season, let's take a look at what we want to be surrounded by in our daily lives.  Some examples:

Be Open. Open yourself up to this process. Invite God fully into each idea and question you may have.

Be Creative. Think outside the box. You may have a unique image of what you want your garden to include.

Be Gentle. Be gentle with yourself. There are no right or wrong answers. This is not a competition.

Be Realistic. Simple and honest answers are far more useful than sweeping, idealistic ones.

Be Patient. This is part of a lifelong process. Give yourself time to develop your ideas along the way.

Be Flexible. Be willing to change and modify your ideas as your life moves through different seasons.

The link above gives a few more examples of what you might want to include for yourself.  Don't forget one of the most important activities Jesus did during His 40 days in the desert - pray.  And in this instance, we're going to use prayer with imagination (can also be found on the SSJE site):  In prayer, imagine yourself in a conversation with Jesus in which you describe to him what it is you value most and how you want to live faithfully in the world. Ask what he values most and how he wants you to live.

As you can see, you've got homework.  Yesterday was fairly simple, an introduction.  Today, you need to think, reflect, pray, and make some decisions.  Feel free to comment on your journey.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent: Rhythms in Nature

Nature's rhythm - the topic of today's video from the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) - is displayed in such a wide variety of forms for us.  The question asked:  How might the rhythms you observe in nature inform the way you live?  My mind immediately jumps to all of the fascinating parallels between nature and science, and nature and math - but those aren't really things that inform the way I live.  They are certainly methods of learning about the world around us, and how things work, but how do nature's rhythms affect my life?

Being female, all girls grow up with the knowledge that their own cycles are affected by the moon; interestingly, boys aren't taught that they, too, have cycles that follow the moon, where they are moodier at a certain phase or more energetic at another (as the mother of a boy, I found it useful to track just when that moody cycle would hit and when I needed to stock up on more complex carbs to keep up).  Fishermen, too, learn how tides are affected by the moon, and when the best times to fish are.

Anyone with a garden learns the cycle of nature, and the best times to plant which crops, how to watch weather patterns to know when to water, when to harvest, when to turn the soil over and let it rest.

Depending on where you live, you learn to prepare for hurricanes, see the signs for tornadoes, smell the rain or snow in the air, watch the animals for warnings of earthquakes.  Watching the animals and how they, as a part of nature, are affected by cycles in weather, birth, death, preparation and procreation.  All around us, the way of nature can determine the direction of our footsteps as we journey through life - knowing that we, too, are a part of nature.

Knowing that God provided nature to us, we have only to listen and be aware of the lessons that literally surround us to learn and shape our own rules for life.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lenten Message from the Presiding Bishop

This Lent message from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, talks not only about what Lent is about, but why we as Episcopalians have both the responsibility and the privilege to observe it.

So what we you be doing this Lenten season?  Here's where this blog will be following: