30 May 2005

Memorial Day rain

For the first time in several weeks all the window blinds in the house are open to welcome the light. An (almost) unspoken goal here at the Vicarage has been to wait to begin using the air conditioning until June 1st. Using the blinds against the morning and afternoon sun has helped and it looks as though we are going to make it. Wednesday is almost here. But, this Memorial Day morning the air is cool and refreshing and the rain is steady and soothing and all the blinds are open.

How is it I can be refreshed and soothed on Memorial Day 2005? As I prepared yesterday's prayer sheet for the intercessor to use in worship, I included a petition for today's holiday and in that petition I listed the wars our country fought during the last century. Five major wars (or conflicts) in 100 years. And, presently we are fighting on two major fronts five years into the 21st century.

I am 51 years old and dimly remember the beginnings of our engagement in Viet Nam, asking my parents what the tanks were for as I watched them on our then-1957-new flickering black-and-white television. I grew up never missing an episode of MASH's version of Korea. In the years of grades 7 - 12 I and my classmates were shown reel after reel of "you were there" footage of World War II's history. Between our withdrawal from Viet Nam in the '70s (the end of high school for me) and the Gulf War (fought while I was in seminary) there were also a number of skirmishes around the world which do not qualify as war, but most certainly visited the ravages of war on those involved. Perhaps our being a peaceful people is part of a national myth. I don't know. Today this web log isn't the place for that analysis; it's also likely I'm not the person to conduct such analysis either.

Of greater interest to me are the words of the collect I used at the conclusion of yesterday's intercessions.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. (Book of Common Prayer, 839, For Heroic Service)

I prayed it the way it was written, but cringed as I did. Why? I don't disagree with the intent of the prayer. I used it to offer thanksgiving for those whom we remember on this Memorial Day and it does that well. It is, however, a prayer for our country and our people alone. "Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom ..." The intention of that line, of course, is to spur the pray-er(s) to care for the person who, because of race, background, education etc, is being left behind, ignored, mistreated, underpayed, abused.

But, yesterday praying that was hard. You see, my first thought was not for Americans who are being denied the American dream. What was my first thought? That I was praying for American and Americans only. And, that our world has changed between when that prayer was written and this Memorial Day post 11 September 2001. On the other hand, could it be that I have changed? Each time I participate in the Baptismal Covenant, I state my belief that all people are made in the image of God -- even those declared to be the enemy, even those whose beliefs and values differ from mine. Yesterday I found it hard to pray for the "good life" just for Americans.

Am I unAmerican, unpatriotic on this day hallowed by the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people? I would say no, understanding that many would disagree with me. I can ponder and question the prayerbook's turn of phrase because of those thousands upon thousands of souls. And, I can pray for those beyond our borders because of them as well. Maybe next year I'll amend that concluding collect just a bit.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the sounds of the soothing rain and the feel of the refreshing air coming through the open window. And I'm especially grateful for the soft light coming through the open blinds.

In the category of TMI (too much information):

The collect in question here was new to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, written by Caroline Rose (Mrs Lawrence), a member of the Committee on Prayers and Thanksgivings of the Standing Liturgical Commission. And, that bit of information is from Marion J. Hatchett's "Commentary on the American Prayerbook" (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980).

23 May 2005

What do we mean when we say "worship"?

What does it mean to worship? Is worship what we do on Sunday morning? How does one go about his/her worship?

Our discussion took us to awe and reverence. We mentioned gratitude. We talked about what we might worship in our everyday lives besides God. Most everyone admitted to a favorite form of idolatry.

I almost always start with Noah Webster, whose definitions (for the noun; verbs forms are similar) follow:
  1. chiefly brit: a person of importance -- used as a title for various officials
  2. reverence offered a divine being or supernational power; also, an act of expressing such reverence
  3. a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
  4. extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem (~ of the dollar)

What we were talking about Sunday morning, however, went beyond any of those definitions.

Evelyn Underhill in her book, Worship, makes this her first sentence: "Worship, in all its grades and kinds, is the response of the creature to the Eternal." (pg 3) And, she concludes that chapter with this: "Worship ... is an avenue which leads the creature out from his inveterate self-occupation to a knowledge of God, and ultimately to that union with God which is the beatitude of the soul." (pg 17-18)

The word "response" is an important one, I think. We are beckoned and lead into worship, invited by God.

Then, there's my favorite author, Frederick Buechner, and his delightful little book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC."

"Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies. To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done -- run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs,
and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do -- sings songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what's on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.

A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening -- unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spend doing something useful." (pg 122)

Now there's something to chew on -- especially for us Episcopalians and our desire for "decency and good order" in everything we do, including/especially in our worship. Joy and foolishness. AND, it's something we NEED to do. Amen to that!

FYI -- information on the above-mentioned volumes:

Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC. HarperSanFrancisco, 1973, 1993.

Underhill, Evelyn. Worship. New York: Crossroad, 1989 (first published in 1936).

21 May 2005

What are you reading?

That question, ah, that question. I sometimes ask it because I REALLY want to know. You see, it seems all I read these days is in anticipation of/preparation for sermons. And, usually the daily newspaper. I ask the question, likening myself to someone gulping for air on her way down for the third time. What are you reading?

When people ask me the question, I feel so very slack. Or behind. Or out of touch with the rest of the world. I cannot begin to guess what's on the best seller lists or what book groups are dipping into these days. How I'd like to be able to put a list for suggested reading in the newsletter at the beginning of each summer. Alas ... not a chance. Not this year, anyway.

I was on a business trip this past week and had opportunity to spend fifteen minutes or so in a bookstore. Something to read. Something worth reading. Something that would inform. Something that would make a difference. What to read? There was the usual stuff. Novels. How does one choose a good novel as opposed to a trashy novel? Historical, biography, autobiography. Which one? Buying more than one would be foolish, particularly since I had to carry that suitcase. Spiritual/theological. For now, I've read just about enough pertaining to the simple life, living life one moment at a time. Until I'm ready to do that, to take that particular plunge, reading one more book on the topic is a waste. Buying one more book on the topic is a sin.

I hate to admit it, but I eventually decided to go by publisher. Zondevan -- no. Eerdmans -- yes. Jossey-Bass -- most likely not. HarperSanFrancisco -- probably.

I ended up with challenging and the Harper label. And, in a way, I ended up with the whole question of choice. Choice way beyond books. What I am reading won't please anyone. I'll bet neither "side" (read that: Republican/Democrat; left/right; pro-life/pro-choice) likes it. And, not the church either.

The book? God's Politics: A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America by Jim Wallis. The person sitting next to me on USAIR coming home managed to see "God is not a Republican ... Or a Democrat" on the dustcover and his wife spotted the title and sub-title of Part III -- "Spiritual Values and International Relations: When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?" She looked at me and my clergy collar and back at the book and shrank away. He commented that I'd probably not read enough of the book to know what it was about.

And, I guess that's the point, Jim Wallis' point. Good, honest church-going, God-fearing people are completely confused about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a citizen. Both "sides" have sometimes fostered that confusion (sometimes deliberately, I might add) and the church has not done very much to clear any of the confusion up.

Guess what? I already have the next book! But, I'll not comment on that yet. I want to live though the current one first.

19 May 2005

Trying something new

The woman at the front of the room was positive and clear. Clergy -- in her estimation -- are missing out on one of the best and simplest ways of staying in touch with the people in their charge. Clergy are not taking advantage of a new tool which can help them to have an influence on their congregations beyond the occasional sermon or program. She introduced the web log (of Swiftboat fame? or was that the Texas Air National Guard?) and claimed many people would read, be strengthened and become more willing to engage theologically were each of us to establish one.

I resist. Being 51, I am an ink and paper kind of person. In spite of arthritis in my left/writing hand, a journal is supposed to be written. Although the computer is a central part of my life, do I want it to be MORE part of my life? The doubts stumble over themselves. Doubts like: Who cares what I'm thinking about?; I don't want to clutter up anyone's life; Do I really have anything to add to everything else that's been/that is being said?

Plus, there's the time involved in learning how to carry on a web log. I can make absolutely anything hard. And, everything takes me so infernally long, particularly since BellSouth cares not one bit that those of us living outside town would like to move from dialup to DSL. Every online mistake requires the long, slow process of waiting for each and every screen laboriously- - inch by inch -- to disappear and reappear.

On the other hand. I am the one feeling a little reservation about an upcoming vacation. What a novel, disarming way to invite the congregation to experience a bit of what we do during those three weeks. What a great possibility to share experiences, photos, insights. I feel a rush of energy and optimism just thinking about it. There is a creative, expansive person here somewhere. Squished, crushed, relegated to the background. I think I'll try letting her out. It might as well be now and it might as well be in this mysterious new medium.

Just under three weeks until we leave. Plenty of time to work the bugs out and to make sure those with PCs and those with Macs can locate the log and sign in. Enough time to ask them to try something new with me. Perhaps after vacation we'll all be used to the web log and it can, indeed, be a place where I can offer more of myself and of the faith to them. Who knows ... maybe someone might even offer some thought of their own in response.

I have a suspicion, even before I get underway, that the woman at the front of the room was right! Thanks, Dora Jane.