Saturday, September 22, 2018
Back in the day, bookstores organized elaborate midnight launch parties for the latest Harry Potter books that were media events, with lines winding down the block, filled with kids and adults dressed as favorite characters from the wizarding world. The books encouraged a new generation of young people to pick up a book and read, sometimes all night, because they just couldn't get enough of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort. The Harry Potter phenomenon tells us something important: that people are ravenous for a world of enchantment and imagination. The contemporary world has starved us of magic, and we need to be fed.
The Church is by nature conservative, cautious, risk-adverse. Stepping outside of established norms is uncomfortable. We sometimes feel that if we give in to popular culture or try to spin who we are in a different way, we are sacrificing essentials, diluting our identity, or dumbing down the faith. But I don't think it has to be that way. I'm not proposing that we give in to fads, but rather that we take a hard look at how well we've communicated our passion for the Christian story and identity. The epic tale of God's salvation of humanity and Jesus's self-giving love for us on the Cross is as compelling as anything J. K. Rowling has put on paper.
So, the fault lies with us, and now that we know that, we can do something about it. And the big advantage for us is that unlike the magical world of Harry Potter, our story really happened. When we gather together as a community, when I dress up in robes of red, purple or gold, when we say incantations over bread and wine or each other, we are not play-acting. We are doing a real thing, for we know that real magic lies in God's infinite, real power to transform us and the world. And this power is not God's alone. God has given us the power to be co-creators with him, by giving us a range of spiritual gifts. As Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
Those of you who are familiar with the Harry Potter books or films may remember that each of the four houses at Hogwarts is known for specific gifts, based on the virtues of their founders. Hufflepuffs are loyal. Ravenclaws are smart. Slytherins are resourceful. And, of course, Gryffindors are brave. The Christian tradition likewise credits certain people who have gone before us with spiritual gifts, known as charisms, that have inspired and strengthened subsequent generations. We look to these people to serve as exemplars of holiness and companions for us on our own journeys of faith. Their stories help us to understand our stories better, to see where God may be calling us to serve.
Therefore, one of the fundamental goals of our Christian formation this fall is to help each person identify his or her spiritual gifts and to discern how God is asking us to use them. It's not magic, just attentive listening to God's voice and going where it leads us. Our journey of discernment as individuals and as a community of Christians begins today. And for those who will undertake this journey, they should be mindful when the Sorting Hat is placed on their heads that they are making a commitment to learn and grow into a new creation. So, let's ask God to activate our imaginations and get sorted into our houses!
Friday, July 27, 2018
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Have you ever had a week where you feel good energy emanating from everyone, and everything seems in harmony? That's how I felt this past week. I'm not exaggerating. So much good is happening at St. Helena's that I am convinced the Holy Spirit is leading us toward an abundant new life. I am absolutely glowing with pride.
First of all, the very fact that we were able to celebrate LGBTQ Pride on Sunday is a huge achievement. Many parishes would be afraid even to mention the word "gay" or "lesbian," but I was proud of those who set aside any personal discomfort and showing up for Mass with open and generous hearts. I have been delighted, moreover, by the visitors we have had over the last few weeks, which testifies to the good energy we are generating. I was also proud on Sunday when one of our youth was unexpectedly injured while the adults were in the vestry meeting, and everybody--Anglos and Latinos--pulled together to care for her. Coming together in a moment of crisis is one of the things we do best. And I was incredibly proud that we were able to be honest at the vestry meeting about the "pinches" we are all feeling as a result of the changes we are implementing. Nobody said it would be easy.
Then, on Wednesday night our longstanding book/discussion group engaged once again in a completely improvised discussion that began with "why do bad things happen to good people?" and concluded with a discussion of the sacrament of reconciliation, after having covered sin, gluttony, biblical anthropology, and the skeptical approach to Biblical interpretation called "the hermeneutic of suspicion!" It was a vibrant and energizing discussion, and my conversation partners shared with me that, after years of trying a variety of formats, what we had just done was exactly what they needed to feel spiritually fed during the week. A slam dunk.
I also continued my ministry of presence this week at the Starbucks on Lagrange Road in Countryside, where I've been keeping office hours three afternoons a week. The number of people who have stopped for the "free prayer" on my table sign, and have shared with me their deepest concerns--for refugee children divided from their parents at the border, for their own children unable to find jobs after college, for their personal desire to follow Jesus faithfully--has been awe-inspiring. The good energy is building and I am so amped for what the future holds for us. Again, nobody said change was easy, and there will continue to be challenges and disagreements, anxieties and uncertainties. But I ask you to keep your hearts open and TRUST that God is leading us somewhere very, very good.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
In the midst of our conversation, a mom with two kids, probably about 6 and 8 years old, named José and Antonio, came up to me. The mom said she and her boys would like one of my free prayers. "What should we pray for?" I asked. "We'd like to pray for all of those children being taken away from their families at the border." My heart was crushed. So, we stood in the middle of Starbucks, our hands on each others' shoulders, and prayed for those children being imprisoned in an abandoned Wal-mart, heartlessly ripped away from the comfort and safety of their families. Even through the sadness, I felt joy that we could share our anxiety and prayers together.
Our reading from 2 Corinthians this week ends with the words, "We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return--I speak to you as children--open wide your hearts also." There is so much Christ can do, if we only open our hearts wide to the anxieties, experiences, and needs of others. José's and Antonio's request for a prayer is a sign of a need for comfort in a time of crisis and despair. In a similar way, our celebration of Gay Pride is a recogntion of the adversities that LGBTQ persons have suffered and an affirmation of the truth God has led them to embrace. As the Lord says in 2 Corinthians, "at an acceptable time I have listented to you, and on a day of salvation, I have helped you." May we open our hearts to receive the salvation that God is offering us through each other.
Friday, April 13, 2018
It turns out that we still had energy--A LOT OF ENERGY--for the work before us. We did talk about mission and evangelism, including multigenerational Latino ministry, but mostly we shared deeply personal things about our lives; and we discovered as we told our stories, that each of us had arrived at St. Helena's, because someone had invited us. That was a key discovery, and we agreed that our primary focus moving forward needed to be an exploration of different ways to invite new people to join us, just as we had been invited.
We realized that telling the stories of our spiritual journeys and inviting people were intimately connected, and once we had connected those dots, we began to connect others. Our imaginations ran wild, and we began writing all of our hopes for the church on a white board, from grandiose projects for improving the building to smaller goals like holding hands during the Lord's Prayer at 9 am or restoring the labyrinth. This twenty-four-hour conversation was only the first of many, and we will be encouraging all of you to imagine and dream with us. There is virtually no limit to the things we can create, if we simply give ourselves permission to believe in them. That is what it means to believe in the new life that Jesus's resurrection has made possible. That is what it means to be Easter people.
This Holy Week and Easter Day have been the best of my life, because all of you responded to my invitation to be vulnerable and to share your deep stories of faith. You have showed me and others, your feet, your wounds, your scars, and your Good News of new life, as I have showed you mine. Vulnerability and authenticity are best foundations I know for building a healthy and vibrant congregation. We have survived much, and that has given us the strength to explore this new life at St. Helena's, which we marked on Sunday with the dedication of our new sign, a wonderful gift from our sisters and brothers at Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale.
During Eastertide, we will be focusing on our new life in a variety of ways. Today, our vestry will begin its two-day retreat on evangelism and mission at the Nicholas Center downtown. Adult and children's formation will focus on deepening our understanding (and practice) of our Baptismal Covenant. We will host a number of community events, including our Day of the Children celebration with a kung fu demonstration and folkloric dancers on April 29, followed by the Blessing of the Bikes on May 6. And we will begin our work on our evanglism grant from the Episcopal Church on sacred storytelling. I hope that all of you will help us to continue the momentum of our Lenten and Holy Week experience, so that we can all be signs of the abundant life that Jesus has given us.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
The essential message of those hymns is that, left to our own devices, we wander aimlessly, but if we rely on God to lead us, he will lead us toward new life. We are all called to serve, and God leads each one of us to serve in different ways; but as we enter the Easter Triduum, we must not lose sight that we are taking this journey together, with Jesus and with each other. We will wait together in the Garden of Gethsemane. We will walk together along the path to Calvary. We will witness the crucifixion and mourn together. And we will greet the resurrection with abundant joy--together. And through it all, we must be attentive to God's promptings to each one of us to go where God directs, and respond, yes, "I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." God calls each of us. Where is God leading you? That is part of the Paschal mystery that we will explore together.