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I have been thinking and reflecting a lot about change lately.  It’s been easy to do that here at St. Luke’s Church.  Our community is taking some bold steps in faith to follow where we believe God is leading us.

Change is often unsettling.  I think, by the way, that’s as it should be.  I would also say that being unsettled doesn’t necessarily have to lead to anxiety and fear.  I’m not sure who said this, but I believe it to be true,

life is 5% what happens to you and 95% in how you deal with it.”

Let’s try on another one:

the only constant is change.”

It seems to me that if we believe these to be true, on any level, then we’d be well served to embrace the reality of change and equip ourselves with the tools to do so.  As Christians I think we are ‘equipped’ with a great set of tools by virtue of our call to discipleship.

In his book The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh contends that we would do well to understand the important difference between change and transition.  Roxburgh basically says that change is the often unavoidable forces that are external, transition is the result of our internal responses to external realities.  To paraphrase our first quotation change is 5% of the challenge, transition is 95% of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Transfiguration Icon

Transfiguration Icon

Last spring a member of the parish approached me about starting a contemplative prayer group at St. Luke’s.  Needless to say, I was thrilled that inititiave was bubbling up from the community.  Much of what we’ve done in our first two years together has been structural work that, hopefully, will undergird a deepening of the spiritual life of the community.

I have to admit that I was unaware of how unbalanced my own approach to ‘getting things going’ had become.  I mentioned to the Vestry that I was very excited about the new prayer group starting for a number of reasons.  One, it was lay conceived and lay led.  What a great thing!  God’s people praying for the life of the world and the role of their faith community in it.  Secondly, that I believe the attentive gathering of that group has been foundational for the parish.  Whether we sense it or not, the prayers of God’s people for their community is what holds us together.  I believe that the prayers of that group sustains the activity of the parish in many ways.

Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel about the need and blessing of prayer and that it is, as much as anything else, an exercise in aligning our will with the plan of God for the world.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*

7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.(Matthew 6:5-10)

Our prayers are not news to God. As we seek to be in tune with the mind and heart of God, our reward will be a clearer vision of God’s will and the courage and confidence to work for it.  That’s Kingdom building of the first degree and worthy or our best efforts.

That being said, I believe that remembering to pray for one another, for things big and small, in whatever way makes sense for us is the glue that continues to hold our community and the world itself together.  Prayer is one of the important exercises that allows the work of God to be done in the world.

Say a little prayer for one another today.  It might be the most important work you do all day!

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

Scot McKnight and his blog Jesus Creed are among my favorites. Here’s a clip of Scot talking about what it means to be ‘Missional’.

I’m more hopeful about politics than I’ve been in a long time.  I pray that hope grow into fruitful dialogue.

My prayer is that this hope can be rewarded with a substantive discourse on ideas and not devolve into the politics of name-calling and fear.  I want to say up front that I mean that in both directions, both the left and the right.

Two snippets give me hope (maybe I’m just looking for a half-full glass).

  • Barack Obama’s description of John McCain as ‘a good man’ when talking about his impending nomination as the Republican Presidential Candidate
  • John McCain’s congratulatory message to the Illinois Senator the day following Obama’s nomination

I believe that regardless of our politics, we as people of faith should really pray for, to borrow from the Apostle Paul, “a more excellent way” to emerge as part of this important time in our country and for the life of the world as God’s creation.

To that end I am going to commit myself to praying for God to sustain all of the candidates and not just ‘my’ candidate.  Will you join me in a commitment to such a prayer discipline?

In closing I offer this from the Book of Common Prayer as template for such a discipline.

Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

I’m part of an effort to strengthen the Tatnuck Square neighborhood by putting a sidewalk on Flagg St. between Pleasant and Richmond.  Please check out the issue and consider supporting this effort by visiting the Salisbury Area Neighborhood Association and writing a letter of support as a number of your neighbors and I have done.

In addition to the issues of safety presented, I believe this intitiative also provides a way for us to be a more cohesive neighborhood and a tighter community.  I hope you’ll support this project if Tatnuck Square is your neighborhood by attending a community meeting at Congregation Beth Israel at 15 Jamesbury Dr. just off Salisbury on Monday, September 8 at 7 p.m.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

The following is a flier announcing a neighborhood meeting for the folks in the Salisbury Area of Tantuck in Worcester.  I commend it to your reading and action!!!

Do you feel safe walking or driving on Flagg Street?

This question will be explored at a public meeting scheduled for
Sept. 8, 7:00pm at Congregation Beth Israel on Jamesbury Drive.

Flagg Street between Aylesbury Rd. and Pleasant St. is a “perfect storm” waiting to happen for motor vehicles and pedestrians alike.  Contributing factors include a narrow street, increasing traffic, mature trees, hazardous Fall and Spring morning icing, and, most important, no continuous sidewalk on either side of the street.

In an effort to increase public safety and improve quality of life, we
believe options for Flagg Street between Aylesbury and Pleasant St. include 1) making it a one way street and installing a sidewalk on one side or both, or  2) keeping it a two way street but allowing for a sidewalk on one side or the other.

District City Councilor William Eddy, District City Councilor Joff Smith, State Representative Bob Spellane, and State Senator Harriette Chandler have committed to attend meeting and support initiative.

Please consider contributing your thoughts prior to meeting:

Salisburyarea.org

If interested in being part of neighborhood association database and receiving future notices, contact Liz Murphy at Eaomurphy@aol.com or Joe Pagano at  joe@paganomedia.com  or call:  508-932-5200.

Hope to see you Sept. 8th!

Salisbury Area Neighborhood Association

Hey there world!  Yesterday we had a rousing ‘Blessing of the Backpacks’ event at St. Luke’s.  It was a good and joyful thing.  I was looking through the Telegram & Gazette online this morning and ran across this story.  A different angle on the Blessing but a good one.  These folks and these backpacks ARE the blessing.  Enjoy and have a great day!

http://tinyurl.com/0

I listen to NPR every morning while I make coffee (for my wife) and tea (for myself).  I don’t drink as much coffee as I used to, partially because of the havoc it wreaks on my stomach and my blood pressure.  This morning while I was fixin’ caffeine (in both kinds) a story about meditation and blood pressure came on (Meditation vs. Medication).  There is much to recommend this story to all of us but in particular I was grabbed by the following line:

Sometimes, realizing that you’re not in control can make you more effective in matters where you do have control.

The specific context here was in talking to a man who was learning to attend to his breathing and anxiety as he drove instead of his mind racing to things he couldn’t control–traffic, other drivers, cell phone reception, etc.

You know of course that’s the essence of a prayer that has become the mantra for 12 step groups across the world.  It’s has come to be called the Serenity Prayer, but was written, and left untitled by 20th Century Theologian Reihold Neibuhr in 1943.  It’s about action, control it’s also about stillness and surrender.  In short it’s about seeking after God’s will and the courage to do it as we are able.  Here’s the full text of the prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

I love the last part..where he asks only for to be ‘reasonably happy in this life’.  Seeking the will of God is more about the state of the world than my ultimate happiness in this life..that’s for another season of our lives with God.

May we all have the grace to let go of the illusion of control long enough to be reasonably happy today and work for the redemption of the world and the relative happiness of the whole of creation.

When you’re frustrated today–and I trust it’s a question of when, not if–I hope you can take a deep breath, meditate as you know how to do and just accept the world as it is, knowing that its transformation is God’s work and we are invited to participate in that and are not ultimately responsible for making it so.

To quote the title of the NPR story, may we have the grace to just say ‘OM’ (or a reasonable equivalent, a holy word reminding us of the Peace of God).

Be careful out there, we want to see you again!!!

This text from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 39:11 concluded the Hebrew Scripture reading for the Feast of Bernard of Clairvaux, celebrated today throughout Christendom.

If he lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand, and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.

Bernard is in many ways one of the fathers of modern monasticism. Born to privilege he abandoned it all in order to spend his considerable gifts in the passionate pursuit of establishing truly Christian communities. Though few of us today in full-time pastoral ministry are setting out to establish monasteries we are engaged in very similar endeavor to that of Bernard.

Bernard’s passion (often at the expense of sleep and other frivolous activities) for building the Kingdom through the establishment of praying communities ought to be what the leader of every congregation would do well to imitate. Bernard sensed that the traditions of Jesus and The Way were threatened by an increasingly hostile or at least indifferent secular reality. If we’re honest with ourselves, we live in a similar age, asking for the same kind of compulsive, passionate and thorough proclamation by the Gospel by communities of praying, serving, studying and compassionate followers of Jesus.

We may, none of us, live long enough or cast as long a shadow as Bernard to remembered more than a thousand, but should we spend even a few days chasing as passionately  the life of discipleship for ourselves and those whom we pastor as did Brother Bernard—that will be enough.

Thanks be to God for Bernard.

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