Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Evolution of God: No Smiting

There is a book review on THE EVOLUTION OF GOD By Robert Wright at the NY Times.

A couple of excerpts:

God has mellowed. The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate. In his brilliant new book, “The Evolution of God,” Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up.


So I share Wright’s wonder at how nicely everything has turned out. But I don’t see how this constitutes an argument for a divine being. After all, even if we could somehow establish definitively that moral progress exists because the universe was jump-started by a God of Love, this just pushes the problem up one level. We are now stuck with the puzzle of why there exists such a caring God in the first place.

Also, it would be a terribly minimalist God. Wright himself describes it as “somewhere between illusion and imperfect conception.” It won’t answer your prayers, give you advice or smite your enemies. So even if it did exist, we would be left with another good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there would be a divine being. The bad news is that it’s not the one that anyone is looking for.
You can read the whole review by Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, here.

(It would be more interesting for me to see a review by someone who does believe in God...)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This I Believe: Be Cool to the Pizza Delivery Dude

We know them. We depend on them. We call them out on cold, rainy nights. Now, NPR listener Sarah Adams tells us why her life philosophy is built around being cool to the pizza delivery dude.
If I have one operating philosophy about life it is this: “Be cool to the pizza delivery dude; it’s good luck.” Four principles guide the pizza dude philosophy.
You can read her whole essay (and hear it) here.

Sermon: June 21

In the silence of the stars,
In the quiet of the hills,
In the heaving of the sea,
Speak, Lord.

In the stillness of this room,
In the calming of our minds,
In the longing of our hearts,
Speak, Lord.

In the voice of a friend,
In the chatter of a child,
In the words of a stranger,
Speak, Lord.

In our service of word & sacrament
Speak, Lord, for your servant listens. Amen.

[adapted from a prayer by David Adam]

To have Faith in the midst of stormy times, be on it a boat being swamped or facing an enemy much larger than oneself, is what we are called to have as disciples of Jesus. It is to have an open heart (as St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians) and hear the voice of Jesus calling to us…

It is Faith that compelled David to stand before Goliath and proclaim his faith and to defend his people. David had felt God had saved him from perils before and was with him now. Goliath, however, underestimated the faith of the small and young David and it cost him his life. They say faith can move mountains, but it is not mountains we must move, but ourselves. It is faith like David that reminds us to stand up for our faith, to remember how God has been with us, even when others may be hostile to it.

We live our faith as Jesus taught us, not out of resentment, not out of pride or arrogance, but out of love & humility. Because we also know that even the disciples, those closest to him, didn’t always have the faith that Jesus asked of them. The 12 had witnessed so many healings, had heard Jesus teach the crowds, and confront those who questioned his actions. They had seen and heard so much…

But as they traveled by boat that night, the wind comes up and the boat begins to be swamped. Some of the 12 must have experienced this before but fear sets in, and they all fear for their lives. It is dark, it is stormy and they cannot see the land and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat! They wake Jesus up and Jesus rebukes the sea, Peace! Be still! and all becomes calm again. Why are you afraid? he asks, have you still no faith? They are amazed at Jesus…

And it is as if Jesus tested his disciples, not only their faith in him, but of how they are to live into that faith.
Such faith is as Martin Luther put it, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace. It is so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”
Such daring confidence is a challenge to us in the best and worst of times. In the best, because we often forget about God, to give thanks for what we have, and in the worst of times, because we often blame God for what has befallen us, asking why God doesn’t act when our own faith has remained in the boat afraid of the waves and the storm.
“Tis not the dying for a faith that's so hard,...every man of every nation has done that -- 'tis the living up to it that's difficult.” Thackery
It is our living faith, a faith that compels us to stand up against the injustices of our world, to have faith even as the worst of storms (illness, unemployment, addiction, harassment, loss, bereavement) beat against us. It is to hold on to see things through believing that indeed God will give us strength, and there will come a time when indeed we will find that peace again and skies will turn blue. As one poet has put it: What God Has Promised by Annie Johnson Flint
God has not promised
Skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways
All our lives through;

God has not promised
Sun without rain
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.

But God has promised
Strength for the day,
Rest for the labor,
Light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
Help from above,
Unfailing sympathy,
Undying love.
We will all face storms in our lives and we may even face an enemy, foe or an injustice standing in our way, it is then we hold to our faith to help us walk, knowing God will see us through whatever is before us, for God has promised and we who have experienced it, believe! For we have heard about David’s faith and his overcoming of Goliath and we heard the words of Jesus on that stormy boat, peace, be still, and we know that our faith can be that way too by the grace of God and by the Spirit’s help. Let us pray.

Give us Lord the grace to walk by faith, through every storm of life to keep our eyes on you. And when we fail to see, or start to sink, stretch out your hand to raise us up. So may we learn to hold to you through good and ill, until we come to the haven where we would be, in everlasting joy and peace. Amen. [prayer by Jeffrey John]

Father's Day Prayer

Heavenly Father, you entrusted your Son Jesus, the child of Mary, to the care of Joseph, an earthly father. Bless all fathers as they care for their families. Give them strength and wisdom, tenderness and patience; support them in the work they have to do, protecting those who look to them, as we look to you for love and salvation, through Jesus Christ our rock and defender. Amen.

[from the Church of England]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

World Refugee Day

JUNE 20, 2009: World Refugee Day 2009

For the 42 million uprooted people around the world, a shortage or lack of the essentials of life - clean water, food, sanitation, shelter, health care and protection from violence and abuse - means that every day can be a struggle just to survive.

Real People, Real Needs

This year, with the world economic crisis threatening to slash aid budgets and amid enormous global uncertainty, we need to ensure refugees are not forgotten. That's why the theme for this year's World Refugee Day on June 20 is "Real People, Real Needs."

Of the millions of people forcibly displaced by conflict, persecution and natural disasters, every one has a story to tell; they are real people, just like you and me, and they have real needs. But, despite the best efforts of UNHCR and many others, many of these basic needs are far from being met.

A comprehensive assessment of the needs of refugees and other people cared for by the UN refugee agency revealed that 30 percent were unmet - a third of them in basic and essential services. Improvements in nutrition and water supplies, access to primary health care, strengthened child protection programmes, better protection for women from sexual violence and abuse, and improvements in living conditions and sanitation facilities are just some of the needs that are not being met worldwide.

This World Refugee Day we ask you to remember the millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people under our care who are struggling with their day-to-day lives. One thing connects them all: basic needs that must be met so they have a chance to rebuild their lives. [From the UNHCR]

Lear more by going here.

ENS Story: World Refugee Day turns spotlight on millions of displaced people worldwide

Learn more about Episcopal Migration Ministries here.

A prayer for refugees:

O God, we ask your living protection of all refugees yearning for freedom and hope in a new land. May we ever remember that the Holy Family, too, were refugees as they fled persecution. Bless, guide and lead us in faith to open doors and to open our hearts through this ministry of hospitality. Give us strength, vision and compassion as we work together to welcome those in need. We ask this in the name of Christ. AMEN

(The following is suitable for children.)

Dearest Jesus, thank you for making us all brothers and sisters in God's family. Help us to help our brothers and sisters who have no homes. Remind us to pray for them and give our gifts to help them. AMEN.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

St. Peter's wikispace

You can find our wikispace here:

This is what's on our wikispace (help add stuff!):

Look here for some pictures from Shrove Tuesday. Yum!

Look here for a couple pictures of St. Peter's during "Earth Hour."

Look here for a page of remembrance for Sean Rice.

Look here for some pictures from our Touch a Truck event.

Look here for some pictures from 2009 Relay for Life at Masuk HS.

Look here for pictures from our outing to see the Bluefish play baseball.

To find a page of my sermons in audio form, please go here.

Sermon: June 14

Dirt. That’s all we had. Dirt. The tree cover at the rectory made some areas inhospitable to grass, it never grew, so even if it rained, it just became mud. But now the trees are trimmed, sunlight gets in and the grass seed was planted. Sure enough, without my having to do a thing, the seed has sprouted and grass is growing. And that is what the Kingdom of God is like.

Jesus loves in his parables, to turn our thinking upside down. The Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, a seed that is planted, sprouts and grows because God wills it, not because we have anything to do with it. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a very small seed, but when it grows it becomes a mighty shrub for the birds of the air to make nests in its shade. From something seemingly insignificant comes the kingdom of God, bursting forth in our world, creating a place where we can be sustained.
In 1992, the beautiful city of Sarajevo was being torn apart in the ethnic strife of the Bosnian civil war. On the afternoon of May 27, a bomb was dropped on one of the last functioning bakeries in the city - 22 people who were waiting patiently to buy bread were killed. Vedran Smajlović witnessed the bombing from his apartment window. He was horrified and enraged at the massacre. But what could he do? He was not a politician or soldier. He was a musician, an accomplished cellist. All he knew was music.

So that is what he did for 22 days ­- one day for each of those killed - Smajlović played at the same spot. Every evening after that, at 4 P.M., the time of the fatal explosion, the 37-year-old cellist, dressed formally as if for a concert performance, took his cello to the site of the crater created by the bomb. And there he would play one of his favorite pieces, Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor." All around him mortar shells and bullets would fly, but he would continue to play. He played for the sake of human dignity that is the first casualty of war. He played for life, for peace, for hope. He was also known for playing for free at different funerals during the siege, even though such funerals would often be targeted by enemy fire.

Today, Vedran Smajlović is revered as a hero by the people of Sarajevo. A statue of a musician, sitting on a chair and playing a cello, was erected on the sport where Smajlović first played. But Smajlović says in all humility, "I am nothing special. I am a musician, I am part of the town. Like everyone else, I do what I can."
A simple act done by a man of the town to do what he can through his gift of music. From something seemingly insignificant comes a recognition and it grows to something much bigger, and God bursts through, and hope and peace are once again front and center in the midst of despair. Smajlović’ story embodies the parable of the mustard seed.

For our faith, Mustard seed faith, is centered in the conviction that, in the smallest acts of compassion and generosity, life can be transformed from barrenness to hope. We may have little or no expectation of a harvest from our small seeds; even nurturing what we have planted may be frustrating and futile, but Christ calls us to embrace the faith and hope of his parable: to be willing to plant seeds of hope and compassion that we possess, wherever and whenever we can, in the faith that it will result in God’s kingdom coming near.

For the Kingdom of God is all around us, in very simple ways, sometimes sprouting from the smallest of acts, and in it, God is at work in our world.
As Mother Teresa put it, “There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.”
Like walking around a track celebrating life, in witness with those who survived cancer, remembering those who didn’t and walking to fight against cancer in the Relay for Life. A small act and yet it is there the Kingdom of God is proclaimed in our actions. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories: The Starfish Story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean.” "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!" At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."
The Kingdom of God is all around us, sprouting and growing in the smallest acts of compassion and kindness. Look around and see, for the parable that Jesus tells is true. So what will you do today to bring the Kingdom of God that much closer? What will you do today to proclaim your faith in a small loving act? Whatever it is, go and do it and have faith that God will indeed make it grow! Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What am I reading?

Here's what your Rector has been reading...

God's Three Step Plan by David Lee Kirkland

I found God's Three Step Plan a wonderful read. I have always liked Micah 6:8 even had it as a bumper sticker on my car. I have read a number of books that have tried to draw out the meaning from Micah and I have always found them wanting. This book wonderfully draws out the meaning to each part of God's message to us in Micah (act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God). I loved how lots of different voices, many from outside the Christian tradition, helped illuminate God's three step plan. It is a very Christian book but refreshingly aware of the voices outside of our religious tradition who can help us see what Micah's words are saying to us. I especially liked how the Jewish voice was raised up since its part of the Hebrew Scriptures. I recommend this book!

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Is a good book and helped dispel myths I had believed about the Columbine tragedy. I continue to read about how good people do evil things, how two teens lost the ability to see the humanity in others. A very tragic event. And its aftermath is still with us...

I am reading now...

Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

More on this book later...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Relay for Life: Monroe/Trumbull

Here are some details about Friday's Relay for Life:

Where: Masuk High School

Brief Schedule:

6 PM - Opening Ceremony & Survivor's Lap
(6:30 PM - Survivor Reception Dinner)

9 PM - Luminaria Ceremony

11 PM - Fight Back Ceremony

7 AM (Saturday) - Victory Lap

7:30 AM - Closing Ceremony & Clean-Up


Strengthen your servants, O God, to go where they have to go and bear what they have to bear in their fight against cancer; that, accepting your healing gifts at the hands of surgeons, nurses, and technicians, they may be restored to wholeness with a thankful heart; strengthen all survivors and caregivers that they may feel your presence upholding them; guide us who walk in solidarity with them and all who have cancer; and give us all the courage to fight back against cancer and have hope for a future free of cancer. We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(adapted from Enriching our Worship 2)

Sermon: Trinity Sunday

My walk this day with God,
My walk this day with Christ,
My walk this day with Spirit.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The three-fold all-kindly.

My shielding this day from ill,
My shielding this night from harm
Ho! Ho! Both my soul and my body,
Be by Father, by Son, by Holy Spirit:
By Father, by Son, by Holy Spirit…[Amen.]
This journey prayer that originates from the islands off of Scotland, reminds us how our ancestors relied on God, in very intimate ways, in their daily lives. As their journeys took them out into the fields, tending to their animals, their prayers reminded them of the companionship of God. As they prayed & walked, God walked with them, and shielded them. This confidence that God, God the father, Son and Holy Spirit was with them at every turn, helped guide their lives. Even as they washed their faces, many prayed:
The palmful of the God of Life
The palmful of the Christ of Love
The palmful of the Spirit of Peace
Triune of grace.
Simple acts and yet a profound connection to God. Something I dare say we all long to have in our lives.

As I was reading the latest alumni magazine from my alma matter, the University of Michigan, I found an article on my favorite professor who has just retired after 39 years at UM. Professor Ralph Williams taught in the English Department, and I first came to his class, the Bible as Literature in my sophomore year. It was an extraordinary class. He made the Bible for me, come alive. The stories were no longer just in the text but the stories and the issues came alive with his passion and his energetic style, and their interacted with my own life. I credit him for helping me with my faith, for putting wonder back into the bible, and a renewed connection to God. He opened our eyes to see God with us.

It is all about our connection to God. Be in simple daily prayers reminding us we walk with God or a professor that helps us see our faith stories in a new light, who helps us with our connection to God. Dame Julian of Norwich was a renowned 14th-century English mystic. In perhaps her most famous prayer, she had a vision in which she found herself holding a hazelnut.
"It was as round and perfect as a ball," Julian wrote, "I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing."

Julian then heard a voice explain:

"[This simple hazelnut] is everything that is made . . . It lasts and always will, because God loves it; everything has being through the love of God." In that hazelnut, Dame Julian was holding all creation in her hand.

Look at it, the voice said, and realize three things: "God made it, God loves it, God preserves it."

The voice continued:

"Do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end."

Dame Julian never said so, but one can guess that she never looked at as much as a peppercorn the same way again. How could she, once God has shown her the whole world in the palm of her hand? Paying attention to it, she learned how God paid attention to her. Holding it, she learned how God held her.
[From An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor.]

No matter how God calls to us, reveals God’s self to us, it is God who wants to be in relationship with us. That is the meaning of the Trinity, it is an attempt to describe our experience of God, Three in One, to be in relationship with Father and Son and Holy Spirit. It is to seek out God. As one theologian put it: “In the trinity God is one, good, true, and beautiful because God is essentially Love…” (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

As we leave today, let us remind ourselves that our triune God is present with us in our lives and who wants us to seek him out in love. And there is no better way, than in prayer, so let us end with how we began, with another prayer from the coast of Scotland, summing up our hope to have God always near us in all we do:
God to enfold me, God to surround me,
God in my speaking, God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping, God in my waking,
God in my watching, God in my hoping.
God in my life, God in my lips,
God in my soul, God in my heart.
God in my sufficing, God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul, God in mine eternity. Amen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost (May 31)

Holy Spirit, still me. Let my mind be inquiring, searching. Save me from mental rust. Deliver me from spiritual decay. Keep me alive and alert. Open me to your truth. O Lord, teach me so that I may live in your Spirit. Amen. (adapted from The Sacrament of the Word by D. Coggan)

It was a Billboard on I-84 outside of Waterbury…

It asked, Are you going to heaven (which had a nice picture of clouds and a blue sky) or hell (picture of dark flames)? It had a scripture verse, of course, from the Gospel of John, and also a phone number… I presume that the phone number was to make reservations?

I always find such billboards odd because fear is the worst motivator for faith. Jesus never employed it nor did his disciples. At that 1st Pentecost we heard in the Acts of the Apostles this morning, when the Spirit came down upon the disciples, it gave them the ability to speak so all could hear the Good News in their own language. There was no threat of hell…

Some thought the disciples drunk, are they speaking gibberish? No, God gave the Spirit to the disciples to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth and on that day in a symphony of voices, they spoke in many languages so that could all hear it in their own mother language, the Good News of Jesus and that salvation has come to all the peoples for all who believe because the Spirit of God has been poured out. No threats. No damnation. But truth and love…

It is Truth that is embodied in the life and witness of Jesus. And the truth did not end with Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit poured out on those disciples who now bear the Truth to us, and the Spirit of Truth that rests upon us and is with us forever. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

In a world that sees Church as optional that takes little commitment in community, I see the Spirit of Truth leading two of our young men to their confirmation yesterday, another parishioner to reaffirm his baptismal vows and a family to seek baptism for their child. Today John Carleton Marcoux will be baptized and the Holy Spirit will rest upon John and the Spirit of Truth will be with him. He will join the ranks of the household of God, the community of believers that are witnesses to the Spirit of Truth that still guides us in our lives today. We are to embody that Spirit of Truth today, by following the example of Jesus.

For our witness and example is not a passive life but one involved in living out the truth in our world today. I think of Desmond Tutu who lived under Apartheid in South Africa. A priest than bishop during that time, he worked for the elimination of that terrible racial discrimination.

He said, “[In the land of my birth I cannot vote, whereas a young person of eighteen can vote. And why? Because he or she possesses that wonderful biological attribute - a white skin.] I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Apartheid did fall, and the years of oppression and violence would come to an end in S. Africa. But the work did not end, for Desmond Tutu then worked toward repairing the whole community both black and white so all could live in that true freedom.

He said, “Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. It is to say, "I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me." And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one's being.” The Spirit of Truth led Desmond Tutu to speak against the unjust system of apartheid and then lead in the work of truth and reconciliation after that system fell.

I think of Iqbal Masih a Pakistani Christian child sold into slave work at age four. At ten he escaped from his horrible work as a rug-knotter. He told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the freeing of thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly.

In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. At Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead. Masih spoke in the Spirit of Truth to the injustice of child labor and was martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom. It is the Spirit of Truth that leads us to fight against injustice, to speak out for victims and to work towards the healing of our societies. It is that same Spirit also called the Advocate and Comforter that guides us in helping those in need around us.

In a recent story on NBC News, it focused on a supermarket in Minnesota…

A woman was in line waiting to check out when she was passed an envelope from the person in front of her. Someone had written on the envelope, “there is $50 in this envelope for your groceries. Take it if you need it or pass it on.”

The woman passed the envelope on to the person behind her. She then watched it go through the line and then over to the next line and the next and so on. What struck her most was not that people passed the envelope on but that several people actually added money to it.

“The Spirit of God moved through that line of shoppers in an envelope. Any time, any place, where compassion and generosity, selflessness and humility, compel people to do what is right and just, the Spirit of God moves among them.” (Jay Cormier)

Today, we celebrate Pentecost, of that Spirit dwelling within us - within us as the church, within us as the baptized. It is the Spirit of Truth that brings two people together as spouses, that forges strong and lasting friendships, that transforms a group of individuals into a community of faith and that same Spirit sends us out to do good in our world today. The Spirit of Truth enables us to be God’s witnesses of truth and love by what we do today. Amen.

Tiananmen Square 20th Anniversary

Thinking of all those who stood up for freedom and human rights 20 years ago and for those still fighting for them today...

O HOLY GOD, you love righteousness and hate iniquity: Strengthen, we pray, the hands of all who strive for justice throughout the world, and, seeing that all human beings are your offspring, move us to share the pain of those who are oppressed, and to promote the dignity and freedom of every person; through Jesus Christ the Liberator, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.