Thursday, September 1, 2011

Still Alive

This summer has certainly been a long one.  My last post (back in the beginning of June) was as I was finishing a week long residency for the Second 3 Years program.  So much has happened in my life since then, but I will attempt to give you all a glimpse of what has been going on for me these past three months.

After the Second 3 Years residency in Virginia, I got back to Cincinnati just in time to go to the priesthood ordinations for two friends in my diocese and pack for another week long trip.  This time, it was to a small town in Tennessee with a group of youth for St. Timothy's annual trip for the Appalachian Service Project.  If you've never heard of ASP, the best way to describe it is as a relationship ministry that does home repair on the side.  While we did a lot of physical labor down there, the bigger labor was that of love.  We all grew close to the families we worked with and found that leaving them behind at the end of the week was a difficult task.  We also grew closer to each other.  During that week, new friendships were made, and old ones were strengthened.

We returned from that trip with just enough time for me to prepare for a week of Vacation Bible School with over 200 kids.  Along with three helpers, I led a group of 23 fifth graders on what was, essentially, a Christian themed field day that lasted for five.  I don't need to tell you how intense this week was (especially to all you teachers out there who deal with groups like this without additional help). As hectic and draining as this week was, it was still a wonderful week, ending in time for me to gather myself and prepare for my last Sunday at St. Timothy's.

Many of you already know that my two-year residency at St. Timothy's ended on June 30, with June 26 being my last Sunday.  Leaving a place that feels like home is always paired with at least a little sadness, but I was able to also leave with a great sense of happiness at time well spent with people who loved me and helped me grow into my ministry.  To all of you from St. Timothy's who are reading this, thank you so much for helping to prepare me for wherever I was to be called after leaving you.  To those of you not yet aware, I left St. Timothy's without knowing where my next step would be.

At the end of June, I packed up my apartment and moved almost everything into storage.  The next five weeks were spent as the "Super Sub" chaplain at Procter for our diocesan summer camps.  Again, while my time spent there was physically draining, I have nothing but fond memories of my summer spent at camp.  Three weeks in, I received a call to be the Priest-In-Charge of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Dayton, OH.  The hours following that were filled with rejoicing and celebrating with the staff and youth who were at camp that week.

After camp ended, I finally gave myself a chance to take a break.  With a couple weeks until I was to start at St. Andrew's, I took the opportunity go on an actual vacation: a four-day cruise to the Bahamas with my girlfriend!  Neither of us had been on a cruise before, but we'd both readily go again.  We got back from the cruise with enough time to catch our breath and relax before moving day arrived.

After a long and wonderful summer, moving day finally arrived a week and a half ago.  Today was day one at St. Andrew's.  I'm eagerly looking forward to many more days to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Second Three Years

After a bit of a hiatus from blogging, I'm back.  I simply could not let this week go by without a post.  After 2 years of ministry, I am back on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary.  Why am I here?  2 years ago, (it's been 2 years already?) toward the end of my senior year in seminary, my class was offered the opportunity to participate in the Second 3 Years program.  This primary purpose of this program is to continue the formation that began in seminary (i.e. the first 3 years) through the early part of our ministry after graduation.  It seems like only a month or so has passed since I was last here, but there have been a few changes on campus since I graduated, though.

First, and I've written about this before, the seminary chapel burned down last October.  When I arrived on campus on Sunday, I saw the "ruins" for the first time with my own eyes.  This, of course, has led to other changes.  Since the formation of future leaders of the church is kind of a big deal here, the seminary needed some place to hold worship services.  What was once a sort of communal gathering space just outside the refectory has become the prayer hall.  Since the seminary will not have a usable chapel building for at least the next few years and having the usual gathering space is an important part of being a community, the auditorium in which I received my diploma is being leveled in order to become the new temporary worship place.  Perhaps the most startling change has been the conversion of the small dining room (a room I remember as a place where they stored extra chairs) has become the 1823 Café.  They are still waiting for their liquor license, but this is sure to become a favorite hangout spot on campus.

Some things, however, have not changed.  I am staying in one of the student dorms, and I have no idea how I managed to sleep on a twin bed all 3 years of seminary.

This week has been a long one.  Our days would start with Morning Prayer at 8:30 am, and we have had some form of continuing education workshop every day, sometimes not finishing our days until an 8:30 pm Compline service.  While I have certainly learned a lot this week, what I will take away the most is the opportunity that I have had to reconnect with friends and colleagues.  Sadly, I must once again leave this amazing group of people to rejoin the rest of the world.  I am so very happy to be a member of the VTS Class of 2009, and I look forward to keeping in touch with my class mates as we all continue to grow in our ministries.

PS - I am not the only one of my class with a blog.  Take some time to check out their blogs:

Rev. Mibi

Not Graceful but Grace Filled

Friday, May 13, 2011

Time Flies

This week I have been seeing a lot of status updates on Facebook about last papers turned in and receiving invitations to multiple ordinations.  Suddenly, I realized that this year's graduating class from Virginia Theological Seminar is the last class of students that I studied with.  It's amazing how fast the years have come and gone.  I can still remember showing up to campus and meeting this new class that had already formed such a strong bond with each other.

I must say that seeing all these Facebook events for ordination services has me so excited for the future of the church.  Sadly, I will not be able to attend most of them, but I will definitely be keeping the entire class in my prayers as they get ready for commencement and ordination.  This past year has been difficult for those of us with ties to VTS, and I can only imagine that difficulty being magnified for the current students.  

Back in October, the 200+ year-old chapel at VTS burned down.  A Google image search of VTS chapel fire will bring up sad results.  The chapel was more than just a worship space.  It was a place where future leaders of the church were formed.  It was a place where the entire community would gather together to celebrate our common life.  Looking at the pictures today, I still struggle with the loss, not of a physical space, but of a spiritual and sacred space.  The plans for what will be done with the ruins of the 1881 chapel have just been released.  If that were not enough, a member of this year's graduating class passed away less than 2 weeks ago.  It is sad to think of how much has been lost this past year.

With all of this sadness, my prayer is that this year's graduating class never lose sight of hope.  Though the chapel has been lost, the message over the stained glass window behind the altar is still in our hearts: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.

VTS Class of 2011, God's blessing be on you all and guide your footsteps all the days of your life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Is This Feeling?

I have a feeling that just about everyone reading this can remember where they were on September 11, 2001.  I found out what had happened when I showed up to my scientific physics class at Westerville South High School.  As I walked into the room, the tv that always hung in the corner (in case we had a video to watch in class) was turned on and tuned in to a news channel.  There was an image of some building and a lot of smoke.  My first thought was that we were going to do some interesting work with fluid dynamics or a study on how fire spread through a burning building.  It didn't take long for me to realize that we weren't going to have a physics lesson that day.  Instead, we all sat or stood in shock at the news we were receiving.

My most prominent memory of that time is that I couldn't seem to process anything.  The events of the day leading up to that moment are fairly clear in my memory.  I left my French 3 class and made a stop in the commons to buy a bag of Harvest Cheddar Sunchips to eat on the way to physics.  From the point of entering the classroom on, things are a bit hazy.  The one thought I can remember having is simply wondering if this was real or just some elaborate hoax.  As far as emotions go, I don't remember feeling anything.

Last night, I got a text message from a dear friend saying that Osama bin Laden was dead.  Perhaps it's because I haven't fully recovered from Holy Week and Easter yet.  Perhaps it was that it was so late after a long Sunday.  Perhaps it was that the news was simply too much for me to take in.  Regardless of why, I remember having that same feeling of emptiness as I tried to process the news that Osama bin Laden was dead.  This is where the beauty of social networking has, once again, been made unavoidably present in my life. As I was spending some time on Facebook today, I noticed that a lot of my friends have posted something about this news.  The best news to me is that, so far, most of these posts, while using different words, are all saying the same thing.  This is probably best summed up by Todd: "Celebrating death is tacky.  Please stop."  A number of other posts have gone on to include prayers and Bible passages to more fully express why celebrating death (even of a known terrorist) is "tacky".

On friend made a post to his blog called Mourning After.  Another wrote a note on Facebook explaining his reflections.  Others simply quote Scripture ("But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" -Luke 6:27; "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble" -Proverbs 24:17; "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?" - Ezekiel 18:23) and prayers:
"O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." -Prayer For our Enemies, Book of Common Prayer, p. 816
Many thanks to all of my friends who have helped me to process this situation and reminded me once again of the difficult and seemingly counter-intuitive way of life we Christians are called to follow.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Old Material, New Post

About 2 years ago, I took a course on the first 11 chapters of Genesis.  One of the final assignments in that class was a creative presentation based on something found in those chapters.  For your reading pleasure, I present to you my first attempt retelling a biblical story through poetry.

I should note that Gates was one of my classmates, and he referred to a poem by Wendell Berry in his presentation the week before I did mine.  Joyce Kilmer is the author of the poem "Trees", which is quoted towards the end of my poem. I'm sure most of you will recognize this famous poem in my first two lines.  Also, I'll try to make the strategic pauses noticeable as this poem was meant to be heard, not read silently. (The class was not aware it was a poem until after I had started.)
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
Last week, Gates inspired me
to do something with poetry.

By now...I'm sure that most of you can see
that I am speaking rather candidly.
I decided to be as plain as can be
And am putting forth rhymes blatantly

Last week's poem was heard problematically
By those of us who think mathematically
And its rhyming scheme A B C
Followed by D E F and G.

Maybe repeating an A or a B,
But thus ends the rhymes of Wendell Berry.
Now back to that poem about a lovely tree
Of which Joyce Kilmer does speak rather highly.

In the beginning there was a garden, you see,
And in the middle of which there was a tree.
Right there in the middle, it did stand freely
Created by God, it showed its beauty

This poem talks of such things so poetically
That I felt I had to share it with all of...
This poem is so beautiful, you'll see.
Just follow it...
    for a bit...
    with me.

Roses are red, violets are blue...

No, that's not it at all
I want to speak of a time before the Fall.
Please forgive me, I've lost my place.
Let's go back to the start of the human race.

When God sat down and created we
(I know I'm not speaking grammatically)
God created us so that we could be
Forever with God in eternity.

But all of that changed when they ate from the tree
That the Lord God had made so beautifully.
And this rhyme has gone on rather endlessly.
I will change it before we reach infinity.

That crafty serpent, oh so clever
Asked of Eve if she could never
Eat of any tree made by the Lord God.
A question that, I'm sure, sounded odd.

For God had told Adam in words quite clear
Of the foods they could eat in the garden, here.
And Adam, I'm sure, told his partner, Eve,
Who one day unto him would surely cleave

But I've jumped ahead in this narrative story.
(I've gone back to that rhyme! I'm terribly sorry.)
Let's get back to the question, there's much at stake.
And this was Eve's response to that crafty snake.

She stood, defiant, and lifted her head
And told that snake what she thought God said.
"'Of the trees in the garden you are free to eat
All of those that bear fruit which taste so sweet

"Except for the tree that stands in the middle.'
It's placement here is, to me, a riddle.
God said this, I don't know why.
On the day that we eat it or touch it we'll die."

But the serpent said, "Oh, that's a lie.
Surely this fruit will not cause you to die.
Take a look at the fruit, it's juicy and sweet.
Just the perfect thing for you to eat.

"God knows that this fruit will make you wise,
And there can be no equals in God's eyes.
You will know good and evil if you eat of its fruit,
And, if Adam also eats, he'll be less of a brute."

Eve stood there. She was almost sold
After hearing the story the serpent told.
She stood and looked at the tree in awe.
A magnificent view, I'm sure, she saw.

She started to turn herself around,
But then she heard a compelling sound.
Soft, but clear, she heard the serpent's voice
Reciting the words of Kilmer, Joyce:

"I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

"A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

"Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems were made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."

I tell you all, it's not quite often
That we get to see the cinch in our coffin.
But there it was when Eve did take
The fruit of the tree that God did make

She took a bite of the fruit so sweet
And gave to Adam for him to eat
What was the fruit? An apple or pear?
I do not know (I wasn't there)

This, sadly, is where my story ends
But where our collective history begins:
When Eve in a new light did see
The knowledge of good and evil tree.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Alleluia! Christ Is Risen!

With us celebrating Christ's resurrection, I wanted to highlight another resurrection of sorts.  This blog started out as my 2011 Lenten discipline.  So far, I have successfully posted every day, Monday through Saturday, with only small exceptions.  Over this period of time, I have realized how beneficial blogging has been as a spiritual practice for me.  Therefore, I have officially decided to continue this blog even now that Lent is finished.  I will not be posting daily as I was during Lent, but I will continue to post a blog at least once a week.  Thank you to everyone who has followed me on this journey.  I look forward to continuing down this road with you to see where it goes.

The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday, Batman!

We have finally arrived at the last day of Lent, Holy Saturday.  Like yesterday, I ask you to not jump ahead to Easter just yet.  Let us take today as a sabbath day to rest and rejuvenate ourselves as we remember the day the crucified Christ lay in the tomb.  Easter will be here soon enough, and we can rejoice together in the resurrection then.  For now, let us wait with anticipation of the glory to come.

Collect for Holy Saturday
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Also, stay tuned for an Easter post tomorrow.  I know I stated earlier that I would not do any posts on Sundays, but I believe that Easter presents a special occasion.  Until then, enjoy this list of things Robin thinks are holy:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Earth Friday

Today is Good Friday.  We have been in the season of Lent for almost the full 40 days now, and we finally arrive at the foot of the cross.  We remember this day as the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us.  Today is also Earth Day.  I think honoring both of these days together is rather appropriate.  As we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we should also strive to follow in his example by making sacrifices for that over which we have been given dominion.

I know this is a little late, but Pyllis Strupp has given some ideas on how we can celebrate Earth Day and Good Friday together. If you have time, I invite you to try as many of these as you can with what little time there is left in the day.  I also invite you to take the time to not jump ahead to Easter just yet.  Remain at the foot of the cross for a while longer.  I'm sure that, if you do, Easter morning will be that much greater.

Collect for Good Friday
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Is Monday On Thursday?

Holy Week is coming to its close.  Tomorrow is Good Friday, when we take even more time than usual to focus on the sacrifice Christ made on the cross.  Today, however, we remember the events that took place the night before. We recall the some of these events every Sunday in the Eucharistic Prayer:
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take,eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me."

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me." -BCP pp. 362-363
What many of us will be remembering in the Maundy Thursday services tonight is something else that Jesus did that night.  Jesus washed the disciples' feet and, in so doing, gave us an example that, in order to be like Jesus, we must seek to be servants, not masters.  

I do not recall the sermon preached at last year's Maundy Thursday service, but I do remember, with distinct detail, a sacramental moment from that service.  We had last year's confirmation class serve as t the foot-washers.  One of them in particular sticks out in my mind.  His mom had come up and gone to him to have her feet washed.  When she went back to her pew, he noticed his father had not come up.  He immediately started making large gestures in front of the entire church in order to convince his father to come forward so that he could wash his father's feet.  How special it was to see this young man so enthusiastic about becoming a servant for his parents.

This Thursday, remember that we are called to serve others and that we can continually come back to the gift Christ instituted for us that night every time we gather around the altar.

Collect for Maundy Thursday
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maybe I Just Need to Pray More...

Have you ever heard that, if you're a good Christian, you'll have an easy life?  If you were to pray more, attend services more often, tithe the right amount, your life would be without any suffering?  I know that I have heard this message far too often, and, if you've also heard this message, forget it.

I don't know where this message came from.  Unfortunately, suffering is a part of life.  Being "better" Christians won't save us from suffering.  In fact, being a better Christian means, sometimes, we must face our hardships and not run away from them.  "I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting." -Isaiah 50:6.  "But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." -Matthew 5:39

There is no time better than Holy Week to see the truth of this.  This week, we focus on the suffering that Christ endured on our behalf.  He was beaten, mocked and killed.  Our hope lies in our knowledge that neither suffering nor death is the end of the story.  When we face hardships in our lives, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus suffers with us and is continually able to raise us to new life in him.  "Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart." -Hebrews 12:3.  This Holy Week, acknowledge the hardships of your life and allow the knowledge of the glory to come carry you through them.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Glory in the Cross

Have you ever thought about how odd it is that, as Christians, we wear an ancient symbol of execution as jewelery?  I remember having a conversation about this when I was in high school, and I know that many others have asked that question as well.

St. Paul said it best in his first letter to the church in Corinth: "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians:18)  According to the "wisdom" of secular society, trying to find hope in an instrument of death simply does not make sense.  We know something different from society, though.  We know that, though the cross was used as the execution device that killed Jesus, death was not the end.  This tortuous, shameful form of execution was only another part of the story.  We know that, even in death, hope is not truly lost.  Life is not truly lost.  In fact, Christ's death and resurrection is where we find our lives.

Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week Starts Now

I apologize again for the break in daily updates.  The last two posts on my favorite Bible stories have been posted.

Welcome to Holy Week!  Just yesterday, we remembered Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  He was treated like a king returning to the Holy City.  Of course, we crammed in the Passion narrative as well.  This week, we will go over Jesus' Passion again, but we will do so in a more deliberate manner.  We will take our time going down this road with Jesus and allow ourselves to be immersed in the events "about" to take place.  While we know that Easter is soon approaching, we are taking this time to more fully acknowledge all that happened before.

On Ash Wednesday, we were all invited to the observance of a holy Lent.  Now that Holy Week is here, we have but a short way to go.  Continue in the practice of self-examination and repentance.  Continue in your Lenten disciplines.  Continue in reading and meditating on God's holy Word.  This is certainly a busy time of year, but I invite you today to continue in observing a holy Lent.  Observe a holy Holy Week.  If you can, make time to go to a local church's services each day this week.

The path of Lent is coming to its close, and Easter is almost upon us.  Let us walk this road together and prepare for the great joy to come.

A Story of Gargantuan Proportions

Who doesn't enjoy the story of David and Goliath?  It's a true underdog story with a young boy pitted against a giant.  This story is even longer than the others I've posted, so you'll really have to just check out the full text here to get all of it.  I'll just be covering a few of my favorite sections.

I think the main reason I like this story is how easy it is for me to identify with David.  This is primarily due to David's size.  This may be difficult for those of you who have only known me for less than 10 years, but I used to be a very tiny person.  I was so small that my grandmother thought that I wasn't getting enough food to eat.  Growing up as such a small child and being surrounded by people so much bigger than me, hearing a story about the little conquering the big was, in a sense, a story of hope.

Another character trait that I love about David is his spirit.  David knew that he had a big task ahead of him, but instead of going out to meet Goliath with fear, he meets with these words:
‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’-1 Samuel 17:45-47
David, who was so small he couldn't even wear battle armor to go up against Goliath, was certain of victory at the hand of God.  Hopefully we can all find this confidence when we are going up against what seem to be insurmountable odds.

That's Quite a DEN You're Making!

I have yet another story from the book of Daniel, and I'm fairly confident that you've already been able to guess what it is.  Daniel in the Lions' Den.  Again, the story is a long one, so read the full text here if you'd like more than my summary.

Daniel has already proven to be very wise and skilled in interpretation.  Though a foreigner, he constantly finds himself rising to the top of the current king's list of favorite servants/officials.  In Daniel 6, the same is true.  So much so, in fact, that King Darius plans to appoint Daniel as a president over the whole kingdom. This plan leads to the other officials seeking to find some complaint against Daniel.  Of course, they can find no complaint against Daniel, so they conspire to get the king to establish and sign an ordinance that would make it illegal to pray to anyone except the king.  Being the righteous man that he is, Daniel continues to pray to God.  The king, possibly realizing that these other officials had set a trap for Daniel, tries to defend Daniel, but cannot revoke the law he has passed.  The sentence for Daniel is that he must be thrown into a den of lions.  The end result, as I'm sure you already know, is that the Daniel came out of the den unscathed.  This leads to the king writing a decree to go out to the entire world:
I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring for ever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions. -Daniel 6:26-27
This is truly what I like most about this story.  Yes, it's great that Daniel has such great faith and devotion that he continues to honor God even when it goes against the king's ordinance.  Yes, it's great that, because of such devotion, God spares Daniel from the lions.  What impresses me even more, however, is that all of this leads to King Darius honoring God and making a royal decree that everyone should do the same.  It is my sincerest hope that I can be that kind of example to others.  People who know me will know God, not because I have found some way to debate and convince them, but because of my faith and devotion.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah

Another one of my favorite stories from Daniel is the story of the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace.  As you may recall, their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  What may be slightly less familiar to you is that those were not their real names.  In the first chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, and Judah falls into his power.  After this, he calls for young men from Israel to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.  Four of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  As a way of expressing that they were now servants of the king of Babylon, they were given Babylonian names.  This is another situation where knowing the meaning behind there names can give us a bit more insight into the significance of these changes.  Here are the (approximate) meanings of their names. both before and after they were changed:

Daniel - God is my judge
Belteshazzar - Bel/Ba'al/Marduk (Babylonian gods) protect the king

Hananiah - God is gracious
Shadrach - Command of Aku (Babylonian god of the moon)

Mishael -Who is what God is?
Meshach -(possibly means) who is what Aku is?

Azariah - God has helped
Abednego - Servant of Nebo (Babylonian god of wisdom)
As you can see, their new names strip away references to God and replace them with references to Babylonian gods.  Now, on to the story of the fiery furnace.  As with yesterday's story, I will give a brief summary, but you can find the whole story here.

King Nebuchadnezzar has a giant, golden statue of himself built and sends out a royal decree that everyone was to worship this statue.  Anyone caught not worshiping the statue was to be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the statue.  They are brought before the king and given another chance to worship the statue or be thrown into the furnace.  He said to them
'[If] you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?’

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’ -Daniel 3:15-18
The king, filled with rage, orders the furnace to be heated up to seven times its normal temperature and has the three young men thrown in.  When the king looks into the furnace, he sees that, not only are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around in the furnace unharmed, there is a fourth man walking in the fire that has the appearance of a god.  The king then asks the three men to come out of the furnace and, when they do, sees that they show no signs of having been in the fire at all.  They don't even smell like fire.  The king is so impressed by their devotion to (and deliverance by) God, he promoted them in Babylon and proclaimed, "'Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’" -Daniel 3:29

While their deliverance from the furnace is amazing, I find their devotion to God that much more so.  They knew that God was capable of saving them from the fiery furnace, but they were still going to be devoted to God even if they were not saved.  I pray that we may all find that kind of devotion.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing On The Wall

Daniel is one of my favorite books in the Bible. There are so many different stories that I enjoy from Daniel, so the next few days will be all about Daniel (or his friends, but that's for another day). Today, as you may have guessed from the title, I'll be talking about the writing on the wall as found in Daniel 5. Since this story is the entire chapter, I'll give a brief summary of the story instead of the full text (but feel free to read the whole story here).

Essentially, this story begins with the king of Babylon, along with his lords, wives and concubines, defiling vessels his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem.  A hand appears and writes a message on the wall.  The king, who is understandably terrified at this point, tries to find someone in his kingdom who can interpret the message.  None of his wise men can, but the queen remembered a man whom, because of his ability to interpret dreams and solve puzzles, the king's father highly regarded.  This man was Daniel, and he interpreted the message on the wall after rebuking the king for his inability to honor "the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways."
"And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’" -Daniel 5:25-28
 That night, the king was killed and a Mede received the kingdom.

One of the things I like about this story is the simple "justice" aspect: If you mess with God's stuff, you might end up dead.  My favorite part of this story, however, is the interpretation of the message.  Daniel tells the king why the message appears before interpreting it, then uses the words of the message as a form of passing judgment against the king. 

Tomorrow, look for another story from Daniel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tibia Connected to the Patella

As noted at the end of yesterday's blog, I will be focusing on some of my favorite Bible stories this week.  Today, I'd like to highlight this past Sunday's Old Testament lesson: The Valley of Dry Bones.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.
-Ezekiel 37:1-14
One of the reasons this is my favorite passage is that the transition from very dry bones to living, breathing beings is a 2-step process.  First, Ezekiel prophesies as the Lord commanded, and the bones come together, sinew and flesh and skin all come upon the bones, but they are not alive.  It is not until Ezekiel prophesies a second time and the breath comes into them that they can live.  The word used for breath (ruach) can also mean spirit and is the same word used in the Creation account in Genesis 1 for the spirit of God.  The connection this makes for me is that, even with everything else necessary in place, I cannot truly be alive until I have the spirit of God on my very breath.  May you find God's spirit in your life this day and always.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Let My People Go!

There are many stories in the Bible that, for as long as I can remember, have always captivated me.  One of those is the story of the Exodus from Egypt (the actual narrative portion, not the section on the laws).  Perhaps this is due in large part to the fact that one of my favorite church songs is based on this story (bonus points if you can guess the song). 

It is easy to see the fascination that so many people have with this story.  So many spirituals have been sung about this, and who could forget Charlton Heston's role as Moses?  This is such a wonderful story of a people who were once in captivity yet have gained there freedom through the grace of God.  The road wasn't always easy, and the people complained a lot along the way, but they eventually make it to the promised land.

I've already posted a blog about my desire to find connections between church and technology, so you can imagine my excitement when, earlier today, I came across a video of how the Exodus may have happened had Moses had access to Google, Twitter, Facebook and other similar technologies.  Towards the end of last year, I found a similar video titled "Advent 2.0".  These videos are a great way to reinterpret these ancient yet relevant stories for us through the lens of our current society.  For your viewing pleasure, I have posted "Google Exodus" below.  I especially like all of the random references that can be found throughout the video (e.g. translating "Let my people go" from Hebrew to Egyptian.  You may want to watch the video a couple times and see if you can catch some more of these references.

PS - Stay tuned for more of my favorite Bible stories throughout this week.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

El Hogar

Last summer, I went down to Honduras with 10 youth and 2 other adults from St. Timothy's.  We were there on a mission trip to El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza (The Home of Love and Hope).  El Hogar is a mission of the Episcopal Church in Honduras that is committed "to provide a loving home and education in a Christian environment for abandoned, orphaned and hopelessly poor children, enabling them to fulfill their ultimate potential as productive human beings in Honduras." (El Hogar Website)  Our group stayed there for a week, learning more about El Hogar and working directly with the kids there.  I cannot begin to describe how important El Hogar is in providing these kids with a healthy, loving alternative to the gang life that is so prevalent in Honduras.  Today, I'm writing about El Hogar because there are a number of different ways that we can all do something to assist them in their mission, even if we are not able to actually spend time there. 

First, on May 1 at 6:30pm, St. Timothy's will be hosting One Voice for El Hogar, an evening devoted to celebrating the life-changing ministry of El Hogar.  Money raised from the ticket sales to this event will be used to assist with funding the teachers and programs at El Hogar.  If you will be in Cincinnati that evening, please consider purchasing tickets online or at one of the participating churches.

Another way you can do something to help El Hogar is to purchase items from Amazon.  Any purchase you make from Amazon after clicking on this link will automatically donate 4% of your total to El Hogar.  Amazon pays this donation and will not charge you any extra

Additionally, there are many churches that are planning mission trips to El Hogar.  You could either participate in one of these church trips (though there's often limited availability) or donate items for the mission teams to take with them when they go.

There are many ways you can give assistance to El Hogar.  Please consider doing something to help out with their mission.  I'm sure that the 250 children currently at the school will be very appreciative of even the tiniest help you can provide.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I have always felt that it was a shame that we tend to spend so little time focusing on the psalms.  The entire range of human emotion can be found in them, and I think reading them and studying them more often can really open us up and allow us to really bring every part of our selves to God.  If nothing else, there is so much beautiful language there that can help us put words to how we are feeling.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the most familiar psalms to us.  This is the psalm we typically read at funerals and hear "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."  These words are a comfort to us in a time of need, but there is so much more inside.  Every month at St. Timothy's, we invite a 5th or 6th grader to speak in front of the congregation about their experience in church school.  For one young boy, he only needed to get 5 words into Psalm 23 to find meaning.  "'The Lord is my shepherd.'  What more do I need to know?"  I remember hearing him say this and thinking to myself, "Wow.  Here's a kid who really gets it."

The psalms, however, provide more than just comforting words.  They can put a voice to our anger and frustration.  Take the first verse of Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?"  Much of the time, we can convince ourselves that crying out to God and expressing our frustration means that we don't have enough faith.  We end up believing that expressing our anger in this way is something we shouldn't do as "good" Christians.  These psalms legitimize our deepest, rawest emotions.  Even Jesus cries out with these words from the cross.

There is so much more that can be found in the psalms.  Take some time to honestly read through them.  Don't be afraid to take some of the words you find there to express your joys and sorrows, love and anger, happiness and frustration.  Let the psalms be a prayer book for you, allowing to fully bring yourself before God.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Walking Humbly

I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time trying to figure out everything I have to do.  Yes, I have a calendar and a to-do list here and there with my responsibilities on them, but keeping them updated and prioritizing them can be a real hassle, especially when immediate tasks arise that throw off my schedule.  Then, there's always the possibility that my electronic calendars don't sync as fast as I think they do, and I end up accidentally scheduling myself to be in multiple places at once.  How fortunate I am that, in the midst of all of this worry about what is required of me, I should come across this passage:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?
                     -Micah 6:8
I may not get every minute detail of my schedule done every day, but I can definitely make sure that, whatever I'm doing, it is falls into at least one of these three categories.

Do Justice
I admit that there are many different perceptions of what justice means out there.  I think, however, that the heart of this matter is to deal with ourselves and others as fairly as possible.  To do this, we must learn to see more than just action and consequence.  Also, we must learn to accept that, ultimately, God's justice is the only justice that really matters.

Love Kindnes
The word kindness here should not be confused with phrases like "be kind, rewind."  This is not about being nice.  The word used here is the same word that is used to express God's loving kindness to us.  Loving kindness is about honoring this relationship that we all have with God, knowing that every relationship is different.

Walk Humbly
This last requirement is about our egos.  It is all too easy to get to a certain point in our lives and start expecting that we deserve, or have earned, everything that we have.  Sometimes, we can even feel that we should have more.  The truth is, we can never earn God's love.  There is no point in our lives in which we will deserve God's love outside of God's desire to love us.

Today, and every day, I invite you to live out these requirements.  Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with your God.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Today is the Day

Of the memories I have from seminary, there are a few that really stand out.  One of them is from the first three weeks.  I was sitting down at breakfast, making sure to get enough brain food to get me through my Hebrew class that morning.  In walks Samuel in a really nice suit.  As far as I knew, there was nothing special going on in our Hebrew class that day and there were no events planned at the seminary, so I asked Samuel why he was so dressed up.  He responded with, "Oh Christopher!  Today is the day that the Lord has made!"  That was it.  He decided to put on a suit and tie to come to breakfast and learn Hebrew all because it was a day the Lord had made.

Samuel was, of course, quoting the first half of Psalm 118:24.  The second half reads, "let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Many of us have heard time and again how being dressed up helps lift one's spirit.  There have certainly been days in my life where I've dressed up just to have that extra boost of confidence throughout the day.  I must say that it is definitely easier to rejoice when you are feeling good about yourself.

When is the last time that you dressed up just for the sake of dressing up?  I do not mean dressing up because you were going somewhere special or you have to follow some dress code.  I mean dressing up just to grab some breakfast and catch up with friends.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that you where a tux or prom-style dress to eat at First Watch.  I am merely inviting you to put on an outfit that is a cut above your normal "casual" attire and see if that adds a little boost to your day.  Whatever you do, remember that each day is a day made by the Lord.  Find some way to rejoice and be glad in them all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's In A Name?

Over the past few years, I have picked up a few nick names.  Many of my classmates in seminary liked to call me C-Rich.  When I was ordained, some of my nephews started referring to me as Father Uncle Christopher.  More recently, I obtained the moniker Diesel Jesus over the course of a couple diocesan youth events.  Being known as Diesel Jesus became confusing as soon as someone shortened it to DJ (for those not in the know, DJ is my brother).  While I have welcomed all of these different names, DJ aside, I still prefer to go mainly by Christopher (don't worry if you've slipped and called me Chris).  Names are a large part of our identity.  In some ways, our names define us.  There have been a number of studies that suggest names given at birth can have an effect on how people develop and are perceived well into adulthood. 

Why am I spending all this time talking about names? Beyond the connotations that we currently associate with names, every name has an inherent meaning.  My name, for example, means Christ bearer.  This seems especially appropriate given my current vocation.  The same is true for names found in the Bible.  In fact, biblical names are often important to the particular stories in which they can be found.  In the beginning of the book of Ruth, we are introduced to a family.  This family has two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  These names don't mean anything to us, but, if we were ancient Israelites hearing this story, we would hear Mahlon and Chillion as (roughly translated) Sickly Little Guy and Weakening Little Guy.  Sure enough, they both die just three verses after they're introduced.  Not only are they characters in the story, their names give them their role in the story as well.  Biblical names are not always as morbid. 

I Samuel begins with an account of a woman who becomes so upset over the fact that she cannot bear children that she weeps is unable to eat.  She prays and prays for God to grant her a child.  Eventually, she conceives and gives birth to a son whom she names Samuel (which means God hears).  Not only is Samuel the result of God hearing his mother's prayers, Samuel goes on to be a prophet, or one who hears God.

We all have a role in the story of our lives.  If you are struggling to figure out what your role in life is, perhaps you can find some direction in your name.  I just hope you have a better name than Mahlon or Chilion.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Free At Last

43 years ago today, a man was shot and killed for preaching a message across America that many did not want to hear.  He was preaching a message of resisting oppression through non-violent means and sought for equality among all peoples.  When he won the Nobel Peace Price 4 years prior, he stated that he refused "to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."  He believed that, one day, we would truly be living out that passage from Isaiah wherein the wolf will live with the lamb.  This man, of course, is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today, April 4, we honor his memory and recognize him as a martyr.

I don't need to tell you how important Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work was to the Civil Rights Movement.  You most likely have heard his speech in which he proclaims his dream for the future of America (if not, please click here).  Therefore, I am not going to try and give you some nugget of information I think you may be lacking.  I'm not going to try and provide some previously unattained epiphany on MLK's life and witness.  Instead, I ask you to pray with me.  

I ask you to pray that, one day, our nation's present will be the future he dreamed of.  Pray that, one day, our world will no longer know violence and oppression.  Pray that our world will know a time when justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.  Pray with me the prayer that people all across the Church are praying today:

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Calypso Psalms

Any time I think about Psalm 136, I hear in my head the Hebrew words being sung to the tune of the Banana Boat Song.  We used to sing this psalm in my Hebrew class.  Sadly, I couldn't find the version that plays in my head, but here's the best I can find to give you an idea of what I hear:

I think that my favorite aspect of Psalm 136 is the repeating "refrain" that runs throughout the whole thing.  They serve as an excellent reminder of why we should be giving thanks to God.  "For his steadfast love endures forever."  This is a reminder not only of God's love for us, but also as a reminder of why God has done so much on behalf of all creation.

As I mentioned in my post on Thursday, I don't know if we'll ever know why God loves us so much.  If you are looking for some proof that God loves us, however, read Psalm 136 and see how much God has done out of steadfast love for us.  There is so much more that God has done that is not even included in the psalm.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" -John 3:16

Today, I invite you to give thanks to God for the love that has been shown to us and our world throughout history.  If you want to give your thanks with a bit of a calypso beat, so much the better.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Message from the Bishop

In lieu of my usual post, below is an email that was sent today by my bishop.  Please take the time to read it.  

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,  
As I write this, we are approaching the Fourth Sunday of Lent, sometimes known as "Refreshment Sunday" - a time to take a deep breath and regroup for the final approach to Holy Week and Easter. So far, our Lent has proceeded against the backdrop of painful world events. We have all been disheartened by the deteriorating situation in Japan, and increasingly preoccupied with the conflict in Libya and our participation in it.
These things may seem like intrusions on our spiritual journey. We may feel that they keep us from focusing our thoughts on God, or, worse yet, that they cause us to doubt the existence or goodness of God. But, in fact, it is precisely our faith in Christ that helps us to face the challenge of human fragility in the face of an earthquake and a tsunami, or the reality of human cruelty in the face of dictatorship whenever and wherever it arises.
There are no easy answers here. But the Christian tradition does offer guidance. With regard to natural disaster, Scripture calls us over and over to embrace the physical universe as a good thing. This includes our own existence as physical beings. But clearly our embeddedness in the physical universe exposes us to tectonic shifts, violent weather, and all kinds of dangers that are just part of life on a living planet. Is it a good thing for us to be flesh and blood, to be children of such an earth? Is it worth the cost?
Again, there are no easy answers, but it does matter that we are followers of Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh. The world was made through him, yet he became fully part of this world. In doing so, he affirmed that earthly existence is something good - something to be redeemed, not done away with. It follows that our physical existence has deep spiritual meaning. Our bodies are not a mere add-on to what and who we truly are. We are of the earth and totally connected to the earth.  In the resurrection we will have bodies, even though we cannot now imagine what that will look like. Are we not then called as Christians to love the earth, from which our bodies are derived and to which they return when we die? If earth is our home base, should we not care for her, even when this may involve sacrifice, and should we not embrace our nature as her children, even when this means our vulnerability to natural disaster?
I speak as one who has not suffered directly from anything like Katrina, or the tornadoes that ravaged Xenia and Montgomery years ago, or the floods that afflicted our sister diocese in Ohio not long ago. But I will never forget the night about twenty-five years ago when I learned that a number of ninth-graders at Oregon Episcopal School had perished on Mount Hood in an unanticipated May snowstorm while on an annual school-sponsored wilderness adventure. Two of those ninth-graders had been in my youth group in Portland. If you are flying into Portland from the east, you pass by Mt. Hood on your left. For many years, I could not bear to look at that beautiful mountain, either from the air or from the safer distance of the city. I am only now just beginning to "forgive" Mount Hood for its treachery.
Of course, it is God whom I am daring to forgive - God, who made the mountains, and snowstorms, and the children themselves. No easy answers. But I will not be shaken from my conviction that God is love, and Mt. Hood is part of that. Why? Because Jesus died on the cross to make God's love known. This is why we can stand, Sunday after Sunday, offering to God our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Japan, knowing that God is ultimately responsible, yet confident that God, who knows every victim of the Japanese tsunami by name, is holding each of them close in ways we cannot imagine.
On a much smaller scale, Margaret's father, Ross Garner, died on March 18. He would have been ninety-seven on March 28th. My father-in-law was a teacher, mentor, and father to me. He loved the Episcopal Church, and had a clear vision of its distinctive mission as an ancient institution aimed at the future. Ross hated Rite 2, and he and I continually argued about this. But he believed in the vitality of our tradition, and struggled in his day for the ordination of women, the acceptance of gays and lesbians, and an open door to Mexican immigrants to Oregon.  May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
As I write this, I am just back from the spring meeting of the House of Bishops at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina. The spring meeting is always a retreat where little business is done - otherwise I would have sent daily updates. We did discuss one matter that affects us all - whether or not to sign onto the proposed Anglican Covenant. The bishops took no position at this time. We all agreed that the proposed Covenant needs to be discussed thoroughly at the diocesan level. Your deputation to the next General Convention (2012) will be engaging you in conversation about this in the coming months. Stay tuned.
May Christ, who refused to turn stones into bread, strengthen us against the temptation to escape life in a world in which stones are stones.
May Christ, who became one with us, and is one with us forever, guide and grace us to serve the whole world he came to save - our human brothers and sisters, all living creatures, and the earth itself: mountains, forests, and oceans.
May Christ save us from all tyrants, and give us grace to witness to the cross of Christ.
In Christ,

Thomas E. Breidenthal
Bishop of Southern Ohio

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ocean Horizon

A few years back, I went on a trip to Virginia Beach with a couple friends from seminary.  One of the things I remember most about that trip was how awe-inspiring it was to stand in the ocean at night and gaze out toward the horizon.  Sadly, there have been too few times since then that I have looked at the stars.  Perhaps it is because I'm a bit of a church nerd (a fact that I'm proud of), but I couldn't help but think of Psalm 8 while I was there.
Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Standing there with my feet in the water and looking out across the Atlantic, I couldn't tell where the ocean met the sky.  I was overwhelmed by how tiny I felt then.  How is it that we who are such a miniscule part of this universe have found favor with God?  The more I think about it, the more I find myself wondering if I'll ever know why God loves us.  Perhaps we're not meant to know why.  Perhaps we should be able to rest just knowing that God does love us.

Even though none of us are perfect and, as this week's collect puts it, "we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves" (BCP p. 218), God has chosen to love us and grant us the wonder that is our lives.  My prayer for you is that you come to a place where you no longer seek a reason to be worthy of God's love, but rest in knowing that you are loved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sinfully Delicious

Lately, the connection between food and sin has been on my mind a lot.    It has always struck me as odd that, as a society, we have this tendency to consider anything that seems enjoyable a "bad" thing.  I can't count how many times I've heard people say something along the lines of, "This is so good, eating it must be a sin."  Maybe I'm too caught up in "selective" reading, but I don't know where in Scripture that idea is really supported.  Sure there have been all kinds of dietary laws.
But among those that chew the cud or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat the following: The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.  -Leviticus 11:4a,7
Fortunately for pork lovers like myself, Jesus said that "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." -Matthew 15:11.  I think what we have done is gone from a position where anything in excess is bad (e.g. greed, gluttony, etc.) and moved to our new position of enjoyable = bad.  Admittedly, I think that gluttony is a problem that we face.  This is easily recognizable in how excited I was when this commercial was brought to my attention.

While I can see the issues of gluttony and excess, I fear we've taken things to far.  The children's program we are doing as part of our Lenten series at St. Timothy's is "Know Chocolate".  The connection between "know" and "no" is intentional.  Chocolate is one of those things that so many people give up for Lent and think of as one of those "sinful" pleasures.  Interestingly enough, the scientific name for chocolate (Theobroma Cacao) means something along the lines of "food of the gods".  Instead of treating chocolate as though it is some sort of vice, we want to make sure these kids know that it is okay to enjoy chocolate and other simple pleasures in this life (as long as they are done in moderation).

I'm not suggesting that we should give in to every desire that we have.  Instead, I believe that we should be able to enjoy life a bit more and not have to feel guilty about it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Church & Technology

It seems hard to imagine, now, but there was a time in my life when I was not working towards being a priest. In fact, from the time I was 5 until about 6 years ago, I was dead set on being an engineer. I even went so far as to get a Bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Obviously, my life ended up on a different path, but working with computers and electronics is still a passion of mine.

I am always interested in ways church and technology can overlap.  We have all kinds of audio and visual equipment at our disposal.  Wireless microphones to help ensure that the congregation can hear the readings, sermons, prayers and other important parts of the service.  This is especially useful in larger congregations where those without a voice that carries might go unheard in the back.  There are also audio amplifiers to be used by those who have difficulty hearing.  Some churches use projectors and screens in place of bulletins and hymnals.

We also have church websites and blogs (much like the one you are currently reading) to help extend the reach of the church beyond its immediate location.  One technology that is perhaps highly under utilized in the church is social media.  Yes, I'm referring to things like Facebook and Twitter.  Jennifer McNally posted an article on Episcopal Café called More Facebook for Lent!  Check out what she has to say on how Facebook can be used to help build community.  Then, head on over to Saint Timothy's Facebook page (or your own church's page) and continue to build community even when we are not physically together.

If you still need some convincing that it is okay to use "technology" in church, please remember that light bulbs and pipe organs were considered technological innovations.  There was even a time when we needed technology (in the form of the printing press) in order to have the Bible available in our own language.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Signs & Wonders

I mentioned in my sermon yesterday that I have often wished that I could see some sort of definitive sign that God exists.  It's not that I do not already believe, but that believing would be so much easier if I could get some undeniable proof of God's existence.  I realized as I was reading the passage from Exodus that was the focus of my sermon, however, that perhaps having a sign wouldn't matter.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ -Exodus 17:1-7
Here were people who had certainly seen signs and wonders.  They saw the 10 plagues, followed a pillar of cloud/fire, saw the Red Sea parted, and received manna from Heaven.  Even with all of these signs, they still needed more to believe that God was among them.  They still needed proof that God was going to provide for them.  They ask, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"  This question almost answers itself.  If God had delivered them that far, why abandon them at Rephidim?

It seems that the quest for proof of God's existence only leads to us needing more proof.  God wouldn't bring us this far only to abandon us where we are.  Let us learn to live our lives as Christians without the undeniable proof.  Part of having faith is believing without that proof.  Have faith that God is still with you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


One of the things I remember most about seminary was the large focus on community.  It was wonderful having so many people with whom I could share meals, go to class, and worship.  Naturally, many friendships came out of such a community, and we would often do many more activities together (e.g. bowling, flag football, hanging out on P3, etc.).  That sense of community was so important as part of my formation.  As Jesus said it Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

This idea of being together as part of a community is a big deal.  This is why we come together as a worship community on Sunday.  This is why we have parish dinners.  This is why we go on mission trips as a team or teams.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, he did not send them out on their own.  He did not say, "Here is your mission.  Go out and do all this work by yourself."  Instead, they were sent out two by two.

Being a follower of Jesus is not about doing work on our own.  We are not called to be one person representations of the church.  We are called to be the Church, the body of Christ.  As part of the confirmation class I am leading, I asked the youth to give some examples of what they liked about our church.  Every single answer they gave had something to do with belonging to the church community.  They felt accepted.  They could sense that they were a part of something greater than themselves.  They knew that they were part of the Church, and not just St. Timothy's.

Today I invite you to take advantage of being a part of a community.  This could be your church community, a dinner group, a book club, the people in your neighborhood, or whatever community you are a part of.  Take advantage of this opportunity to be with other people and find in them an expression of what it means to be part of the Church.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ontological Epistemology

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone says a word you've never heard before as though everyone on the face of the planet knows exactly what it means?  I know I have.  That explains a good portion of the first theology course I took in seminary.  I have also been on the other end of this scenario, throwing out words like aumbry and thurible in casual conversations.  When confronted with these situations, I have found that there are three typical responses that occur.

One response is to complain about it.  The speaker is "clearly" using elitist language, using such words only to set his or her self above those that do not understand.  The problem with this response is that not all people who use such words are doing so with the intention of having others being unable to understand.  In fact, this would defeat the primary purpose of communication, which is conveying ideas to each other.  Asking the speaker to use more common words seems like a reasonable request.  We should realize, however, that the words that we do not understand are often a part of the speaker's world that they are common from the speaker's perspective.

A second response is to pretend to know what the speaker is talking about.  Sometimes we can figure out the meaning based on context and, while we won't know the exact meaning of the word, will be able to figure out the general message.  Unfortunately, we cannot always determine the meaning of the word, and the speaker's message, however good or important, is lost to us.

The third typical response is to take these situations as opportunities to expand our vocabulary.  We ask the speaker (or others around us who may also know) to define or explain a word that is new to us.  I cannot remember I heard this, but there is a quote that goes
A wise man was once asked, "How do you know so much about so much?"  The wise man responded, "By never being afraid to ask questions about anything to which I am ignorant."
Sometimes, the only way to know something is to ask the question.  I think that, as a society, we have somehow decided that asking certain questions makes us less intelligent.  The truth is quite the opposite.  Asking those questions is how we gain knowledge.  Admittedly, there are times when asking the question would not be appropriate.  If there are any church words or theological terms that you come across and don't understand (like aumbry, thurible, ontological or epistemology), ask about them.  Please remember that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to ask, though.  I would appreciate it if you did not shout out, "What does epistemology mean?" in the middle of one of my sermons.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Feeding the Hungry

The intention of this blog is for me to write some daily theological reflection.  Today, however, I came across this video and think it speaks for itself.  All I will add is a correlating Bible passage.
 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’-Matthew 25:31-46

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


As we come to the middle of the week, I find myself still reflecting on the sermon that was preached at church last Sunday. The theme that has caught my attention is the idea that we need to be willing to lose some of our cherished assumptions in order to allow God the create something new in us. This reminds me of a shirt I got at a youth conference 5-6 years ago.

The front of the shirt has just one word on it: LOSER. As I'm sure you can imagine, this leads to a lot of interesting conversations when I wear the shirt. Perhaps a sign of how much good there is left in the world is the large number of strangers who, upon seeing me wearing this shirt, will come up to me and try to "convince" me that I am not a loser. It is at that point that I let them know this is actually a biblical reference and show them the back of my shirt which reads:
Whoever finds his life will lose it.
And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:39
Too often, we go about our lives ignoring whatever God has planned for us.  We make our own plans and tell God that they are more important.  We make elaborate and busy schedules, and what do we end up with?  A life that is somehow beyond our control.  A schedule that controls us instead of us controlling our schedule.  We find ourselves stressed and ridden with anxiety.  We find that whatever control we thought we had was more illusory than real.

What would we find if we gave over to God that need to control our lives from the beginning?  Perhaps our need for control would step in occasionally, and we would still have stress and anxiety.  Or, maybe we will find that God really does have a plan for us that is already worked out.  All we have to do is listen and do as we are called.  I still struggle with this, so I do not know the outcome.  What I do know is that, at worst, our lives will be the same as they are now.  At best, we will find that God has created something new in us that could only be there because we first allowed ourselves to lose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Lately, I have been thinking a lot about call stories in the Bible.  Particularly, Jeremiah's call has been standing out.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’
-Jeremiah 1:4-10
I used to think that this call story resonated with me so much because both Jeremiah and I were preparing to answer God's call at a young age.  The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that age is just an excuse.  The real fear is of being too inexperienced or not qualified enough.  There's nothing special about me.  What do I have to offer?  I get a sense that I'm not the only one to struggle with these thoughts.

Earlier this morning, I was talking with a friend from high school, and she said, "God doesn't call the anointed.  God anoints the called."  I have heard that saying many times before and have even said it a few times myself.  Today, however, this hit me in a whole new way.

Sometimes, when we find out exactly what it is to which God has called us, we realize that we are simply not prepared for the task.  God is calling us to these tasks, not because we are the best candidate, but so that God's glory may be made known in us.  How much more will God's glory be able to shine if the least likely of us are used to further God's purposes?

If you feel yourself hesitant to do what you feel God is calling you to in your life, do not say, "I can't.  I'm not the right person for the job."  Instead, go and do what God has called you to do, and do not be afraid, "for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Someone's You

Of all the things in this world, few have the power to affect my emotions the way that music does.  Some songs almost literally resonate within me, and I find that I cannot keep myself from moving along with the music.  I get caught up in the moment and, sometimes, lose sight of everything else around me.  For a brief period of time, it is as if the only things in existence are me and the song.  Of course, the most powerful of these moments for me are when that song helps me gain some perspective on my relationship with God.  As I was driving to my favorite lunch spot today, one of these songs came up on my iPod.

For a while now, my brother and I have "dabbled" at writing songs.  Back in August, he took that dabbling a step further when he released his first album, McArthur's Message.  The song that popped up on my iPod today was "Someone's You" from that cd.
Was a time when I
I was by myself
Was a time when I
Really thought I had no one

Was a time when these
These ivory keys
They were my strength
Now I know I have someone

That someone's You
There is so much more to this song, but I think this portion captures the essence best for a short quote.  The song is about moving from a time of feeling as though we are alone and have only ourselves to rely on into recognizing the presence of God in our life as a companion and source of strength.  The more I listen to this song, the more I hear echo's of the first 3 verses of Psalm 18:
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
   my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
   so I shall be saved from my enemies. 
I don't think that my brother was intentionally drawing on this Psalm when he wrote "Someone's You",  but I do think that both my brother and the psalmist were relaying the same message.  Sometimes, it may seem that everything in this life is going against you, but God will give you the strength you need.

If you find yourself struggling with anything, give it over to God.  Allow God's strength to be your own.