Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There is a lot of chatter in church circles about how to attract more seekers, how to grow our churches, how to bring more people into the faith.  In light of that, this article from Episcopal Cafe is really interesting.  It seems that, like some parents who have decided to keep their children at home for schooling, some parents are "churching" their kids at home as well, in response to lack of church communities that answer the needs of the family, whatever they might be.

Equally as interesting as the article itself are the comments below the article, which range form the vicious to the supportive.  Some believe that this is a self-centered move that speaks to the death of church as primary community.  Others are thrilled that spirituality and moral compass are being taught at home.  The Monday Morning Moms are going to talk about the article next week.   What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Practicing Piety Before Others

I think that the Ash Wednesday disconnect between Jesus' admonition in Matthew and the liturgical direction to wear ashes on our heads can be confusing.  In honor of that conundrum, I want to offer this video of the "crowning" of Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth here in Atlanta.  He has been at the center of some really horrible controversies as of late.  In response to the controversies, his mega-congregation showed their support for him and his ministry with this ceremony. 

As a matter of personal practice, I try really hard not to judge other people's religious practices or beliefs.  I think there are many many many ways to see the face of God in worship.  But this?  This is exactly what Jesus was talking about: hypocrisy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter, friends!  Comment away!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Time for Beauty

My attention has recently turned to this article about an experiment by the Washington Post a few years ago.  Uber-famous violinist Joshua Bell spent an hour in a DC Metro station playing his heart out to a mostly uncaring rush hour crowd.  The violinist-- who makes upwards of $1000 a minute on stage-- made $32 that hour, which is actually not bad for a busker.

The point of the article, more or less, was that we are getting less and less able to recognize beauty when it is sitting right in front of us.  Our lives are so crammed with what we consider necessary that we do not stop and appreciate moments of art, beauty, joy when they happen unbidden.  The author of the article won a Pulitzer for the piece and excerpts from it are all over Facebook.  Curiously, one demographic that gets particular attention are parents with small children in tow.  In the hour that Bell played, every single parent with a child walked by without stopping, often tugging their unwilling children along, hurrying off to those things that needed doing.

On one hand, I get it.  The article makes me very sad, especially on behalf of our children who didn't and perhaps won't ever get the chance to see one like Joshua Bell in the subway station because parents are too... whatever... to stop and pay attention.  It is a terrible state of affairs that we are in, too busy to appreciate music-- any art, really-- as we rush from one thing to the next.

That seems to be the meaning of the article, that we have lost the ability to appreciate beauty even when it is free and obvious in front of us.

On the other hand, the "moral" of the article ticks me off, both as a parent and an individual.  The premise, that if music/beauty/art is offered freely and easily everyone should stop and enjoy it or else we're not paying attention, doesn't take into account some of the most basic and obvious factors of my daily life and the life of other people I know and love.  The most primary factor that it doesn't take into account with its rather precious finger-wagging is that most of us are doing the best we can.

I would like to think that my kids and I would have stopped to listen to Mr. Bell.  I certainly would have wanted to.  We have stopped and listened, danced, and clapped to far lesser buskers before.  But I also know that that morning might have been the one when I was on my third "strike" of the month for being late to my son's preschool class, an offense that could find us kicked out of the program.  It might have been the morning when I was in charge of the early Eucharist, on my way to be a part of beauty of another kind, my rushing to get there a joyful one.  How would this experiment have been different if Bell had played at 3pm on a Saturday at the entrance to the zoo?  Or at 10 p.m. on a Friday night in front of a row of restaurants?  Or Sunday morning in a church courtyard?  How would the experiment have been different 50 years ago?  or 200?

The article doesn't take into account that my family does our level best to take part in all kinds of other cultural events, free and otherwise, fairs, concerts, museums, classes, plays.  We do spontaneously stop and take in beauty or wonder or mystery when we can.  I will be the first to admit that, with two working parents, those stops aren't as frequent as I would like them to be but, as I said, we do the best we can with what we've got.  It the Metro had posted a sign saying "Great violinist here tomorrow morning!" you can bet we would have come early to hear it on our way.  Instead, we spent an extra 10 minutes in our pj's, reading one more story.  

I genuinely appreciate what they are trying to do here.  The article is beautifully written and artfully conceived.  But the whole premise rubs me the wrong way.  It feels manipulative and, to me as a mother, it feels divisive and shaming.  It feels rather like the barrage of "carpe diem" and "pay attention, they grow up so fast" that mother of young children are so prone to hearing. That sort of thing sets my teeth on edge.

We know that.  We know that our kids are growing quickly.  We know that we need to slow down and watch them and teach them and listen to them and appreciate them.  When we are at our best, we do those things.  But we are not always at our best.  We are human beings and sometimes we miss the Joshua Bells playing in the Metro stations because, frankly we just have to get to preschool on time today.  But that doesn't mean that the world, our world, our children's world is devoid of beauty or of time to stop and appreciate it.

We are not going to hell in a handbasket because 1,000 people walked by a master violinist on playing in the subway station at rush hour.  I agree that we could all use a little more time to appreciate free beauty all around us. But I don't think there is any usefulness in undermining the very real need that many individuals (parents and otherwise) have to get to where they need to be.  Subways stations are not concert halls, they are places of transit.  Folks are often rushing because they lingered for one last kiss before going out the door or so that they can get home in time to go to the playground.  Or perhaps to make it for the 8pm Joshua Bell concert at Symphony Hall. 

My world is packed with goodness and beauty.  It is also packed with responsibility.  I do my best to make time to slow down, but it isn't always my choice when I am able to slow down, to stop and hear the violins in the subway.     

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jesus vs. Religion

A parishioner sent me a link to this rather fascinating spoken word poem that has rocked the YouTube world recently.

Many of you, I'm sure, have already seen it.  It has over 18 million hits, so sheer probability tells me you have.
I just watched it this morning and it has me thinking.  I disagree with most everything this young man is saying.  I have to, of course, because, well, I am a religious representative.  In many ways, I am exactly who this guy say he hates.  I guess I could be offended by that, but frankly I'm just too thick-skinned and too tired to get offended.

I am still fascinated by it, though.  Why does a video made by a layperson with a video camera talking about Jesus get EIGHTEEN MILLION hits?  What is he saying that is so compelling to folks trolling the interwebs?
Like I said, I disagree with 98% of what he raps about.  I think his understanding of Jesus is heartfelt but his knowledge of "religion" is misguided and shallow.  From what he says, he has never been part of a Christian community who has celebrated with him during his life's greatest moments, who has cradled and fed him while he mourned, who has held tightly to his faith when he couldn't hold it for himself.  In other words, from what he says, it seems that this young man has never experienced the face of Christ in community.  How sad.

 I think a goodly portion of those 18 million hits are people who are looking for more fodder for the anti-religious canon. "See, this guy on the internet said that Jesus was against religion!" Therefor it must be true. Blargh.

"Religion", it seems, has become that place to dump on, that place where we can toss all the blame for everything evil that has been done in the name of a higher power.  Religious folk have done some really despicable and horrendous things in the world, things that I am not proud to consider part of my Christian heritage (and sometimes eschew as such). 

But God forgives.  I'm not sure how, but God does forgive, even when I can't.

And furthermore, Jesus calls us into community, again and again and again with each other, those we agree with and those we disagree with.  We are called into community with liberals and conservatives and folks who are apolitical.  We are called into community with people we love and people we can't stand.  We are called into community with people we want to have dinner with and people we don't even know exist and people whose mere existence challenges our very belief in the goodness of God.  We're not always called to like it, but we are called to show up. 

And that is what Jesus did when he ate with the lepers and the tax collectors and the prostitutes.  That is what Jesus did when he challenged the authorities.  And that is what Jesus did when he died alongside other social "trash".

And so I feel sorry for this young man.  Because without "religion" he isn't going to have the experience of walking down the aisle with a person he loves to take vows that have been spoken by millions before him to love until death parts them.  He will not have the experience of staggering, sleep-deprived, into the parish hall with a squalling 6 month old baby and having every grandmother in the room beg to hold that baby in order to let the parents eat ONE MEAL in peace.  He isn't going to have the experience of burying his father surrounded by a great cloud of loving witnesses as the priest reminds them that Jesus, after all, is the resurrection and the life, Alleluia. 

Because that is religion, to me.  It is the depth and breadth of human experience across history and across borders.  It is the community that holds one another up and holds one another accountable. It is the tree with the deepest roots and the dandelion with the most far reaching seeds.  Religion teaches and challenges and holds sacred.  We don't always do it right or do it well, but as a community, as a religion, at least we do it together.

And so I love religion and I love Jesus.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Do not worry

Yesterday's Gospel reading for the feast of St. Brigid has had me thinking.  It is Matthew 6.25-33, where Jesus instructs his followers not to worry. 

This reading gives me fits. 

I'm not exactly an extreme worrier.  I let my kids fall on the playground and occasionally eat cheerios off the kitchen floor.  I manage our money carefully but try not to get wrapped up in every penny.  But I am concerned about things.  I do get a little (sometimes more than a little) worked up about outcomes and how I can change them. I do get worried about how my bad parenting choices will negatively impact my kids.  A lot of this is silly.  But not all of it. 

On one hand, the idea of not worrying what to wear or what to eat is really appealing. I'd love to be able to just let it go, to not worry about whether I paid the credit card bill on time, whether I remembered to schedule the pediatrician appointment, whether the squeak in the car's brakes is normal or an expensive/dangerous problem.  I would love to be free of that. 

There is a part of me that gets angry at Jesus for this one.  He didn't have small children or a mortgage or global warming.  Not worry?  How in the world can I even begin to manage not worrying?  And how am I supposed to manage the worry I am now experiencing about the fact that I worry too much?!?

See?  Fits. 

But last night, I heard a great little sermon-nugget from a seminarian.  He pointed out that, though we are made in the image of God, we are also human and so worry is just part of who we are, part of our DNA.  Perhaps Jesus' instruction was not for the individual, but for the beloved community.  What if, instead of worrying so much about how much we worry, we concentrate instead on removing worry (when we can) from others?

This has made me reflect on all of the times when I have been cared for, that is, when someone has taken the burden of worry off of me. 

  • When our son was tiny and collicky, my mother came over and walked with him one afternoon to let me sleep.  While I was asleep, she also washed two loads of laundry and folded them.  I still remember the feeling of all that clean laundry after that good nap.  Two loads less of worry.

  • Right in the middle of my marathon last summer, my husband and two of our friends-- unbidden-- texted me reminding me of how strong I am. A few miles of less worry.  

  • When I was dealing with some rough discipline problems with one of my kids, a parishioner and seasoned mother looked me straight in the eye and said, "He's a smart, loving, beautiful kid and you're a great mom.  There will be bumps, but you'll be okay." A few moments less of worry.

I also indulged myself in remembering the times I have tried to reduce someone else's worry and anxiety.  I've cooked meals for new moms, said prayers before surgery, fed other people's kids. 

I like this idea that it is up to us to help one another with our burdens of worry.  And, if you check out the list above, you'll notice that none of the things I've listed are particularly brilliant, expensive or time consuming.  I would love to be able to wave my wand to help a friend out of a difficult and perilous home situation.  But I can't.  What I can do is pray for her and her family.  And I do, regularly.  I can also bring over my awesome baked spaghetti or watch her kids when she needs more hands than she has available.

We can all do this.  It might not reduce our own personal worry baggage.  But it will impact the Body, as everything we do in love does.  The favor might be returned.  It might not.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that we are living the Gospel, we are taking in this difficult teaching in this difficult world and we are making it real in our lives and in the lives of others.      

Update: the preacher's name is Lee Curtis. Credit where it is due!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today is the day when we remember St. Brigid in the Holy Women Holy Men cycle of prayer.  Born in the middle of the 5th century, she is known for her great generosity. Here is a poem I just found about her:

"The Giveaway"
Saint Bridget was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Bridget drove
The family mad.
For here's the fault in Bridget lay:
She Would give everything away.
To any soul
Whose luck was out
She'd give her bowl
Of stir about;
She'd give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She'd borrow from a relative.
Her father's gold,
Her grandsire's dinner,
She'd hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister's and her mother's.
She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The silverware,
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little niece's christening mug,
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.
An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
The countryside
Put on her name,
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Bridget.

Well, one must love her.
In thinking of her
There's no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
Unto her kin.
The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
WHO had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Bridget? Or her near and dear?
  from The Love Letters of Phyllis Mcginley, New York, Viking Press, 1957