Hearts and Ashes

by Demi Prentiss

We’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day, on the very same day as the lectionary reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration, marking the shift from his Galilean ministry to his prophet’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We Christians are about to move from the festivities of Mardi Gras to the solemnities of Ash Wednesday and the 40-day journey that leads us to witness Christ’s transit from death to life.

This liminal week reminds us that love is the catalytic transformational force that God brings into the world. Love – the love that made St. Valentine a martyr – gives us new eyes to perceive God’s transformational work all around us. Love – the love that announced “This is my beloved. Listen!” – created light in the darkness and lights each of our lives.  Love – the love that tenderly reminds us that we are dust – proclaims that we are made in the very image and likeness of God.

As we embark on the journey of Lent, may we remember that our calling is not to religious athleticism, demonstrating by our strenuous practice that we are worthy of God’s love. As God reminds us, in the words of the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21)  Our calling, instead, was proclaimed by Micah: “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 6:88)

This Lent, may we walk the Way of Love, remembering that “Go” is an essential element of the Christian life.  Go out from the comfort of church pews into the challenges of daily life. Go beyond our timeworn practices to experience a new perspective. Go into respectful relationship with unmet neighbors and unfamiliar cultures, to look into the eyes of siblings we’ve never met.

May our journey this Lent awaken us to new life, as we walk into the immensity of the reign of God.

Pick your ‘Pathway’

by Fletcher Lowe

 “Throughout my career, I have heard lay leaders and professionals yearning for affordable, accessible education, training, and resources to support their ministries,” WOW!! Those words come from Dr. Julie Lytle, the Director of Distributive and Lifelong Learning, speaking of Pathways for Baptismal Living, developed out of the Episcopal Bexley Seabury Seminary. “We’ve created Pathways as a resource hub in response. It is designed for people to enter where they want and need so they can discern, explore, and deepen their faith and respond to God’s call.”

Over 20 courses, workshops, events, and activities are available and can be taken in the order that best suit personal interests and needs. There are programs for discernment, personal enrichment, licensure in cooperation with the local bishop, and ways to meet church-wide imperatives. The programs are designed with opportunities for personal reflection as well as live and asynchronous online interaction with the instructor and other participants.

One of Pathways’ signature offerings is coming Sunday, February 14, 6:30-7:30pm, Eastern. “Sharing Stories of Baptismal Living” will air live, featuring Byron Rushing.  Known as a politician, public historian, community organizer, and Christian, Rushing has said, “If Jesus was not in the legislature, I wouldn’t be there either.”  He currently serves as vice president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies and spent 25 years as a representative in the Massachusetts state legislature.

Register here to participate in the Feb. 14 conversation.  I hope to “see” you there and then.

Baptised into Light

by Pam Tinsley

YouTube – CBC News Jan. 20, 2021

Like so many, I found Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” inspiring.

I’m reminded of the promises we make at baptism by her closing verses:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

In John’s Gospel Jesus is the light of all people, and his light shines in the darkness. Jesus then invites us to be brave enough to see his light and to be his light in the world. Each question posed at baptism also asks us to be Christ’s light in the world: Will we teach, pray and gather – even if by Zoom? Will we persevere in resisting evil and then repent when we stray? Will we model the Good News by our words and our actions? Will we love one another? And will we strive to make our world more loving and more just?

Whenever we live into our baptismal promises – wherever we are and however minor our actions might seem – we shine a light that others can see. We might heal someone’s wounds with a kind word; we might lend a listening heart to a shut-in – or someone wearied by the persistent isolation of quarantining; we might encourage a spirit of community; we might help someone make an appointment for a covid-19 vaccination. This is how we reveal Christ’s presence in the world.

Even in the midst of pandemic, racial injustice, social and political turmoil, and isolation, we can be brave enough to look for and to see Christ’s light – there in the seemingly never-ending shade. For, as Ms. Gorman reminds us, there is always light.

Gifted

by Demi Prentiss

Creative Commons arsenat29 – G-55801-U1H

For many of us whose faith is shaped by the traditions of the Christian year, we’ve been thinking about gifts for two or three months. From well before Christmas Day all the way through Jan. 6, Epiphany, we’ve been asking questions:

  • What gift can we choose to put under the Christmas tree to convey our love to those we cherish?
  • How do we best prepare our hearts and homes for celebrating God’s greatest gift to each of us – the Christ Child, God incarnate?
  • How can we join with the Three Kings in offering our gifts to Immanuel?

At this point in the Christian year, our attention has moved on to the baptism of Jesus, traditionally the focus of the readings on the first Sunday after Epiphany. We’ve moved from focusing on gifts to getting down to the work of ministry. In the context of our own baptism, and of the Baptismal Covenant, perhaps that “doing” focus overlooks an important message that baptism conveys, to us and to the world:

Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.

Baptism sets in motion God’s sending of each of us into the world as God’s gift. Our person, our presence, and our distinctive perspective on the world – all God-given – are gifts that no one else can offer. Wherever we find ourselves, we have a part we can play that is unique. It is that self-offering that is the essence of our ministry in the world. We best serve as God’s ambassador when we show up as the precious, gifted, and called Child of God we are created to be. Claim that. Claim your identity as God’s gift for healing the brokenness confronting you. Perhaps less by what you do than simply by being who you are – a Christ-bearer. Be the change you long to see. Be the gift that keeps on giving.Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.

What does practicing my ministry look like?

by Demi Prentiss

Dr. Fixit is on the job – Flickr – Mike Bitzenhofer

I am a life-long, baptized member of the laity. I understand that to mean I have a ministry in my daily life, above and beyond whatever I might be doing for my faith community. All my life, I’ve felt called to be the church, at work wherever I find myself.

I used to think that my ministry involved helping people. Which often involved “helping” people to change – change their way of doing things, change their attitude, change their outlook. And often, that meant “change to look / act more like me.”

I’ve come to understand that I am not a repair person, a fixer, called to fix people’s faults. I am not 9-1-1. I am called to be a repairer of “the breach,” as the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign reminds us. And for me, that involves working on my side of the break-down, trusting that others who seek peace and wholeness will be working from the other end of the broken places. And partnering with them in that work.

I am not called to fix people – only each person can do that for themselves. I am called to repair relationships – my relationships – and to take action to heal my own brokenness. As I do that, I can begin to heal the brokenness of a broken system.

A recent post by the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper offers a real life example:

There was a widow in that town who kept coming to the judge with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”                 Luke 18:3 (NIV)

When the policeman across the street from me had a no-social-distancing party with 40 folks, some in uniform, on his deck in plain sight, no masks anywhere, while I continued my personal quarantine, I was really mad. I thought of calling the cops, but they were the cops. I live by a general rule: Don’t try to fix people. You are not a repairman. You are also in need of repair. Relationship is better than repair. Unconditionally love the person and keep that love going no matter how many times it is rejected. And don’t overdo yourself: attitude is more important than activity.

Just say, “Tell me more.” And listen. Really listen. Don’t spend your time thinking about what you will say or do next. Just “tell me more.” Don’t name anyone your adversary if you can help it.

That’s why I didn’t call the cops and didn’t report the situation, but spoke to my neighbor, face-to-face, the next time I saw him walking his canine on my street. “I was really worried about you on Saturday night.”

He just said, “Why?”

When it came to the party and the judgment I feel about people who don’t wear masks and don’t distance, I have had a very hard time moving out of my own self-protecting didacticism.

I need help.

PRAYER – God of all things, including the maximizing of free will, even to the point of permitting us to self-harm or do harm to others, help me. I know you will. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper

Grounded by God in the ER

By Pam Tinsley

I was recently listening to a podcast from the Theology of Work Project, which featured an interview with emergency physician Mike Sunu, MD. The podcast title, God in the ER During a Pandemic, caught my eye not only because our daughter-in-law is an emergency room nurse and has shared her own stories of working during this very difficult pandemic, but also because Dr. Sunu shares how his faith has shaped and sustained him through the years.

When asked about how he experiences God’s presence in the workplace, Dr. Sunu shared how often he experiences God afterward, as he reflects on his workday during his commute home. He might have responded with rudeness or impatience to a situation, and instead of saying he would try harder to be a kinder person, he could ask for God’s grace instead. He would pray, “God, I need you tomorrow. I need you today. I need you all the time.” By asking for God’s grace and strength, day-after-day and week-after-week, he feels that he has a deeper understanding of the Gospel. He’s not only brought his faith to work; he has discerned God’s presence in a way that shapes his faith and helps it grow.

Dr. Mike Sunu

The interviewer also pointed out that Dr. Sunu is in a helping profession, where people often come to him in life-or-death situations. And yet, he also begins his work by humbly asking God for help. His interactions with patients help him to examine his own spiritual condition. Because God treats him with compassion in spite of his sins, he’s reminded that he should do the same with his patients – including, for example, those suffering from drug addiction who come to the ER regularly.

Although the podcast is specific to the ER, its lessons are applicable to any of us. Whether our workplace is in the ER, a restaurant, an office or a classroom, God is already there and is working within us, shaping us and our faith – and often in unexpected ways.

What’s your brand?

by Demi Prentiss

Are your shoes Nikes? Is your workout gear Under Armour? Is your car a Tesla? Or a Ford? Or a Toyota? Does your hoodie say Mystics or Storm? Does the logo on your sweats stand for Harvard or Howard or Texas State?

What we wear brands us. Often, people who meet us can instantly know something about our loyalties and our values, just by reading the signs of what we are wearing or driving – even without badges or bumper stickers.

Being “branded” used to mean carrying a scar – an identifying mark seared in the flesh that made clear what “herd” you belonged to. Now “branding” is a communication essential: Distinctive logo plus well-placed promotion can mean recognition that “boosts your brand,” adding value.

Being baptized is a branding experience. We are, with water and with oil, “marked as Christ’s own forever.” We may not choose to recognize it, and we may not be scarred, but it’s permanent. For some of us, that brand is recognized and valued, as we are reminded by those who love us that we a “child of God, beloved and called.” For some of us, we are treated as “knock-offs” and devalued. For many of us, claiming our authentic brand is a struggle, especially when we have been persuaded that we must be “fakes.” Sometimes it’s hard for us to “own” our brand – that baptismal mark may align us with a crowd we don’t really feel part of. And every once in awhile, remembering that we carry Christ’s brand, we have the courage to be the person we were made to be – loving and just, caring and creative, a beloved child of God.

When the saboteurs in our inmost thoughts attack us, when the disparaging outside voices wear us down, may we hear the Truth that sets us free: “See, you have nothing to fear. I, who made you, will take you back. I have chosen you, named you as My own.” (Isaiah 43:1, The Voice) Our hearts carry the Creator’s indelible mark, and it calls us to wear our baptismal brand “with pride, with dignity, and with integrity.”

Who will equip the saints?

by Fletcher Lowe

The ordination of Gwynn Crichton (Facebook Live screen shot) September 14, 2020, at St. Paul’s, Richmond, VA

…making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

So the Episcopal bishop, in quoting Ephesians, began the consecration of my good friend, Gwynn, as a priest recently.

I heard those words as I “attended” virtually her ordination. Aside from my joy in joining with her as she enthusiastically responded and celebrated, my mind began to look at the service through the lens of how the new priest is called to empower the Baptized in their daily lives. Although the service was specially about her calling, there were some nuggets reminding both her and us of her calling to empower us all in our calling as a holy priesthood (1 Peter2:5).

For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry that they may serve you in a truly and godly life. we pray to you, O) Lord. 

Those words, coming early on in the Litany for Ordinations, reinforces Ephesians, underscoring that all the Baptized have vocations and ministries.

When my friend was examined by the bishop, some of these words resonated:

All Baptized people are called to make Christ known as Savior and Lord and to share in the renewing of his world, and You are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.

Then I heard words that, in this specific case, are for the priest, to radiate out to all the Baptized:

Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?

Will you persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God’s grace both for yourself and others, offering all your labors through the mediation of Jesus Christ and in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit?

Along with these relevant quotes from the service, one other thing struck me.  Because of the virus, there were only ten people in person at my friend’s service.  It reminded me of one of my visions about the relationship of Baptism and Ordination.  My vision is that when we have fully restored the centrality of Baptism, the major sacrament, in the life of the Church, Baptisms will take place in packed cathedrals amidst trumpet sounds and full processions with choirs and crosses and banners! Ordinations, on the other hand, being a minor sacrament, will take place in smaller venues with a few friends and family in attendance!

Anybody share my vision?

Our sewing saints!

by Pam Tinsley

Each Sunday at worship, Naomi, an internationally renowned organist and musician, blesses our congregation with her gift of music. And prior to the pandemic, she regularly performed locally, nationally, and internationally. Music is not only her profession and passion – it is her vocation. Naomi’s faith radiates whenever she interacts with others, be they musicians, choir members, or parishioners. And the love for Jesus that she has instilled in her four-year-old son, both at home and in church on Sunday, is recognized by all.

With concerts cancelled because of the pandemic, Naomi discovered another way she could serve Christ in her daily life. Naomi has close contacts in her home country of Japan, which led her and her husband to become an aunt and an uncle to students at an orphanage school in Osaka. Once the pandemic has passed and it’s safe to resume gathering, Naomi hopes to do some fundraising concerts and events with the pastors at the church that runs the orphanage.

A thank you letter sent by one of the Osaka school children, along with a gift of his origami art made with special colors reserved for special occasions: a boy in gold, a crane in orange, and a cicada in silver.

In the meantime, Naomi learned that the school had a need for masks. Without hesitation Naomi offered to make 100 masks for the children! Unfortunately, after sewing just a few masks, her sewing machine broke – at a time when inexpensive sewing machines were sold out everywhere.

And then Naomi experienced God’s work first-hand. A friend gave her a sewing machine – a super fancy one at that. And then, because she was a beginner seamstress and also making masks of all sizes, she realized she needed help – at a time when many people were tiring of making masks. That’s when the sewing saints appeared! Two women stepped up and, with their help, Naomi was able to send 100 masks to Japan in less than two weeks!

Now the kids wear them when they go outside and when they are in class. The principal wrote that the kids think their new masks are the coolest. Not only are they handmade, but their aunties in America made them for them! (And they came with American candies.)

‘Walk worthy of your vocation’

by Demi Prentiss

http://dtlifecoach.com/vocation/

The writer of Ephesians urges us to “walk worthy of the vocation to which you’ve been called.” (Eph 4:1) In the midst of daily life, that can be a challenge, especially in our daily work. In a recent blog, Bob Robinson offered six markers that distinguish a “job” from a “vocation.” He thinks the distinction is important.

Robinson founded the non-profit Reintegrate to equip “God’s people to reintegrate the Christian faith with vocation so that they can participate in God’s mission on earth.” He understands “vocation” to be “something bigger, something more meaningful, something that makes us want to get up in the morning.”

Robinson names six distinguishing factors of having a vocation:

      1. We are responding to a “calling” from a power greater than ourselves.
      2. We are tapping into our uniqueness, regardless of whether we’re paid for the work.
      3. We can engage some aspect of that “calling,” wherever we find ourselves.
      4. We are participating in a mission whose scope is larger than ourselves.
      5. We are aiming to manifest God’s love in life-giving ways, both large and small.
      6. We understand our mission to be increasing others’ experience of love at work in the world.

Participating in God’s mission of reconciliation can take many forms, expressing the nature of God whose name is love. Our vocations, sometimes manifested in our occupations, also show up in our home life, our hobbies, our service to others, and our relationship to the wider world:

      • While our job might be framing houses, our vocation might be creating homes.
      • While our job might be caring for children, our vocation might be shaping young people to be kind.
      • While our job might be driving a truck, our vocation might be safely delivering what people need.
      • While our job might be mopping the floor, our vocation might be providing clean, safe spaces for people.
      • While our job might be writing contracts, our vocation might be assuring fairness for all parties.
      • While our job might be serving restaurant meals, our vocation might be feeding the hungry, in body and in spirit.

Each of us, in our daily life and work, can touch the lives of those around us in ways that are liberating and life-giving, whenever we claim our vocation. In some ways, those of us in “ordinary” occupations are positioned to have even greater impact than those who are working as pastors and faith leaders, and not only because there are more of us. Often, seeing God at work through “ordinary” people speaks more clearly to those who are hungry for connection.

Find your vocation: change the world, starting from the inside out.