Walking to Jerusalem

by Brandon Beck

My four-year-old friend and I, along with his mother who is the Director of Children and Family Ministries here, went to the local Christian bookstore yesterday to look for craft supplies for the upcoming Palm Sunday children’s formation lesson.

The mother and I were chatting as we walked from the parking lot to the store when the child cried out, “I don’t want to walk all the way to Jerusalem!”

She and I stopped and laughed and hugged him. We reassured him that we were walking to the store in plain-sight in front of us, the one he’d been to with us many times before. I asked, “What do you know about Jerusalem from stories we tell?”

He said, “It’s too far away to go because Jesus was there, and we don’t have a time machine,” with big tears in his eyes.

“Is Jesus far away now?” I asked.

“No,” he said, perking up a little bit.

“How do you know?” (This is a question I’ve started asking him because he asks me most of the time when I say something, especially if it’s an answer to a question he asked me.)

He made the Sign of the Cross and said, “God loves me, so I can love everybody.”

“So where’s Jesus?”

“Everywhere!”

With his rediscovered joy, he assisted his mother and me in selecting craft objects for the church busy bags with an Easter theme – scratch art crosses and eggs, sticker craft scenes of the tomb, little coloring books of Jesus’ last week – and while we gathered supplies for the art response to the Palm Sunday teaching, he got more and more excited about walking to Jerusalem. His understanding of metaphor grows more each day. As we gathered different colors of felt to make “cloaks” to lay along a cardboard “road” and told him the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem, he found a donkey craft to contribute. He found some pieces of fur and asked if there were other animals on the way to Jerusalem. He wanted to know if there were rocks and how we would put rocks on the road with the cloaks.

When we left the store with our supplies, he asked me to tell the story about Jesus and the apple. “The one that the owl tells,” he said.

It took me a minute, but then I caught up with him.

He has a Cuddle Barn (™) Bible Story Talking Owl. One of the Stories the mama owl tells her baby is from Genesis. After our “walk to Jerusalem,” my little four-year-old friend wanted to hear me tell the story of Genesis, and he so aptly aligned the Christ with the Father and the Spirit.

My telling of Genesis differed a little from the Owl’s, included some liberation and feminist and queer interpretation, and had a sillier serpent than that to which most people are probably accustomed. I also included a little lesson especially for him about why we keep our clothes on at school linked to the nakedness Adam and Eve learned when they ate the apple and how it wasn’t so much about being naked as it was about listening, trusting, and loving God.

As the disciples walked with Jesus to Jerusalem, in support of his subtle-yet-not-so-subtle protest of corruption and injustice, they listened to and retold his stories/parables. They talked with each other about the metaphor and meaning of all that he said and did. May our Passover remembrance this year, our reenactment of his Palm Sunday journey, our celebration of his Empty Tomb, be signs of Justice moreso now than ever before.

Unlearning: A baptismal reckoning

by Edward Lee

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
 – Alvin Toffler – Photo by Francesco Ungaro

There is something self-evident in learning, unlearning, then relearning and unlearning again as we grow in body, mind, and spirit. It is both innately and intentionally developmental. For example, at what age did we un-learn that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were NOT the sources of gifts and chocolate eggs. And in what grade in school did we finally master, after much difficult effort, how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

The 19th century German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel elevated learning and unlearning in his famous dialectic that seeks a higher level of truth with the proposition of a thesis, vigorously tested by an antithesis, resulting in a new and stronger synthesis. Learning, unlearning, and learning again. Mundanely summarized it’s called life and living.

So is Christian life and living. It’s seeking and believing, doubting, and searching, trusting, and daring, suffering and enduring, radically loving and sacrificially serving. Liturgically it’s Lent through Easter. Theologically it’s death and resurrection. Prophetically it’s profound compassion and enduring justice. Sacramentally it’s the Church community’s affirmation, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” (BCP, p. 308)

Christian scripture contains many accounts of this learn-unlearn-relearn dynamic but probably none more dramatic than the apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. In one blinding moment he is confronted and flipped from being the ardent persecutor of persons in the Jesus movement (there was no church as such at the time) to starting on his faith journey of becoming a believer, disciple, proclaimer, and missionary of the Gospel. And then there is the episode of Zaccheus, a hated tax collector, who Jesus summons and instructs to prepare a meal for him in what can only be understood as an act of an all-embracing, inclusive hospitality, a sign of what God’s kingdom on earth ought to be about. Again, learn-unlearn-relearn.

Another way of understanding this pattern and process of life and living especially in these contemporary times of social conflict, political unrest, and debilitating division is the word “reckoning.” Our nation, our local communities, our social institutions including our churches are being called into account, a reckoning, for a radical unlearning and relearning of their histories, their active roles, and complicities in what for centuries have been entrenched systems of injustice, cruelty, and genocide – most often through the distorted prism of white people’s sense of privilege, superiority, and power. Radical, disturbing, and uncomfortable reckonings must be made for many collective behaviors: slavery and racism, including against indigenous persons; misogyny and targeting sexual orientation and gender identity; anti-semitism; reliance on guns and the resulting killing fields of America; and willful blindness to poverty and the poor.

To be sure this reckoning has started. But for the people who have been “marked as Christ’s own for ever” it is a constant faith imperative.

Lent is for roadwork

by Demi Prentiss

We’re just two weeks into Lent. Whether we’ve given something up or taken something on, the discipline is just beginning to pinch. Or maybe we haven’t yet settled on a Lenten discipline. Br. Jim Woodrum of the Society of St. John the Evangelist offers this advice:

It may be that there is a laundry list you have prayerfully assembled to tackle this Lent. You are not going to get to everything. Pick one or two things and then stick with those. Hold these intentions as a focus of your prayer with Jesus and ask him to heal and transfigure them. In this way we can turn a season of discipline into a lifetime of discipleship.

Lent as a season of healing and transfiguration seems almost counter-intuitive. Many of us have been taught to look at Lent through the purple lens of sacrifice, mortification of the flesh, fasting, and self-denial. Though all of those practices are intended to be life-giving, the word “transfiguration” calls up images of Mt. Tabor and Jesus’s radiance, not the sackcloth and ashes of Lent.

For engineers, “roadwork” means tearing up what’s damaged and re-laying a serviceable road – healing the highway. For athletes, “roadwork” means conditioning, putting in hours and miles to build stamina and strength. It’s a discipline that prevents injury and imbeds essentials of movement.

For me, in my walk as a Christian, Lent is the season of “roadwork,” in both senses. I am grateful for several “mountain top” experiences along my life journey. And I have to admit that Jesus’s deflating “you have to leave the mountaintop” has proved, for me, more life-giving than the flash of revelation. Not just because “all good things must come to an end.” More because in the valley, on the journey, through the daily grind and the ebb and flow of everyday life, that is where the lessons become real, and the habits are formed. That is where the durable transformation happens.

The Rev. Erik Parker, “The Millennial Pastor,” puts it this way:

In the process of faith, in the journey of Lent, through our time spent in communities of faith, we are TRANSFORMED. In the waters of baptism, through the hearing of the Gospel alongside our siblings in faith, through the Bread and Wine made Body and Blood, we are changed to our very core. Transformed from sinners into God’s beloved, made holy and righteous by the One who meets us with forgiveness and grace. 

The mountaintops feel great; they are respite for the moment. But it is along the way of faith that God is making us into new creations, into the people that we were first created to be in Christ. 

May our faith communities, like the waters of baptism, immerse us in the discipline of Lent, marinating us in Jesus’s way of healing and transformation.

Just Plain Ministry!

Just Plain Folk: Dave, Al, David, and Nadine

by Pam Tinsley

Dave, David, and Al met eight years ago on a music team for an Episcopal Cursillo/Come and See retreat weekend. David was a vocalist and played rhythm guitar; Dave sang and played guitar, banjo, and mandolin; and Al played double bass. In addition to contemporary church music, they also shared a love of folk music and immediately began getting together to play – even though they worship at different Episcopal churches, and 35 miles separate two of them. Nadine, a fiddler and vocalist, joined them for a Come and See Prayer and Share gathering, and Just Plain Folk was born. The foursome practiced weekly, periodically played in coffee shops and farmer’s markets, and had just begun to play at some retirement communities, when the pandemic struck. Ever resourceful and committed to their passion, Just Plain Folk found ways to practice while vaxed, masked, and distanced.

Fast forward to today when the band plays regularly at retirement communities and in their memory care units. Dave describes their gigs as a ministry, a vocation – that is, the place where, in the words of Frederick Buechner, his deepest gladness meets the world’s needs. Whenever Dave picks up his mandolin, he prays that he might become a bearer of Christ’s light to brighten their hearts, if only for an hour. The result? Residents sing and dance along to tunes they know from their youth, and fellowship is nurtured, as band and audience share amusing stories from their lives.

Then, the band moves into the memory care unit. There Dave observes a powerful transformation. As they begin to play, it’s clear that their music reaches deep into the residents’ souls, awakening something beyond memory. Seeing the joy in their faces, in turn, brings great joy to the band members themselves, as a powerful reminder of Christ’s eternal truth: In giving we receive.

When the members of Just Plain Folk first started, they were mostly looking to play music together and to enjoy some Christian fellowship. Little did they realize that God had other plans for them, and Just Plain Folk has become Just Plain Ministry!

Advent letter from The Consultation

The Consultation – a consortium of progressive organizations in the Episcopal Church – has offered to the larger church some thoughts about General Convention, both reflecting on last summer’s challenging work and looking forward to the 81st General Convention scheduled for June, 2024.

Partners for Baptismal Living – the group that brings you this blog – participates in The Consultation, and invites you to read what we, along with our partner organizations, are thinking about the work ahead of us.

Find The Consultation’s Advent letter here.

For Christians throughout the earth, may your journey through Advent bring you to a joyous celebration of Christmastide! And for all people, may you know peace and joy as we enter 2023.

Grateful Turkey

by Pam Tinsley

Each year, in early November, our daughter-in-law helps our granddaughter, Sienna, make a “Grateful Turkey” out of construction paper. This year Sienna was old enough to cut Turkey’s feathers out, make its eyes, and put socks on its feet. Sienna tells Katie what she’s grateful for, and Katie writes each item on a feather. With the addition of each feather, Sienna’s “Grateful Turkey” grows more and more grateful until it has a full complement of colorful feathers.

So, just what is 3½-year-old Sienna grateful for? “Spending time with my family; Daddy playing with me before he goes to work; Omi and G’Dad babysitting me even when I’m sick; Emma showing me how to use my inhaler; Momma and our coffee/hot cocoa dates.”

Eleven of Grateful Turkey’s twelve feathers involve other people. The lone feather that doesn’t expressly refer to others reads, “the goody bag I got on Halloween.” Yet, in some ways even that feather is expressing gratitude for others. You see, this Halloween Sienna was quite ill and spent the evening at urgent care instead of trick or treating. The thoughtfulness of others helped her have a bit of Halloween after all!

Sienna’s Grateful Turkey is more than a pretty Thanksgiving decoration. It’s a symbol of the quality time that she spends with her mom. It’s a symbol of how she thoughtfully considers and thanks God for blessings. It’s a sign of her openness to God’s love and how God is already transforming this little one.

We are all called to live lives of love, care, generosity, and gratitude. We are called to love what God loves: our neighbor, ourselves, and all of creation. In short, we are called to be God’s Grateful People, sharing our gratitude with a flourish.

Receiving and being

Pexels.com – Hassan Ouajbir

by Demi Prentiss

For those of us who choose to be partners in baptismal living, we aim to live our lives following Jesus, walking the road he described as The Way. One frame for that style of living is to understand the life we live as abiding in sacrament. I’m not talking about The Sacrament: the Body and Blood of Christ.  Instead, I mean sacrament as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.”

When I examine my life through that lens, I notice that I often move between receiving sacrament and being sacrament.  In life, I’m frequently receiving those signs of grace, those signs of God at work:  a smile, a life-giving word, a gift of time, a token of encouragement, a flood of forgiveness.   What I notice less often – and usually only in after-the-fact reflection – are the times God’s grace allows me to BE sacrament: being the cup of water for a thirsty soul, laying down time or money as a life-giving sacrifice, allowing God to transform my poor offering to anoint another with healing and support. Most of those occasions are less the fruit of my own work, and more of God making the most of my offerings. And I notice that often, the catalyst for moving me from receiving to being is heartfelt gratitude. That seed produces the fruit of generosity.

Our faith communities move along that same continuum between receiving and being. We who gather with our siblings in Christ often come together to receive: washing, feeding, anointing, blessing, and fellowship.  Gratitude and the power of God enable us to become water, food, healing, and forgiveness – blossoming into God’s justice, peace, love, and resurrection in a hurting world. It takes faith to open our eyes to perceive God at work, in and through us, and our communities. Commissioned by our baptism to be co-creators with God, we can learn to recognize that we are receivers of God’s grace, and that we can be bearers of that grace to those around us. That work – observing God at work in the world and joining as God’s partner – is the essence of baptismal living.

Letting go

by Demi Prentiss

Odds are you’ve committed to memory – if not intentionally, then by massive culture-wide exposure – Disney’s anthem “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.  The song captures the emotional turmoil of a young queen, afraid and in hiding, as she struggles to accept her distinctive gifts and overcome her shame.

Let it go, let it go –

I’m one with the wind and sky.

Let it go, let it go –

You’ll never see me cry.

Here I stand and here I stay.

Let the storm rage on.

The song’s message of determined independence and courageous authenticity speaks to the hearts of many women and girls. The song has been claimed as an anthem by marginalized groups across the spectrum – people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with eating disorders and chemical addictions, people in prison, people with a variety of disabilities, and many others. The song’s authors say they created the lyrics to speak especially to those under constant pressure to be perfect.

In some conservative Christian circles, the song is criticized for what some perceive as a purely permissive message of “anything goes.” In this autumn season of letting go and loss, thanks to a post by Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE, I’m seeing a different side of that “Let it go” message:

Let Go

When Jesus looks at you and me, and longs to fill us with his life, what does he see? Does he see someone too full already? It could be too much stuff; we may be overwhelmed by busy-ness; maybe you are filled with anger, or an inability to forgive. Imagine Jesus looking at you and saying gently, “let it go, let it go.” Let it fall away like the autumn leaves.

TheDomesticCurator.com

What might be filling us, consuming all the free space within us – the space that would enable us to be more open, more creative, more generous, more loving? More free to be genuinely who we are created to be?  More free to let God set our agenda?

With God’s help, may we learn to let it go, whatever may be blocking our best, Christ-connected, co-creative selves. May we be liberated to see Christ at work, in ourselves and in others.

Our pets – key to creation

by Pam Tinsley

Blessing the family gerbils – Photo courtesy of Epiphany Parish, Seattle, WA

October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and many churches celebrate by blessing pets. In the spirit of St. Francis, we offer God thanks for the animals that share our homes. Our pets teach us to love other creatures through their love for us.

We also offer our prayers for those whose vocations involve caring for our animals. With their gifts of gentleness, wisdom, and healing, veterinarians and veterinarian techs minister to our injured and ill pets. Certainly, too, they help our animals remain healthy. We offer thanksgiving, too, for dogwalkers and pet sitters who care for our pets, while we are at work or away.

Yet, today, the Feast of St. Francis points beyond the love we have for our pets and how that love helps us to learn to better love one another. Our love for God’s creatures also reminds us of the importance of caring for all of God’s creation on “this fragile earth, our island home” (BCP, p. 370). Unprecedented temperatures along with the proliferation of raging wildfires and violent hurricanes with their impact on human life and wildlife underscore how imperative it is for us to heal our relationship to creation.

When we promise at baptism to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being, we must consider all the created world, as well. As baptized Christians, we are called to be faithful stewards of our planet – to strive to heal the damage that we have done to all of God’s sacred creation.

So, on this year’s Feast of St. Francis, I invite you to consider what you might do to honor, protect, and restore the beauty and integrity of God’s creation – with God’s help?

Cycling toward Beloved Community

by Demi Prentiss

Generosity. Thankfulness. Faithfulness. Forgiveness.

Each is an expression of the heart of God. When we choose to embody these words, we re-member God. Not simply recalling who God is and how God has touched us. We also re-present God to the people and places around us. We offer a spark of the Light within us to a broken and hurting world.

At first glance, these actions seem pretty straightforward:

http://www.pexels.com – Photo by Blanca Gasparoto
  • Generosity means giving.
  • Thankfulness flows from receiving.
  • Faithfulness calls for being steadfast.
  • Forgiveness involves opening – mind, hands, and heart.

Looking deeper, as we commit to practicing each of these God-expressions we cycle through all four:

  • Generosity prompts us to go beyond giving, to receiving the relationship that giving creates, being steadfast in our engagement, and opening ourselves to what comes to life through our generosity – sometimes in the most unexpected places.
  • When we operate out of thankfulness, our gratitude in turn becomes a gift. We’re invited to persevere in an attitude of gratitude, and we’re encouraged to open ourselves to perceive how much we can be thankful for.
  • Our steadfast faithfulness reminds us that we are forgiven as we forgive, that in giving we imitate God’s relentless generosity, and that our very lives represent a hymn of thanks to God the giver of all.
  • As we take the risk of forgiveness, being open and vulnerable, we offer a gift not only to “those who trespass against us”; we liberate ourselves, allowing thankfulness and faithfulness to shape our response to God’s love and grace.

We can enter this virtuous cycle at any point.  We can bring any of these gifts – and all of them, if we choose – to any context we encounter. Our expression of these gifts ripples out from our context to touch others.  And allowing this cycle to shape our lives offers us opportunities to express God’s goodness and participate in God’s Beloved Community.

Practice the presence of God, by joining the cycling adventure!