Saturday, November 18, 2017

24th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28A

24th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28A November 19, 2017 Back when I worked at the Stewpot Soup kitchen just prior to going to seminary, we had an annual event of handing out food for Thanksgiving dinners for people who were not able to provide it on their own. They would sign up ahead of time, so we would know how much food we needed to have on hand, and it was not uncommon for us to have over 100 families signed up. The lady who was over all the food services at Stewpot, a lady named Nancy Dennis, would usually start ringing her hands a week or so before the give out day, and she would go to the Executive Director (who was an Episcopal priest named Luther Ott), and she’d say to him, “Luther, we’re not going to have enough turkeys to give one to every family. There’s just no way. We’re going to have to do something different.” And Luther would say to her, “Now, Nancy, just wait. God gives us what God knows that we need in God’s time.” And Nancy would go away, still anxiously wondering what we were going to do. I watched this play out, year after year, in the three years, I worked at Stewpot. And it even became so regular that Luther began referring to it as “Nancy’s turkey dance.” And the amazing thing that happened year after year after year, is that usually just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and unexpected pick-up truck or even 18 wheeler would pull into Stewpot’s driveway just in the nick of time delivering the number of turkeys that we needed. God gives us what God knows that we need in God’s time. In our parable for today, Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven is like a man who prepares to go on a journey by giving his slaves varying degrees of wealth. To one slave, he gives 5 talents, to another he gives 3 talents, and to the third slave he gives one talent. Now remember that one talent is the equivalent of 15 years worth of wages for the average day laborer. So just take a moment and let the sheer abundance of what the man has given the slaves sink in. The first two take the money and multiply it accordingly, while the third takes his and buries his in the ground. When confronted by the man, the slave confesses: “I was afraid, so I went and hid it in the ground.” How much of our lives do we spend doing that? Doing the turkey dance? Being afraid that we are going to lose something valuable, so instead of using it, we hide it away where it is “safe.” (I can count on one hand the number of times I have used my “fine china” in the 13 years we have been married.) I think that, perhaps, there may be a better way to approach this conundrum. A few years ago, I read a blog post by Parker Palmer, who is a Quaker educator and writer. Palmer writes about a time of discernment in his life; around the time when he was 75, he began recognizing that he couldn’t do everything that he used to do and he couldn’t do things as fast as he used to. So he formulated a question that he wanted help in discernment with: “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?” Palmer took this question to a Quaker Clearness Committee, whose role is to help an individual in listening and discernment by asking questions. And when Palmer came out of that committee meeting, he had a new realization. It was that he had been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking: ““What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?” he should be asking: ““What do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to?” He explains the difference saying, “I now see that ‘hanging on’ is a fearful, needy, and clinging way to be in the world. But looking for what I want to give myself to transforms everything. It’s taking me to a place where I find energy, abundance, trust, and new life.”i My invitation to you this week is this. Take some time listening to your life. Identify what are the areas in which you find yourself anxious or afraid? Remind yourself of the refrain from Nancy’s turkey dance: God gives you what God knows that you need in God’s time. And then consider: “What in your life, in your faith, do you want to let go of, and what do you want to give yourself to?”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 27A

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 27A November 12, 2017 A couple of years ago, I was driving down the road and listening to a new cd from one of my favorite artists (yes, I still occasionally buy cd’s). Her name is Carrie Newcomer. Newcomer is both a poet and a musician and her music and lyrics on this cd had moved me to tears numerous different times as she spoke poetically and sublimely about different aspects of the spiritual life and human experience. As I was driving, the cd flipped over to the last track on the cd, and I was caught by surprise. It was a totally different style of song than all the rest on the cd, more like an old-time ditty that was almost campy. And the title was Please, don’t put me on hold!” Thank you for calling The lines are all busy Cause there are too many people like you Calling for answers and wanting them quickly Press zero for main menu English press 1 Spanish press 2 You’re 11th in line ‘til we can get to you I’m trying to be nice, not pushy or bold, just Please….don’t put me on hold! If we can’t help you, then don’t blame us We’re recording this call so you don’t cuss I’m trying to be nice, this is getting old Please….don’t put me on hold! She runs into a series of problems: wrong transfer, employee on vacation, what’s your pin….I didn’t hear that so, let’s try it again. I’m searching my wallet I’m tearing it apart Please…don’t make me restart She’s getting more and more agitated and engaging with the Hard Rock muzak that is playing… Finally a real person says, Can I help you out? I say…if you were in this room I’d kiss you on the mouth! You cough and say This is Customer service I backpedal and try to state my purpose I’m trying to be nice, not creepy or bold, just Please, don’t put me on hold! (x3)i At the end of a cd full of sublime songs, Newcomer pokes fun at all of us—waiting is hard, and we don’t do it well in our culture these days. (I don’t have to tell you about all the places we have to wait and how we grow impatient….you can probably name multiple experiences from just this past week…) Once, when I was in a season of waiting and discernment in my own life, my spiritual director shared with me the following quote: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”ii It’s an important reminder as we look at this challenging parable for today. The parable speaks to the reality that a. we don’t like to wait—we seem to be getting worse at it the more technologically advanced that we get and b sometimes we have to wait—because God’s timing is not our timing. But where the parable is helpful is that it teaches us how to wait. Note that at the beginning of the parable, the bridesmaids are all the same: they’re all carrying lamps, the all fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom who is delayed. The difference among them is that some of them are prepared to wait, bringing extra oil, and the others are not, and so they miss the party. So how might this parable speak to us? How do we prepare ourselves to wait—during those times when we must above all, trust in the slow work of God? (or even in those times like in Newcomer’s song, we find ourselves “on hold trying to get a solution for our problem.” Do you remember those 5 practices of discipleship that I spoke to you about my first Sunday here? 1. Pray daily 2. Worship weekly 3. Serve joyfully 4. Learn constantly 5. Give generously Those are the ways that we prepare to wait. By practicing discipleship in those tangible ways all the time. One of the women at the Wednesday healing service who I talked to about this parable suggested, “What if we prayed during the times that we had to wait? We could pray for the person we were on hold with, pray for the doctor whose waiting room we were sitting in and prayed for the people waiting with us….” Over the next four weeks you are going to be hearing stories of transformation from your fellow parishioners-stories about how the people in their lives and the members of this parish have shaped and formed them as disciples of Jesus and have given generously and made a positive effect on these individual lives. I hope that these will inspire you to think about some of the questions they are answering for themselves and to reflect on how the mission and ministry of the people of St. Thomas and other communities you have been a part of have nurtured and helped you as you grow in your following of Jesus—what all of us baptized have been called to. And this week, I invite you to examine how you wait. And when you find yourself in a time or even a season of waiting, to choose one of the 5 practices of discipleship to engage with to help you “above all, trust in the slow work of God.” i. ii. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ excerpted from Hearts on Fire

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Sunday after All Saints' Day year A

The Sunday after All Saints’ Day Year A November 5, 2017 A letter to Hedges King upon the occasion of his baptism. Matthew 5:1-12 Dear Hedges, Today is a special day for three reasons. First, it is the day of your baptism, when your parents and godparents will accept for you that you are God’s beloved child, where you will be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and become a part of his body in this world and the next. Second, it is a day when we will renew our own baptismal promises and when we will remember these truths for ourselves once again. And third it is the Sunday after All Saints’ Day when we remember all the Saints who have come before us who continue to surround us and uphold us as fellow members of the body of Christ, who support us on our life-long journeys of following Jesus. Someone once wrote about the Saints that “the Saints were men and women who understood the challenge of living the gospel in the context of their own place and time. They are remembered because they lived it with imagination and devotion. They used what they had been given to live their lives into the freedom of the kingdom.”i “Living the challenge of the gospel with imagination and devotion” is truly the call of the Christian life that you begin this day, Hedges. And you begin it here with us because it will not be easy. And you will need us. And we will need you. So how do we live the challenge of the gospel with imagination and devotion? We hold fast to certain truths. That death is not the end, but a change, and it is not to be feared. That Jesus’s death and resurrection has proven, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything we can and will encounter in this life, even death. That God’s kingdom is real and present, transformative and active. That how we live our lives matters because we are the body of Christ in this world. That we need each other to remember and to be the body of Christ, the church in the world in every moment of every day. That God’s blessing are often found in places where we would never think to see or to look: in poverty, mourning, meekness, in a hunger and thirst for righteousness, in mercy, in peacemaking, and in persecution. That we, together, as the body of Christ, the church, can create and imagine a kingdom, here and now, where exercising mercy transforms violence, where the children of God are known by the way we make peace, and we can imagine and create a place where every member of the body of Christ can respond to others from a place of belonging and from the assurance of their belovedness. But this work, this life, is not easy. Which is why we do it together. Following the way of Jesus can be difficult and demanding and lonely, and we need each other desperately. We need each other to understand things which don’t make sense to us at the time and to see things that we can’t see on our own. We need each other to offer comfort when we mourn, to offer solace when we are heartbroken, to offer kindness when we are weary beyond measure, to offer mercy when we have gone astray. We will do this for you and your family, Hedges, and you will do it for us. That is a part of the promises that we all make this day. Because that’s how we do all this, Hedges, this living the challenge of Jesus’s good news with imagination and devotion. We do it together, and we do it by helping each other remember, over and over again that you are God’s beloved, marked as Christ’s own forever. We will help you remember when you are afraid. We will help you remember when you are angry. We will help you remember when you are joyful. We will help you remember when you feel you have lost your way. And you will do this for us. Because that is what it means to be the body of Christ in this world. I am so glad that you have joined us. God loves you, and I love you too. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i. Br. Robert L'Esperance in “Brother, Give us a Word” for November 1, 2017 from the Society of St. John the Evangelist

Sunday, October 29, 2017

21st Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 21A

21st Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25A October 29, 2017 This week, at bedtime, MM and I were talking about math. She’s really good at math and as we were discussing that she said to me, “You know, I guess math is really about learning the rules, learning the formulas, and then using that to do the work.” She made it sound so simple, so appealing. If only life were that simple. If only we could solve our problems by knowing the rules, the formula, and then applying it to solve. I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t what the lawyer is after in his questioning of Jesus: “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” And then Jesus gives him the formula—the Shema’ that is at the heart of the Jewish faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” If I can only follow one rule, which rule should I follow? Surely it can’t be that simple? Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. I want to tell you two stories that both have to do with love. The first is told by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski “On Love.” The Rabbi starts by telling a story told by another rabbi: “Love is a word that, in our culture, has almost lost its meaning. There’s a very interesting story....a rabbi came across a young man who was clearly enjoying a dish of fish that he was eating. And the rabbi said, ‘young man why are you eating that fish?’ He says, ‘because I love fish.’ ‘Oh, You love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water, killed it and boiled it.’ He said ‘don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and because the fish tastes good to you, therefore, you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’ So much of what is love, is ‘fish love.’ A young couple falls in love, what does that mean. It means he saw in this young woman someone who he felt could fulfill all his physical and emotional needs (and vice versa). Each one was looking out for their own needs. It’s not love for the other. The other person becomes a vehicle for my gratification. Too much of what is called love is ‘fish love’. An external love is not a love of what I’m gonna get but what I’m gonna give. …People make a serious mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love. The real answer is you love those to whom you give. And the point is if I give something to you, I’ve invested myself in you. And since self-love is a given, everybody loves themselves, now that part of me is now in you, there is part of me in you that I love. So true love is a love of giving not of receiving.” Back before I went to seminary, when I was working downtown at Stewpot, I was heavily influenced by my time spent in the daily chapel service at there, just before the noon meal. This service was open to anyone (but not required), so it was not uncommon for the congregation to be made up of other Stewpot employees like me, members of the homeless community who were coming to eat their one, sure meal of the day, elderly folk who couldn’t survive on their Social Security and came to eat a free meal to help stretch that money a little farther every month, adults with mental disabilities who lived in the area personal care homes and who were really looking for a safe community, and different members from Jackson-area churches who came to help serve the meal on that particular day—folks from law offices downtown, work-at-home moms who wanted to offer their time while their kids were at school, newly retired folks who were wrestling with finding new meaning and purpose in their lives. That chapel service was the most diverse community I have ever been a part of, truly a cross-section of humanity. And the chapel convener, a man named Don London, had an exercise that he liked to do during chapel (at least once a quarter). He would start chapel by quoting John 3:16 (the King James version): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And he would say it again: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And then he would say, “How many ‘whosoevers’ do I have in here today?” And the regulars, who knew the drill, would raise their hands quickly. But it would take the volunteers a little bit longer to figure it out. I’d see them look around the room, and tentatively raise their own hands, claiming their status as a “whosoever” too, until a hand from every person in the room was raised. And then Don would say, “This is what you need to remember, as you get ready to go out into the world. God loves you, and I love you too. God loves you, and I love you too. Now. Turn around. Shake your neighbor’s hand. Look him or her in the eye, and say it to them. ‘God loves you, and I love you too’.” And then he would wait for us to do it. And pretty soon, it would take on a life of itself. People were not content to just tell it to their immediate neighbors in that chapel, they wanted to say it to every person in that room: “God loves you, and I love you too.” And what I learned from Don and those people in that chapel is that it feels really good to look someone in the eye and to say to them, God loves you and I love you too. That is a love that isn’t “fish love.” It is a true love, giving of yourself to another because you are giving them your respect and recognizing the dignity of our common humanity, that each one of us is the beloved of God. So, your invitation today is to try this at the Peace, in this safe place. Instead of saying “Peace” to your neighbor today, take his or her hand, look that person in the eye and say, “God loves you, and I love you too.” And then think about that this week. Imagine how it would feel to say that to every person you come into contact with. God loves you. And I love you too. Amen. Rabbi Tweski's story can be watched here:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

20th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 24A

20th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 24A October 22, 2017 Last week, I spoke to you about your image of God and used as my refrain for the sermon a line that I read a while back: “We become like the God we adore.” I invited you over the past week to investigate what your image of God is and how that might affect you both positively and negatively. This week, I want us to continue to think about the image of God, as it relates to our readings for this week and as it relates to our lives. But first, I want you to take a bible out of your pew (when’s the last time you heard an Episcopal priest say THAT???). Turn to Genesis chapter 1 verse 26. This is the first creation story, when God brings order out of chaos over the course of 7 days. And when God goes to create humans, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” My friends, if that doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will. You were made in the image and likeness of God! Fast-forward to our gospel reading for today. We are reaching a tense crescendo in Matthew’s gospel. Over the past few weeks, we have watched Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly, turn over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and driven them out, and tell a series of increasingly more challenging parables with the Pharisees in his audience. So at this point in Matthew, the Pharisees are fed up and decide to plot to entrap Jesus. They form a conspiracy with the Herodians, who they normally don’t have anything to do with and concoct a plan for how they are going to back Jesus into a corner with the hope that the crowds will turn against him or he will say something heretical. And so they ask Jesus about paying the Imperial tax—the tax that the people of Israel had to pay to Rome that actually funded the Roman occupation of Israel. They couldn’t have picked a more contentious issue to try to trap Jesus with. But Jesus avoids the trap completely and turns the tables on them. He asks them, “Whose likeness is this, and what title?” And if they are paying attention then Jesus’ question can serve to point his listeners back to Genesis because it is the same word: ikon—image or likeness. Jesus turns the tables on those who would trap him by pointing back to the fact that humankind has been made in the image of God and by pointing to the fact that as a part of that, we are all called to acts of stewardship. Now. I suspect that some of you may be confused. Many of you, when you hear the word “stewardship” think of what the former stewardship officer of the Episcopal church, the late Terry Parsons, used to refer to as “the fall beg-athon.” But that is not what I mean when I say the word stewardship. (You will hear us refer to that season in the church year in the coming weeks as the Annual Fall commitment campaign which will start on November 12th and end on December 3rd and is named: Celebrate St. Thomas, Growing In Faith Together. But more on that in the coming weeks.) When I say the word stewardship, my understanding of that word is much bigger than a few weeks in the church year when we ask people to turn in pledge cards (although that is certainly one aspect of stewardship). Parsons’ had a very effective definition of the word stewardship that gets to the heart of this: “Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say ‘I believe.’” “Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say ‘I believe.’” If we believe that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, then how we live our lives, whether we are living out our potential as the image of God, how we interact with the world around us, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, how we care for creation, how we treat other people---all of that is stewardship and every bit of it is an opportunity to either live into our creation in the image and likeness of God or not. So this week, your invitation is two-fold. First, find some way to remind yourself --whether you jot it on a post-it note, or write it on your bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker--find some way to remind yourself: I am made in the image and likeness of God. Second, choose one area of your life—it can be when you spend money, when you spend your time, when you encounter strangers or when you encounter your family, it can be how you eat or drink or how you exercise—choose one area of your life and all throughout the week, ask yourself if what you are doing fulfills you in your having been created in the image and likeness of God or if it diminishes it. In closing, let us pray the collect for the Right Use of God's Gifts (BCP p 827). Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
i. Thanks to David Lose for this idea of connecting the gospel reading to Genesis 1:26.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A October 15, 2017 “We become like the God we adore.” I read this line many years ago in a book titled Good Goats: Healing our image of God. “We become like the God we adore.” We see this writ large in our Old Testament reading for today. The Children of Israel have become restless because Moses has been away for too long conversing with God and receiving the 10 Commandments. (A new translation that is closer and truer to the original Hebrew says it this way: “Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain…”) So the people rise against Aaron and challenge him to “make us a god who will go before us.” Because Moses has been absent from them for so long, the people begin to grow anxious and clamor for a god that they can see, who is physically present with them in Moses’ absence. Aaron acquiesces and makes them a golden calf or a young bull—modeled on a Canaanite symbol of fertility. And then they begin to revel before their newly minted fertility god. “We become like the God we adore.” Paul reminds the troubled community in Phillipi of this truth in this portion of the letter where he is addressing a conflict that he has learned about between two women--Euodia and Syntyche. He urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” and then he reminds the whole community of the virtues of Christ that we are all called to model and share: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “We become like the God we adore.” And in the gospel reading for today, we have another violent parable from Matthew’s stern Jesus. Many scholars are tempted to read the parable as an allegory with the king being God and Jesus being the bridegroom, but others are not so sure about this interpretation. What if Jesus is actually aligning himself more with the man at the wedding feast who is thrown out because he does not have the proper wedding garment? Well, that throws the whole parable into a totally different perspective. Then the violent king becomes aligned with those in Jesus’ day who are aligning themselves with the institutions of power. The Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill-Levine says that the parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If this is true and it is true that “we become like the God we adore” then what does this parable say about who we believe God to be? I want to share with you and extract from the book 'Good Goats - Healing our image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn. In this extract, Dennis is writing: I am half German. Although I don't want to stereo-type all Germans, like many of my ancestors I was born a self-righteous German. ... I saw all the mistakes and errors in every one but myself. For years I tried every kind of healing prayer in order to be rid of my self-righteousness. Although these prayers healed me of many things, my self-righteousness did not change. I often wondered why, when I prayed so hard, God did not heal me. Then one day, I noticed that my self-righteousness had nearly disappeared. Why, I asked, after so many years of struggle, was there suddenly and almost automatically such a wonderful change in my life? I changed when my image of God changed. Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom from early on we adore, even with all their faults. We may not realize that we also become like the God we adore. Unfortunately, the God I grew up adoring was German. My God was a self-righteous German who sat on his (at that time my God was all male) judgment throne. Being a self-righteous German, my God could see all the mistakes and errors in everyone else. If my self-righteous God did not like what he saw in others, he could even separate himself from them by sending them into hell. And if my God could be a self-righteous German, then no matter how many healing prayers I prayed, I would probably never change. I became like the God I adored. In every aspect of our lives, we become like the God we adore. One day Hilda came to me crying because her son had tried to commit suicide for the fourth time. She told me that he was involved in prostitution, drug dealing and murder. She ended her list of her son's "big sins" with, "What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to my son if he commits suicide without repenting and wanting nothing to do with God?" Since at the time my image of God was like Good Old Uncle George, I thought, "God will probably send your son to hell." But I didn't want to tell Hilda that. I was glad that my many years of theological training had taught me what to do when I don't know how to answer a difficult theological question: ask the other person, "What do you think?" "Well," Hilda responded, "I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell." Sadly, she concluded, "Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting, God would certainly send him to hell." Although I tended to agree with her, I didn't want to say, "Right on, Hilda! Your son would probably be sent to hell." I was again grateful for my theological training which taught me a second strategy: when you don't know how to solve a theological problem, then let God solve it. So I said to Hilda, "Close your eyes. Imagine that you are sitting next to the judgment seat of God. Imagine also that your son has died with all these serious sins and without repenting. He has just arrived at the judgment seat of God. Squeeze my hand when you can imagine that" A few minutes later Hilda squeezed my hand. She described to me the entire judgment scene. Then I asked her, "Hilda, how does your son feel?" Hilda answered, "My son feels so lonely and empty." I asked Hilda what she would like to do. She said, "I want to throw my arms around my son." She lifted her arms and began to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly. Finally, when she had stopped crying, I asked her to look into God's eyes and watch what God wanted to do. God stepped down from the throne, and just as Hilda did, embraced Hilda's son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son and God, cried together and held one another. God Loves Us at Least As Much As the Person Who Loves Us the Most. I was stunned What Hilda taught me in those few minutes is the bottom line of healthy Christian spirituality: God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. God loves us at least as much as Hilda loves her son or at least as much as [my family] love me.” “We become like the God we adore.” This week, I invite you to think about who you think God is, what you think God is like, and to ask yourself if there aspects of yourself you find you long to see change, that are part of the 'image of God' you live with and adore? (The excerpt and the part of the question come from

Thursday, October 5, 2017

18th Sunday after Penteocost-Proper 22A

18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A October 8, 2017 I’ve really wrestled with this violent parable on this particularly violent week. So I think the best thing for me to do with you today is to walk you through my wrestling with it as I pondered the question: “where is the good news for us in this gospel reading this week?” Full disclosure: some of my wrestlings have involved one very political statement made by another. I think you’ll see as I share my story with you of this week, that it’s important to my own wrestlings but in no way am I suggesting what you should think or believe on this complicated issue. (So try not to be anxious when you hear me start to talk about hot topics of the week.) I awoke on Monday morning, much like the rest of you, to hear the news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I read a couple of news reports that morning before coming to the office, and then I engaged with a couple of different things that are important to this conversation. First, I read a daily meditation written by my friend and fellow priest Carol Mead. (She sends these out daily under the heading of her blog Holy Ordinary and they are smart and thoughtful. The meditation for Monday was titled “In the shadows” and Carol writes about how a “recent article about an iconic image of Che Guevara lamented the loss of depth in seeing the man only through that one familiar image. The author wrote that the image encourages us to think of the human being without depth. He said it ‘provokes a sense of sadness’ and asked, ‘What is the consequence of this flattening emotion?’ Carol continues, “Much of our world today prefers that ‘flattening,’ a process of making everything binary: black and white; right and wrong; us and them. We fail to see the shadows that define real human beings; the nuances of doubt, fear, or joy. We find comfort and convenience in labels, because they save us the work and trouble of seeing the multiple dimensions of our fellow human beings.”i Not too long after I read Carol’s thoughtful meditation, I read a post by a college friend of mine on Facebook. Her post first thing Monday morning said “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” This made me deeply sad, and I wanted to comment on it and say to her, Dear Friend, I love you and I respect your opinion. And I also love my husband, who is a member of the NRA.” I wanted to tell her about how when the NRA would call us with some sort of poll or another, my husband would engage the caller in conversation and tell the caller why he had trouble with the way that certain questions were phrased and the way that the poll or the conversation was skewed. I wanted to tell her that my husband struggles with being a member of the NRA but that he feels that it is the best way for him to be a part of the conversation-from within the organization. I wanted to tell her about my friend Carol’s article about flattening, about how we do that sort of violence to each other all the time now and that it tearing the fabric of our communities and our common life just as certainly as other acts of horror and violence. But I didn’t. I just kept scrolling and going about my day. Then, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at our weekly healing service. I read a meditation to that group that talked about how Francis opted out of the systems of his day, much like Jesus did.ii And that’s really what Jesus’s parable is about this week. It’s about all of us, about the systems that we find ourselves trapped in, about ridiculous, nonsensical violence; and about the dangers of simplistic, dualistic, flattened thinking. The good news that I found this week is that we are not trapped. We can opt out of the system—just like Francis, just like Jesus. And I don’t think it even needs to be such a dramatic sort of opting out of the system as they both practiced. It can start with one small step in our individual and family lives. Because there are so many ways that we all participate in systems of violence—ways that we do harm to ourselves and each other: the flattening out of each other that Carol wrote about—both individuals and groups; the glorification of busy-ness in our own lives and the lives of our children; the 24 hour news cycle that serves to raise our anxiety; our addictive culture around food, alcohol, and buying things. There are small ways we can opt out of participating in these things and others in our systems that do violence to ourselves and others, and in that we will find the freedom of Jesus, the freedom of Francis. So, your challenge this week is to look at your life and to choose one practice that you feel burdens your heart or does violence to your soul. Examine this practice, and imagine how God might be inviting you too live that differently. As a companion on this journey, I invite you to pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It is collect #62 in the BCP on page 833. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. i. The Rev. Carol Mead. Holy Ordinary post for October 2, 2017 titled In the shadows. ii. Sam Portaro’s meditation on Francis of Assisi (October 4) in his book Brightest and Best