Inner Voice Calling

Perhaps you’re one of those people who is peaceful and calm during this season, with gifts long ago carefully chosen and wrapped, all the menus planned and groceries purchased and with plenty of time on your hands.  If so, perhaps it’s best not to say that to the rest of rest; I suspect it wouldn’t go over very well!  Instead, most folks I know are busy spinning plates right now—juggling holiday preparations on top of ordinary life.  At church, we’re caring for people pastorally, preparing for many inspiring—we hope—liturgies over the next few weeks, as well as budgeting, finalizing giving season materials, planning Lent and learning the results from the CAT survey.  Oh yes, and writing a reflection!

It’s enough to make you dizzy.  Of course, we’re all spinning all the time, at roughly 1,000 mph for a full rotation around the earth and simultaneously hurtling at 18.5 miles per second around the sun.  Oddly enough, that helps put things in perspective.  We fly through space without effort, but somehow we get hooked on the stuff of earth, especially during this season.  Someone once observed that a walk in nature is soothing, even though our senses are inundated with diversity; but in the rest of our lives we can easily feel bombarded with so many things to accomplish, decide, read and just deal with.  Somehow simply bringing myself into an awareness of the really big picture, paying attention to my breathing and reconnecting with the planet, even for a few moments, re-centers me.

I am inspired in this by Hildegard of Bingen, a nun who recognized the essential connection between the human person and the really big picture, which many of us call God.  You might wonder what a 12th century nun could possibly offer a 21st century priest, wife and mother?  A lot, actually.  During her lifetime, in addition to being a visionary, Hildegard managed to found two monasteries for women; communicated creation spirituality through music, art (see below), poetry, medicine, gardening and reflections on nature; wrote three volumes on visionary theology along with more than  400 surviving letters from people as diverse as popes and emperors to abbots and abbesses. In her spare time, she also invented an alphabet and wrote scientific and medical works based on her experience with herbal gardening and the infirmary.

What enabled Hildegard to spin plates with such grace, was her ability to remain nourished by drawing from a deep inner wisdom.  As Richard Rohr put it, Hildegard spoke of

“viriditas”, the greening of things from within, analogous to what we now call photosynthesis. She saw that there was a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She recognized that there is also an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into inner energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to “Become who you are; become all that you are.” This is our “life wish” or “whole-making instinct.”

When we see ourselves as disconnected from God, from creation, from the big picture, we easily become distracted and overwhelmed or, worse, become self-centered, insecure and greedy.  Our inner space is inevitably reflected in the world around us.  “You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you,” she wrote.

How are you nurturing the connection between you, the physical world and the divine presence to ensure it is open and flowing this season?  Consider giving yourself a gift each day—listening to the inner voice calling you to become who are you, become all that you are—not from a place of effort, but through the bubbling up of your God-given instinct and energy to become whole.
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Pastor Elizabeth
12.14.17

It’s All a Story!

I was so moved—and horrified—by the story of our preacher’s father in the Indian boarding school. In painful and powerful ways, it shed light on something in my own family’s story…

It is incredible to be listened to so deeply…

It was easier to tell my story than it was to listen to others’ stories closely enough to engage with them meaningfully…

It is amazing how someone can be seen so vividly through the stories told at their funeral…

My spouse wondered why I was attending this workshop, wondering what stories had to do with church—I exclaimed, ‘it’s all story!  Scripture, our lives, stories are at the heart of all of it!’

These are just a few of the comments from this past weekend here at St. Simon’s as we held another storytelling workshop, hosted two wise Native American Episcopal clergy and celebrated the life—even as we mourned the death—of a beloved, long-time member of the parish. Stories are indeed central in our lives—we are shaped and formed not only by our experiences but by reflecting on them. There is healing power in sharing our experiences as well as in listening to others.

During the Episcopal 101 session last night, we talked about the way Jesus was all about belonging—over and over he ensured those on the edges that they belonged to God. He called upon all people to wake up to the reality that since all belong to God, all belong to each other as well. It is a truth we have not yet awakened to, even today. When we know we all belong, then we behave in ways that help us remember that truth and also embody that reality—loving our neighbor, and even our enemy, as ourselves. Jesus wasn’t interested in what folks said they believed, he cared about being in relationship with them, about how they treated each other, about how they trust the One who loves them.

Our country’s common life is torn and frayed in large part because people don’t feel heard. Polarized by issues and convictions, we fail to be present to one another others’ stories, particularly those whose lives are different from our own. Insulated from the stories and experiences of others, we make assumptions about them. Occasionally, I catch myself having created a whole backstory to explain someone’s actions before I realize that it is only true in my own mind. It takes discipline and intention to realize when that is happening and to choose instead to be in relationship with that person, seeking to understand what life is like inside their skin. It also takes an investment of time, and a willingness on their part to trust enough to open in return.

During this season, how might we open ourselves to one another? How might we have the courage to name what is true for us as we share our stories? How might we engage in truly listening, particularly those with whom we disagree? How might we listen to the story of Jesus—the stunning reality of the incarnation, of God being with us—anew. Not half-hearted listening, assuming we already know what the stories are and what they mean, but deep listening to what God is saying to you and to me at this particular time and context. This Advent, may we awaken to God-with-us in every encounter.
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Pastor Elizabeth
12.07.17

Healing and Hope

So often, I’m blind to just how blind I am.  The recent movie, Hidden Figures, about the brilliant black women who served as ‘computers’ at NASA was a part of our history to which I had been completely blind.  So, too, this Thanksgiving I learned about the Navajo code talkers whose incredible efforts changed the course of history in World War II.  There are so many inspiring and heartbreaking stories that remain hidden to us.

While working at Seabury Western Theological Seminary—the Episcopal Seminary that is now Bexley Seabury—I discovered the tragic story about the experience of Native American alumni whose experience as students was disastrous.  They arrived on campus not knowing what to expect nor what was needed, and they received little to no support as they tried to adjust to such an unfamiliar setting and circumstance.  It was the Rev. Bradley Hauff (now Dr.), himself a Native American alum, who patiently and courageously shared the truth with me.

It began with the Jamestown landing, April 26, 1607 when 105 men and boys landed after five months at sea. They arrived with an Anglican chaplain and a Book of Common Prayer, planting a cross as they claimed the land for James I. Motivated by the Doctrine of Discovery, the 1493 papal bull saying indigenous people were to be discovered and westernized, and later through Manifest Destiny, justifying and energizing Westward expansion, that westerners believed God gave them the right to dominate peoples and take possession of land without regard to the dignity of the people already here.  The heartbreaking reality is centuries of murder, rape, systematic degradation, disease and captivity–an enormity of loss impossible to fathom.  Religion intertwined with the pursuit of power and wealth resulted in the Gospel’s good news shot through with trauma, tragedy and violence, as is the age-old story that Jesus came to upend, only to have us embrace it once more.

In the 1980s, the Episcopal Church recognized the growing crisis of indigenous leadership.  Due to historic ties to Native peoples, Seabury was chosen as the seminary, and the 1985 Evanston Covenant stipulated theological education provided would be ‘“reflective of and responsive to the unique cultural values and traditions of Native American people.” The promised flexible and respectful curriculum design never materialized, neither did basic hospitality for students far from home who were expected to just sink or swim.  Begun with high hopes, it was an unmitigated disaster. Brad brought to light the painful story and worked with us to invite truth-telling, healing and reconciliation around the Evanston Covenant. Sadly, it was too late for many.

Periodically, the Episcopal Church remembers its original commitment made more than 400 years ago to bring the Gospel and renews its commitment to indigenous peoples.  In 2012, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church officially repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and called for a time of lament, lifting up the pain of the past in hopes of healing the future.  The Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff is the Missioner for Indigenous Ministries in the Episcopal Church.  I’m honored that he and the Rev. Leon Sampson, transitional deacon from the Diocese of Navajoland, will be joining us this Sunday for the Making Connections Forum at 9 am. 

Come join in learning from the past and opening ourselves to the present, that we may hear the wisdom of our brothers and sisters and discover together a future of healing and hope for all.

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Pastor Elizabeth
11.30.17

Happy Thanksgiving

I give thanks for all of you, as I reflect on the many blessings of my life. And I offer this  prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us;
for the peace accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies,
that make our lives delightful;
and for our friends in all parts of the earth.
Let peace abound in our small company.

Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.
Give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully
the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter
that which is to come,
that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation,
temperate in wrath,
and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving one to another.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Happy Thanksgiving!

I give thanks for all of you, as I reflect on the many blessings of my life. And I offer this  prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us;
for the peace accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies,
that make our lives delightful;
and for our friends in all parts of the earth.
Let peace abound in our small company.

Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.
Give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully
the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter
that which is to come,
that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation,
temperate in wrath,
and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving one to another.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Pastor Elizabeth

11.23.17

Allowing God to Care for Us

Life can be challenging sometimes.  My friend Sarah has been going through a challenging time of late.  In a recent meeting with a spiritual director to talk through what was going on and try to see how best to move forward, Sarah surprised herself by curling up on the sofa with a blanket.  Toward the end, as they were summing up and Sarah was feeling heartened by a sense of greater clarity, the director asked her what God was saying to her. She surprised herself yet again by responding from someplace deep within: yes, all this is right and I’ll be in it with you, but first, a nap!   Knowing Sarah as well as I know her, that was truly God’s wisdom coming through. She’s dedicated, passionate, talented, faithful and always goes the extra mile, so to hear that she was first to rest herself was truly an openness to the Holy One.

I love the biblical story about Elijah, the prophet who did just that.  He gave everything he had and still things weren’t going well—the queen put a price on his head and he fled for his life—and you thought the bible was boring, didn’t you?  Until he arrived at a cave, telling God to take his life already, for he was done.  Instead, an angel—a celestial butler—cared for him, providing food, drink and restorative rest. God even gave him a glimpse of Godself before ultimately sending Elijah back into the fray to faithfully serve once more, but this time from a very different place.

How often do we pour ourselves out using our God-given gifts and pushing our limits, only to realize we’ve forgotten to make room for God within the realities of our situation?  When do we push, even when what we most need is to be cared for.  God gave us the Sabbath not to make us feel guilty when we don’t use it but because we all need time for rest and tender loving care.  In allowing ourselves to receive it, which is not easy for most of us, we are actually in a ‘thin place’ and getting a glimpse of God.  How often do you let God love you and care for you?

I think we get stuck thinking about God (or forgetting about God, as is so often the case for me!) rather than dwelling in God, opening our whole self—heart, mind, body, soul—to the One who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  We are invited to curl up in love, allowing love to saturate all that we experience—the good and the not-good alike—like a blanket wrapping around us bringing comfort and warmth and, ultimately, courage.  My mentor and teacher, Jim Finley, reflects on ways to do that here and here, but at the heart he encourages us to ask:  what is the most loving thing I can do for myself, the world, this person, this community?  And then do that.

In any given moment, it may well mean a nap, but it could just as easily be going to a comedy club to laugh out loud as Jim and I did the other night.  Perhaps it is a long phone conversation with someone you care about, or even better a chance to hang out in person. Sometimes it may be cooking and eating a wonderful meal or hiking in a beautiful setting. The possibilities are endless, all it takes is a little curiosity and a willingness to trust that God desires to nurture and care for you, wherever you are right now mentally, emotionally, physically and also cares for those around you and the whole of creation.  We are invited to receive the love and allow it to flow in and through us before it goes flowing back out into the world.

What are ways you allow God to nurture, nourish and love you?

Hope to see you Sunday!
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Pastor Elizabeth
11.16.17

Prayerful Resistence

Here we are again, reeling from horrific violence inflicted on innocent people from one to 77 years old while they worshiped in church.  It comes just weeks after the tragedy in Las Vegas.  Five years ago, on the same weekend that I met members of the search committee from St. Simon’s, the massacre of children Sandy Hook shook our nation and the world.  Since then, according to one article dated October 3, 2017—so it did not include Sutherland Springs—the U.S. has seen 1,516 acts of gun violence involving four or more people and claiming 1,715 innocent lives, wounding 6,000 others.  The endless grief and suffering for families, friends and every human being is an impact that cannot be counted.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Here in American, we are truly insane.  When we learned that deaths and injuries could be lessened by car seats and seat belts, we created laws to address that.  When other countries had massacres, they enacted laws to address the issue. Something must change.  We must change.  In fact, most Americans are in favor of some form of gun control. While there are clearly differences in some areas, there is also compelling consensus among most Americans, as this excellent article illuminates.  This isn’t about party politics.  This is about valuing human lives.

I am not anti-gun.  I grew up around hunting and am not a bad shot. But I can find no reason why automatic and semi-automatic weapons—and devices that make guns such—have any business being available to citizens.  Their sole purpose is to mow down as many human lives as possible. What is wrong with us? And we make obtaining guns easy for people who already have mental and emotional challenges.  Why?  And why should individuals be allowed to stockpile an arsenal of weapons?  As a nation, we have put guns above human beings, over and over again. It was Albert Einstein who reminded us that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.

Clearly the issues causing the traumas are complex and involve far more than gun control, as the Bishops United Against Gun Violence affirmed in their recent statement:

Even as we hold our lawmakers accountable, though, we must acknowledge that a comprehensive solution to gun violence, whether it comes in the form of mass shootings, street violence, domestic violence or suicide, will not simply be a matter of changing laws, but of changing lives. Our country is feasting on anger that fuels rage, alienation and loneliness. From the White House to the halls of Congress to our own towns and perhaps at our own tables, we nurse grudges and resentments rather than cultivating the respect, concern and affection that each of us owes to the other. The leaders who should be speaking to us of reconciliation and the justice that must precede it too often instead stoke flames of division and mistrust. We must, as a nation, embrace prayerful resistance before our worse impulses consume us.

What are we faithful Christians to do? We follow Jesus who challenges us to love our enemy, to lay down our life for another and to live lives of peace. I am committed to prayer: knowing that praying involves becoming open to how I might be part of the change I seek and that with God nothing is impossible. And I commit to doing all in my power to strive for justice, reconciliation and healing through my actions, my words and my vote.

It is difficult to have hope, but we are people of hope who believe that a violent execution leads to new life for all. Along with our forefather Joseph, from the Book of Genesis, I affirm “what you intend for harm, God intended for good.”  I cannot yet see the good from all these tragedies, but I refuse to let fear or despair win.

Hope to see you Sunday!
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Pastor Elizabeth
11.09.17

What Matters Most

I am allergic to cats.  And when I say allergic, I mean off the charts allergic. I vividly recall having to go home from a sleepover because I couldn’t breathe and my eyes were so red and itchy I could no longer see.  Or the time when someone thought my allergies were just in my head and so told a party host to hide their cat in another room—she’ll never know, they said.  Within ten minutes of being on the sofa, I was a wheezing, dripping, itching mess who had to go to the pharmacy to get something to help with the reaction.  So, as you can imagine, having all these conversations about the CAT survey—the Church Assessment Tool we as a parish are taking in a few weeks—is no small thing.  And poor Howie is feeling a bit put out that Stephen and Holly’s cat, Dr. Waffles, and other parish cats are getting such high visibility.

Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of surveys either—I tend to ignore them for the most part; but I’d like to make the case for why I hope parishioners will take the time to thoughtfully respond to the CAT survey coming out November 19.  Back in 2012, all active members of the parish participated in the CAT survey as part of the search for the new rector—yours truly. The information gleaned was extremely helpful, not only to the vestry and search committee, but in providing me valuable information about what was important to the people of St. Simon’s, as well as lifting up our strengths and opportunities.  Over the years, our congregation has changed due to moves and deaths as well as many newer parishioners.  While the vestry, staff and I work hard to listen to you, having a snapshot of the breadth and depth of your voices across a range of questions can help us do better.  So, on November 19, when we invite all active parishioners to participate, we need each person to take the time to reflect and respond, contributing to a rich and valuable picture of our parish.

Spiritually, it is also essential that we are taking time to assess where we are, where we are going and how we are hoping to get there.  We who are called to follow Jesus are part of the Body of Christ.  We affirm these truths; but it is our commitment to practicing these truths that makes all the difference.  Embraced by God’s love, we are to be growing into doing this more and more.  Jesus, gave us a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  Church is a place where we are to practice living our faith so that we might be better witnesses as we interact in our daily living.

Reflecting on how we are living into the invitation to follow Jesus reminds us again what our true purpose is in this life, and doing so as a community helps us to be sure we’re investing in those things which support our life together.  I hope you’ll join me in articulating what matters most to you.

Hope to see you Sunday!
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Pastor Elizabeth
11.02.17

Bridges Get Stepped On

When you’re a bridge for people, you can’t be surprised when you get walked on a little bit.  What words of wisdom.

Jasmine Mullen is the front singer for a rapidly rising—as in Rolling Stones’ Top Ten New Artists You Need to Know—pop, soul and rock ‘n roll sound I had the privilege to hear in a live performance last night. Together with her cousins, twins, Lexi and Zandy, who play electric guitar and their brother, Darius, on the drums, the New Respects are four African-Americans, 22-23 years old.  Theirs is a contagious sound with an even better message, especially in the midst of so much violence and mean spirit lose in our world today.  They hold out hope in the midst of darkness, lifting up love and forgiveness as the answer to what ‘keeps our world spinning’ and gives ‘life its meaning.’

In an article featuring them, the New Respects talk about being a bridge for people, having grown up within black culture, yet surrounded by Caucasian people who loved them as well.  They are passionate about finding ways to encourage people to listen—truly listen—to each other and to share within that context as well.  It was Jasmine’s mom, a Christian and gospel singer, who shared the insight about the cost of being a bridge, a cost all of them are more than willing to bear.

One more thing about the New Respects that I loved:  when asked if they are a Christian Band, they rejoined with, “…we identify as a band of Christians, not as a Christian Band.”  What is the difference, I wonder?  To me it seems significant, the difference between a bounded set and a centered set.  A bounded set has a clear, hard boundary, you’re either in or out. Then again, a group with no boundaries isn’t really a group at all.  There is, however, such a thing as a centered set—where what binds you together is a common goal and path.  The New Respects are a centered set: bound to one another because they are following this way of Jesus and are aligned with anyone desiring to travel in the same direction of reconciling love.

I think we, too, are called to be a band of Christians who see ourselves as bridges.  We are to be clear who we are following and what that means about how we relate in this world, while leaving plenty of open space for others going in the same direction. We who see with the eyes of Christ, who see ourselves, others and all of creation through God’s eyes, are to be people of reconciliation, people who heal—bridge people. In reality, we very often forget this important truth because we are bumped and bruised in the course of this life and, out of our own pain, we tend to bump and bruise others.  And suddenly we’ve forgotten our true purpose in life.

The amount of pain I’m hearing in people—caused by what someone said or did—is greater than ever these days.  We, who are to love as Jesus loves us, are struggling with doing just that, and yet, that is the only way forward.  Faith, hope, love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.  Darius, Zandy, Lexi and Jasmine are crystal clear about their true purpose, and it shows.  Can the same be said about you and about me?  What concrete thing can you do each day to reach past the pain and into doing something tangible and loving for another, perhaps especially for someone you feel hurt by?  And when we get stepped on, as surely we will, perhaps we, too, can we see it as something we’re willing to bear–even honored to bear–for the greater good.

Hope to see you Sunday!
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Pastor Elizabeth
10.26.17

What’s Your Story?

So, what is your story?  What has shaped and formed you in the past?  How do you make sense of what you’ve been through?   I remember working for Xerox selling, copiers and fax machines right out of college, and finding myself wondering, not how many copies they made or whether they needed one side or two, but how they made sense of their experiences and what they did with their joys and hurts.  Sometimes we live in the shadow of our past, destined to reencounter the pain because we cannot reframe the narrative even though it is a broken one.  One of the things that sets us apart as human beings is our capacity to reflect on and make meaning of our lives, which in turn makes possible the new creation God is calling forth in us always.

I’ve lived in many parts of the country, as well as in Cameroon. One of the most difficult things about being in a new place is not having anyone who knows my stories, who knows me well enough to appreciate how something in the present is very often woven through my past, for better for worse.  So, too, I appreciate when someone entrusts me with a part of their story, inviting me into the holy space of what is real and meaningful to them. Being able to tell our stories, and make space to hear the stories of others, is vulnerable work that is healing and life-giving.  It is spiritual as well.

Story telling is empowering, as my friend and consummate storyteller, Rebecca Anderson reminds us.  A pastor and someone who leads storytelling workshops, Rebecca understands better than most the true significance and power of learning to tell the stories of our lives. She shares:

At Earshot, we believe that telling true stories can save lives.  We’re empowered by telling our own stories, rather than consuming the stories others create about us. We find out we’re not alone when we hear about the lives of others.  We learn about the on-going work of God in the world when we hear and tell stories from the Body of Christ. 

Stories are important. For people of faith, they are essential.  A central part of our worship together is listening to and reflecting on stories, stories of those in our spiritual family as they sought greater understanding about themselves, the world and our God. This Sunday, as part of our Heritage Celebration, we’ll hear stories about who we are at St. Simon’s.  This is holy and important work, for knowing where we have come from informs who we are today and also who we are becoming.

We are also excited to have Rebecca lead us in a storytelling workshop on Wednesday evening, November 8, following Walk in Wednesday supper.   I encourage you to come explore your own stories and be part of forming deeper relationships with fellow participants.  She assures me we just need to come as we are, bringing our willingness to be present to the wisdom inherent in our own lives. As we do, we’ll have eyes to see how God is present with us and in us as well as in our community.

Hope to see you Sunday!

Pastor Elizabeth
10.19.17

Kingdom Math

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by the polarization and division that are the norm these days in nearly every arena. We are encouraged to focus on getting our needs and wants met in order for us to be happy. But it is never enough. In truth, we are more informed by competition and sibling math—that somehow including others means less for us—even though as Christians we are called to be conformed to kingdom math, the conviction that none of us is whole until we all are. Our challenges are compounded by our ego’s obsession with winning and ‘choosing sides’, which runs counter to the intentional practice of seeing Christ in the other so we may “be of the same mind as Christ, having the same love.”

What if we took seriously our call, as the Body of Christ, is to honor each one’s place and purpose within the whole?  Do we just give lip service, or do we believe it?  Being close to one another and engaging in open-hearted conversation and community is both challenging and essential. Our fears and inner critic open us to the temptation to polarize, zeroing in on differences, but Jesus calls us to lean in to one another in love—listening, honoring and learning from each other—so we may all be whole.

This struggle is not new.  The Book of Acts shows the early church struggling to know how to move forward faithfully following Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Did faithfulness mean holding fast to what was already known? What did it mean to include others, particularly those coming from different backgrounds?  Stories of Peter, Paul and the early church show the Spirit’s insistence, in the face of this dilemma, to push the faithful to an expanding embrace of the other, placing a premium on loving above ‘rightness,’ self or even safety—just as Jesus embodied in his life and ministry.  The old and the new came together to be a whole new creation wherein both were changed.

Even our earliest Anglican roots are testament to this same insistence of weaving together polarities into something new, something whole and, at the same time, into something always in process of becoming.  In the preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the recognition that nothing is so “well devised or so surely established” that over time it doesn’t need change. Christianity is not a static faith but a living dynamic one, as our wonderful Anglican/Episcopal tradition affirms.

Our unity is found in God, not in our uniformity or conformity. Jesus included those excluded by the powerful. Embracing unity means making space for all people, especially those not yet at the table, which can bring discomfort to those who have been comfortable with the way it was.  No one is outside of God.  The way to do this is by focusing on our own spiritual transformation—unwavering in our commitment to becoming a new creation—until we, too, have the same mind and love that is in Christ.

We must all be willing to change, letting go of our certainty in favor of finding our unity in love. It’s a high calling, and I know I too often fall short.  This passage from Philippians is a new favorite. It invites us to embrace Jesus’ humility and trust that what is emerging will retain all that is essential—and bear fruit beyond compare.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
  he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Pastor Elizabeth
10.12.17

Transforming Pain

This week, once again, we experienced a horrific act of violence on innocent victims enjoying companionship and music.  Drawing from a stock pile of guns, many that were modified to function as an automatic weapon, the shooter intended to harm as many people as possible in the shortest period of time. Perhaps you know someone who was there or who might have been there. Perhaps you, too, are sick and tired of these rampages, of the layers upon layers of violence in our world on both the individual and global levels.

Where do you hold these traumas?  Personally, I hold them in my gut, as if I’ve been physically kicked in the stomach with each event, which in a very real sense I have been.  Harm to anyone harms all of us. The violence begets violence and so the cycle continues throughout time.  There is more to say about violence, the way we glorify it as a culture and perpetuate it by failing to do the work of facing pain and healing the impact of what’s been done, but I want to go a different direction today.  I want to go personal.

Starting with Dale. Dale was my high school English teacher, mentor and advisor. I can remember studying Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in her room at Episcopal High School of Jacksonville on the St. John’s River. She recognized that despite outward success, I was struggling with the unresolved pain of my Dad’s suicide when I was twelve.  She encouraged me to face that pain, to have the courage to allow love to transform it.  We have always connected when I visited Jacksonville, becoming friends along the way.

Dale rose in the school’s leadership over the years, and in the process helped me see first-hand what it meant to be an effective, compassionate leader.  Ultimately, she became head of the school whose heart she embodied. When people came with a problem, she would offer them a river rock, towards the conversation’s end, with a word written on it—words like hope, creativity, inspire, courage, love.  “Hold this until you are ready to let it go, then return it or pass it forward.”

Until March 6, 2012 that is.  On that day Shane, a teacher she had had to dismiss returned to the school, arriving in her office unannounced.  The person with whom she was meeting ran out the door as Shane pulled an assault rifle out of the guitar case he carried, but Dale, my beloved Dale, was shot and killed before he turned the weapon on himself.  She was 63 years old.  I can feel the horror, the disbelief, the kick, still to this day.  Three thousand people, myself included, gathered on the campus to honor her life. And there for the taking were thousands of river rocks, with words of love and hope written on them by teachers and students in the days following her death.

Dale knew darkness, and yet every day she chose—and inspired others to choose—a life dedicated to healing, joy and love.  I believe she did her best to encourage Shane to face whatever demons tormented him. She didn’t get to offer him something solid that day—an ordinary river rock lovingly etched with love and hope—to help provide an anchor in the storm, but she would have.  And her life inspires to this day those of us privileged to be touched by her love and her encouragement.

River rocks may not feel like much with so much pain and suffering.  But we need all the help we can get to choose healing, love and joy in the face of violence and heartbreak, to do the work within the darkness hidden in our own hearts so that we may break the cycle of violence, one person at a time.

As many of you know, we have river rocks around St. Simon’s. They have been quiet, hidden symbols of hope, healing and love all along. But I realize I’d like to have some rocks visible with hope to share as tangible reminders for myself and others to share in this most essential work, as partners with God in being healers in the world. This Sunday, I will have river rocks and markers available if you feel moved to share in this work, either to take one home or to make available St. Simon’s.

Pastor Elizabeth
10.04.17

Participation

Just yesterday I shared a prolonged time of laughter with some others, and it felt so wonderful to let the laughter come from deep in the belly as we allowed ourselves to become caught up in the delight.  While it is true that there is a lot going on in the wider world that is deeply troubling, it is also true that laughter is a rich and necessary part of our lives.  Laughter signals our participation beyond words in the mysterious wonder of the moment.

In one of his talks, my mentor and teacher Jim Finley shared this insight—as we were laughing uncontrollably during his session at one point:

Thomas Merton once told me, because he was very funny, and he said: ‘It’s as serious as death, without a sense of humor you won’t make it.’ There is a pedagogy to laughter because laughter is participation.  You’re laughing because you get the joke, and the joke’s on you!  A joke is God’s surprise party; that he is unexpectedly closer that you ever imagine.

Laughter and joy are woven through scriptures. I think of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, laughing at the idea that she would bear a son in her old age, an outrageous promise that does come true.  Or Jesus reminding us “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  In challenging times it can be difficult to remember that God yearns for our joy and continues to work to bring it about in our lives.

For many of us, pets bring us joy.  As we approach our pet blessing this Sunday at 5pm, held near the feast of St. Francis, we take some time to honor the gift our pets are in our lives—those we may have today as well as those in the past.  So often our pets reflect God’s unconditional love for us or perhaps they simply bring us to laughter at their sweet and silly ways.

One of the things we do in our household is speak for our dogs, Howie and Bailey. We have different voices for them and put words together with their actions and facial expressions.  One of my favorite videos floating around the internet—most of which I avoid like the plague—is that of an owner in dialogue with his German Shepherd.  If you want an easy laugh, or at least a chance to see what cracks me up, the clip is here. It is only 1.19 minutes long and even has something for cat lovers.  I just wish I could be in the room watching it with you and sharing a good laugh.

Laughter is important even during the most difficult times, although at those times it can be hard to come by.  Perhaps we can put Psalm 118:24 up where we see it in the mirror each morning:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

And as we brush our teeth in the evening, perhaps we can name one thing for which we were glad or that brings rejoicing.  And I’d love to hear what has moved you to laughter recently!

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.28-17

The Master’s Path

Well, I’m stuck. I cannot seem to get out what I want to say. In my head echoes the promise that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. Right now the only thing made perfect is my perfect weakness. Sometimes reflections just flow easily. Other days are, well, more like hardened molasses. This is one of those days.

So, I’m going to get out of the way and share some of Jim Finley’s teaching on Thomas Merton that helps me begin to see, in some tiny way, the invitation hidden in this promise. Merton was Jim’s novice master for several years at the monastery. While he “doesn’t remember 98% of what Merton said, he will always remember who he was.”  Jim shares his experience: “…sitting in his presence either this man was crazy–and I’ll take crazy any day–or God is a reality.”

A master is one in whose presence you experience the reality of God and of the rich beauty of everything, including yourself. But the master isn’t perfect. Far from it. In fact, he or she limps. But the master is not in the least concerned by their limp, it’s only a limp after all. So, too, the master may be afraid or confused or weak, as much or more than you, but the master knows these things are not the point. They do not have the power to name us or define us. They are only fears or confusion or weaknesses after all; why give them so much power?

I yearn to live like this–to be set free from preoccupation with my weaknesses – which is different from saying I won’t continue to faithfully work on them. I desire to live fully trusting in the truth that my fears, my confusion, my mistakes and my frailty truly have no power over me, to define me or shame me. I yearn to see clearly this truth in those around me, and to create spaces for all people to live in this way.

Long ago and far away I learned how to fly a small plane. Although I stopped just shy of getting my license, I did log 40 hours, flying solos, even going cross country to other parts of the state by myself. It was exciting and beautiful and occasionally a bit nerve-wracking, especially the landing.

Jim recalls a study done by professional sky divers. That the novices measure increasing levels of fear at each step that brings them closer to the point of jumping out of the plane. Their fear continues all the way to the ground. Experienced jumpers, however, don’t register any fear until just before they land. After all, why ruin a perfectly good jump when it’s only landing on the ground that could be the problem?

Masters have learned how to live unafraid of the landing because they trust God all the way through, even as Jesus taught and lived.  Not that there won’t be fear, pain, suffering and weakness but that these won’t ever have the last word.  The only way to learn how to live this way, Merton and Finley say, is by falling over and over again and by learning along the way that we can live in the flow that is our life without giving authority to anything but the love of God to hold all things, including us–and our reflections.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.21.17

Seeking Balance

Several of us were brainstorming not long ago about ways to weave music into the fabric of our children and youth ministries when suddenly I burst into song:  “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve, the neighbors we have from you. Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them…” And I didn’t stop there, I kept right on singing the verses because it is a song I learned as a child and remains very much alive in me to this day.

As I reflect on that, I realize that the song is important in several ways:  my image of God is informed by the words I sing—that God is humble, giving, loving; not demanding, remote or scary—and also that the years I sang in the children’s choir, and every time I dare to sing within a group, was and is an act of participation in the Body of Christ in a tangible and powerful way.  Often I think we lose sight of music’s power to inform us and to enable us to participate in communion in a powerful way.

One of my favorite memories happened my first year here at St. Simon’s when, during the sermon on the first Sunday after Christmas, I invited the community (in their PJs) to gather around the piano and gustily sing Christmas Carols.  It was wonderful to see the delight transforming the faces and experience the individuals who had come to participate in  worship suddenly participating in one  another, experiencing  profound communion that awakened within a larger unity and intimacy.  I heard comments for weeks, the vast majority of which were positive, and still occasionally someone will remember how they felt in that moment of one-ness.

Music and liturgy are important; both shape us and have the power to unite us as we say or sing together prayers and responses.  As I child, I knew the ‘old’ prayer book prayers by heart, and for a long time if I started the Rite One post communion prayer I would say the older version.   One of the gifts of the Episcopal tradition is that we do use prayers over and over so that they sink deeper into our hearts.  So why do we use different prayers in each season at St. Simon’s and why do we bring in ‘new stuff’ that isn’t familiar and doesn’t just flow off the tongue?

Because as powerful as knowing things by heart is, ours is a living tradition. Jesus implored us to draw from that which is old and that which is new, just as he himself did.  As we plan the whole season and each liturgy within it, we pay close attention both to the words and to what the music evokes, seeking to balance that which is familiar and that which we hope to grow into being known by heart.  Many of our beloved songs and prayers were formed in a different era and articulated an understanding of God that made sense in that time. The familiar can become an idol and lure us into a museum philosophy of church rather than an ongoing new creation. In our understanding of God and of what we are to be about as kingdom people, it is important to embrace newness interwoven in the familiar and for our liturgy and music to shape us and expand us, saturating us in God’s love.

Listen closely to the words this season and allow yourself to experiment by participating with your whole body—sing with gusto and intention, allows the words to permeate.  Enter worship with an expectation that God is present and revealing Godself, and be open to communion with God and one another, that you may experience the wholeness and rebinding that is at the heart of what religion promises.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.14.17

Choosing the Kingdom

Have you ever wondered what God has to do with it all? Wondered why, for example, doesn’t God heal this hurting world or answer the prayer of our hearts?  Every time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we pray ‘thy kingdom come.’  Have you wondered why didn’t Jesus simply come as a powerful political leader?   God is both apolitical and at the same time entirely political.  Many of us have been raised to think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place we go when we die, when we finally get to be with Jesus “for real.” We are still looking up, but that isn’t where Jesus is, nor where the kingdom is to be found.

Jesus came to help us see more clearly—not to see God through the lens of our party affiliation and our own preconceived notions—but rather to see the world through God’s lens.  When we allow God’s view to permeate our vision—Jesus called this way of seeing the Kingdom of God—it changes how we see everything.  Jesus refuses to be co-opted by a political party and used as a weapon against the other side, because in God there is no other side!   We don’t build the kingdom of heaven nor make it, rather we are invited to choose to participate in it every single day. The main reason we miss it, Jesus says repeatedly, is due to our spiritual blindness—how we view God impedes our ability to see and experience his reign.

In his book Choosing the Kingdom, scholar John Dally reminds us that over and over the New Testament authors offer a central proclamation that “in Jesus, God was present in history offering an alternative to human notions of power and destiny and forcing a choice of allegiance…a ‘krisis’ (judgment) that they greet with joy…that is a perpetually available choice afforded human beings to discern the action of God in history and choose to embrace it or walk away from it.

In the midst of our hurting world, we see evidence of people choosing this kingdom—choosing to see it, to participate in it and even to embody it. We know the difference it makes when people embrace love over fear, respect over violence or trust over power.  We pray for eyes to see the alternative worldview God is offering in this moment, coming back to be re-grounded in God’s desire for us as witnessed in Jesus.  As Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us: you don’t die into the kingdom, you awaken to it.

As a community, we commit ourselves, in the words of our identity statement, celebrating God’s love for all, seeking to embody Christ in the world.  We commit ourselves, in other words, to kingdom living, to waking up to see as God sees.  This fall there are many opportunities to open ourselves to seeing God’s kingdom in the midst of our lives as we continue to deepen into our identity statement—through our liturgy and teaching, through our interactions with one another and the world beyond these walls.  Jesus invites us to see through his eyes, the eyes of Love, and to let our concrete actions in the world flow out from there.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth

09.07.17