Thursday, November 26, 2009


There are many, many reflections on Thanksgiving Day on the various blogs, including a particularly good one on the real tradition behind the holiday at Irenic Thoughts, the blog of King of Peace, Kingsland, GA. I am personally thankful to be much closer to my parents this year--driving for an hour and a half to be with them beats having them drive for twelve hours to be with us! I'm also thankful for the parish I now serve, St. Edward's in San Jose, California. Frankly, given the current economy, I'm thankful to have a job at all, much less one that I love.

It occurs to me that the message of Thanksgiving is nearly the opposite of the message of the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the holy grail of retail: black Friday. By the end of today, most of us will be full--full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc... Even if we were presented with a fabulous feast, we wouldn't want it--we are already full. Similarly, if we are thankfull--full of thanks--we can be presented with a ton of fabulous offers, wants masquerading as needs, special deals, and wonderful items and yet still say "I'm full." We can then easily move to thanks-giving--giving to others who have less than we do. After all, if we're full, where would we put anything else? It's pretty easy to give when you're "full."

This coming Sunday, I'll be talking in my sermon about a relatively new tradition called the Advent Conspiracy. This tradition uses the liturgical season of Advent to focus people on the true meaning of the Christmas season which we prepare to celebrate--God giving himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we're feeling full enough of thanks, we might then be easily able to turn and give to others not just money, or things, but ourselves. Check it out:

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This is NOT Your Grandmother's Episcopal Church (but she's welcome, too...)

It's becoming more and more apparent that the institutional church, specifically the powers-that-be in my own beloved Episcopal Church, don't really get it. Their version of a national advertising campaign features the  cutting edge ad (my tongue planted firmly in cheek) to the right of this paragraph:

Contrast that ad, which probably involved hours and hours of conceptual work and much money for both design and publication, with the ad below from Pastor, Priest, and self-proclaimed Art Director Frank Logue, which likely took a few hours or less:

Where do I start? The contrast is stark: word-based vs. image-based, service-based vs. doctrine-based, edgy vs. corporate. I could go on. The last straw for me was the note on the " ad collaborative" page that said that "if you wish to customize it with your own church's address and/or web address, provide the information." So, in an age of desktop publishing, Photoshop, and easy multimedia programs, we're supposed to email information to a central office and have someone else put it into the ad (no doubt at the preselected spot) for us?

Perhaps I'm just a grumpy Generation Xer, but I'm finding more and more of this sort of corporate thinking that simply rubs me the wrong way. Are we a corporate giant that simply puts out the blue and red shield and expects that people will instantly recognize the brand and beat a path to our door, or are we a living, breathing part of the Body of Christ that is active in service to the world and in "working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God" (from the Parochial Report form, no less!)? The USA Today Ad says the former, the ad from Frank says the latter.

Perhaps more scary for me is that, for far too many churches in TEC, this really is my grandmother's church: run from a central office in New York, staid, word-based, corporate. That is not a very attractive church for me. Don't get me wrong--I love the liturgy, the depth, and the spirituality of the Episcopal Church. What I don't love is that the face we too often present to the world is that of a declining church that has beautiful buildings and baubles but not a clue about what those outside our walls are needing, even desperate for, though they may not know it. My frustration is that the church seems to fail repeatedly to take advantage of the technologies and tools available to it to get our message out while simultaneously failing to engage the world that embraces such technologies. There are many, many exceptions (take Holy Apostles in NYC, where the ad picture comes from, for instance) but too often they fly under the radar. Let us (and I'm speaking to myself as well) embrace tools for delivering our message and make sure that it is relevant, faithful to our core values, and able to cut through the maelstrom of information with which we are constantly bombarded. And then let us live that message!

Memo to Episcopal Church Center: If you really want to be helpful, put together a toolkit, complete with submissions of ads like this one, and don't bother spending dollars you don't have on ad agencies or marketing experts. Those were the same folks who brought us the ill-fated "The Episcopal Church: We're here for you..." branding campaign. Give folks the tools, maybe even run an ad contest, and get out of the way.

But that's just my thinking....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Our Fears and Sins Release Us

Come thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
-- Hymn 66, Charles Wesley (Hymnal 1982)

I am begining to think about the holidays (Starbucks is already in full Christmas mode), about Thanksgiving, the "Christmas season" (not the liturgical one, the commercial one), Christmas, and "post-Christmas." As I do so, I am more and more conscious that the words above very much describe our current human condition just as much as they did over 200 years ago when they were written. There is fear, sin, and woundedness all around us and within us. There are bright lights, turkeys (some on the table and some at the table!), and an almost forced festivity that is at odds with the mood of people in a country crawling out of the Great Recession, insanely busy, and, it seems, completely bound and even enslaved to sin and fear.

In the midst of that, the church invites us to enter the season of Advent. As one Advent bidding says:
As we enter, eager and expectant, into the season of Advent, let us in prayer and praise, thanksgiving and song, give voice to the hope set forth in teh Secriptures, that Christ's reign of love and light will indeed come among us. Let us offer ourselves anew as witnesses to the advent of Christs glory, seeking to bring Christs light and love to those who sit in darkness.
That invitation to hope is not an invitation to some sort of plastic, fake, enforced cheerfulness, but an invition to stop, listen, and set our hope on Christ.

May God give us the grace and strength to look beyond the glitter of store windows and Christmas lights to the true Light that is coming into the world once again....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring Those Who Serve

It is Veterans Day and, for the first time in over seven years, I am not marching in the Veterans Day Parade in Albany, Oregon. Of course, the fact that I no longer live in Albany might have something to do with that. I'm now in California. In fact, I've spent much of the day sitting in front of a computer, in a warm house, with a turkey in the oven. However, I do have friends who currently serve in the military as well as friends, family, and members of various congregations I've served who have served in the military in the past. I'm conscious as a blithely blog from my comfortable chair and comfortable home with no fear whatsoever of anything happening to me that such a state of being is made possible in no small part by those who serve and have served in our armed forces. Much like a few other vocations (doctor comes to mind...) I fully realize that I couldn't serve that role, but am very glad that there are people who not only can, but actively choose to do so.

I've also been made aware that twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. As a Generation Xer, up until that time there was never a time where there wasn't a Berlin Wall, not to mention an East Germany and a West Germany. My fellow Generation Xer, Jennifer Moody, presumably just before heading out to see the aforementioned parade, has posted this reflection from her travel diary about the events of that day. I frankly don't remember where I was on that day, but since I was in college at Humboldt State University (senior year) I was no doubt either doing something school-related or (more likely) sitting in my shared house in Pneumonia Gulch (it was always shady an cold there, since it was in a valley surrounded by redwood trees) in Arcata, California enjoying the opportunity to do nothing at all. I guess some things never change...

So, on this Veterans Day, and the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, thanks to all who have served, continue to serve, and, most of all, for those who gave their lives for the freedoms and security we now enjoy.