‘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?

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.

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.

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.

Peace be with you

by Demi Prentiss

Attainment of Inner Peace Flickr photo by Karthik Prabhu

St. Seraphim of Sarov is often quoted as having said, “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find their salvation.”

All during Christmas and Epiphany, we Christians have focused our awareness on the Light of Christ. As we walk our Lenten journey, we’re invited to practice silence and stillness, discovering Christ’s light within our own hearts as well as in the world around us. Our Lenten practices can help us nurture that light, grounding us in the peace that Christ’s presence brings.

The daily work of practicing inner stillness can free us to remember who we are – a Child of God, beloved and called. And in that clarity of our true identity, joy blossoms as quietly as a flower unfolding. That joy is the wellspring of the generosity – in terms of possessions and time, skills and spirit – that is the hallmark of one who follows Christ’s way of love.

Seraphim understands that joy as God’s irresistible gift – whenever we receive that joy and offer it to another, it sets the world alight.  “We cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives.” In the sharing and receiving, such a community of joy participates in the reign of God.

May our inner work in Lent lead us to the realization that our daily work – offering ourselves as such conduits of joy – can bring us to a place of true peace.

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