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Doing hard things with Jesus at our side

Flickr – Nurse Teresa Hiller administers COVID-19 vaccine.

by Pam Tinsley

A friend has been working in a local hospital’s Covid-19 vaccination clinic since early winter. Although most of those at highest risk of infection in our county have now been immunized and the demand has waned, recent expansion of eligibility to include those as young as twelve has prompted a bit of a surge in appointments.

Catherine had had a pretty routine day, when a grandmother arrived with her twelve-year old granddaughter. The grandmother was rather uneasy, perhaps uncomfortable with the hospital environment and the number of people waiting – masked and socially-distanced – for their shots. The girl, however, was extremely apprehensive about everything, not the least of which was the shot itself. The grandmother exacerbated her granddaughter’s anxiety by berating her and telling her that she was holding up the line.

Catherine paused, ignored the woman, looked into the girl’s eyes, and gently took her hand. She said that she understood the girl’s fear, and then whispered, “We can do hard things,” quoting from Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. The girl smiled shyly and held out her arm.

When Catherine shared this touching experience with me, I noticed that she – an ER nurse who’s seen it all – was choking back tears. I asked her to tell me more about what she experienced. She said that although the clinic was busy, she felt it was important to take the extra time with the girl, not just for her Covid-19 shot, but to help calm fears about future appointments. She said, too, that when she saw Jesus in the girl’s face, she realized that she, in turn, could be Jesus’ caring voice and hands. The girl, who also has Down Syndrome, needed even more respect and dignity shown to her, especially in the face of the overly anxious grandmother. And, Catherine reminded me that we all can do hard things when we remember that we’re walking with Jesus.

Can you move the dial?

Flickr – Liz West – Sundial

by Fletcher Lowe

There is a significant movement within the English Anglican Church that is creatively focusing on the calling of all the baptized in their daily life and work.  Illustrative of that is this article by the Bishop of Leicester: 

Moving the dial towards everyday faith, by Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester

Inspiring Everyday Faith is a way of highlighting why and what is important in Christian discipleship. In the past 20-30 years, we have not been terribly good at equipping people for living their Christian faith in the whole of their lives. The Church has tended to focus on its own life, or its own outreach projects, and forgotten that for most people the majority of their time is not spent involved in church projects – it’s spent in their workplaces, home, social. Equipping people for faith in those contexts must be core to what the Church is all about. I think there has been a change in that over time, but during this pandemic and lockdown – as in so many other areas – it has brought new questions into focus.

Nick and I have a running joke about who first coined the phrase Everyday Faith. All I can say is it has ‘made in Leicester’ stamped on it, and we use that as our strapline now! Using that language of everyday faith has certainly been very significant. My role as bishop is to hold people to account and for them to hold me to account in what we decide under God we are called to be and do. We use the following questions to help each of us in this discernment:

  1. How are you enabling others to grow in the depth of their discipleship?
  2. How are you growing in numbers of disciples?
  3. How are you growing in loving service, enabling others to grow in loving service?

We have found it important that such questions are adopted across the whole life of the diocese….- Other ways … putting lay ministers’ licensing services and commissionings on the same standing as ordination in the life of the diocese. When I license a new clergy person in a parish, we have a ritual of partnership in ministry, so looking very clearly at joining a team of ministers within that church context –

Recently, we’ve done an exercise of gathering stories about faith during lockdown. We’ve had a particularly prolonged lockdown in Leicester, as you may know. We’ve asked people right across our churches what they have been learning about faith in this particular context. Those stories have been fascinating. There has been a sense in which it has shifted the dial along the scale. People are asking – 

+ Is my Christian faith something I do with a particular group of people in a particular building at a particular moment in time?  through to 

+ Is my Christian faith something I do in the whole of life?

The dial has been shifted during this period to what, actually, faith is about! What I do in my own home, what I do when I’m online, talking with my friends. Increasingly people are realising that we should all take responsibility for this. It’s not something somebody else does for me – I need to be enabling the practices that enable my faith to grow in my own home and in my workplace. I think the dial has been shifted and we’re starting to see more about everyday faith.

Ultimately, the more we’ve talked about everyday faith, the more we’ve started to understand the key role that lay ministers play in enabling the whole people of God to live out their faith in the whole of life.

In my own work, I’ve encountered numerous lay ministers lacking confidence, wondering what their role is and how they can best express their gifts within the body of Christ. As we’ve started to explore everyday faith – especially with the questions that are raised within the workplace, or within social networks – lay ministers have started to see that this is their area of expertise. They’ve struggled with questions about how to live out faith in these contexts themselves, and therefore their ministry can be focused on how they enable others to grow in their faith in those contexts as well. I think there’s been an encouraging shift in that sense and a growth in that understanding of clergy and lay ministers working together to enable the whole people of God in their everyday faith.

Whose miracle?

Pixabay – music4life

by Demi Prentiss

This past Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, and many Christian churches celebrated “the birthday of the church,”reading a passage from Acts 2.  That story tells of tongues of fire lighting on the heads of Jesus’ apostles, and amazingly the apostles were understood by a crowd drawn from across the Mediterranean world, as though in their own language.  I’m always surprised to be reminded that that story is not Gospel. It’s not part of the four books of the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that recount the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s told by the Gospel writer Luke, who leads off his Gospel sequel – the Acts of the Apostles – with that amazing tale.

I’m surprised because I think of that story as foundational to God’s dream for us as children of God. Eric Law’s understanding of that story offers a lens that inspires me to see multiple levels in familiar Bible stories and in many moments of life as a Christian. In his book The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb, Law offers the insight that the Pentecost story reveals two miracles, not just one.

Most of us see the “miracle of the tongue” right away, as the text says the apostles “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4) And then the text goes on to reveal that the crowd “was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (Acts 2:6) A “miracle of the ear”! Between the apostles speaking and the crowd hearing, who could say which miracle was operating?

Law is clear that for those of us who are often silenced, and whose voices too often go unheard, the miracle that God unleashes is the miracle of the tongue – the gift of strength and courage to speak God’s truth. And for those of us who hold power and are accustomed to exercising it, the miracle of the ear is the true gift – the miracle of truly hearing those who speak, even though they may tremble to say the words out loud. Discerning which miracle we might pray for – or claim – is the work of a lifetime. As we live our lives in response to God’s covenant with us – sealed for us in our baptism – may we seek to discern when God urges us to claim the power of the tongue, and when to exercise the receptivity of the ear.  And may our choices be guided by the incarnate God known as the Word.

‘May God bless my screw driver…’

The Rev. Andrew Sohm blesses seed at the Newcastle farm of Sy and Ellen Kneifl, shown with their son Chad, on May 1 [2019]. The pastor at Catholic churches in Newcastle, Ponca and Jackson, Sohm annually visits the farms of parishioners who ask him to bless their seeds and fields during planting season. – Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

by Fletcher Lowe

Blessing the farms and the fields, blessing the boats and the bait….  So in more rural times, congregations gathered as a way of asking God’s blessings. What were our rural friends asking God’s blessings on, but the means of production: farms, fields, boats, bait, for a good harvest and a good catch. The Latin word for ask is rogare, hence Rogation in our Episcopal liturgy.

What about Rogation Days, the three days prior to Ascension Day, when we traditionally ask for God’s blessing on agriculture and industry? Is that an idea whose day is past because we are a more urban, industrial, technological society?  I don’t think so.  Aren’t our needs still the same – to ask God’s blessings upon our means of production? “Means of production” relates, whether it be rural or urban. 

In congregations I have served on Rogation Sunday, the 6th Sunday after Easter, people have been invited to place in a basket small symbols of the means of production in their lives: a screw driver, a computer chip, an appointment book, a prescription pad, a measuring spoon, a cell phone, etc.  At the Offertory they were processed up along with the money and the bread and wine with a prayer, asking (rogare) God’s blessings upon those whose labor is represented in those symbols.  All of us have our own means of production that enable us to live our daily lives regardless of our situation at home or community or work, whatever occupies our time and energy.  

What are your means of production?  As you identify them, would you rogare, ask God to bless them, and rogare, ask God to bless you in your daily life?

Is the Church in you?

CartoonChurch.com by Dave Walker

by Pam Tinsley

Eric, a new acquaintance, recently shared his story. He grew up participating in Christmas pageants, going to church every Sunday, singing in the choir, and regularly attending Bible study. He said that for the longest time he was in church, but that the church wasn’t in him.

Although he had a lot of knowledge about Jesus, he realized that he didn’t know Jesus. He felt that he had an association with Jesus, but that he didn’t have a relationship with him. The practices he embraced to get to know Jesus are similar to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s The Way of Love. He shared that his first step was to meet Jesus and to be open to Jesus’ invitation. He then listened to Jesus, meaning he paid attention to what Jesus was saying – in scripture and prayer, through others, and by listening to things he would rather not hear. And lastly, he approached Jesus; he turned to Jesus. His new experience of the risen Christ transformed him and his relationship with the people in his life.

The distinction between being in church versus having the church in us is essential! When we have the church in us, we carry the church – Jesus – into the world wherever we are.   

Shortly after my conversation with Eric, I saw a CartoonChurch.com post on FaceBook: Where the Church Is. In the sketch the church is everywhere except in a church building! The church can be everywhere – and should be everywhere – because the church is in us!

So, I ask, is the church in you? And where will you take the church today?

Marks of resurrection

Flickr photo – Martin Howard – Kintsugi art white8

by Demi Prentiss

The Christian year – and, I hope, our daily lives as Christians – revolve around two transformational cycles: incarnation and resurrection. In the Christian kalendar, each of those two cycles begins with gestation, a time of examination, reflection, and growth (Advent and Lent). That season is followed by a time of celebration, begun with a feast day and extending far beyond the holy day itself – Christmastide and Eastertide.  And after the rejoicing, we enter the “ordinary time” of integration, as we use the time following Epiphany and Pentecost to incorporate the learnings of the cycle into our daily lives and work.

We are well into Eastertide, and, for me, the lesson of Thomas the Doubter is still looming large.  Like many in 2021, I find myself in the midst of a whirlwind of political wrangling, pandemic distrust, and civic tug-of-war that seems not unlike first-century Palestine. I’m seeing the Thomas story not so much as a lesson for unbelievers as a model of what Christ is calling each of us to do.

To affirm his identity, and to restore the trust of his doubting friend, what does the resurrected Jesus do?  He shows us his scars. He’s willing to expose his wounds, and to invite his friend to touch them. He allows himself to be shockingly vulnerable.  And he claims those scars as the marks of his resurrection.

The Incarnation calls on us to “be green,” to begin a new life, to allow Christ to live inside us and through us.  And through the Resurrection, we are called to allow our scars to be far more than signs of our hard-fought battles. In his risen body, Christ declares that our scars are the marks of our resurrection. As we become vulnerable enough to show those scars, we both model and proclaim the work of resurrection in our lives.

Our daily lives often bring scars. Some we are ashamed of, and some are marks of honor. May we have the courage to allow others to see and take strength from our scars. May they be for us and for those we encounter signs of our resurrection.

Peter goes fishin’

Photo from Pixabay

by Fletcher Lowe

One of my favorite memories growing up in Baltimore, MD was fishing trips with my dad on Saturdays on the Severn River.  On more than one occasion, we would find ourselves in the midst of a school of rockfish.  As fast as we could rebait our lines, we pulled in fish after fish. 

That experience reminded me of one of those post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Several of the disciples are at the Sea of Galilee when Peter decides it’s time to get back to work, so he says, “I’m goin’ fishin’.”  Now for Peter, it was not a leisure or recreational activity as it was for me.  It was his job, his business, his way of making a living.  Peter was a fisherman. So off he goes – to work.  After a frustrating night of catching nothing, he is joined by Jesus and things change.

This is one of the three times that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection. Remember the other two?  One was with those two discouraged disciples traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Jesus meets them along the way, and things change. The third was in a room where several of the disciples had been meeting, anxious and fearful about their future.  Again, Jesus comes into their midst and, with the words, “Peace be with you,” makes a difference.

It’s just like Jesus to be with people on their job or while they’re traveling or when they’re meeting – in short in the midst of the activities of their daily lives.  That may seem all too obvious to you, but we don’t always make that connection between Christ and our daily lives.  More often than not, there’s a gap, a gulf.

For the Church to see and to live into that connection demands a significant shift in focus.  Much of what passes as lay ministry is what lay people can do to help the clergy do their jobs better.  In reality, the reverse is the real calling: what clergy can do to enhance the daily ministries of lay folk.  For remember, God’s chief arena of activity is not the Church but the world.  “God so loved the world… (not the Church) … that he gave his only begotten Son.”  An image is the congregation as a base camp – not existing for itself but to support, train, equip, and affirm those climbing the mountain.  Our daily life and work are our mountain.  Thus Paul in Ephesians points to the baptized community as the place to “equip the saints” – that’s you and me – “for ministry.”

Dorothy Sayers, a great 20th century Christian writer, once wrote, “The first demand on a carpenter’s religion is that he makes good tables.  What use is anything else if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry.”  That is the connection between Sunday and Monday, between liturgy and life – the connection that each of us as the Baptized is called upon to make in whatever occupies our daily lives: work / family / school / community / volunteer / leisure.

One Sunday after a service, the rector, as usual, was at the rear greeting the people as they were leaving, Suddenly, a man came up from the street and asked, “When does the service begin?”  Before the rector could answer, an astute laywoman replied, “The service begins now!”  She had made the connection. So, we have those postresurrection appearances: Peter at work, two disciples traveling, several disciples meetingexamples for us of where Christ meets us in whatever occupies our daily life and work.  And that is where each of us is calledto discover in our daily lives our particular calling and ministry.  For that is where Sunday connects with Monday and where our liturgy meets our lives.

Is the Church too ‘woke’?

Some of the Dancing Saints at St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco; by iconographer Mark Dukes.

by Demi Prentiss

N.T. Wright is an English New Testament scholar, a Pauline theologian, and an Anglican bishop. He recently responded to an article in the British weekly magazine The Spectator, which accused the Church of England of embracing anti-racism as its “new religion.” In The Spectator’s letters, Wright address the question, “Is the Church too “woke”?

“…the ‘anti-racist’ agenda is a secular attempt to plug a long-standing gap in Western Christianity. The answer is to recover the full message, not to bolt on new ideologies….

“The church was the original multicultural project, with Jesus as its only point of identity. It was known, and was for this reason seen as both attractive and dangerous, as a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, chastity-celebrating, socially responsible fictive kinship group, gender-blind in leadership, generous to the poor and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless.

“If this had been celebrated, taught, and practised, the church would early on have recognised ecclesial racism for what it is…. If it has taken modern secular movements to jolt the church into recognising a long-standing problem, shame on us.

“But the answer is not to capitulate to the current ‘identity agenda’…. The answer is teaching and practicing the whole biblical gospel.”

As Wright reminds us, asking whether the church should or should not be “woke” is missing the point.He asserts that the early Christians in that “attractive and dangerous” community – “multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing….and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless” – knew they were called and commissioned as allies and champions of all those that society drove to the margins. And since that time, racism has played a large part in derailing the church’s commitment to that vision.

Glenn Packiam, commenting on Wright’s letter, adds, “It’s a shame that it took secular theories to diagnose [the church’s] error. But that should not make us reject those theories. We can allow them to wake us up.”

In response to those who urge the church to call out racism, we can most faithfully honor our baptismal promises by holding ourselves and our congregations accountable to that radical, “attractive and dangerous” vision of a scandalously inclusive Body of Christ. May we dare to proclaim the whole gospel and work to build the Body of Christ as a whole, life-giving, embracing community that embodies the good news the world longs to hear.

‘Evil doesn’t sleep; it waits’

by Pam Tinsley

Pixabay

In his March 21 sermon, a preacher I know quoted from the movie Justice League: “Evil doesn’t sleep; it waits.” The text for the sermon was John 12:20-33, and Jesus tells his followers that their discipleship has a cost. He also proclaims that the “ruler of this world will be driven out.”

The ruler of this world is evil, and evil still wields horrific power. Our nation has just witnessed yet another racist and misogynist hate crime perpetrated – this time against women of Asian descent. This heinous act of violence and terrorism reminds us that the pandemic of racism relentlessly ravages our nation and our common humanity. These evils aren’t new. For those of us who are White, the evils might appear to be beneath the surface and then erupt. For those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), these evils are pervasive. Instead of confronting and telling the truth about racism, our nation has chosen to ignore it or believe that it doesn’t exist. It does exist. Evil waits. It waits for opportunity.

One of the promises we make at Baptism is to renounce the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (BCP, 302). There is no doubt that racism, domination/supremacy, terrorism, or violence – whether physical, psychological, or verbal – are dehumanizing evil powers. And the fight against evil requires both our words and our actions.

As we will soon promise at the Great Vigil of Easter, let us “reaffirm [our] renunciation of evil and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ.”

I’ll be the first to say that this isn’t easy. Yet, it’s incumbent upon us all to take this vow to heart, to follow Jesus into the hard places where he leads us, and to name and confront the evil we encounter daily wherever we are.

God in the bond market?

by Fletcher Lowe

Over the years in the parishes I have served, I have been visiting members where they work.  The conversations usually go: What do you do here?  What is the Sunday-Monday – the Faith/Work – connection with what you do here?  This latter question is, for most all of the church members, the first time that question has been raised for them.  Yet where they work is the place where they spend most of their God-given time and talent.  What an indictment of the Church! 

Here are the words of one businessman, David Wofford, I visited. The words he wrote (pre COVID-19) describe his “Aha!” to that second question:   

Excuse me? Faith at work?  I’m not a priest or a rabbi. It’s not my job to heal the sick or mend broken souls. I’m just a “used-bond salesman.”  These were my initial thoughts when Fletcher said he wanted to visit me at work to discuss faith at work.

Upon his arrival, Fletcher surveyed my work area. The space is a large trading floor with people sitting in front of several monitors blinking price action in the bond market. Everyone sits almost elbow to elbow and it can get a bit loud. The two of us then moved to an office for a little privacy. I tried to explain that the atmosphere in my office was closer to that of a fraternity house and not exactly like a place of worship. We work hard, do a good job, and at the same time, have a lot of fun.  More often than not, that fun is similar to the fun we had in elementary school.

After asking for more details about my job, Fletcher thought a bit and he said something that opened my eyes. My faith was all around me. It is there when I try to help my accounts meet their goals with honesty and integrity. If they are down, I try to cheer them up or put them at ease. The camaraderie with my colleagues is also a part of my faith. Many of us have worked together over twenty years in a very stressful occupation. We share lots of laughs. We pull together when times are tough.  Another salesman and I like to read “Forward Movement” on line during down time. There is also an email I receive from Fletcher entitled “On the Job Prayers.” I pass that around to some in my office to help alleviate some of the stress during the day.

I park across the street from my office. Each morning there is a little ritual on my walk. I thank God for my great family. I ask for Him to help me be a better father and husband. I thank Him for the opportunities I have and the friends around me.  I ask for His help when times are rough or a friend is in need. I thank Him for the sunshine or the rain. God walks me to work….and everyone in the office says I only park across the street because I’m a tight wad and can save $30 a month!!

Faith at work?  Even for a “used-bond salesman”? Believe it or not it can happen.