May 22, 2015


As church goers everywhere know, this year Pentecost falls on Memorial Day weekend. In many communities this means that attendance will be light for one of the principal feasts of the liturgical year as parishioners hit the road (cheap gas prices!) for a long-anticipated three day weekend.

While the cross always trumps the flag ("render unto Caesar" and all that), some congregations missed Jesus' memo on this.

Thus you end up with sanctuaries that look like this:

Instead of this:

But that's a separate axe to grind.

One of the fun traditions on Pentecost is encouraging people to wear red as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Yes, clergy will be vested and the altar will be dressed in red (one of only two Sundays in the church year when this happens, the other being Palm Sunday). But everyone is encouraged to wear red clothing or accessories to mark the celebratory nature of the day.

This year, I encourage you to take a picture of the red you're sporting (shirt, hat, shoes, pedicure, stole, socks, belt, whatever) and post it to social media with the hashtag #WearRedforPentecost.

Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing (celebrities sold separately):

We may not break the internet but perhaps we'll dent it a little. And encourage others to learn a bit about this great day in the process. Come, Holy Spirit!

May 18, 2015

Bad Pentecost Clipart

In what has become a Clergy Confidential tradition (ie. I did it last year/we've always done it that way) it's time for this year's round-up of Bad Pentecost Clipart.

This began innocently enough as I was scouring the internet for a Pentecost icon for our parish newsletter. But then I discovered that this feast day offers the mother lode of horrendous images. Forget the 'eye of the beholder' -- there's some ugly stuff out there. When you combine tongues of fire, wind, a variety of languages, and a dove, I guess this isn't altogether surprising. But yowza!

In any case, my Pentecost gift (May 24th this year) to you includes a few of my "favorites" from the online horror I encountered. "Enjoy."

The Holy Spirit and how it would look if it descended upon Mr. Bill.
The "Power of Pentecost" trapped in a flaming snow globe?
Either the disciples need to turn that frown upside down or the fu manchu had really caught on.

The perfect Pentecost meal: dove flambĂ©. 

 "Oil Refineries for Jesus."

Can you say "Ad for Lasix surgery?"

"Again?" What, does Pentecost bore you? And why is that flaming bird twerking?

Jerry Garcia meets liturgical dance.

Pentecost is so amazing that the guy on the right did a face palm.

On Pentecost, everyone gets electrocuted.
Who doesn't enjoy some grilled pigeon as a special coffee hour treat?
May Day! May Day! We're being dive bombed by a flaming bird!
If this scarecrow looking thing only had a brain.

May 12, 2015

Liturgical Fouls

This morning I wrote the following tongue-in-cheek Facebook post in reference to DeflateGate:
Wait, Tom Brady gets a four game suspension and a million dollar fine for violating the "integrity of the game," yet clergy who regularly violate the "integrity of the liturgy" go unreprimanded? Where's the justice!?
I was joking. Mostly. And I don't think "unreprimanded" is actually a word, but my archnemesis Scott Gunn responded with this comment: "So Tim, are you suggesting we should have referees to call penalties during the liturgy? Against priest or people, I assume. That could really improve things!"

Scott clearly doesn't read my blog closely enough. If he actually read, marked, and inwardly digested it to the degree it deserves, he would not only be wiser and better looking, he would also have known that I wrote about just such a scenario a few years ago.

In the interest of edifying Scott and capitalizing on DeflateGate, I have revised and updated my original post...

Have you ever fantasized about throwing a bright yellow penalty flag into the aisle when the priest wears the wrong liturgical color or the organist plays the opening hymn at the speed of a sick tortoise? Probably not. But at the intersection of football and liturgy and my twisted mind, there is always great convergence.

To assist you in exercising your God-given (literally) right to good liturgy, I’m offering my guide to liturgical fouls. I urge you to use this empowerment of the laity (and cranky visiting clergy) wisely and with discretion. I’ll soon make these penalty flags available on my website for a mere $49.99 and, yes, they only come in the appropriate liturgical colors
Heretical Trinitarian Theology

Deacon on Wrong Side of the Celebrant

Unseemly use of Liturgical Dance (Resembling Chicken Dance)

Happy Clappy Worship

Overly Enthusiastic Exchange of the Peace

Illegal Use of the Orans Position
Bishop Wearing Hideous Miter

Upon Further Review, The Sermon Had No Point

Illegal Procession (out of order)

May 8, 2015

Awkward Grocery Store Conversations

You may not know this, but I am the undisputed king of awkward grocery store conversations. 

I’m picking out cereal at Stop 'n Shop -- trying to decide whether to indulge the kids and get them that box of Fruity Pebbles -- and a parishioner who hasn’t been to church in a long time sees me and is suddenly stricken with guilt. If he or she can't duck into the frozen food section fast enough, I'm greeted with an embarrassed look and peppered with excuses that would make an elementary-school teacher blush. 

Most clergy have this experience in the communities they serve. These less-than-satisfying encounters take place at the town pool or the gas station or the coffee shop. Basically anywhere people interact with one another. It's awkward, it's uncomfortable, it's annoying.

I can't speak for other clergy but I do like to make it clear that I'm not the church's CGO -- Chief Guilt Officer. Despite any outward appearances to the contrary (like that collar I often, but not always, wear), that's not my job. 

I don't take attendance at worship. I don't cruise around town hiding in shadows like a private eye seeking to expose and guilt wayward parishioners back into the fold. I don't haunt local sports fields on the rare Sunday off while I'm in town to glare at people watching their kids play soccer rather than coming to church.

So you don’t have to explain your absences or make excuses about your life's priorities. I’d love it if you were here more often. The community is diminished when you’re not present at worship. But I'm not Big Brother, or even Big Father as the case may be. 

People are adults (well, unless they're children) and can make their own choices. I explain the importance of communal worship and am passionate about our responsibility as Christians. But I'm not an ecclesiastical bounty hunter.

My role is one of invitation. I'm more fling open the gates than gatekeeper. And there's personal and vocational freedom in this. So I will always encourage and invite but the rest is above my pay grade.

Know this, however: Jesus, is patiently and diligently seeking you out. Calling you by name; lovingly beckoning you home. Reminding you that the door is always open.

And Jesus doesn’t just sit around twiddling his thumbs waiting for your return. Jesus goes out to find you. He goes to the unsavory places of your soul and calls you back. He enters your sometimes apathetic heart and calls you back. He chases you down wherever you may be and whatever trouble you may have found and calls you back. Lovingly and persistently. 

May 6, 2015

In Good Faith: Dirty Work

In my latest "In Good Faith" column I find the spiritual connection in picking up dog poop in the backyard after a looooooooong winter.

Dirty Work

No, I didn’t actually put it on a scale. But, on the first warm day after the long winter of our discontent, I must have picked up 20 pounds of dog poop. I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, don’t you have two teenage boys to do this?” Yes. Yes I do. However if I wanted it picked up before the Fourth of July, it was easier just to do it myself.

As I bent down again and again, watching my step at every turn, I rued not doing this while it was all still frozen. I also envied Delilah, our 12-year-old lab/husky mix and the source of all this…stuff…sunning herself while I did all the dirty work. 

But after a few minutes of grumbling something changed. The fact is, I was enjoying myself. After a long winter, just being outside was a source of joy.  Perhaps there was some activity that would have been a drag on a beautiful day but I think even grave digging would have put a spring in my step as the temperature moved into the mid-60’s.

I’m no philosopher of feces, but this whole experience was a reminder that finding joy amidst drudgery is one of the keys to happiness. St. Benedict, the fourth century “Father of Western Monasticism,” encouraged his monks to view everything they did, no matter how outwardly mundane, as an act of worship. Whether this was tilling the soil or washing dishes or making the bed. I have no idea whether St. Benedict’s monks kept dogs (St. Bernards?) but if so, surely the same concept would apply to poop patrol.

This doesn’t mean picking up dog poop will be added to the Sunday morning liturgy at St. John’s— I won’t send everyone out to the backyard of the rectory just after the first reading to experience such a holy act. But it does mean that shifting our perspective, even slightly, allows joy to slip into our lives in unexpected ways.

Benedict took this concept further by helping his monks see that every implement or tool they used was a holy object. Thus a rake, when used to the glory of God, was just as special as the silver chalice used to serve communion wine at the altar. It may be difficult to see that plastic Stop ’n Shop bag I was using in my yard as something sacred but I’ll keep trying. 

What obligatory act in your life might be a window into an unexpected encounter with God? What menial or mindless task might be repurposed to change your perspective in a positive way? 

These are the questions that rattle around the mind as the long-anticipated spring fever arrives. For a fleeting moment the yard is completely poop free and there’s a zen-like state of bliss. But then, “Hey, Delilah what are you doing over there?!” It never lasts.