Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Wallace's sermon today was based on the "Classic" week after Christmas text, John 1:1-18 (The "In the beginning was the Word" one), and it was fine, but it was not that reading that caught my attention. It was today's second reading, Galatians 3:23-25 and 4:4-7:

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian... 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Maybe it was just that I've heard the first chapter of John so much it just didn't stick or something, and I was secretly hoping for the "alternative text" sermon, but that is a lot to ask for during the Christmas/Ephiphany season since I imagine Wallace is under pressure to stick to the "classic old schmaltz." Or maybe I just glommed onto the concept of no longer being under a disciplinarian and being adopted with no necessary jumping through hoops on our part. At any rate, I was guilty of hearing Wallace's words and trying to stick them to the "other" text rather than the one he used for the sermon.

But I really like that bit in Galatians 4. What it reminds me most of is the way most of the dogs that I ever had entered my life...they just "showed up" and I took them in. Most of the dogs in my life were not necessarily picked out by me. I didn't say, "Oh, I'd like to have THIS kind of dog" and go dog shopping. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and discover a dumped dog, or a dog just showed up on my porch after being dumped (a common occurrence when you live in the country) or someone said, "I had a dog show up at my house, blah blah, and I'm looking for a home for him," or "I have to get rid of this dog b/c (landlord caught me, it doesn't get along with my other dog, etc. etc. fill in the blank)". In other words, I have been the recipient of more than my share of "dog karma." I think there is this grand karmic thing with dogs where they have a 6th sense of "where to show up and they'll be taken in," and I exude some sort of dog karmic vibes that lead them to me.

Then I think about how I sort of came to Trinity. After moving back to Kirksville, I was not really looking for a church home but I knew something was missing in my life to make me feel totally connected again; that my return and my connection was 90% whole but something was missing. Two of my friends invited me to come there for six years but I paid little attention. I knew this much: I DID miss celebrating the Eucharist and I missed reciting the liturgy, but I had been through considerable "church trauma" at this point in my life and considered myself a strong enough Christian to go it alone. (Maybe that is why I like John the Baptist. I can identify with a dude wearing hairy clothes and wandering around in the wilderness eating locusts and honey.)

I was just like those dogs that manage to live just fine in the wild; I got along, I was fine. I didn't really miss human companionship or a home. But just like how a dog out on his own finally just up and decides to light somewhere, I just sort of "showed up" on an Easter Sunday at Trinity, and it was immediate "dog karma". Dogs that just show up at your house like that literally act like it's their home; they don't ask your permission, they just look at you like, "Hi, I'm home, what's for supper?" Evidently, Wallace saw that in me, b/c at my confirmation he told the Bishop I just walked in, looked around, and said, "I'm home" in a wordless sort of way.

Well, this is God's promise in Galatians 4. We have ALREADY been adopted by God. All we have to do is show up. He put the spirit of his Son in us (which is just like dog karma, only better) so that you recognize "home" when you see it.

Thanks be to God.

Dear Lord, You have placed in each of our hearts the ability to recognize "home." Teach us that when we are troubled, or in need of guidance, or even when we're just aimlessly wandering without a care to realize that we already belong to you and we have the innate ability to find our way home to You. Help us put our trust in this built in GPS system and in the journey, so that we will always have the confidence that we will be taken in with You in that heavenly country. Amen.

Wow. Yesterday was a long day. I have been joking today that I have spent more time on my knees in 24 hours than I can ever remember. I attended both services yesterday at Trinity, and ended up spending midnight with my Roman Catholic friends on the insistence of their 8 year old. She had the important task last night of being the child who had the privilege of placing the figurine of the Christ Child in the creche at Mary Immaculate (known as "Mary I" to the Kirksville crowd). She wanted an audience, so how could I disappoint her? Besides, I am a golfing buddy of Mary I's Father Pat, so it was a great opportunity to tell him, "Pat, since I don't get to see you on the golf course this time of year, I figured I'd come visit you at the office." He's a better priest than a golfer, by the way.

I think overall that my plan to embrace the gloominess of Advent was a good one, because by Trinity's 8 p.m. Christmas Eve service, I was ready for the release of Christmas finally being here. Trinity's two services yesterday were a 10 a.m. prayer service and the 8 p.m. eucharistic service. What I have always noticed on the times of the year where the calendar forces a "squeezing down" of the time between the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas (in this case, one day) that there is an emotional whirlwind in my mind that sort of catches me short in my reflective prayer time. Most years, you have a few days to put that mental preparation together in your mind. On years like this, it's more like a precipitous delivery.

Many years ago, I worked in a Labor and Delivery ward. The striking thing about that experience was no matter how good or how hasty the staff's preparations for the expectant mother, that baby was coming anyway. The "ideal" delivery was when the expected mother was coming in with her cervix dilated 3 cm or so, labor pains 15 minutes apart or so, no signs of fetal distress on the monitor. There was time to prepare the room, time for family members and the expectant dad to make ready, whether it was to make sure the videocam was working, making phone calls to relatives and friends, or just spending quiet time together. Those were often the deliveries that were "textbook". Anticipation and apprehension, but no fear or trauma.

Then there were the ones where the elevator door opened and a gaggle of staff barreled their way through the hall yelling, "She's effaced and pushing! Get out of the way!" There was a high likeihood that the new arrival's actual place of birth was in the hallway. When you overheard the staff conversations, you could sense the tension because no one had time to feel for where the cord was, about the only thing they might know for sure was which way the baby was facing. Or maybe in this situation, she was effaced, pushing, and everyone could tell the baby was not coming out the way he or she should. The tension was palpable, for everyone knew it takes a little time to set up the OR for an emergency C-section and everyone was working on the fly. Everyone was fearing the worst...but if everything turned out ok, the sense of immediate relief could immedately clear the fog of that tension surrounding everyone.

That feeling of a "precipitous delivery" was very palpable in my psyche yesterday, and, to a lesser extent, today, because there are still plenty of family things to be done at my house and tomorrow, I'll be back at work. I have lived through plenty of short time periods between 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas before, and I have lived through those outbursts of frustration and crankiness I have just prior to Christmas, but this is the first time I've sensed that they could be linked. This will be something I will have to pay attention to next year when the gap between the two days is longer.

But there were two great messages in the sermons yesterday, both of which are applicable for this situation in my psyche. Once again, Wallace and Carrol made a great tag team. I don't know whether they flipped a coin or what for "who did which service" but whatever they did, it worked.

Wallace had the morning sermon and it played a little on the pop culture hype of "The Da Vinci Code." He used the offense that some people took to the book or the movie as more of an indictment that what was really offending people was that they were examining their own humanity, their flaws, their OWN brokenness and this was what was truly offending the sensibilities of these people. In other words, they knew their own brokenness and did not wish to ascribe these characteristics to their Christ. Then he turned it around and pointed out that God is not offended by us, warts and all, and if anything, that feeling of shame and guilt of our own flaws is actually our avenue to understanding God, the route by which we turn to Him. Good "last message" for the Advent season.

Carrol got the Christmas service. I've decided that one of the "pluses" that female priests bring to our church is...well...that they can talk about the birth of Jesus from Mary's viewpoint in a more um..."first person" way. She laid out the contrast between the Nativity we all know from the American cultural viewpoint of children dressed in clean sheets and bathrobes to the urgency and the reality of what really happened...insignificant people with no place to go, having what was probably a very ordinary birth for those days and times, in a less than desirable locale.

We were still not ready, but the Baby came anyway. That is the heart of the Christmas message. Merry Christmas!

Normally, I'm going to refrain from church politics on this blog, but I just had to air my feelings on the recent decision of two Va. congregations voting to leave the ECUSA. From the day that our new Presiding Bishop took office, I started my mental countdown on how long it would take before someone actively voted to seek alternative leadership and leave the ECUSA. I am sorry to see them go, but am not surprised. I'm sure the folks who did not want to leave the ECUSA had already voted with their feet and departed those congregations long ago for ones with a viewpoint more in line with the ECUSA's stance on "the gay issue".

I simply do not understand why religious conservatives are so obsessed with the portions of the Bible that speak to homosexuality when it didn't even make the top 10 list given to Moses (but coveting your neighbor's donkey DID) nor even seemed to be of interest to Christ, since the Gospels have no report of Christ's opinion on the subject. Yet I'm sure these conservative members ignore the parts of Leviticus that say to not wear clothes made of two different fibers (Verily, cotton-poly blend is also an abomination!) this I say....*sigh*...

It will be interesting to see how the ownership of the "stuff" will be handled. I'm sure these members will feel the church property is "theirs" and the ECUSA will also say it is "theirs". The news coverage of this is so irritating b/c it reduces Episcopal thought in the eyes of the lay public to "All those Episcopalians do is fuss and holler and squabble about gays." It detracts terribly from the positive aspects of my church. I am thinking about how one of the wonderful things about Trinity in Kirksville is that we are an Oasis congregation (for you non-Episcopalians, it means that we are very gay-welcoming). We just don't think of gays in our congregation as "our gay members," they are simply "our members" and contribute to the health and well-being of our congregation same as all the straight ones. It's just simply a non-issue at Trinity.

I must admit I feel much like the anonymous "Donnie" whose response on AmericaBlog was certainly in line with my opinion....he said:

"Therefore with the angels and archangels, and all the Company of Heaven, we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that the door doesn’t bang you on the ass on your way out."

How many times do I say this time of year, "Man, I hate going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark?" This time of the year, even in the middle of the country, it's just too dark too soon. (Good thing I don't live in North Dakota or Alaska, hmmm?) My little dashboard widget on my computer that shows dawn, sunrise, sunset, and dusk has more than half of the little pie graph in dark blue. There's that hedginess that comes over me about feeding the long-eared equines in the dark. (I hate it. Mostly because when you are dealing with hooved animals that weigh up to a thousand pounds, you just don't like to be throwing hay to them in the dark. They are not crazy about a flashlight, and they spook more easily. You just don't like being in a position where they could put a hoof in your noggin and you'd never know what hit you.)

I'll tell you something I notice about dusk during Advent time that is unlike dusk the rest of the year. Because it is happening during the shortest days of the year, your biological rhythms are just not ready for the dark. You still have energy and things you need to do. It's not like when dark comes in the summer, when your mind and body are slowing down for the day and the dark is a welcome friend, where the dark brings the cool evening, and a sense of relief. Advent time darkness brings a darkness that is cold, forboding, and with a sense it can consume you. Your mind is saying, "No, wait! I still have stuff to do, I am NOT ready for this. I am not prepared for this."

In an essay about life's end, A.T. Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine, referred to that gripping sense of darkness as "the wolf of dread." I was so very struck by that term the first time I heard it. It is "the wolf of dread" that grips your chest when you lie in bed at night and think, "Maybe this is all there is. Maybe we die and that's it." For me, the darkness at Advent time is best thought of in terms of that "wolf of dread."

I was thinking about that during Wallace's sermon today. The Gospel was Luke 3:7-18, where John the Baptist was telling people to repent because the Messiah was coming. We are only a week from Christmas Eve and unlike a lot of things where the closer you get to it you see the light at the end of the tunnel, I find myself filled with more and more of "the wolf of dread" right up to Christmas Eve, and never seem to mentally see "light" until I actually wake up and it is Christmas Day. It's odd, but it makes sense. Right up till Christ's birth, Mary and Joseph were scrambling around at night, hoping for something, ANYTHING to pop up where they could hang their hats for the night. I imagine poor Mary was probably in the first stage of labor and didn't want to get Joseph any more stressed. In their lives, that night, the "wolf of dread" must have looked pretty fierce.

What I have tried to do as the years roll by is to have the courage during Advent to let the darkness swallow me, to stand there and let it roll right over me and for me to crawl into it in my contemplative prayer time. It sounds odd, but I am trying really hard to connect with that pain, to connect with that feeling of "the wolf of dread" so I can better understand the magnitude of the light that Christ's birth brought to the world.

Dear Lord, as darkness and sadness closes in on us during these Advent nights, teach us rather than to resist the cold and the darkness and the emptiness to instead allow it to settle upon us. Give us the courage to allow our souls to be swallowed by it, much as how Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, and to spit us out with a new understanding of that darkness. Teach us the value of Christ's light that He brought to the world and the power of his saving grace. Amen.

Sunday, I had an opportunity to go to St. Louis and attend services at Christ Church Cathedral. Wow. We are talking serious pagentry here. Three priests, a deacon, eight acolytes, and a verger...and that is just for a "regular" service there!

It was my first time inside the cathedral so I spent a lot of time just gawking. They have an amazing set of sculptures behind the communion rail. You could go to that rail every week of the year and see something different.

Maybe this is because it's Advent, but I felt really connected to my own "smallness" in there. "Smallness" is not hard to experience in a cathedral!

I bumped into a great article about Advent blog-surfing and really liked it b/c it gave me a mental place to go.

I really like this one. Probably mostly because it speaks to some of the emptiness that permeates my own soul during the Christmas season. For the record, much of my childhood was rooted in alcoholism and violence. Often I find myself overwhelmed with thoughts of, even though my life is pretty boring and staid during the holidays now, “Who’s having the Christmas from Hell now?”. It really eats on me that I know, deep in my heart, somewhere some other family is most certainly dealing with drunken tirades, beatings, food being thrown, Christmas toys being destroyed “just because they can.” I have never really chased that doppelganger away from my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel so lucky in so many ways b/c I have been able to not only get past a lot of things in my life but thrive (with God’s help), but it still doesn’t change the fact this is always an emotionally tough time of year for me.

I really needed to hear that there is a “spirituality of emptiness.” My entire adult life has been one of “making peace with Christmas,” at least in the secular American sense of it. I have spent so many years of my adult life running from the pain of it all and mentally flailing out at the phoniness and greed of the season, of all its broken promises and the feeling if you are not “happy happy joy joy” there is something wrong with you. Then, about ten years ago, I realized that in order for me to fully understand the meaning of the season I had to strip myself of visual distractions and see value in what was right around me at this time of the season, unvarnished, and to use the right combinations of seasonal music to take my mind away from the commercialization of it all and focus my mind more towards Advent.

Then there’s my donkeys. I have to take a minute to tell you about my two jennies. (female donkeys, for you non-rural folk, are "jennies.") You don’t know how much my donkeys make me feel good about the season. I have this slightly goofy notion that every donkey knows something we don’t about Christmas, and they’re not telling. The lowly ass plays a lot of bit parts in the story of Christ and the Bible is rife with symbolism about donkeys. I believe that God stuck something in donkey DNA that makes them special in that regard. There is nothing I like more out at my place to look out at my two "donks" grazing in the starry winter night sky. I can look at them and feel my soul literally transported to 2000 years ago. They truly make me feel connected to Christ in a way I cannot entirely explain but certainly can feel. This sounds really goofy, but I can pet them and look into their eyes and see the reflection of the Christ Child this time of year.

Well, and this year the column in the link above gives me some thought. I don’t have to hide from my emptiness, I can use it to understand the emptiness in the world before Christ’s birth. Instead of running from secular Christmas, instead of beating my demons with a stick year after year, I can keep moving towards embracing the power of Advent. That is a power I never considered in quite so full a sense until I read this column.

Blessed Advent, y'all!

Well, Wallace got back from his vacation ok, and it appears that he had spent a lot of his vacation thinking great thoughts and meditating on difficult topics. The Gospel in the service today was John 18:33-37 but he really focused his sermon on verse 36: Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

So he posed to all of us the questions, "Where DOES Jesus rule? How does He do it?" He suggested that there are basically three modus operandi for the "how":

1. When we are prone to being indifferent to God or not listening to what He is trying to tell us; we sense that feeling of separation from this condition;
2. As we seek to know Him better, we feel the positive changes in our lives that lessen this gap; and
3. At the moment of death, this transformation is complete and we will finally understand the full magnitude of His kingdom.

So to answer the first question, Wallace brought up a very interesting idea as to the "where". Christ rules within our own sin. Now I had to think about this one for a while. That one did not intuitively make sense at first. (Once again, I'm reminded of the fact that Wallace is a Phi Beta Kappa and I definitely am NOT. ) Why would he rule, or even want to rule, in the middle of our own personal iniquities?

To get to what he was talking about, I tried mostly to think about the mental images the word "king" usually brings to mind...and they're usually not very flattering. Elvis in a jumpsuit. A German Shepherd dog. a chess piece that can move anywhere but only a little bit at a time, to be protected by the other pieces on the board at all cost. A figurehead monarch that's all show and no go. Someone who oppresses the little guy, historically. When I think of "kings" I see people who rule from far away and put the local underlings under his thumb just because they're there.

But Jesus is not that sort of "king." That's what he more or less tells Pilate, too. He was a king who went out among the lepers and the sick and the poor and the more or less unwanted, unfit, and undesirable. This is how he was in life. So it should not be much of a stretch for him to not mind, or even WANT to be in the middle of our own spiritual warts and sores. He's a "get your hands dirty" kind of guy. He's not into ruling you from afar, He's not even into getting into your face standing next to you. He just wants to be there for you even when you don't think you want Him there. But you still feel Him in your personal space, you sense His presence just as you sense someone is there within your personal circle of comfort. When you do boneheaded things and act uninterested in God, or want to wallow in your own self-made despair, even if you yell out, "Stop looking over my shoulder!" you still cannot shake that sense of Christ residing within your personal space. THAT is how he "rules". THAT is how we sense our separation from God because we just can't shake that feeling of "someone else in the room."

It reminds me of a great game you can play with your horse to teach him that you are the "alpha horse". If you have a horse, and you are wanting to use a non-physical way to reinforce that you are the boss, you go stand out in the pasture (make sure you are one horse length away, though!) and pick out a very specific spot on his hindquarters. Then stare at it as hard as you can, and even point at it. Don't give in; do it until the horse moves a step. Then look away, give him his space for a minute. Then walk around to his opposite hindquarters and do it again. Keep playing this game until he moves away from this mental pressure easily. When he does this, you have convinced him that you are the "alpha horse."

I have seen horses do everything to avoid this moving away. I have seen them even stretch their butts away like they've been poked but not pick up that rear hoof to actually move away before they finally give up and walk away from it. I've seen them shake their heads, glare back, and even kick out. But eventually they will walk away if you don't give up first.

This is how I understand how Christ rules within our own sin. His presence is like pointing at your butt and you are the horse in this situation. You feel him there...but you might try everything in your power to not let Him move you. Then you finally cave in and start to do it more easily and are okay with it. You can accept Him as the "alpha horse" sooner or later. But he won't stop pointing at your butt!

Today's Scripture in Forward Day by Day is James 3:1-12:

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh."

Having been suffering this week from a painful little apthous ulcer on my tongue, I guess this one got my undivided attention. My tongue has had its share of physical pain this week--I'm always amazed how a tiny little ulcer can gnaw at the rest of my body like a flaming pit of fire.

My problem is that I have a very Harry Trumanesque way of saying things at times. I understand perfectly that line about "from the same mouth come blessing and cursing," because I can do both multiple times in the same sentence! In a good moment, my tongue can both caress the listener with words of kindness and compassion; in a bad moment, I can bring down the wrath of the universe with it. I am sometimes struck with the ease and the speed at which this can happen in both directions. We're so proud of our loving words, but how many times have we spewed hateful bullets of words and live through this Sam Peckinpaugh movie-like moment where we are trying to recall them in slow motion... "N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o"....and then suddenly the scene fast forwards into real time and you see that word bullet hit the listener like a .357 slug in the listener's chest? Then we are faced with the realization that the damage has been done and we are standing there with the smoking pistol in our hand and a regretful look on our face.

That "we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" part also caught my eye. Isn't that the truth? How many times, when we are trying to be "role models", does the child or the learner grab onto and point out our slights and flaws when we were hoping they were watching and listening to our "good stuff?"

The author of James (which most scholars believe is the "third James" in the NT, a relative of Jesus who was not one of the Twelve but was the leader of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem) seems to be very aware of this paradox--there are so many things we can modulate or "tame" in our lives, but no matter how hard we try, we never can control our tongues as much as we'd like. One of the first defiant acts we learn as children is "sassing", which, despite the almost sure result of punishment for doing it in our childhood years, still gives us that slightly warped feeling of pleasure for the shocked looks on our parents' faces for that brief instant.

We "let it out," we "get it off our chest" with our tongues, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. It's said, it's done, there is real pleasure in that....but then that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs takes over, that "Oh, man, I should NOT have said that" look crosses our face, followed by the remorse and the regret. It is like our tongues are directly wired to our brainstem reflexes at times, rather than being controlled by our lingual cortex with the "higher" brain functions. That tongue of ours gets us in trouble before we even knew what happened.

How do we avoid this? Well, I'm in no position to give advice. This is one of the areas in my life where I have never become good enough to suit me. But I do know this: I'm better off avoiding the situations when possible that could escalate into those moments where my tongue will get the better of me. What little I've learned in this department, it is to see the early warning signs of a situation where it could happen and try to defuse the situation. The other thing I've learned is a thought when I am the listener and the recipient of the tongue lashing. It is the thing James alludes to in 4:11-12: Don't judge. Who am I to judge? I don't know what else has happened to the person that is giving me the tongue-lashing that day. Sometimes we are just the unwitting recpient of misplaced anger. If I can gain some tiny shred of empathy for the person chewing me out (and that is not always possible), I can at least decide to mentally step away from what this person had said. In short, we can't ever get this right, but at least we can try to be better.

Dear Lord, we are so imperfect with our tongues and in many ways, we always will be. Guide us away from situations where we will be too quick to stab others in the heart with our tongues, and soften our own hearts to feel the inward pain of the person who is too quick to stab with their tongues at our expense. Protect the minds of others from our ability to inflict pain with our tongues and us from theirs. Plant the seeds of discernment in our hearts so we will at least use our tongues to ask for forgiveness as quickly as we used them to lash out. Amen.

Once again, Carrol did the sermon since Wallace is on vacation. Unfortunately, the Lectionary dealt her a bad hand (Daniel 12:1-4; Hebrews 10:31-39; and Mark 13:14-23.), all apocalyptic stuff. (We were teasing her in our church book discussion group Monday night that Wallace might be planning his vacations by the Lectionary..."Hmmm....bunch of apocalyptic stuff coming up...Yuck!.....think I'll bolt and let Carrol do it..." )

But, she handled it really well and gave me a good way of looking at it. In her sermon, she pointed out the early Christians thought the end of the world was coming in THEIR lifetime, so that was some of the impetus for at least the NT apocalyptic stuff. Just goes to show you that there are people in every generation that think the end of the world is coming. She also pointed out that a lot of these verses tend to cluster near the end of the church year, in preparation for a new beginning, Advent. She also reminded us that despite all the fearmongering in some parts of Scripture, that if you look in the Bible when God actually makes His presence known to people in the stories of the Bible, they are frequently told, "Be NOT afraid," or, "Fear NOT."

In other words, God does not want to spook you or creep you out. When you feel His presence, the last thing He wants is for you to be afraid of him. But in times of trouble and tribulation, you still need to turn to him.

I have never been too creeped out by all that end times stuff in the Bible, mostly because it's really hard to interpret in a modern light. A lot of stuff in Revelation appears to be aimed more at the Romans when you interpret it in the light of history. Also, the way I figure it, when you die, it's the end of your world in this world no matter whether the rest of the world is going down the tubes or not, so the main thing is to focus on living your life in a way that "the end of the world" doesn't matter in terms of your relationship with God.

I also remind myself there was a fair bit of controversy when the books of the Bible were being selected about Revelation, and even the scholars of medieval times had a lot of trouble with that book. There are several books of the Bible that I have thought more than once, "What were they smokin' the day they voted on Revelation (or some other books that are hard to interpret.)?"

This morning in prayer service, the reading was Mark 5:1-20, where Jesus drives the demons out of the man posessed by many demons (the "My name is Legion" guy) sends them into a herd of 2000 swine, and the hogs run down the bank and drown in the lake. Being your typical farm kid, there is one thing about that passage that has always bothered me: What about the guys who owned the 2000 hogs? I'm cool with running the demons out, but I can't imagine the owners of the hogs were too thrilled by the miracle.

That thought gives special meaning to me regarding verse 14: " The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country." I have this gnawing feeling that what they told was, "That dude with the beard made all our hogs drown and didn't even offer to pay us. Now that crazy dude that isn't crazy anymore keeps hanging around and talking about it, and won't shut up."

That one is definitely on my list of "Things I just have to ask about when I get to Heaven."

Mark 12:38-44:
As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’

Carrol did the sermon today, and she brought a slightly different angle to a Gospel verse I've heard many times. When the widow gave all that she had, her hands were empty, yet they were also free to grasp God's grace. The rich still had plenty of riches to grasp onto after they had given their offerings. The problem is that if you still are grasping something with clenched fists, it makes it pretty hard to grab onto anything else. But the poor widow, now "empty-handed" by the world's standards, could grab onto God with both free hands and hold on for dear life.

The "twelve-step" folks would call this "letting go and letting God." In fact, it's summed up in Step Three: "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." I first understood this when a co-worker of mine got serious about his recovery from drugs. He had me read the "NA Basic Text" so I could understand better what he was trying to accomplish. I remember telling him after reading it, "Well, hell, there isn't anything in this book that all of us ought to do about something in our lives, not just about drugs."

As it turns out, Jesus did think this message was for all of us. We may not be anywhere near an offering plate, but we can still make a decision to turn our will in a different direction, which will turn our lives in a different direction. We may not be addicted to alcohol or drugs, but we are still all "Recovering something-or-anothers." Maybe we are recovering from the loss of someone dear to us. Perhaps we are recovering from abusive childhood experience or spousal violence. We might even be recovering from an issue that has happened regarding our jobs or our bank accounts. But no matter how big or small, we are all recovering from something that life has thrown at us, that we drew the short straw and had to learn to get past it.

But the fact remains we cannot recover from the slings and arrows of life, no matter how big or how small, if we do not loosen the grasp on what is holding us down and grab on with both hands to what God has to offer. Although the verse is talking about money, it's a mistake to think of this message only as financial one, otherwise we will fall victim to a "prosperity Gospel" mindset. Jesus' message is bigger than that. All God asks from us is to hang on and He will see to it our action will not be in vain.

Thanks be to God.

Dear Lord: Teach us to be unafraid of "letting go"--to remove the white knuckled grip to things that hold back our growth as spiritual beings. Be with us in those moments when we turn our wills over to you or are debating turning our wills and our lives over to your eternal care. Help us loosen our fists and instead, use our hands for hugging the goodness You have to offer. Amen.

I was over at my favorite local butcher shop today to pick up my 1/4 beef that my cattle-running friends left for me today. (One of the perks of being a rural NE Missourian is easy accessiblity to home-grown meat, where you know exactly how it lived on the hoof and what it ate...I have not bought "store beef" except in rare instances in the six years since I've returned home. We have a joke here that goes, "You know you're from the country when you know your hamburger by name.") By the way, if you are looking for tasty carnivorous treats for the holidays, I'm sure Sam and his crew would be glad to assist.

Anyway, since this is the first day of firearms deer season, they are quite busy with deer processing. Sam told me he expects between 150 and 200 to be brought in today. Since now in Missouri, there is no limit on antlerless deer (does and button bucks) in most counties, a lot of these will be donated to needy families. He was a little surprised I was not out in the deer woods today. As I was hauling out my three boxes of frozen beef, I just laughed and told him, "Ya know, there's nothing like a freezer full of meat to make a fair weather hunter out of a person."

It got me to thinking on the way home. I obviously do not have a personal issue with hunting. In my childhood, since my dad did seasonal work, there were a lot of winters where what came out of the woods or the river was what we had for supper. In the days where my income was pretty spotty, it was a cheap way to put meat in my own freezer and I literally lived for deer season. But now that I have a more comfortable lifestyle, it's just not as important. I also confess to being an absolute minimalist when it comes to deer hunting. No four wheeler. No high dollar rifle with a super duper scope. No group hunting with "roundups." Just me, my Winchester 1894 .30-.30 lever action with iron sights, the deer, and the woods. I know this sounds crazy but I want the opportunity to fail. I don't mind if the deer "win" now and then. Some years, when I go out, I get one, some years I don't. It's all good. The ones I've gotten, I've dragged their carcasses out by hand, solo, put them in the truck, and that's that. I've enjoyed it for the combination of my skill and a little luck. If I leave empty-handed, with the deer sticking their tongues out at me, so what? It won't scar me.

But it brings up the fact we should be good stewards of our land. Right now the Missouri deer population is somewhat of a problem. After the Depression, we hardly had any. The Missouri Dept. of Conservation began aggressive management, and by the 1960's most counties had enough to harvest. In the subsequent decades, their numbers literally have exploded.
Since their natural predators are long gone, they flourished under management...and with this explosion has come an explosion of deer ticks (and the tick borne disease Erlichiosis), along with the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (a disease in hooved mammals similar to Jakob-Creutzfeld disease in humans.) It has also made rural Missouri highways a dangerous place around dusk because the deer are thick as flies. In fact, you may not even qualify as a "real" northeast Missourian if you have never hit a deer on the road.

Hunters want the big bucks, but you can't get enough of them to take does. Deer can be fairly destructive when kept unchecked. So sometimes I wonder if our "stewardship" got a little lax in the name of just getting the deer numbers up to attract out of state hunters, to put a "blip" in the local economies of towns who are sorely in need of more of a "real" economy. A lot of woods in Adair County are increasingly being owned by city folk or leased by city folk specifically for deer season. These folks come to our neck of the woods for two weeks a year, spend their money, then go back home and not worry about how we all make a living the other 50 weeks of the year.

Don't get me wrong, I still think venison tenderloin is still one of Earth's greatest delicacies, but it still makes me want to question the meaning of "stewardship."

Although I like to use the publication Forward Day by Day for my devotional reading and reflecting (hey, they're in the back of the church for us to take is always good), I have to confess that what I get out of the daily passages never seem to be what the guest author for the passage does. Today's passage is Luke 14:5: Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”

The context of this verse is that Jesus had been invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the high muckety-mucks of the Pharisees and someone was there with dropsy (congestive heart failure, which untreated can cause massive edema of the lower limbs). Jesus healed the man. The result of this action was not particularly well recieved by the Pharisees but they just sort of sat there with their tongues in their mouths. It was one of those moments late grandmother had a wonderfully down home graphic way of describing those sorts of moments. She would have explained it like this: "It was like someone threw a turd in the punchbowl."

Jesus had gone and healed someone on the Sabbath. The collective gasp at the dinner party must have been something, and the tension afterwards must have been so thick you could have cut it with a knife.

Perhaps I've been around my Jewish friend Mitch too long (he is a retired medical school professor/physician who has been in my extended family for a long time) but my mind immediately raced to the concept that you can break any of the 613 mitzvahs to save a life. Surely the Pharisees knew that. The Talmud is quick to point this out in myriad ways. I do not know exactly when the wisdom of Talmudic sages actually made it to manuscript form, (again, I am no div-school person) but I find it hard to believe this would not have been discussed by the Jewish illiterati of Jesus' day. But of course, if you follow the Gospel story, one of the things that eventually leads to Christ's undoing in the public legal sphere of the day is that "healing on the Sabbath" stuff. Basically, I get the feeling the Pharisees were ignoring their own collective wisdom to promote their own legalistic agenda.

Now let's fast forward. All over the world today, and even among Christians, there are those who have some degree of religious power and influence in the public sphere who seem intent on inflicting their own theocratic legalism on everyone, yet ignoring the wisdom that is present in their own holy writings and commentary on these writings. In Missouri, we have just survived a very contentious election season that included the narrow passage of the now nationally famous Amendment 2. Amendment 2 assures that, as long as embryonic stem cell research is federally legal, it will be legal in Missouri and that no state law can "trump" that.

Most of the money to oppose this amendment came from groups whose main agenda is to legalize their view that the moment a sperm hits an egg and their 23 chromosomes become 46, that constitutes a human being. In other words, they want to make it the law of the land for everyone to think exactly like they do about a situation where there is no truly scientific answer.

They are claiming the authority of the Bible to make this judgement; however, I have talked with these people many times in the spirit of understanding, and for every Bible verse they have thrown at me to support their opinion, my interpretation of the same verses in the context they have been written is slightly different. I am more inclined to believe that the moment we become truly "a human being" is at a point in time known only to God and that exact point in time is of no consequence to us, and should not dictate how we treat the human beings who definitely are here. I prefer to show my care and charity and compassion to folks that we know for a fact are humans in need.

Furthermore, their opinon is based on a premise that I do not share, namely that of an absolutely inerrant, historically accurate Bible where every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed. Personally, I cannot accept this premise for what I believe are many good reasons of which would make several other posts' worth of blog space. For me, it is too risky to base my salvation on the accuracy of a book composed of several books that were chosen by committee. For me, it is the message of the Bible and the hope within the message of the Bible that is a better anchor of my faith and my salvation.

What I do not understand is that the people who do not want to allow me that, and want to force their interpretations as Missouri law, often belong to denominations where the concept of the "priesthood of the believer" is very important. I find myself very angry that they will not accept the priesthood of my beliefs.

Even if I were to accept their premise that conception = personhood, would not the promise of embryonic stem cell research and cures fall under the category of "breaking a mitzvah to save a life?" Is sacrificing a 50 some cell blastocyst dying of freezer burn in an in-vitro fertilization clinic the same as allowing a person with Parkinson's disease to slowly die in such a way that they and their entire family suffer greatly? These are all questions that I believe society should have the freedom to ask. Should these cures ever come to pass in my lifetime, I would rather allow people the option to accept or deny these treatments based on their beliefs than to flat-out ban them and give no one the option.

I am obviously not advocating lawlessness; I believe one of our Christian duties is to obey the law. However, that does not mean we should not question some laws and work towards their change. I believe it is also our duty to help prevent the passage of laws that serve nothing except to enforce rigidly held theocratic ideas which all citizens may not share.

Thanks be to God.

Dear Lord, help us in our study of Your word to recognize what is law and what is Gospel, and to understand the difference. Give us the courage to break mitzvahs to save lives, should the situation ever come upon us. Finally, teach us to stand boldly in the light of your promises rather than to hide behind the complexities of your law. Amen.

Just last Saturday, several of us were gathered over at Carrol's house (she's Trinity's Assistant Priest) to watch the investiture of our new Presiding Bishop +Katharine Jefferts Schori on the streaming video from the National Cathedral. A lot has been written about the significance of this event in church history, but actually, I think the entire nearly 500 year historical and sociological significance of the moment was summed up in a single statement by Carrol's younger daughter: "So, Mom...when are YOU going to be presiding bishop?"

You might be wondering where the name from this blog came from. Well, you have to first know that the term "Kirkatoid" is one of the nicknames we Kirksville folks call ourselves. ("Cricker" is another, but technically you should be from the wrong end of town or just be grossly uncouth to be a cricker.) Kirksville is also occasionally called "the Ville" or "da Ville" but mostly that is a term used by folks under middle aged age.

As for my blog name, it's Latin. Roughly translated, it's "quick study". I finally decided on a nom de plume rather than just use my name because I wanted you, the reader, to not see me necessarily connected to a gender identity but to try to engage you in things that gender might hold you back. I have been anonymous on other blogs and what my friends and I have learned is that words are not always necessary in order to comunicate.

As I start working on topics for future posts, I may end up introducing you to several people; hopefully eventually I'll list a "cast of characters" so you can keep them all straight. The word "family" kind of takes on a new dimension when you are talking about my life. There are the "real" relatives, the relatives that were once related by various family marriages that now technically are not relatives anymore but are still "kin" in my eyes, and the non-relatives that have found a niche in my expanded definition of "family." It's all very convoluted and hard to keep straight without a scorecard. But in typical northeast Missouri fashion we can keep it all connected. (Around here you hear statements like, "He's Joe's ex-wife's second cousin once removed," and the listener goes, "Oh, ok, uh-huh, got it.")

What I have found, though, as a blogger, is that removing myself from my real name is a great way to think outside myself. One of the things I actively try to do in my prayer life is to make my prayer life more "other centered" than "self centered." The amazing thing is when I can do this, I feel a stronger connection to God than I would if I were asking things for myself. Not that I don't occasionally divulge my personal fears to God, but I just no longer choose to treat God like some sort of "Great Coke Machine in the Sky" where your put your prayer quarters in and expect a Coke to come out. I have discovered in recent years, when praying on my own behalf or in others' behalf, that I am usually asking for wisdom, or strength, or courage to deal with what is laid out there on the table, rather than a specific outcome. I can feel a deeper connection to it all when I remove the "want list."

This feeling of "connectedness" has been my Holy Grail of sorts that encourages discipline in my prayer life. I still wish I were better at it.

Yeah, I know, the sign is a little corny but you see it in front of Episcopal churches everywhere. I have come to believe, though, it's absolutely true. I hope to share with you on this blog my thoughts and ruminations as I learn to become stronger in my own spirituality, in the hopes that you, the reader, can take something home for your own reflections.

A couple of ground rule basics: I'm nowhere even close to being clergy, so if my thoughts are not quite fine-tuned and erudite in a theological sense, well...I'm just one of the great unwashed, ok?

--I will admit to having a "thing" for taking things I have a hard time understanding and using animal behavior and scientific metaphors to explain them in my own mind. So if you don't want to hear about horses, mules, donkeys, dogs, sheep, etc. don't read my stuff!

--I, like a lot of New Wave Episcopalians, am a refugee from another faith tradition (Mo. Synod Lutheran) so my theological thought patterns sometimes lean into my Lutheran roots as I learn about my own new Anglican understandings. My path to the ECUSA is definitely a "blue highway"--it is a combination of two very good friends at work continually telling me "You'd like this place" for over 5 years, what I learned from my mentor 20 years ago who happened to be an old school True Blue Episcopalian, and even some careful reading of (gasp!) Bishop Spong. (Yeah, sometimes he is even a bit over the top for me, but he still gets my attention.) But what really impressed me about the ECUSA is that such a diverse set of thought goes on and somehow they all, for the most part, agree to get along despite it. When you go off in your way, and I go off in mine, we are all pretty okay with it.

--You may get a glimpse of what goes on at Trinity Episcopal Church now and then. It is a mission church and Oasis Congregation in the Diocese of Missouri. Since Kirksville is a college town of about 17,000, home of Truman State University and the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine at A.T. Still University, our congregation is probably a little heavy on "academic types" but we have some very cool and interesting "townies" also. We are ALL a little quirky in our own way, but that is the "Kirksville way of life." We often joke that "Quirksville" would be a perfectly good name for our town. But if you ever came here, once you got over "Nomall syndrome" (No mall within 70 miles), you would learn this place is a warm and goofy home for a lot of us.

What I am learning, though, is that the Episcopal way of thinking is a very liberating experience, and I hope my joy in that shows through now and then. One aside, though: I am very much a rural (yet educated) stoic northeast Missouri type, so we really don't put too much joy on our sleeves. It might be a little on the subdued side!

Enough of the intro...I'll get down to thinking and sharing next...



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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