Daily Bread 5.3.18

Dear Reader,
 
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 6:14a

In some old calendars, today is the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross.  “But,” you might be saying to yourself, “isn’t Holy Cross Day in September?  Why talk about a feast that isn’t on the calendar anymore?”  What great questions!
 
The Finding of the Cross commemorates the day that Empress Helena discovered relics of the True Cross while excavating Golgotha for a site on which to build a church (the dedication of which forms the basis of the celebration of Holy Cross Day in September).  What’s great about today’s feast is that it teaches us something that could be easy to miss: Helena didn’t expect or intend to find the Cross.  It was in the midst of other business, the various projects to which she was devoted, that the Cross was discovered.  Or perhaps it would be better to say: it was in the midst of Helena’s day-to-day life that the unexpected grace of the Cross surprised and discovered Helena. 
 
I think it’s the same with us.  So often, we can go through life blind to the Mystery of Love that is in fact the very foundation of our lives.  We’re just not looking for it or expecting it.  But the Mystery has a way of grabbing our attention; the astounding Mercy of God has a way of surprising us and drawing us further into relationship with each other and with the Source of Mercy itself.  Especially in our troubled age, whenever we see or hear of another human being suffering injustice or bondage or oppression, we experience the Cross seizing our attention, drawing us deeper into the Heart of Love, and calling us to respond with the Love of Jesus Christ who, on the Cross, overcame the world and every system of injustice, bondage and oppression on which the world runs or by which it profits (John 16:33).  God forbid we should glory in anything else save the fierce Love of God revealed to us in the Cross!
 
The Finding of the Holy Cross celebrates what it means to be found, what it means to be surprised by Love and told that Love expects us…and calls us to show up. 
 
Under the Mercy,
Fr. Mark+

Daily Bread 4.29.18

Dear Friends,

This past Thursday I asked Fr Mark to read a letter from me at the After School Music Program closing event as our family was away for a long-planned event.  As many of you will know we are taking a pause for the coming year to work on a more sustainable way to continue our commitment to serve children through the gifts of music and beauty.

Though the letter was primarily addressed to the children of the program it is true for so many of us at so many stages of our lives.  I hope it proves a piece of encouragement for you as you begin a new week in your Christian discipleship.

”There are so many people we could thank for being part of ASMP. From its founders, to its directors, to its many, many amazing volunteers. We could thank donors, drivers, musicians, and tutors. I want to direct my note, tonight, to the children of the program who are its heart and reason for being.

Each of you will stumble at times. Each of you will be told no for some reason or another. You will be told that you don’t have the gifts, the personality, the skill, or the background to do something you dream of doing or being. You will be told no because most adults are not very bright. Too many adults fall into the most depressing form of poverty we can know - a poverty of possibility - and it dims their brightness.

Children are given God’s gift of a sense that anything is possible. When you fail at something you’re dreaming about then the first “no” will come. The first discouraging words will come and they will hurt. Then you will have a choice. Will you follow the voice of Holy possibility or will you let no be the last word?

Never let no be the last word.

An inventor known for his many failures long before his successes, Thomas Edison, was even told that he was “too stupid to learn anything“ by one of his teachers early on in life. Yet everyone knows the name of the man responsible for inventing the lightbulb — even if it took him 1,001 attempts to get it right. 

Walt Disney, who gave us Mickey Mouse and Disney World was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Harland Sanders - better known as Colonel Sanders who gave us Kentucky Fried Chicken had to fight the good fight to get his secret recipe into the restaurant world. He was rejected a whopping 1,009 times before he finally got that fried chicken to taste just right. 

Before the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, hit it big, he was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager in Nashville that he would be better off going back to his job as a truck driver than pursuing a career in music.

Before J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she was a broke, divorced single mother struggling to get by on welfare. In a matter of five years, the series took off, leading her to become the first billionaire author.

Each of these people never let no be the last word.

Each of these stories could be any one of yours - each of you are full of all the possibility that God can give. Each of you are full of all the beauty that God can give. Each of you are full of the potential to change the world.  

Always be ready to say yes to the voices urging you to try, to believe, and to hope. Never let no be the last word. God bless each of you. Thank you for being part of this program and thank you for being the wild, wonderful blessings that you are and always will be.”

Yours in Christ,

Fr Robert

Daily Bread 4.25.18

"Recently, I have been reading some of the early church fathers on the subject of prayer. Their thoughts are so poignant that I wanted to share their comments on this morning's apportioned psalm (119:49-72). In this text, the psalmist exclaims:

At midnight I rise to praise thee,

because of thy righteous ordinances.

(v. 62)

Expounding on this verse, Saint John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) taught that Christians should strive to pray throughout the day, but especially, they should pray at night. At night our minds are at rest, distractions fall away, and we find space in which to make our requests to the ‘physician of souls’. Even King David, beset as he was with the worries and cares of the crown could say, ‘At midnight I rise to praise you for the rulings of your justice’. This kind of prayer arms a Christian with an ‘invisible weaponry’, and ‘ally from on high’ which served David in his military victories, but which may equally serve us for our own battles against ‘the cohorts of the demons’.

Saint Isaac of Nineveh (640-700 AD) claimed that prayer offered at night ‘possesses great power’, since it requires struggle with our physical limitations. Thus, the psalmist says ‘I toiled in my groaning; every night I will wash my bed, with tears will I water my couch’ (Psalm 6:6). ‘And for every entreaty for which they urgently besought God,’ says Isaac, ‘they armed themselves with the prayer of night vigil, and at once they received their request.’

May we be spurred on to raise our hearts to God at night!

Blessings on your day,

Justin Appel (Director of Music)

Community, Depression, Gloom, and Truth

Dear Friends,

Over the past several months, in particular, and over the course of my ministry more generally I have been thinking about the challenges and the shape of community.  In these times when people across the nation seem so polarized and demoralized I have been trying to figure out what the place of the Church is in the midst of all of this.  Two things come to mind.  First, the Church can be an agent of deep dialogue.  Second, the Church can offer a way of seeing oneself and the world that is rooted in an infinite love rather than finite differences.

Both of these are necessary for any real compassion to take root - and compassion is a necessity for the flourishing of a community.  Compassion is, literally, sharing in suffering - it is the ability to dwell amidst the heartaches and heartbreaks that come with living life.  We speak of the Passion of Christ (the Suffering of Christ) and "Compassion" is, essentially, the patient act of vigil at the foot of the cross.  Each person will find themselves carrying crosses known and unknown because of things done or left undone.  At the heart of all of this is the patient work of the Church - hearing and sharing the reminders of infinite love.

Two articles have just come out that seem to point toward the deep need for communities of compassion to emerge and shape our local and national conversations about who we are and how we live.  

The first piece is from CityLab and is entitled, "The Unhappy States of America".  It begins, "America these days is not a happy place. Even though the economy is up, polarization is at an all-time high, and a feeling of malaise, or worse, grips the nation." It is an important article that highlights the shattering of our shared sense of story and self and points toward the ways our fracturing and splintering are playing out at the psychological level across the nation.  It was helpful to me in trying to understand the stresses and strains on our common civic life.

The second is related but very different. It is a blog post entitled, "Tether Yourself: The Enlightening Talk Parents Aren’t Having Can Keep Teens from a Damaging Drift". It is about the relationship between suicidal behavior in young people and its correlation with technology use.  It is less about that though than it is really about how we define ourselves and how we connect with what is real, true, and beautiful in our lives - or as Saint Paul might say, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable."

That blog post contains a lovely letter from a mother to her daughter after two of the daughter's former playmates, as teenagers, began to self-harm.  It reads, in part, "Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life." 

I am reminded of Neil Postman's book title, "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

Here is where both articles come together for me - what is true?  What is true about our citizenship?  What is true about us?  What is true about the people around us?  What is true about people with whom we disagree?

We are in a post-truth, post-fact environment that is being manipulated for the ends of corporations, people, and forces that absolutely and definitely do not have our full flourishing as a goal.  In fact the goal is quite the opposite - in the rush to sell everything to everyone we have commodified not simply the tools of self-expression (clothes, make-up, gym memberships, &c) but our very self.  So we become easier and easier to manipulate because we are losing the sense of who we are as individuals and as a nation.  We don't know what is true anymore - about us or about the world around us.  We have lost our "awareness."

This lack of knowledge leads to one inevitable place - fear.  If truth is power then we are all in a remarkably powerless place where the only rational response seems to be self-harm for some and blind rage for others.  

We are in a moment when the Church's role in proclaiming boldly the Good News is needed - and needed desperately.  We are in need of communities that are intentionally committed to truth, dialogue, and engagement across the differences that seem so important one moment and vanish when people commit to go deeper together.  

Most importantly the world needs to hear from one heart to the next that God is Love.  That Love is not a Hallmark card type of love but one that takes the shape of the Cross, bursts from tombs, and shatters the illusions of empires showing us the way, the truth, and the life.  I think we are in a monastic moment right now - a moment when small communities of intentional practice will feel more and more like lights shining in the gloom and shadows of an empire of distraction.  

May we have no fear but that of wandering from God's love.  May we never lack the courage to follow a wounded savior in the way of compassion.  May we always fix our hearts on the truth of God's love for each one of us - which demands compassion that begins with knowing ourselves as lovingly made and loving others as the same.  May we be tethered together in God's love and committed to an awareness that seeks whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, and even whatever is heartbreakingly real together.

Yours in Christ,

Fr Robert

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow morning I leave for Jerusalem with Bishop Smith and a cadre of fellow pilgrims from Arizona and the Diocese of Olympia.  I will use part of the time to work on details for the parish pilgrimage in 2019 that Fr Kitagawa and I are working on with Fr Peter.  I will be back with you all on Sunday February 4th.  In the meantime, as always, I have complete confidence in Fr Peter to handle any needs that may arise.  

This coming Sunday you will see our excellent lay leadership present our budget, stewardship results, and more.  I am exceedingly grateful for the work of Herb Burton, Bonnie Winn, Beth Brouillette, Lois Britton, Warren Edminster, Sally Larsen, John Bremond, Sunny Bal, Mary Paul, and so many more who give so generously of their time and wisdom to shepherd and sustain our common life and plan for our future.  We will elect our slate of new vestry candidates who are simply outstanding and we will mark another year in the eighty we have now served Christ at River and Campbell.

I make this pilgrimage full of hope and eager for the coming years together.

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a time for re-connection with the roots of our faith - a time of walking in the steps of Christ so that we might re-center our life's walk and be re-directed toward the heavenly city.  It feels like a perfect time to me to making this pilgrimage because I sense that our parish is also just on the cusp of a journey deeper into the joyful hope that God has for us.  I don't know exactly what that looks like nor even what it means but I am awake with an eager longing to see it all.

Standing within the gates of Jerusalem is an experience that is unlike just about any other because the immediacy of our faith is brought home.  Walking the cramped streets and getting lost amidst the crowds and straining to get a glimpse of a holy site or sight that some seem enraptured by while others just shove just to get by are all the kinds of spiritual experiences we will all have in our daily journeys.  We will feel lost amidst the crowd.  We will strain for a glimpse while feeling pushed in one direction and jostled in another by life.  We will see something that holds our eye and mind and heart while others will see nothing at all.

On this pilgrimage I will pray for us often.  I will pray for the new widow.  I will pray for the back surgery.  I will pray for the couple struggling to stay together and the couple struggling to grow their family.  I will pray for the husband working too many jobs and the wife trying to find one.  I will pray for someone considering ordination and for those making the decision to retire after this life's work is done.  I will pray for the departed of recent days and long years.  I will pray for the veteran who slept in our columbarium and for the mother and child embarrassed to ask for food. 

I will pray for many of your individual needs and concerns and I will pray for our common life.  I will pray for those who worked, prayed, and gave that we might have this place and life together in Christ.  I will pray for us to have the will to be ancestors as faithful as they were.

I hope that you will pray for me as well.  This is what a pilgrimage is at its heart - the intentional re-entry into the story of grace.  It is a journey back to the heart of prayer.  It is an embodied prayer of longing to enter into the Savior's story and to dive deeper into the heart of it all.  It is a reawakening to the source and summit of our faith.

We have spent the Christmas season celebrating the inbreaking of God into a manger and celebrating the very real birth of God With Us. If that scene teaches anything then it teaches that God embraces us even in the midst of our very human realities – because of those very human realities. God seems to speak less in the grand than in the simple, the essential, and the human – for that is what we might understand.  Walking the streets of Jerusalem brings home this reality and reminds us of what it means that the Word was made flesh to walk the crowded, pressured, hustling streets with us.

Our prayers are always answered.  This is a true thing and worthy of all to be remembered. They may not be answered in the way we understand, the way we long, or the way we expect.  I will pray for you all on this pilgrimage and I hope you will for me.  May our prayers be answered and may our journeys, pilgrimages, and wanderings always find us nearer together in heart and hope to Christ's own than we can ask or imagine.

Yours in Christ,

Fr Robert