Friday, April 27, 2007

Big Blunder

This week I discovered that I made probably my biggest blunder since being ordained. I was out of the office on Wednesday (at the Cathedral Center for Fresh Start). When I returned to St. Alban’s on Thursday, I found a letter in my mailbox. It was from a parishioner and addressed to Susan, the rector. The short letter expressed concern and disappointment that when I preached on Sunday, I did not even mention the shootings at Virginia Tech the previous Monday (April 16).

When I met with Susan that Thursday afternoon, we talked about the parishioner’s letter. She said that she was, likewise, a little surprised that I had not mentioned Virginia Tech. She asked me why I hadn’t, and I did not really have an answer. The only thing I could come up with was that I had been struggling for several weeks with how to deal with Gospel lesson for Sunday and must have just been so focused on wrestling with the text as I prepared my sermon that I completely forgot about the events that had occurred three or four days before. Although, I have to admit that while I was driving to church on Sunday morning, about 7:20, I had this flash of insight that I probably should have dealt with the Virginia Tech tragedy. But, by then, 40 minutes before the start of worship, it was a little too late to do anything about it. Of course, as Susan noted, there have been numerous times when Sunday morning she threw out her sermon and went completely extemporaneous in order to address some issue or event that had recently occurred.

In hindsight, I was fairly distraught that I had neglected to address the Virginia Tech tragedy, particularly when it became obvious that there was at least one person (and probably others) who were looking for some pastoral words from the pulpit to help them make sense out of the tragedy. I spent a lot of time thinking about what had happened, and why I might have possibly neglected the opportunity and my responsibility to provide such pastoral care. In talking with one trusted and well-seasoned priest about the situation, the question came back to me “is it possible that you are avoiding dealing with reality?” That question hit pretty hard, as I have always considered myself to be a pretty grounded person.

This question nagged at me throughout the evening. I spent a lot of time thinking, reflecting, and praying about the question and what it might really mean. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the previous week – the events at Virginia Tech themselves, my sermon preparation time, and a number of other events that occurred in between. The whole thing bothered me so much that I called another friend, my most trusted confidante and provider of pastoral care. In the course of talking through all of this, I began to come to some realizations about myself.

I determined that I was not avoiding dealing with reality. On the contrary, I had already dealt with reality. I was, admittedly, deeply moved by the events at Virginia Tech. But I typically do not dwell on such things. I process them and move on. And that’s what I did in this case. I reflected on the events and recognized that they were a manifestation of evil. Operating out of my personal faith and my understanding of theology and theodicy, I recognized that I could not explain why the shootings happened. I know enough that theologians have been questioning for centuries why bad and evil things happen. If greater minds than mine have not been able to come up with an adequate explanation, I certainly was not going to be able to. The only thing I knew for certain in the wake of the events of April 16 was that God did not want those events to happen. There is no rational explanation for why they did happen.

As I further reflected, I determined that we cannot understand or explain the events at Virginia Tech precisely because we are people of faith. As people of faith, we do not understand evil, at least not evil on this magnitude, nor do we understand or are we really capable of understanding what motivates people to act in evil and sinful ways such as killing other human beings. We do not understand because we believe in and attempt to follow a God of pure love – a God who loved us so much that he came to live among us in the form of his son, as one of our own; who allowed his son to be crucified on our behalf, that humanity might be forgiven of it’s sinfulness and the evil that humanity has perpetrated.

If anything, events such as those at Virginia Tech only serve to remind us that sinfulness and evil are still rampant in our world. They remind us that that humanity is in more need than ever of the gift of salvation that Christ freely gave us through his death and resurrection. As people of faith, we know that the events at Virginia Tech, and all other acts of sinfulness and evil are an exception to God’s ways and to our ways – that they are reminders that in times like these, more than ever, the world needs to be shown the love of God manifest through his Body – through those of us who embrace his love and attempt to live our lives in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the aftermath of events such as those at Virginia Tech, we do see glimmers of hope that the hope of salvation and new life promised in and through Christ’s death and resurrection are not lost. We see people from all over the world reaching out to the families and friends of those who were brutally killed. We see people expressing concern for the wellbeing of the other Virginia Tech faculty and students who were not physically harmed, but by their mere presence in that place suffer spiritual and emotional injury. There has been an outpouring of prayers and compassion that is only made possible by people of faith who know that the evil and death that occurred on April 16 is not the last word – by the Body of Christ throughout the world who know and believe that God through Jesus Christ has promised a new life where there is no pain, suffering, or violence – a new life where evil will be vanquished. In their response to these tragic events, people of faith are seizing the opportunity to begin to make that new life a reality here and now, not in some uncertain future.

(I guess that is at least part of what I should have preached on Sunday).

Back to the question at hand about whether I may have been avoiding dealing with reality, I came to the conclusion that the answer is no. As I said, I had processed it and moved on. But the time I began writing my sermon, I had dealt with several other pastoral issues (one fairly major). By the end of the week, I was so far removed from the events of Monday that they did not even cross my mind as I struggled with preaching on a text that I considered to be rather difficult. What happened was not avoidance, but compartmentalization. What I have become aware of is that the way I deal with life, with reality, it by compartmentalizing. Something happens, I deal with it, put it in a little box, and put it on a shelf in the recesses of my mind. Then I move on to the next thing.

As I reflected on this way of operating in light of my parishioner’s letter, I also realized that not everyone deals with reality the same way I do. Now, of course, on one level, I know that people operate differently. But this approach of compartmentalizing is so ingrained in me that I don’t even think about it, or think about the fact that others may not approach reality in a similar manner. Since I had dealt with the events that occurred six days prior, I guess I just assumed that everyone else had too. My parishioner’s letter was a wake-up call that there are people under my care that take more time to process such things, and that they are looking to their clergy to help them in that process – an expectation that is unstated. So, what that means for me is that I need to be particularly vigilant. When other tragic events happen in the world, I need to be aware that even though I may have dealt with them, some of my parishioners may not, and may be looking to me to provide a response from the pulpit.

While I deeply regret letting down a parishioner when he needed assistance in understanding how his faith operates in a broken world, I am thankful for him having the courage to raise the issue, thereby giving me a chance to explore it and to learn something about myself. The learning and insight that I have had because of this situation will, God willing, only serve to make me a better priest.

[As a postscript of sorts, I have written a letter to the parishioner, thanking him for his comments (which were quite eloquent), acknowledging my negligence, apologizing for letting him down when he was so in need of pastoral care, and inviting him to get together over coffee or lunch to discuss the situation.]

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gone Fishin'

Third Sunday of Easter– Year C
Jeremiah 32:36-41; Psalm 33:1-11; Acts 9:1-19a; John 21:1-14
Sunday, April 22, 2007 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

What was Peter thinking?!? Here it is, only a few weeks after Christ’s death and resurrection. Never mind the fact that this was the most miraculous, unprecedented event in all of human history. The founder and sole leader of a revolutionary religious movement had been assassinated. Sure, he had been resurrected, but at this point in time, it was still a little too early to know what that really meant for the movement. Things were not exactly looking that good. John tells us that just a few days before, on the evening of the day Christ was resurrected, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). From the looks of things, the movement was in danger of being squelched by the religious authorities – and if not by them, certainly by the Roman occupation.

In the midst of this, the miraculous happens. Jesus appeared to the disciples and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). And then “he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus had given them their marching orders. They were being commissioned to continue the work of the movement – to continue the work that Jesus had done prior to his death. Seems pretty clear. In light of this, there was obviously a lot to be done. The faithful followers had to be gathered and told that the movement would continue. There were press releases to prepare, letting the world know that the movement had not gone under. There would need to be strategic planning sessions to figure out the best way to carry out this new commission from Jesus. There were hungry people to be fed, naked people to be clothed, sick people to be healed. There was a lot that needed to be done. Fortunately, the one thing that Jesus, being a good manager, had already taken care of was choosing a successor to lead the movement. You will recall that some time ago, Jesus said to Peter, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” and then promised to give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This move certainly saved time. There would be no need for arguments about who was best qualified to take the reins of the movement, and there would be no need to have an election.

So, despite a lot of uncertainty, the disciples were in a position to get down to work, the work the Lord had commissioned them to do, under Peter’s leadership. But then, what does Peter do during his first week on the job as CEO, right when there was so much work to be done? He puts a Gone Fishin’ sign on the door and leaves the office. And to make matters worse, he takes half the management team with him. So, again, I ask, what was Peter thinking?!?

Now, there is certainly disagreement among biblical scholars about why Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John, as well as two other unnamed disciples were motivated to go fishing, of all things. And more to the point, about what does this impromptu fishing trip say about the disciples’ relationship to Jesus. Some see this expedition as a sign of the disciples’ complete apostasy and a fulfillment of Jesus prediction in John 16:32, where he says “the hour is coming . . . when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone.” These scholars take the fishing trip to be a sign that the disciples have abandoned Jesus and returned to their homes, to their former lives. Still other scholars see the fishing trip as indicative of the disciples’ aimlessness – they didn’t know what to do following the death of their Lord, so they were, pardon the pun, floundering (that was for you, Ron). So, they occupied their time with what they knew best – fishing. And yet other scholars are inclined to view the scene more positively, through the lens of the Synoptic Gospels, such as in Mark where Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). In this interpretation, the fishing trip is a symbolic enactment of John’s account of Jesus’ commission to the disciples during his first post-resurrection appearance to them – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

But, of course, as I am wont to do, I have my own take on the motivation for and subsequent meaning of Peter and company’s little fishing trip – an interpretation that is perhaps a little more generous than some.

As you can well imagine, Peter and the other disciples would have been confused and overwhelmed by the events of the previous couple of weeks. A little over two weeks before, they had been enjoying a Passover meal with their master and friend – celebrating the victory won for Israel at the hand of God during what for them would have been the greatest event in salvation history – the Exodus. And then, in the space of a few hours, their master was betrayed by one of their own and arrested by the Romans. Within a day, their master had been tried and convicted by Roman and Jewish authorities, sentenced to death, beaten, and nailed to a cross. Their heads were obviously spinning from the rapid pace of events. Everything they had known for three years, had been destroyed. Their world had been turned upside. They were naturally confused, uncertain about what would happen to them, what they should do. And as if that weren’t enough, a couple of days later, their master was raised from the dead and appeared to them, telling them they were to continue the work he had begun. Now that would have had to have been not only confusing, but overwhelming. Like most of us, they would have needed time to reflect on what had happened, to process their experiences and feelings. They would have needed time to discern what they were supposed to do, particularly in light of the fact that their risen Lord had commissioned them to continue on. This would be too much for most people – especially so for these simple men. So who can blame them for wanting to go fishing?

Now, I don’t mean to imply that they were trying to escape from their problems, from the events of the previous two weeks, from the challenges that they faced. No. If there was something they learned from three years with Jesus, it was that when you are depleted, confused, overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to withdraw to a quiet place for prayer and reflection. They knew they needed time and space to step back, to reflect, to pray, to figure things out. Rather than sit around in Jerusalem, they decided to go for a change of scenery, to get away and get a new perspective. Peter chose to do this in a place that was safe and comfortable. For men who spent their whole lives, from the time they were boys, in fishing boats, what could be safer and more comfortable than to return to their roots, to what they knew best?

In a way, what they were doing was incredibly practical. They could get away and also do something productive – catch some fish, either for their own use or to sell to earn a little money. After all, fishing does not require a lot of mental or emotional energy. It is essentially physical labor. While throwing out their nets, while waiting for the nets to scoop up the waiting fish, they would have the time they needed to think, and reflect, and even pray.

We are not told if during this fishing expedition they came to any new insights into what they had experienced in Jerusalem, had any revelations as to how to deal with the changes in their lives, or gained any clarity about how to carry out the commission they had been given. But what we do know from John’s account of the fishing trip is that in their work, they encountered the risen Christ. They didn’t just encounter him, they experienced the abundance that Christ makes possible. An abundance that is made possible only when they allowed themselves to be open to possibilities – in this case, the possibility that maybe, in spite of the fact they have fished all night and not caught a single fish, just maybe, they will catch something if they cast their net on the right side of the boat, as Jesus suggests. And when they trust in the possibilities, when they trust in Jesus, they are rewarded with an abundance of fish beyond their wildest dreams.

In this story about Peter and the disciples and their little impromptu fishing trip, there lies a lesson for us today – the importance of meeting Christ in our everyday lives, and most importantly in our work. In our society, we tend to define ourselves by what we do. When two people meet, particularly in social situations, one of the first pieces of information exchanged other than name is occupation. Think about it. “Hi, my name is Michael.” “Hi, I’m Peter.” “Nice to meet you Peter. So what do you do?” “I’m a fisherman. What do you do?” “Me? I’m an Episcopal priest.” And the conversation goes from there. And if you’re a student, it’s pretty much the same thing. But instead of “what do you do?” the questions are more along the lines of “what year are you?” and “what’s your major?” What we do is such an important part of our self-identity, of how we view ourselves, of how the rest of the world views us.

On any given day, most working folks spend at least a third of their day, if not more – usually more, engaged in whatever it is that they “do.” Most of our jobs require that we focus our attention on the multiple tasks required of the job – often multiple tasks and people, all competing for our attention. When I was working in the transportation planning profession, my time was always in demand – juggling multiple projects, many with competing deadlines; catering to and holding the hands of numerous clients; addressing the concerns of numerous government agencies; attendance at endless meetings; answering phone calls or returning calls left on voice mail while I was out at meetings; endless e-mails; staff members who needed me to review their work or answer questions about difficult assignments; colleagues wanting to discuss various issues. And the list goes on. I would venture to say that all of you could come up with similar lists of demands on your time and your person. And if you’re retired, it’s probably much the same – most retired people I know are even busier in retirement than they were when they were employed. Even our children have increasingly growing lists of demands – school, homework, practice for sporting events, the sporting events themselves, music lessons, dance lessons, etc.

My point is that in our fast-paced society, there are increasing demands on our time, with something, multiple somethings, vying for our attention from the moment we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night. We barely have time to breathe, let alone time for our Lord, time for God. We have church, you say? Sure, we have Sunday mornings, but frankly, that is not enough. There are 168 hours in a week. An hour on Sunday is only six-tenths of one percent of our week. In the meantime, we are spending 25, 30, even 35 percent of our time at work, not to mention all the other time that is spent just keeping life going. Shouldn’t God be a part of that time, too?

Here again, we need to take a lesson from our friend Simon Peter. In the midst of working, he was able to recognize the risen Lord in his midst. When he did, “he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” This little bit of comic relief in the story tells us an important lesson. In his enthusiasm, his excitement, his eagerness, to embrace the Lord in the midst of his work, Peter jumped out of the boat fully clothed, wanting to get to shore to as quickly as possible. He was not willing to wait for the boat to get to shore, we was so eager.

Admittedly, it is not always easy to see Jesus in the midst of our everyday lives, in the midst of our demanding work. But we are not alone. As you recall, John tells us that the disciples did not initially recognize the risen Lord in their midst, either. They were uncertain that who they were seeing really was Jesus. As Bill Countryman, New Testament Professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, points out, “the uncertainty is intrinsic to any encounter with the risen Jesus. It is the consequence of looking out from a familiar world onto the still scarcely imaginable life of the age to come” (Countryman, 26).

But the good news is that we have a rich tradition of saints, beginning with Peter and the other fishing disciples, who have led the way, showing us that Jesus is indeed in our midst, no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing. And that same tradition shows us that when we do recognize Christ in our midst, when we are open to the possibilities and allow him to guide us in our endeavors, we will be blessed with abundance, just as the disciples were.

There’s a lot to do. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go fishin’!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Countryman, L. William. Proclamation 6, Series C: Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year: Easter. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sophie's Visit

We had an unexpected guest at the Campus Ministry worship service and dinner tonight. One of my students showed up with Sophie, a small white dog. He found her on the street near the church while walking to the worship service. She appeared to be lost and scared. Fortunately, she had a tag with her name and the owner’s phone number. He called but the owner was not home, so he left a message.

For a little while, Sophie was shaking like mad, obviously terrified. We took Sophie into the chapel for the worship service. Alissa (the Methodist chaplain I work with) tucked her into her sweatshirt and held her throughout the service. Part way through the service, Sophie calmed down and went to sleep. After the worship service, we went into the Upper Lounge for dinner. We took Sophie with us and gave her some water and fed her some of the pork we had for dinner (we hope she's not Jewish). By the end of dinner, we still had not heard from Sophie’s owner, so Alissa decided to leave another message for the owner and took Sophie home with her.

Alissa just called to tell me that Sophie’s owner had called and is on her way to Alissa’s house to retrieve Sophie. The owner, an elderly woman, had been out to dinner. Apparently, someone made a delivery to her house and left the gate open. When the owner returned home, she found Sophie missing and was hysterical. But then she found the messages from Alissa and immediately called.

All’s well and Sophie and her owner will shortly be reunited. Our ministry helped brighten the day of both a frightened little dog and her distraught owner. I guess in ministry, you end up doing all sorts of unexpected things. That’s what makes it so interesting – and fun.


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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Icons of New Life

Easter Vigil – Year C
Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10
Saturday, April 7, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

Jonathan, a 12-year old Mexican boy, sat perched on the arm of the couch, next to the front door, as 70 college students and their chaplains filed in and out of his family home. We were there as part of an “immersion” experience designed to give us a taste of what life is like for farmworkers attempting to eek out an existence in Oxnard, just up the coast about half way between here and Santa Barbara. Jonathan’s house is a small, two-bedroom shack, which serves as home to his parents and his three siblings, ranging in age from 6 to 20. On this beautiful Saturday morning in March, Jonathan was the only member of the family around. His parents were at work in the strawberry fields, and I don’t know where his siblings were.

The place had fallen into disrepair, obviously due to neglect by the landlord. I walked through the small, living room, which had a couch on one wall and a twin bed on the opposite wall. The room was dark and dingy. The kitchen was also small, but pretty well-lit and spotlessly clean. The only real bedroom was, like the living room, dark and dingy, barely large enough to hold a full-sized bed and a dresser. The other bedroom, if you could call it that, was really little more than a wide hallway between the main bedroom and the bathroom. This space was barely large enough for a full-sized bed. As I walked through, I was shocked to think that six people lived in these cramped quarters, a space a little more than half the size of my one-bedroom apartment, a space smaller than our Upper Lounge. I was appalled that this family should have to pay $1,000 a month to live in such an inhospitable place. I was saddened that this little boy had to grow up in such depressing surroundings. And I was embarrassed that I was a voyeur, peeping into the unfortunate circumstances of this family.

Farmworker families living in such conditions do not generally allow “outsiders” in to see their homes. There is always the risk that some well-meaning person will report the deplorable conditions to the City or County authorities. If this happens, the authorities will investigate and then go after the landlord, requiring them to perform needed repairs to bring the place up to code, or in the worst of conditions, have the place condemned. In either case, the residents will be evicted and forced to find a new place to live. The only reason Jonathan’s family welcomed us into their home was because in less than two months, they will be leaving this place to move into a brand new home being constructed for them by Habitat for Humanity. This family will be given the opportunity for new life.

Before going to see Jonathan’s home, our group visited Villa Cesar Chavez in Oxnard. There are two parts to Villa Cesar Chavez. The first is a beautiful, 52-unit apartment complex, providing brand new housing for farmworkers. And the second is six single-family houses being constructed by Habitat for Humanity. One of those houses will be Jonathan’s new home. In fact, that’s where we first met Jonathan. He spends almost all of his spare time at Villa Cesar Chavez, hoping to help out with the work on his new house. Part of the requirements for families receiving a new home is that they put in a minimum of 500 hours of “sweat equity” – work on the construction of their home. The Habitat supervisor introduced us to Jonathan and told us that Habitat rules prohibit children under the age of 16 from working on Habitat projects. But Jonathan is so eager to help that they find little things for him to do around the construction site, just so he can be a part of the process of building his new home. And when there is nothing to do around his own house, he helps out where he can with the other five houses being built at Villa Cesar Chavez. He doesn’t do this because he has to. His age technically exempts him from doing any work. He does it because he wants to. He does it out of joy for the new life that he and his family will have in this place. And he helps out on other houses because he wants others to know the joy of having a new life, too. In his simple actions, in his own small way, Jonathan is co-creator of new life, and giver of joy.

For me, Jonathan is a contemporary, living icon of what this day, this celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, is all about. Last weekend, as we prepared to greet Our Lord making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!,” as Our Lord prepared to travel the road to his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and ultimately to this point, to his resurrection, as Our Lord journeyed the painful path to misery and death that would lead to an equally joyous new life, I witnessed first hand a young boy and his family, traveling a journey that would lead them from their own personal path of misery to joyous new life. But this journey is not just that of Our Lord. It is not just that of Jonathan and his family. It is a journey for all of us – a journey that God has invited us to take – a journey whose invitation was issued from that very moment when God uttered the words, “Let there be light!”

The first reading we heard in this Easter Vigil was the story of the creation of all that is – the very beginnings of our history as God’s own, when God first created light, formed the sky, formed the Earth to be our home. When God created vegetation of all kinds, and living creatures to populate the skies and the earth and the waters. And then God created us, saying “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” And God saw that all of creation, including humankind, was very good. By creating us in the image and likeness of God, we are made to be partners, co-creators with God in the on-going creation of our world. We are invited to walk with God in this process of co-creation, as God and we work to make a better world for all God’s beloved creations, of which we are an integral part. Just as Jonathan is invited to be a co-creator in making a better world for himself, his family, and for others.

As our remembrance of salvation history progressed, we then heard the story of the Exodus, in which God called the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, calling them and leading them through Moses to a new land where they could live into the fullness of their calling as the beloved children of God, God’s chosen people. We are invited on that journey, as we struggle to free ourselves from that which enslaves us, to enter a new life in a new and better land which God offers to us, which God invites us to enter. Just as Jonathan was invited to leave the slavery that binds him and his family to a life of drudgery, invited to enter a new life, in a new home that God, through the labors and co-creation of God’s children, has provided.

And then we heard the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones, in which Israel is withered and lifeless following a season of exile. The Spirit of God comes upon the lifeless remnant of God’s chosen ones and restores them to wholeness and life. With the words, “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” God calls the chosen, the beloved of God to new life, free from the bonds of their oppressors. God invites them to new life in their own land, in their own home, newly restored to them following years of separation, years of lifeless and withered existence in a strange land not their own. Just as Jonathan and his family have been living a lifeless, withered existence at the hands of others, but are now invited to new life in a home that will be their own.

Throughout salvation history, throughout our history as the beloved of God, created – lovingly formed – in the image and likeness of God, we have been continually invited to new life. And tonight, we celebrate the most generous invitation of all – the invitation that demonstrates just how much God really does want us to enter into new life. In our creation, we were given life in physical form, mortal, subject to the ravages of sin and death. In the Exodus, we were given a life of freedom, yet only for a short time, still being subject so sin and physical death. And likewise, in being reconstituted following Exile, we were given physical life in our ancient homeland, yet again, only for a short time, still subject to sin and death. But tonight, God has issued a new invitation unlike any previously offered. For tonight, God offers us a new life beyond anything we could possibly imagine – a new life that will not last a mere human lifetime, but one which will last for eternity. God offers us new life free from the ravages of sin and death.

Tonight we witness the resurrection of Our Lord. This is no small feat. For in his own death, Christ has conquered death. In his death, Christ has battled and defeated the ravages of sin. No, this is certainly no small feat. This is the greatest event in the history of humanity. And we are witnesses to this unprecedented event. We stand at the tomb with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. We cautiously look into the tomb with them and find it empty. Our Lord, the one who was gently and lovingly laid in that tomb on Good Friday is not there. And then we see him, standing there before us, and we know that all that he foretold was true, that it has indeed come to pass. He is Risen, indeed.

In his rising, in his resurrection, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, issues an invitation to us to follow him – to enter into new life with him – a new life in which he has forged the way. Not the new life of the creation, not the new life of the Exodus, not the new life following the Exile, but a new and different way of life – a new life in him and in God, a new life free from sin and death, a new life that will last forever. He extends his hand to us, inviting us to die to self, to die to our old way of life and walk with him into this new way of life. As Paul reminds us, as he exhorts us, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

For Christians, we enter into this new life through baptism – the rite whereby we die to sin and to self, where we are buried in the waters of baptism, as Christ was buried in the tomb. And as Christ emerged from the tomb, resurrected, born into new life, so too, we emerge from the water, born into a new life in Christ, freed from the bonds of sin and death. In baptism, we are joined in Christ’s resurrection and fully receive its benefits. In a few moments, we will witness such a rebirth, as Amber Elizabeth Havel is baptized into new life in Christ, and into a new life in this community, this family of faith. And we who have been baptized will renew our baptismal vows, reaffirming our own desire for new and eternal life with God through Christ.

The Resurrection is not a one-time event. It is not the last word in salvation history. Rather, the Resurrection is the first word in the ongoing creation of the new life that is embodied in and through us, this community, the Body of Christ. We relive it every Easter Vigil. We relive it every time a new member of God’s family is added to the Body of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. And, with God’s help, we relive it every moment of our lives, as we strive to live into God’s invitation to be fully alive to God in Christ Jesus. And as we live into that invitation, we are also called to be icons to others about what it means to live the new life of the Resurrection. Jesus is the first such icon. But so is Jonathan, and so is Amber – icons of what it means to be co-creators of new life and givers of joy.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Calm Before the Storm

Today I’m trying to take it easy – the last little bit of time to rest before the Triduum. I have been fighting a nasty cold since early last week, so have not felt quite up to par. The last thing I need is to be sick during Holy Week and Easter. So, I am (sort of) taking today off. The only thing I really had to do today was start work on my sermon for the Great Vigil. I figured I can just as easily do that at home. I have managed to finish a draft of it, so will let it sit a day or two before returning to it, as is my usual style. The rest of the day I can just veg, because come tomorrow, all bets are off – no rest for the wicked (although redeemed) until Sunday afternoon.


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"What is Truth?"

What is truth? An appropriate question to ponder at this time of the liturgical year, as well as at this (or any) point in world history. The Rev. Albert Scariato, M.D., in his article, “A Question of Relationship,” (Washington Window, April 2005), provides this reflection on this age-old question:

Spanning the history of the church, the Holy Spirit has striven to guide the world, both outside and inside the church, into a more complete understanding of truth. A vital question in Jesus’ time and in our own comes from Pilate’s lips (John 18:38), “What is truth?” Accessing that truth has been the work that the church has been commissioned to explore, incorporate and proclaim. Never has so great a task been undertaken by mere mortals. Truth has within it the power to create freedom (John 8:32). Freedom itself represents the ultimate gift of our God.


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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ordination Booster Shot

Today was the annual Holy Week ritual of the service of renewal of ordination vows for clergy of the Diocese. In some ways it seemed a little strange to be renewing my vows only three months after I was ordained priest. I guess it’s sort of like a booster shot for a vaccine.

The service was held at St. John’s, where I was ordained as a deacon on June 3, 2006, and as a priest on January 6, 2007. When we arrived, we were told to vest (cassock, surplice and stole – yea!, I got to wear the beautiful new red stole the St. Alban’s Vestry gave me as an ordination gift) and to take a seat in the church. I ran into Jeff Wilhelm, the rector of St. Stephen’s Beaumont, who was a year ahead of me at Seabury and was my neighbor in the seminary apartments. We decided to sit together, forming the contingent of recent Seabury grads. Jeff went into the church to take a seat while I stopped to talk to several of the priests in my Fresh Start group. Ironically, the seat Jeff chose put me in the exact same spot where I sat for both my ordinations. How appropriate that my first renewal of vows took place in the exact spot where I was originally ordained.


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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Prov 8 Gathering

Friday evening through this afternoon was the Province 8 Student Gathering – a conference of college students and young adults from all over the western US. It was hosted by UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Channel Islands, and was held at St. Michael’s & All Angels in Isla Vista (Santa Barbara). We had about 70 students from all over the West, including USC, UC Irvine, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Channel Islands, UC Santa Barbara, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, Washington State University, University of Idaho, University of Oregon, and University of Hawaii. I was initially a little depressed because I didn’t have any of my students from UCLA, but got over it.

The theme of the gathering was “Exploring Communion, Living Faith,” and was designed to look at how we live our faith in every day live, with attention to our response to issues of poverty, injustice, and peacemaking. The main event was our Saturday “immersion” experience. We left St. Michael’s at 8:30 in the morning, via yellow school busses, and traveled down the coast to Oxnard. We first visited a new housing project, Villa Cesar Chavez, which provides affordable housing for farmworkers. We toured some of the apartments and met the families that lived in them. These were beautiful, spacious units, and were a far cry from the conditions the families lived in prior to moving there. In many cases, these people had been living with six to eight people in one bedroom apartments. Paying over $1,000 per month in rent. Now they were in two and three bedroom homes, paying less than half their previous rental. Adjacent to the apartments, Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County was working on six houses that will be the homes of farmworkers.

From there we went to see the current home of one of the families who will receive one of the Habitat homes. It was a small, run-down place, with two small bedrooms, a small kitchen, and bathroom, and a small living room. In total, the place was probably smaller than my one bedroom apartment, yet was the home to a family of six. Normally, people do not want “outsiders” seeing that they live in such conditions, because a well-meaning observer may notify the County officials about the deplorable conditions. If that happens, the County goes after the landlord, who will evict the tenants. The only reason they were willing to let us see their home was because they will be moving in two months, so feel reasonably safe that they will not end up homeless.

Our next stop was a strawberry farm. We first had lunch with the farmworkers, eating food from the mobile taco stand that serves the area. After lunch, we received a lesson in the proper way to pick and pack strawberries. Then we were put to work. We worked in pairs, with six teams being overseen by a supervisor/quality control person. We worked for about 45 minutes to an hour getting a feel for what it’s like for the farmworkers. It was hard work, mainly because you are bent over picking the berries. I was aching after a short time. I cannot imaging doing that 9 ½ hours a day, six days a week. For this, the average worker gets $7.50 an hour. During peak harvest seasons, they also get an incentive of 35 cents per container. On average, each of our inexperienced teams filled four two-pound containers. When we got done, the owner of the field told us that the amount that we had picked as an entire group was equivalent to what three of his farmworkers can do in one hour. But as "payment" for our labors, the owner gave each of us a two-pound container of the strawberries we had just picked.

While it was hard work, the workers seemed to be treated well. They take pride in their work and enjoy working for this particular owner (if enjoy is the right word). Every year, about 70 percent of the workers for this company return, which is apparently an extremely high rate for farmworkers. But even so, it is very hard work for not a whole lot of money. And yet, what most of us don’t realize is that it is because of these people that we in this country have access to reasonably affordable food.

In addition to the immersion experience, there were various workshops, daily worship, some free time with optional excursions, and time to just get to know one another. And there was plenty of food, with breakfast provided by the Diocese of Los Angeles campuses, and fantastic dinners provided by local Episcopal parishes.

Overall, it was a great weekend. The students seemed to have a great time. For me personally, it was a great to get to know some of my fellow chaplains and some of their students. And for all of us, we gained some firsthand experience in matters of social justice, especially as related to affordable housing and working conditions of our valuable farmworkers. I think one student summed it up best in the comment, “I will never look at strawberries in the grocery store the same way again. Behind those strawberries are a face and a story.”


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