Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Facebook, Bloggers and People [and yes, bloggers are people too]

Everyone by now has heard of MySpace and all the news that went along with it when it began. Not long after, Facebook began.

I had considered MySpace for blogging but it didn't "feel" right, and what I mean by that is I didn't care too much for the way the HTML was formatted or the blocks for text and and other related stuff ["stuff" is such a handy word...]. I was looking for something more. Something simpler, less complicated, flexible. So I found Blogger and felt at home. Now some would say that WordPress is better. I guess it's all in how your blog looks in the blogosphere.

In the Internet world, there are a myriad of groups and organizations for people to join and become part of a cyber-community; a place to meet people with similar interests, make friends, find God, find Buddha, find science. If you look long enough, you will find a group or groups that shares your views and goals, and so forth.

I belonged to a groups for INFP's and made a friend or two in that group before leaving, only because the members got off on weird tangents and silly subjects. Sorry, I am a more focused person usually and when conversations start stretching out like Silly Putty, well I know I need to move on.

One day I was checking my email and there was an invitation from one of the group leaders who had also left the group, and she was inviting me to become her "friend" on Facebook. Well, to do so required some research on my part into Facebook and its privacy policy. What I found I liked, so I joined Facebook and now Robin and I can poke and send virtual chocolate or red wine to each other [as true friends should!].

What I have discovered is that some of the bloggers whom I visit on a regular basis have invited me to become friends and I am delighted to accept. Most of them are Episcopalians of varying degrees of seriousness but there is the comic in each and everyone of them [got to love that!] because when you think about it, it is almost a prerequisite that you be able to laugh at yourself to be an Episcopalian. It is an intellectual exercise to make fun of ourselves and crack jokes about the hierarchy of our Church and you only have to read Dave Walker's Cartoon Blog to see how far the art form has evolved.

Getting back to Facebook, it is a great way for me to catch up on the goings on of my friends from one vantage point. I can even find out of members of my parish are on Facebook. I can think of a few people who could benefit from a SuperPoke or a martini, or a sheep for that matter [yes, you can give sheep, you just need a throwing arm to do so...].

There are Episcopal groups that I belong to or have been invited to such as, the Episcoposse, or Notoriously Anglican [it's for all "Anglicans", including us, the disagreeable cousins, allegedly causing the kerfuffle that we have read so much about since +Gene in 2003, who by the way, I admire and respect as a man of God and quiet leader in the about humility...], EpiscoBloggers, OCICBW, and Integrity USA, to name a few.

I have also met others who love animals, especially bunnies [...sigh...], and so you never know who will come into your life to bless it. Nothing is too great for God to find a way to glorify Himself through His creation. I mean, I see God in ordinary things. I see God in my Shih Tzu, for instance, when he looks up at me a certain way and pats my toes with his paw.

I guess what I am trying to get to here is that if you need community, don't isolate yourself on your computer. It is part of being in community but you need live bodies too that you can talk to, share a meal with, or discuss a book over coffee with in your own local community. I love my Internet friends and bloggers and I hope to meet them face to face one day in my travels, or I in theirs, but until then, go to your faith community, meet with your friends on a regular basis, join a book group, join Facebook and find others with similar interests to your own. We can always learn from each other, regardless of where we are in the world.

And while you are at it, please pray for the Bishops' Meeting in New Orleans this week. Now there's a group that needs prayer and positive thoughts motoring their way 24/7. Prayer for the Church and for the World. Pray for your neighbor and the stranger. You never know when you may be entertaining angels.

So, see you in the world...


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Giving Thanks and A Time To Dance

And so, I return, well and healthy. NO cancer. I am blessed. Others would say I am lucky. Yet others would say "Good genes!" Some might say its fate. All I know right now is that, as I awaited my surgery on 09/07/07, I knew the kind of peace you sort of dream of or imagine. I attribute this peace to the prayers, support and love I have received since this medical ordeal began from friends, parishioners and unseen friends in the Blogosphere. No, let me correct that: it wasn't an ordeal but a situation for me. It's when you or someone you know actually has cancer that it can become, or is, an ordeal.

I have recovered sufficiently enough to return to work and to blogging. I am now 0 - 2 for cancer, meaning Cancer-0 and Me-2, just so we are clear on the scoring stats. Just as I was sharing the news with everyone that I was going to be OK, I learned that a priestly friend--Mary+--from the northern part of our Valley actually has been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I was still happy for me and so were others, even the afflicted Mary+. I hold her up in prayer for healing and peace, and may she know the power of the laying on of hands as I have...

We are now enjoying the last days of official Summer and next week Fall begins again. I'm ready for the change, after all we KNOW we'll have summer again next year.

I wish to thank at this time all of those who have been caring for me and continue to do so, near and far. I've learned a lot about people and their willingness to put themselves "out there" for others. I thank my best friend, Joyce, for taking me to surgery that morning and I thank Ann from my church for picking me up and bringing me home. And of course, I thank my priest, my deacons and various other clergy and holy people from my church for praying for me and checking on me frequently.

And all of those wonderful Trinity women who prayed tirelessly on my behalf. I would name them all but then it would be an extremely long post, but they know who they are. And those fellow bloggers of mine: Eileen, Kirstin, Elizabeth+, Cecilia+, Jonathan+ aka Mad Priest, Quixotic Pastor, Christina, Jan, Lisa, Magdalene, Little Mary, just to name a few.

So you all have my thanks and my blessing. Pray without ceasing for all who are afflicted and show kindness to all. It's time to dance before the Lord, who has done great things for me...



Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Sacred, Love and Baptism: Our Trinity

As promised, here is another sermon by The Rev Anne K Bartlett. Remarkable in its simplicity yet powerful in its message of sacredness, love and the blessing of baptism--the becoming one in Christ, as one of His own within the family of the true and living God. May you be blessed by its Gospel truth as I was last Sunday [and yes I share the pew I happen to try to sit in every Sunday...there, I said it!]. Please visit us at Trinity Episcopal in Ashland, Oregon

2 September 2007
Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, OR
The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett, Rector

In the name of the living God, who is and was and is to come. Amen.

Annie Dillard, one of my favorite authors, tells a story from her childhood about hiding a shiny penny in a tree stump and then drawing chalk arrows and messages on the sidewalk for blocks around: “Treasure this way!” “Don’t miss it!” “You’re almost there!” She would then hide behind a large forsythia bush and watch which people in her neighborhood would play the game and which ones walked right on by, either preoccupied with their own affairs or not wanting to be bothered with the prospect of an unexpected treasure.

Annie Dillard reminds me of how the Holy Spirit works through Scripture and in our lives, leaving us messages along the Way, with arrows pointing to unexpected and unearned treasures, if we’re not too preoccupied or too jaded to respond. And who knows? Why not imagine the Spirit is hiding near at hand, watching if we will become as children again, and let our steps quicken with excitement for unexpected treasure along the path if we but follow Her clear directions.

So let’s see what surprises await us this morning, first in the Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah is dumbfounded by a people who have stopped asking the question “Where is God? Where is God in my life? Where is God in the life all around us?” Instead they have exchanged their glory of being God’s people for that which does not give life, relying instead on the prizes the culture holds out. Instead of wondering “Where is the Lord,” their question – maybe our question – has become, “What’s in it for me?”

“What’s in it for me?” is the attitude that Jesus was lambasting at the dinner party in the Gospel story. As I’ve frequently observed, Our Lord ate out a lot, and often with the wrong sort of people. Today, however, he is eating with folk like you and me, good religious people, upstanding citizens, but he notices that the guests are scrambling for the best places at the table.

I can’t help but be reminded how we sometimes choose our places in the pews. Some of us like to sit up front. Many of us like to sit in the very back. Newcomers have told me they feel uneasy, queasy because they are sure they must be sitting “in someone’s place.” As if we own our favorite spots! Jesus tells us to stop jockeying for position and instead pay attention to the needs of the other person. “Blessed are you who give up your favorite spot for a stranger. Even more blessed are you who scoot over to the center and let the stranger have the seat on the aisle.” You know, it really is unseemly to ask our guests and visitors to clamber over our knees so that they can have a place with us. Taking the less promising seat is an act of hospitality of the most fundamental kind.

Stories about being at the table run all through the Bible. We are always being fed, or yearning to be included in the party. At Eucharist, we are God’s guests, and Jesus is our host, and there is room for all. The image of the Kingdom is the heavenly banquet, the feasts of all feasts, and it’s always a topsy-turvey toss-up about who is seated where and who is serving whom. Jesus also had words for his host that night. “Don’t invite your rich friends and your family, because they can invite you back, and you’ll get gourmet food and fine wine,” he says. Stop behaving in the old economy of exchange, asking “What’s in it for me?”

Liberate yourselves from the dynamic of mutual benefit, the “this for that” mentality. I’ll pay you this for that; I’ll do this for you if you do that for me; I’ll invite you to my house if you invite me to yours. Instead, operate under the laws of God’s economy, the economy of sacrifice.

Now hold on. Usually when the word “sacrifice” is put on the table, we tend to assume we know what it means: we assume ‘sacrifice’ always entails a loss to us or at least a diminishment of our selves. Actually, the literal meaning of the word “sacrifice” means “to make sacred.” And – get this! –the origins of sacrifice are in food offered to the gods, as an acknowledgement that we are not our own, we do not belong to ourselves, and we are thankful for the sustenance that keeps us alive. So the food of the sacrifice itself became sacred, holy. And the offering of such food was a sacramental act. Which is why, in our Eucharistic prayer, we speak of “offering to God this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,” and sometimes we pray that we too may be made a “living sacrifice to God.”

So, the economy of exchange asks: What’s in it for me? But the economy of sacrifice asks: How can I offer myself fully for your sake, no strings attached? Going back to our table talk, the beatitude would be: “Blessed are you who invite those who will never be able to pay you back, for yours is the kingdom of God.” In the economy of sacrifice, we invite others to our tables as we have been invited to God’s table, with no sense of how the others might repay us, but simply to acknowledge the worth and the value of the other. God’s economy of sacrifice – of making sacred – invites us to love and care in ways which draw us outside of ourselves and into union with all creation.

There’s a new book out titled Eat This Bread by Sara Miles, an Episcopalian who belongs to St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco, a congregation known for its hands-on service to the poor as much as for its innovative liturgy. Sara describes how they play out this “making all things sacred” way of sacrificial living. During worship, the high round table in the center of the sacred space is the altar, on which the Eucharistic feast is prepared and blessed, broken and distributed. Immediately after worship, the altar cloth is whipped off and replaced with a festive tablecloth, the coffee pot and plates of cookies come out of the kitchen and the table becomes the center of coffee hour, the feast of fellowship. On Fridays, the table is loaded with jars of peanut butter and cans of tuna fish and is one of many loaded with food for the poor, who stream through the open parish doors. Eucharist, fellowship, service: all served at the one table. All is held in God and all is holy.

A couple of years ago I heard of hot new restaurant in the Portland Pearl district. Listen to this. For $30 you can buy a place at a table with 35 people you don’t know. It’s a big long table, simple flowers, very good food, served family-style. You eat what has been prepared; no other choices. The pace is leisurely – no rushing – plenty of time for table talk. The point? To share a meal with strangers and talk with them. That’s all. The man and the woman who cook and arrange for this meal have a young child, who goes from lap to lap. The conversation, they say, often turns to discussion of the things that are giving meaning to the lives of the guests. It’s very hard to get a reservation, because many people are yearning just for this experience. And the ones who have been lucky to go once often want to come back time after time. What are those guests really yearning for? Hospitality and community and a sense that life has meaning and a desire to connect with strangers and find an unexpected treasure in the connection.

Did you know that the literal meaning of “hospitality” is “love of a stranger”. We seem these days, as a culture, to be yearning for what we don’t have: for time to sit and talk about what our hearts desire, time to be in communion with others beyond our own network of family and friends, time to be at table with all ages, time to be hospitable to one another, a chance to lay aside our mistrust of the stranger.

Hospitality is a primary Christian virtue, it is based on the economy of sacrifice, it means to welcome the unknown, especially those on the “margins,” and seek Christ in them; it means to offer food, fellowship, and full inclusion.

Annie Dillard said that many people when they came to the treasure walked right on by the shiny new penny, free for the taking. I guess to most people, when they saw how small it was, of such little apparent worth, it wasn’t worth the bother to stoop and pick it up. But isn’t that how it goes in the spiritual life? That when we can get out of ourselves for even a moment and open ourselves to the possibility that the divine Mystery has stamped upon us the imprint of itself, and that we are participating in a power beyond the pitiful little power that we think we yield, and connection to this Mystery and to this Life and to this Life is being offered to us, over and over again, if we but let go of our pride and our despair and our striving and humble ourselves by stooping to notice and rejoice.

In a few minutes, this congregation is going to have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of Colleen Graves, whom we have come to know and love over the past year. We will have the privilege also of welcoming her into our midst, to travel with us on the Way, to be pilgrims with us. We are here to lean on if you become discouraged, and we know you will be there to lend us a hand when we falter or fall. We’re all in this together, sealed by the Spirit, and made one with Christ. For Colleen to choose to take this step is an act of courage as well as faith. I cannot overemphasize the change that has occurred in our western culture in the past several decades.

Colleen’s friends no doubt find her decision to be baptized to be very strange if not downright incomprehensible. She is daring to do a profoundly counter-cultural act this morning, and I want us all to be aware of that fact. In that respect, her generation of Christians is more like the earliest Christians than any of us ever were. She will pay her own form of sacrifice in order to throw in her lot with Jesus. She knows what she is doing.

You are not alone, Colleen. That we can promise you. And we rejoice in you and your decision, and we thank the Spirit for guiding you and we thank you for noticing the arrows of grace and of promise that have appeared to you on your path and for your courage and your joy in valuing the treasure of grace which is being given to you, this day and always.

Colleen has chosen Jodi and Paul French, who brought her to Trinity and with whom she shares her ministry of music to be her sponsors on this day of her baptism. Will the three of you now please come forward….

And so it was...a glorious baptism, one more Episcopalian, sure, but truly, one more disciple of Christ. And the pundits say the Episcopal Church is losing members. I dunno, at the rate Trinity is adding members, I doubt that the pundits really know what they are talking about.

That said, this will be my last post for a bit with my surgery the day after tomorrow. I hope to recover quickly so I can be up and writing again. Keep one another in love and joy, and show love to a them how sacred their life truly is...


Sunday, September 02, 2007

When Life Gets In the Way and the Wonder of Baptism

Health issues are always a bit of a quagmire to approach with anyone, on any level. And yet they do occur,whether we are ready for them or not. And so it is, with me, an issue of the health variety.

Almost a month ago, I discovered two lumps that seemed to just show up one day [monthly exams are part of my health routine]. They had not been there previously so it caused my eyebrows to knit [what? my eyebrows can knit and my fingers cannot...the unfairness of life!!!]. So, I make an appointment with my doctor to see what she thinks. She thinks I need the routine imaging I do once a year and an ultra sound.

I go; tests are done; I wait. The next morning my doctor wants to see me...fine, I go and not only does she confirm the two lumps I had found but a third is found, discreetly tucked further back against the chest muscle. A fine howdy-do, don't you know. So we decided that a biopsy is needed. No big deal; common routine procedure.

Finally those results come in and they are "bizarre" as the radiologist describes them. Turns out that he only biopsied one of the lumps and not all three [in 2002 I had a similar procedure except that the radiologist then biopsied both lumps in that situation; they were benign]. Well, needless to say I was not happy about that and neither was my doctor. So, there we sat, a bit peeved at the lack of thoroughness. His report had said that since the one was benign then most likely all three were the same way. Kim and I did not agree. She felt that a second opinion should be considered.

Not being one to sit on a fence and doddle, I said let's to it, and she seconded the motion. We decided on my previous surgeon, a good "breast man" [VBG!] to obtain the second opinion so she made the call and an appointment was made.

During that appointment, he and I discussed things and it was decided by both the surgeon and myself that a more involved biopsy be performed. He said, however that he would excise the lumps completely and then biopsy them afterwards, giving me peace of mind and the knowledge that these offending lumps of renegade tissue were out of my body.

SO...the big day is this coming Friday, September 7th, 8:30am sharp, PDT. I am actually looking forward to the procedure with much relief. I went through this in 2002 so I know what to expect as far as the surgery, the pain and discomfort. And I won't be going through it alone either.

My priest, Anne+, my spiritual mentor Shirley, our deacons, Carol+ and Meredith+, several retired clergy, and a bevy of Trinity women will be lifting me up in prayer that day especially. They have been for about a month now anyway but more have joined the ranks as well. I also have some far-flung friends across the nation who have also been praying and will continue to pray for me. A few of them asked me today after church if I had blogged about this yet and I had to say, in all truthfulness, I had not even considered it until they had mentioned it. And so here I am this evening, writing about it, sharing it with my cyber-Episcopal/Christian family.

And today I was so thankful to be present in church. I just love it when we have a baptism! And it was a grown up. A young grown up who is willing to proclaim her faith in front of not just us but her peers who will --as Rev Anne put it in her sermon --think that Colleen has lost her mind! But it was so beautiful and church was packed. You see, we don't usually announce baptisms [at least I didn't know about it]; they just get sprung on us and the excitement is palpable. And for the church to be packed on a holiday weekend? Well, that was even more hot coals upon our heads! Anne's+ sermon said it all really and that will be another post to follow this one. But the blessing part for me personally was that it was a great service to be at and in [yes, every Sunday at Trinity Ashland is like that--amazing!], the Sunday before my surgery. As Colleen is sealed in her baptism by holy oil, I am sealed in the prayers of those who care for me and trust in the healing power of Christ risen from the dead.

The oneness, the solidarity if you will, of a parish congregation that surrounds the newly baptized as well as the afflicted, is a glorious and humble experience. It is a congregation that stands as a shining example of what Church in the Episcopal tradition really is: all encompassing, strengthening, nourishing and supporting. It is "Christ Alive!" in those who have and do receive Him as Lord and Savior. Its' spiritual life is life-giving and life-affirming. That is what Trinity is to me. It is home, my spiritual home. It is my family. And it is because of this reality that I go forward in faith to meet my appointed medical procedure with confidence and assurance that all will be truly well.

And because I care for friends and strangers alike, I urge you all, men and women, to perform monthly breast exams and report to your physician any changes you find, because you might be saving your own life. And YES, men can get breast cancer too. So be diligent and be aware, physically and spiritually, as you continue your life journey.

Thanks for listening, and for all the sweet, little prayers...