Wednesday, February 23, 2011

what's that smell?

There is something different about the human sense of smell.  Unlike touch, taste, and sight, you cannot not smell things (as for hearing, Maggie will tell you that I often sleep with ear plugs!).  Like walking into a kitchen, just by the fact that you are breathing you take in the smells around you.

Paul says that "we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (II Corinthians 2:15).  You and I have a smell, a funky odor that some people will identify immediately, while for others they can't quite place it.

If you and I are an aroma, it means that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we have to be the smell of Christ.  When we're around others, they shouldn't be able to breathe without getting a whiff of our BO (Body of Christ Odor).

I love the smell of salvation in the morning.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

don't listen to grandma

"Have nothing to do with profane myths or old wives' tales." - 1 Timothy 4:7

You know, they just don't make myths like they used to.  Back in the day, a good myth would have some salacious sexual encounter, a misbehaving or fickle god, and maybe some explanation into why things work the way they do.  Even though the ancient  myths reappear every once in awhile (see movie: "Clash of the Titans"), Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Neptune are names of planets - not gods.

The same with old wives' tales - they just aren't what they used to be.  Lately there has been a severe lack of creepy old crones peddling their "wisdom."

But here's the real creepy thing: there are new profane myths and old wives' tales.  Even as a sports fanatic, I know that the whole sporting industry is a sham.  But we have whole cable TV channels devoted to this new pantheon of mythological gods and goddesses.  The old wives are not misshapen old grandmas but sports commentators in fancy suits.  The Super Bowl is the high holy day arrayed among a whole host of lesser feast days.  We are the worshipers of this new mythology - the athlete.  We baptize our children not into the mysteries of Christ, but into Little League, high school football, and soccer practice.

There are myths that are not profane.  Each and every Sunday the Church recreates this grand drama in the celebration of the Eucharist.  That is the myth that matters, the tale that gives Life rather than creating a false shadow of life which is really only the thrill of the moment.

Don't listen to the grandmas of the sporting world and its new array of deities - listen to Jesus. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Diocesan Council

The 162nd Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas convened in The Woodlands last weekend.  Council is a strange beast.  On the Friday night of Council, throngs of Episcopalians, both lay and clergy, descend upon a number of unsuspecting bars and restaurants.  Our poor waitress' refrain was, "You want another bottle of wine?"

Of course, before the merriment commences, the Diocese gathers for a service of Holy Eucharist.  It was very cool to see Episcopalians from across our Diocese gather together for prayer and for the sharing of the bread and wine.  Sitting with the other clergy was neat for me as I sat between two people I had never met before.  This service afforded me the opportunity to connect with other clergy.  Very cool.

The business meeting takes place on Saturday.  I won't bore you with legislative details concerning resolutions and canonical amendments.  They are what they are. 

The Bishop appointed me to the Committee for Supervisors and Tellers.  This is fancy church-code for counting ballots.  So I used a Scantron machine to count ballot after ballot.  It was one glamorous job.

The most compelling and inspiring part of Council was the Bishop's address.  It was truly a manifesto for the Church of the modern era.  I encourage you to read it!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

sex, money...prayer?

Maybe this was because I was raised in an emotionally conservative household, but whenever my family discussed sex, I wanted to crawl under the sofa and die.  It was just so embarrassing.  Maybe it was because as an elementary school kid and I didn't real know what sex was.  Heck, I still thought girls were weird (well, maybe that part hasn't changed).

Money was also a touchy subject.  I know we always had enough.  Sometimes we may have even had a lot.  Honestly, I don't know.  But nobody in my family ever told me how we were financially.  Money wasn't so much a crawl under the sofa and die conversation, but more of a "avoid at all costs" conversation.

Then there was church, religion, Jesus, Christmas, Easter, prayer and that whole bag.  Looking back on it, sadly, the discussions about religion/faith/church/God were just as awkward as the money and sex discussions.  We only prayed if we were at my grandfather's house - and church was a twice a year event (what an inconvenience!). 

These three things are possibly the most important pieces of a man's life, and I was denied healthy, engaging, educational discussions on these potentially life-giving or life-destroying topics.  Thanks be to God that I am a self-starting learner, because it took my own gumption to learn about these three.  Sadly, I'm still behind the curve.  I spent more time on the golf course than I did in a church.  Sure, I could crush the ball off the tee, but I didn't know the Lord's Prayer until I was a sophomore in high school.

We always hear talk about how we want the best for our children and grandchildren.  We want them to inherit a good country, to be successful in their choice of careers, to find someone they love.  Using my parents as a real life example, they wanted these things for me - but they never provided me with the tools to do so.  How was I supposed to know what real love was unless they held honest, truthful, and difficult conversations with me about sex?  Why should I care about the responsible use of money if my parents only discussed finances in abstract and awkward ways? 

Do we really think our children will inhabit the churches we build and the hope that we affirm unless we pray at home, talk about God, and discuss our faith openly with our families?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Emancipation Proclamation

History lesson!  On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves held in the southern states.  But take note: Lincoln did not free all the slaves.  In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation did not mention the Union territories of Maryland and Kentucky (which were slave-holding states and where slavery was practiced).  Huh - Lincoln abolished slavery in the Confederacy but kept in bondage those slaves in the Union.  

I bet you didn't learn that in high school history class!

This historical footnote has a theological point.  In 2 Timothy 1:9-10 we hear these words: "This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

In the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday Christ abolished death - it was the Emancipation Proclamation of our souls and bodies.  But let's get real - we still die. 

Much like old Abe Lincoln, Christ's abolition of death did free us from that bondage, not yet fully.  To continue the historical analogy, I believe that the cross and empty tomb are the Emancipation Proclamation - the first fruits of our liberation.  Only with the 13th Amendment, after the dust of war has settled and the new Jerusalem has accomplished its purpose on earth, will we be truly free.

Monday, February 7, 2011

chocolate for Jesus, really?

Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?- Isaiah 58:5-7

I know, it's early to mention Lent.  It's still more than a month away.  But it is the time of church year when people begin to start thinking about their Lenten disciplines.  Let's take note of what the prophet Isaiah says - fasting is not so much "giving up" something, but rather taking on many things.

The prophet is calling us to a fast, a religious exercise, that does not feed our own personal piety, but one that continues in the liberating work of Christ.  Giving up chocolate or red wine for Lent isn't so much a spiritual exercise as a New Years' Resolution Part 2.  
Bind yourselves to a spiritual fast of liberation so that others may feast on the abundance of Christ. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

all things bright and beautiful

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall chap their hands.
-Isaiah 55:12

Episcopalians love their style of worship.  The pomp and circumstance, the smells and the bells, the funny clothes and the sweet wine.  Seriously, we do it right for weddings, funerals, Easter, Christmas, and everything in between.

So we love our style of worship; but what we do love about simply worshiping?  Our style of worship should feed our enthusiasm for worship.  That is, giving praise, worth, honor, and glory to God comes before our selection of appropriate hymns, the ironing of vestments, or choice of altar flowers.

This brief poem from Isaiah speaks to the awesome power of worship and recognizes that all creation joins in the song of praise to God.  When we offer praise and worship the Triune God we are not separating ourselves from the created world; rather, we are participating in the endless song that bursts forth from creation to Creator.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm pregnant with Jesus but my name's not Mary

There was a great controversy in the Christian congregation at Galatia about who was "in" and who was "out."  (This should sound eerily similar to, well, just about every other period in Christian history.)  Some members of the church wanted to require circumcision (become Jewish first) before admission into the Christian community.  This is not some quaint theological puzzle - this is really important for dudes.

Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 4:19-20 - "My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you."

In the midst of this controversy and ecclesiastical turmoil, Paul is calling the church to recognize that Christ is being formed within them.  Just as a child in the womb grows and matures and is finally strong enough to leave the mother's body, Christ is being formed in us.  Paul uses these images intentionally, not accidentally.  Childbirth is painful - growing up is not easy.

Do not be afraid to use these very earthy images to describe your spiritual life.  Just because something may be "gross" or "bodily" doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad.  Therefore, I ask the question: are you pregnant with Jesus?