Friday, August 2, 2013

Beauty, Risk, Learning, and Sabbath: Some Thoughts on Vacation and Professional Development

I have three days of some time away from church left.  It's been a total of three weeks: two for vacation and one for professional development.  Most people will not believe that I'm an introvert, and I am.  I was in need of spending some time with my family AND of spending some time alone.  So, I have done both.  For two weeks, I set aside email and thoughts of the office to be with my family.  We had a great time!  And, this last week, I spent some time alone: reading, even eating, in quiet.  All of this time has given me the space I need to feel ready to return to church.  Now that parts of me are full, I am ready to share my self, and my faith, again.

I want to share with you four experiences from my time away.  My hope is that by telling my story you will find some nourishment for your own story, your own spiritual path.

First, I want to tell you about visiting an art museum for the first time in many, many years - with three children.  The focus of our family vacation was a massive hotel that includes water slides, lots of water slides.  I, however, need more than water slides.  So, I insisted that, on the way there, we stop at an art museum.  You can imagine the resistance from my family, and you can imagine that I was stubborn, in my own way.

A friend gave me some wonderful advice, "Stop at the help desk," she said, "They will have something for the children to do."  Indeed, they did: a scavenger hunt with a prize at the end.  So, off we went running (if you know my son, you understand why I say running) from room to room looking at as much art as possible and completing the scavenger hunt.  AND IT WAS WONDERFUL!  The kids loved it.  It was incredible to see my children's faces change as they took in beautiful, not so beautiful, and even some curious art.  My husband and I, somehow, found some space to talk with one another about the art .  And the kids each got a prize (yay!). 

As we loaded up in the van, I felt satisfied.  I also realized that something inside of me felt nourished.  Some piece of my soul, perhaps buried or forgotten, rose up and said Thank you for that. You see, I had forgotten how important quiet spaces full of art are to my soul, my spirituality, my self, my experience of God...

It was not long before we arrived at the massive hotel/water park.  My husband, saint that he is, quickly took the kids to the water slides.  Meanwhile, the baby and I went to the local grocery and rested until dinner time.  The next day it was family time at the water park (yay).  My two older kiddos dragged me up to the first water slide.  I tried to be enthusiastic.  And there's one thing you should know, one essential element to this story, I am terrified of heights.  This fear makes riding roller coasters, going on water slides, climbing tall towers, you get the picture, a bit difficult.  However, there are risks I'm willing to take for my kids - mainly so they'll think I'm strong and brave, and because I love them more than life itself.  Now, you may not think that going on water slides is risky.  However, the week prior to my vacation a woman died falling off a roller coaster in Texas - just sayin'.  Anyway, we had a great time and I'm glad I went down those water slides with my kids.  Mostly, because it reminded me that risk - whatever it may be - for the sake of love has its own rewards (even if it is a first world risk of water slides at a nice hotel).

My third story has to do with reading, studying, or learning.  As I was preparing to take this week of professional development, a colleague asked me, "Will you be able to do it?  I've never been able to really take a week on my own to read and study; I need more accountability."  And it's true.  Having a professor, study group, or colleagues to hold you accountable has always been an important part of my own professional development.  The good news is that I had to read one of these books for a conference I'm attending in September, and I take my job very seriously.  I wanted to be able to tell my parish about what I had read, to share my learning with them. 

This week I've read four wonderful books.  I will write more about each of them on this blog in the coming weeks.  I want to tell you today how grateful I am that I took the time to read these books.  I've begun to answer some questions I've pondered over the last two years as a Rector and as a Christian.  I've begun to ask a different set of questions.  The challenge set before me is to continue what has begun this week.  I've remembered that now I must take the time, every day, to study, to learn, and to pray.  It is essential, to my faith and ministry, to make these as much a priority as the people with whom I minister.  Together, learning and people, form, for me, a full ministry, a true portrait of the priesthood.

Lastly, to sum up, I want to encourage you to make time for Sabbath.  By Sabbath, I mean time to rest - to fill your soul, to play, to risk, to learn.  The creation story reminds us that even God rests: the creator of the universe took time to stop, to not work, to walk in the garden.  I am so very grateful, especially to my parish, for this time of rest, play, and learning.  It has nourished essential pieces of my soul.  I pray that you will make the time to do the same.

God's peace be with you,

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Good Samaritan, Proper 10, Year C

Jesus and a crowd of followers are on their way to Jerusalem.  The crowd is full of men, women, and even some children.  As they travel, they stop in various towns and villages, eating, resting, and sharing their story. As with any group, there is conversation along the way. 

Sometimes there are intellectual debates: how to understand the law or the role of the synagogue. Sometimes they argue: about who is the greatest disciple or how they should treat those who reject them. Sometimes there is boasting: “Jesus I will follow wherever you go…” Sometimes there are excuses: “Go ahead; I’ll catch up after I bury my father and say goodbye to my family.” Along the way,Jesus sends some of them ahead, to prepare the way and to spread their ministry. And, occasionally in the evenings, they sit around a fire telling stories.

One night, they find themselves in a small town. Many have come to meet Jesus and his disciples. There are farmers, carpenters, tax collectors, and even lawyers gathered around the fire.  There are shepherds at a distance, listening and watching their sheep. The children play games at the edge of the crowd. They pass around bread, fish, and a little wine. There is laughter, some boisterous debate, and even a sleeping baby. The disciples tell stories of incredible healings. Eventually, the crowd grows quiet; Jesus’ voice rising above everything else. He is telling them that God is with them, that the kingdom of God is near. There are whispers: what is he saying; is he starting a revolution; who is this man that he speaks so boldly, makes such incredible claims about God? 

“Just then a lawyer [stands] up to test Jesus, ‘Teacher,’ he [says], ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

The disciples, those who have been with Jesus over the last few days, gape at the man. They forget that this lawyer is new to the crowd. He has not been with them to hear and see all that Jesus has done. He was not there to hear Jesus say, “…your names are written in heaven.” He does not, yet, comprehend the depth of God’s mercy. 

So, the crowd turns to Jesus with expectancy and wonder. Will he teach about forgiveness? Will he tell one of those mysterious and strange parables? Are they about to witness another miracle?

I don’t suppose anyone expects to hear a story of a great robbery; of a Samaritan, a priest, and a Levite.  We, us Christians, know it so well; I wonder if we even hear the story anymore.  Maybe you do; but every time it starts I think, Oh yeah.  I know this one. The Samaritan saves the day. I don’t know the real threat of traveling on the road to Jerusalem, the possibility of losing everything. I don’t, initially, hear the echoes of those would-be followers of Jesus (those who must first bury the dead and say farewell to their homes) as the Levite and priest pass by on the other side. I don’t know the scandal of a Samaritan caring for the injured and hopeless man. I wonder if we expect to hear anything life-changing in today’s Gospel.

Several weeks ago, I was at camp with a crowd of 6, 7, 8, and 9 year olds. We had great fun playing, hiking, and telling Bible stories. The first night we talked about hospitality.  We started with the story of the Good Samaritan.  We asked the children, who is our neighbor?  The children knew. There was a resounding chorus of small voices saying: EVERYONE! If they heard the lawyer’s question today, they would raise their hands in the air: crying me, Jesus, pick me, I know, I know.

And herein lies the problem. After all the research, all the Biblical scholarship, we know that this parable is a morality tale.After all these years, we have forgotten. Yes, the morality is good: be kind to each other; treat others the way you want to be treated; love God; love your neighbor. And, there is another story in this story.  Jesus is telling us more than how to behave, teaching us how to live; he is showing us that God is very close, the kingdom of God is near to us.


You are on your way. It is a good day. The sun is shining. You kiss your beloved goodbye as you walk out the door. Everything is going your way. Your boss gives you kudos at staff meeting. You laugh with a friend at lunch. You even say a prayer of gratitude as you head home. And then, something happens. You get lost. You make a mistake. The next thing you know, in the span of a second, you are on the verge of losing everything: your house, your family, your whole life. You are alone. You can’t imagine who will help you; in fact, there is no one who can help you. And then something happens, something completely unexpected, unpredictable. In fact, when you tell the story later, no one believes you. Somehow, though, you don’t lose everything. Of course, things are never the same. Your life is changed forever. You’ll never see things the same way again. And, in the back of your mind you know: if it hadn’t been for that one thing…well, who knows how bad it might’ve been.

This is mercy. This is a story of how God comes near to us. God is not afraid of our brokenness, our wounds, and even our death. God sees all of it. And God responds. God acts. God takes one look at our lives and says, I got this. And in a moment, our lives are changed; we are never the same; we have hope.

The truth is our world is very much like the world of the lawyer. Even on the days when we “get it right,” we are surrounded by competition, greed, and individualism. It is easy to define our lives in terms of success. And we rightfully commend a life of “doing good.” It is easy to lose sight of our relationship with God, to think it all depends on us. It is easy to forget that God is near to us – every day, every moment, all the time. Maybe it is in the touch of a loved one.  Maybe it is the act of a total stranger. Maybe it is reconciliation between enemies. It is easy to forget. It is easy to lose sight of this one truth: the kingdom of God is here. Instead, we get distracted. We look for answers. We look into the face of Christ and ask, “Teacher, what must I DO to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus says, “Follow me.”
And we say, “Yes, but first I must do this one thing…” 
And Jesus says, “Follow me…”
And we say, “Jesus, look what I can do…”
And Jesus says, “Follow me.”
And we say, “…but what do you really want me to do…” 
And Jesus says, “Follow me…”