Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Thirst Quenching Waters

In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters and the universe was born (13.5 billion years ago or so.) Alpha. Genesis. Birth. And here as scripture comes to an end, Christ pours us a bracing cup of living water. Omega. Revelation. Rebirth. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.

In the beginning, we all get our start in water: safely tucked inside the womb, cramped and cradled until it is time, until the contractions start and the water breaks. Out we come on a wave of living water, squirming and screaming full throttle into God’s crazy world.  A beautiful mess.

The rhythm of life begins and its pretty good. You eat. You sleep. People carry you around and sing to you, play peek-a-boo with you. Everything is just great until someone gives you that first bath. Have you ever given a baby their first bath? They wriggle and squirm. It is beyond their comprehension why you would subject them to this torture. Babies do not realize that there is dried milk behind their ears and dirt between their toes and they don’t care. But their parental units do care, and they are going to give that baby a bath because they know what is good for them.

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of baptizing seven of God’s children on a single Sunday morning: one adult, four babies and two toddlers. There was a little three-year-old named Eric who was not too keen on this baptism thing. At the class the day before, Eric hung back not wanting to “play baptism” with me. Very cautious, very skeptical, very astute for a three-year-old. 

On Sunday morning, poor little guy reeled in agony as his mom lifted him up and leaned in over the font. He waved his metal truck wildly screaming NOOOOOOOOOO!!I ducked but managed to dribble a little water on his frantic forehead. 

Eric, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Eric, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. 

At this point, indignant little Eric is wiping his face with the little linen towel. I knelt down to half apologize. Sorry little guy. Baths aren’t always fun. But that was God’s love, the water of life, raining down on your head. 

Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes, take this water of life as a gift.

Deep in the first century on the Island of Patmos a man named John (no, not the apostle John, a different John) wrote down his wild and wooly visions. Vivid fantastical pictures of his community’s struggle under the persecution of Rome. The visions are at times violent and terrifying, filled with beasts and dragons. Allegorical and symbolic, the powers of good battle the powers of evil. Neither really wins but hope literally springs eternal. The water of life soaks the soil sprouting seeds and drenching roots. Maybe there can be a new heaven and a new earth. Maybe life really can rise out of death.

20 centuries on, we live in an equally thirsty world. Peruse the news and lots of it is not so good. Division reigns. Tribalism rules. We seem endlessly locked in a struggle of us versus them. We cling to power rather than pursue the common good. Entrenched in our bubbles and bunkers, we demonize those who disagree with us, those who do not believe like us, and those who do not love, like us. Beasts and dragons, one and all, we cast them out. We fight a futile scorched earth offensive, where living water is hard to find.

Once upon a time, there was a little parish tucked on the side of a hill struggling on their own little Island of Patmos. The parish had a strong tradition of outreach to the community. Their neighbors were both poor and without a roof over their heads. So, they organized a soup kitchen and an overnight shelter. They hammered nails repairing houses and they sat bedside with the sick. But there was another thirst in the community — just as deep — hoping to be quenched. 

The apartments around the church were home to a host of Ethiopians, many of whom had fled the oppressive government of the late Haili Sallassi – and most of these Ethiopians were Christians. But adrift in Northern Virginia, they had no spiritual home, no literal House of God to call their own. So, the people of this little parish flung wide their doors and welcomed their neighbors in. They decided to share their worship space and birthed a new congregation: The Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation, Noah’s Ark, Holy Mother Church. (Yes, that really was its name!)

On Saturday afternoons, this little Episcopal Church was transformed. Icons were propped up in every window. The priest swung the thurible; incense rose to the skies. A hundred praying people huddled in the pews. Living water flowed and Christ was worshipped anew.

So, Emmanuel, turn your eyes toward heaven. Look up into the ceiling of the sanctuary. The wooden scaffolding resembles the ribs of an upside-down ship. Now, we Episcopalians have nerdy words for everything and we call the sanctuary the nave. Literally a Latin naval word for ship – nave was an early icon of the church. Hop aboard the ark. The waves of life may be rough but Christ captains the boat.

This holy water sloshes and splashes over, above and around. Remember Matthew 25: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink? With every item dropped into the ALIVE Food Pantry basket, with every juice box packed into lunch bags for the homeless, with every cup of Saturday morning coffee poured at Carpenter’s Shelter; with every Sunday morning sip from the communion cup, Emmanuel’s water breaks, and Christ quenches a thirsty world.

Come, let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.


Christening & Coloring Outside the Lines

Clergy love baptizing babies. It is our favorite thing under the sun to do. At Emmanuel over the past five years, umpteen new little people have been welcomed into the family of God. This coming Sunday we are welcoming two more!

Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer begins with these familiar words:

There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.

These words are ancient and deep and recognized by Anglicans all over the world. But the only thing required for a “valid” baptism, a baptism that will be recognized by the vast majority of Christians, is that when you pour the water over the baby’s head, you pour the water in the name of the Trinity.

While baptisms in the Episcopal Church are Sunday morning affairs, there are exceptions to the rule. Pastorally, the priest may make accommodations for unorthodox circumstances.

I have done baptisms in the great outdoors. I have twice baptized babies at home and once in the hospital. I even once baptized a nervous young groom who was about to be married at my kitchen table. Each has its own story.

These are the Christenings, as a liturgist, where I have colored outside the lines.

This summer I have the great joy of baptizing a new little family member. This little one will be baptized in her parents’ living room surrounded by family and friends. Family and friends who come from a variety of Christian traditions or no tradition at all.

Baptism is about welcome and inclusion, not who is in and who is out. There is room for EVERYBODY at God’s table. So for this occasion, I crafted the following liturgy — freely and wildly adapted from the United Church of Christ.

As an Episcopal priest, I can’t use this service on Sunday mornings but it’s a great baptism-on-the-go for those occasions outside of the traditions and trappings of church.

So, here you go!

Opening Hymn    Morning has broken (Everybody can sing the Cat Steven’s hymn!)

Introduction
Following the tradition of Jesus who welcomed children into his arms, we welcome NAME into the World.

Fully respecting the diversity of all gathered here, we affirm the love of God made known in him/her and the sacredness of the covenant shared between this child, his/her parents, grandparents, godparents, family and friends, to support him/her as she grows in hope and love.

Questions of the Parents/Family
Do you desire to have NAME baptized?  We do. 


Will you encourage NAME to learn from the wisdom of the prophets; doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with him/her God? We will.


Will you foster in NAME both a love of God and love of neighbor, that he/she may seek and serve the good in all people? We will.


Will you nurture his/her enquiring and discerning heart through all of the seasons of his/her life? We will.


Will you journey with him/her to discover all the wonders of God’s work found in Mother Earth? We will.

A Promise of Assent
Jesus calls us to welcome children into the full life of connection and community, opening our table and hearts to those most vulnerable, offering the wisdom of the ages to all who hunger for truth.

Do you, who witness and celebrate with NAME today
promise your love, support, and care?

We promise our love, support and care.

Affirmation of Faith

Do you believe in God
the Source, the fountain of life?
I believe in God.

Do you believe in Christ
the Servant, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth?
I believe in Christ.

Do you believe in the Spirit
the Guide, the liberating wellspring of life?
I believe in the Spirit.

Prayer Over the Water & Baptism
We thank you, God, for the gift of creation made known to us in water and word.
Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life.
In the time of Moses, your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land.
You have come to us through water in the stories of Jesus who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb, baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, and became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and sent them forth to baptize with water and spirit.
Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water. With this living water, bless all refreshed, quenched and renewed here with the gift of new and resurrected life. Amen

By what name will this child be called?
NAME.

I baptize you NAME with faith in the living God,
Source, Servant and Guide.

May the Spirit be upon you,
child of God,
son/daughter of Love. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication
God of wonder, we give thanks for the open-hearted and generous spirit of all, parents, family and friends, who provide a safe harbor and a loving home where NAME may explore, learn, play and grow in to the full stature of your compassion and grace. Amen.

Celtic Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you NAME. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of her hand. Amen.

Freely and wildly adapted from the Baptism liturgy of the United Church of Christ and other sources.


More Manure, More Fruit.

Many years ago, on the Great Vigil of Easter at Immanuel Church on-the-Hill, two of my four children were baptized. Zach was three and a half and Colleen was just eighteen months. It was a grand and chaotic occasion as friends and relatives gathered late that Sunday evening. The Paschal Fire blazed in a Weber Grille on the steps of the church. The people processed in behind the single flame, behind the deacon chanting the Exultet.  Inside the church was pitch black. Zach tripped over a kneeler, bumped his head on the back of a pew and screamed bloody murder. As the lights came up, we dried his tears. Somehow the service continued with readings and prayers and responses and finally the baptism itself. 

”Zach, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever,” said the priest as he smeared oil on Zach’s forehead.

Christ’s own forever.

 With these words ringing in his ears, Zach turned to us, his mom and dad, with terror in his eyes. Christ? Christ? Who’s Christ? I don’t want to go home with Christ. I want to go home with you!

After all, home is where the heart is? Right? Home is where our duty lies. Right?  Don’t we all have obligations? My family expects things of me, always has. Each time I set foot outside my parent’s home, my father would remind me: Remember you are a Peacock! To be a Peacock meant reading good books, using good manners, conserving electricity, graduating from college, dressing in good taste, voting Republican, and keeping family secrets.  I cannot tell you on how many counts I have failed my father’s expectations (God rest his soul!) 

My life, like yours, I’m sure has taken various twists and turns with jobs and family, hopes and dreams. Ultimately our lives are measured by the mercy of God, but in the meantime, it seems we are eternally beholden to our parents, our spouses, our partners, our children. Family first, right??

Caught between the first and the fifth commandments – I am the Lord, your God. There are no other gods but Me and Honor your father and your mother, we might feel betwixt and between. What does faith demand? What does family require?

How many of us went to the wrong school, took the wrong job or married the wrong person — at least as far as our family was concerned? How many of us dared to be an artist instead of an accountant? An organic farmer instead of a hedge fund manager?  Who among us did not grow up to become the doctor, the lawyer or the Indian Chief?  Did not become the one everyone expected us to be? 

When did you realize that maybe you had fallen far from the tree? 

When did you know, when did you become aware that Someone Else had a claim on your life? When did you get the inkling that while uniquely your own your life might not be entirely your own?  

This is the Christian version of an inconvenient truth. It is the uncomfortable truth that Saint Augustine desperately tried to avoid. In his “Confessions”, the first autobiography ever written, Augustine shares his own tug-of-war tale between God and family.

Augustine’s upwardly mobile parents had grand plans for their bright baby boy. He would be instructed in the Christian faith but not actually become a Christian — not just yet. His mother, Monica wanted him to get through the terrible teens first; let those raging hormones subside. Then he would go to university, master rhetoric, become a lawyer. Not yet ready to marry, he would take a concubine with whom he later fathered a son.

Augustine managed to get to Mass most Sundays but only for the first half. He would leave before communion. He kept putting his baptism off, kicking it like a can down the road. First, you see, his family wanted for him every success, every prize.

So, Augustine knelt and fervently and famously prayed – “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.  Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet.”  Let me stay home and be about my family’s business. First, Lord, let me honor my mother and my father (and reap the benefits thereof.)

Follow in the family footsteps or shake loose from the family tree? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind OR Honor your father and your mother? Far from simple, right?

What seems like an either/or question is also a both/and proposition. What matters most is that the tree bears fruit.  And quite ironically the more the manure the more the fruit.

“Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree” Alexey Pismenny

A man had a fig tree planted in its vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and still I have found none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.

Jesus had no family home where he could lay his head. Even foxes have holes and birds have nests, but Jesus was essentially homeless. He did not go into the family carpentry business. His only security was in God and his only job was as a son in God’s risky business. Jesus headed God’s way, his own way to Calvary. An unorthodox life destined to bear much fruit.

The Way is the most ancient name for the Christian faith.  To follow Jesus on this Way, to become his disciple, we can’t just stay safe and secure at home. We need to get out and about. We need to be more than couch potato Christians. St. Augustine – with God’s help – left behind father and mother – wealth and status — and quite belatedly went down into the Baptismal waters. And he came up a Christian – far from perfect, conflicted and complex and complicated – sealed as Christ’s forever.

And what was true for Augustine is true for us.

Christ embraces this life — imperfect and unfinished, messy in every respect and piled up to the neck in manure.  Whether we are fully grown or newly born, it does not matter. We’re called to get up out of our pews, out of our comfort zones — to walk into those uncomfortable places. To walk into the places where we can see, seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Where we are called to strive for justice and peace among all people. Where we are required to respect of every human being. 

Every human being.

So where is that for you personally? Where might that be for us as a parish? Pastorally, prophetically?  Might it be in the things we are already doing? Or maybe in things we have yet to dream of.

Mis-steps are guaranteed along this Way, but let’s dream on anyway. Because with God’s help and with us holding each other up, we can walk this rocky and uneven path and walk like Jesus the way to Jerusalem.


Splash! Dash! Dunk!

I am no Hemingway…

But like the Old Man of his Pulitzer winning novel, I have long had a problematic relationship with large bodies of water.

Sea water and pool water.

As a child – by the sea, by the beautiful sea – my fair, freckled skin would fry to a crisp. Bright red and hot to the touch – it took just 15 minutes splashing around in the waves – until I was thoroughly cooked.

Slathered with Solarcaine I was waylaid on the sand.   To shield me from the sun, I had to wear my father’s t-shirt and my mother’s floppy hat – while my siblings boogie-boarded and had  a grand old time.

The sea was not my friend —  but neither was the neighborhood pool.

My older sister, Maureen, once she reached driving age, chauffeured us in a fish-tailed Plymouth station wagon to our swimming lessons.

I flunked.

I flunked swimming lessons three times.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Terrified of heights, I never learned to dive. The best I managed to do was doggy paddle the length of the pool. By the time I finally passed, I was at least a head taller than all of the other pollywogs in my class.

Yes, I have long had a problematic relationship with water.

Water won. I lost.

So water and I made a deal.

“I’ll wear my swim suit, Water, but I will never get it wet.”

Be it by the pool or by the sea, I would find a comfortable chair, slather my fair and freckled skin with SPF 100, sit under an umbrella and read a book – or two – or three.

Slather, rinse, repeat.

And that is how  I thought it was going to be — for all eternity –with water and me…

Until.

Cross training for my first half marathon, I signed up for twice weekly water aerobics at the local rec center.

Now most people think water aerobics is just a bunch of old ladies splashing around in the pool.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Barbara, the instructor, worked us like a drill sergeant. The routine is demanding and never boring. Armed with noodles and styrofoam barbells, water shoes and swimming gloves:

Like frogs we skim  the surface.

Like divers we explore the depths.

Like cyclists we pedal the length, the breadth.

Like bells in a belfry we swing both to and fro.

Like flying fish we shoot out of the water.

Like dancers we pivot and turn.

Like soldiers we march.

Like taskmasters we kick our butts.

Like yogis we stretch.

Like runners we run.

Like rowers we row ourselves ashore.

Like dolphins we submerge and rise again.

Water is buoyant – it bolsters my spirit and lifts my mood.

Water is a solvent – solving and dissolving my daily cares.

Water is a liquid –it pools my soul.

Water crashes in waves – washing over me and making me clean.

Water ebbs and flows  – its moods and mine obeying the moon.

Recently, a bit off my game, I have discovered my gym’s heated salt water pool. Miraculously I have managed to make it more days than not this new year. A self directed hour of flying, stretching, running and rowing. A self directed hour of renewal.

Water. Baptismal water.

Thank you, Lord God of the Universe, for the gift of water. Over it the Spirit moved at the dawn of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

And in these baptismal waters — splash, dash, dunk — I  die and rise again.

P.S. Yes, this is an update of previous post!