Jul 2, 2015

In Good Faith: Pardon the Interruption

In the July edition of my In Good Faith column, I write about the opportunity found in embracing "holy interruptions." Also about getting stuffed on the basketball court by my 16-year-old son.

Pardon the Interruption 

There’s a show that airs on ESPN called Pardon the Interruption and it gives me agita. It’s a roundup of the day’s sports news hosted by a couple of loud, contentious talking heads with strongly voiced opinions about…everything. It’s kind of like the sports version of the McLaughlin Group, the long-running PBS news show that puts liberals and conservatives around a table and lets them have at it. Both shows are 30 minutes of people interrupting one another in what is basically, at least to my ears, a verbal food fight.

Much of ministry, like life itself, is an interruption. You can plan out your day and yet, depending on what arises, it often veers off in a completely different direction. Those plans you had to write that newsletter article? That gets trumped when you get a phone call that someone took a fall and is being transported to South Shore Hospital. Or that time you carved out to sit in your office and go over the budget for an upcoming meeting? That goes out the window when a parishioner comes in with news that her father just died.

You can either rue the disruption of your regular routine or you can view it as an opportunity to serve others. And you learn pretty quickly that people are much more important than your own calendar or deadlines or to-do list.

Jesus certainly knew what it was to get interrupted. During his brief, what I like to call “rock star” phase, when people hounded him wherever he went, his life was one long interruption. He couldn’t go anywhere without people wanting his attention or a healing touch or a chance to take a selfie with him. If he wanted a quiet moment for renewal he had to slip away by cover of darkness to find a place to pray — and even then people caught up with him and interrupted his private devotions with their own needs and concerns. Something he never once complained about.

In fact, Jesus’ own approach to interruptions helps to shift our perspective. While we often view interruptions as a great source of annoyance and frustration, we can all thank God for what I like to call “holy interruptions” — unplanned interactions with others that make a difference in our own lives or those of others. 

The thing is you have to be open to the holy interruptions that present themselves. Sometimes it means putting your phone away and really listening. It means seeing the divine in others even when we’d really rather not get involved. It means being flexible as we go about our days — flexible enough to leave room for people who may be hurting or vulnerable or seeking a word of comfort from a friend or stranger. It means cultivating an awareness to those in our midst rather than remaining so inwardly focused.

The opportunity for holy interruptions happen all the time — both at home and at work. There are days when I come home from the office grateful for a chance to finally sit down and unwind. It’s usually at that very moment that my boys want me to go out and shoot hoops with them. And I don’t want to. I’m tired physically and tired emotionally from a full day and I’m tired of playing two-on-one against them and having my 6-foot-tall 16-year-old swat away my shots like Shaq playing one-one-one with Spudd Webb. But more often than not, I go out anyway because these holy interruptions won't be there forever. And I’m always glad I did even as I suffer yet another basketball beatdown. 

I encourage you to reflect on the possibilities for such holy interruptions in your own life. Don’t pardon the interruption but embrace it. Allow interruptions to instruct rather than disrupt. And know that your life will be all the richer for it.

Jun 26, 2015

General Convention Tips & Observations

I'm here at the Episcopal Church's triennial (fancy and vaguely pompous way of saying once every three years) General Convention in Salt Lake City.

I'm just around for a few days to do some PR for Lent Madness (as evidenced by the picture with Forward Movement Executive Director Scott Gunn and 2015 Golden Halo winner St. Francis), sign a few books, see some friends, and generally enjoy the stifling heat in a city not exactly known for its abundance of Episcopalians.

The big excitement around here is Saturday's election of the next Presiding Bishop. Yesterday I rewrote Palestrina's Advent Responsory as "I Tweet from Afar" as a nod to this forthcoming revelation. Of course, as a simple country parson, I'm leaving Saturday morning to make it back for Sunday so I'll just have to read about the results via Twitter.

Nonetheless, I can't leave the Salt Palace and this whole scene without offering a few Tips & Observations....

1. When speaking with a bishop, remember not to refer to the House of Bishops as the House of Lords. They get touchy about such things.

2. The Blue Book, that collection of reports and proposed legislation, is neither blue nor a book. All the information is, however, loaded onto iPads for people who don't know how to use iPads.

3. The legislative body made up of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies is bi-cameral, not bi-sexual. This makes a difference.

4. In a similar vein, the debate over whether to go to a bicameral or unicameral legislative body has nothing to do with one or two-humped camels.

5. Barney Fife is not the prototype convention Deputy. Neither is Enos from the Dukes of Hazard. And please don't commit the ultimate Convention faux pas and refer to a Deputy as a Delegate.

6. By holding General Convention in Salt Lake City at the "Salt Palace," the Episcopal Church is sending the message that they don't care one whit about your sodium intake. (It's important to go into this process with that sort of chip on your shoulder).

7. There's a fine line between a bishop's crozier and a selfie stick.

8. Convention Deputies, like servers at TGIFridays, like to wear lots of "flair" in the form of buttons, ribbons, etc. Okay, the minimum wage workers at chain restaurants are forced to wear their flair. But still.

9. While there are a lot of booths in the exhibit hall, none of them seem to be reserved for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. (Yes, that was a Transfiguration reference).

10. Every time a selfie is taken with a bishop, an angel dies.

I have to say I admire all those who are here for the duration and have the stamina for 10 days of legislative maneuverings and minutia. It takes a tremendous amount of love for the Church to do this. My prayer is that Jesus doesn't get muted in the process and that the Church comes out stronger, more faithful, and better positioned to meet the opportunities and challenges we face.

Jun 24, 2015

"I Tweet from Afar"

One of the great joys of Advent is hearing Palestrina's Advent Responsory. At my own parish, St. John's in Hingham, Massachusetts, the choir sings it at the start of our annual service of Advent Lessons and Carols.

We’re nowhere near the Church’s season of hope and expectation in terms of the calendar year but as the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention convenes in Salt Lake City this week, there is plenty of hope and expectation as we prepare to elect a new Presiding Bishop for a nine-year term. And by "we" I mean the House of Bishops.

As people throughout the Episcopal Church follow the proceedings from afar aka via social media, (it only seems like every Episcopalian is in Utah), I thought I’d rewrite Palestrina’s stunning words to better reflect the current feeling of anticipation. 

No pressure on the Chosen One elected on Saturday, of course. It’s not like we expect you to be the Messiah or anything...

I Tweet from Afar

I Tweet from afar:
And lo, I see the power of Wi-Fi coming,
and a cloud covering the whole Church.
Go ye out to Tweet him and say:
Tell us, art thou he** that should come to reign over thy people Episcopal?
High church and low, endowed and about to close, one with another,
Go ye out to Tweet him and say:
Hear, O thou shepherd of hashtags, thou that leadest Convention Deputies like sheep:
Tell us, art thou he that should come?
Stir up thy signal strength, O Bishop, and come
To reign over thy people Episcopal.
Glory be to the Internet, and to the iPad, and to the Voting Bishops.
I Tweet from afar,
And lo, I see the power of Wi-Fi coming,
and a cloud covering the whole Church.
Go ye out to Tweet him and say:
Tell us, art though he that should come to reign over thy people Episcopal?

** Yes, the four nominees are all male. Not my fault.

Based on The First Matins Responsory for Advent
G.P. da Palestrina (c. 1525–94)

Jun 4, 2015

In Good Faith: W.A.I.T -- Why Am I Talking?

In my latest monthly In Good Faith column, I share an acronym I recently heard about than encourages us to Just. Stop. Talking.

W.A.I.T -- Why Am I Talking?

I had lunch with a parishioner last week who told me about an acronym he had recently learned at a business seminar. It was W.A.I.T. — and it stood for Why Am I Talking? When you’re a preacher, this is something you’re used to people wondering. But the basic premise was a reminder to talk less and listen more.

That’s always good advice and we hear it in a variety of ways. People often quote the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus who proclaimed, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Or the Mark Twain corollary, “If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” Which, in addition to making daily interactions a lot louder, would make us all look like Mr. Potato Head in the hands of a creative toddler. 

Many of us find ourselves in vocations or family interactions or social situations where we are expected to talk. It comes with the role of being a leader or an expert or a teacher or a parent or just a polite member of society. So one problem is that we sometimes feel the need to speak because we think it’s expected. And we find ourselves talking just for the sake of talking while drowning out other voices and perspectives from which we could learn so much more.

The whole idea of the acronym W.A.I.T. is to speak only when we actually have something to contribute. And it helps to recognize that we’re not God’s gift to the conversation — whether in the board room, at the dinner table, or on the telephone.

The other thing we often find ourselves doing in group settings is formulating what we plan to say rather than listening to others. This happens in class rooms, in Bible studies, at work, in volunteer committees. In our effort to sound eloquent and project the right image, we ignore true interaction and the conversation devolves into a bunch of individual monologues.

From a faith perspective, this whole concept of asking ourselves “why am I talking” also applies to our prayer lives. Generally speaking when we pray, we’re yappers. We talk way too much. We try to name every person we’ve ever met or every situation we can think of that needs healing. We mentally run through our world atlas, thinking hard about all the hotspots where there’s war or conflict or natural disaster. We try to remember all the tragedies we’ve heard about on the news in the last 24 hours. Or our friends on Facebook who broke legs, lost jobs, or had kids home sick from school. The list goes on and on and on with the end result being guilt when we later remember we forgot to pray for Aunt Millie’s upcoming procedure to remove that pesky toe fungus.

These are all good, prayerful thoughts, of course. But we can get so caught up in telling God what to do that we neglect the most important part of prayer, which is listening. And we forget that God already knows all our needs before we ask. 

And doesn’t that take all the pressure off? We don’t have to run down the shopping list of prayer requests, living in fear that we’ll forget to pray for peace in the Middle East or for those suffering from flooding in Texas.

So the next time you hear yourself nattering on — internally or externally — don’t forget to ask yourself “Why Am I Talking? Sometimes silence truly is golden.

Jun 3, 2015

I, the Lord Be Not Afraid of Eagles' Wings

Recently I was contemplating funeral music for a parishioner whose extended family is predominantly Roman Catholic. Mostly I was trying to think of hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 that the average parishioner at St. Mary's-by-the-Turnpike would know (and that I don't despise).  

As I crowd-sourced the question on Facebook -- which is the SUPER lazy person's way of doing research (as opposed to the REGULAR lazy person's way of doing research which is Google) -- it became apparent that there are only three songs sung at Roman Catholic funerals: "I the Lord of Sea and Sky," "Be Not Afraid," and "Eagles' Wings." (I'm not counting Ave Maria as a hymn, so lay off).

Anyhoo...as I subsequently got all three stuck in my head, I decided that it's basically the same song. Thus I wrote the chorus to the single song titled "I, the Lord Be Not Afraid of Eagles' Wings."

I, the Lord Be Not Afraid of Eagles' Wings **

Here I am Lord
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you flapping in the night
I will go Lord
If you lead me
I will hold your talons in my heart.

Be not afraid. 
Eagles are cuddly always. 
Come follow me, and 
I will give you nest.

And He will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of sky 
Because I the Lord of sea and sky
But mostly the sky — because eagles.

** Sung to the tune of...oh, who am I kidding? No one's actually going to pick up the hymnal and sing it anyway.