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.
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.
Hi friends, last week I wrote about considerations Christians ought to have in the midst of conversations about guns. This week, I’d like to take a step further and focus specifically on what guns are. Like last week’s post, none of what follows offers an interpretation of American law, nor am I offering policy solutions to any societal problems. I am unsure of what our response(s) as a nation should be, nor am I equipped to answer those questions. If we are serious about being disciples of Jesus Christ, however, then the Christian theological tradition must inform our participation in these discussions. So, what is a gun?
Guns are manmade objects. Therefore, before we say anything else about guns, it might be helpful to begin with the two parts of that word, “manmade.” What is a man (i.e. human being), and what does it mean to make something?
Since God was making things way before human beings were, I’ll start with the second question: what does it mean to make something? In the creation story, we read again and again that God makes things with purpose. One examples is the sky, which God creates as a “dome” to separate the waters above from the waters below (Gen. 1:6-8). Another example is the “dry land” which God says should “put forth vegetation” (Gen. 1:9-11). The sun and moon are “the two great lights” to rule the day and the night (Gen. 1:6).
In these examples, God makes the sky with the purpose of separating the waters above from the waters below. God makes the dry land with the purpose of putting forth vegetation. God makes the two great lights with the purpose of ruling day and night. To make something, then, implies purpose. That purpose tells us about the object in question. For example, Christians believe like everybody else that the sun is a ball of nuclear gas that burns incredibly hot and shines and has lots of gravity. But because Christians believe God created the sun, we don’t understand its shiny, fiery qualities as purely random: they have a kind of purpose. The sun and its light are gifts from God.
In Genesis, we also read that God created “humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (1:26). So, if the sky and earth and stars are invested with God’s purposes for them, then what is God’s purpose for human beings? Genesis gives us two answers: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over…every living thing” (1:28). In Genesis 2, we read that “the Lord God…put [Adam] into the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (2:15). We might add to these Jesus’ statement on the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….[and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). It seems reasonable to conclude that God’s purpose for human beings is three fold: love God, love each other, rule over and care for the earth.
Thus, we’ve already begun to answer our other question, “What is a human being?” For starters, a human being is a creature made by God for the purpose of loving God, loving our neighbors, and ruling over and caring for the rest of the earth. We know also that we are made in God’s image. Being made in God’s image means that God has given us the ability to make things of our own and to invest them with our purposes. Just as God creates with purpose, so, too, do human beings invent and design and build with purpose. God said, “Let there be light;” likewise, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
A brief tour around your kitchen will demonstrate the simple truth that we invent things with purposes. What is a blender? A thing that blends. What is a toaster? A thing that toasts. What is a cheese grater? You get the idea. We have made these objects with purposes in mind. There was a time when none of these objects were regular, mundane artifacts of human culture. But somewhere along the way we noticed that we desired to accomplish certain tasks, and so we put our made-in-God’s-image ingenuity to work and invented objects to facilitate those tasks.
With all this in mind, we can begin to answer the question, “What is a gun?” A gun is an object humanity has invented in order to end the lives of creatures. There was a time when guns did not exist, and then somewhere along the way we desired to end the lives of creatures. Thus, we invented spears, swords, bows and arrows, and eventually guns to accomplish that task. If a toaster is an object invented with the purpose of toasting, a gun is an object invented with the purpose of ending the life of a creature, whether that creature is a duck or an enemy soldier or a deranged criminal breaking into our homes.
Because the objects human beings invent are invested with our purposes, manmade objects are not morally neutral. You have heard it said, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” That is true. But it’s no different than saying, “Microwaves don’t microwave; people microwave.” That is also true. But the microwave, like a gun, is invested with the purpose we gave it. A more honest sentence would read, “This life-ender doesn’t end lives; people end lives.”
In the bible, the ending of creaturely lives does not begin until after the fall: God makes clothes for Adam and Eve from the skin of an animal (which God has presumably killed) because Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Cain kills Abel not long after (4:8). It is not until Genesis 9:3 that God permits human beings (Noah and his family) to eat meat. One need not be a biblical literalist to conclude from these stories that the deliberate ending of creaturely lives is symptomatic of a fallen world, one that does not work as God intended it to work, and that we, not God, are responsible for this fact. Given that guns are intended to end the lives of creatures, it follows that guns exist because the world does not work as it should. And if this is true, it doesn’t make sense for Christians to claim a “God-given right” to own guns: guns are a symptom of human rebellion, not a divine institution. This is true on a corporate, humanity-wide level; none of us is innocent.
In my experience, gun owners like Russell and his dad, about whom I wrote last week, speak with honesty and seriousness about the world in which we find ourselves, a world in which lives are regularly taken and threatened, a world in which innocence is hard to come by. Their use and ownership of guns is not divorced from their sense of responsibility in, for, and to that world; it is part of their honesty about that world. The transmission of this responsibility and honesty across generations is what I witnessed in Russell’s living room when his dad was teaching him to take apart, clean, and reassemble his shotgun. It’s an honesty about, and a responsibility to own, the role we have created for ourselves.
A gun is a life-ender. That is its purpose. Given that our purpose as human beings is to love God, to love each other, and to rule over and care for the earth, it seems reasonable to suggest that Christians should begin with skepticism about the appropriateness of introducing guns into an environment simply because the situations in which human beings could fulfill our purpose by picking up a life-ender must be few. Furthermore, we should expect those situations to be ones in which the death of a creature is always an immediate possibility. It does not necessarily follow from all of this that guns never have a place; it does follow, however, that Christians cannot begin by claiming a ‘God-given right’ to guns and must therefore have other reasons for owning and using them.
I will try to address these other reasons next week. I’ll try to offer Christian language about the three places where guns as life-enders seem to be most frequently called upon: hunting, military and law enforcement, and self-defense. I’ll also try to address the non-lethal purposes we’ve learned to give guns, things like shooting clay targets (which, if you’ve never done, is quite a lot of fun).
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | February 22, 2018
Hi friends, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, I’ve found myself saddened, angered, and occasionally feeling lost and helpless. I imagine many of you have, as well. I wish I could say that I feel sure of how God would have us respond as a country made of laws and a diverse citizenry. I am not. I am, however, confident of how God would have Christians respond. We are people who follow the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Today, I want to write about one simple way we spread the peace of God.
The peace of God is not passive, by which I mean that God’s peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Rather, it is an active spiritual force of affection, reconciliation, and freedom from anxiety. One of the ways we spread God’s peace is through listening to each other—not simply listening to what someone else is saying, but to what they mean. When Christians listen to others, we are seeking to understand the life experience of our brother or sister; we are not merely waiting on our turn to talk.
When we listen so as to understand, we are doing something similar to what God does in Jesus. God became a human being and saw things ‘from our side,’ so to speak, through no necessity but His own grace and love. If Christians would be like God, we must do likewise. This is not to say that our neighbor’s perspective will be any more or less virtuous than our own—they might very well be entirely wrong! However, when we are willing to try and see the world with our neighbor’s eyes, we have communicated to him or her that we love them, that they are worthy of being taken seriously, and that we value their experience. We have communicated to them the affirming peace of God. This is doubly important in a time of physical and political anxiety.
What this means for us right now in the midst of our ongoing gun rights/gun control debate is that we must at the very least make sure we know what someone means when they use the word guns. An example may help here.
I didn’t grow up in a house with guns. My grandfather was a preacher, and my Dad owned a shoe store. None of us hunted, and none were soldiers or police officers. My best friend from school, however, duck hunted with his dad all the time. His name was Russell. His dad was a forester and always had a pistol in his truck when he was way out in the middle of the woods. Guns were very normal in their house.
I remember riding my bike over to Russell’s once in sixth grade or so. Russell and his dad were in the living room. The coffee table was covered in old cloths, and spread out across the top were the disassembled pieces of a shotgun. Russell’s dad looked up. “Come on in, Daniel. Russell can’t go anywhere until he’s finished cleaning his gun and putting it back together.”
I sat down and watched. It was clear that Russell was to be focused on the task at hand, and that I shouldn’t distract him. Russell’s dad gave directions, Russell asked a question every now and then. When Russell was finished, he laid the gun on the table. His dad said, “All right, now carry it over there to its case. Remember how I showed you.” Russell carried the gun, barrel pointed at the floor, and put it back in the case and locked it, then put the case on the top shelf of a closet. Just like that, the exercise was over. It was without drama, but with a very clear code of conduct.
When Russell and his dad use the word guns, this experience of family, manhood, tradition, and providing food for the table is part of the emotional reality of the word. If I want to have an honest conversation with Russell about gun rights or gun control, I’m simply not listening to him if I don’t try to understand this. To them, “gun control” connotes the disruption of family.
On the flipside, for those of us who did not grow up around guns, and for whom guns are not part of family tradition, the emotional freight of the word guns is likely composed more exclusively of the tragedies of mass shootings in recent months. This is no less valid as human experience. If folks like Russell and his dad want to have an honest conversation with those of us whose experience of guns has been primarily through stories of horrific violence, they’re simply not listening if they don’t keep this in mind. From this perspective, “gun control” connotes security.
Obviously, none of this changes the reality of what guns are, and none of this accounts for the nuances of, say, the differences between a duck hunting shotgun and an AR-15. I am not offering a solution to a problem; I am not trying to interpret American law; and I am not claiming that all perspectives on guns are equally consonant with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I am simply reminding us at St. Elizabeth that the Christian practice of real listening is an instrument of the peace of God.
This is of paramount importance in a time of heightened anxiety because it is precisely when we are afraid and angry that we are most likely to see enemies where there are none. It is precisely now, in the midst of societal fear and strife, that we need most a reminder that we are made in God’s image and that nothing can remove us from the love of God which we have in Jesus Christ. The rituals of the Church and our own selves are what we have to remind each other of that. To really listen to our neighbor’s experience, to try to understand it without judging it in advance, to really hear what they mean when they say a loaded word like guns—this affirms their belovedness in the eyes of God. To begin with this kind of compassion does not mean surrendering one’s own convictions. But it is the way of the Prince of Peace, the Incarnate One who has seen the beautiful and bloody world through our own eyes.
This is not the only way we spread the peace of God. But it is where we can start: together.
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | February 16, 2018
Hi friends, if you were able to attend our Ash Wednesday service this week, you noticed that our bulletin was much more compact than usual: just our welcome message, page numbers for The Book of Common Prayer (1979), numbers of hymns in the blue hymnal, and copies of the readings. Don’t worry, this is not a permanent change! However, our bulletins for most of Lent will follow this simpler format. Today, I want to write about why and offer some tips on how to navigate the new style.
The primary reason we’re taking a break from our regular, full service bulletin is to increase our comfort level with the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). This is part of our Lenten practice as a community this year. Many of you have commented on how much you appreciate our starting each Sunday with a prayer from somewhere in the BCP, and how you’ve always wanted to know how to use that book. Here’s your chance!
One of the great things about being an Episcopalian is that we’re a big family spread throughout a house with many rooms, so to speak. St. Elizabeth is a sister congregation with dozens of others throughout the Diocese of West Texas. Our Diocese itself is a sister diocese to dozens of others throughout the Episcopal Church in the USA. What unites us as Episcopalians is the BCP. (And bishops—but that’s another article!) At a principal Sunday service anywhere in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, whether you’re in Buda or San Antonio or Port Aransas or Camp Capers, you’ll be worshipping God through a BCP Holy Eucharist.
But you won’t always get the same bulletin. We’re taking on the Lenten discipline of using the BCP and hymnal because I want us to be at home in our own house, so to speak, no matter which room we’re in. You are equal members of the Diocese of West Texas family. I want us to be involved in Family Camp at Mustang Island. I want us to go to Camp Capers. I want us to go to Cursillo and Happening. And when we’re at those places, if we’re comfortable with The Book of Common Prayer itself, we’ll be comfortable and confident in worship, no matter what the bulletin looks like. It’s one of our family treasures, and I want us to know how to use it. Plus, when we’re familiar with the BCP and the blue hymnal, then we start to notice the things we do at St. Liz that make us unique, things that make St. Liz our room in God’s house.
A secondary reason is stewardship. Printing a full, sixteen page bulletin each week costs us $5,700 a year. And that’s 83,200 pages a year into the recycle bin. Our Lenten bulletin is one eighth that size, and it’s less expensive. Thus, not only does the Lenten bulletin give us the practice of using the BCP, it’s an exercise in stewarding our resources differently.
Now, having said all of that, this isn’t a permanent change; it’s a seasonal discipline for Lent. We may repeat it for a few weeks at a time every now and then, but our ‘normal’ is still the full service bulletin. There’s great stuff in there about the service, and it’s incredibly helpful for visitors and newcomers, particularly if they’ve never been to an Episcopal Church before. So, if you’re anxious about this temporary change, or if you just plain don’t like it, don’t worry! It’s only for a few weeks. I hope you’ll give it a shot.
Here are a few tips on how to navigate the black BCP and blue 1982 Hymnal with ease. First and foremost, if you’ve never used the BCP or hymnal before, don’t worry! I’ll be giving instructions as we go. The service will still move along like it usually does. The words will be familiar, and most of the sung pieces of the service will be, too. It’s just that they’ll be in a book and not in a bulletin!
Second, hashtag is hymnal. A “#” beside a number means it’s in the hymnal. If it’s just a number without a hashtag, it’s a page in the prayer book. So “#142” is Hymn #142 in the blue hymnal, not page 142 in the BCP. If you see “355,” there’s no hashtag, so that means it’s the prayer book, page 355. If it says #S-, then it’s in the Service music section of the hymnal in the front. For example, the sanctus (the “holy, holy, holy” piece we sing at communion) is #S-124.
Finally, and this one is the most fun, get a church buddy! Pair up with a friend or family member or familiar face of someone you see all the time but have never met, and work the service together. Pick one person to be in charge of the hymnal, and one person to be in charge of the prayer book. Stand next to each other, and share! It’s half the work and you might even gain a new friend in the process.
I look forward to seeing everyone Sunday. We’ll begin on page 355! And if you have your own 1979 Book of Common Prayer, please feel free to bring it. The page numbers should be the same, promise!
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | February 8, 2018
Hi friends, today I want to write about food—but before we get to that, I’ve got some reminders and event info for us. First, don’t forget that this Sunday, February 11th is Scout Sunday! This is our big in-gathering for all our canned and non-perishable food items we’re gathering in support of Boy Scouts’ food drive. All donations will go to a local food bank. Second, we have another food related event coming up this Tuesday, February 13th! It’s our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper in the Mission Hall, 6:30-8pm. If you plan to come, or if you plan to come help, please contact Laura Lozano at firstname.lastname@example.org so we have an idea for numbers. We’ll be taking monetary donations at the Pancake Supper, and these in turn will be used as part of an outreach project the youth are undertaking on behalf of St. Liz.
Between Scout Sunday Food Drive and our Pancake Supper, we’ve got a lot going that has to do with food. I want to break these two events down into to two spiritual food categories: bread and cake.
Spiritual bread is a bit like the food we gather at our Food Drive: rice, peanut butter, vegetables, proteins like tuna fish, “meat and potatoes,” kinds of things. These are the foods we need to live, to be healthy and happy. Protein for muscle development, vitamins for our immune system, fiber, natural sugars, omega 3s, the whole diet. In short, these are nutrients we need and on which we thrive simply by virtue of being human beings. A food drive is a good example of this as spiritual bread because a food drive supports those in need. It’s exercising our outreach muscles, so to speak, which are the same muscles God uses when He reaches out to us in Jesus Christ. Doing the work of God is a staple of our spiritual diet: it’s bread because we need these kinds of calories simply by virtue of being baptized people just as the folks who will be visiting the food bank need the literal calories we are gathering for them.
In John 4, Jesus has been conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well, a situation which was a bit scandalous for a few reasons. After the woman leaves to return to her home, Jesus’ disciples approach him and tell him he should eat something (4:31). Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (4:32). The disciples puzzle over this, wondering who brought Jesus a snack. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work’” (4:34). If Jesus is the bread of life, then what we are eating when we eat the flesh of Jesus is food which is positively packed with doing-the-will-of-God. Doesn’t get any more nutritious than that!
Now, what about spiritual cake? Spiritual cake is a bit like pancakes at a Pancake Supper: syrup, towers of pancakes, butter, maybe some bacon to go along side. These are foods we eat to celebrate. They aren’t our daily bread, but they are part of our yearly calendar. A big party with lots of our friends, butter and syrup, table cloths and decorations, and maybe we arrange our pancakes on our plate so that they look like Mickey Mouse! In short, these foods aren’t strictly necessary for a healthy regular diet, but they are foods that are integral to the fullness of our joy in our community and our celebration of the seasons of the year. A pancake supper is a good example of spiritual cake because it’s about fullness, overflowing joy, a playful bit of joyful abandon for our spiritual sweet tooths. (Sweet teeth?) It’s exercising our rejoicing muscles, so to speak. Rejoicing in God’s presence among us is only natural, after all, because why wouldn’t we rejoice over the redemption of the world and the possibility of becoming friends of God?
In John 2, Jesus attends a wedding in the town of Cana. Folks didn’t have Pinballz Arcade or movie theaters back then, so when there was a chance to have a party, everybody went. Now the host family ran out of wine at this wedding party (2:2), and Jesus’ mother let him know that the party was failing because of it. Jesus tells the servants to draw some water out of these giant, thirty-gallon stone jars that were there as part of some purification rituals—and lo and behold, all 180 gallons of purification water had become wine! And not just any wine, but a vintage far tastier than anything they’d had at the party so far. We have no reason that there was anything particularly special or virtuous or significant about that wedding party in Cana; the wedding guests didn’t earn their miracle. Jesus simply went to the party. If the blood of Jesus is the wine of communion, then what we are drinking is the positively overflowing, super-abundant, celebratory wine of the wedding feast of Cana. It’s not necessary; it wouldn’t be a celebration if it were necessary! (Can you imagine something as dull as a mandatory party?) This is spiritual cake.
But this spiritual cake goes further. Remember, the donations we receive at the Pancake Supper are in turn going to support yet another outreach project. Why? Because even in celebration, the Church is the body of Christ. As we saw above when we talked about spiritual bread, the body of Christ is the bread which Jesus gives for the life of the world. Even in the sheer extra-ness and super-abundance of pancakes and celebration, the Church remains a dietary staple the world so desperately needs.
What is cake for us might be bread for someone else.
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | February 1, 2018
Hi friends, I’m writing to update you on the membership of our Bishop’s Committee (the “BC”). The Bishop’s Committee is the governing body of St. Elizabeth. Our Bishop’s Committee members for 2018 are as follows:
Philip Johnson, joined Dec. 2017
Dave McCoy, joined Jan. 2017
Tina Otto, joined Nov. 2017
DJ Sartorio, (Junior Warden since Jan. 2016), joined Jan. 2016
Terri Thompson, joined fall 2013
Julie Warfield, (Bishop’s Warden since fall 2016), joined March 2015
Charlie Welvaert, joined Jan. 2018
Lisa White, joined July 2015 (Treasurer since July 2015)
Sarah Williams, joined Jan. 2017
A few reminders on Episcopal Church terminology. St. Elizabeth is not a parish, but a mission of the Diocese of West Texas. A mission is under the direct supervision of the diocesan bishop. Because of that, unlike the members of a parish vestry, the members of a bishop’s committee are not elected but appointed directly by the bishop, who consults with the vicar regarding appointments. Like the bishop’s committee itself, the vicar is also appointed directly by the diocesan bishop. Thus, while both a parish and a mission are under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the bishop’s authority is more immediate when it comes to a mission. Clear as mud?
I remind us of all that because I imagine not all of us are clear on how, exactly, someone is selected to serve on the BC. We do not vote on BC members. Ultimately, the authority to appoint members resides with the bishop. In practice, the bishop appoints only after receiving recommendations from me. The names I offer to the bishop come from conversations with other members of the BC and our observations about who might be able and willing to serve given family commitments, responsibilities at the church, experience, etc. Maturity, spiritual depth, open-mindedness, an ability to listen to and work with a diverse group of people, and a commitment to the mission of God at St. Liz are all essential. BC members are expected to contribute financially to St. Liz with the understanding that, like the rest of us, they should be taking healthy steps towards tithing if they are not able currently to do so. Other factors I consider are maintaining a mix of personalities, stages of life, and balance of women and men on the BC. As vicar, I work particularly closely with the wardens and treasurer.
So far, our process has gone like this: when a good idea for a potential BC member comes along, I have a preliminary conversation with that person, ask them to pray and sleep on it, and then a couple days later see what initial questions they have. If they’re still open, and if schedule allows, I invite them to sit in on a BC meeting (which are open to the congregation). If that goes well, I then have them speak with one of our wardens to get a better handle on what responsibilities are like and to give them a chance to ask any questions they may have about working with me. (For all I know, it’s maddening!) Finally, if we all still feel good about it, we touch base one more time, and I recommend their name to the bishop. That’s how our process has worked so far since I’ve been here. It may change.
Four practical questions: first, why do we have nine members? I set this number so as to have a critical mass for conversation at meetings. We also have an odd number of members so as to avoid a split vote on anything (however unlikely a split vote might be). One change we are considering for down the road is making the treasurer a member of the BC by virtue of office, with voice and usual treasurer responsibilities, but without vote, at least on financial matters. This would potentially increase membership on the BC from nine to ten (nine voting members + a treasurer).
Second, who votes? While I chair the meetings and do most of our agenda setting, I do not vote. The BC usually makes decisions by consensus; however, we vote on all financial matters and reflect the outcome of the vote in our minutes.
Third, how long does a BC member serve? We ask for a three year commitment, though a term may be longer or shorter depending on the needs of St. Liz or an individual BC member. To help continue a smooth leadership transition, I have asked all members who were on the BC when I arrived who were able to continue serving to do so. I have also asked our wardens and treasurer to continue through 2018 in their current roles, with the understanding that part of their work will be to begin training their replacements. We have added three new members (Tina, Philip, and Charlie).
Finally: what does the BC do? A lot! We have a full job description. Here’s a summary: there are weekly tasks like helping count the plate offerings, opening up and locking up on a Sunday, and participating in our monthly meetings. More ongoing responsibilities include being an ambassador for St. Liz in our communities and on Sunday mornings, serving as a sounding board for me and offering me support (one member in particular is particularly good at reminding me to take a day off!), participating in our ongoing work with Dr. Whitesel (our consultant), staying involved with St. Liz’s various programs and ministries, representing St. Liz at Diocesan Council, and helping to identify and execute opportunities for mission, leadership, and spiritual growth. The wardens and treasurer each have additional responsibilities. Each BC member is also a part of a task force related to our work with Dr. Whitesel, but that’ll be its own newsletter!
So, that’s who our Bishop’s Committee members are, and that’s a bit of what they do. I hope you’ll continue to pray for them, as they’re praying for you, too. The BC and I will be at the seminary in Austin all day Saturday for a day retreat. I bid your prayers that our time together will be Spirit-filled, energizing, playful, discerning, and creative.
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | January 25, 2018
Hi friends, this Sunday, January 28th, we’re having a training and info session after church for all current ushers, greeters, and anyone interested in serving in those roles. Both of those roles are concerned with hospitality and with making sure practical pieces of a Sunday morning run smoothly.
First, the hospitality piece. There’s a story in Mark where Jesus is out in Judea, beyond the Jordan River, teaching and ministering to people. Word spreads and a crowd gathers, and people start bringing children to Jesus that he might hold them and bless them. Jesus’ disciples “spoke sternly to them,” presumably because they considered these parents and their children to be a disruption to the more important work going on (10:13). When Jesus sees this, he’s “indignant” and says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (10:14).
For those of us who would be Jesus’ disciples, our job is to help folks, especially children, find a home in the crowd of us who are following Jesus. The crowd you and I belong to is St. Elizabeth. While it’s everyone’s job to extend hospitality, our greeters and ushers are tasked with being our most visible and intentional faces doing that work. One of the ways they do that is by helping families with children find the nursery, fidget buster bags, and the rocking chairs in the back for parents with small children.
Imagine if those disciples had acted like our greeters instead and said, “Hi, I’m Andrew. This is my brother, Peter. Welcome to the Crowd beyond the Jordan. Of course, your kids can come! They’re welcome to stay with you in the Big Crowd, or they can go to the Children’s Crowd if they like. One of the older kids will lead the way in a bit. In the meantime, we’ve got crayons and goldfish crackers for the kids while you wait to meet Jesus. Peter will show you to your seat. So glad to meet you!” Hard to imagine Jesus getting indignant with disciples who greet people like that!
Second, the practical work. Another, more well-known story in Mark is Jesus’ feeding the five thousand. (It was actually a lot more than that. The text says “five thousand men,” so with all the families, we’re probably talking about a crowd north of 10,000.) The crowd has been following Jesus for a while and are tired, and Jesus has compassion for them (6:34). Just as they did with the children in chapter ten, the disciples want to dismiss the crowds. Instead, Jesus’ compassion for the crowds turns a few loaves and fishes into an abundance of food for everyone. But this is a huge number of people, so Jesus taps the disciples to “get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass” (6:39). Jesus takes the loaves, breaks and blesses them, and then when it’s time to eat he gives the food “to his disciples to set before the people” (6:41).
In a word, he asks the disciples to ush: help people find their seats and make sure communion goes smoothly! Sure, there’s a miracle going on, but people have got to eat and we don’t want chaos on our hands. There’s an order to things. “Yes, ma’am, now’s a good time to receive your loaves and fishes. What’s that? No ma’am, it’s no trouble at all that you’re not an Episcopalian. Jesus followers of all kinds are welcome at the Crowd beyond the Jordan. Any other questions? Of course. The restroom is right this way.”
That’s not all greeters and ushers do. (For example, all the connection cards we ask newcomers’ to fill out? Greeters make sure we keep track of those. Ever wonder how the priest knows how much bread to consecrate? The ushers count and give the number.) My point is that the work greeters and ushers do isn’t new; from the very beginning Jesus’ disciples have been welcoming and ush’ing folks who are new to the crowd. Every healthy Christian community needs friendly, responsible people to do that work. Folks who smile and make eye contact when they talk to you, folks who know what a confused new face looks like and aren’t afraid to gently and helpfully approach someone looking for Godly Play or a cup of coffee.
Maybe that’s you. If so, I hope you’ll stick around after the service this Sunday. John Sharkey (email@example.com ) leads our usher team, and David Joiner (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is the head of our greeter team. We need more of each!
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | January 18, 2018
Hi friends, we’re in a new year, so today I want to highlight some opportunities to connect with other members of St. Elizabeth and with our broader Diocese of West Texas community. This isn’t an exhaustive list…but there’s a lot of good stuff on here!
First, Youth Group is back! Youth Group is for all 6th-12th graders of St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church, and yes, you can bring your friends. This Sunday, January 21st we’re going to Pinballz Arcade. Lunch is on us; bring your own quarters; we’ll head out pretty soon after the service. Our plan for this semester is to do a few things and to do them well. We’ll meet at least once a month to play, serve, and learn…and occasionally a combination of those!
Second, part of being an Episcopalian means being part of a church family broader than our own community at St. Elizabeth. There are a whole host of diocesan events for folks of all ages. For example, a full schedule of summer camp at Camp Capers can be found here: http://www.dwtx.org/departments/camps/ Please note: financial assistance (through either the diocese or through St. Elizabeth) is available for anyone for whom the cost of diocesan events is preventative. Please contact me if that’s you. For now, I want to highlight three 2018 events:
Family Camp at Mustang Island Conference Center June 14th-17th. I’m serving as the Chaplain. This Camp is for families of all agest: your two year-old sister through grandpa Joe!
Happening #140 in Boerne, TX, August 3rd-5th. Happening is a spiritual renewal retreat for 10th-12th graders. There are several Happenings through the year (#139 is in March), but I’m one of the spiritual directors for #140 in August! For more info on Happening, visit http://www.dwtx.org/calendar-events/happening/
Cursillo (pronounced “ker SEE yo”) is a spiritual renewal retreat designed for adults. There are several throughout the year. For a full calendar and more info, visit http://www.dwtx.org/calendar-events/cursillo/ Members of St. Elizabeth served on staff at the October Cursillo this past fall and more will be serving on staff for Cursillo #278 coming up March 15th-18th. Laurie Haney and Lisa Sartorio are both big supporters of Cursillo and would be happy to talk more about it with you! Laurienorene@yahoo.com and email@example.com respectively.
Third, Life Groups start back up over the next few weeks! There are five Life Groups meeting this spring:
Every Monday at 7pm, starting this Monday, January 22nd at the home of Dave and Ina Jensen. Contact Ina or Dave for details: Ina is (361) 728-0320, and Dave is (361) 658-7852. Dave and Ina live in Buda.
Every Wednesday at 7pm, starting this Wednesday, January 24th at Creekside Villas. Contact Lisa Beach for details: (512) 590-3883. Creekside Villas is just down FM 967 towards Main St from the church.
Every Monday at 7pm, starting this Monday, January 22nd at the home of Julie Warfield. Contact Julie for details: (512) 913-4633. Julie lives in Buda.
Every Thursday at 7pm, starting this Thursday, January 25th at the home of Steve and Paula Goodson. Contact Paula for details: (512) 239-8643. Kids welcome. Steve and Paula live in Buda.
First and third Wednesdays at 6pm, starting February 7th at the home of Juan and Susan Guerra. Contact Susan for details: (512) 256-5200. Kids welcome. Juan and Susan live in Kyle.
Fourth, Godly Play continues every Sunday at 9am. Ruth Ann Bloor and Kimra Hamilton are our Storytellers. Godly Play is appropriate for children as young as “toilet independent.” I attend the first Sunday of every month to hear the story and visit with the kids, and I always find myself nourished, amazed, and a little more at peace afterwards. The kids love it, too J Ruth Ann can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kimra at email@example.com
Finally, our choir gathers for practice (and fellowship!) every Wednesday at 7pm and every Sunday morning at 9am. I know, I know…you don’t think you sing very well. I would say you just haven’t had a good opportunity to sing well! The right environment, community, and leadership can change everything—and I think St. Elizabeth’s choir has all three. It’s fun, it’s a close and supportive group, and it’s a glory to God. Try it out! Contact Wanda and Mark Slater if you’re interested or even curious about participating. Wanda and Mark can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | January 11, 2018
Hi friends, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany were beautiful, and they came and went quickly, like a host of angels flashing into a field and then ascending into heaven again. In sometimes stark contrast to the celebration, throughout those seasons many of you dealt and are still dealing with illnesses of varying kinds and severities. Furthermore, many of you have been and continue to care for and support family members who are struggling with illness. Some of you are bearing witness as your loved ones die. Some of you already have. The anniversary comes; you carry on.
When we’re caring for a loved one who is dying, their illness and our presence with them during it can become the center of our life. It takes up all of our bandwidth, so to speak. We’re not sure what we need, or what we’re feeling about any of it. We just know that it’s the day the hospice nurse visits. That our son arrives at 4pm to spell us a bit. That it’s time to eat or change the sheets. That she was awake for a while and might have even recognized us before drifting back to sleep, but who can be sure at this stage. The waiting between the tasks themselves is somehow the most physically demanding thing we’ve ever tried to do.
When the day comes for him or her to die, and he or she crosses over to the furthest shore, a new set of tasks is given. Funeral arrangements, family travels, paperwork and more paperwork. This too is part of saying goodbye. But when all of that is over, then what?
I had a conversation with a friend of mine recently about all this. He reminded me that for many people, it’s the season after the ordeal, after the all-encompassing work of caring for a dying loved one, that season is the hardest. There’s nothing but the ache to keep the mind and heart busy.
When a friend of ours is caring for an ailing loved one, our impulse is to say, “Let me know what I can do.” That is a good impulse. It’s the impulse of love. But remember, once the funeral is over, for most of us it’s back to normal. But for the surviving family, there may still be a long stretch of lonely desert ahead. That’s (also) where the Church belongs.
I attended a funeral this week at which Bishop Reed was the preacher and officiant. In his sermon, he said, “Christ’s love is always in the present tense.” One of the ways that is true is through the Church: we are the presence of God’s love—Christ—for each other. As such, the love of Christ is always in the present tense because “where two or three are gathered together in his name, he is in the midst of them.” We are here, now.
As a priest, I have the great privilege of hearing people’s stories. When I’m visiting with somebody, frequently they begin to articulate where they are now in relation to some significant event at another point in time. They’ll say, “And then John and I met,” or “After Mom died we began to…” or “After Suzie was born” or “Once we sell the house, then….” These events are a bit like the divisions between chapters in a book. Frequently, the death of a loved one marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
The Church’s job—our job—is to help ensure that the members of our community are reminded that Christ’s love is always in the present tense, both before the event, during, and after. The Church as a community of prayer, ritual, shared work, and affection is a kind of container in which there is grace enough and room enough for us to undergo change, particularly the painful changes associated with loss.
We are for each other the love of Christ in the present tense, even if you or I as individuals can only understand our own lives by referring to a past that no longer is, or a future of which we’re no longer confident.
Again, many of us are either in the wake of loss or know it’s coming soon. I want us to pay attention to each other. Remember, the season after the ordeal does not present itself as dramatically or as urgently as the ordeal itself. But it is its own kind of desert.
There’s an old Christian poster about footprints in the sand. It starts out as two sets of foot prints, Jesus’ and the speaker’s. Then, at one point, just as the trail leads trough a bleak desert, there’s only one set of footprints. The speaker looks back at the desert, incredulous. “Jesus, why is there only one set of footprints in the sand? You abandoned me right when the going got rough!” Jesus replies, “That’s where I carried you.”
I understand the point, but I’ve never liked the poster. In my experience, whenever we’re able to look back at a desert and say, “God carried me,” it’s because there was somebody or a whole bunch of somebodies through whose hearts God did the carrying. If I were to design that poster, the speaker would look back at the desert and see that there were six or eight or a hundred sets of footprints. Little prints, big prints, the tracks of a wheelchair, and the whole lot punctuated by the tips of a few walking canes.
Those footprints are the Church, the community that comforts those who mourn. Those many footprints are the Body of Christ. May we be worthy of the name.