Monday, 29 July 2013

Conquer Differences with Communication

(Originally printed at the time of the Boston Marathon bombings as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

Yvonne Abraham, of the Boston Globe, writes, “Like so many others this week, local imams (Islamic leaders—often of a mosque and the Muslim community) have been praying since Monday’s bombings. They’ve been praying for the victims. They’ve been praying that the fanatic who did this (bombing) is caught quickly and brought to justice. And they’ve been praying for something more: Whoever it is, please don’t let him be a Muslim. ‘What will happen to us if they arrest someone and that someone turns out to be a Muslim?’”

Grief, confusion, hurt, anger, and conflict abound—assumptions being made—fingers pointed—blame placed. It sickens me that a whole group is already preparing for the days to come—the possibilities that there will be retaliatory shootings in mosques, rocks through windows—more grief, confusion, hurt, anger, and conflict.  All the “work to build bridges” is in jeopardy.

We fear what we do not know. We fill in the blanks when we do not have the answers. We deal with conflict in a way the world has taught to be appropriate. Bad news. Much of world is sick, broken and wounded—covered in the scales of sin that bind us tightly to the ground upon which we slither. Jesus teaches us how to manage conflict and disagreement. He is the model for conflict resolution that serves to address the many issues that divide us.


"If your brother sins against you (or maybe even just disagrees with you, or even is just different from you), go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens   to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matt 18: 15-17). Communicate—one to another.

Jesus was no coward—embracing conflict with truth and grace—and always with love. Imagine if we would embrace conflict, work toward understanding differences, view disagreements as opportunities to "turn the crystal" and see the light of Jesus Christ anew. 

We could be a miraculous witness to a world that seems to know nothing but violence, disagreement and discord and seems to smack its lips in anticipation of the taste. The world is what we will it to be. Live with it or commit to transform it.

This is one of the most courageous things one human being can do—go directly to someone to seek the truth and speak the truth—in love. Take a risk, be vulnerable, seek relationship, reach out. Get to know each other as human beings. And if that doesn’t work? Try again. No resolution? Try again. Still nothing? THEN treat him or her as the gentiles and tax collectors—and love.

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Dark Night of the Soul


(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

Spring has sprung! The (Pennsylvania) earth is coming alive again! As Christians we are preparing for the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday—tomorrow), napping in the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James and John (tell the truth, you may have been sleeping as well), and preparing for that walk toward Calvary for the crucifixion of our Rabbouni—our teacher.

If you’re struggling to see the end of that story—struggling to see the light of Christ that is the great Alleluia of Easter morning, you are not alone. You are not alone. Spring has sprung? The earth is alive? Happy, happy, joy, joy? Is that workin’ for ya’?

For many folk in our community, there is no spring—no transformation—no renewal or restoration. There is a continuous sense of what John of the Cross, a 16th century mystic, referred to as the "dark night of the soul" —a spiritual crisis. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the famous line "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning.”

And you don’t have to be homeless, jobless, divorced, disabled, imprisoned, aggrieved, or depressed to understand.  You may have a roof over your head, relationship, health, freedom, and yet—there is still something amiss for you. You may have lost your faith—never had faith, lost your hope—never had hope. You may be one of the millions who are the walking wounded, the broken-hearted, the soul-sick.
                                                                                                                                       
Where are we to turn for healing? For wholeness? For reconciliation and restoration? For an experience of the transformative love of God? For perfect love? Jesus had His doubts, and where did He turn? (And prior to placing irate phone calls regarding that statement, please read the account of Jesus prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane—Jesus had His doubts.)

Jesus turned to God in prayer, because God is perfect love. God is restoration. God is transformation. God is healing for the broken-hearted and the walking wounded—the desperate and the lonely, the weary and the grieving. Considering the fact that Jesus had his doubts, why can’t you? I have mine—I have questions about God and the meaning of life and I turn to God in search of the answers.

Now God is everywhere, and that is true. However, I wouldn’t be doin’ right by God if I didn’t suggest you find yourselves a church where you can seek the answers, doubt, celebrate, weep, laugh, wrestle with Scripture, and become who God would have you be. Find a church where you belong—one committed to showing the light of Jesus Christ to all who experience that dark night of the soul. Find a church where there is welcome for the sinner; for me and for you.

Much like the long walk to Golgatha, your search may be painful and burdensome, but at the end there will be a community who loves you, who invites you to belong, and who proclaims the glory of the living, risen Christ! 

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Transformation and Gardening

(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

Each and every year I read a short novella entitled Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. The main character is a man named ChanceChance the gardener. He works for a wealthy invalid and his days are spent working in the garden and watching television. Poor Chance isn’t the sharpest hoe in the shed. He’s never seen the outside world—never interacted with people beyond the house. He’s a bit of a modern day Robinson Crusoe.


When the old man he serves dies, Chance is left to fend for himself in a world he’s only seen on television. Long story short—he’s out and about (save yourself the read and find the movie on Netflix—Peter Sellers is fabulous!), is involved in a minor accident with the wife of a tycoon, and is ‘adopted’ by this family who has mistakenly heard him say his name is “Chauncey Gardner.”

After spouting a great many ‘vague aphorisms’ about gardening, this family believes him to be wildly intelligent, with extravagant witticisms, insights and brilliance beyond compare. “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again,” muses Chauncey. His audience is captivated and fascinated, as the rest of us read, or (for those of us who like to) watch, in horror as they are buffaloed by this illiterate buffoon.

Being There is the book that has been under my skin for years. While once I found it to be nearly a waste of my time, and certainly below my fine liberal arts education, I pull it out annually to read about this man Chauncey, and his understanding of servanthood, growth and transformation.

I daily do the metaphorical work of a gardener, studying the environment of which I have responsibility, preparing for growth, laying out a purpose, and tending to individuals to help them grow and bear fruit. I dearly enjoy the actual labor of gardening, as transformation is clearly evidenced. I find myself constantly concerned with how fast some plants grow, how much sun they need, what hinders growth, when a plant grow best, how the growth of one plant affect the growth of a neighboring plant.

For those of us who are able gardeners, again— metaphorically—we have a responsibility to tend our garden (our community, if you will). There aren’t traveling gardeners and roaming gnomes passing through our towns looking for beds and plots in which to work. We have an obligation to serve—until those being served become freer, healthier, wiser, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to be gardeners.

The first job, which God gave to the first man on earth, Adam, was to be a gardener: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15). The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Put your gloves and boots on—there’s room in the garden for you.

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm... Snickers!

(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

What should we ask for in life? Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). But what should we ask for? It’s no use asking for what we desire, because all our desires are corrupt. When it comes to what we want and desire, we’re a bit like schoolchildren. But I must admit to a moment of pure joy reading a sermon from my colleague, The Rev. Fr. J. Matthew Tucker, the rector of Christ Church in Bordentown, NJ. 

The sermon included a story from NBC's the Today Show. They were talking about the grade school system in Mississippi and their latest totalitarian gesture to ban certain foods from the school property and force the children into gastronomic correctness.

The reporter stated some children were doing a wonderful black market trade selling to others contraband—officially disapproved candies-- Snickers, Lemonheads, Reeses--mmmmmm, snacks and pop. Just when I thought every last trace of initiative had been bludgeoned out of our children and all of them brainwashed into politically correct fads, I hear of this marvelous entrepreneurial spirit.

My friend Becky Greene posted this today, as her daily reflection: "Is what we want good for us?... And even if its good for me, how might my little drop of a life cause a ripple effecting all the other people in the pond?... Do we even know what we really want?"


We tend to like and want what’s bad for us psychologically and spiritually don’t we? Our prayers go wrong when we ask for health and happiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with health and happiness.

So is it safe to ask for anything? Have you ever been to one of those weird churches where the intercessions are like a sort of global tour? Prayers are said for parts of the United States and a few countries who we view as tragic? These intercessors trail after the TV news like rodents following a healthy aroma of leftovers—searching for the latest local disaster or famine.

What can we ask for ourselves? We  can and should ask for the forgiveness of our sins. This involves accepting that we have sins and that we are responsible for what we do. I thought of this when I read an advice column that was passed along to me. A young woman wrote to say she was fed up of going out three or four times a week, getting drunk and waking up full of self-disgust. 


The expert gave her about 800 words of psycho-babble about getting in touch with her inner self and learning self-acceptance. She saw her as a victim of social determinism and irresistible psychological forces. What should the expert have said? You don’t like it? Don’t do it!

The Christian faith is majestically realistic. God bids us see ourselves as we are: as sinners in need of forgiveness. So we should ask God for the forgiveness of our sins. We should ask for help in spiritual warfare. We should ask God to help us overcome our vicious selfishness. We should ask God to help us mend our character—which is another way of saying save our souls.

We are perverse: all the good things we do by the grace of God, we take credit for; and all the things we do by our own wickedness we blame on circumstances and irresistible forces. We must ask God to give us the courage to help us face ourselves. If we want the best for ourselves—that is, if we want what can really do us good, we should ask God to give us Godself.


Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.