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IKEA and restructuring the church.

Kansas City is getting its very own IKEA on Wednesday, and this is a very big deal for our little Stars-Hollow-goes-big town. To that end, TREC sounds like a particularly enraging shelving unit that you’d buy at IKEA—one that’s missing half its hardware, where the allen wrench breaks twice in the process of constructing it, but that looked so damn nice on the showroom floor that you even sprang for some cheap throw pillows in the hopes that this one shelving unit would solve all your organizational problems forever! You, too, could live a clutter-free life like in the catalogs!

But no. Dust, allen wrenches, and reality intervened.

That’s pretty much how it’s going with TREC. It started out so hopefully: the Taskforce to Reimagine the Episcopal Church was given an unanimous mandate by General Convention 2012 to go and figure out how we needed to restructure ourselves.

Nothing happens unanimously in this church—I once saw a resolution on whether or not we agreed to read the Bible voted down at diocesan convention. (There were extenuating circumstances, but still.)

TREC had the wind at its back, a song in its heart, brilliant people working together, and all of that I say in sincerity.

So what they’ve managed to put out so far has been… puzzling and disappointing.

Some of it has been good. Clearly, they realize that we need to change. Yes, the church wide structure is unwieldy, and no one knows quite who’s directing who, and we spend quite a lot of money that we no longer have on this whole system.

Clearly, this mess of books lying here on my floor calls for a shelving unit.

But it’s here, after having sniffed around the problem, that TREC seems to spazz out a bit, as in their latest open letter.

After having determined we need to change, they’ve proposed the following:

1. Changes that aren’t changes.
This suggestion that the Presiding Bishop should have all the 815 staff report to her/him, and be able to fire and hire at will?

Technically, that is exactly the situation now. There’s nothing written anywhere that prevents that—aside from the notion that it’s generally thought to be a poor leadership move to have the people you’re in ministry with afraid of you 100% of the time. But, YMMV.

If there’s a sense that the system, as it stands, lacks accountability, that might be a problem with personality, rather than logistics.

2. Changes that don’t make much sense.
General Convention is crazy enough as it is, with its countless legislative committees. Why, in the name of all of Baby Jesus’s tiny teething toys, would you want to cut the number of legislative committees? For starters, that makes the workload more, not less. Also, that disenfranchises deputies, because it will be harder than ever to get on a committee. 

If you’re worried about the strain on Convention (and yes, we should be.), fast track the resolutions that are important: that have many sponsors, and that come from Executive Council. And empower legislative committees to kill resolutions that are ridiculous and have no chance at passing, or (in the case of Constitution and Canons) are clearly uncanonical.

3. Changes that might be fantastic ideas, but they’re so cloaked in buzzwords, that I’m not sure what’s going on, or why we would implement them.

Look, I understand that shifting all your workers to “contract” employees is the hot new thing in the secular world. I know this because many of my friends had it happen to them, and as a result, they have no healthcare, no pensions, no 401(k)s, and are paying self-employment taxes, yet are doing the exact same job.

There’s no good explanation given about why shifting the program staff at 815 to ‘contractor’ status would help things. Again, there’s already accountability in the system, since they can all be fired—no one’s got tenure or anything. And the bulk of our staffing costs isn’t in program staff anyway—it’s in administration staff, which would be untouched in this shift.

So what it looks like is happening is that TREC is proposing doing a pretty shady thing that til now, has been very popular mainly with the major cubicle-dwelling corporations, chiefly to save a small amount of money. Come on, y’all. We can do better than that.

There are a few other things too (I remain unconvinced that TREC has read, learned, marked, and inwardly digested, the canons, because the only canonically required standing committee is Constitution and Canons. Which TREC just got rid of. Awkward.)

 

But here’s the bottom line:
TREC is not going to be the golden savior shelving unit that we thought it was going to be. It will not solve all our problems in one fell swoop.
We probably pinned too many of our hopes on them to begin with.  We got caught up in the moment, in the excitement of the swedish meatballs, the tiny pencils, and the artfully arranged decor.

But I’m relatively okay with that, because now we’ve started to have these conversations; we are learning what we like and what we don’t. What fits in here, and what doesn’t.

How to build our own set of shelves.

We will never clean up all the mess; we will never have a catalog-perfect house, but maybe one day, we will just make it liveable again.

Magic book

I got my first prayer book when I was 9.  It’s white, gold, and sparkly (or it was those things.)  I loved that thing. 

As a child, I thought of the prayer book as something approaching magic.  It had an answer for EVERYTHING.  It somehow knew what the priest would do in the service!  When we would all stand, when we would all sit!  And if I wanted, it put the whole service in the palm of my hand.

(So many weddings were performed on my Barbies.  So many.)

There are many reasons why I’m Episcopalian: we’re Catholic, yet still reforming ourselves.  We’re Protestant, yet not so zealous that we tossed out all the babies in the bathwater.  We are charismatic, orthodox, and progressive, and any manner of high-flying ideals—but on any given Sunday, what that means is this: the Altar Guild will care about getting the brass clean to preserve the beauty of holiness, and another 100 people are fed from a food pantry because Jesus said so, and the choir will twist itself into knots working out the Tallis anthem, but that’s actually what it comes down to.

That’s the main reason I’m Episcopalian: because this tradition truly adores people.  Not just some people, and not just the idea of Humanity, but honest-to-God people.  Anglicanism emphasizes the Incarnation to such an extent that all people become so important, since God blessed us with the divine presence.  So we talk about human reason as part of how we read Scripture.  We promise to seek and serve Christ in each person at baptism. We talk seriously about each person’s vocation and call to serve in the world. 

And most staggeringly, we put the book that binds the whole thing together in everyone’s hands. There’s no secret priest manual in this church.  There’s just a book of prayers that anyone can read, and follow along for themselves. If you can read, you can have all the prayers the priest does.  You can hold all that the smartest minds in the Anglican Communion have figured out over the centuries have figure out over the years in the palms of your hands.  All the poetry, theology, ritual, and quirky stuff that we’ve accrued is yours, because you’re a beloved child of God, first and foremost.  

And for all of our struggles, and our occasional in-fighting, Anglicanism lives and breathes that idea.

Post-modern preferential option

Last Tuesday, my friend, the Rev. Marcus Halley–the associate at St. Andrew’s (the Other Episcopal Church in KCMO), asked me to present a talk/speech/thing on God in the digital age.  And I hardly need much convincing to talk about social media.  So I talked about Twitter, and the theology around it–what sort of theology we could construct as we become more interconnected, but in a different way than we’re used to.

Inevitably, whenever I talk about social media, someone always asks, “But how do you know that what you’re reading is THE TRUTH?”

I love this question.   LOVE it.  I want to cross stitch it on a sampler and sew it to a throw pillow, it’s so adorable.

Because, seriously, how did you EVER know that what you were reading was THE TRUTH?  My parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1965 when I was growing up.  Big set of books that someone (not entirely sure who) paid a lot of money for.

There are a lot of things in those books that are not true at all.  And that’s ignoring the pile of stuff that they ignore entirely.  (I learned after 1 try that I could not do a project for Black History Month by looking in those things.)

But for a long time, they were THE AUTHORITY.  They were books, so they were up there with Walter Cronkite (who also was Wrong on occasion, and who also left out some notable things.)

Objective truth is out there, but there’s no monopoly on it.  So the question is less–how can I find the one truth, and more–have I listened to all the stories I need to?

That’s pretty much where this sermon came from.

August 30-31, 2014

Ordinary Time, Proper 17

Exodus 3

[how do you know what you read on social media is the truth?  Walter Cronkite is dead—there is no ONE OBJECTIVE ANSWER out there waiting for us.  Everyone has their own side of the story, whether we like this or not.]

[transition to…] 

Moses just wants to be a little Switzerland right this moment.  He’s having an identity crisis, of sorts, and of all people, he gets to have one.

Because, if you think back to what you recall either of a Charlton Heston movie or from watching the Prince of Egypt—Moses, when he was born, was saved from a genocidal pharaoh by his sister, Miriam, who stuck him in a basket and floated him down the river.  The Pharoah’s daughter found him, and adopted him as her own, saving him a second time.

So Moses had grown up with a foot in both worlds—the world of the Pharoah’s palace, all prestige and privilege, and the world of the Israelite slaves who made that world possible in the first place.  He’s had access to both worlds, to both places.  So he grew up with two identities—Moses the prince and Moses the Israelite slave. 

They were in conflict, to be sure, both sides of that particular story, but he was managing to balance them, apparently.

Everything was going fine it seemed, until one day when Moses was grown up and he ran into an Egyptian task master beating an Israelite slave. 

All of a sudden, these two identities are in conflict, these two sides of the story are standing opposed to each other.

Moses intervenes and kills the guard.

Well, whoops.

He panics, and flees out to the wilderness, because Moses does not want to pick a side.  Moses wanted to hang onto being a prince, but being a sort of cool prince who understood what was really going on, but still with all the power and money, and stuff.  Moses wanted the best of both worlds, but killing someone was probably going to mess that plan up.

Now, Wilderness is where the people of God go in the scriptures when something weird is going on.  It’s the neutral space, it’s the space of retreat and where you head to rebuild, even though it’s not hospitable.  But it’s also where God usually came and found you.

Which is what happens.

As we hear in the reading today, Moses is tending some sheep when he sees the burning bush, and he hears God call his name.  And God sends him back to Egypt—not as a prince in a palace this time, but as something entirely different.  As the leader who will save the Israelites from oppression. 

In other words, God wants him to pick a side.  And God wants him to give up some things, like power and privilege and some things that go along with it.

Hiding out in the wilderness of neutrality doesn’t cut it—you have to figure out where you stand.  Where God is calling you to go in the stories of today.

because yes, there are always many sides to each story. And yes, God loves us all, everyone.  God loves everybody.  And that has always been true.  God loved the Egyptians and the Israelites. God loved Pharaoh and Moses and Miriam and Aaron and their mother.

And it is God’s love that calls on them.  It is that very love that makes God receptive when the beloved Egyptians start enslaving the beloved Israelites.  It’s that very love that causes God to say to Moses— “I have heard the cry of my people Israel, and I have come down here to set them free.”

God’s love means God comes down, means God picks sides.  God loves the Israelites, so God calls Moses to free them from slavery.  God loves the Egyptians, so God calls Moses to convince them that holding people in bondage is not the way to go.  God’s love for humanity means God gets involved in the story.  God doesn’t stay neutral—that’s not how love works.  Love wants the fullness of human life.  Love wants the fullness of justice and righteousness and peace for everyone involved—and that’s not a thing that’s neutral—and so that meant the Israelites couldn’t be slaves anymore.   Because God’s love forces God to come down on the side of the oppressed, the powerless and the helpless.

Desmond Tutu said once If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse is not going to appreciate your neutrality.

Our pretended neutrality doesn’t serve the love of God.  It doesn’t serve God’s call to us.  And God doesn’t let us stay there. 

God called Moses out of his desert of neutrality, out of having the best of both worlds.  Out of his Egyptian palace and into his role as a leader for an oppressed people. 

And God calls us the same way.  God calls us to take sides, to take sides thoughtfully, to take sides in love.  To side with the poor, the powerless and the oppressed when we see injustice in this world.

So what we have to ask ourselves is where is God calling us now?  Here in Kansas City, here in Missouri, where is God calling us to go?  What desert is God calling us to leave behind? 

For starters, I can tell you that although the tanks are gone from the streets in Ferguson, the basic situation hasn’t changed.  The officer who shot Michael Brown still hasn’t been charged, the original prosecutor remains in charge of the case, the police still have a whole mess of riot gear and tanks and tear gas at their disposal, and not a whole lot has changed. 

Except, in the three weeks since he died, two more young black men who were also unarmed have been killed by police officers around the country.

So what is it that God is calling you to do in this situation? 
Do you need to sign a petition, do you need to have a hard conversation with your friends, with your coworkers, do you need to go to a march, do you need to email the governor?  Do you need to do some research into the history and context of race relations in St. Louis and law enforcement? Do you need to listen to people with first hand experience of dealing with the police while being Black in America?

What are you being called to do here in this moment?

Because we are being called to something. Whenever we as people of faith find injustice, we are called to do something.  We are not called to complacency, we are not called to run to the wilderness, we are called to do something. 

We just have to listen for God’s voice, remember God’s love, and know that God is with us. 

Faithful and Angry

i supplied, today, way out south at a suburban Kansas City parish.

I decided to preach on Ferguson anyway, because to my mind, to proclaim belief in the Incarnation, yet not address suffering or injustice, when it is in front of us, just does not make sense.

For the most part, it went over well.  A few parishioners at the early service commented that “It was a very relevant sermon.”

But in the later service, I was surprised to hear a few spontaneous ‘Amen!’s from the congregation.  Episcopalians (especially in the Midwest) don’t do that.

And afterwards, a woman approached me.  She commented that she’d been bothered all week by events in Ferguson, and that she’d written off Michael Brown as ‘a thug’, especially after the robbery video.***

She added, “But your sermon has made me think.  And no one deserves to die like that.  No matter what.  No one deserves that.”

High five, Holy Spirit.  You win again.

***I made a lot of “Mmmm!” sounds.  Jesus intervened and kept my face unemotional, and prevented the “OhmyGod,Iamgoingtopunchsomethingrightthisveryminute” expression that I felt was about to appear.

Here’s what I said.

August 17, 2014

Ordinary Time, Proper 15

Matthew 15: 21-28

I’m going to say what is probably obvious right now—it has not been a good week for Missouri.

It has not been a real good month for people of faith overall who believe in justice, and peace, and loving one another, as we’ve watching war again spread its fingers across the Middle East, and disease spread across Africa, and fighting march into Russia and the Ukraine.

And now, this week.  We have all watched in horror as the violence we’re now used to seeing on our TV screens, came near to us, just across the state.  Michael Brown, under circumstances that are still not very clear, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson a week ago.  What we do know from witnesses is that his hands were up, in a sign of surrender.  We know he was far away, he was running.  And we know it was tragic.

And what we have seen since is protests, every night, on the street, and tear gas, and tanks filled with decked-out cops on city streets that look a lot like ours.  We have seen curfews and states of emergency. The sort of thing you’d never think to see in America, in a quiet little midwestern town, yet here we are.


It’s the world gone mad.  It’s scary and it’s shocking, and it’s heartbreaking and it’s overwhelming. It’s enough to make you swear off the news, grab your kids, and hide under your bed, and vow to not come out until humanity learns to do better.

But that’s not an option. It’s not an option for adults, and it’s certainly not an option for Christians.

So what do we do, as people of faith?  What are we called to do as Jesus’ people when the world seems so off-kilter and the light is so hard to find? 

We do what we always have done when times like this occur.  We gather, and we pray, just like we’re doing today.  At the behest of our Presiding Bishop, today especially, Episcopalians around the world are praying for our sisters and brothers in Iraq who are facing an uncertain future.

And we turn to the Scripture to listen for how the people of God have faced these struggles before.  What did they do?  How did God lead them through?  In the Bible, where does God show up when everything is going sideways?

Like in the gospel, in this strange little interlude Jesus has with the woman. 

Jesus has been preaching and teaching for a while now, he’s just admonished the religious leaders.

And then he meets the Syro-Phonecian woman.   She’s not given a name, for starters, in the gospel, which means either one of two things:  either she’s so well known to Matthew’s community that he’s writing to or the writer of Matthew doesn’t think she rates a name. 

Anyway, she shows up, and she sort of accosts Jesus, to the great annoyance of the disciples, who were not great fans of hers.  (Leading me to suspect that the reason she doesn’t get a name is that the author of Matthew doesn’t like her either.)

They don’t like her because she keeps yelling at them to heal her daughter already!  Give her justice!  Help her!

And also, this pesky problem that she’s Syro-Phonecian.  Which means she’s the wrong ethnicity to be pestering the nice, upstanding Jewish disciples.  She comes from across the tracks.  [She comes from across the hafrada wall.  She comes from across the county/city line.] 

And Jesus?  Jesus does this strange thing..  He tells her that he’s only here for the lost sheep of Israel, but she still doesn’t give up, so he tells her that it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Now, that’s not ok.  Scholars do all sorts of things to explain why this isn’t really as bad as it sounds.  Jesus was really talking to the disciples!  Jesus was acting out of character in hopes of being stopped and condemned by the disciples!  He was using her as an example!

Any of these could be true, although I think they’re a bit of a stretch.  And what we’re left with is a situation in which Jesus is calling a poor, hurting, marginalized woman a dog to explain why he won’t help her.


But then something happens.  Rather than take the good rabbi at his word, she gets snarky, and snaps back that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.

She gets mad.  She gets angry. 

And instead of being offended, or getting defensive, or striking her down where she stands, Jesus applauds her.  Woman, great is your faith.  Your daughter is healed.

She gets mad.  She gets angry.

We should note here that calling someone a dog is a pretty universal slur.  And at the time, it was also specific.  It was what you called foreigners, and specifically foreign women.  This woman had been called a dog all her life.  She knew what that was, only this time, she wasn’t going to accept that.

Because somewhere in her, she had faith. 

Somewhere in her, she had a deep, unshakeable faith that she was not, in fact, a dog, that she was not all those bad things people called her, that she was not the sum of their unjust treatment of her, that she was worthy, and she was loved, somehow, in spite of all that.

Somewhere in her, she held on, with both hands, to that faith that God loved her, that she was valuable, and that the world could and should be different.    

And her relentless, unshakable faith made her angry.  And her angry faith caught Jesus’ attention, her furious insistence that THIS HAD TO CHANGE got healing for her daughter. 

Beloved in Christ, there are times we need to be angry.  There are things in this world that should make us mad, should make us furious, should absolutely put fire in our blood.  Now, I know, this is the Midwest, we don’t do angry real well, but sometimes, anger is what’s called for.

We should be angry when peaceful protesters are teargassed. We should be angry when they’re shot at.  We should be angry when there’s so little accountability for those who wield so much power.

And most of all, we should be angry when children are being killed.  Black children, white children, Arab children, Iraqi children, the refugee children at our borders, anyone’s children at risk should fill us with that faithful anger.

Because we know, as people of faith, that all people everywhere are children of God.  And to harm anyone, anywhere, whether its on a mountaintop in Iraq, a beach in Gaza, or the streets of Ferguson is to harm the very image of God. 

And we insist, we know that is wrong.  and that God wants the world to be different.  God created this world in goodness, and God created us to be different.  God created us to be better, more loving, more caring, and until we live into that—we aren’t done yet.

So, let us take all this heartbreak, this faithful fury of the past week, and may it propel us to build a more just where we are.  One that better reflects the truth that we know. One that reflects the image of God everywhere we look, and protects every. Single. child of God. 

Amen.

Episcopal Haiku!

It’s been a very relaxing summer.  I’ve watched the World Cup all around the city. I’ve not had to be at work at 7am in the morning (the main perk of summer.)

And I’ve finally understood why Midwesterners go ON and  ON about patios.  When it’s blasted cold 6 months out of the year, you get unreasonably excited when you can finally venture outside, even if you’re just sitting on a slab of concrete, to sip a beer.

To celebrate the waning days of summer, then, Acts 8 Moment is holding another BLOGFORCE! event, wherein we’re soliciting haikus about church.

Here’s mine:

Regarding church, I
Still like Jesus (who cooked fish)
much as I love Christ
To read everyone else’s haiku (s?)  go to acts8moment.org and/or!  participate in our Tweetchat on Monday evening, August 11, 9pm/8pm ET/Central.

Contra Gnostics

I haven’t published my sermons in a while (long while), mainly because I’ve been forgetting.
But I’m on vacation at the moment, so here’s the sermon from Sunday.

I should pause to note that summer is MUCH calmer than the school year, at St. Paul’s. I’ve been spending my time working to get things planned in advance for the coming year.

And watching the World Cup, which, if you follow me on Twitter, you already know. And for which I apologize. I’ve been tweeting about soccer A LOT.

(I’m probably going to add to it–I’m working on a post about the theological implications of soccer.)

Until then, however, here’s what I said on Sunday. I went old school, and preached against Gnosticism, using Paul’s letters. It’s possible I’ve been taken over by a pod person.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
July 12-13, 2014
Ordinary Time, Proper 10
Romans 8:1-11

Sit back, everyone. It’s raining and it’s my birthday, so I’m going to explain some heresy.

So there was, around about the time the gospels were written, a theology that arose in the still-forming Christian community that went like this. In the beginning, there was God—perfect, all powerful, and all knowing. But then, God created lots of lower sorts of gods, which were not as perfect, because they were a step or two removed from God’s perfection. One of these lower gods created this whole material world—everything we hear, touch, taste and smell, and these mortal bodies we live in.

Us being confused humans, we couldn’t figure out the difference between the lower god who created our world, and the God of perfection. That’s where Jesus came in. Jesus came and gave us the secret knowledge—the gnosis!— that we were really descended from the one true God, and not the lower god like we thought, and who had imprisoned us in this world of material suffering. And through this revelation, we could escape this material world, and rejoin the true God. Hooray.

This is Gnosticism, in a really small and brief nutshell—though, granted, there were lots of variations on this theme. And once the Christian community got itself a bit organized, at the first ecumenical council, everyone took a vote, and decided that definitely, Gnosticism was heresy. Way back in the 4th century. So that was that.

But here is the funny thing about heresies—old heresies never die; they just reappear like zombies.

And, If you’ve been following the debates over women bishops in the Church of England, then you know that the donatist heresy—this idea that if you disagree with the person who administers the sacrament, then the sacrament itself is invalid– is alive and well, despite supposedly being settled in the 6th century.

These zombie ideas come back, in different guises, and so does this Gnostic one. Because parts of this sound familiar, right? Some of the language is still how we speak.

(And here’s the other bit with heresies—heresy, like orthodoxy, is a way of marking boundaries of a playing field. Basically, it’s an indication that you’ve taken a fine idea, and gone too far in one direction with it.)

But this is our language–There’s your soul, and there’s the rest of you. There’s your everlasting soul, that bit of God within you, and then there’s the icky stuff, which breaks down and decays and really can’t be trusted. (And I’m oversimplifying, but bear with me.)
Material world = bad. Spirit world= good.
It’s pretty black and white.

And here it is in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, he says, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Through this whole passage, it sounds a whole lot like Paul would really like nothing more than to consign his mortal body to the depths.

But then, there’s that last line. That pesky last line. In our mortal bodies, will we be resurrected.
Oh, yes, Paul’s not Greek. Paul, for his many failings when it comes to understandable grammar, decipherable sentence structure, and coherent theology, doesn’t trade in dualisms.

Paul isn’t angry with matter. For Paul, talking about ‘flesh’ isn’t a condemnation, it’s just a description of the material world. He’s describing creation as it is, in its pre-resurrected state. God hasn’t abandoned it—God’s just not done with it yet.
The ‘flesh’ as Paul sees it, isn’t inherently evil; it is just wrapped up in human rebellion and our fallibility and our propensity to wreck creation and to use it selfishly.

And for this reason, God comes to us in our very flesh. In our very materiality.
God saves us/resurrects us in our very flesh. Because our mortalness, our sin, our brokenness still needs help, the flesh needs help.  And that’s what we get through Christ.  

The idea is that Christ has come in the flesh, to root out and destroy the sin that lives there (it’s taken on therefore redeemed) and so we face no more condemnation, even though we remain conscious that we fall short of where we should be.  

And so what Paul is actually describing here isn’t the gnostic dualism scheme at all. He’s not sorting the universe into matter=bad! spirit=good!.

Instead, he sees all of it as intensely valuable, all creation as inescapably precious. So precious that God comes into this material world–this broken fleshly material world–to save it, save every part of it. To make it whole.

See, the problem with Gnosticism, and zombie Gnosticism, when it shows up in our day, is not that some council voted it down in the 4th century, put a stamp on it that declared it heretical, and that was that.

The problem with Gnosticism is that it’s a tricky thing to start to carve up creation like that. It’s a tricky thing, because it can lead to some dangerous places.

If the material world is bad. And God just want to get us to be spiritually free so we can get into heaven when we die, maybe climate change isn’t Such a big deal after all.
And the 152 Palestinians*** who have died in the bombing of Gaza over the last two days, that’s sad–but irrelevant.
the Gnostic gospel has nothing to say about that. No challenge to make. That’s the material world. The gnostic gospel doesn’t concern itself.

But our gospel argues differently. Our gospel talks about this world. It talks about the hungry being fed, the homeless finding houses, refugees finding a welcome. Our gospel insists that Christ came into this world because the suffering and the joys of this world–everything that we face here and now were important–that it mattered to God. That God came into this world of flesh to redeem our struggles and hopes and to take them on personally–not to give us an escape hatch. It matters to God, so it matters to us.

Matter, as it turns out. Matters.

Amen.

***NB: This is what my manuscript said, and it was correct as of Saturday night. However, I checked Sunday morning, and the death toll in Gaza had increased prior to the 8am Service to 158, then 162 before 10:30.

I’m so sorry for your loss, Emily Dickinson

Aka, Hope is a thing with feathers, but this one seems to have passed on

One April, a few years ago, I was a calm, collected college chaplain, and I was shepherding my college students to a conference in Davis, California.  

This didn’t go according to plan.  

Despite leaving plenty early for our flight out of Phoenix, our caravan got caught in an epic traffic jam in the Arizona desert.  (Long story short, there was an accident involving live cows on the highway, and it had to be closed for over 18 hours.) 

We missed our flight.  We missed it by a couple of hours. 

 After an energetic game of Whose Phone will Work In A Canyon?, the lady at US Air first informed me that she could get us on the next flight for the tidy sum of $7,500– change fees plus the increase in ticket price.  (The Spirit intervened, and that call dropped.)   
The next lady I spoke to was quiet for a moment, and said, “I’m not telling you this, you know.  But if you just didn’t show up for your flight, they’d have to put you on the next one for free.  But I can’t tell you that.” Click. 
  We finally arrived at the airport in time for the second flight to Davis, and I talked our way onto the plane–turns out that second lady I never spoke to was correct!– and made it to California.  

So the time we arrived at the hotel that night at around 11:30pm, I was a bundle of nerves.  I hadn’t really eaten, I was exhausted, and all I wanted was to sit down, eat a sandwich, drink a glass of wine, and cry.  

No sooner had I released the students, and sat down in the hotel bar with the other chaplains, then I felt someone looking at me.  I looked up, and sure enough, there stood my students, all in a row, staring at me, unblinking.  “Y’all look like cats, waiting to be fed,” I said. “What’s up?” 

It came out all at once. “Megan, there’s this bird….” “Megan, we found this bird, he’s dead” “His name is Davy.” “He died, and it was horrible and can you do a funeral?” “Can you do a funeral for a bird?” “Can you do a funeral for Davy?” 

To be entirely honest, this was not a thrilling prospect for me at that particular moment.  I did not want to go back out at midnight, in the cold, in the dark, in the wet, to find and bury a dead bird.  And yet, the words I heard coming out of my mouth were “Sure, ok, let me go get my stole.” 

So off we went, off into the night.  We found Davy, and the students told me what had happened. He had gotten attacked and killed by a bigger bird (in front of the students) and thus had met his end.  So knowing this, one of the other chaplains and I improvised some prayers: giving thanks for Davy’s life, and for all the creatures of God, who rest in God’s love and show forth endless creativity of creation.  The birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and even, though I am loathe to admit it, the cows.  

The funeral of Davy the Bird was a Spirit-filled moment for me.  In that mysterious way ritual has, prayering together spoke louder into everyone’s collective exhaustion and fear than anything else could have.  I was lucky to have buried Davy.  In a perfect way, that was precisely what I needed to be doing just then.  It was what we all needed, and the Spirit knew it.  

Rest in peace, Davy.


This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on "When have you felt the Holy Spirit in the Episcopal Church?"

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The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to "Proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church."

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