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

(Photo courtesy of Phantom Fireworks)

Okay, I've said it before, but I truly love my online EfM class. I guess you all know that already, though.

Although the online Theological Reflection part is my favorite, I find our Discussion Board quite enlightening, too. Each of us in the various years of the course post our reflections on our study guide lessons, and everyone is free to reflect and respond to anyone's lessons, even if it is not "your" year--sort of like the one room schoolhouse.

What often happens is we get to know each other better through this activity and I find that these discussions, as well as our Theological Reflection sessions, often jump start me in my blogging.

That is precisely what happened this morning as I was catching up to Discussion Board posts.

One of my classmates challenged me (for a humorous reason) to think of myself as "just another Eucharistic candle" when I was working the altar as acolyte. In accepting the challenge, I realized in envisioning myself as a "candle" it would be more like a 4th of July Roman candle or a fireworks mortar shell, shooting bright flaming balls with sparks and crackles.

Anyone who knows me for any length of time knows I have had a lifelong love affair with fireworks, and have been grateful to live in a state where we are allowed to shoot them. As a child, if you had given me a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons, and told me I could draw "anything I want," odds on it would have been a fireworks stand or people shooting fireworks.

Simply picking out and owning the fireworks and waiting for the 4th of July to arrive was part of the fun. I used to love to look them over, read the labels, imagine what they were going to do. I was allowed to ease my impatience by being allowed to shoot the bottle rockets and firecrackers a little bit before the 4th, but I was never allowed to shoot "the big stuff" until the actual day. I organized and planned and figured out what I wanted to shoot first and what I wanted to save for my big finale.

When the night of the 4th finally arrived, it was a giant nonstop orgy of fireworks...and it didn't matter if I got some out of order, or if a couple were duds, it was overall very VERY satisfying. I don't ever recall having the "gee, it's over," letdown moment, because I was a kid, and my whole life was in front of me, and there would always be "next year." I didn't even mind picking up all the "hulls" the next morning, because I still loved basking in the smell of gunpowder and sulfur one last time until next year.

It should not surprise you that I can still organize a little fireworks show that is sure to satisfy everyone who wants to watch. It should not surprise you that in 1999, I realized I wanted to celebrate Jan 1, 2000 was with fireworks, and hoarded and planned accordingly in July 1999.

So it should not surprise you I see our communal Sunday worship meal in much the same way I see the 4th of July.

Everything from the prelude to the Offertory builds up to "we're all gonna enjoy the fireworks." As we hear the word proclaimed in the readings, as we hear the response to the word in the homily, as we recite the Nicene Creed, share the peace, and bring our gifts forward, it's all good in its own right but we all really know it's to get to the "table" part. Just like how, on the 4th of July, we enjoy the company, the watermelon and the corn on the cob taste great, but we are REALLY waiting for the fireworks. We can pretend these other things are "just as important," but for those of us who prefer Eucharistically-centered liturgical worship, the other things are to support the experience at the table.

For me, shooting fireworks is shooting fireworks whether I'm doing it on my own or in front of a crowd. I still have just as much fun doing it. By the same token, the Eucharist is the Eucharist, whether we have it in a home setting, at a hospital bed, under a state park shelter house, or at church.

But oh, my, what a fine production the whole Sunday morning experience can be, with so many opportunities to participate in the worship experience! I don't care which role I have...I just want to be there. I have never felt disappointed afterward. There's always next week. I don't even mind helping Altar Guild put stuff away after it's all over--I still smell the bread and wine just as I smelled the pyrotechnic stuff on July 5.

There have been times, knowing how much I like being "the fireworks shooter" on the 4th of July, that I have pondered what it must feel like being the "Eucharistic fireworks shooter." I know with my fireworks, it's not so much about "me enjoying my fireworks," it's about the fireworks...and it doesn't matter if two people are watching me shoot them or twenty...because the focus is on the fireworks. It's fun to have the privilege, but I would enjoy watching someone else's fireworks shooting endeavor just as much, and often do. But I also know people have told me there is a sparkle in my eye, a spring in my step, a lilt to my laughter as I go about lighting fuses, running, and standing and awaiting the action.

It seems to me that for anyone presiding over the Eucharist, it oughta be that way too--to be able to grin and welcome all to the glory of God's table whether it is Easter or a funeral--because at that table is love and hope. Always. What's not to be excited about? Every day with fireworks is the 4th of July, and every Sunday Eucharist is Easter all over again.

"The God I worship demonstrates all his work."
--Andrew Taylor Still, D.O., founder of Osteopathic Medicine

The above photo is the statue on the lawn of the Adair County Courthouse in Kirksville.

Now, a lot of folks (especially Truman State students and ATSU/KCOM students) that Kirksville is a rather godforsaken place, but I always remain a little tongue in cheek about that. Most of the time they are simply suffering from "NoMall syndrome" (no mall for 90 miles.)

The reality for me is if one simply walks, and observes, Kirksville and the surrounding environs is rich in demonstrations of God's work. Perhaps God is present in the grandeur of a midwestern sunset...

or in the delicate petals of the purple heath asters that one sees all around the roadsides, both in and out of town.

Even when people are bitterly complaining in the dead of winter (we are rather famous in Missouri's local 6 p.m. news broadcasts as most often being "The coldest place in the state,") there's a beauty in the starkness of the landscape...

Not to mention the snow can range from giant sticky masses to tiny flakes of pristine whiteness...granular and almost like a fine, powdery, white sand that covers everything.

But it's all in what one is looking for, whether one is going to see "The God who demonstrates his work."

How many times are we looking for the "big" thing--the holy magic trick that "proves" the existence of God? How many times do we miss the obvious?

Here's another radical proposal...

Do we ever totally miss the concept that our own lives are another of God's demonstrations?

Being hard on ourselves seems to be another pitfall of human nature. We come to God, thinking we are going to be the recipient of all these grand transformations. That in and of itself is not an unreasonable expectation. But then we start defining what these transformations will be, and heap self-expectations on ourselves. We start thinking that somehow, when we are transformed, we will suddenly become "good"--or at least this holy caricature of ourselves. "Us" minus our anger, our jealous moments, our resentments. "Us" who no longer feels socially awkward, feels in love with love, and who sees all the good in the world, minus our ability to judge. We will no longer see the icky things, feel the hurting things, or misinterpret the motives of others.

Then, when we see our own messy human nature kick in, we move straight backwards and think somehow it's "our" fault we have not become our self-assigned holy caricature. The magic trick we expected in ourselves didn't seem to happen, so we think we didn't transform.

Yet, the reality is that we actually DID transform. We're just too absorbed in our unrealistic self-expectations of that transformation, that the actual one came into our lives and we ignored it. While we were searching for the majestic holy version of ourselves, we missed the delicate heath aster that bloomed in ourselves, we missed the fine powdery pure snow that began to fall on us, we missed the movement in our clouds of doubt, or we were so focused on seeing heaven in ourselves that we missed the awesome fleeting moment of the perfect sunset in a tiny fragment of our old lives, and the pinkish pre-dawn of the sunrise of our new life in Christ.

To "be still and know that God is God" is to open ourselves up to those tiny details. If we simply sit still and let those details emerge and be seen, we will see them. Count on it.

My EfM mentor, Ann Fontaine, posed a wonderful question to everyone in her class on a lazy Saturday morning--she referred us to this article in the Daily Episcopalian and challenged us to answer Verna Dozier's question for ourselves--"Tell the story of the faith in 10 minutes or less."

Well, don't laugh, but the first thing I thought of was Charles Atlas.

Growing up as an only child, I spent a fair amount of my youth reading comic books on the porch, or under a shady tree, or in my room--superheroes like Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and ones that intrigued my sense of the mysterious like Ripley's Believe it or Not, House of Mystery, and House of Secrets. Most of them invariably had the requisite Charles Atlas ad.

Now, I loved playing sports as a kid, and even though these ads were geared for young males, I could see where Charles Atlas' concept of "Dynamic Tension" could help me throw further, hit a softball harder, and make more free throws, when one had no money to buy gym equipment. Of course, I could not afford to sign up for the program, and I wasn't going to want to explain to my adult relatives "Why I wanted a muscle building program," but I would study his pictures in the ads and sort of halfway figured out his "Dynamic Tension" was simply a form of isometric exercise like we did in gym class. So I sort of halfway figured out what I thought his methods were, without actually buying his "secrets."

As I thought about this, a single sentence popped into my head, that I had created and posted on my Facebook wall a few days prior: "Faith is the dynamic tension between grace and knowledge."

So without further ado, here's my version of Verna Dozier's challenge of "Tell the story of the faith in ten minutes or less."

The story of the Christian faith is simply a three act story of dynamic tension--the dynamic tension between grace and knowledge. Grace and knowledge are unique in that they are not truly opposing forces, they are more like two clasped hands intertwined in an isometric exercise where the stormy pressure from each force creates a perfect central point of "no force"--faith--and in the eye of that storm is all that is possible both within, and beyond human understanding. To constantly strive to be suspended in the center, held aloft by both forces simultaneously. However, that point cannot exist without both forces equally involved in the exercise.

The curtain opens in the first act on the story of the ancient Hebrew people as related in the Hebrew Bible, what we traditionally call the Old Testament. It is a story of the evolution of one culture's dynamic tension between the biological force of maintaining their civilization despite their own human nature, versus their evolving understanding of a God who desires them to find Zion. Is Zion a physical place, mappable on the GPS? Is it a state of being? Is it some of both? In the Hebrew Bible, we discover that this process is not a single isometric exercise, but an exercise to be repeated in cycles. Each "repetition" of the exercise has elements of creation, sin, repentance, redemption, and restoration, just as isometric exercises are held in states of tension and rest. Over time, things like exile, destruction and loss create pain within these ancient people, but with each cycle of the exercise they begin to grow stronger.

The second act of the story revolves around the story of Jesus, himself held aloft in a dynamic tension between a world that is ready for a Messiah, and a world nowhere near being ready for a Messiah. This story is outlined in the Gospels of the New Testament. We say Jesus is "divine," but what does that mean, really? Does it mean he simply had an understanding of these two forces far beyond the people of the day in relation to our own understanding of our "divine spark?" Or does it mean that what we come to know as God actually tried a different way to reach humankind--to change the pattern of the exercise?

We don't really know, and frankly, the details don't matter. What matters is that we see that grand spot in the universe of "no force," sandwiched between the forces of a world where miracles happen, and a world where there is nothing but death and destruction, in that moment that Jesus is suspended on the cross sandwiched between two thieves. Not only is Jesus physically suspended there, another kind of suspension is evident. It is the suspension of all things worldly, and all things that are beyond the world of our comprehension. Within this suspension is the power of resurrection, where death cannot be tamed, and a form of love exists that seems almost so exquisitely powerful, the joy of it physically hurts. As a result of this, what we know as "the early Christian church" springs forth in an anti-entropic way--life from death, structure from forces designed to create randomness. The death of Jesus on the cross should have caused his followers to scatter to the winds, but instead they are empowered by this resurrection. The remainder of the New Testament follows that dynamic tension as this new culture attempts to grow from "disaffected Jews" to the inclusion of Gentiles.

Finally, we arrive at the third act, the act that is yet to be written, and the one that is written with an infinite number of endings. It is the act where the dynamic tension occurs between these first two ancient stories and each and every modern individual that claims Christianity for him or herself. It is each of our own journeys to understand things that are beyond our biology--yet we must seek to understand them with approximately 400 grams of muscle which make up the human heart, and approximately 1400 grams of lipidized, moisturized neural tissue that we call the human brain. We are challenged to participate in an isometric exercise of torrential force with flimsy, finite parts that will cease to function beyond the moment of our own physical deaths. We are asked to believe in an eternal relationship with no boundaries, between us, and an all powerful force of the universe, in the setting of a universe we can perceive with only five senses, and not even as much "instinct" as creatures far lower than us on the evolutionary ladder. We are asked to balance "science" with "non-science." We are asked to understand something that defies the laws of physics while living within the laws of physics. It is a truly impossible task--yet something in the Christian which the Christian can't even understand compels him or her to do it. We are compelled by the sense of love we feel both for God, and God's love for us, which to the skeptic would seem only like a grandiose addiction.

But within the center of all that mess...we find faith. We catch fleeting glimpses of being suspended aloft by the hand of God--and in those moments, we become the parting of the Red Sea, we become suspended on the cross with Christ, and we become part of the empty tomb. It is the greatest miracle of all.

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

--Prayer for the oppressed, Book of Common Prayer, p.826

As I thought about what I could say today, on "no bullying" day, that could make a difference, I realized there is a wonderful example in the Bible of "it gets better"--The Genesis story of Joseph. I invite you to step away from my post and read it before going further. It starts on Genesis 37. Read chapter 37, skip chapter 38 (I have never figured out why they jammed that story in there on Chapter 38,) and then read on to the end of Genesis, to the end of Chapter 50. Take your time, and read the story carefully. Then come on back to my blog post.

Now, Joseph didn't get bullied because of his sexuality, but he got bullied just the same. He was treated cruelly by his brothers. The special coat his father gave him made him all the bigger target for the bullying, just as many modern folks who are bullied have a "special coat" all their own. He was bullied, thrown in a pit, and left for dead by those who you think would have learned to love him. I often wonder how he felt, down there in that hole, until the Midianites pulled him out. How did he feel being sold in slavery to the Ishmaelites, then sold again to the Egyptians? It wasn't all roses, but it got better. He had another setback with that little prison stint, but in the end, it got a LOT better.

I think what is interesting in that story for me is that when Joseph and his brothers meet again, they do not recognize him. However, Joseph recognizes THEM. That's kind of how it is when you are bullied or abused. The abused remembers ALL the details. The abusers? They sort of put it aside and move on to their next target.

It is a good message to the bullied. The bullied won't forget. Unfortunately, it also means that the bullied have to come to some sort of reconciliation. Now, not every bullied person is going to get the happy ending exactly like Joseph got, but it really DOES get better if, as the bullied, we become aware of what needs to be reconciled. Sometimes we find that the reconciliation is not with another person, but within ourselves. Sometimes we find "a life led differently" is its own form of reconciliation.

I also paid attention to how important Joseph's ability to interpret dreams was in the story. That's another message to the bullied. Pay attention to your dreams--even the ones that seem hard or gruesome. In the times of my life I suffered abuse, I had some very interesting and vivid dreams. Over the years, I have written down the details of them, and as time passes, I realize many times, one part of my brain was talking to another part of my brain. The answer might not be clear in the beginning. Remember, when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream about the sleek, fat cattle being eaten by the thin, scrawny cattle, it took seven years to see that his intepretation was true. I have had times that a dream I have had only made sense more than a year or two later.

But what I am trying to say is, when things feel hopeless, the "right paths" out of the darkness and into the light lie in our own hearts and minds through our relationship with God and we shouldn't discount our own ability to hear God in the small still places.

It gets better.

It really does.

I can only speak to the times in my life where I have been abused, and for different reasons than what we are honoring today with purple ribbons, but most of the time, we just have to live long enough to start over in a new setting for things to start to get better quickly.

So when things feel really bleak, I invite you to read and re-read and re-read again the part of Genesis with the story of Joseph--the story of a teenager who was bullied, beaten, thrown into a pit and sold into slavery--not once, but twice. It got much, much better for him--and it can get much, much better for you and me and all of us.

Exodus 3:1-6

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Ok, I admit. I had to show off my burning bush in my backyard to everyone because it's so spectacular. Call it "pride of ownership."

But let's look at the story in Exodus of the burning bush for a minute.

What always strikes me about this story is Moses was merely out tending his father-in-law's flock (presumably sheep, since the word "flock" is used; but I guess theoretically it could include goats) and minding his own business, and WHOA! There's the burning bush. There's a HUGE visitation from God, and a conversation.

But here's the catch. God catches Moses when he has no witnesses, except a bunch of critters who go, "Baaaaa." (or "Neeeeee," in the case of any potential goats.)

This story is a reminder of how when God is really serious about talking to us, it is very likely in the context of our thinking we are alone.

I had a very sobering thought as I was sitting out by my chiminea fire recently. Don't get me wrong. I love e-mail and social networking and my cell phone. But I also regularly "unplug" myself and have little "retreats" from it. My thought was this: Are we raising an entire generation who has no clue what "alone time" is? Will we lose our ability to "feel" North, South, East, and West with no help from a GPS? Will we morph to a place where being alone for a spell is no longer considered normal, but a pathological state?

How are people going to "be still and know that I am God," when they fear being alone even for a short period of time?

I admit--this is one of those times I am grateful I was an only child.

As an only, I could not always count on having playmates. I learned to spend productive time alone in the woods, alone on my bike, alone on the porch with my own thoughts. It has only been in recent years I have rediscovered those simple pleasures. My job has the potential to create busy-ness constantly if I allow it. I have started to learn in those times where I can, to simply turn everything off and let it all rest.

But the question remains--how do we teach the gift of "alone time?" I confess I am a little stumped as to a concrete answer for it.

(Elton John, April 2, 2009 concert, Laramie, WY)

Psalm 51:6:

"You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart."

On October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died as a result of injuries he sustained when two men savagely pistol-whipped him, beat him, and left him for dead hanging from a rail fence near Laramie, WY. Their plan was to rob a gay man by enticing him with the pretense of being gay in order to gain the victim's trust. In essence, Matt died because he admitted who he was.

At the time of Matthew's death, I remember wishing that no one should ever have to die for telling the truth about themselves.

Recent stories of multiple suicides involving bullied gay youth have been spreading like wildfire in the news; twelve years later, it appears we are not much better at making this world an accepting place for ten percent of the people in it. Sure, the times, they are a-changin'--but we are still nowhere close to "there" yet.

In my 20 years of teaching medical students, I sometimes laugh to myself at how it seems I have attracted students who needed to "try out" their "coming out story" in my office as a safe space. Maybe it's because I'm roughly the age of their parents these days. Maybe it's because, as I joke to my friends, "The butchest straight woman you ever did see," and the student's mistake in assigning MY orientation made them feel they have an immediate ally. Maybe it's because I have the rep around the hospital of "You can tell her anything and, yeah, she might blow a gasket at first, but once she's over it, she sits down and listens in a different way and makes you feel like you can see your way out of it." Maybe all of the above.

Over the years, I have come to grin at how surprised they seem at my being relatively nonplused about their big admission. Often my response is pretty bland..."Uh...okay, well, that's out on the table now, huh? Now what do you want to talk about?" or "Well...I kinda figured that out already," or "I think you're pretty neat for who you are, and I don't really care if you're pea green or have purple polka dots all over you, gay, straight, whatever." So many times, they twist and turn over their big revelation and I am pretty much, "Ok, so?" about it. Then they start telling me about who they HAVEN'T told yet, and we talk a little about that.

But I keep forgetting so many people in the world aren't as nonplused. I keep forgetting that there are other people out there that want to beat them to a bloody pulp, or psychologically torment them, or family members who will feel ashamed of them.

Worse yet, God help me, I keep forgetting that what sustains me in all the trials and tribulations of this world--my faith in God through the redemption of the world by his son Jesus Christ--is too often used as a weapon against these young people.

Oh, Lord, help me to stop being so blind to my own naiveté.

I was so proud of my little parish Sunday night. On Oct. 10, we dedicated our monthly Taizé service to the rash of young men who had recently committed suicide as a result of being bullied because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. You can see the local TV newslink here. I was proud that we are a group of believers that are not afraid to believe out loud.

I'm going to be up front here--this is a terribly touchy issue in discussions with other Christians, particularly those of the more fundamentalist variety. But I'm going to give you the short version of "How I can be a person of faith and not lose a wink of sleep over homosexuality."

Let me start by saying I am a person who takes the Bible very, very seriously, but not literally. I am also a lifelong learner of history and the sociology of history at the time it was happening.

I know what those few verses in Leviticus say. I know what some things in Paul's letters say. But I cannot divorce myself from what was going on in the world of those people at the time.

The first five books of the Old Testament are the history of a nomadic people who had to work hard at merely surviving. They knew that surviving meant to make babies, and to have some degree of public health so masses of people didn't die from eating tainted food or catching contagious disease. That, to me, is mostly what Leviticus was about. Leviticus is harsh on any form of sexual activity that a) doesn't result in the possibility of babies, and b) leaves up for grabs whether someone's a bastard and the community will have an inheritance law problem on their hands. I personally believe all the hoo-haa in Leviticus is more about that, and less about who sticks who's part in what place. Even then, they were more concerned about men's parts than women's parts. The common belief in those days that baby-making power was all about the man, and the woman was just the "vessel," the "incubator" for all that man stuff that made babies.

Priests in OT days were also the de facto doctors of the community, so the easiest way to promote public health (and baby production) was to make it a religious issue. The great unwashed were far more likely to obey God than only obey the jerk in the shiny robe.

We've singled those "homosexuality" passages out in way beyond the rest of it. We eat bacon, we wear cotton-poly blend, we plant hybrid trees, and no one goes berserk about any of us being cast into Hell over it.

As for Paul's letters, the more I read about the secular writings of the times, the more I am convinced that Paul's mind was more on the Roman practices of pederasty and sexual slavery and prostitution and orgiastic behavior than it was on two loving, caring human beings in a same sex monogamous relationship. For all practical intents and purposes, the latter just wasn't done publicly, so it would not be addressed as a "problem."

Paul was a guy who had a lot on his plate. He was trying to keep the early Church in one piece. How in the world were all these men and women, Jews and Gentiles going to pull it off without killing each other, while the Romans were trying to kill them all? The Romans didn't even really care so much about their beliefs other than the fact that a new religious order could cut the revenues of the temple tax and and create a social insurgence counter to "normal" Roman-influenced life in the Roman Empire...and the Romans had cast their lot in the Jewish portions of the Empire to align in an uneasy relationship with Judaism. Some new religion could upset the power balance.

In short, it was all about the money and the power on the Roman end, and it was all about solidarity on Paul's end.

So sometimes, honestly, I think Paul just got to ranting, in the way parents rant on car trips when they have had too much, "Mom! Dad! He's touching me! Make him stop touching me! Mom! Dad! He's LOOKIN' at me! Make him stop it!" Worse yet, it's confounded by the problem that it appears very likely other authors later tacked some stuff on Paul's words. Plagiarism wasn't even a concept 2000 years ago. In fact, it was quite the opposite--if you were a good writer, and considered a prophet of any sort, it was very likely someone WOULD use your stuff and add to it or change it around to suit THEIR needs. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.

The third thing that stands out in my head is that Jesus said NOTHING about the topic of homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada. But he sure said a lot about divorce that seems to be ignored, and he sure said a lot about caring for the poor that doesn't seem to matter to a lot of people, and he sure said a lot about loving people we personally find icky. There's enough right there to keep the world busy for a while.

So ultimately, I came to a decision for myself. I just sort of decided that I was not going to worry my expanding head with homosexuality as an impediment to the Heavenly Kingdom. If, God forbid, St. Peter bars the door to me on my arrival, it will be more likely because of something a lot more important than how I feel about gays and lesbians getting married to each other and raising children in committed, loving relationships. Heterosexuals haven't exactly set the world on fire in our abilities to play house and be nice to our kids, so if the GLBT world wants to give it a go, bring it on!

It made me committed to make everyone feel our Eucharistic table is for everyone. That table has sustained me through some pretty dark periods. I want EVERYONE to feel free to come to this table. I find myself aching over my friends in Christ who don't feel this way, and I find my heart aching for troubled youth who have enough trouble in their life as it is, to feel like "...and God doesn't like 'em either." Kids are so gun-shy about being loved by God as it is, and we don't help it by using God as the bait-and-switch to try to "convert" them back into heterosexuality, or using God as the shillelagh to beat them over the head on account of their "wickedness."

I simply won't do it.

I continue to pray that we have even more churches out there who begin to believe out loud in the mandate to seek and serve Christ in all people, as outlined in our Baptismal Covenant.

If you get a chance, also drop by and read this wonderful service written by my blog friend MadPriest, to remember the life of Matthew Shepard. I am humbled that he chose to use my litany for the intercessions in this service. (I also have to admit his being a speaker of the "Queen's English" adds some real BBC-kinda class to my northeast Missouri words!)

Matt's death should never have happened. But because it did, we need to turn our hearts in a way that teaches us not to propagate the hate that led to it.

Not only do Dave Walker's cartoons about the church tickle my funny bone (and my ironic bone) with his pointed wit regarding the joys and perils of Anglican/Episcopalian parish life, I also find I "get what he's saying" in a different kind of way. Some of his cartoons make me laugh, and this one made me reflect.

He's absolutely right about what he refers to as "the plight of the creative freelancer." Dave's Twitter friend Hugh puts it quite nicely: The ability for some of us to create, whether that creativity is through writing, art, sculpture, pottery, gardening, etc. is balancing "the need for stimulation" against "the need for isolation." The problem is that our need for isolation often has "touching our own painful places" as a part of this process. I think about how some of the funniest people in comedy had severe tragedy in many places in their lives. My blog friend Elizabeth recently reminded me that some of the most truly beautiful things she has felt I have written for worship communities to gather together have come from the places in my own soul that break open and bleed too easily--places that if I don't express what's in the wound, it will simply stink and fester.

It's a reminder that art is transformational, but for the artist to transform, he or she truly needs that "special office" that Dave talks about.

Some of my "special offices" are physical; the most important spiritual "special office" for me is my own church's cycle of Bible reading and worship, the Daily Office. I normally do the Daily Office in the quiet of my own living room or yard, usually once a day, but sometimes twice a day. When I am away from home, I find Josh Thomas' Daily Office site and his blog very valuable. I also find the photographs and art he uses at both sites helpful for quiet reflection.

What I find the most important use of the Bible in all this is not to debate the stories, not to fuss about the history, but to simply hear the voices of the people in the stories as they are told. As I read aloud their stories, their mistakes, their sins, their transgressions--both the people of the Hebrew Bible and the people in the Early Church--they hook me. They grab my own joy, my own mistakes, my own sins, my own fears. In all of them we are told that time and time again God redeems us through grace. I hear my own anguish, my own grief, my own anger in the Psalms--raw and intense. In the stories of Jesus, I meet "someone I've never seen in this world; yet someone I've seen bits and pieces of in many people." All our humanity and all our divinity as children of God, rolled up in "one guy."

In short, I'm now addicted to the Daily Office after having been using it as my #1 discipline in my spiritual practice. If I miss it, I miss it as much as runners miss running or alcoholics miss vodka. I invite you to share my addiction and simply listen to the stories these people of the Bible tell you about your own stories!

In September, 2010, four gay children died from bullying. Children are being bullied, tormented, and abused for many different reasons, and there is a distinct upswing on bullying in our schools. Please take this to prayer with me. (Note: If you wish to use this prayer in a service, you are free to use with attribution for non-commercial use. I'd love feedback on how you used it.)

Remember, all bullied children are "somebody's babies."

A Litany for children who have died from bullying
--by Kirkepiscatoid

O God of justice and mercy, we pray that no more daughters and sons in this world die as the result of bullying simply because of who they are; be it race, religion, sexual orientation, or social awkwardness. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our schools become places of nurturing and hope rather than shame and derision. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our teachers instill values of charity and acceptance in all children so there is no need for one child to feel superior over another. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That parents can put aside what they were sometimes taught, in order to promote tolerance and diversity at home. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That our communities support children who feel “different from the others” and show them lives that are theirs to claim, lives they cannot begin to imagine to see at home. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

That all children can grow up feeling self-empowered and truly loved simply as themselves, and not suffer beatings and psychological abuse at home or school. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O Lord, you understand this above all others, for your only Son hung among thieves on a rough wooden cross on a barren hill, just as Matthew Shepard hung from a rail fence on a lonely road. Be our light in the darkness, Lord; protect our children and fill them with the love of your Holy Spirit; hold them in your Son’s loving arms in their most fearful hours, and be with them always.

(Photo of a wonderful sunset out by my place)

I was reading Canticle 12, "A Song of Creation" not long ago, and got to thinking about all the wonderful gifts of creation in my own backyard, out in the country.

So I re-wrote it to include some elements of northeast it is....

A Song of Creation (Northeast Missouri style)
Benedicite, omnia opera Domini 

Song of the Three Young Men, 35-65

One or more sections of this Canticle may be used. Whatever the 
selection, it begins with the Invocation and concludes with the Doxology.


Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever. 

In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I The Cosmic Order

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, * 

O sun and moon and bodies above the heavens. 

Stars of the sky, Orion and Scorpio, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every drizzle and gully-washer, * 

all blustery winds and hundred degree heat. 

Frigid winter and Humid summer, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, wet chill and dry cold, * 

Fog and haze and flakes of snow.

Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, * 

O starlit light and gloomy dark. 

Tornadoes and thunderstorms, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

II The Earth and its Creatures

Let the oak-hickory woods glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever. 

Glorify the Lord, O rolling green hills, 
Poison ivy and ragweed, green annoyances of earth, * 
 praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O lakes and creeks and rivers, * 

O catfish and bass that move in the waters. 

Hawks, vultures and swallows, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O creatures of the wild, * 

and pastures full of flocks and herds.

O country and city folks everywhere, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

III The People of God

Let the people of Northeast Missouri glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever. 

Glorify the Lord, O laypeople and clergy of the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever. 

You that listen with the ear of your heart, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.


Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever. 

In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * 

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.



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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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