Monday, December 24, 2007

everything must change

Brian McClaren's latest attempt to cast a vision for the emergent church movement towards social justice is a good start. Though, like most of his books he stops short of the end of the run way, I must admit he comes closer than any of his previous works of actually taking off. As a friend of my said, "He must have gotten bored before he finished."

His personal research through travel is undeniably powerful and allows him to make some provocative demands of the Evangelical circles to whom he is preaching. His exegesis is insightful at times. Though, I must admit, I prefer Stanley Hauerwas' socialist perspectives on the gospel to be more compelling. The evidence of McClaren's research is quite evident and extremely useful. This book is an excellent resource.

I found his treatment of the Millennium Development Goals to be rather dismissive and I was troubled by that. I will admit to my bias in that I believe the Episcopal Church is making a good effort at making this a real goal for the local church.

The format is excellent for a book study, which he intends, including questions at the end of each chapter. I find it impossible to imagine a study going on for thirty-four weeks (the number of chapters) - but the eight sections seem reasonable. I intend to lead a young adult group in such a study.

While the book is worth the read, the price of hard back will keep some young adults from reading it and I find that unfortunate. For those of you who can afford it - it's worth the time and money.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

God doesn't care about baseball

Rockies General Manager, Daniel O’Dowd, stated in a recent news article that God definitely had a hand in the Rockies winning streak at the end of the season. That is pure religion drivel. What in the world is this guy thinking? That is absolutely the worst kind of theology imaginable. The real problem with it is that more people in America probably agree with him than don’t.

Popular theology, especially that of Evangelicals and religious conservatives has offered this notion of prosperity gospel for too long in this country. If O’Dowd or anyone else thinks that God cares about the outcome of a baseball game or a baseball season then answer me this question. If God really cares about that then why doesn’t God care enough to prevent Clint Hurdles’ daughter, Maddie, from being Prader-Willi, a random birth defect caused by the deformity of chromosome 15?

I don’t think God caused Maddie to be a Prader-Willi anymore than I think God caused my sister, Dinah, to be a Prader-Willi. It’s random and rarely happens. Just as rare as a team as poor as the Rockies winning 21 or their last 22 games coinciding with the collapse of the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets, both much better teams who would have had a better chance against the Red Sox. Actually I doubt if the National League All-Stars could beat the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Angels or even the Indians.

I do think that God deeply cares about Maddie, Clint Hurdle, Dinah, my parents and each individual person who walks across the face of the this earth. God cares enough to take the risk that we will care back without being manipulated. God cared enough to want to understand our trials and tribulations to come into this world and risk being born in a first century out post. God cared enough to live and die as one of us. This is the care and empathy of God. God cares and understands.

While I would have to say that God has the freedom to be God and to manipulate the flight of a baseball if God wanted to – but nothing in this world suggests that that is so.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bishop of South Carolina

The Rev. Mark Lawerence was elected Bishop of South Carolina. This was the diocese' second try at electing Lawerence. The first election was declared null and void by The Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Shori because Lawerence didn't receive the necessary majority approval from Standing Committees around the Episcopal Church. Lawerence was recently re-elected. He was the only candidate on the second ballot. This time he did receive a majority of approvals from Standing Committees. In both elections he received the required majority votes from Bishops.

It appeared that Lawerence did not get the needed consents the first time because he had publicly committed himself to leading the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church if he was elected. After not receiving the necessary consents he changed, sort of, his public statements.

I serve on the Standing Committee for the Diocese of Arizona. Our Standing Committee did not give consent to Lawerence's election after either election. I will admit that I did sign the consent form on the first election using the rationale that if South Carolina wanted Lawerence for their Bishop, then they should get what the want. If they want to leave the Episcopal Church well I guess that's their perogative. Though I strongly disagree with their motives, reasons and their theology - as a group if they want to have this kind of leadership, well, I guess then they should get what they want.

However, I didn't sign the second consent form because of Lawerence's changed public statements. I do believe that over time and with great effort and consideration that people can and do and should change their minds about all kinds of topics, thoughts, ideas, opinions and decisions - however, over night, when the motive seems so obvious- I doubt that serioiusly. It seems to make a mockery of the process. And process is what the Episcoapl Church is all about. So like Lawerence I changed my position.

The Episcopal Church is an open place that has room for a lot of opinions at the table. Lawerence and I are probably at opposite ends of the table theologically and probably every other way as well. It would be very sad and an expensive waste of money that could be used for mission efforts or the MDG's if the Diocese of South Carolina were to attempt to leave the Episcopal Church - of course, they can't leave, or better yet, can't take what belongs to the Episcopal Church, the people can leave, I guess - but, still, it would cause so much pain. We do, though, support diversity and dialogue which often strains the idea of holding hands around the table. But, we will see in this case.

It was at least comforting to see that the Diocese of South Carolina has invited the Presiding Bishop to visit the Diocese so that they can make clear their "theology." It wasn't clear whether they were inviting her to be at Lawerence's consecration. The language in the most recent press release seems to indicate that they do intend to remain in the Episcopal Church.

The business of the Episcopal Church is risky and complex business. I take being on the Standing Committee very seriously. I think it is my responsibility to represent our Diocese and not just my own opinions - which change, like Lawerence's did - so I guess we have some things in common, though, not much. I pray it is enough to at least keep us standing around the table - probably not holding hands, though.

Friday, October 26, 2007

God at the Pita Jungle

Peregrini took a field trip type pilgrimage evening to the Pita Jungle in Tempe - the Pita Jungle is a popular place to eat in Tempe, the food is good, the atmosphere is amenable to conversation and the price is reasonable. It's not our normal Peregrini hangout, but its a familiar place to most who show up for our weekly conversation.

Our topic this week was, "where is God? in the inconveniences of life?" Funny thing, that conversation never appeared. Which, is what a good Peregrini is all about - following the natural trend of what is on our minds and what is troubling our souls. We struggled with some national political issues as well as some local leaders who are trying to grab the headlines. We talked about various religious issues. The group encouraged one another in our efforts to be good stewards of the earth and to love our neighbors by feeding and clothing the most needy in the Tempe area. Jeff and Caroline are having a "Cool People Care" party. Its a unique movement of young adults, check it out.

What is most heartening about our conversation is that in it we find the ability to tease one other, love one another, care about one another - we are a community. A community that has room in it for new ideas, difference of opinions and those who care to join us on the walk.

if you are in the Tempe (larger Phoenix) area you are welcomed to join us - we meet regularly every Thursday, 7 pm, at St. Augustine's on the corner of Broadway and College (two blocks south of ASU). We always have a good (free) meal and the conversation - well, it could go anywhere, though I will admit I never remember talking about Elvis' appearance - but, who knows.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What happened to the Diamondbacks?

The Diamondbacks looked great against the Cubs, but what happened when they played the Rockies. Two things I guess. One is the Rockies were red hot (not so against the Red Soxs last night). The second is the Dbacks played like the youthful rookies they are - they made the mistakes young players make. They over ran bases, made assumptions about umpires calls and played tight when they got behind.

What does any of that have to do with God? Nothing. And that may be the best point. Life brings lots of circumstances to us that are out of our control and equally it brings things to us we can control with maturity. To blame God for thing outside the control of the world, in other words to blame God for evil in the world or reasonable people who make bad decisions, is to want to believe in Santa Claus, not God. As well, it is equally immature not to accept responsibility for our own actions and those things we can control - like the decisions we make.

Blaming God strangles the opportunity to mature. If the Dbacks want to be better they will have to recognize their mistakes and work on them to become mature players.

I think maybe the Cubs are on to something - wait till next year. I just hope it isn't 99 years before the Diamondbacks win the World Series again. If it is, well, I'll still be a fan (from the lap of God, of course).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

God and baseball 2

Oh the pain of the Cubs. Oh the suffering of another loss. At a point anyone who embraces an attempt to understand God can empathize with Cub fans - longsuffering. It's so hard to watch. Admittedly, I am a Diamondback fan - but, still, in all truth, my heart goes out to the billy goat.

Of course, it really couldn't have gotten any worse when on Friday night the Diamondbacks were making their way to a sure victory but still within psychological reach of the Cubbies. A break? Dbacks shortstop Stephen Drew was hit by a pitch and started to take first base. Wait a minute - the umpire said Drew didn't attempt to avoid the pitch - the umpire evoked a rarely enforced rule and ordered Drew back to the plate, where he promptly hit a home run on the next pitch. Doomed once again.

And what does God have to say about that? As usual, God is silent. God is a suffering God, suffering in silence. Somehow we can relate, though we wish it were different. We would really like God to be more like a white knight God or a Santa Claus God or a miracle worker God - instead, God is a suffering God. Cub fans seems to understand oh so well.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

God and baseball

I Was physically present to watch Cub fans in Phoenix wretch as their beloved losers, lost yet again. Kissing the Billy Goat? Pucker up. At Chase Field in Phoenix we had several Cub fans sitting around us. They were sharing stories of how much they paid for their tickets, $100 a seat, $150, $250, that’s a lot of money. I didn’t mention that my dad is a season ticket holder and paid the face value of $40. Oh yea, he gave me the tickets. I wondered to myself about the value of capitalism. Of course I also wondered about my own ethics of reveling in the joy of watching Cub fans once again squirm as they watched their hapless team struggle for the 99th year. As one blog suggests, God is a Cubs fan – God must be – God is all about suffering and who suffers more than the Cubs? Actually, I have a theory that the Cubs are losers by design – for them losing is profitable – the theory eases my guilt over feelings pains of capitalism. I’m a socialist and think Christians are socialist by the nature of Jesus’ teaching. Profit sharing is good for baseball because its a good socialist practice – and God must be in there somewhere.

Making it to second base with God and other musing from the dashboard light – I read a blog titled “God hates Cleveland sports.” Not! Cleveland just beat the Yankees in the bottom of the 11th and how did they do it? Canadian Soldier bugs that came in from the lake caused Joba Chamberlain to throw two wild pitches in the 7th inning – otherwise the Indians would have lost. Canadian Soldier bugs have a life of 48 hours. They actually hatched early because of the warm humid day in Cleveland. They showed up in the 8th inning because the wind died down. Sounds like Moses and the plagues on Pharaoh. Remember that? Yeah, gnats that swarmed the people forcing the oppressor to re-think long term slavery and captivity. The Yankees as oppressors? Cleveland the chosen people of God? Well I don’t know about the chosen people of God but clearly the Yankees and their oppressive “Boss” with too much capitalistic money lives in the house of Pharaoh. God hate Cleveland? He just sent the Canadian Soldiers as your savior.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

God? Praying for peace?

It seems more difficult each day to pray for peace when the possibility of it is so remote. World leaders grapple with the political nuances of the needs of their own kingdoms while refusing to make decisons based on the economy of the absence of global conflict. Is peace in the world possible? Is peace within my own life possible?

Our Peregrini group wrestled with these questions. Prompted by our weekly prayer for peace and all peacemakers, we also struggled with our responsibility to be prophets and activists for peace. Do we support political leaders who advocate otherwise? What does it mean to "support" a political leader? Vote? What about working to overthrow a government? Here, there, anywhere?

Somehow keeping these questions in the context of a God conversation become confusing or at least troubling. Are we Americans first or Christians first? Surely they are not one in the same - but what happens when the objectives of one flys in the face of the other? These are questions that weighed heavy on our weekly discussion.

"We pray for continued blessings on all peacemakers, on leaders who value peace, and on everyone who promotes nonviolent solutions to conflict. We pray for a speedy end to all violence and warfare around the world."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

God? You could at least remember her name

Elvira Arellano captured our attention last week. About a year ago she was taken in Sanctuary by Alberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. Elvira and her eight year-old son, Saul, lived in the church for just over 12 months.

Elvira is an undocumented alien who was working at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where she cleaned airplanes to support the two of them. Her son is a US citizen. The church supported her in an attempt to prevent her from being deported.

This last week, while traveling between churches in Los Angeles where she was speaking about the plight of undocumented aliens, she was arrested. She was deported to Tijuana the next day.

Our Peregrini centered upon the role of the Church (if any) in providing sanctuary for those who seek it. The conversation covered a wide range of possibilities whereby some might seek sanctuary. While no resolution was derived there was lively debate about the legitimacy of someone who has committed a crime seeking solace under the grace of the church.

The most stunning part of the evening came after the official conversation while we cleaning up. When we started the evening I apologized for not being able to remember this woman’s name. While we were cleaning up Tyler reminded me that her name is Elvira. He told me he had heard lots of conversation about this topic on talk-radio. One commentator couldn’t remember the woman’s name and he remarked, “it doesn’t really matter.” Tyler said it does matter because without a name and face we can forget that we are talking about real people with hurts and pains just like ours. Thanks for reminding me Tyler and I pray not to forget Elvira and her Saul.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

God? Double Dipping

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding said in a recent Christian Century article titled "Episcopal Priest who embraced islam suspended for a year" that she is both Muslim and Christian. "I'm both an American of African descent and a woman. I'm 100 percent both. At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That's all I need." Redding told her story to the Seattle times in June.

Her Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, suspended her for a year to "reflect on the doctrines of Christian faith and her vocation as a priest." Wolf states that he sees "the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam."

Our Peregrini discussion divided the conversation into several parts.

First, no one thought any bishop would take such an action against a lay person. Some of our group doubted that some bishops would even take a similar action against some priests that they suspicion might have similar leaning, or at least embrace another religion like Buddhism.

Second, there was some serious conversation given to the idea that the priest, as an employee of the church and having taken vows of holy orders has an obligation to be one who "proclaims the gospel." However, it was pointed out that it would be hard to find any priest that weren't in violation of such canons. Who would be the keeper of the "orthodoxy?" Would we be heading to more inquistions?

Third, some made the point, "who really cares?" Until religion can get over itself and begin understanding itself as all a part of One Holy God and not holy apostolic and catholic Church, it will be at the root of conflict and even war. Because we may not be able to accommodate The Rev. Redding, we probably are driving others who are eclectic in faith, away from the church as a whole. Just another form of fundamentalism? What do you think?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Theology on Tap:Does God Happen to Everyone?

Theology on Tap - Does God Happen to Everyone?

The Rev. Kate Bradley led our pilgrims in a troubling conversation. Kate is always open and personal. She told us about her childhood experience of being encountered by a very tangible God. It was the beginning of her journey that has led her to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. But, the question was, does everyone have this kind of experience and if not, why not?

Carole offered the story of a 50 year-old friend who has lived a prayerful and disciplined life, hoping and longing for Kate’s kind of spiritual contact with God. Carole’s friend wants to feel that God loves him and knows him personally. Is that too much to ask? Her friend lives in the continued agony of aching for an experience that he has no hope will happen.

The conversation focused on the friend. Maybe he just hasn’t contexted his own experience in such a fashion that he could quantify such an existential moment? Maybe God has offered such an experience and he just hasn’t known it? Or felt it? Maybe it will happen?

We were told that in the book What Ever Happened to the Soul? by Warren Brown and Nancy Murphy that neuroscience suggests that the brain is either wired for spiritual experience or it is not. Spiritual experience, visions, can be provoked by neuro-stimulus. Maybe her friend just isn’t “properly wired.”

In all honestly that viewpoint was heartily argued against. Not necessarily from a scientific perspective but from the point of the limitations of the unseen God.

It was suggested that her friend had every right to beseech God about God’s absence. The Psalms are full of those crying out to God to be fully present to the experience of humanity.

We were told about Sister Theresa who lived her life without any ecstatic experience of God. She simply chose to live a life of daily obedience and service.

Obviously we didn’t come to any conclusions – we just shared lots of ideas and personal stories. Join in the conversation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pilgrimage 27 days without email

Pilgrimage 27 days without email.

Just finished a 27 day pilgrimage in Ireland. I walked about 100 miles the first 10 days. The remainder of the trip was spent using various forms of transportation across Ireland. With walking always being the best way to see into the soul.

The anticipation of the experience made it difficult for me to be present here. My soul wanted to travel across the water before my body could leave Arizona. Once in Ireland the attention to intentional presence was easy to give in to.

Initially I didn’t intend to ignore my email. Figuring it would be inconvenient, I just thought I would sit down once a week and pick through the mail. Computers were available in most everyplace we stayed and every town we walked through. The first few days I was just too tired to care about it. Then the longer I didn’t check it the more intent I became on staying away from it. I never checked my email or even used a computer for 27 days. Actually I rarely used a phone. Each day I felt the better for the detachment.

At one point I entertained the thought of simply giving up my computer and email once I would return home. Obviously, I didn’t do that. But, in some sense I have made some serious decisions about my use of the internet and email.

When walking I was able to see things I could not have seen otherwise. Some because we were in the forest and walking was the only way to get where we were. Some though was simply because in walking we had the time to stop and look at new born sheep, wind toppled trees, perched hawks, long forgotten ruins and to talk to pilgrims traveling in the opposite direction. Life at three, two or one mile an hour has a much different view.

Walking pilgrimage has affected my prayer life and slowed down my work pace. Praying without ceasing seems more plausible and multi-tasking feels obscene. Taking a picture is good. Drawing pictures causes for reflection. Prose tells stories. Poetry tells the soul.

Our host and Good Samaritan in Roundwood told me that he had to scroll down to read my posts and sermons they were too long – it takes away from the walking.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Peregrini looks at the next journey

Peregrini, pilgrims on the spiritual journey, keep journals, look for signs and try to ascertain if the direction is one being of being fetched. Never wanting to plod along with our heads down, we scan the landscape, ever intentional, looking for new possibilities. Experiences that provoke the spirit.

Our intenitional Peregrini gathering has been built around the premise that the question is more important than the answer. "God?" has been the beginning or our conversation for almost three years. Our intentions are that this open ended possibility continue.

After a night of serious conversation about the next stage of journey, fellow Peregrini came to the point of looking for where that next leg might be. Without changes the strengths of Peregrini, the open ended questions, the meal, the freedom to drop in and out, we have added some sign posts for the journey.

First, we will meet every Thursday at 7:00 pm. Second, we will meet at St. Augustine's on Broadway and College. This venue affords us a more comfortable setting, easy access to the kitchen and a consistent evening of gathering. While holding to our hour and half format we intend to add some features which should make the experience even more experimental for the explorer.

We will begin our new format and location on August 2. Our last gathering at Fair Trade Cafe will be June 7. The topic will be "God? What am I looking for?"

Thanks to Fair Trade Cafe who has been a gracious host for the past three years. We appreciate your hospitality. Most of us will still drop by and visit you on a regular occasion.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

St. Brigid's Community


St. Brigid’s Community is a gathering of people who are committed to creating a pattern for their lives. This pattern includes the many facets of the prayer and practice of our Christian walk. The pattern of this community is one that is like being on a pilgrimage. Like being on a long walk that is more about the journey than the destination.

This pilgrimage is centered on monastic prayer. Monastic prayer is rhythmic. We pray daily. The Daily Office of The Book of Common Prayer informs our daily prayer life. This rhythmic prayer forms within the individual a merciful and a peaceful life.
Those of us in St. Brigid’s Community don’t live in a monastery. We strive to create a monastic-like experience for those who live near and far from our location. Hence, the name, “neo-monastic.” “Neo” meaning that we are people who live in the world yet have a deep yearn to be in a prayerful community; this is a new way to form this prayerful community.

If you are connected to St. Brigid’s Community in any way, through our worship services, the website, or Peregrini, you are probably aware of the brief history available about St. Brigid, patron saint of Ireland. There are numerous websites dedicated to providing as much information as might be available pertaining to our chosen saint.

The reasons that St. Brigid was chosen as the guide and model for our community are four fold; 1) As an ordained woman she gave leadership to her community, 2) that community was established as the first monastery for both men and women, 3) while being true to her Celtic history she embraced Christianity, and 4) she served the poor of her community.
At St. Brigid’s Community we look to her as our model. We respect and support the ordained leadership of women. Our community is both for women and men. We hold to the importance of indigenous religious faith and the inclusion of all of God’s creation into our community. And we seek to serve Christ in the poor.

We exist as a neo-monastic community. This means that though we do not have a monastery. We instead exist in the world. While we do gather regularly in services for Eucharist and prayer at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe, Arizona, many of the members of St. Brigid’s Community live outside our community and are not able to attend these gatherings. (Some live in other States or are abroad.)

To be part of St. Brigid’s Community we ask that you follow these simple practices.
First, write a letter to the elected prior of the community stating your desire to join. In your letter you should tell us why you want to be a member of the community.

Second, as a part of the letter please make a statement of your commitment to these practices: 1) to be under regular spiritual direction, 2) that under the guidance of your spiritual director you will be writing your own Rule of Life following the pattern of Benedictine Spirituality, 3) you will either pray with us in person or on your own for morning prayers or evening prayers each Tuesday 4) you will join us in the daily practice of reading The Benedictine Rule written by Joan Chittister and 5) you will join us or some other community for weekly Eucharist.

We have chosen to model our rule of life after that established by St. Benedict. It is one of the oldest and most widely used rules still today. Its beauty is in its simplicity and flexibility. Reading Chittister’s interpretation of the Benedictine Rule make it applicable for lives lived in the twenty-first century.

A personal rule should reflect the desire of the heart to live a Christian life that serves Christ and the world. Each person, with the guidance of a spiritual director, develops his or her own rule.

And finally, after receiving affirmation of your intention, you will be considered an aspirant for the community of St. Brigid. For a period of at least six months we will pray with you as you seek to follow and possibly modify your own rule. Following the six-month period you will be asked to write the community a letter reviewing your progress and restating your desire to become a member of St. Brigid’s Community. Establishing yourself as a member of St. Brigid’s Community is something you will want to consider prayerfully as it will change and form for your life for years to come.

The community will review your letter and communicate with you acceptance into St. Brigid’s Community. Hopefully in person, or via the Internet you will be accepted as a member. Members are given a St. Brigid’s Community cross that they may wear.

Member’s will continue their Rule and prayer practice as well as commit to praying for the St. Brigid’s Community each day and making a contribution to the work of serving Christ in the poor. That contribution will be of your own choosing and location. You may contribute to the work at St. Brigid’s Community in Tempe but that is not required.

We will be in prayer with you as you consider becoming a member of St. Brigid’s Community and we look forward to hearing from you.

You can contact us via this blog or at or by writing to St. Augustine's Episcopal Parish 1735 S. College Ave. Tempe, AZ 85281 - you can check out our website at or or

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday 2007

Got an email from someone yesterday asking me what was acceptable to “give up” for Lent? That’s the usual question isn’t it? What am I going to give up this year?

The better question may be to ask why do I want to give up whatever it is I am going to sacrifice. Well, I could give up eating dessert. Besides, by giving up dessert I could kill two birds with one stone – make a sacrifice and lose weight all at the same time. I’m going to give up eating chocolate, or stop smoking, or quit drinking. All good things to stop doing and all for good reasons.

At some point, though, it almost sounds like a New Year’s resolution. Of which, I recall, few of us ever wind up keeping.

What I pray is that the season of Lent is more meaningful than making some temporary sacrifice. My hope is that Lent can be a place where we can lay some things aside so that there might be some space in our lives for God to create formation within us. Let me offer three suggestions for creating space in our lives.

First, simplicity. The spiritual life is best lived in simplicity. But, living in our world in a simple manner is really difficult. Most of us would probably like to live simpler lives but we also have to acknowledge that that might not be possible. I don’t have any easy answers.

A few years ago, a friend suggested to me that every day I leave the house with either something to throw away or give away. It does make me mindful of the amount of just “stuff” that I have. Simplify, my friend told me.

Slowing down, taking time to breathe, taking a long slow walk, cleaning out the garage, all things that can help us simplify our lives.

Simplifying my life can create space in it for God to do God’s work of forming me and molding me into a useful vessel. A vessel that can serve others.

Second, solidarity. Besides being a time of “giving up,” Lent can also be a time of giving. Being in solidarity with someone or a cause that needs our help. It might be an organization that could use some of our time. Maybe a neighbor needs us to fix them dinner or mow their lawn. Possibly someone in our family needs our attention. By being in solidarity with someone in need, we are ministering to our Lord Jesus. Jesus tells that when we minister to least of these we are ministering to Jesus.

Finally, community. When we gather in community we strengthen and encourage one another. We all need the community to come along aside us and walk with us as we journey through the season of Lent. Walking by ourselves is lonely and we can lose our way, but by joining hands with one another we can be assured that we will make our way out of the desert of Lent.

What’s acceptable to give up for Lent? That’s a really good question that takes some time to ponder and pray over. Whatever you decide, I pray that you can create a little extra space for God to do some work. The Lord be with you and those to whom you serve and love.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Saint Brigid

February 1st is the celebration of the feast of St. Brigid. Second only to St. Patrick, she is one of the most venerated saints of Ireland. She lived in Kildare in the late 5th and early 6th century. Many legends and tales have emerged from this era which has little documented history. Some have suggested that much of what is known about her is the blended stories of Celtic Christianity.

As best as can be known she was someone who cared deeply for the poor. She started and led a monastery for both men and women; something obviously quite rare. She also may have the first female bishop. Though, possibly ordained as such by accident, she still managed the monastic community with the authority of a bishop.

What is important for the community around which many of us gather here in Tempe, Arizona is that we hold up St. Brigid as someone to model. A woman who led a monastic community of women and men. She provided episcopal leadership for her community that existed to serve and care for the poor of Kildare.

It is this model that reveres and respects the leadership of women in communities of women and men that we admire. Especially Christian communities that exist to serve others. We seek to emulate her Celtic understandings of prayer and practice. And we desire to call others into this experience with us.

In the next few months we will begin reaching out to create St. Brigid's Community. It will be a group of people who may meet regularly to worship, prayer and serve together - as well, it will be nourished by those who can not meet regularly with us but instead are a part of internet community.

St. Brigid's Community will be Benedictine and follow the Rule of Life. We will pattern ourselves after St. Brigid's monastery of women and men. We seek to worship, pray and serve.

If you're interested in such a community check back here and then let me know and I will send along more specific information. The Lord be with you.

Oh yes, how could I forget - St. Brigid said, or at least some believe she said, that paradise would be to find God and all the saints in a huge lake of beer. Well tonight, celebrate as a saint with Brigid and all the saints and have a cold one.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Santa Barbara Writer's Workshop

My brain is on fire. Fueled by Nora Gallagher, Barbara Brown Taylor and the hospitality of Mt. Calvary Monastery. Six days of uninterrupted writing. Seminars conducted by two gifted women who have earned the right to critique and mentor. Daily bathed in the rhythmic prayers of the Brothers of the Mt. Calvary Monastery. If this is heaven then I’m pitching a tent.

The Louisville Institute selected twenty writers. Each writer has published. All came with a hunger for spiritual writing. The group was ecumenical, Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed. The occupations varied, non-profit, consultant, professor, professional writer, and clergy. The group was eclectic. However not ethnically diverse; this is puzzling and troubling.

Nora Gallagher has authored Things Seen and Unseen and Practicing Resurrection. She has a first novel arriving in bookstores Changing Light. Barbara Brown Taylor has authored several books her latest being Leaving Church. Having read all but Nora’s new novel I find their work models of how to question the church while still loving it. Their writing inspires readers both those in and out of the church.

We were challenged to approach writing with the same reverence and discipline of a spiritual practice. The daily exercise of writing expects its own attention. Told to forget everything we learned in school about writing, we were liberated to begin to think creatively. I was surprised how exhausted I was at the end of each day.

Gallagher is edgy, direct, precise and thorough. She listens with piercing eyes. She speaks with long fingers. Her cautious smile is tempered by the turns in life’s labyrinth.

Religious clichés are screens against reality, Nora warned us. They are dangerous because of their use by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Reality, she said, lies behind the cliché. Writing must come out of an experience generated through the body. Provoked, writers must continually ask themselves, “What is this story really about.” Understanding the difference between circumstance and story will bring life to words.

Taylor’s twenty years of priestly ministry can be seen in her gaze. She laughs at herself easily. Her subtle accent softens provocative words. Her gentle southern manner lowers defenses long enough for stories to find their exact mark.

Among Barbara’s offering were four steps and four tools for the scientific act of creativity. Preparation, incubation, illumination and translation comprise the process. Some of the tools include being aware of creativity already possessed, binding the internal critic, attending to detail and releasing of the inexhaustible curiosity.

Both presenters had the focused scope of memoir. Each has experience with other genre, however, little time was set aside for those discussions.

The participants brought a 2500 word piece. Our work was shared, reviewed, and critiqued. We each had the opportunity for a private consult with our teachers. The two made themselves regularly available for questions and counsel. Their energy and love for their craft is contagious.

I left the seminar with new confidence in my writing. Gaining an understanding of my weaknesses and now feeling I have the tools to improve. I now have a colony of compadres who will encourage and question. This allows me to venture into unexplored areas of interest. Most importantly, I am in better touch with my writing. The new found relationship has released the inner self onto the page.

Humbled by the breaking of bread with the community. Nourished by sharing communion with new friends. Pushed to move outside of comfort zones. My prayer is that the fire in my brain will burn continually. Burning incense that will rise into the images of the reader.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The situation and the story

I'm here at the Mt. Calvary Monastary emersed in the Writer's Workshop with Nora Gallagher and Barbara Brown Taylor. My brain is on fire. My soul is raw, exposed on the ledge. The winds are blowing intensely at the mouth of the canyon. And the Spirit is equally carving on my stone exterior to reveal the part of me that needs to escape and be known.

Nora asked us the defeaning question, "what is your story about?" The situation is the event. It's the diary I keep each day describing life's circumstances. The story however lies between the lies, sometimes more obvious than others. Her example was Moby Dick. The situation is a man on the hunt of a whale. The story is obsession.

Our exercise, simple and unassuming, was to write for five minutes about our favorite dessert. So here goes. I'll share my little story with you.

my favorite dessert

My favorite dessert is a handful of EL Fudge cookies and a glass of Jamieson. Somehow they go so well together. Particularly after a day of hospitals and existential crisis brought on by demons seen and unseen, the pleasure of chocolate icing in a vanilla cookie with aged whiskey eases the evils of the world back into a corner where the gate can be closed at least long enough to sleep for a few hours. And when the hours before cookies and milk have pushed against my anger button by some asshole of proportion only equal to their own shitness, well, biting the heads off of some unsuspecting elf downed with a straight shot kicks the ass of that fucking bastard that much the better.

Ok, there it is. Situation and story.

Barbara gave tips on how to bind the critic. Free writing, free association, writing without editing, having a dialogue with your critic, all of these techniques are intended to free the writer from their own worst enemy - the critic who lies within all writers. We need the critic; to determine if we are speaking to the audience. Most importantly writers need to be in an open relationship with their critic. Easier to write than to do. Hopefully, this week, my critic went home for awhile and left me to my own worst end and best writing.

I have, I believe done of some of my best work this week. Time will tell. More later.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Monastary & Writing

I'm sitting in a windowed room at Mt. Calvary Monastary in Santa Barbara, CA. It's on a hill overlooking the city and now I can see the lights not only of the city but of ships on the ocean. Santa Barbara faces the south which means you can see the sun rise and set over the ocean from this location. That is a metaphor for life at the monastary and for being at this writer's workshop.

Nora Gallagher, author of Things Seen and Unseen and Practicing Resurrection, and Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church, are the guides for the week. Sponsored by the Louisville Institute and funded by a Lily Grant, the workshop has gathered 20 published writers for a focus on spiritual writing. I feel privileged to have been invited and humbled by my collegues.

Several of the attendees have published multiple volumes, some in their academic field, other memoirs and journalistic pieces. The intent is to provide writer's with an opportunity to enhance the depth of their writing by being able to enact in a writer's colony setting.

The monastary is Benedictine and Anglican. The monks pray the hours, Lauds, Noon Day, Vespers and Compline, inviting their guests to join them at each worship experience. They operate the monastary as a retreat house. They grow most of their own vegetables, provide a large library, sell books and coffee.

Each day we are given large blocks of time to write. We review each others work and have consultations with our two leaders. Both offer daily sessions intended to connect us with our writing. Getting lost in one's writing is easy. This is a gift. I intend to make well use of the lessons learned.

As the week proceeds I will post some of the comments and ideas that Gallagher and Brown are sharing with us.