Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going Green for Lent

Okay, so since I was thoroughly frustrated with that environmental action book (see below), I decided to do my penance by creating a Lenten discipline for myself, my students, or anyone who would listen. Here's a plan that will cost you a little money (not too much) but really it is mostly about time. Besides, if you do it, you will actually save quite a bit of money over time. More importantly, it is better than just feeling guilty all the time.

A Revolting Christian's Guide to a Greener Lent:

25 – Ash Wednesday. Do an energy fast today, and vow to combine future shopping trips; learn the patience of waiting before going out to buy just one thing.
26 – Thursday. Spend ten minutes picking up trash in your neighborhood.
27 – Friday. Go online and find instructions for that compost pile you keep saying you should have. Make a list of needed items.
28 – Saturday. Buy the items needed for your compost pile. Save gas by combining this trip with other errands.

1 – Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
2 – Monday. Wash your dishes by hand, not by running water constantly but by filling the sink with hot soapy water and a second one (or a plastic tub) with rinse water
3 – Tuesday. Read the contents of your cleaning solutions and throw one away.
4 – Wednesday. Mix vinegar and soap and water to make your own cleaning solution.
5 – Thursday. Take a walk & give thanks to God for any nature you see.
6 – Friday. Locate any drafts in your home and put weather stripping on your list of things to buy for your next errand run.
7 – Saturday. With Daylight Savings Time coming tonight, change your smoke detector batteries. Start a battery collection to take to the city and dispose of properly.

8 - Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
9 – Monday. Check to see if your light bulbs are all energy efficient. Consider replacing light fixtures that are not good candidates for those bulbs. If necessary, add light bulbs to your shopping list.
10 – Tuesday. Vow to turn off your computer each night and to hit the off switch on your outlet box so that you are not wasting passive energy on all those lights (printer, monitor, etc.)
11 – Wednesday. Walk to a park on your lunch hour.
12 – Thursday. Give away something you don’t need any more.
13 – Friday. check your thermostat and make sure it is not running full speed at times you know you are not home. Lower the heat temperature by one degree if you are not down to 68 or less.
14 – Saturday. Buy or order on line fair trade coffee, tea, or chocolate if you use any of these things.

15 - Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
16 – Monday. Make an inventory of all the items in your house that waste passive energy such as cell phone chargers. Learn to unplug or buy outlet strips with an off switch
17 – Tuesday. Turn off the computer and the tv and read a book.
18 – Wednesday. Remember your basement, attic and outdoor lights? Make sure they have been replaced with energy efficient bulbs too.
19 – Thursday. Write the Mail Preference Service to reduce your junk mail. www.dmachoice.org.
20 – Friday. Add clothespins to your grocery list. Hang a rope in the kitchen window for drying reused plastic bags
21 – Saturday. Visit 10,000 Villages web site or store (if you have other errands) and buy gifts in advance for birthdays, weddings, etc.

22 - Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
23 – Monday. Bring an energy efficient bulb to your office and replace one of the incandescent ones there.
24 – Tuesday. Purchase enough cloth bags to cover all your groceries and other shopping items. Store them in the car so that you always have them with you.
25 – Wednesday. Visit the library instead of the bookstore.
26 – Thursday. Start a pile of unwanted catalogs that come in the mail, and write to each to ask that you be removed from the mailing list.
27 – Eat a meatless meal and vow to do so at least once more a week than you do now.
28 – Saturday. Hang a rope in your basement (and/or outside) for drying your clothes.
29 - Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
30 – Monday. Clear your bookshelves and give away any books that, a) you will never read again, or b) will be more helpful to someone else.
31 – Tuesday. Pay bills on line. If you set it up through your bank, you do not have to go to each company’s web site. You can also elect to get the bills electronically and save even more paper.

1 – Wednesday. Save your garbage and recycling. Stopping to pick up your half empty bin costs the trash industry (and, therefore, you) time and energy. Put the bin on the curb only when it is full.
2 – Thursday. Buy a low flow shower head and install it.
3 – Friday. Ride your bike or walk to work or school.
4 – Saturday. Stop pretending you will wear all those clothes you have. Donate the ones you have not worn in a year to a local charity.

5 – Palm Sunday. Leave your car at home. Walk to church if possible, thanking God that you can.
6 – Monday. Look around the house and identify things that clutter your life that you are only holding on to because of memories. Take a few pictures and decide to give them new homes.
7 – Tuesday. Get your car serviced before traveling home for the holidays. Inflate the tires properly.
8 – Wednesday. Before you lay in extra food for the Easter feast, clean out the refrigerator and reflect on how much food you have wasted by letting it go bad. It’s Holy Week. A little guilt is appropriate!
9 – Maundy Thursday. Go to church! Wash your car at home and save money and water.
10 – Good Friday. Go to church! On this second fast day of Lent, think about what you are willing to sacrifice on a permanent basis, not just for Lent.
11 – Saturday. Start a garden, if you haven’t already. If it is your first time, or you live in an apartment, make it an herb garden, in pots if necessary.
12 – Easter Sunday. Give thanks for the resurrection and give some food so that others can too..
13 – Now that you have looked at the small things, joyfully start considering the big projects such as insulation, solar energy, etc.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We're an Adult Church

I read that recently. It was a description of the Episcopal Church by a priest to a parishioner. The context was an online discussion about lifelong learning in the Episcopal Church.

Now, if your mind works in the twisted way that mine does, at least part of you read 'adult church' and thought, "When do they get to the sex?" Alas, when Episcopalians get to sex, it's all a lot of talk. It took the Episcopal Church to make sex boring--many have tried, but few have succeeded like we have in taking a subject so filled with excitement, energy, and humor and making it dull, pedantic, and mind-numbingly off putting.

Well, thankfully, this comment was not about the sex lives of Anglo-Catholics (for once). Sadly, it said something worse; this priest was saying, in effect, that the Episcopal Church is really not for children.

This, of course, was news to me, having grown up in the Episcopal Church. I did not realize that all of that Sunday school, choir, acolyting, ushering, youth group, and being a page at diocesan convention was not aimed at me. Let's not forget the diocesan youth retreats and church camp. And we can just skip past the last thirty years of my life spent leading youth events on every level from the parish to the international stage.

Apparently, being a church that encourages an intellectual approach to one's faith, that allows questioning, that changes over time, and that encourages its members to figure out for themselves who God is (working through a community of believers, of course) is not for children.

I pray that this is an attitude that very few of my fellow clergy take. Or other Episcopalians, clergy or not. And especially those Sunday school teachers and Directors of Religious Education in our churches. If it is, than we may as well relegate our work to the same trash heap where the most failing school systems in our country belong. You know, the ones that don't teach children to think but only try to keep control and make them give rote answers. The ones where history is just 'one damned thing after another' and English is designed to make the kids hate to read and crank out five paragraph theme essays that say nothing.

Oops, I'm getting off track. How much do you want to bet that the congregation of the priest who made this comment has very few children? And how long will it be before he drives away the few that are left, thereby proving his point. And wouldn't you also bet that his adult education program is pretty boring too? It's like politicians who make a career of saying how badly government fails and then get into office and set out to prove their point. Except maybe it's not quite as calculated. More like an unwillingness to admit personal failure by blaming the whole system.

The problem with this declaration, of course, is that the ministry of children and youth in the Episcopal Church is succeeding all over the place. The evidence of that can be found all over the land. Yes, there are places that struggle, especially small churches that only have a few children.

But tell me a kind of ministry where this is not true. Then say it about any other church or denomination out there. Even Saddleback Church, Rick Warren's southern California mega-entity, isn't resting on its laurels. You just know that there is some back room there where someone is tearing her hair out saying, "Why isn't our __________ ministry reaching people?"

Well, I believe children want to think too. And churches that tell children what to think lose them as soon as they decide to think for themselves. Do we really want a program with a hundred children if 99 of them are going to leave before getting out of high school? Of course not.

But the attitude is the first thing that has to go. Yes, we are an adult church. And a young adult church (that's a whole other discussion). And a teen church. And a children church. And an elder church too. The sooner we start believing that, the better. Because any group of people can figure out when a church is not interested in them. Even children.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Green for God

It seems everyone in the church has suddenly decided that being environmentally conscious is a good, even holy thing. Congratulations. The scientists are telling us it's already too late, but at least we are getting the point.

Now all the liberals out there, especially the younger ones and the parents of the younger ones (who twenty years ago were shamed by their kids into learning to recycle) are saying "It's about time! Here's something we can agree on for a change. Rather than deciding whether someone is going to heaven or hell by looking at who shares their bed or blindly following the next Republican who claims to be a born again Christian despite showing absolutely no sustained relationship to a faith community of any kind, we finally are talking about doing something useful for the world. We can all work together, right?"

Yes, I know how those last sentences read. Those liberals can be pretty judgmental too, can't they (Notice how I refuse to label myself as a liberal. Maybe I'll talk about that sometime soon too.) Not exactly the best way to start an alliance. But maybe if everyone can learn to keep their mouths shut about other issues, we can actually get something done, especially if we can agree that maybe, just maybe, the government can also be a partner in this. Good will is certainly welcome. Organizing as a people to do something also helps. And at its ideal, isn't that exactly what government is supposed to be?

Unfortunately, the Sunday forum at the campus ministry where I work read a book on environmental action by one of the evangelicals. I won't mention it's name, but one of the gurus of the emergent church movement, Brian McLaren, gives it a front cover "Enthusiastically recommended." You can figure it out if you really need to.

Notice how I said we read this book unfortunately. I should mention that this was a group of activist type folks who hang laundry, reuse plastic bags, take cloth bags to the grocery and try to buy local whenever possible. And I should also say we loved the appendices, which include a way to do a home energy audit, notes on home appliances to help you when shopping, and practical lists of things you can do today through the coming year. But we also had the reaction that one often has to converts. "This guy has taken a good idea and run over everyone with it." Worse than that, his excess seemed designed to make everyone else feel guilty. Theologically, I saw more than a little Pelagianism in his writing.

Here is a way too brief and overly simplified explanation: Pelagius was a fourth century theologian who believed that one could work ones way into God's redeeming love through a life of good deeds. Augustine, in one of his better moments, refuted that claim, saying that it is only by God's grace that anyone is saved; Pelagius was condemned as a heretic (Perhaps a bit of overreaction too).

Why did we feel this way? Perhaps it was his daughter chiding him for cooling down a glass of water with ice on a hot day. Or maybe it was the image of his teenage children (a boy and a girl) working wonderfully side by side in the garden on a summer day. There was the chapter in which he managed to turn the idea of sabbath time into a rule that seemed more rigid than the Pharisees could dream up; in fact, I thought of Pahrisees often while reading this book.

How about the lecture on how evil television is? Or the one chiding anyone who does not buy ethically responsible food that glossed over the extra cost of this --I do work with lots of public college students who don't have lots of money or cars-- and never said a word about how much fuel I would have to spend to go get this food. Buying local, after all, means two things: products grown locally and not burning lots of fuel to get them. We have to balance between the two.

I completely jumped ship when, for reasons that now escape me, he declared that he was not taking blood pressure medication on the argument that Winston Churchill had high blood pressure and lived to age 91 without benefit of such medication (that did not exist for him, of course). At that point, I realized that logic was not a part of this doctor's argument either. That's right; the author is a doctor. I would not seek medical advice from him either.

So, the net effect of this book was to turn off a sympathetic audience of people seeking ways to alter our own lives (further) to be more environmentally appropriate. We decided to make our Lenten discipline as a congregation to examine our building to find ways we could do a better job. Sure we will use some of his checklists, but I won't suggest others read the book. Excess guilt trips are not the best way to motivate people. We don't have to look at how many ways we can make people feel bad about themselves in order to build up God's kingdom.

When will the church finally figure this out?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pirate Eucharist??????

I know. It sounds like the stupidest thing you've ever heard. Sadly, it is not, but it certainly ranks on the list of wannabees. An entire Eucharist, Rite II, translated into pirate talk. God becomes the Admiral, Jesus the Cap'n, and death Davy Jone's Locker. It gets worse from there. Think about having to roll your tongue every time the word are (arrr) comes up, ye scurvy dogs!

If you must, here is the link to read the service: http://www.sjmp.com/pirategloria.pdf. Fortunately, no one has embarrassed us yet by putting it on YouTube. And, as far as I know, the only place it has actually been celebrated is Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento. I'm sure I am wrong about that, though.

Maybe I've missed something, but the last time I thought about pirates, it was those murderous thugs who have been off the coast of Africa. Nothing "yo ho ho" about that crowd. Johnny Depp will not be playing one of them in a movie any time soon.

I suppose someone thought that this would be a good idea for the kids. Well, it's not. They don't need to be pandered to with this amount of asininity. If you think the Eucharist isn't reaching them, try having a decent children's sermon and some hymns they like. Wave banners. Invite them to stand around you at the consecration. Treat them like you care about them (radical, I know). You can even simplify the language.

But this Pirate Eucharist does none of that. It distorts what is going on here into being a game. It teaches them nothing about who God is. Worse, it glorifies a life that none of us would wish our kids to have.

Mind you, I have nothing against play, and I probably played pirates as a child, so no, I don't think this will irreparably harm them. But right now, the word pirate is once again a part of current vocabulary, and it's not a good thing. And, anyway, what does this have to do with the Eucharist???!!!

And, for the record, I've done youth ministry for decades, and that has included many unorthodox ideas. I celebrated in the middle of a dance. I've celebrated on beaches, in the woods, all sorts of places. I changed language to fit the occasion, and I am sure that many things I have done would seem gimmicky to somebody. But they all had a particular purpose in a particular community. The purpose of this eludes me.

I am sure someone will tell me that I am simply being too hard. "Lighten up." Well, it's not going to happen. This is a bad idea that needs to go away. Soon. Please relegate it to the same hell as the clown Eucharist--but that's a rant for a different day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Who do you love?

I'm old enough that blogging does not come as naturally as talking on the phone and I am a private enough person that I don't bleed everything that is happening onto the net without thinking about it first. So I have been away for a bit taking care of family business.

What business, you ask? My 82 year old father had a stroke up in Columbia, Maryland. Fortunately his grandson and daughter-in-law live with him, and even more grace filled was their decision to get a dog. The dog likes to chew pens, so naturally everyone puts their pens where the dog cannot reach them. When the dog showed up with a pen from my father's desk, they knew to check on him. And so, 911 was called. Another reason to be a dog person (not that I needed any more!).

He's been in the hospital, then to rehab, then back to hospital for a pacemaker after his heart slowed, and now back to rehab again. Fortunately there is family in Maryland, but I still needed to go up and see how he was doing. His left side is struggling but he can lift his arm and leg and has begun walking short distances with a walker. Speech is rather slurred, but I saw him before any speech therapy had begun, so this should improve as well.

I realized that the whole time I was up there, I was thinking about my ministry in Greensboro. And then I started feeling guilty for thinking about my ministry rather than just focusing on events in Maryland. Mind you, most of my relatives up there were going to work each day. People say you are supposed to just let other things go by the wayside at times like these. But that was not happening.

Mind you, it is Monday morning and I am writing this while an auditor is going over the books. If anything is going to draw you back, it would be the notion of a pending audit.

But that was not all of it. I had one student who was sick, a couple of students who were seeking a way out of a feud but not succeeding, and another one who I wasn't sure had food. And so on. Not to mention the sermon I was expected to preach on Sunday.

And then it hit me. Why should I be forgetting about the rest of my life when a crisis occurs? More importantly, why do Christians suddenly act as if all that language about who your family is doesn't apply when the biological family needs something?

I love my dad. A lot. But I realized just how much I love the students and other folk that I am called to serve too. And some of them are going through some very serious events in their lives at the moment.

So here's the deal. When I am in Greensboro, I am going to worry about what is happening up in Maryland with my dad. But when I am in Maryland (and I will probably be back up there in a few weeks), I'm going to worry about the folks in Greensboro that I have given my heart to (and my time and my pledge of Christ's love). And I am not going to feel guilty about it. Love knows no bounds. Why should I act as if it does?

Fortunately, I bought a new laptop over Christmas break. And I could keep tabs on my students, even in the hospital, through the magic of Facebook. And, just as nice, they could know where I was and send wonderful prayers out for my father. Letting them know just by keeping my status up to date became an opportunity for them to minister to me. Being surrounded with others providing me ministry has always been a holy place to be. Thanks.

So don't let your family be narrowly defined. And certainly don't let others tell you where your love comes from or goes. It, like the Holy Spirit, goes where it wills and does what it may....