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Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Alex Easley on Mark 16:7

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
I have an Australian Shepherd named Francis. Francis sort of resembles a Muppet; he is a little silly looking and irresistibly cute. He is an excellent companion, especially if you enjoy snuggling on the couch. Francis is always happy to lounge and laze. But if you want him to get up and get moving, you just have to say the magic word: “Vamos!”
Vamos in Spanish means, “Let’s go!” Growing up in South Texas, a few Spanish words naturally worked their way into my vocabulary. As kids, when my Mom wanted my sisters and me to hurry up and get out the door for school or church, she would shout, “Vamos!”
Now I say the same to my dog Francis. When I say, “Vamos, Francis,” he jumps into the air like he’s received an electric shock. Tail wagging, trembling with excitement, he runs to the door. He knows that “Vamos” means that he gets to go on an adventure, like go for a walk or for a ride in the car. And his whole furry little body seems to say in return, “Let’s do it! Let’s go!”
In the Easter season, we celebrate and contemplate the ways that the Risen Christ made himself known to his disciples after his resurrection and continues to make himself known to us today. All four Gospel accounts of the resurrection share a common theme: when Jesus’s disciples discover the mysteriously empty tomb, they are told to go. In Matthew, the angel tells Mary Magdalene, “Go quickly,” and when Jesus meets her on the road, he, too, says to her, “Go” (Mt 28:7,10). In John, the Risen Lord tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, but go” (Jn 20:17). In Luke, Jesus first appears to disciples who are indeed already on the go; he walks and talks with two disciples who are going to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). And finally, in Mark 16:7, the angel tells the women at the empty tomb, “But go…and there you will see him.”    
What the Risen Christ said to his first disciples, he says to us: “Go! Vamos!” Go tell people about me. Go proclaim forgiveness. Go show grace. Go make friends. Go serve your neighbor and your enemy. Go on an adventure and find my Spirit at work in new places. Go!
The Resurrection is an urgent matter. When we witness that resurrection, when we get a glimpse of the risen Christ, it wakes us from our torpor and timidity. Resurrection animates us the same way that Francis is exhilarated by the prospect of a new adventure. If we listen, we can hear Christ saying to you and to me, “Vamos! Let’s go.”
Alex is the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seguin, TX.

Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Brian Tarver on Mark 16:6

“But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

Cannons blast with pastel colored confetti. Trumpets sound in victorious cheer. Lilies erupt into bloom. The heavenly chorus sings Alleluia in resounding joy. Finally, the Easter declaration resolves the melody. “He has been raised; he is not here.” The long expected finale to what seemed a bummer of a story. But is it?

Don’t be mad, but…

Whether a friend begins with this phrase instead of a greeting or these words come from a toddler with paint covered hands, you brace yourself for what is to follow. Often what comes next will most likely cause anger, or they would not have started their sentence in that way. This phrase serves as a precursor for something unpleasant. We know to brace ourselves when someone begins by telling us not to be mad.

Do not be alarmed…

What follows will definitely cause alarm. Throughout scripture, heavenly beings begin with a greeting encouraging humans not to be afraid. This greeting is typically followed by something that definitely causes alarm or fear. This phrase serves a precursor for God upending the norm. Earlier, in chapter six of Mark, a synagogue leader begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Others distract Jesus on his way to accomplish this task. Some people approach the synagogue leader, informing him of the terrible news that his daughter has died. Jesus overhears this conversation and interrupts, saying, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus finds the leader’s daughter and raises her to life again.

These words do more than indicate something difficult lies ahead; they signify that God is at work. This phrase voices the offer of comfort for what will come. We know that God is doing something incredible and that God asks for trust when we hear “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid” or “Do not be alarmed” in Scripture.

Do not be alarmed, for God is with you.

The young man in the white robe announces the Easter proclamation. This is not the resolution but a beginning. This greeting indicates that God will upend in the norm. The Easter proclamation leaves us more in suspense than in resolution. He has been raised. This will cause alarm, but trust that God is at work. Do not fear, only believe.

The celebration of Christ’s resurrection unfolds so quickly in the church. We spend an entire week contemplating the events leading up to Christ’s death, but the emotions of the empty tomb are a blur. There is little time to reflect on the uncertainty and suspense in seeing the place where they laid him empty. It is like the slow expectation of a roller coaster clicking its way up the first incline and the whirlwind of the downslope. At the turning point, the heavenly call away from fear turns us toward renewed hope. It is a gift for those places in our lives that feel unresolved.

Do not be alarmed. He has been raised.

A boy watched as the older kids celebrated. It was his older brother’s birthday party. The younger brother watched as all the invited guests gathered around the cake. As everyone prepared to sing an off key rendition of the birthday song, the father slid over to the small boy. He knew something that the rest of the party did not. While everyone had been in the other room, the father had exchanged the candles on the chocolate cake with trick candles. No one else knew that the magnesium flakes in the wick would reignite the flame. Making a wish, the older brother filled his lungs with as much air as possible. Just as he released his deep breath, the father leaned over to the younger brother, and said, “Watch this…”


Brian is the rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and School in Beeville, TX.

Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Bert Baetz on Mark 16:5

“As [the women] entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.”                                                                                - Mark 16:5
Following the Maundy Thursday service, a woman who has spent her entire life in our church said to me, "I have never noticed the altar looking like it did tonight.  With everything gone, it looked like a tomb." 
Every year, with the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, we ritualize the words Jesus spoke from the cross: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  It is on the Thursday in Holy Week when we celebrate the Eucharist for the last time in the season of Lent, and we then remove all the vessels, hangings, worship books, candles, the consecrated elements, and everything else that feeds our deepest spiritual hunger.  That night, when all had been stripped away and all the living sacrifices had been taken out of the sanctuary, our limestone slab of an altar and the large rough rock on which it rests looked like a tomb, no doubt. 
Three days later, on Easter Day, the sanctuary had a completely different look and feel to it.  That morning, the children in our parish had flowered the cross inside the sanctuary, and so at the appointed time for their sermon, I invited the children to come forward and peer into the sanctuary.  They could see the flowered cross, the Easter lilies, and the living bodies dressed in white robes.  Coupled with the Easter story from the gospel of Mark, we could still see the large stone in our sanctuary, but in that spiritual territory, the stone had been rolled away, and we discovered life.
In the final verses of Mark's gospel, the stone clearly assumes great significance in the story; it represents something to everybody involved and invested in the outcome of this story.  In an Easter Day sermon, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells brought this to light for me in just how strong of a symbol the stone can be in the story.  We can imagine that stone, he says, through the eyes of the different participants in the Easter story.  [1]
Interestingly, on their way to the tomb, the women were concerned about one thing in particular, the stone.  The women had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us?"  The stone was that inanimate, but seemingly immovable object that kept them in the past; the stone only represented the memory of the dream that had died.
The stone represented something else to the Roman and Judean authorities; it was the immovable object that seemed to demonstrate their power and control in that present moment.  For those authorities, the stone seemed to suggest that things were going to stay the same. 
And yet, because the stone had been rolled away, we can be sure that everything about the past, present, and future has changed.  In his sermon, Sam Wells says, "For Jesus, the stone represented the future.  It was the symbol that nothing can separate the Father from him or him from us."
We have our own stones, and we might ask the same question as the women: who will roll away this stone?  It is that large and seemingly immovable object between us and God.  Who will roll away this stone?  And then, on Easter Day, with the women, we discover the Truth; the stone has been rolled away and nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We enter that space where we come to know the future with Christ raised from the dead.
On Easter Day at St. Peter's, I watched the children enter the sanctuary and flower the cross.  They entered that space so freely; it was not unlike the first Easter when the women so freely entered the tomb to find a young man, dressed in a white robe.  In my white vestments, surrounded by lilies and children, I sat on the small wooden step-stool inside the sanctuary, told the story, and shared in the good news of Easter.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.
Bert is the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Kerrville, TX.

[1] http://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/April24TheRollingStones.pdf
[1] http://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/April24TheRollingStones.pdf

Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Madeline Shelton Hawley on Mark 16:4

“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.”
It’s not often that we come face to face with boulders blocking our path.  But maybe you’re more of a hiker than I am!  More often than not, I find what blocks my path these days is an internal struggle. It’s the resentment I can’t seem to shift, the jealousy I can’t move beyond, the self-doubt that stops me from moving forward.  These existential boulders feel all the more weighty and substantial for being so intangible!  I often crave something concrete and physical to grapple with.  Then I might be able to push my shoulder into it and give into the illusion that I might have some control.  But these internal boulders are the kind that I have to ask God to help me shift through prayer. Simply put they’re unmanageable on my own.
A few years ago I found that I was stymied by a large boulder in my way. I had been trying to move around it for several years with no success. I couldn’t move forward. You see, I used to be an artist. I painted, I doodled, I made sculpture, I sewed. Making things was a part of my life. But a big old creative block sat in the midst of my path, and I couldn’t even budge it. I stopped painting. I stopped making sculpture. I stopped making pottery. I spent creative energy on writing sermons instead of on art. And the internal boulder began to become more and more substantial. The more I ignored it, the more I realized I couldn’t shift it myself.
So I began to ask God to help roll away that creative block. It started small, journals and prayers for clarity and vision.  I began to ask God to help me nurture others’ creativity. I began to believe that God wanted my art to bring beauty into the world. Even if it was only my little corner of the world.  The first paintings and doodles became precious, and even more precious was the process that let me engage again with art. When the stone that blocks the flow of new life is rolled away, it’s like letting out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. It’s a moment of relief and moving forward. The thing that stood in your way has been pushed aside. God has made possible what before was impossible.
I wonder what stone in your own life you need God’s help to move? Where is new Easter life seeking to burst out and make you feel God’s love?
God is waiting. Waiting to bring new life and new promise to your soul.
Faithfully yours,
The Rev. Madeline Shelton Hawley
Maddie is the rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in south Austin, TX.

Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Mike Woods on Mark 16:3

“They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’”
Have you ever noticed how, when you’re typing, if you get your fingers just one key off, everything becomes distorted?  This usually happens in the dark, but has been known to happen with the lights on as well.  If I set my left pointer finger on the “d” instead of the “f” (thank you 5th grade typing class), even though the action of typing feels normal, everything comes out wrong.  One millimeter difference changes  “hello there” to “gwkki rgwew.”
But, with the tiniest little shift of our fingers, suddenly everything makes sense, things become clear.
I was sitting in a staff meeting a few weeks back and one of my co-workers was sharing his story of how he ended up working at St. Mark’s.  As many young people do, this young man had been wondering about what he was supposed to do with his life.  He had spent the past year thinking and praying about what direction his life would take.  In the meantime, he got a job cleaning floors and bathrooms at our church.  Just an ordinary job, he would say, but something to get him out of his normal routine while he figured out what was next.  He explained how there was a particular day at work when he was busy mopping the parish hall floor that God spoke to him.  He said there wasn’t anything special about this day above any other day, and the task wasn’t any different than what was part of his normal routine.  He was mopping floors and God spoke.  He said it was as clear to him as anything else had ever been that he was supposed to go back to school to become an engineer.  He said he knew in the moment that through this ordinary job, he found what he was supposed to do.   An ordinary job with extraordinary results, I would say.
His story reminded me of a story of my own.  During college, I would often take a day or two out of the month for myself for a quiet retreat. I would use this time to get away from the noise of school and the busy-ness of life. Getting back to nature, maybe my own nature, as it were, was where I found myself soaring instead of being stifled. I would usually end up at Enchanted Rock State Park with my tent in hand, hiking shoes on my feet, all the while looking for a change of rhythm.  I felt like being close to the earth, the “outdoors”, would do me some good.  My routine was the same each time I went.  I would get my gear out and set up my campsite.  Then, I would head up to the top of the large granite dome either from a boulder crack on the side of the dome or just trek up the main trail on the front side of the dome.  Once at the top, I would find a quiet spot to sit so I could look out over the view and get lost in my thoughts.
A couple of friends of mine knew I took these trips and had been bugging me to go on one with me. So, in the midst of my own personal grumblings, I took them on my next trip. My two friends and I arrived at the park and unloaded our gear.  We set up camp and then headed to the trail to get to the top of the dome.  I asked them if they wanted to try something a bit more challenging by going up the boulder crack to the top and they both agreed it sounded fun and interesting.  For the next two hours I coached, encouraged, laughed, learned, and journeyed with my two friends up the side of this huge granite dome.  It was a journey of joy and clarity for me. I learned how in adjusting my own expectations and desires, that old journeys can be made new, can become life-giving.
As I sat with this phrase from the Gospel passage where the women worry over who will do this “thing,” this rolling of the stone, I wondered if their hearts were set on doing what was normal to them, what was routine, or just what needed to get done even in the midst of deep sorrow and despair. They were doing their ordinary duty as faithful followers of their leader and custom. Maybe it had been something they had done a hundred times before.  They knew the routine and they knew what to expect.  What they didn’t expect was to be surprised by God - not if they were worried about rolling away a rock.  I’m not saying the women’s perspective was wrong, but I find it interesting how often their thoughts or my thoughts settle on mundane, practical, logistical things instead of divine things. I am quick to get caught up in my own daily-ness and routine, or my own expectations and desires that I sometimes forget to be able to be surprised by God. Isn’t this our Eastertide calling?  To be surprised by new life?
If you’re in a place where your life feels “off” or where life doesn’t feel particularly incredible, maybe you don’t need a whole new life. Maybe you just need a millimeter adjustment, a tiny new perspective. And when you sit in that place, maybe everything will look different. God shows up in the ordinary and mundane.  God shows up in our daily-ness and routine.  God shows up in our grumbling and in our deepest sorrow and despair.  God can’t help but show up.  Sometimes we just need to shift our fingers over a bit to see it.
Mike is the Assistant to the Rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Marcos, TX.

Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Dr. Travis Helms on Mark 16:2

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”
Greetings, Friends — “Grace and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ,” and your friends at St. Matthew’s, Austin! When Fr. Daniel graciously invited me to reflect on a passage from the Gospel of Mark, I felt humbled and excited. However, I then realized the invitation was to reflect on a single verse of scripture, which truly is humbling in its difficulty — and also tremendously exciting in potential. Like a little prism you can spin in the sun, the more you contemplate a single verse of Scripture, the more you spin it and spin it, the more it flings and rainbows out its light — its insight that then can soak into our lives (Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag said of Torah, in the 1st or 2nd century, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it!”). Let’s spin this verse of Scripture, then.
The first thing to notice about this particular verse is the time of day. It is early — very early. The sun has just risen; and this fact, I suppose, is the central focus or main emphasis. Those who go to anoint Jesus do so as soon as possible. Even though the task they face bears with it an almost unimaginable burden of grief, they get up early. They cannot help but do so. They know this is the needful thing to do; and they go, as early as they can.
Many mornings I have risen early, as I imagine you have. The reasons that typically compel me to consciousness “when the sun had risen”: fishing, traveling, finishing a sermon. Sometimes (as in the first two cases) it is excitement that wakes me. Sometimes, as in the latter, it is worry. Little needlings of anxiety begin prickling in the early a.m., and intensify, until finally I rise to face the task at hand. Would it not have to have been fear — fear mixed, perhaps, with love for their Lord — that drew those women so early to the tomb? Fear mingled with love then.
Fear is the feeling — biologically and spiritually — that tells us to pay attention. Uncomfortable, even paralyzing as fear can be, it is often an indicator that a moment of consequence is at hand. Fear is an indication that something important is approaching — and in this sense, it is also an invitation — an opportunity to be transformed.
We are arriving at the heart of Mark’s meaning here. I think that the immediacy of the women’s action is meant to show us that, whenever we are faced with uncertainty and fear, our only choice is to go and face it. I think Mark is inviting us to look at the places in our lives that might feel like tombs (our jobs, our homes, our schools, our public square?), and “go there” — pay attention to them — and believe that in those places we may encounter Resurrection.
This invitation reminds me of a parable of the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich. An anchoress, Julian lived in a small cell that was constructed into the walls of a church in eastern England. She had a series of visions, which she called ‘shewings,’ and collected as Revelations of Divine Love. Here is a portion of Chapter 51:
               Our gracious Lord answered in showing very mysteriously a wonderful illustration
of a lord who has a servant …
               The lord sits solemnly in repose and in peace, the servant stands near, before his
lord reverently, ready to do his will. The lord looks upon his servant most lovingly
and sweetly, and humbly he sends him to a certain place to do his will.
               The servant not only goes, but he suddenly leaps up and runs in great haste because
of his love to do his lord’s will. And immediately he falls into a deep pit and receives very great injury. Then he groans and moans and wails and writhes, but he cannot rise up nor help himself in any way.
               In all this, the greatest misfortune that I saw him in was the lack of reassurance, for
he could not turn his face to look back upon his loving lord (who was very near to him and in whom there is complete comfort), but like a man who was feeble and witless for the moment, he was intent on his suffering, and waited in woe …
               … I watched deliberately to see if I could discover any failure in him, or if the lord             would allot him any blame, and truly there was none seen — for only his good will
and his great desire were the cause of his falling …
               And in the same way his loving lord constantly watched him most tenderly …
The servant in Julian’s parable, like the women in Mark’s narrative, runs forth with a desire to serve his lord. He falls, as we all do. Bruised and battered, he lies discouraged in the ditch — and worries his Lord will be displeased. But the Lord is pleased, and even rejoices in the fact that he has run so boldly. Jesus echoes this teaching in many of his own parables (such as the Parable of the Talents). We are to take risks, to do the best we can with what we have — with love, desire to serve our lord, as our guiding drive.
There is something mysterious, even mystical, about the early morning. It feels as if its mists are pregnant with possibility. This is the magic for us as readers; we who know the story, know what these women, when they reach the tomb, will find … nothing — empty space … and yet in that nothing, everything. The tomb becomes a womb; and creation begins to be reborn again. May we have the grace to see what God is birthing, and resurrecting, in us this Season — and the courage to run and serve, as quickly as we can.
Travis is the Curate and Family & Youth Pastor at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX. 

Easter Season Guest Author Series

Hi friends, Easter is this Sunday!  Allel—oh, sorry, I got excited. It’s not quite time for that yet…but almost!

We usually make two mistakes with Easter Season.  First is that we sometimes start to celebrate Easter too soon—Easter Egg hunts on Holy Saturday, for example.  It’s important to wait: Lent is still Lent. Holy Week is about the way of the cross, Jesus’ last supper with his friends, the foot washing, his death and being laid in the tomb.  The story loses some of its power when we skip straight to the last chapter.

The second mistake is that we sometimes don’t celebrate Easter long enough: Easter Season is a full fifty days, all the way until Pentecost on May 20th!  Think about it: Lent is about fasting and repentance and mortality, and it’s forty days long.  Easter is about new life and resurrection and forgiveness of sins and rejoicing—so it’s a full ten days longer!  Easter isn’t just one day; it’s a whole season.  If you took on a Lenten discipline, maybe take on an Easter one, too—only let your Easter ‘discipline’ be fun.  Go to a movie with your spouse every week.  Learn to two-step. Make fancy desserts. Adopt that puppy you’ve been wanting to adopt for six months.  Die your hair pink. You get the idea. Fasting and repentance are practices of Lent. Celebration and refreshment are practices of Easter.

Part of my practice for Easter, and part of ours as a church, will be a seasonal change to our newsletter.  Many of you know that I write an article like this every week. This practice is a joy and source of learning for me, and I hope it’s thought-provoking for you as well in some small way.  For Easter Season, I’ve invited seven guest authors, one for each week, to write instead. Each is a priest, each is a friend and colleague of mine, and each serves a church either in the Diocese of West Texas or in Austin.

Our Gospel passage for Easter Sunday will be Mark 16:1-8.  This will be our newsletter theme for Easter Season. It’ll work like this: I’ll focus on Mark 16:1 in my Easter sermon.  Each week after that, a guest author will focus on one of the other verses. Mark 16:2 the week following Easter, Mark 16:3 the next, and so on until Pentecost.  Not only will this give us a chance to hear from (and celebrate!) some talented clergy in our area, but it will also give me a little end of year refreshment in the form of a break from writing for a few weeks.

I look forward to hearing from them.  I hope you do, too.

God’s Peace,

Fr. Daniel+

Holy Week

 Hi friends, we start Holy Week this Sunday.  Here are some reminders about our services.
Sunday, March 25th, 10:30am—Palm Sunday.  We’ll begin with the procession of the palms as we celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  A “triumphal entry” was common for military commanders to make after a successful campaign.  The general would ride in on a big horse or chariot with much fanfare, perhaps throwing coins to the crowds on the way.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, and those who welcomed him did so with palm branches and spreading their coats on the ground.  They cried, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”  They were blessing Jesus and the coming ancestor of King David.  Every Sunday during the Eucharist, when we sing the Sanctus (the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’), we sing “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  When we sing that, one of the things we are doing is performing the reality that Jesus is entering into our midst, just as he entered into Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday, we will celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem but also hear the whole story of his trial and crucifixion, which we call the Passion Narrative.  “Passion” in this sense means “suffering.”
Thursday, March 29th, 7pm—Maundy Thursday.  A lot happens on Maundy Thursday.  This is the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, what we call the Eucharist.  It’s also the night when he washed his disciples’ feet.  It’s also the night when Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.”  At our service, we will wash each other’s feet; we will celebrate the Eucharist; and we will strip the altar and leave in silence as signs of Jesus’ vigil of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This silence also prepares us for Jesus’ death on Good Friday.  This is one of the most intimate nights of the church year.
Friday, March 30th, 7pm—Good Friday.   Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church.  This is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross.  It’s one of the primary fasting days of the church year (along with Ash Wednesday).  The service begins as Maundy Thursday ended: in silence.  The altar is bare, and the service is marked by silence and prayer.  We will hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, and we will pray the Solemn Collects (Book of Common Prayer, 277-280), which is a collection of prayers for the day.  They’re a bit like the biggest, most powerful Prayers of the People of the Church year.  We do not celebrate communion on Good Friday.  Instead, a wooden cross is brought before the altar.  Each of us will have an opportunity to strike the cross with a hammer, if so moved.  (Nobody must do this.)  This reminds us that it is not God who killed Jesus, but us.  Finally, this service will end as it began: in silence.  Just as during the Eucharist on a regular Sunday we observe a moment of silence when the bread is lifted up and broken, so too on Good Friday do we observe silence when Jesus’ body is lifted up on the cross and broken.
Sunday, April 1st, 10:30am—Easter!  The tomb will be empty; wear your fanciest clothes if you like; bring flowers; celebrate; rejoice; sing; dance; shout that “A” word at the top of your lungs!  We’ll also baptize a new baby!
I hope you’ll participate fully in our Holy Week services, and if you’re out of town, I hope you’ll find a church and attend their services. 
Holy Week is also a good week to take on additional devotions of some kind.  If you’re not sure what to do, I recommend turning to page 957 in the Book of Common Prayer.  On the bottom half of that page, you’ll see a collection of bible readings for each day of Holy Week.  This is part of the Daily Office lectionary for this year.  One idea is to begin and end each day with some of the readings listed.  For example, notice the readings listed on that page for Monday of Holy Week.  In the morning you could read Psalm 51; Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12; and 2 Corinthians 1:1-7.  In the evening, before bed, you could read Psalm 69:1-23 and Mark 11:12-25.  Then do the same for readings on the subsequent days, all the way up until Easter.
And then maybe on Easter morning, have ice cream for breakfast.  Or put M&Ms on your waffles or something. 
Fast well, feast well.
God’s Peace,
Fr. Daniel+

What About Shooting for Fun?

Hi friends, I’ve been writing about guns over the past few weeks and have tried to cover a lot of ground: what we mean when we say “guns,” what guns actually are in light of their purpose, and how Christian people might understand guns used for hunting, military and law enforcement, and personal self-defense.  I’ve tried to frame our understanding of guns within God’s purposes for humanity as stated in scripture—ruling over and keeping creation, loving neighbor, and loving God.  My main hope is that, as people of faith, however it is we choose to engage civically with issues like gun rights and gun control, all of us will start with the Gospel and nowhere else.  Jesus first.  Everything else follows after—voting, protesting, advocacy, any number of other actions we might take as American citizens. That’s my hope for and expectation of us: “whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  My goal is simply to encourage Christian people away from worshipping anything or anyone that isn’t the Risen Lord, be it the Constitution, safety, rights, being right, or anything else.  I do not know what that means for public policy.  In that regard, what follows will be no different.
Thus far I’ve focused on guns through the lens of the purpose for which humanity invented them: ending the lives of creatures (be they animals or human beings).  However, while this is the purpose which brought guns into existence, it’s simply not the only thing we do with guns.  What about shooting for fun?  Specifically, shooting that is not for self-defense, not in war, not damaging somebody else’s property, not disturbing the peace, not trophy hunting, and not even necessarily hunting for meat—but just because shooting skeet out at your ranch or some place is a fun thing to do with your friends.  What about that?
I want to be clear: I’m not talking about professional military training or target practice for self-defense.  If the inanimate object I’m shooting is a paper target with the silhouette of a person on it, then this is practice for ending a life before it’s anything else.  I’m talking about responsible fun for fun’s sake, or fun which might also happen to make us better at dove hunting.  I’m not talking about preparing for the potential situation in which we might shoot at a person even though that ‘practice’ itself would be shooting inanimate objects.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  A few weeks ago our youth group was working on an outreach project in the Mission Hall.  We were assembling care packages for our homeless brothers and sisters, ones church members can keep in their cars and give out as they encounter folks.  A father and son from one of our youth group families were there, stuffing bags together and talking with a young man in high school who is fairly new to St. Liz.  The conversation turned to everyone’s weekend plans.  The dad said to this young man, “We’re going target shooting out at the ranch this Saturday.  Would you like to join us?” 
Despite everything I’ve said about guns’ being symptomatic of human rebellion against God, it would be asinine to understand this invitation to go shooting as anything other than an offer of Christian hospitality and friendship.  That is exactly what it is, particularly since the kid invited is pretty new.  (By the way, they went and everyone had a good time!)
Moments like this are evidence of God’s redemption in and through human beings, despite the horrible mess we’ve made of things generally.  The reason is simply that even though guns are not a divine institution, people are.  Of all the things God made, it’s not until God makes human beings that the whole of creation becomes “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  The world is broken because we human beings chose to betray God and follow our own desires.  But God’s primal judgment that the world is very good with us in it is even more original than human sin.  Thus, we see guns become objects bent away from their lethal purpose and towards new life: “We’re going target shooting at the ranch this Saturday.  Would you like to join us?”  Even in a violent world, the Holy Spirit will always be correcting us back towards community, play, and affection.
You have heard it said, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4).  We are not quite there yet, but perhaps we are closer than we think.  Before the first sword gets beaten into a plowshare, there is probably a wonderful moment when the wielder of the sword realizes that it can be used for things other than fighting.  Maybe he goes with it into a field, scratches in the dirt with its point to plot the rows where crops will go.  It’s still very much a sword, but bent to a new end.  Perhaps when we see a group of friends go shooting targets together, we see evidence that humanity is in that moment.  Perhaps the plow is not so far away.
One final image.  My parents used to live out in Cullman County, a place called Welti, away from the middle of town.  It’s old farm country.  Through the woods behind their house was an old section of barbed wire fence marking the edge of what was once used as pasture land for cattle.  The fence was rusted and bent down in places, most of the posts rotted or at least knocked over.  I remember one section where the fence was still upright because two trees about fifteen feet apart had absorbed it, their trunks having slowly grown around the metal over the years.  At some point in the history of that place the barbed wire was introduced, long strands of sharp metal cutting across the landscape.  But the trees, filled with the stubborn sap and strength of God’s goodness, just kept living and growing, fence or no fence. 
I think guns are a bit like that stretch of barbed wire.  They’re not native to God’s ecology and are therefore foreign to the deepest nature of humanity.  But the soul’s sap is the Spirit of God, stubborn and strong, and humanity has continued to grow and thrive.  Despite the guns and other slivers of metal lodged in our heartwood, we continue to yearn upwards and seek the sun.  We grow a little crooked, but we grow nonetheless.  We eat the light and breathe the wind and drink the living waters under the earth. 
Laughter, friendship, hospitality, the simple welcoming of the new kid in town by members of his new church family—these graces will always absorb and overwhelm what is broken in us because these are God’s graces in us.  Guns are not a divine institution, but we are.  Try as we might, we can never entirely erase God’s image.  This gives me hope.  Perhaps the last word on guns and everything else will be God’s Word after all, the Word beyond us and within us, the sun and sap provoking our better angels into bloom. 
Thank you for reading.
God’s Peace,
Fr. Daniel+

Where Can Guns Belong?

Newsletter for Friday, March 9, 2018
Where Can Guns Belong?
Hi friends, two weeks ago I wrote about considerations Christians ought to have while discussing a topic like guns about which folks have such strong feelings.  Last week I tried to focus on what guns actually are.  I made the case that guns are symptomatic of human rebellion against God and God’s purposes for creation, and therefore they’re not a divine institution.  Thus, it does not make sense for Christians to claim a “God-given right” to guns.  If that is true, then where can guns belong, and for what reasons?
I said last week that the world doesn’t work as it should, and that we humans, not God, are responsible for this fact.  This is a way of talking about original sin, a phrase which has done a great deal of damage in Christian history.  Rather than understanding original sin as the constant shouting by God that humans are bad, it’s more helpful to imagine original sin as a kind of injury.  We need healing and rehabilitation which only God provides.  In Jesus Christ, God has performed the necessary surgery, and God has given us tools and practices to aid in our rehabilitation—things like scripture and friendship and the sacraments.  But because the world is broken and we are not yet fully spiritually healthy, we find relying wholly on these difficult.  Therefore, we invent other kinds of crutches with which to hobble along as we try to open ourselves to God’s mercy.  Guns are one of these.  If this is true, then perhaps the reaction of God to our insistence upon possessing and using life-enders isn’t so much wrath as it is a loving, if occasionally exasperated, “Oh, my little-believing ones, why do you doubt?” (See Matthew 14:31.) 
On to specifics: where can guns belong?  First, hunting.  Our primary question here isn’t so much about guns but about eating meat.  Last week I noted that, as a kind of concession to humanity in a broken world, God lets Noah and his family begin eating meat.  Our consideration of hunting shotguns and rifles necessarily falls under this broader question about eating meat. 
Part of the Christian hope is that God is leading all of creation into a peaceable kingdom in which even wolves lie down with lambs (Isaiah 11:6).  Until then, to fulfill our purpose of ruling over and keeping creation (Gen. 1:28, 2:15), human beings must responsibly rule over a world in which teeth and claws contend with hooves and horns.  Human society never exists separate from the rest of hoofed, toothy nature.  Our temptation is to pretend otherwise, to remain entirely behind the city walls and never venture beyond them.  This can lead to a strictly utilitarian understanding of animal life: I never see chickens as creatures God created, but only as packaged boneless chicken breasts.  I risk forfeiting my human purpose of “keeping” creation, which includes safeguarding the chickenness of chickens.  I risk participating in the cramming of chickens into cages so that they never actually get to scratch and peck and squawk like chickens should.  Seen in this light, hunting with rifles and shotguns is far more in keeping with God’s purposes for both humanity and the animal world: when a hunter shoots a duck out at a lake, she has exerted her dominion over the duck’s life in the midst of its God-given flapping, quacking duckness.  The cage-crammed chicken never really got to enjoy chickenness.
Second, military and law enforcement.  Even the most violent person bears the image of God in a way that chickens and ducks not.  Part of God’s purpose for humanity is to love each other (Matt. 22:39), including our enemies (Matt. 5:44).  It’s difficult to see how I can love a person I am shooting at.  Thus, unlike hunting, here we should expect not so much to discover how guns used against other people help fulfill our God-given purposes as human beings so much as we should hope to find practices that minimize the extent to which we forfeit that purpose.  To put it another way, we must say, as Faramir does in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they defend.”  Until we are practiced enough as Christians to trust fully in God’s promise of the peaceable kingdom, this must be our attitude: a gun, like Faramir’s sword, is a spiritual crutch we do not love for its own sake.
So, what practices help minimize our renouncing of our purpose to love each other?  In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul uses a metaphor of the Church as a body in which each member has need of all the others.  This metaphor can be helpful when applied to society at large.  If society is like a human body, then not only does each part need all the other parts, but each part is also formed to serve a particular purpose on behalf of the whole.  Skin, for example, is flexible and soft and secure against germs in a way that teeth are not. Why?  Because skin and teeth do different things; thus, those cells form differently. 
Likewise, members of our military and law enforcement agencies are formed to do particular work on the body’s behalf.  The military might be like the rib cage because their job is protecting the body from outside forces that might injure it.  Police officers might be like the immune system because their job is to regulate things within the body that might make it sick.  The cells of the ribcage, like the members of our military, are formed to do their work.  They have training, codes of conduct, boundaries, a kind of ‘DNA’ for what they can and can’t do.  The ribcage is formed to enable it to protect.  Likewise, the immune system, like police officers, is formed to recognize and address what is harmful within the body.  There are numerous and significant problems with this analogy which I don’t have space to address, but the basic point is that the different parts of society, like organs and tissues in a body, are formed with limits and capabilities to allow them to do certain things.  The whole body benefits.  (Thus, it seems reasonable to suggest that many who are critical of military and law enforcement have nevertheless benefited from them.) This is of massive importance regarding guns.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve written about my childhood friend, Russell.  When Russell and I graduated from high school, he went to West Point Military Academy and eventually served in Iraq.  I went to a small private college and majored in English.  Like cells in different parts of the body, each of us was formed differently.  He is more like the rib cage; I am more like fingers typing on a keyboard, maybe.  What this means for guns is this: it is simply not the same thing for me to pick up a gun as it is for Russell to do so.  Russell is practiced and formed like the ribcage; I am not.  The fingers are good for typing; they are not good for protecting organs. 
Therefore, in order to minimize the extent to which we forfeit our God-given purpose of loving our neighbors, including our enemies, it is reasonable to suggest that those who might potentially use guns against other human beings should be formed in the practices of physical restraint, calm decision-making in the midst of chaos, and other practices which have not formed most English majors.  Until the body as a whole trusts in God’s promise of the peaceable kingdom, our societal body will continue to desire and make guns for the purpose of ending the lives of those who would harm us.  It seems reasonable to suggest that these guns are more proper to some body parts than others.
Third, and finally, what of self-defense by those not formed in the practices of military and law enforcement, which is to say armed self-defense by English majors?  This one is the most difficult.  A story might be helpful.  I once had a conversation with my friend Sam about this.  Sam and his family are members of the church where I served in Montgomery.  Sam is a good man, a husband and father, and like most of us, he does his best to take the Word of God seriously.  He’s also someone who believes guns are important for self-defense.  He and I were talking about this one day, and he said, “I guess at the end of the day, I’m just not ready to be a martyr.”
That’s the most honest thing I’ve ever heard a Christian say about guns.  In that one breath, Sam admitted not only that he isn’t ready to be a martyr, but that this might actually be God’s call to people of faith in a violent world.  The word “martyr” means “witness.”  Because Sam is honest about the Word of God, Sam knows that the Christian life is a life of bearing witness to Christ crucified.  Because he is honest about himself, Sam knows that he is not yet ready to bear witness with his own life.  Sam implicitly acknowledged both that Christ crucified is the pioneer, perfector, and moral standard of Christian life, and that he (Sam), like the rest of us, is not yet ready to carry his own cross all the way. 
I am not ready either, but I endeavor to be.  Just as ribs and immune systems become what they are through a long process of tissue formation, and just as soldiers and police officers become what they are through a long process of formation in certain practices, Christian folks become like Jesus through practice.  If we would practice the cross, then what we are signing up for is the practice of loving the people who would kill us without summoning a legion of angels (or bullets) against them.  This is an extreme position, but only because the love of God in Jesus Christ is extreme.  It’s a practice in fulfilling our purpose of loving God—even more than our own lives.  Sam and I, and I’d wager most of you, are not yet ready.  But that does not mean we should not practice readiness.  Our diagnosis of not being ready is simply a way of saying that, even though God has performed the requisite surgery on us after the injury of our fall, we have not yet finished our post-op physical therapy and rehab.  We just need more practice.
What does this mean for guns to be used for self-defense?  Like every other kind of practice, whether it’s dieting or reading the bible, it’s best to start small.  If your practice now is to be armed everywhere you go, then perhaps choose one hour a week in which you deliberately practice leaving your gun locked up at home or in your car.  Once that is habitual and no longer a strain on your spiritual muscles, add a second hour.  Maybe that’s how you practice little martyrdoms.  Maybe that’s how you practice bearing witness to the cross.
Next week will be my last newsletter on guns.  I appreciate your taking the time to read (particularly this lengthy essay).  Next week I’ll address non-lethal gun uses like skeet shooting.  My suspicion is that this kind of play, in which guns are co-opted for the sake of fun and community, is evidence of God’s redemption.
God’s Peace,
Fr. Daniel+
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