Dew Drops

Every other night I read J. a book entitled Dew Drops. It’s a picture book with a flower on one page and the flower’s name on the other. No matter that the bloom depicted is a rose, tiger lily, or tulip, each has a dewdrop somewhere on its pedal, stem, or leaf. With every page turn, a new flower awaits, and a hidden dewdrop is discovered. While J. is too little to read the names of the flowers, one day, he will. He might even wonder where words come from and discover that words are symbols, and symbols point to something that is at once present and transcendent. Learning that a rose is a rose is a rose may one day lead to wondering where that rose came from, which ultimately makes one contemplate life itself.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asking the Pharisees to look at a picture. It was a picture of the emperor. The emperor was a symbol of power and empire. The emperor was also a symbol of death and taxes. The power of the emperor and his kingdom would one day kill Jesus in a state-sanctioned execution. The irony is found in what cannot be captured in a picture or on the face of a coin. Even though Jesus would be executed by the powers of this world, he would be raised by forces that transcend it. He would be visibly raised by the invisible God. He would render God his very self; thus, rendering life to all – including the Caesars, sinners, and saints of this world.

It is perfectly acceptable to give the government its due in our own day in age. It is simply unfortunate if we do not also contemplate more than what the pictures reveal. This week, look beyond the image. Look beyond the symbols and discover mystery rendering herself to you. 

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

While outside, J. does not like being in his stroller. Walking and pointing out things are more his style. Yesterday afternoon’s walk took on this new game. He rebuked the stroller, reached for my hand, and pointed down the street. J. wanted to walk. He wanted to walk and see the Halloween decorations a few houses down, and that is what we did.
It’s a small miracle when my child takes me by the hand and leads me. Just like he was reluctant to take a ride in his stroller, I was unwilling to follow his lead, but am forever grateful for choosing his way instead of my own. Yesterday J. reminded me of innocence, surprise, and delight. J. showed me joy, invited me to play, and to see – to see. When was the last time joyful innocence caught you by the hand and pulled you along to surprise?

Mind Mapping

As I mentioned in my first post on homeschooling, our family has chosen the three principals of prayerwork, and study taken from St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to guide each day. These three principals provide balance and purpose. Like the North Star, they order the day. Their guidance helps to answer questions like, What is a balanced life? What does purposeful living look like? How do we pray? Why do we work and study? These are weighty questions to tackle for a 4th grader. These are profound questions for anyone. Creating a mind map began this process of inquiry.

A mind map is simply a tool to get the creative juices flowing. (Back when I was in elementary school it might have been called brainstorming). We were interested in creating a routine that was at once, orderly and flexible. We already had our guiding principles (prayer, work, and study). Now, we just needed to flesh out what those meant at the time of the mind map, and with the understanding that reality will help form new ways of living into this Rule.

Under the Rule of Prayer, we agreed upon three practices: prayer at meals and at bedtime, reading the Bible, and celebrating The Lord’s Supper. Currently, prayer is sporadic, as is Bible reading, while celebrating Holy Eucharist has been with my oldest son and me. These are new practices for our family underneath the same roof. I’m starting to realize how I relied on other contexts (church and Sunday School) to reinforce prayer practices. Now the full burden is on me. Prayer begins in the family. Church and Sunday School strengthen practices in a Christian home. I hope to report our family’s progress in prayer at a later date.

Using the mind map, we translated Work as simple household chores: cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, washing the dishes, setting the table, etc. Thus far, our oldest now wakes up, eats breakfast, makes the bed, brushes teeth, and gets dressed for the day. As the year passes, I hope to add taking out the trash/recycling and setting the table, among other things.

The last principle under our Rule is Study. As parents, this means lesson planning and seeking out teaching opportunities within life’s daily routine. It is giving our oldest the freedom to study and learn where he wants (kitchen table, his room, on the porch, couch, outside, etc.). We’re also learning how to navigate formal learning time with downtime, and develop boundaries around screen time versus leisurely reading. For a 4th grader, 1 to 4.5 hours of instruction/learning/exploring four days a week is recommended. Our family is staying within this rubric based on everyone’s schedule. In our four weeks of homeschooling, not one week has looked the same. Our routine is flexible enough not to worry about tight scheduling. It’s also let us experiment with having a day or two off in the middle of the week because we all worked hard over the weekend (homeschooling is not a Monday – Friday gig).

Starting with the mind map has helped us focus. It also begins to show us the tensions of chaos and order, or love and law. My next post will explore the topic of deschooling. 

Rising to the Occasion

**Sermon preached on the 2nd Sunday in Easter by The Very Rev. Brandon Duke.
For a video of the sermon, please click here.**

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Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd
~Acts 2:14

This was the same Peter who only last week was bent over, cowering with a combination of fear, shame and anger. Who was he cowering to? Was it the mob mentality of the crowd? No. It was a little girl who asked him a simple question, “Do you know Jesus? I’ve seen you with him. Are you not one of his disciples?” Peter’s answer was the same when he was asked two more times. “The answer is no. I do not know the man.”

What a difference a week makes. For today, Peter is not cowering in shame. He’s standing with the eleven. He’s their voice. He’s their preacher. He’s been chosen to speak on their behalf. He raised his voice. He didn’t mumble under his breath a lie. No. He addressed the crowd with truth. No. Today, Peter rises to the occasion, represents his constituents well, and gives the crowd the prototype of every sermon that has ever been preached since then: “This Jesus…God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” For millennia Christians have said this liturgically as well: “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.” Christians have confessed it in the creeds of the church, “He was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again.” We sing it. We pray it. We proclaim it, and we summarize it with that beautiful word, “Alleluia.”

How do we as Christians boldly proclaim that same “Alleluia” to a world that still finds herself in Good Friday? What goods and gifts do we have to address the crowd, and like Peter to rise to the occasion?

First, we have God’s word. We have the Bible, and in God’s holy word we find wonderful stories of the faith and faithful people like you and me. These are ordinary people who were asked to do extraordinary things on God’s behalf and they said “yes,” or “Lord, here I am”, or “Send me.” Most of these people were flawed in so many ways, but if we look at the pattern of God (and to quote our bishop) “So many times God takes our garbage and turns it into gold.” God takes our weaknesses, our burdens, our failures, and uses them for God’s purposes. Quoting Peter again, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power…you crucified…but God raised up.” That’s the story of our life in Christ, right there in a nut shell. Our purpose is the proclaim in thought, word, and deed the risen life found in our savior Jesus Christ. We have God’s word to help us with this. We have God’s word who was made flesh to guide us through this. Use this time to dive into the Exodus story, the Noah story, the Jonah. Use this time to remember Sara, Rebecca, and Ruth, the two Marys, and all the other flawed saints found in God’s holy word. We are a part of a great cloud of witnesses. May they witness to us once again in our own time of exile and uncertainty.

Secondly, we have a gift in the form of our prayer books. I love the image of Anglicans and Episcopalians down through the ages who held Bibles in one hand and the prayer book in another. Now is the time to get reacquainted with your Bibles and your prayer books. In fact, 3/4ths of the prayer book is the Bible put in a prayer and liturgical formats. The whole of the Psalter is in their too. There’s been a cartoon going around social media that has the devil and God sitting at a table together. With a smirk on his face, the devil claims, “I finally closed the church!” With a compassionate smile of his face, God counters, “On the contrary…I opened up one in every home!” Let that image sink in as it pertains to our moment in history. God has opened up new churches at breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables as well as beside every bedside. Did you know the prayer book has prayers for morning, noonday, evening, and night? These are invitations for us to stop what we’re doing, and to pray with the prayer book in one hand and our Bibles in the other. I’ve been modeling this method on Facebook Live every morning and evening for you for the past few weeks. So, do what I do. Pray. If these prayers are a bit overwhelming to you, the prayer book can calm your anxiety because there are simple prayers for individuals and family devotions. These are meant to be prayed around the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table before the family meal. They’re short, concise, and to the point. Fathers: Teach your family to pray in this way around the breakfast table. Mothers: Teach your family to pray in this way around the lunch table. Children: Teach your parents how to pray in this way around the dinner table. Live and lean into your baptisms during this time. Live and lean into God’s holy word. Combine this with what’s been handed down to you in the form of the prayer book. May the family in all its forms, shapes, and sizes be a little church gathered together in Jesus’ name.

Like Peter, and thirdly, we rise to the occasion when we face reality head on. The reality of the resurrection for Peter kindled a boldness that he could not find within himself only a week ago. He let his grief get the best of him back then. He forsook hope. His ordering was wrong because he was disrupted, disordered and disillusioned. Sound familiar? The order is this: Face and name reality first. Then out of the grief found in that reality, name what has been lost even as you hope for what is to come. Put differently. Be truthful. Be bold. Be hopeful. I invite you to name those things that are real for you right now. I invite you to name those things that have been taken from you right now. I invite you to grieve your losses as well as to imagine a real and hopeful response.

Let me put some hope in the room: Over the past month I’ve been encouraged by so many of you. I’ve been encouraged by those of you who put your head down, go to work, and get the job done – even when it may cost you something. I’ve been encouraged with your imagination and the hopefulness in your voices when you call me up and say I have a check, or a giftcard, or food (I even had someone check in with me who had furniture) to give away as a response to the common reality we are all facing. I’m encouraged that more phone calls to one another are being made, that new technologies are being discovered and implemented for the common good. I’m encouraged that many of you have learned that you can’t do everything, but you can do something. Some of you are encouragers. Some of you are joy-filled. Some of you are numbers people. Some of you are artists. Some of you are teachers, prophets, and providers. Some of you are healers, peacemakers, and have the gift of generosity. Did you know that these are gifts of the Spirit? Did you know that when you use the gifts God has given you, you’re facing reality and leaning into hope? I’m encouraged by you. I’m inspired by you.

One of my own realities is that my sacramental ministry as a priest, has been taken from me. I can’t baptize. I can’t hand you our Lord’s Body and Blood. I can’t lay hands on you, or anoint the sick or the dying with oil. A priest takes vows to be a pastor, a priest, and a teacher. One of those – the priestly, sacramental aspect of my call – has been put on hold. I can mourn that. But I can also see it as an invitation to lean into the ethos of pastor and teacher, and that’s what I’ve decided to do. Some of you may be surprised that we’re praying Morning Prayer at both the 8:30 and 10:30 services. Why aren’t we having Holy Eucharist today, you may ask? Because, Holy Eucharist is a liturgical rite best expressed when we are together physically. It’s best expressed when we can all ask God’s blessing upon the bread and wine as God consecrates them into his very self. It’s my belief (as well as the church’s belief) that this cannot be done virtually, but what can be done virtually is to share in our common prayer practices. In our tradition that translates into Morning and Evening Prayer, or the Daily Office. From now on we will be praying in this way as a recognition of our reality that we all share in our common life as Christians. We will pray this way until we can meet again in our physical building and with the physical elements of Christ’s Body and Blood. As your priest, and as your pastor I feel it is best that I stand in solidarity with you and abstain from Holy Eucharist until we meet again. I will mourn the Eucharist. Her words captivate me, as well as the way she moves. Until then, I remain hopeful. I remain encouraged. I remain steadfast in the faith that St. Peter preached on that day so long ago, and has been preached 2000 years since then. Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. We, standing on the shoulders of the saintly giants in our tradition, get to raise our voices around the new churches that are being formed around supper tables as a way to address the noise of death, disease, dying, and posturing in order to boldly proclaim, “This Jesus…God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”