Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of our Lord, the bringer of healing and health.

Through the thin wall of my 'academic bubble' at Luther Seminary, the news of the violence in Orlando broke. My classmates and I and were just beginning to read the assigned material for our course on the Psalms, which begins today (Monday). One scholar defines a theme of the psalms as a 'move from disorientation to orientation.' The people of Israel were disoriented.

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 
(Psalm 137:1)

They were no longer in the familiarity and safety of their homes in Zion. They had been moved to a new land - Babylon. They were disoriented, unable to find 'home base.' The themes of the psalms often speak of being in a strange place. This place isn't always a place on the map. The disorientation can be spiritual or emotional.

Regardless of who they are, when sister kills sister and brother kills brother, it is disorienting. Certainly, we have lost our way. All disregard for human life is disorienting. Some of you have kindly reached out to me, as this act of violence hits closer to home. I have to admit that, as a gay person, I can't help but imagine myself in the group of people who were targeted. With regard to my sexuality, my marriage, and my lifestyle, I have become lulled into a place of safety in our wonderful Bloomington and Trinity Church. Clearly, this is not the case in all places and with all people. So, to put it simply, I am disoriented. My center is wobbly and I find myself wondering about many things that I can't yet find the words to articulate. So, I rely on trust.

I trust in the God who reaches into our world, even in the midst of crisis, to surround the sad and suffering with people who will help them and love them and hold them up. I trust in the God who reaches into our world, even when we are angry and lost, to guide us into conversation and holy action. I trust in the God who is the shepherd, even to scattering sheep. I trust in Jesus who stood face to face with conflict in the hopes of bringing about a new kingdom.

What can you and I do to bring about this new kingdom? What can we do to be honest about our prejudices and create safe places to look at them? What can Trinity do to facilitate holy conversations of justice and hope? What can we do to help a disoriented people find their center - their Lord? This is our work together.

For now, though, we pray . . .
We pray for an end to senseless killing and violence.
We pray for the repose of the souls of those who were killed.
We pray for comfort and strength for those who were wounded - and for their doctors, nurses, and families, and caregivers.
We pray for those who have lost daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues.
We pray for those who wish us ill.
And, when we have come back to a more centered place, we pray for insight and wisdom to be Christ's hands and heart and voice in the world.

May the Lord bless us and keep us . . . all of us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter Wednesday

Do they really have that much to say, these two birds?

Or, is it between my two dumb ears that their conversation is so meaningful?
One arcs yellow, the other dips blue.
But they don’t make green.

No, not green. There is already enough
Beneath the surface,
On the edge of the trees,
Between the two front teeth of the rabbit.

Green is on the way.

Instead, their color is Saffron -
The color of resuscitation, the color of energy, the color of resurrection.

Keep talking, birds.
Swoop and swirl. Arc and axis.
Geometry of life made real by beak, feather, and brittle bone.
Unbashful, unbridled birdsong.




Do they really have that much to say, these two birds?

- C. Dupree

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

John 12:1-8 - Movers

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."


I don't know if you've ever had movers move you, but they are very thorough. While you and I are reminiscing and trying to organize our lives, categorizing our boxes and living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens, the movers just want to get you moved. They want to finish up and get on to the next location. To this end, they will box up whatever is standing still. I might put the soap, the shower curtain, and the box of Q-Tips in a carefully thought-out box magic markered, "Miscellanous." The movers, on the other hand, are just as happy to put the plunger into the same box as the toothbrushes. The movers sweep through your house with a complete disregard of time and place. They leave sentimentality well outside the door. Their primary concern? Getting you relocated. They are as likely to wrap and pack a trashcan filled with used dental floss and tissue as they are the piece of pottery hand-thrown by a western North Carolina artist.

Even so, I was surprised when my entire home was empty and turning left out of my drive way. Years and years of memories were now heading west toward a place I didn't know well. You know the drill . . . I lingered. Even with the whole place empty, I wandered through the rooms, brushing my fingertips along doorknobs, window sills, and countertops. "I learned a lot about myself here," I told myself.  At that moment, my foot brushed across a bump in the carpet. It was a puddle of wax the size of a coaster. Immediately, I remembered a dinner party. Around a farm table my friends and I sat talking about music, art, gossip. We told stories and laughed. Slowly, the candles melted and the wax followed gravity through the large gaps in the board, onto my cheap, light blue, condominium carpet. As my foot brushed across the imprint of that night, I lost it.  Matthew was nearby, "You OK?" I was sad and teary. I wanted everything to return to the way it was. I didn't want to grow, move, change. The movers had left nothing in my home except this puddle of wax, a reminder of friends, warmth, and support. It made me wonder if I had made the right decision.

I wonder if this is how Jesus felt that night. He was at a dinner party with his friends. He was in the home of Lazarus, the friend he raised from the dead. He was in the home of Mary and Martha. You remember them, right? It is not his first visit. Yet Martha, true to form, is still busying herself with many tasks. And Mary - Mary with her long hair - is once again at the feet of her Lord. They are all there together. I'm sure a few candles were lighted and spilling down onto the floor.  I wonder if Jesus thought to himself, "This is the last time I'll be here. . . . This is the last time things will ever look like this . . . I wonder . . . Is there a way to get out of this?"


I can't imagine a more intimate Biblical setting than the one described in John 12;1-8. All of these people have come together. The entirety of Jesus' ministry surrounds him. And Mary, this woman, breaks open a bottle nard. The smell fills the room.  It had to be overwhelming. For Jesus, the scent of the oil, the images of his friends, the presence of his betrayer - they had to overtake him and make him wonder what in the hell he had done.  But, somehow, this intimacy feels appropriate. Jesus' life, his ministry, is based on closeness. None of Jesus' ministry was at a distance. The fact that Jesus was in a room filled with perfume, candles, and his worst enemy only reassures us that Jesus wants to be as close as possible. Jesus' trial and crucifixion didn't only happen in public -  in broad daylight. It happened in the intimacy of his private life, too. His betrayal happens even as soft candles are lit, as food is being cooked, as drinks are being served by delicate hands, and when stories are being told among friends.  I'm sorry that no part of Jesus' life was immune to humanity's rejection and betrayal, not even a casual dinner party with friends.

"I learned a lot about myself," Jesus might have said as he left that night.

"The smell of the fragrance filled the room," St. John tells us.

The sweet, wild smell of outdoors, of laughter and friendship, of bitter jealousy, of blood, wood, and contempt. "Let her do what she came here to do," Jesus said of his friend who washes his feet and dries them with her hair. "Pretty soon, all of this will be packed up, gone, a distant memory. The movers will come to sweep it all away."

Twelve years later, I still remember that cooled puddle of wax on the floor. It reminds me of the need to change and to grow and to move beyond what is comfortable. The memory of Matthew holding me on that spot on that blue carpet reminds me of resurrection. The movers can pack as fiercely as they'd like, but resurrection cannot be contained and squeezed into a box. It is like a fragrance filling the room and breathed deeply into the lungs and the laughter of friends - friends who come together on a Friday night to shoot the breeze, drink good wine, and dream about a world filled with beauty and love and wonder.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Our lives - our sustenance - are borrowed from existence for a few moments, and that is a life. If the body's task is to turn food, air, and water into heartbeat and muscle, perhaps the psyche's task is to turn time into beauty and meaning. Into story, image, music, and dance. For all our capacities for destruction, we are a generous species. We want to make things better. -- Jane Hirshfield

Monday, February 15, 2016

Serve thee with a quiet mind

During the season of Lent, our liturgy concludes with a Lenten prayer over the people. I'm not sure how it came to pass that these short prayers took the place of the blessing during Lent, but one of them sticks out for me.  The prayer asks that we might serve God 'with a quiet mind.'  Boy, do I ever need that!

I don't know about you, but my mind is hardly ever quiet.  It is the brain, after all. Like all of the organs of the body, it works 24/7.  Some organs manufacture blood cells or bile or glucose or whatever (I'm not a doctor). At any rate, you get my point. The organs exist to produce something. What does the brain produce? Thoughts. Constantly. Always. Even when sleeping, our brain is busy doing what the brain does, creating thoughts. No wonder it's hard to get our brains to slow down or, as the prayer says, to be quiet.

Meditation can help. First of all, meditation acknowledges that our brains are an ongoing stream of activity. Meditation isn't about stopping this activity. It does, however, help us manage our thoughts. By observing them, we see them for what they are. Sometimes thoughts are helpful, sometimes, they're singularly unhelpful. Our thoughts can take us to helpful places, but at times, the cycling, irrational, unrealistic thoughts can drive us into places of anger and self-judgement.  Meditation, breathing, prayer, yoga, times of quiet help us cultivate a quiet mind. With a quiet mind, we can be more rational about who we are and what we're facing. When we observe our thoughts, not control them, we gain some distance and our reactions to them are more balanced. The beginning point of meditation is accepting that we'll never stop or control what the brain is doing. Through practice, we can, however, change how we react to what the brain is doing.

Ultimately, our lives, and the world would be a better place if more people would take the time to observe what their brains are doing. If we were better at managing pain, or fear, or anger - if we didn't pick up a gun when we felt threatened - if we just gave ourselves a little more space between how we feel and how we react - more people would be alive and we would be at each others tables instead of at each others throats.

Truth be told, a complex organ creates a complex product. Accepting all that the brain is thinking and doing takes patience and practice - years of practice. I admit, we need our brains to do what it does and, hopefully, we'll never stop our brain from doing it. Even still, we can be more in touch with how it drives us into places of anxiety or places of peace. Slowing down the mind is about acceptance - accepting that we are creative beings, that we have a lot of power, and that have a choice of how we use that creative power . . . for good, or for ill.

May we all serve God, each other, our planet, and ourselves with quiet, gentle minds.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Widow's Mite

SERMON The Widow's Mite

I preached this sermon the first Sunday after I returned from my sabbatical. After being away three months, I was honored that my companion in the pulpit would be the widow from St. Mark's Gospel (12:38-44). Having spent two weeks in Jerusalem, I could easily imagine what this woman looked like. I could imagine the busy-ness of the Old City, and how it would have been easy for her to have been overlooked and ignored - lost in the crowds. But someone noticed. And now, she continues to be a model and teacher for us all.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sidewalks, Ashes, and Blessings

You may have seen me on Wednesday. I was the one dressed in black walking up and down the sidewalk in front of Trinity Episcopal Church on Kirkwood.  I was there to offer Ashes and a Blessing to the folks walking by. Even though I looked like some fictional, overcharged preacher shouting "Repent!" I was not. Instead, I was thinking and wondering about what it means to offer a blessing to the community. So, I wandered the sidewalks, a visible reminder that on this particular day, the day known as Ash Wednesday, the Church began a very important season - the season of Lent.

Even though I wasn't shouting "Repent," repentance is a part of the season of Lent. Unfortunately, the word is startling. It hits like a smack across the cheek. The subtext of the command to repent is that we are terrible, horrible people, that we have done something wrong, or that we need a complete overhaul on how we live our lives. The subtext of the message is one of judgment.

Not helpful.

The great Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, says that a most basic Buddhist teaching is learning how not to cause harm to ourselves or to others. Whether you are a religious person or a spiritual person, I hope that you agree with this teaching. And even though the 'R' word is loaded with negative Christian-y, religious-y baggage, it is an important ingredient in living lives that are productive and non-violent.

You might think of hearing the word more gently. From the Greek metanoia,  it simply means a change of mind or a change of the inner person. Seen from this angle, repentance simply means to examine how we, by our actions or lifestyle, are doing harm to ourselves or to others. Repentance calls us to slow down, to breath, to meditate, to pay attention. In being more attentive, we become aware of what we are doing to our bodies. We become aware of the pace at which we move through life, or the relationships that aren't healthy or generative. Lent gives us the space to sit with what causes hope and with what causes fear. In doing so, we live into God's call to each of us to live healthy, connected, honest lives.

In my tradition, Lent was a time of education. It was a time when people who had fallen away from community were allowed to reenter. We still use Lent as a time of education, exploration, and education. It is a time to free ourselves from the chains that keep us from moving fully forward into life. Are we doing harm to ourselves or to others? Do any of our patterns need to come to a graceful conclusion? What is serving us? What is not? These are the questions that we ask ourselves during Lent, and we trust that in the midst of these questions, God is shaping a humanity that is kinder and gentler.

Some priests think that offering ashes on the sidewalk waters down the experience; they don't like the idea of offering ashes 'on the go.' I used to be one of those priests. I still believe strongly in the value of regular worship, of slowing down and creating intentional space for our spiritual practices. A Church creates a space to retreat - to take out your earbuds, leave your coffee cup behind, take a few deep breaths, focus on how God is reaching out to you, and yes, even repent of the wrongs we have done. At the same time, I think it is the role of the Church to offer a blessing, and sometimes that happens in unexpected places, in the real world, outside of the warmth and comfort of our sanctuaries.

So, I guess I can't wander the streets every day and smear ashes on peoples' foreheads. I can, though, offer a blessing. As the Church, we are here to be a place of blessing and to give that blessing away. It is a blessing of Peace, a blessing of Hope, a blessing of Presence, and a blessing of a God who wants each of us to flourish.

In whatever faith community or dwelling you find yourself this Lenten season, I hope you are learning something new about who you are, about who your neighbor is, and about who God is.

Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, may you be blessed, and may you be a blessing to others.