Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Season Changes Begin

You can tell it's that time of year when summer begins to wane and the changes in the summer season become evident. Here in southern Oregon I see those minute changes where others don't but then, some of them have not lived here their entire lives, or have left only to come home again.

They are subtle changes not always apparent to the everyday eye. Watching, as I was today, a fledgling robin find its way in my front outdoor room was one of those changes. Only beginning to get its rusty coloring, its chest speckled for now, it was calm as robins are in that peculiar way that other birds are not. I could approach it to within two feet and it would remain still and look at me for the longest time hoping that if it remained still enough I would not see it.

And I may be seeing the end of the reign of the neighborhood bunnies too. I haveonly seen one in the past week. It was not long after Beta died that Alpha disappeared. Homer and Frac could be seen hanging out together often in the neighborhood but now it is only Frac. The dishes of rabbit pellets are still nearly full since I filled them a week and a half ago. The apples are still there but one or two are missing. I think it is a young opossum that has been enjoying the fruit late at night. I did see the little smuggler a few weeks ago, snatching the odd bug or snail from under a plank and munching away happily, or so it seemed.

There is the way the sunlight changes this time of year, thought not seeming as
bright in the late afternoons and early evenings, its heat is intense even when the tint of the tilting light is not.
And it is getting darker earlier now. At one point the sun didn't go down until almost 9 pm. Now it is setting around 8pm, but then that is the way of it, isn't it? It is consequently darker in the morning when the sun does not rise until about 6:35 am when it was coming up around 5:30 am before.

And of course there are the way-to-early geese already a step ahead of their.
fellows, migrating a bit too soon for my tastes, but then, I'm not a OCD angle of geese either.

Of course we know that school will start soon. All the commercialism tells us that as well as the city maintenance crews repainting crosswalks and bike lanes, new bus drivers practicing their routes and learning the new tricks of the trade, namely, security, how to deal with unruly students, bullying and the like. I usually find someone's new pair of mittens laying in the street in front of my house when the cold mornings finally arrive, or the rubber bracelet representing some cause in the gutter. So much for living strong.

The other thing, and this is one I dread every fall, is the recklessness of high school students speeding down residential streets, cutting into oncoming lanes of traffic, running stop signs, drag racing down my street at lunch time, the dumped fast food wrappers and soda cups on everyone's lawns and the foul language shouted as loudly as possible without regard for the originator's respect, much less for anyone else's. I know to never try to leave my driveway before noon or a bit thereafter as I may lose the front of the bimmer or the back. And this goes for around 8 or 8:30 am and 2:30 to 3 pm as well. In such a hurry to get there and then in such a double hurry to leave. Education: so important. Traveling to and from it: a risk at best.

And church, that spiritual thing that I love. It is still the "green season" and yet we know that the choir will soon be starting up again with it's "choir camp" come September, and Sunday school will begin again in earnest with all the children back home.
The blessing of the animals in October is also a telltale sign that fall has arrived, and the labyrinth in the Trinity garden will be alive with the fauna of our homes. From gerbils, hamsters, birds, and bunnies to cats, kittens, puppies and dogs--and maybe the odd sugarglider, iquana, gecko or tarantula-- they will arrive with humans in tow for Rev. Anne's blessings. And they are, blessings to young and old alike, the firm and infirm, the happy and the sad. Even Murphy, our priest's golden retriever will be there to help make all of our animal friends comfortable...or create a tiny bit of chaos perhaps. After all, Murphy is only a year or so old and you know what that means...toddler behavior and slap-happy antics!

Fall gardeners will be busy in their beds [garden beds, people!] harvesting summer produce and perhaps planting fall vegetables for harvest later. I have already picked what seems like a billion tomatoes and have some in my food dehydrator as I type. I also dry zucchini for putting into stews, soups and marinara sauces during the colder months. Some I will send to my brother in Portland for the same purposes in a regular "care package"--along with some coconut macaroons--that he gets more often during the winter than the rest of the year since his work keeps him from visiting often.

As more fall reminders come to mind, I will share those observations with you. In the meantime, enjoy the waning days of summer as if the season would go on forever. It will last longer that way.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fence-sitting: I won't, with God's help...

Many things in history have occurred because someone didn't want to become "involved" with an issue. Lots of lives were either saved or lost because of someone's action or inaction. And sometimes the someone or someones lost their own life as a result of choosing to not sit on a fence and watch others die or live. They made a conscious choice to become involved as a matter of conscience, as an issue of right versus wrong, humane versus inhumane.

All of these very scenarios play themselves out each day in countries all over the world. In Darfur, Sudan; in Rwanda; Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, England, the Netherlands; in America, in a town or city where you live. Someone somewhere is suffering at the hands of another someone, either physically, mentally, or ideologically. In Christianity we call those who step out of the crowd to stop a senseless killing or bombing or, in the old days, a burning or an inquisition, a martyr. Someone who is willing to die for another or an idea. We see the dark side of martyrdom in modern times in the embassy bombings in Africa, or the suicide bombings in Israel, or the bombing of the USS Cole, the senseless kidnapping of some country's soldiers which causes a conflict that ends up destroying a country or a people, or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 here in our native land.

Christian martyrs died for the right to worship and believe in Christ instead of human beings with unlimited earthly powers because they decided they needed to be gods of--most notably--the Roman Empire. No one is asking for anyone to be a martyr nowadays in America because we have a lot more rights than the folks of that time period. I said more, not all the rights, we should have but we have some rights, both civil and ecclesiastical.

And I say some because even in the Church, especially the Episcopal Church, not every one is equal in the eyes of the Church but we are, as we know, equal in the eyes of God even if some narrow-minded people tell the rest of us that they are somehow better than the rest of us. Here lies the rub.

There is a growing ultra-conservative minority in the Episcopal Church that believe they have the "red phone" to God and the rest of us do not. And who are we to think that we are all equal before God, for pity sake? There are three dioceses in America that refuse to ordain women as priests, 30 years after the fact that made us equal to men in the priesthood. Talk about living in the dark ages. And here we thought we were so modern! And now this very sect, for that is what they are, want to relegate not only women, but gay and straight women, not to mention gay men, to the back of the proverbial bus, or not even the back of the bus, but the luggage compartment instead.

Let's see now. God has said that we are made in Their image, all of us, gay, straight and inbetween. Every human being, past, present and future, are reflections of God in Their creative glory. Who are we to deny the images of God in us to be relegated to the luggage compartment? No one has that right but apparently this sect has the arrogance to try do so. Believe me, I don't want to be them when standing before the judgment Seat of Christ on THAT day! Furthermore, and it has been said so many times, that according to our Baptismal Covenant that we renew in vows every Easter and at every baptism we attend, that we will strive for the justice of all, we will with God's help. So I ask: What part of the Baptismal vows don't the ultra-conservatives get? What part of the Baptismal vows don't the fence-sitters get? How are you going to work for justice when you can't decide what to do? Whose side to be on? That of justice or injustice? For me the choice is crystal clear, and that choice is justice. And yes, it will demand that dirt gets under one's fingernails because obtaining justice and defeating prejudice is a dirty job, and those brave of heart, mind, soul and spirit can and will do it.

The approaches are few. Talking helps but it takes two to listen and understand. Change is necessary and inevitable. There are only two constants in the universe: God and change. It was through Christ that God changed us from a legalistic people to a grace people. To return to legalism would be to negate everything Christ was sent to us to do. He will have died in vain if we even remotely give legalism any quarter.

Recently, the a court in Washington state denied the appeal of many gay and lesbian couples hoping to obtain equal standing in the right to be legally married like their heterosexual counterparts. Everyone asked "Where is an activist judge when we need one?!" when the appeal was struck down by that court. If we want to save the Episcopal Church from a similar fate, we need to become active, not passive and hope something nice will happen while we watch from the fence. I won't be on it with those who choose to take the easy way out but want their equal rights in the Church all the same without working for the justice it will take to get those rights and the God-given equality that was paid for in Christ's body and blood.

I urge, encourage, strongly recommend that Episcopalians, gay or straight, become involved in one or both of the following progressive equality movements that have come out of the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions. Please visit their websites below for more information and how you can become a part of this justice movement in the Episcopal Church. I am not asking anyone to forego caring about and becoming involved in the MDG"s or the ONE Episcopalian Campaign. These are in addition TO those two very worthy and just causes:

The Episcopal Majority at http://episcopalmajority.blogspot.com/2006/08/national-gathering-of-episcopal.html


WakeUp Episcopal Organization at http://www.wakeuptec.org/

Thank you for your time and consideration. The outcast community of the Episcopal Church in the luggage compartment thanks you.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

When Evil Is Perpetrated in the Name of God...

It seems at times that the world is an overwhelming place. On a global scale, it is a violent and unpredictable chunk of life, spinning and going no where. That is how it looks on the outside, and if you were to choose any one place on this planet, some kind of evil is happening there. It could be something as innocuous as white-collar crime, or something as horrendous as genocide. I think that the worse reason for any of it is that often the evil is perpetrated in the name of God, whatever He/She/It is called by the myriads of peoples roaming the earth.

I tell you, God gets a very bad rap when this happens. For humanity to do something in the name of a benevolent and merciful God especially. It is my view that the Crusades were just as heinous as the Holocaust, and that's just one example among many where murder or torture is committed in the name of God. I don't care what you call your God. Allah, El Shaddai, Jesus, Shiva, Buddha...The name doesn't matter. What does matter is the willfulness of the creature--human beings--to commit their evil will in a good God's name. They think that somehow this justifies their actions. Not.

I am not much of a philosopher so don't hit me up for some ontological argument. I like to keep concepts simple. Ok, so here is a simple concept.

The ten diocese and various churches within certain dioceses that can't get a grip on reality enough to know that they are wrong about The Episcopal Church, are perpetrating a willful, controlling evil on the rest of the Church, or at least they are trying hard to do so. The Episcopal majority however sees things more clearly and has a firm grip on reality. Why? Because they are living the Gospel, the very message of Christ crucified and risen again, for all humanity. They make no exceptions; God's grace through Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation and acceptance into His open arms.

Jesus does not give a Continental if you are gay, straight, liberal, conservative, stupid or smart, ideologically blind or spiritually perceptive. If you have accepted Christ into your life, it's a done deal. Christ fulfilled the Law thereby making it perfect and that perfection is evident in the grace He has bestowed upon us all, once for all. End of discussion. Nope, not a peep, because He is the end all, the be all of propitiation for sin...He is THE propitiation...period.

A lot has happened since the turning point in 2003 at General Convention, when the Church finally recognized that all of us are created equal and all are equally loved by God. The Spirit moved men and women to a decision then, and they were led by the Spirit gain in 2006 to another turning point in our Church by the election of Bishop Katharine to be our next Presiding Bishop. God has worked in the lives of women for centuries, since the beginning of time itself. Actually, since before time as we know it when They created us in Their image. And it was very good.

The good that is done in the name of God anywhere is almost always overshadowed by the evil in the world. Yet even out of evil, good can happen. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, I know. But we also have to remember that nothing is impossible for God...nothing. Early on when I began this blog I mentioned something similar in phrase. And I also quoted the part of the verse "nothing is impossible for God" and I said this is so, not because Scripture tells us so, but because the word "nothing" is not in God's vocabulary. I am always assured and encouraged when I read a plaque that my grandmother gave to my mother before I was born. It is a verse that I always come back to even in the darkest moments of my life:

"And we know that all things work together for good, to them who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose". Romans 8:28

To know that all things--even the very worst things we know or imagine--will work out for good is a hard thing to believe when we see what goes on around us from moment to moment, in our own communities or in the greater world.

No one will ever truly understand why a father would commit murder-suicide with his eleven year old son, causing the rippling grief into two families, just to make a statement to his ex-wife. Nor will we understand why a nutjob, alleged man of Allah, would plot to kidnap two Israeli soldiers and get more than he bargained for and, in the process, cause the misery of innocents on both sides for his own selfish political gain.

It will never make any logical sense for these two scenarios or any of the other thousands of incidences that play out ever moment of every day all over the world. But to blame God for the actions of self-promoting, power-hungry people...well, that's plain stupid and wrong. We who know that God is not to blame, well we just have to show the rest of the world what God is really like by our lives and our words, our actions and our thoughts. We are the examples, we are the representatives of the true, living, life-giving God, and it's our job to be His/Her ambassadors for good. But perhaps more than that, we need to show the world Christ, the real, the merciful the pure, unblemished, the all accepting Son of God and display His grace to all.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pictorial Directories and Fellowship

I've learned an interesting thing here lately and that is when it's time for your church to do a pictorial directory, all kinds of neat stuff happens, especially when you get more than 3/4's of your parishioners to actually show up for the picture taking. Yes it takes fortitude on the part of the organizer or organizers but it pays off in more ways than the end product.

Recently my parish embarked on this most monumental task. Our rector reminded us so very graciously and with gentle firmness that it was not optional to get your picture taken or be in the directory...It was affably mandatory. And--it worked. Sure the vestry had to move their meeting the first night of "snaps" otherwise we could not have had so much fun filling out little forms for the photographer and his assistance, calling folks who were late [everyone got a 10 minute grace period to show or be called], checking off those who had verified their vital statistics, nailing the ones who had not completed their census forms or parish surveys requested by the Strategic Planning Committee. We got three birds with one stone, that's one more bird than average!

But what was more significant was the interaction of parishioners who had not met one another, either at all or not for a very long time. I know I met some folks that I had never met, some I had seen but didn't know who they were, and some I had spoken to and knew but had never learned their names. I know, it's pathetic but there it is. And as we waited for out appointed time, it was sort of sweet to see some folks fussing over each other so not a hair would be out of place or a tie crooked, or a lapel folded under.

Some parishioners literally flew threw the doors having forgotten their appointment while working in the yard or in the house at a chore. A few guys were dressed to the nines from the waist up while sporting holey jeans or dirty sneakers; or the occasional gal with a leaf still in her hair or blackberry stain on their hand. But you know, we could laugh and smile and gently chide one another, young, old and in between and simply enjoy the fellowship of waiting and wondering "how did I turn out?"

It was also a good time to catch up with folks we had not seen or spoken to in a good while. And it was a fine time for those who had been on hiatus to return to the flock. I heard lots about gardens, pets, visiting relatives, a new house that had been bought, a trip to Europe or some wonderful project someone had started with the help of a neighbor. Good stuff from good people.
I also noticed that as some waited for their turn, they were perusing signup sheets for various activities or work crews, be it the Meals on Wheels program needing drivers or the rummage presale event. Always something to contribute to...All the while waiting to contribute an image for posterity and the answer to the oft heard remark: "I wondered who that was!" or "So that's who that is !"

Working with the photography crew was fun too, and we thank them for their good-naturedness and the tireless hours they spent over the four days they were with us. They were thankful for the coffee and any other goodies we could scare up. We enjoyed their company as well as they enjoyed ours.

True, some folks were gone on vacation or had other commitments that took them away from the Valley that part of the week earlier this month, but they made provision for a picture to be included all the same.

We have had so many new members lately -- fifteen in the last batch --that a pictorial directory is a must, especially for our rector, who has a true need to know who is who at a glance, not to mention the rest of us, who are always trying to put names to faces given the amazing growth our parish has experienced since the return of Rev. Anne to the Rogue Valley in 2000 as our rector.

Well, the deed is done for about another 4 years. We will see the result in October I think. But isn't great when we reap the benefits of one task that multiplies into a bunch of opportunities? Pictorial directories: love 'em when they are organized and done right, or just dislike them profoundly and avoid them altogether. Thankfully that is not the Trinity way.

So if your church is considering doing one, it will be ok. Just be organized, calm and optimistic.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Returning and Rest

It is the middle of August and the days are moving forward with easier momentum. That is, if you don't count the current war in the Middle East, the attempted bombing of airliners, the continuing war in Iraq--and it is a war, not a conflict--reminiscent of Viet Nam, and of course, all of the other griefs and grievances foregone, home and abroad.

And as awful as it all is, we have to remember that we cannot bear the burdens of the world. It's not our place. Yes, we can do what we can, we can care and pray, and try to empathize with the suffering and inhumanity, but we cannot own it in our own persons. When we do this, it is far too overwhelming to bear, and those who try to bear it end up unable to do anything for anyone, much less help themselves.

This is why we pray.

We pray because there is One who can make a difference. It's not always the difference we hope or pray for, but a difference is made nonetheless. It is not a difference we necessarily understand or "see" but it is still a difference. We know that in addition to giving to Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross or the Red Crescent, or UNICEF, or any of a number of human-driven and care-powered organizations, that prayer is making a difference in someone's life somewhere in this vast, writhing world. It is in praying that we can allow ourselves the time and means to heal ourselves from thinking we have to bear the weight of the world in our hearts and souls.

You see, we are not made to carry such enormity of sorrow, pain and grief. That is not how God made us. Jesus Christ enables us, gives us the tools to appropriately lay the sorry, the pain, the grief down on His shoulders, in His hands through grace. And living His hope and love doesn't hurt either.

I have always believed that each person is capable of distributing this gift--grace-- far and wide, if they chose to do so. Some do. Some don't. We don't always know who these people are, except for the blatantly obvious examples of the "don't" faction. And here I refer to those with no palpable conscience, who enjoy the killing of innocents or the torture of those who hold a different point of view or way of life.

But more often than not, we can tell who the "doers" are. They cry when they see a picture on the news or in a magazine of suffering and unnecessary death, they contribute to a special cause that will help alleviate the pain and suffering of others, they help the stranger on the street in their own home town. They also hold their own private sorrows at bay in order to help others. Yet their sorrows count too. They are not easy to see or detect, these sorrows and griefs of the givers, and therein lies the difficulty.

Making the concerted effort to get to know people takes a certain amount of bravery, assertiveness and care. And I acknowledge that not everyone can pull off any one or all of these necessary things. The gestures do not have to be grand, or loud or even expensive. In fact the best gestures are the ones that cost nothing; they are the more touching and considerate every day sorts of things. But even these cost something. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive, and He should know, right? Exactly. My point is that it doesn't have to involve money. Pick a flower from your flower bed, fruit or vegetables from your garden, hand make a card, give an unused quilt or throw, offer to work on a car [makes sure you know what you are doing!], bake bread or cookies or a cake, make a meal and take it to your elderly or handicapped neighbor, keeping an eye on your neighbor's house when they are gone, feed someone else's pet, read a book to a child or elderly person...I could go on but I might break my blogspot.

So in my returning, I have found the kind of rest that only my close friends, deacons, and priests can give. They can tell when I am bearing a burden and they--in their own individual ways--take a little so it's not so heavy. Yes, the main ingredient is grace as a good number of them are from church, but the others are not so much believers as simply good and caring people. And in so doing they make my life a bit more hopeful and not so sorrowful, and encourage me along the way. I thank them too, with all that I am.

We have wars going on inside of us all the time, and famines and even terrorists attacks [you know, panic and anxiety episodes; those are what I deem the internal and infernal terror attacks of the soul and spirit]. If we would only pray and meet with our Creator, the Earthmaker and Redeemer, a difference could be made in us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us. So, check in on your fellow parishioner, your neighbor, the stranger on the street or plane...we might be entertaining angels for all we know.

Returned to the blogosphere...