Episcopal

What Camp taught me about Rules, the Great Commandment, and Priorities

There are few universal rules, especially at Camp. A person is running. Running can lead to falling—especially in a world of unpaved paths, gravel, roots, large rocks, and done in an often ungainly body. So we don’t run. Except when we do (some games and activities, and in the case of emergencies). So we can’t have the rule: “Don’t run.”

At Camp Marshall, where I have worked for most of the last 11 summers, we have four rules. Four. No lengthy index to sort through. No list of things appropriate at this time but not that time. No collection of waiting infractions.

Four rules:

Be prepared
Be on time
Participate
Respect yourself and others

As with many good things in my life, I didn’t create it. It was given to me, part of the great inheritance my predecessor and mentor bequeathed to me over a 15 year relationship. Now we have both boldly borrowed it from Barbara Coloroso’s work.*

It works in a Camp environment where there are kids and staff from different backgrounds, different parts of the state and the country. It works in a place replete with hazards (water, small cliffs, wildlife, kids**). It works with the youngest campers and the most experienced staff.

I have found a whole new appreciation for this philosophy. What we do, these four rules, isn’t about rules. It’s not a list of infractions waiting to happen. It’s a list of priorities for this community. We are most concerned about people’s desire to be here (be prepared), presence with others (be on time), engagement with others (participate), and care for themselves and others (respect). Everything we do rests on this ground.

And it works…when we use it.

All behavior has to be viewed through those four principles. Simple but not easy.

Running: a lack of self-respect much of the time, but not always.
Yelling: a lack of respect in a group, or a part of participation during an activity.
Hitting someone: a lack of respect for the other person.
Wearing tennis shoes: part of being prepared for some activities and lack of preparation for the waterfront.
Teasing each other: group bonding or a lack of respect for the subject of the ‘jokes?’
A staff miscommunication: simple—if problematic—error, a lack of preparation, or a lack of respect?

It is hard. There’s always the kid who insists that she feels respected when others talk (gossip) about her. The one who knows running isn’t a problem because he doesn’t mind scrapping his knee.

Working from the ground up takes longer and requires greater discernment. We can’t universally label things. We have to think. We have to take motives and perspectives into account. We have to listen. We have to talk. We have to be relational.

This listening, this talking, this discernment? This way of shaping community?
Makes all the difference.

– – – –

Jesus has three priorities.***

Love God.
Love yourself and your neighbor.
Don’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Three priorities all behavior and thought ought to spring from and be viewed through. Living in that truth requires discernment, listening, talking, considering motives and perspectives. Jesus’ three priorities, like most of Jesus’ ministry, are relational.

We are continuing this central work of Christianity. I know Christians who live the knowledge that sacrificing to love their neighbors is essential. I know Churches who work to devote most of their resources to loving their members and neighbors. I know Dioceses where every meeting includes a question like: How will what we do here benefit the poor? And I hear stories of how this has changed the whole culture.

At this last General Convention there was a proposal to require that very question of the entire Episcopal Church. I confess to voting against it. I was wrong. I have a new appreciation for how our communal life, its glories and mundanities, is understood differently through the lens of our greater purpose: to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors, while leaving room for the work of the Spirit.

It will never be easy.

We will continue to interpret even three priorities differently.
The brusque person who speaks to the soft-hearted neighbor. The visitor who sees genuine busyness as dismissal. The person who knows that individual, local efforts are better tailored to their neighbor’s needs and the person who is convinced that a larger social safety net is the best way to love their neighbors. The person who knows their abortion was necessary for their (and often their family’s) health and safety and the one who knows it was a sin against loving the unborn child.

This is more than not vilifying people who disagree. This is crawling inside their view and learning that it stems from the same priorities as our own.

Sometimes this solves problems. Most often when we reach for listening grounded in Jesus’ priorities we find ourselves at the table, breaking bread and drinking wine, with our brothers and sisters, regardless of our disagreements and agreements. Much like a Lord who dined with those called outcast and those considered prominent in society.

*I cannot recommend Ms. Coloroso’s book Kids are Worth It! strongly enough. Ms Coloroso’s approach to discipline is designed to leave everyone’s dignity intact. If you interact with people, this is something you must read. Her website [address and link] is a treasure trove (better phrase) of great resources.
**Only slightly joking. Any group of peers can be it’s own worst enemy. Fighting, rumors, scapegoating, cliques. There are so many ways for people to injure each other.
***Mark 12:29-31 and Mark 3:29
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Junior Middler Camp 2013

JM1This is the week I get to simultaneously wear my Priest hat and my Camp Director hat!

In large part because I’ve been the priest for this week of camp for 5 years now, I really wanted to maintain that connection with the kids who usually come to JM1. Our Junior Middler Camps are for kids entering grades 3-8, so there are kids here that I’ve known for the entire duration of their Camp Marshall experience. They are no longer little 3rd graders! This year I’m working with my friend and colleague the Reverend Mike Fay, because that makes both of us happy and keeps my life manageable.

Our theme for the summer is “Be Imitators of God” from Ephesians 5:1. I decided to pick 6 different attributes of God to talk about each day: Mighty/powerful (Monday), Funny (Tuesday), Merciful/Forgiving (Wednesday), Just (Thursday), Joyful (Friday), Storyteller (Saturday). Mike and I are sharing the preaching and celebrating, so I’m preaching on Mighty, Merciful, and Joyful. (links)

There will be other updates and photos in my Twitter feed (over on the right hand side) and even more pictures and video on the Diocesan Facebook page.

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Alleluias, joyous and wilted

Somewhere around the 4th or 5th week of Easter, I find myself remembering my friend, classmate, and colleague the Rev Cody Unterseher. I think about Cody not because the anniversary of his death is around this time of the year (April 25). I remember Cody because of what happened on Facebook in 2010.

Cody and I were at seminary together for one year–just long enough for a couple of those stereotypical (because they really happen) late night theological (well, liturgical) conversations, long enough to share parts of our stories, long enough to hear him preach (a sermon I still remember). We graduated together in 2008–me with an MDiv, Cody with an STM. After graduation we were Facebook friends. I would read his articles around the internet as he posted about them. I like having smart friends who make me think, with whom I don’t always agree. I hope he found some level of interest or joy in the updates from my life as a parish priest.

In 2010, for the Great Fifty Days of Easter, Cody posted “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” in a different language everyday on Facebook.

For the first couple of days I thought it was interesting and a good reminder. In the second week, I thought it was a little drawn out. In the third week, I was over it. I could no longer even guess at the languages; I was no longer excited by the novelty of our yearly proclamation. But Easter and Cody weren’t over.

Just like our Easter Lilies, our Alleluias wilt–only faster. After 40 days of stifling our voices, of missing our joyous four-syllable proclamation, we can speak, shout, sing it again. At the Easter Vigil (my favorite), on Easter Sunday I can always hear the joy in people’s voices, in my voice as we proclaim our ‘Alleluias’ again.

Then the joy of reclaiming our “Alleluia” fades into the normality of life more quickly than the shocking joy of the resurrection should. By Easter 4, the joy of being permitted the recently forbidden has faded. The idea that “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” is extraordinary starts to go over as well as another verse of “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia.”

Until Cody. Until 50 days of reminders. By holding “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” up for all of Easter, Cody moved me through the wilted Alleluia phase.

This year, most years since 2010, I remember Cody and 50 days of Alleluias I only understood through context, through what I knew those strange foreign words should mean. I remember reaching for a meaning I didn’t always understand, couldn’t prove, didn’t always feel. I remember the moment when I realized that this is what it means to be Easter-ed.

In the first moments of Easter it is easy to be over-joyed with our yearly proclamation. Then life continues. Our transformation into the people God calls us to be is slow, hard work. Sometimes I have to reach to be the person God is calling me to be, reach for what it means to be a part of Christian community when I don’t know if either can really exist. What God asks of me often feel strange and foreign in a world full of really terrible, sad things. When I act as if I have been Easter-ed, when I believe in and act on the things God asks of me, strange and foreign as they may seem, I start living into the meanings, the transformation, the faith I faithfully keep reaching towards.

So on Sunday I will remember Cody and 50 days of Alleluias. I will remember to reach for what I don’t always understand. Then, as the last strains of the processional hymn finish, as I exhale the in-between breath, I will faithfully and joyously proclaim, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

Categories: Episcopal, My Life, Theology | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Cotton Candy Dreams

I remember being not that little and watching the concession-person at the carnival magically spin the cotton candy into a fluffy pink ball to carry as we went home. Well, at least as we started home. I don’t think the cotton candy ever made it all the way home.
Once I started eating my ball of fluffed sugar, I was committed. Spun sugar is very sensitive. Cotton candy doesn’t react well to pressure, water, being eaten, or touched.

Dreams are hard to hold.

I have dreams of a Church where I don’t have to worry about the budget as I help people. A Church that understands what it means to want “younger” priests. A Church where every building and activity are fully accessible to all people. Dreams of Bishops. Dreams of change. Dreams of Pentecost fire, which cannot be put out.

Of course, I live and work in the real world. A world where the bottom line is too often the bottom line. My Church defines “young” priests as those under 35. Change is terrifying. We don’t talk about disability. And I’d rather not talk about the news.

Dreams are hard to hold.

For the seconds (it never lasted for minutes) I was holding my cotton candy, this pink, fluffy, caloric nightmare was the epitome of the carnival. It held a power that lasted longer than the fluffy pink sugar. I remember the sensation of those moments every time I think of the carnival, every time I see the (lesser) bagged cotton candy somewhere.

Dreams are hard to hold.

Unlike the cotton candy I used to eat, I don’t hold my own dreams. I meet my dreams, not once a year at the carnival, but every time I read about God’s mountain being a house of prayer for all people (Isa 56:7), when I read “let no one look down on you because of your youth” (1 Tim 4:12) and remember how young the disciples were, when I read about Jesus not just healing the hemorrhaging woman but insisting on speaking with her (Luke 8:43-48).

Dreams are hard to hold.

I am a beloved child of God. I have learned that means I have been given, charged with, graced into dreams too big for me. Dreams I cannot hold. Dreams God has been offering us and we have been grasping towards for millennia.

This is why Episcopalians have learned to ground Christian life in promises made with God’s help.

This is why I pray.

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, 832)

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Going Meta: Reviewing Sermon Reviews, part 3

Part Three: Other Preachers

It’s hard to avoid this being a list of links. But I’ve found some preachers I enjoy and certainly would have appreciated something like this existing at several different points in my life. So, here are the sites on my sermon list:

Mostly Weekly

My Sermons, audio

Bishop Rickel, Diocese of Olympia, audio

Trinity Episcopal Church, Natchez, MS, The Rev Walton Jones, audio

Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Shelby, NC The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, audio and text

St Paul’s Regina, Sasketchewan, The Very Rev Mike Sinclair, audio

St Joan of Arc Regional Ministry, Montana, The Rev John Toles, text

St Stephen’s Armonk, NY, The Rev Joshua Condon, audio

St Paul’s Foley, AL video, audio, text

Bishop Fisher, Diocese of Texas, text

Holy Trinity, NYC, The Rev Mark Collins, audio

The Rev Eric Funston, text

Bishop Andy Doyle, Diocese of Texas, audio

Occasional (but still fairly regular) Postings:
The Rev George Baum
Epiphany NYC, The Rev Jennifer Linman
The Rev Jon M Richardson

Categories: Church, Episcopal, Sermon Review | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A #CCAB outcome

As Episcopal denizens of Twitter already know, this past week was the organizational meeting of the CCAB’s.  I attended as a new member of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education.

As it often does, the appropriate role of social media was a topic for all of the assembled CCAB’s.  There were a number of avid social media users present.  There were a number of people who found the interwebs confusing and new.

I find the appropriate and sensitive use of social media, even and especially at gatherings like this, to be a great tool. (And, let’s be honest, an occasional stress/boredom/loneliness relief.)  I’m working on more to say about a lot of this.

For now though, I want to share one result of our social media presence.  A new Episcopalian followed the #ccab and posed about a question on twitter about which CCAB is dealing with disabilities.  I saw this and connected the tweet with @gaycjen, the current President of the House of Deputies. This lead to an answer.  Which lead to another person chiming in with this:

There are, and will always be, questions about social media and boundaries. About what should be shared and with whom. These are good questions and the Church needs to wrestle with them.

We need to wrestle with them because sometimes beautiful Godly things happen. And if our tradition teaches nothing else, beautiful Godly things are worth the struggle.

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Sermon Review: Proper 13, Ephesians, Baptism, and Eucharist

Sermon Review
Link: Proper 13 8-5-12

Summary of what I was saying and why:
Ephesians 4 starts with a great section on Christian unity. Which is really difficult and we never quite achieve, but we keep practicing. A lot more than you may think. Especially through our baptism and Eucharist.

Theology: Baptismal and Eucharistic theology
Jesus Count: low
Good News: Growing up into the body of which Christ is the head is difficult, but it is made possible because Jesus keeps saying yes first.

What did I change on my feet?
The conclusion got tweaked (it almost always does).
I added back in the comments about Ephesians 4:11–about how we all have different tasks.

What didn’t work/what did I miss?
In my manuscript I had this line: “We say yes at every step–starting at baptism, continuing every time we come to Eucharist, every time we prayerfully make a decision, we say yes.” I feel like the sermon was missing that connective line of theology.

What did work?
I am happy any time I get to make connections between the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible and I am happy every time I talk about Baptism, so I was pretty happy.

What do you think?

Other sermons I liked:
People who preached on the Old Testament:
The Rev Robertson
I’ve long enjoyed Josephine’s work, but anyone willing to say “the Bible doesn’t give you any crap” deserves a mention.
The Rev Toles
Preaching on David and sin, not an easy task but John does it well and with humor.
The Rev Jones
This one had me laughing and mentions donuts and Eucharist. Bonus points for a good Jesus count.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

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Sermon Review: Proper 12, David, Bathsheba, and sex

Sermon Review
Proper 12 6-29-12

Listen to the sermon here

Summary of what I was saying:
David and Bathsheba have sex. Adulterous sex or possibly rape (the text is unclear about motivations). This leads to pregnancy, murder, and marriage.
Both text and Jewish tradition are fairly silent about D&B’s motivations.

Good News: The story is told. Every story–big, little, scary, easy–can be told here. “This, here, is God’s house and every story is important.”

Theology: low anthropology (humans don’t come off so well) but God’s love does

Jesus Count: low

What did I change on my feet?
I cut out a bit about how Christian tradition has treated this story.
I tweaked the very end. It was a minor change that made things better. I hope.

What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I think I started off too slow–could have spent less time on David being King and gotten to the point more directly.
There is a point where instead of saying aggressive I say whatever.

What worked?
I preached on the beginning of David and Bathsheba’s relationship without casting all of the blame on either of them, saying sex is evil, or trying to avoid the fact that this is about sex.
Pastorally, being able to say, “This happened. We have heard your story.” is a good starting place for a lot of people.
(Especially since the Church should be God’s house where every story is important.)

Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Leave a comment and let me know.

Other sermons I liked:
Megan’s
Because we do need to find God and theological insights in the ordinary.
Steve’s
Loved this treatment of Divine possibility and plenitude.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

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A Church where the Preaching is Damn Good Every Time

A few weeks ago I was at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I had a great time. This is not the wrap-up post. Lots of other people have done that and done it well.

One of the many things I did while I was at GC was spend time with the loose coalition of people in TEC who know that Church in the 21st century is going to be different. We have taken up the identity of #Acts8. There is a website, the twitter hashtag, and a few times at GC we began to meet face to face. Because we started here on the interwebs, there is a YouTube video: I dream of a Church.

If you watched the video (and you should) at 3:10 you saw my friend, seminary classmate, and the genius behind “Father Matthew Presents”, the Reverend Matthew Moretz say, “I dream of a Church where the preaching is damn good every time.” While I, and others, loved the things people said that night, a group of us gathered to celebrate this idea. We were enamored of its concreteness. #wherethepreachingneversucks even reappeared as a hashtag.

Emboldened by Acts8, Father Matthew, and the idea of preaching that never sucks, I’m starting something new here. Every week my sermons are recorded and podcasted (points to sidebar). Starting this week (tomorrow!), I will offer a brief review of my sermon here. Good, bad, and otherwise.

Because, as another friend, @davidsibley, says, “I dream of a Church willing to take risks knowing that what God does not bless God will redeem.”

I believe I am a good preacher. I know I have bad weeks. I believe that even my good weeks can be better. So I invite all of you to offer comments, questions, feedback, anything that is constructive.

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Millennials: The End isn’t Coming (short of Jesus’s return)

First, the Church isn’t about to end, be it with a whimper or a bang. We are the inheritors of a tradition that has survived the Ascension of Jesus, outward persecutions, inward persecutions (those heresy debates with permanent conclusions), the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and more. All of this changed the Church. The 21st century and the digital swell will be no different because God is more faithful and creative than we can imagine.

Second (and like unto the first) Millennials aren’t going to manage what the Reformation could not do. The Church will survive us, in fact we could be good for one another.

We creatures called Millennials are just starting to come into our own. The oldest of us have, by most dating, just turned 30. We are at the point where we have been at the tables long enough to know we should be listened to; where we either no longer are alone or know we should no longer be alone; where we can begin to speak about who and how we tend to be.

Not everyone is thrilled by this, of course. We are strange and new and, even if we don’t want to do things in a new way (often true), we do want to do things in old ways that work for us.
We still have much to learn. I know this; I believe that most of us know this. But there are also things that we have to share.

We firmly believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (We tend tone quite orthodox.)
By and large we aren’t worried about the Church dying out because we don’t plan to go anywhere.
We know that the Church isn’t perfect. For many of us that is why we stay.
We know that the Church can be better than we currently are.
We aren’t asking for perfection.
(Also many of us can make the internet do all sorts of things. Not all of us and not every non-Millennial type needs this, but as the melts in your mouth not in your hand candy coating.)

We are not the end of the Church. We are not the future of the Church. We, I, desperately want to be a part of the Church. Because we love this Church. Because we have found Jesus in the liturgy, in and despite our craziness, and we want others to have that same experience.

That is what makes me sad when witness again my generation being ignored.

I say this in part because I do worry about what decisions would be made without the voices of my age-peers spoken and received. (I worry when other groups are not present.)

I say this because I am not interested in creating the Church I might have better liked when I was 14. I am far more interested in reforming the Church today’s 14 year olds might need us to be.

I say this because the more fully my age-peers are in and formed by the Church, the better we the Church will be in the years to come. We are here now, we are capable; being involved, being encouraged and allowed to exercise our gifts in this Church ought only to improve both of us. Surely we can all agree that this mutual investment would be mutually good.

I say this because it is my sincere prayer that I will be able to graciously hand over authority as I can and need to. Set the example of sharing and passing on authority and join me in hoping that we as a Church only get better at this.

We want to be here now. We want to be fully welcomed at all levels of the Church. We want to create The Episcopal Church that people will, if not flock to, be drawn to. Together there is a long way for us all to go.

Categories: Church, Episcopal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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