Letters Home, Feast of the Transfiguration (August 06, 2017)

August 06, 2017 – Feast of the Transfiguration

Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

Over the years since I stepped down as rector of St. Peter’s I have experienced a growing need to re-engage with you, the church, in a meaningful way. For me that meant finding a means to discuss and share aspects of the Gospel message with you. I began this blog last fall (2016) as a provisional trial to do just that. I have enjoyed writing these reflections on each week’s Sunday collect. It is my prayer that they have added something to your weeks as well.

Since beginning this online journal, an unexpected blessing has come my way. In May I was invited by the congregation of St. Philip’s in Wrangell to serve them as their part-time vicar. In gratitude for this opportunity, I have accepted their invitation.

Over the last two months I have been balancing my new role as vicar of St. Philip’s, writing this blog, and focusing on my primary semi-retirement goal of spending time with my family. I have become convinced that my time commitments need to be re-balanced. August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration, it is also my deceased father’s birthday. It’s a good day for me to think again about family, vocation, and balance.

It is for this reason, re-prioritizing my time, that I write this note to you. At present, this will be my final weekly posting on this blog. There will come times when I feel called to take pen in hand and add occasional writings or reflections to this online journal. If so, those efforts may take a different shape. I do believe that in some way, I will continue to be moved to write and preach the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As always, I will try to rely on the Spirit in directing my efforts.

Until we meet again, thanks for having shared this weekly blog with me.

Faithfully,

Fr. Dave

This Sunday we make our prayer:

The Transfiguration    August 6

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 243)

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Letters Home, Proper 12 (July 30, 2017)

July 30, 2017 – Proper 12
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

“Just because I said so!” There are no more frustrating words in the English language to a child, especially when they are spoken by their parents. I can well remember asking my mother for something I believed I absolutely needed, or asking to do something that at the moment seemed as if all my future happiness depended on. I can still hear her voice pronouncing the dreaded formula, “Just because…” And if her words were not enough, my father would confirm them when he got home from work. It is easy to imagine that my family functioned like most American families in this regard. “Just because I said so,” was the parental calling on the big guns of unquestionable authority. For a child, the parents’ authority is based on their love for us, our respect for them, and a social system that maintains this arrangement.

As time and the years go by, all of us grow into new life stages. Somewhere before grade school we begin to ask the question that is on the opposite side of the coin. One side is inscribed “Just because I said so!” The other side reads “Why?” As we gain more life experience “just because” is not good enough. The foundation of authority on which “because” rests begins to shake and ultimately crumble.

Maybe it is inevitable that we end up living in a world in which we have questioned everything, weighed and balanced all claims to authority and truth, and modeled our universe on our personal decisions to accept this or that propositional truth or authority. This can be an exhausting world. In this version of reality we become responsible for creating our own concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, integrity and corruption, truth and falsehood. Somewhere in life many of us begin to feel as if we were pretending to be Atlas, holding all of it up through our own limited strength.

The 1973 Norman Jewison production of Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite movies. There is a scene in the movie that reflects something of humanity’s struggle with truth. As Jesus lay beaten and bloodied in Pilate’s hands, Jesus tells him that he came to serve the truth. Pilate responds, What is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as Yours?”

It is not inevitable that we find ourselves echoing Pilot’s words. Having a truth to anchor our life is liberating.

This Sunday the church makes this claim in prayer; “O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy,”… The strength the prayer speaks of is moral power; the holiness is sacredness. None of us claim to know the fullness of what is best, right in every situation, but we believe by God’s grace they do exist. And since they exist, we feel called to pray, study, and discern how to try to align our lives more fully with what is true, good and holy, through the help of God. This has meaning.

When something our Lord taught was beyond His friends’ ability to understand, He said something like, “Trust me on this.”  That is very similar to what our parents used to say to us. Jesus’ request for trust was based on His love for His friends, their respect for Him, and the sporting structures of the Kingdom of God. In a way, becoming a Christian is coming full circle in life.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

This Sunday we make our prayer:

Proper 12    The Sunday closest to July 27
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 231)

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Letters Home, Proper 11 (July 23, 2017)

July 23, 2017 – Proper 11
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

Like many others, I grew up in the western United States during the 50s and early 60s. Since I was male, it must have been fate that I shared the young man’s passion for all things automobile. For us, and our fathers, the car represented an avenue to express our independence and begin to explore the world beyond the confines of our family structures. To put this in perspective for those of our children reading this, I suspect a car was to us what computers and cell phones are for you. The doorway to individuation and self expression.

In my sophomore year of high school one of my friends owned a 1955 Thunderbird. He bought it as a totaled wreck and completely rebuilt it in his family’s garage. The car was beautiful and exciting. I was fascinated by two things. The first was that someone my age could do such a thing. The second was how affordable it had been to acquire such a car through salvaged parts. I wanted to do the same thing. I not only wanted, but needed to do it with a passion. That need came face to face with a brick wall. My father did not want a junk pile in our yard. He did not believe I would follow through. This caused me to need this car even more. What a misery of a time I must have put my father through.

For most of us, the end of our teenage years has not been the end of our struggle with wants and needs. A friend of mine likes to say that he may be short on will power, but his “wanter” is working overtime. There have always been those who seek to tap into the power of the human “wanter.” In the 20th and 21st centuries this effort has become an industry. Many of the very brightest and best among us use their considerable power of creativity to stimulate our wants. This explains how something that did not exist a short time ago quickly becomes an absolute necessity in the fulfilled life. The sheer number of things to want or need has increased so rapidly that finding a balance in life has become very challenging. The problem is not in the things themselves; it is the power of our overactive and misguided wanters.

Looking back on my T-Bird episode I recognize how right my father was. There were many more important things that I could have felt passionately about, but I was young. The first thing to care about was my relationships, like the one with my father that stared me in the eye at that moment. As a young man I did not understand that the difference between what my dad knew about life and what I knew, would fill a library.

As members of the family of Adam and Eve, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we want and need. Many of us suspect that most often we do not know the real need behind our longings. And our community of faith knows that the God of our creation, our Heavenly Father, knows the foundations of our longings, and knows beyond a shadow of doubt what fulfills our needs. To God, our desire for a 55 T-Bird or any other automobile, the latest computer or cell phone, virtual reality device, or anything else, is always about something larger and deeper that the thing itself. Most of the time that larger thing remains hidden from our understanding – because the eyes of our heart are fascinated by the tangibles before us.

Ultimately I did buy a basket-case car, rebuilt it, and it became my easily identifiable high school ride. But this time, my Dad and I chose the car and he supported me through the process. Relationships first.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

This Sunday we make our prayer:

Proper 11    The Sunday closest to July 20
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 231)

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Letters Home, Proper 10 (July 16, 2017)

July 16, 2017 – Proper 10
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

Retiring is a strange land for many of us. After working decades and looking toward the moment when our time becomes our own, the reality can feel reminiscent of graduating from high school. Many of us can remember the initial thrill of a long summer before us with no mandatory school obligations beyond. For some it did not take long for that sense of freedom to be replaced with something else. That something was the nagging question, “What’s next?” This was usually followed by “What am I to do?”, “Who am I to become?” “What is the right and best thing to do?” It came as a surprise to me that I found myself right back with the same post high school questions weighing on my heart and mind a few months after retiring from my last parish. Maybe some of you have had similar experiences. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the experience of these questions is shared by young and old alike.

Knowing and understanding what to do! Sounds simple enough. The truth is it’s anything but simple. When you add the desire to understand the why to the what, the discernment process becomes exponentially more complex. Do we take this job, or that one? Do we ask this person to marry us, or do we continue to go it alone? Which school should I attend? Should I have a latte with half and half, go for the skim milk, or pass on the caffeine all together? Should I spend more time focusing on my health, or decide I am simply too busy to worry about it? Every one of these questions has an impact on the course of our future, our happiness, and our health. They also have an effect on our spiritual life. Each choice leads us closer or farther away from the person we have been created to be, and the service we were created to render.

Sometimes it feels as if these questions lay their head on my pillow each night. They are most often there waiting for me when I awake. What is the right and best path to take at any moment in any of our lives?

After almost seven decades on this earth, I have given up looking for something like Google Maps direction for the best life. Instead three landmarks have proven to be the best guides for me. These landmarks are to love God the Creator of All, love my neighbor, and to love the community of spiritual companions who have attached themselves to Jesus Christ. None of these landmarks by themselves give specific instructions in any given situation. They do give three reference points on the map of life. For a sailor at sea this would be enough to navigate the changing environment and help them avoid the hidden obstacles around them. Of course I have made many mistakes along the way, but over all, my faith tells me navigating by these three compass points has guided me a little bit closer to the path God has called me to take.  

There are not many of us who feel as if they have absolute clarity in dealing with the choices life brings their way. Most of us have to struggle, weigh and balance, and take risks to find our way. Those who take discerning the right and best way to serve and love God, neighbor, and community seriously, welcome any help offered. That is why this Sunday we make our prayer …

Proper 10 (The Sunday closest to July 13)
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 231)

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Letters Home, Proper 9 (July 09, 2017)

July 9, 2017 – Proper 9
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

I had a friend I have loved since I was a child. We grew up together, shared many joys and conflicts. Through all of this we loved each other and still do. In many ways our lives took very different paths. But in other ways they were similar. Both of us were less than stellar students in our youth. Each of us joined the service during the Vietnam War. Later we found our separate paths into the construction industry. In our own ways, we were both people of faith, and ultimately became ministers in our different churches. But there was a time when something divided us. That something was a chemical addiction.

Often, when a person is in the grips of an addiction, that addiction overshadows everything else in their life. At the time, my friend had a young family and all the responsibilities and obligations that went with it. We all know this includes paying the rent, the utilities, and putting food on the table. This was difficult to do while supporting a habit that had taken control of my friend’s better judgement. So he turned to me.

I also had a young family and all the same responsibilities he had. I did what I could to help. After all, he was my friend, and his children held a place in my heart as well. For a while his rent, utility and grocery bills were mine as well. This lasted until the situation became a problem for my little family. At that moment I was confronted with one of the deepest questions of love; what is the most loving thing to do? This might sound simple, but it was one of the most difficult crises of my young life. What was I to do?

Of course I knew there were rules by which “good people” try to lead their lives. There were the laws of the land, which were being broken. There were also the laws of the faith tradition we had been brought up in. There was a part of me that simply wanted to follow the laws and wash my hands of my friend. This seemed as if it would be much easier. But my heart would not let me. I finally did the hard work of trying to answer the question, “What is the most loving thing I could do in this situation?”

That struggle taught me a lesson that has been central to my life and ministry since. When facing the toughest questions in life, the way forward is to seek the most loving response available at the time. This requires much more than following any set of rules. Engaging this more demanding question requires that we do not stand back from the one seeking help, but instead to be open enough to form something of a relationship and empathy from which to respond. I do not mean a response that has only momentary effect.What is needed is a loving decision that may be more difficult and costly, yet may have a transformative effect. Sometimes this means helping someone with their bills. Maybe it means paying a fuel bill, buying an airplane ticket for someone in need, or maybe it means simply sitting with the other and listening. There are also the moments when the most loving response is “no,” because a “yes” is ultimately crippling to the other.

My first “no” was finally spoken in my late 20s to my friend. I pray this helped him move beyond his addiction, as he ultimately did. Since then I have said “yes” and “no” to requests for help from many in need. I am absolutely certain I have made many misjudgments in this along the way. But when I have been in these situations I have tried to remember to asked myself, “What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?” After all, our Lord commanded us to love each other no less than he loves us. I pray for His forgiveness for when I have loved less.

This coming Sunday many churches will join in prayer asking for God’s grace to love our neighbor as He commands, and as our Lord has shown the way.

Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Proper 9; The Sunday closest to July 6
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 231)

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Letters Home, Proper 8 (July 02, 2017)

July 2, 2017 – Proper 8
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

A few years ago a friend of mine had a major expansion added to his home in Southeast Alaska. I imagine life in our little Alaskan towns are no different from any small town when it comes to needing the services of skilled craftsmen. Our communities have an ongoing shortage of tradesmen. As a result those we have are most often multi-skilled. They have their specialty, but have learned to apply those specialties in very wide fields of application. After a great deal of searching and negotiating, my friend hired a shipwright to build the expansion on his home.

Ship and boatwrights share many skills with carpenters. There are a few central differences to their work. For shipwrights there are very few straight lines or square corners. Carpenters build their skills on these. Carpenters construct on firm foundations that are set deeply in the earth. Boatwrights have learned to build on a foundation that rides the wind, waves, vagaries of the seas, and always moves with the ship; these foundations are known as the ship’s keel. A carpenter primarily makes use of nails to join the framing members together. Shipwrights make extensive use of nails, screws, rivets, glue, and sometimes welds. Land-based homes are not intended to move or flex. Boats and ships move all the time and flex with the sea. Because of these special conditions, water craft are knit together as one being, a unity of construction. This may be the root of the sense that they have personality.

All this is to say, my friend’s house is like no other house I have seen. Its joints were glued and screwed; not simply nailed. I am absolutely certain that if the rains of Noah’s days returned to my home town, and the water rose to this home, it would float and be a safe and sound vessel for its family, regardless of what came its way. My friend is also a priest and both of us are struck by the fact that his home is a metaphor for our shared faith.

The church and ships have always been understood to share a great deal with each other. Both are built on firm foundations. In both cases these foundations are not stationary, they are mobile. In the case of a ship, its foundation is its keel. In the life of the people of the church, the foundation is an abiding relationship and commitment to Jesus of Nazareth. A ship’s members are rarely straight and square. The diversity of the members of the body of Christ is as varied as every curve and angle in the most complex of vessels. And like the members of a ship, the members of Christ are joined together by a weld called baptism that joins them to Jesus and each other. The design of this faith community is intended by its Creator to survive all storms, shifts and changes it encounters as it sails through the ages. This does not mean it does not shift and adapt to new environments; it must to endure.

There is a gift for the world in this. We are living in moment of history whose defining characteristic seems to be change. I have come to believe that the “Digital” revolution will prove to be more disruptive to society than the industrial revolution was ever imagined to be. We are witnessing shifts in economics, patterns of employment, education, ideas, and vast dislocations of populations. In addition people are losing faith in the social institutions that once gave our communities shape and security. I have had many conversations with people over the years who were seeking something they could attach themselves to and trust as their lifeline in this sea of constant change.

This is the mission of the community of Jesus. It is easy to see by all who choose to look at us that we have changed. We gather together in various communities which reflect our individual spiritual and stylistic needs. The way we read, understand, and apply Jesus’ message to our lives and the world around us has adapted to the age in which it is lived. But in the midst of all of this our prayer remains that we be united in a unity of spirit (welded to Christ Jesus), and that our lives and communities be sanctuaries to which those in need of shelter are drawn. All of us need a firm foundation to weather this storm of change. As the church, that’s our job.
Faithfully,
Fr. Dave

Proper 8  (The Sunday closest to June 29)

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)

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Letters Home, Proper 7 (June 25, 2017)

June 25, 2017 – Proper 7

Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)

Dear Friends,

Spring is the season of new beginnings. This is on full display all around us. Everywhere we look we are treated with signs of rebirth from the winter’s sleep and new growth. What is true in nature is also true for the human family. Spring and early summer are the seasons of graduations, weddings and all sorts of new endeavors. I am certain most of us have known our own spring new beginnings as well.

The season of my graduation from high school, more than five decades ago, was filled with one solitary ambition. I wanted to make something of myself. Of course, at 18, I had no idea of what that meant or how to go about it. In the end I did what seemed natural at that time in our nation’s history; I enlisted in the service. That was the first of a lifetime series of choices, all of which I imagined were steps along the way toward my “making something” of myself.

As choices and steps led to subsequent choices and steps, a truth began to become clear to me. That was that at the intersection between my choices and actions, those of others around me, and of the broader society, combine in ways that were often unpredictable and beyond my personal control. I realized that all of us are caught up in the fabric of folks doing their best, trying to make something of their lives. What takes place when these lives come together follows its own direction. The collective dynamic seems to have a will of its own. In other words, my life’s one plus one did not always equal two. It frequently amounted to more or less than that.

As the last five decades have passed I have become convinced that the project of “making something” of myself is hard work. Sometimes it has seemed too much for one person to tackle. Many years ago I realized that instead of trying to be my own “maker,” I would benefit from someone’s help. I am convinced there is good news here for all of us as we continue trying our best.

I hope you have noticed that I cherish the Collects (collective prayer) that are prayed each week by many of the churches of the Christian faith. Most of these prayers have very long histories. All of them have been smoothed by time and use to express great spiritual truths in very few words. This coming Sunday’s prayer is no exception.

We begin that prayer with these words, “O Lord, make me, …” I’m certain that my first reaction to these opening words is no different from many of your. A feeling of visceral resistance and rebellion rises quickly within me. My heart wants to shout “you can’t make me!” Most of us would rather make our own decisions even if they are wrong. At least the consequences would be all ours. When we step back from those first words, and pray a little farther, we discover we have reacted to a meaning that is not contained in the prayer.

When the church prays, “O Lord, make me, …” the community of faith is referring to God’s act of ongoing creation, not an act of coercion. This prayer acknowledges that the initiative in “making us” is first and foremost in the hands of the Master Maker, God. Our prayer asks God to continue to shape our hearts in such a way that they love and long for the best, truest, and most glorious of possibilities in life. The most marvelous of which is to have a love and reverence for God’s Holy Name. These become the compass needle of all our hearts desire.

We are partners with God in the shaping of our hearts, and lives. Within this partnership we can be emboldened, knowing that God’s strength and wisdom are walking with us as we find our way. With God by our side we can reach for our dreams, build our lives, and to try to make the world a little better place than it was when we came into it. Beyond that we are called to trust The Creator to watch over and guide the shaping of the entire human family.

These are sure signs of a new spring and new life.

Faithfully,

Fr. Dave

Proper 6; Sunday closest to June 16

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)

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