Lock Down Drill at Jewell Elementary

Austin, my seven year old grandson, brought home a letter he wrote to his parents about how he spent the week at school. Included with all the things he was learning like animals of the Amazon rainforest and eating healthy meals was that he’d done a lock down drill.

He was now “prepared” if a gunman came into his school.

Lord. Have mercy. My heart hurts.

What have we done?

I am thoughtful about how we make our children, our children, suffer the consequences of our less than good adult decisions. I am especially mindful these days of how often our short-sighted and even selfish choices cause such harm to those who depend on adults to do what’s best for them. What are we thinking?

Why do we allow our children to be placed in situations they have no way to change? Hungry children. Children without health care. Immigrant children taken from their parents. Children no longer feel safe in public spaces.

Why do we pay their teachers such a disrespectful wage? Why do we place responsibilities on teachers we would not be willing to carry our self?

Early days of my ministry at St. Mary’s, there was a mass gun massacre in one place or another. I was horrified, and I actually prepared a sermon in my mind where I invited all gun owners to bring their guns to church, and we’d take them to a place that repurposed guns. I imagined a ground swell of folks stepping up to say that though they had the right to own guns, that they cared more about guns getting into unsafe hands to continue to hold onto them. I imagined that St. Mary’s would lead this transformation of the world.

For one reason or another I never preached that sermon. I look back now and realize how naive I was.

But what if I had?

I pray about what to do even till this day.

Writing my elected officials feels futile since they are top recipients of donations from the National Rifle Association. Yet, I do. Research indicates that arming more people with guns (like teachers) does not keep us safe because it is more likely innocent victims will come into the range of fire.

Something, some things, must change.

We must all give up something of value to figure this out. But may what we give up not be one more person who walks through a door thinking it’s another ordinary day. Until it’s not.

I walked my grandson to the bus stop today. We told each other we loved each other, and then he merrily got on the bus the way only a second grader can.

I pray for all students, teachers, and school staff. I pray for all who believe violence is the way to communicate.

Truly, I pray I’ll see him again.

Church with my family

The thing about Church, as defined in Scripture, is that every time we gather, we are gathering as family. Truth is, sometimes we act more like distant cousins than brothers and sisters, but that’s for another day.

Today I actually got to go to church with my birth family. I’ve having a little vacation in Oregon with my son, my daughter in law and grandboys, and Sunday worship and teaching at New Hope is always on the Sunday plan.

New Hope, where my Bend family calls home, is part of the Evangelical Church, and the adults worship with praise music and Biblical teaching while the children go to their own age classes.

I always am very thoughtful about what Church really is whenever I go to New Hope and never leave without bringing something home to St. Mary’s. I am particularly thoughtful because I may retire to Bend, and I am full of prayer about what my ministry would look like if I do. Very few folks attend church here, and Bend has endless opportunities. I imagine what Church would look like in this place for me, and I pray about the possibility of partnering with Christ in creating some sort of missional community.

But back to today. It’s a joy to sit beside birth family in church. Today we had the rare gift of communion.

At the end of worship, ushers passed around metal plates of tiny pillows of cracker bread and trays filled with minuscule plastic cups of grape juice. We sang Jesus Paid it All accompanied by a band as communion was distributed. I was back in time to occasions of the Lord’s Supper in my own growing up days in the Baptist Church.

There was no instruction about who could take the meal or not. The only direction was to wait until everyone was served to eat. Standing in our rows of chairs, the ushers held the plates towards each of us one by one with a smile. It was Christ’s table and all were welcome.

When all were served, the pastor read from Scripture:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

And we ate our crisp tiny pillow of bread.

And then he read:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And then we drank our thimble full of juice.

And then he read still more:

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

( I Corinthians 11. 23–26).

I was fed and it was holy.

Jesus is in the neighborhood

The Word became flesh and blood,  and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1. 14, The Message)

Back in September, after Hurricane Harvey filled my home, the rectory, with five feet of water, the Vestry had a challenging decision to make.  With two floods in a less than two years, did we rebuild?  Did we rebuild and sell?  Did we sell as is?

After a lot of prayer and a lot of conversion and a lot of research, the decision was made to rebuild. Knowing that it would likely take at least two years for a buyout to go through,  we also made an application to FEMA  and Harris County to buy the rectory.

Although we knew that we had made the best of a difficult decision, I wasn’t certain why that was the holy thing to do until a while later.  I got a glimpse into why God was having me move home to Norchester in the midst of conversations with my neighbors.

I’ve lived in Norchester for twenty years.  People know that the house belongs to St. Mary’s and that I am St. Mary’s priest.  Slowly, over time, neighbors have begun to trust me enough to seek me out to have some conversations about Jesus.  After Harvey, the trust had built to the point where some neighbors allowed me to bring them communion and to pray with them.

This fall, whenever I’d come by home,  neighbors would ask me if I was moving back; so many folks were still trying to decide what to do.  I gave them my answer:

Yes, we were rebuilding.  The house belongs to St. Mary’s, and we want our neighbors to know that the Church is in the neighborhood.  You are not alone.  God is here.

It wasn’t until people began to weep when I said those words that I knew for sure that this was why I had to move back to my home in Norchester.

It wasn’t until I moved home during Eastertide and began to walk the neighborhood in the mornings that I really knew why I was coming home.

My neighborhood continues to look devastated.  Yes, some house are rebuilt and and look better than ever.  Others are in the midst of being rebuilt.  Others have been abandoned.  If there was ever a neighborhood that St. Mary’s and her priest needed to live, this is a place where folks need to be reminded that Jesus is in the neighborhood.

So I’ve bought a sign for my front yard.  It says:

+ St. Mary’s Rectory +  How can we pray with you?  stmaryprays@gmail.com

I’m going to invite parishioners to place the sign in the ground and bless it and the rectory on the Feast of Pentecost.  I chose that day because that’s the day we recall that we were all given the power to be Jesus in whatever neighborhood we are standing.

Then we will spend the summer imagining and living as Jesus.  In our neighborhoods.

Sisters of Grace.

I’m finishing up a near week long retreat at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. I lived in community with over one hundred Roman Catholic Sisters and Protestant clergy women. We gathered for a fifteen year reunion of three Women Touched by Grace classes, thanks to generous underwriting by a Lilly Endowment grant.

It’s been a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Singing morning and evening prayers in women’s voices everyday.

Attending a writing workshop with poet/singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. And yes, we wrote a song together.

So much laughter over cups of coffee.

Sharing stories of deep joy and deep sorrow the way that friends across time only can. Strengthened by the unique connection that women clergy and women religious share.

Watching Spring open wide.

Walking the labyrinth.

Being sung and blessed back into the world by the Sisters.

Oh, and of course, there were cupcakes.

Sister Ann Patrice has said it better than I can. This is indeed a glimpse into God’s beloved kingdom.

A litany on the day of the March for our Lives

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God the Father, You gave the Law that Your people might live in peace,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Son, You suffered violence for the sake of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, You bind us together in a community of love,

Have mercy upon us.

Holy Trinity, One God, You model for us the perfect and holy relationship in which You intend for all people to live:

Have mercy upon us.

 

For all victims of violence, and particularly for those affected by the shootings throughout the world, especially in our schools.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who have been injured, that they might be restored to health, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who are afraid, that they may know Your perfect love which casts out fear, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who mourn, that they may be comforted in their distress, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who have died, that they may be received into Your compassionate embrace, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

For the first responders, firefighters, chaplains, nurses, and all others who work to restore order, heal the wounded, and care for the needs of the community, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all volunteers who give of their time and resources to meet the needs of those affected by this tragedy, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For leaders, both in the Church and in the government, who strive for greater peace, compassion, and understanding in the world, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

That the world may one day be free of violence, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That war and bloodshed may one day be no more, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That we may no longer desire revenge when we are wronged, but Your justice, which is mercy and grace, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That each of us might be empowered and equipped to work toward a just and peaceful society, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That all people might be united to seek the cause of Your Kingdom, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

We ask Your forgiveness for the ways in which we ourselves are complicit in the problem of violence in the world.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any harm we have done to one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any unkind words we have spoken against one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any prejudice, bitterness, or hate we harbor in our hearts.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any ill we have wished upon one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for the times when we have repaid evil for evil.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for the times when we have been slow to forgive.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for all we do, think, and say which falls short of Your command to us to love one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us,

And help us to show mercy to one another.

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Your name: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.

O God, You made us in Your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus Your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish Your purposes on earth; that, in
Your good time, all nations and races may serve You in
harmony around Your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Litany written by Anna Howell.

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Looking through crosses

A friend gave me a volume of Wendell Berry’s poetry for Christmas. In it are a series of poems he wrote as he looked out his window. I’ve been joining him at his window during Lent. Looking out. Looking in.

Christine Valters Paintner writes about receiving rather than taking photographs as a spiritual practice. The sense of opening my heart to what I see and letting it rest there in the form of a photograph is inviting. Phones with built in cameras make this easy to do.

I’ve noticed that windows are often in the shape of crosses. For some time I’ve been receiving cross-shaped windows, both looking out and looking in.

This week away I’ve gathered some of these window crosses into an album as a Lenten practice. Looking out. Looking in.

Looking through a cross at the sunrise as I awoke this morning. A cross to welcome me to a new day.

Looking through crosses into the kitchen where my friends are preparing me a delicious meal.

Looking through a cross as a cloud allows me to see only that which is most near me.

Looking through a cross as spring overcomes winter.

Wendell Berry writes, I have always loved a window, especially an open one. I’m inviting God to teach me about God’s love as I receive these crosses, looking out and looking in windows. With the cross, windows can always be open.

Second time around

When my home flooded a second time, some folks, wanting to be kind, said things like, It must be easier since you’ve already been through it before.

I thought about this when a friend posted on Facebook about losing her hair a second time as a result of a new chemotherapy protocol. My heart broke with her as she showed a picture of her beautiful hair once again on the floor of the shower.

In case you are wondering, second time around isn’t easier. Getting through a trauma the first time and coming to a place of acceptance of a new normal, is a good place to be. For me it was a feeling of victory and achievement and joy and a big high five to God.

When the same thing happens all over again, and brings friends alongside, it is devastating. Devastating. Really, God?

Yesterday I travelled out in the Georgia countryside to see a field of daffodils that a woman at church had told us about. Sloping down from an abandoned home was a hillside awash with yellow.

In this part of Georgia, daffodils have naturalized with abandon. One plants a few bulbs (or many) and watches them increase, often in unexpected and unlikely places.

I imagined owners of this now empty home decades ago planting a few bulbs around the door. Over the years, each Spring the daffodils bloomed, and then died. Hidden underground, the bulbs appeared ugly and dead. Yet unseen, beauty gone, the bulbs held bits of life curled up within.

Rock–looking, the daffodils bulbs divided. Squirrels moved some to new places. Primarily, rain and flowing water carried most to other locations.

Year after year a rhythm of apparent death and ugliness followed by green and yellow beautiful surprises.

This is the rhythm we walk through each Lent. A dance of apparent death and ugliness and of beauty and eternal life.

Helped along by holy waters–baptism, tears, and, yes, even floods.

A ministry of presence

We’ll be going to early worship tomorrow and I’m chalicing! I can’t wait to serve you the Cup.

This was my best friend’s answer when I asked her about our church plans for my very first day of vacation, a visit to see her and her husband at their beautiful home in the Georgia mountains.

What time will we need to leave? I asked.

7.10, she replied.

Oh.

That would be 6.10 AM Houston time. Earlier than I usually leave for church on a work Sunday.

I’ll admit. A Sunday off lie-in sounded sweet.

But my very best friend was sooooooo excited about taking me to church with her. She has a fabulous new Rector, and she wanted to serve me communion for a change.

So of course I went.

But I was thoughtful. Whenever I have the rare Sunday choice about going to church, I get a fresh understanding about the non-automatic decision it is for almost everyone else. I get how easy it is to rationalize other plans on a Sunday.

Today I went to early church because I wanted to be present for my best friend. I’d like to think I would have found worship in community later that day if I hadn’t.

Because why isn’t being present for God enough? I know, I know. I can be present for God anywhere anytime. But worship also means being present for God’s friends. Worship also means being present for God even when it takes a little extra effort. Especially.

I loved worshipping in my friend’s small town church, sitting next to her husband and my friend, Evan. The sermon was excellent. My friend served me communion.

Without my push out of bed as the sun rose I’d have missed it.

And I was back home in time for brunch, a walk by the river, and marathon movie watching in preparation for the Oscars.

Prayers for those who died in Parkland

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O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust

Alyssa

Scott

Martin

Nicholas

Aaron

Jaimie

Chris

Luke

Cara

Gina

Alaina

Quac

Meadow

Helena

Alex

Carmen

Peter

 to your never-failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Deal graciously with all who grieve. Surround us with your love, that we may not be overwhelmed by our loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Ash Wednesday: School Shooting. Again.

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I don’t own a gun.

I’ve never even shot a gun.

So I understand that it’s relatively easy for me to say that we must address our laws surrounding the right to bear arms, gun safety, and gun responsibilities.  Which is why I want to join in prayer and conversation with those of you who do own guns.  Those of you for whom having laws changed may have a personal cost.

I write these words with the image of a woman with an Ash Wednesday cross on her forehead crying outside Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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I write this words after praying four times yesterday, with so many of you:

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness, the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.

Our self indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work.

And we prayed:   We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done.  For our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.  

And we prayed:  Accept our repentance, Lord.

In January, when the first school shooting of the year occurred, it was my intent to post the names of those shot, and pray for by name not only the victims of gun violence but all  the ones who thought that using a gun was the best answer to their broken and angry hearts.

I didn’t get around to it.  Accept my repentance, Lord.

I believe that praying also requires my response in some way.  I know that my actions may be God’s answer to prayer.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for every time I have not been your answer to prayer.

I am reminded of the words of the Daughters of the King:

I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.  Lord, what will you have me do?

Here’s where I begin today.  Twenty two million children live in homes with at least one firearm (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000).   There is a program called Be Smart for Kids that teaches ways for our homes to be safer for children and to reduce child gun deaths.  I’ve contacted a member of our parish who is active in this ministry, and we will host a session at St. Mary’s.

As I learn the names of those killed and injured, I will list them on my blog and we can pray.

Today I pray for a name I do know: Nikolas Cruz, a sheep of God’s own fold, a lamb of God’s own flock, a sinner of God’s own redeeming.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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