Every Picture…

…tells a story.

Recently a friend gave me a sweet little gift that inspired me to create an exercise for St. Alban’s annual parish weekend.   The project began last Wednesday night at the first Get Fed @ St. Alban’s program when several parishioners helped me cut out 40 small cross shaped pieces of paper from card stock.  IMG_6296The cross shapes were then folded and assembled into cubes. After the cubes were completed small images were added to each side of the cubes and voila… a story cube!

IMG_6304During Saturday morning’s teaching session on joy parishioners assembled in small groups and were given a set of cubes.  Each person in the group then “rolled” the cubes like dice and was instructed to tell a story about their lives based on the images that turned up.  From what I could tell by walking around and listening, to a person everyone was thoroughly engaged in telling their stories. IMG_6318People learned new things about individuals that they had known for years; some laughed, some clapped, some cried. One parishioner told me later in the day that they weren’t usually into touch-feely experiences but really enjoyed the exercise.  In retrospect the only mistake I made was stopping what was designed to take up to thirty minutes of the morning program after nearly an hour.

It’s interesting to think about all of the people we interact with regularly and yet don’t have a… cube? as to where they have been and what they have experienced in life. One parishioner told me on Saturday afternoon that after many years of living a locked down life in Washington DC – guarding every vulnerability because each was a liability – the church (and our exercise) was a beautiful thing because it welcomes rather than rejects what is or has been the truth of our lives.   “Being vulnerable,” in fact, may be the shortest and most succinct summary of the entire New Testament; we are saved – invited to live an authentic and vulnerable life – by God’s own vulnerability in the Son.

IMG_6332We ended the exercise Saturday morning by asking the participants to roll the cubes and use the images to tell a story about a joyful experience in their lives. Stories of God’s Grace abounded and relationships were deepened and strengthened.  Thanks be to God.

Happy Monday,

Jim+

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Trying Something New

This weekend is the parish retreat.  Almost 100 St. Albanites will be traveling to Massanetta Springs, VA for a weekend away full of fellowship, community, learning, and fun.  I am positive we will have a wonderful time.

 

On Sunday morning, Rev. Jim Quigley and I will be at the morning services trying something a little different, a little unique and certainly something new.  In fact, I’ve never heard of another church doing this:  BOTH Jim and I will preach on Sunday morning.

 

Rest easy:  there WON’T be a double-length sermon (although that WOULD be incentive next year for people to go on the parish retreat I’d imagine!).  Instead we are going to employ strict time keeping measures to ensure that we stay right around 12 minutes in total for our joint sermon.  We have crafted a series of three questions that touch on what each passage reveals about God, our relationship with God and to what action God may be calling the church.  Jim will explore the Exodus reading by answering these three questions and I will do the same with the gospel passage.

 

One of the good things about the preaching at St. Alban’s is that each of the clergy have very unique and distinctive preaching styles and ways of interpreting the scriptures.  We are blessed with a number of preachers from first-time to much more seasoned and experienced.

 

Most Sundays we hear one voice, one preacher’s point of view and interpretation of the lectionary readings of the day.  This experiment in preaching may turn out to be outstanding; it may totally flop, but our hope is that by offering two different voices, points of view, and answers to the same questions for this set of readings we will provide a different way of experiencing how God is alive and active in our lives.

 

With God’s Peace and Blessing,

Matthewfirst

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Turning Secular into Sacred

Seeing the sacred in anything that helps us experience beauty or challenges us to think in a new way is akin to turning water into wine, I’ve always thought.  We have opportunities every day to take a mundane moment and create a holy moment, though we probably squander many of of those opportunities in our hurry through life.  I’ll speak for myself anyway…yes, I have an abundance of such opportunities and I do regularly squander them.

Five years ago St. Alban’s began a series of 45 minute programs on Friday afternoons that were meant to give you a chance to slow down briefly and experience what might be termed as “secular” in a sacred space, making connections you might not have made before.  This season’s Arts@Midday offerings are as varied as ever, and certainly not mundane!  If your Friday permits this week (or any of the other eight Fridays when programs are offered), join us at 12:15 for the fifth season’s opening program.   These take place in the church and are free.  A@M 2014-2015 flyer. Don’t squander these nine opportunities to experience holy, and even unique, moments of artistry.  And perhaps you will discover, or rediscover, that art in all its forms fosters worship.

koto 1September 19 Koto Music: Reminiscences, the Sea, and Seabirds with Miyuki Yoshikami, koto and Amy Thomas, flute in a mixture of classical and contemporary pieces, the program will provide tips on how to listen to Japanese koto music. The program will include: Omoide no Uta goe (Songs of Nostalgia), Rokudan and Rokudan-Flute, music by Washington area composer Lori Laitman and Haru no Umi (Sea at Spring) by Miyagi Michio.

October 17 OperaBelle with Angela Knight, soprano, Katherine Keem, soprano and Anna Korsakova, Mezzo-Soprano, this trio of opera singers will present a selection of operatic arias, ensembles, art songs, and Broadway hits in Italian, French, German, English, Korean, and Russian. OperaBelle is a concert group of three female professional opera singers from the Washington National Opera.

November 14 Samuel Becket’s Molloy with John Daniel Reaves in a stage adaptation of excerpts from Molloy by Samuel Beckett, created and performed by John Daniel Reaves. Combining the serious and the outrageously comic, the story revolves around questioning the brutality of World War II and ultimately wondering about the meaning of life.

December 12 A Colonial Christmas. Christmas in colonial America was very different than one might imagine – Puritan New Englanders actually banned the holiday for awhile and imposed fines on anyone caught reveling. But a deep musical tradition still flourished around the holiday, and flutist Tyler St. Clare will lead the audience in an exploration of some of the history and sounds of Christmas Day in colonial America.

January 23 Music and the Arts on the Cusp of Modernism, a performance of Erwartung, a short opera from the early, lesser known Romantic period of composer Arnold Schoenberg and a discussion on how he would influence music for the rest of the 20th century. This psychological monodrama follows one woman’s ramblings as she wanders alone in an eerie forest. Performed by soprano Meagan Brus, clarinetist Eric Umble, and pianist Sophia Vastek.

February 20 Word Dance Theater is inspired by modern dancer Isadora Duncan’s innovative and humanistic approach to art, Word Dance Theater is dedicated to continuing the legacy of Ms. Duncan’s revolutionary spirit. Join us in an interactive, open rehearsal where you will participate with dancers, musicians and actors rehearsing and refining a section of Word Dance Theater’s next theatrical production.

March 13 Meditations in Words and Music.  Organist and pianist Sonya Sutton in a program of meditative music and readings that promise to quiet your mind and create an introspective Lenten experience.

April 17 Halleluia! with Mary Shaffran, soprano in a concert of sacred and secular songs of that feature Hallelujah and Alleluia in all its glorious forms. Coming out of a penitent Lenten season, enjoy a joyous concert filled with songs of praise, featuring Bach, Mozart and a newly commissioned work by David Caleb.

May 15 Afro-Latin World Percussion with Luis Garay. An interactive performance by master percussionist Luis Garay that will include original Afro-Latin music performed on the berimbao, balafon, hand drums and more.

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Unbelievable! (Seven)

This series explores what we don’t believe — and why — in order to help us understand what we do believe, and why we do.

UnknownThe church does not teach us to despise the world.

Many years ago, I saw the Umberto Eco movie, The Name of the Rose, in which Sean Connery played a monk-turned-sleuth who had to investigate a series of gruesome murders in a medieval monastery. The murders were not the only thing in that monastery that was disturbing; it was one of the least joyful places I’ve ever seen depicted on film. There was even a confrontation about whether Jesus ever laughed — something that was inconceivable to the elders there. You can see the clip here, if you wish to:

We’ve all heard joyless versions of Christianity. They go something like this: Life is a vale of suffering. The role of a faithful person is to endure without complaint. He who endures to the end shall be saved.  And yet, this set of teachings, which has been widely espoused, is not the teaching of Scripture itself.

It is true: Scripture makes it clear that suffering is present in christ-carrying-the-cross-giovanni-bellinievery life, and that it will come to anyone who tries to follow Christ. We are told to take up our cross, to endure persecution. We are told not to allow ourselves to be controlled by passing attachments to what will fade, but to keep our sight fixed on the glory that will never fade. We are warned that we will be divided from the closest members of our families, that we may be imprisoned, that we will need a strong relationship with Christ to hold fast until the end.

And yet, the call of Christ is not to endure these things with passive acquiescence, but to resist them. And the tool we are given is not brute endurance, but joy: the joy of living in a redeemed creation, the joy that comes from the hope of resurrection, the joy that comes from the deep conviction that the worst is not the last.

To despise the world is to hold it of little account. The Stoics, who were popular thought-leaders at the time Christ lived, taught that it granted a kind of freedom: freedom from passion, freedom from care, freedom to act without fear of being brought into shame or dishonor or death. And some of this teaching did get imported into Scripture and into the church.

But Jesus did not despise the world. He was born among the poor, worked with his hands, traveled and begged and taught and prayed and suffered and died because he loved this world. God so loved this world that he did not allow its suffering to go unchecked forever. God redeemed it. 

And so our model as people who try to follow Jesus is one of deep tenderness: tenderness for creation, tenderness for all human beings, tenderness for the sick, the suffering, and the sorrowful, as well as for those who are rich in joy. And this tenderness will cause us pain, because we live in a world in which horrible things happen. And it will give us freedom to act: not the freedom of apathy, but the freedom of a great and terrible love. For the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom 5:5)

I want to leave you with a poem today; it’s by Jack Gilbert, and it’s called “A Brief for the Defense.”

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Unknown-1___________________________

“The worst is not the last” is borrowed from John Claypool.

 

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Doing JJustice

The full name of these Daily Cups at their beginning was A Daily Cup of Good News. I must confess that I have at times found it difficult to adhere to the Good News theme. My tendencies generally run in the direction of “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” So I’m delighted be able to write a good news cup about something about which I am often outraged – prosecutorial misconduct.

I refer to the news item in the Washington Post last Friday, September 12, about the creation by the office of the U. S. Attorney in Washington DC of a “conviction integrity unit” to identify potentially wrongful convictions and to do something about them. Of equal note in the article was the announcement of a new priority on justice and not just winning convictions.

If you didn’t see it, here’s a link.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/dc-prosecutors-create-unit-to-find-wrongful-convictions/2014/09/11/91a3722c-39da-11e4-bdfb-de4104544a37_story.html

I was afraid it might go unnoticed, but I was delighted to hear of it on radio news programs a couple of times over the weekend. How long, O Lord, how long has this taken. God grant that it is a pilot program that will spread throughout all the AG’s offices in America.

Hopefully we are on a new course: away from prosecutorial overbearing, withholding of exculpatory evidence, plea bargaining, limitations on appeals, and all the evils that are exemplified by the exoneration of innocent people after 10, 20, 30 years of imprisonment, examples which are tragically not exceptional but common, examples which make a mockery our professed ideal of equal justice for all. When did we drift away from the notion that it is better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted?

So I read the item in last Friday’s Post as the best news in the paper that week, and I am delighted to share it with you as a Daily Cup of Good News indeed. Drink up.

For Courts of Justice

Almighty God, who sits on the throne judging right: We humbly beseech you to bless the courts of justice and the magistrates of this land; and give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding that they may discern the truth, and impartially administer the law in the fear of you alone; through him who shall come to be our Judge, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP pg. 821)

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 16-September-2014

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Faith and Suspicion

Many who attended a church service yesterday got to hear the infamous “parting of the waters” passage from Exodus (14.19-31). The passage concludes with Israel seeing scads of dead Egyptians on the seashore.  Upon seeing the dead the Israelites are filled with fear and belief:  “Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians.  So the people feared the LORD and believed the LORD...”  The fear part I get.  If I saw saw the same and figured that the mayhem was God’s handiwork I’d fear the LORD too.  But I wonder, just what did they believe?  That God is into killing?  That’s God’s great work?

Last week while fondly remembering my seminary days with a colleague I shared a story about how when our Old Testament professor walked around the the room passing out the Blue Books containing the essays we had written for our first exam on Genesis and Exodus she said, “I just want to remind some of you that the book is somewhat different than the movie…”

When you imagine Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus narrative what do you see? Do you imagine an oppressed, exploited and desperate caravan of people – helpless men and women and children – making their way through the waters Moses miraculously parted?  TenCommand3_034PyxurzDo you imagine a scenario where there’s clearly “good guys and bad guys?” It’s been many years since I watched The Ten Commandments but that’s the kind of picture that was planted in my head in childhood.  When I sat in church hearing that story read yesterday something challenged that childhood image for me.

For the first time I heard (and read) that in the text the opposing sides in the story (Israel and Egypt) are described in exactly the same way – as armies.  “The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them… It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel.  If one pays attention to the text what is being described is tactical combat. Translations other than the NRSV describe the opposing sides as “hosts” and in biblical Hebrew the word that the NRSV translates as army is macheneh.  A macheneh is a camp or encampment and the root word it’s derived from – chanah – means to encamp or lay siege against.  Oh boy.  Is this a story about war or deliverance?

The bible is not easy book.  One word for how we read and interpret it is “hermeneutic.” Hermeneutics is the art of seeing (and interpreting) and everybody taking their faith and their search for the God of Holy Scripture seriously should have one!  Scholars distinguish between the “hermeneutics of faith” and the “hermeneutics of suspicion.”  A hermeneutic of faith is a way of reading which seeks to restore the meaning of a text and a hermeneutic of suspicion is a way of reading which attempts to uncover meanings that are disguised in the text itself.  Both lenses are critical if we are to really “see” and come to understand what Holy Scripture might actually be revealing about who we are and who God is.  What’s your hermeneutic?

This Wednesday (September 17) we begin our Wednesday night education series at St. Alban’s.  We are calling the series Get Fed and we’ll kick off with a shared meal (6:30-7pm; $5 per person) followed by Choral Evensong.  The series will continue (dinner 6:30-7pm; program 7pm) on Wednesday, September 24th, October 1 & October 8 with The Prophetic Interpreter.  In this series The Rev. Deborah Meister will utilize the latest work of a certain Old Testament Professor who once reminded her students that the book is different than the movie (Dr. Ellen Davis will be coming to St. Alban’s in March to deliver our first Chautauqua Memorial Lecture, “Discipleship in a Sick Society”).  The series will continue on Wednesdays October 15 – November 19 with Six Days A Week: Living our Faith Monday Through Saturday.  In that series The Rev. Matthew Hanisian will explore putting faith into practice in the midst of our busy lives. Registration for Get Fed is not required and childcare is provided.

On Monday evenings (October 6 – December 1; 7-8:30pm) and Thursday mornings (September 25 – November 20; 10:15-11:45am) The Rev. Deborah Meister and The Rev. Jim Quigley will lead two new foundational units for The Core Curriculum.  The Core Curriculum consists of 5 units of study (Foundations of the Spiritual Life; The Scriptures that Shaped Jesus; Encountering Paul; The Sermon On the Mount; The City of God).  The foundational unit is a nine-week series and a deep immersion in prayer, inviting God to shape who we are at the core of our being.  The foundational Core unit is a prerequisite for participation in the rest of the Core series.  Registration for the Core Curriculum is required; contact the Rev. Deborah Meister to enroll.

Finally, on Wednesday, September 24 (10-11am in the library) the Wednesday morning Bible Study resumes.  The WBS is led by The Rev. Jim Quigley.   Registration for WBS is not required and the topic of our fall study will be chosen at gathering of existing participants this Wednesday.

Many years ago St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis started something called The Church Ad Project.  The project was an effort to create intelligent ads that would invite people to join the Episcopal Church.  One of my favorite ads was one that read “Jesus came to take away your sins, not your brain.”   Please join us for our numerous offerings this fall at St. Alban’s as we engage in the hard work of faith and interpretation.

Come, Get Fed and develop your Hermeneutic!

Happy Monday,

Jim+

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Our Mission

ASP LogoOn Sunday morning, between the 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. services the 16 youth and adults who traveled in June to Greeneville, Tennessee will present what we learned, felt, and experienced as missionaries.  While we did not travel to some far flung, non-Christian land as perhaps missionaries of times gone by have done, we did bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to two families in Greene County.  We also brought hammers, and tool belts and a healthy amount of eager energy as we worked on their roofs, helping their families to be warmer and drier this winter.  We worked with the Appalachian Service Program (ASP for short) which has helped over 15,000 families in rural Appalachia over the last 45 years.

 

This is the largest group we’ve taken on an ASP Mission Trip since I’ve been here.  It is the fifth year that St. Alban’s has sent a group of youth and adults to ASP.  We were 16 of over 13,000 volunteers who came to central Appalachia from all over the country to help people they’d never met before.  I am certain that the reasons they came to serve with ASP are as varied as the reasons why our 16 volunteers decided to give up a week of vacation to labor together.  However, I’m also certain that each one left feeling more connected to one another, loved by God, and grateful for the gifts they received from their experience at ASP.

 

ASP 2014

I hope that you will come to the presentation on Sunday morning and hear our stories.  I hope that you will learn a little bit about why this mission trip is so important and life changing to practically everyone who goes.  I also hope that you will be inspired to perhaps come with us in 2015.  We took 16 this year, I’d like us to take at least 30 in 2015.  The dates are June 21-27, 2015.  The cost is $550 per person and includes all meals, travel and housing.

 

Come and learn about our mission; come and learn how you can be a missionary with us next year, and how you can help in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Matthewfirst

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