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 CafĂ© 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.