A colleague of mine told me about a story-telling website. "It's called the Moth" he said. "People get up and tell their own stories, and its become very popular. Maybe we can do something similar here." After a while, I finally checked it out (https://themoth.org) and now I listen whenever I can.
What further caught my attention was the sentence in the sign-off at the end of the broadcast: "The Moth Radio Hour is co-produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and presented by PRX."
This is close to home!
I went to the website and found the section that offers Storytelling Tips & Tricks. Perfect, I thought, maybe this will help my preaching.
There, in their guidelines, is the reason that I keep listening to the stories of so many different people: Stakes. "What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story."
I don't know what I stand to gain or lose when I preach - I haven't thought much about it until now, although I have told some vulnerable stories from the pulpit. Just asking the question is to inject a sermon with immediacy and urgency, as does 'why is what happens in the story important to me'.
Now, as I listen to other peoples' stories, I listen to the content. And I listen for the why. So that when I tell our story from the pulpit, you will know that something is at stake and hear the why as well.
Our core values are to to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and to strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Far from being offensive to Christians, we believe that the Rainbow Pride Flag and the inclusivity it represents are right in line with our values.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, sent this message to the entire Episcopal Church on June 12, 2019:
Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
In my years of ministry, I have personally seen and been blessed by countless LGBTQ sisters, brothers and siblings. Dear friends, the church has in like manner been blessed by you. Together with many others you are faithful followers of Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love. You have helped the church to be truly catholic, universal, a house of prayer for all people. You have helped the church to truly be a reflection of the beloved community of God. You have helped the church to authentically be a branch of the Jesus movement in our time.
Your ministries to and with this church are innumerable. I could speak of how you often lead our vestries, and other leadership bodies in the church. I could speak of how many of you organize our liturgies of worship, lift our voices in song, manage church funds, teach and form our children as followers of Jesus, lead congregations, ministries and dioceses. But through it all and above it all, you faithfully follow Jesus and his way of love. And in so doing you help the church, not to build a bigger church for church’s sake, but to build a better world for God’s sake.
During June, Americans and people around the world observe Pride. Today, as we mourn the 49 people who were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, I am mindful that Pride is both a celebration and a testament to sorrow and struggle that has not yet ended. Especially this month, I offer special thanks to God for the strength of the LGBTQ community and for all that you share with your spouses, partners and children, with your faith communities, and indeed with our entire nation.
downloaded 6/1/6/19 from www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/presiding-bishops-pride-month-statement-honors-lgbtq-episcopalians
I invite you, therefore... to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. (BCP p. 265)
I find myself wanting more than television or the internet can provide. I click through amazing amounts of channels and sites and the sheer volume available does not provide or guarantee any product of the quality I am looking for: something absorbing, something that will make me think; something that will offer a new insight into my way of being or that of humanity's.
When I put my phone down, when I turn away from my computer, when I turn off the television, I have time to breathe; to sit, read, and absorb that which is emerging in me. I am more connected with myself, those around me, and with God.
Thinking about Lent after this morning's 8:00 sermon, it's a journey of exploration that includes the presence of God along the way, a God who's alive and who shows up in unexpected places and times. In our own Lenten journeys, if we take the time, I think we experience the humanity of God - in us. At the end of Lent, Holy Week offers all that it means to be human, and to feel all the emotions as we make the switch from Jesus being with us to our being with Him on His journey to the Cross, His tomb, and the inexplicable wonder and mystery of His Resurrection.
Lent is not a time to be clicked through or rushed. If rushed, one misses the silences that allow new possibles to be glimpsed and engaged with. The one thing I would suggest this Lent is to use its time well.
I invite you, therefore, to take the time to go on your Lenten journey and explore where it takes you.
God bless you in this Lenten season.
“…the self God loves, the self God is in relationship with, is your actual self. God isn’t waiting for you to become thinner or heterosexual or married or celibate or more ladylike or less crazy or more spiritual or less of an alcoholic in order to love you.
Also, I would argue that since your ideal self doesn’t actually exist, it would follow that the “you” everyone in your life loves is your actual self, too.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, (2019), pp. 180-181.
"Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free..." 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
It may be a coincidence that this passage will be read in Church tomorrow morning, but maybe not. The Annual Parish Meeting is tomorrow - the meeting where we look back on the the accomplishments of the past year and define our goals for the coming one. That we have accomplished much and come far this past year is due to the dedication, commitment, and hard work of the members and friends of Grace Church. Without your participation and support, we would not have gotten to this point. Thank you.
Building on the accomplishments that Grace - through you and my predecessors - has achieved, the Vestry and I have been looking ahead to 2019 and beyond. Recognizing that Grace Church is not a static entity but one that is dynamic and constantly changing, the Vestry has authorized the development of a three year strategic plan to guide us toward our end-goals of financial sustainability, growth, maintaining our property, and continuing to be relevant in the lives of our Island and wider communities.
The plan's development will be an ongoing process that will involve developing a plan, assessing the effectiveness of its implementation, and improving it as we go - and I am writing to invite your participation in the process of identifying our goals and developing a plan for Grace's future.
The underlying model for the process is know as the OODA Loop. It was developed by Colonel John Boyd, USAF, who wanted to know why the United States' planes could outfly the technically superior Russian MIGs. The OODA acronym stands for: Observe a situation; Orient oneself within the situation; make a Decision; and Act upon that decision. Based on one's decision and action (and other's decisions and actions in response to yours), the situation will change and the OODA loop continues its cycle until the situation is resolved.
I find all this enormously exciting as it applies to Grace Church. I am looking forward to learning your goals and hopes for Grace Church's future and to working with you to develop a plan to achieve them.
God bless you,
Last Thursday I discovered that the Wise Men did not tidily take a week to arrive at the manger. It probably took about a year, or maybe two, for them to arrive. I am struck by the addition of time to their journey and can only marvel at their determination to follow what they knew to be true.
I realized their guide for their journey, the star, only appeared when it was dark, and I appreciate the metaphor for our own journeys.
I read T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Journey of the Magi" as part of today's sermon and am providing it below. You may also enjoy his "The Cultivation of Christmas Trees" and its sense of wonder.
Happy Epiphany, and God bless you.
Journey Of The Magi
T. S. Eliot
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
It all looks different in the morning. Last night was all about the Angels, wonder, and the mystery of the birth of God’s son in a stable, in the dark, and without medical help.
In the clear light of day, the angels have withdrawn a little, the swirl of Heaven’s focus has dissolved, and we are left blinking at a child, improbably real; and, in the way of newborns, totally mesmerizing.
So soft. So small. So perfect. The Lamb of God and the hope of the world:
God’s Son, right…there.
I found myself on our porch one afternoon last week, wrapping tiny lights around the top of the railing. The wire stuck and twisted repeatedly, and the whole experience was becoming annoying instead of pleasurable. The second half went more smoothly. At present our lights are shining in the darkness, adding something to the season and perhaps brightening our corner of Woodlawn Avenue.
Watching these small spots of colors is strangely compelling - there is no other light source on our corner – and our lights look like jewels shining against the absolute night.
Into this space drops the thought that it has been a long time since I believed I had a future.
I served as a Chaplain as part of the Recovery Effort at Ground Zero in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. I have rarely felt the Presence of the Divine as strongly as I felt it there. Being there always felt sacred: the prayers of the world were centered on the site. It was holy, and I felt safe there. After the site closed, and I could begin to let myself feel, I discovered that part of the attacks’ impact on me was that any sense of the future had been taken away.
Everything became short term. The idea of making plans more than a month in advance was impossible, because I didn’t know if I would be there. I made my bed, did the dishes every morning, and kept my apartment neat, in case family or someone official might have to enter. It has taken me seventeen years to be able to look ahead and plan to do something five years down the road.
Looking at the sunlight streaming through the window behind the organ in Grace Church last week, I was taken with the word “hope” in a small little panel at its base. The word itself is about two inches long by one inch high – it’s not very big. And it’s the thumbnail at the top.
I write this post to say that hope, no matter how small, shines like the tiny lights on our porch in the absolute dark, in the midst of trauma and its aftermath. Christmas this year is about the presence of light and the presence of God shining in the darkness. This Christmas, Jesus’ birth is bringing light to the world and restoring hope for the future.
I wish you a Christmas of wonder, joy, and hope.
God bless you,