Language be Baptism: Parte Tres

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2017 by timtrue

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Enjoyed a spectacular visit to Guanajuato yesterday with several other students in the AHA! program.

The city of Guanajuato (Gto) began as a mining encampment in the eighteenth century. It was soon realized that the mountains around Gto held an especially large amount of silver. In fact, by the early nineteenth century, the Gto mines were providing a full third of the world’s silver. A full third! This was the motherlode! The definite article!

Lots of money meant it was time to build a city. Which the city’s founders did.

Situated in a valley with steep mountains all around, well, the city ended up being built in a river bed.

Not a good move, founding folks realized in time: floods ravaged the place; buildings’ foundations began to rock and sink.

Yet there were no options to rebuild elsewhere, somewhere up some slope out of the river bed; so city builders built up, above the first foundation, constructing streets to divert flooding waters and building up sixteen or so feet of new foundation around these streets, utilizing rubble from the mines.

What this amounts to today is a downtown area filled with architectural wonders (they once had a lot of money, remember), and a whole network of underground roads and tunnels–all built by hand(!) in the nineteenth century.

My day in Gto in photos follows. If you’d like to research this magnificent place more, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/482

Entonces, Gto in pictures:

At the drop-off point:

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Looking around a bit:

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The granary, where a violent massacre took place in 1810, led by Hidalgo, a Jesuit priest. Notice the bullet holes (from this very battle) in the top half of the wall:

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Next stop, the Diego Rivera Museum. It’s the house where this influential artist was born and lived until six years of age. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to photograph much:

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Some downtown sights:

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The above photo highlights a building designed by the architect of the Eiffel Tower. And inside:

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By the way, lunch cost 12 pesos, or roughly 65 cents:

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And now, to descend! A few photos are not the best–most likely due to the photographer’s limited skills. I include them nevertheless, to convey the idea:

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After returning to street level, we concluded our day with a 20-minute walk to and tour of El Museo de las Momias, Gto’s Museum of the Mummies. I took no photos inside, but some friends did. Perhaps I will be able to pilfer a few for a future post.

Until next time then, Saludos!

 

Language by Baptism: Parte Dos

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by timtrue

As intimated previously, here are two food photos: of today’s lunch at our host’s local restaurante; tortilla soup followed by queso enchiladas con salsa verde:

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Anyway, three days into it now, I’ve experienced a couple of minor disappointments.

In the first place–at the risk of sounding like Hermione Granger–the school decided to cancel its last class of the day for this entire Session. What this means is that we’re done at 5pm instead of 6:20, which is the positive way to look at it. It also means, however, that the Mexican history section has been cancelled, a section entitled “Mexican Literature II,” something I was really looking forward to.

The second disappointment is the other afternoon class, beginning at 3:45, “Folksinging and Folkdancing.” Now, I’m okay with singing, especially folk singing, especially in Spanish. Trouble is, so far it’s only been a social dancing seminar, stress dancing and neither singing nor Spanishing.

Morning classes are nonetheless substantial, solid from 8:30am to 1:45pm.

Entonces . . .

We decided instead of “Folksinging and Folkdancing” today to take in a local botanical garden.

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Leaving the restaurant, we mapped out our walk to some botanical gardens whose name I can’t remember right now (brain’s kind of full at the moment . . .), some 1.5 miles distant. What we didn’t know was that this distance would be entirely uphill, sometimes at a 20% slope. We saw two medium-to-large men try and fail to ride a motorcycle up this slope. Most motorcycles around here have smallish engines, like 150ccs. Still, it was that steep!

Here are a few photos from our ascent via (steep) city streets:

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Looking back. AHA! is directly left of the white sedan. La Boganbilia, our host’s restuarante, is at the other end of the street, several blocks away.

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So, up we go.

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Another look back, SMA’s skyline is quite spectacular.

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And, huffing and puffing (at above 2,000 m/ 6,600 ft in elevation), we make it! Entrance fee, by the way, is 40 pesos, or about $2.20, a US penny per acre.

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Inside we find a trail around the garden and several plants you might guess are in the region.

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Mesquite (for my Texas friends).

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Gatillo (for my friends who like mimosas).

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And agave!–specia Magna in the top photo; specia Tequila in the bottom (for my friends who like margaritas).

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The property includes a wetland area.

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And what do you call this? A cactus pond garden?

But the real surprise comes when we encounter the ruins of an eighteenth-century aqueduct, to deliver water to the town once upon a time:

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This is the water source for the aqueduct.

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And some of the ruins.

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Here you see the gorge down which the aqueduct traveled. Near the top of the gorge on the far side there is a newer system of pipes to deliver water to SMA, however now also defunct.

A few steps away, I conclude today’s self-made cultural and historical experience with a couple more shots of this beautiful city. Stay tuned for parte tres.

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Language by Baptism: Parte Uno

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by timtrue

Entonces! A few photos to get us going:

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#1: Christiana standing in AHA!’s courtyard. This is our school for the next four weeks. The door behind and to her right belongs to a classroom. (By the way, notice how tired she looks.)

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#2: looking across the courtyard at AHA!’s entrance.

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And #3: outside a second-floor classroom, taking in SMA’s skyline. (Looking tired here too!)

I don’t recommend traveling as we did, with a takeoff time of 1:52am, a landing time of 6:55am, and a shuttle ride directly to our residence followed immediately by orientation at AHA!, the language school.

We thought we could sleep on the plane–which we did–un poquito. I also thought we were dealing with only a one-hour time difference, not two, meaning I thought we had a four-hour flight, not a three. Another also: I assumed legroom on Volaris would be the same as on Southwest. But it wasn’t. Thus (entonces), we slept maybe two hours. Uncomfortably!

Not a good way to start off.

For all that, I think I learned more in my first few hours at AHA! than in a whole semester of high school Spanish. Maybe a whole semester of seminary too.

Jessika taught us how to carry on a bona fide conversation; Jorge led us through diction and pronunciation in a class akin to choir warmups.

And as for our main meal today–well, it just so happens that our host family also owns a restaurant in downtown SMA, just down the street from the school. I’ll likely join the fad and post some fabulous food fotos soon. For the food was fabuloso.

We opted to head home and catch up on some much needed sleep rather than return late this afternoon for folk singing and folk dancing.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a great experience. Muy bien!

Language by Baptism: Introduction

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by timtrue

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Looking forward to spending the next four weeks in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), immersing myself in the Spanish language and Mexican culture (and taking a grateful break from crafting sermons). I hope to make several posts during this time highlighting the experience.

Joining me on this adventure will be my oldest daughter, Christiana. We plan to meet in a few hours on the San Diego side of CrossBorderXpress, a skybridge by which we will cross the Mexican border and arrive inside the Tijuana airport via foot. From there it’s a six-hour plane flight to Leon followed by a ninety-minute shuttle ride to SMA. We’ll be staying with a host family about 1.25 miles from the school, meaning walking about 5 miles a day. Morning classes are language-focused; afternoon cultural and historical–all in Spanish.

Hoping to begin a weekly Spanish service in Temecula some time in the near future.

It all begins now. Stay tuned!

On to Temecula

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2017 by timtrue

Been intending to post this for a while now. The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my journey as a priest. And, well, the journey continues. I will be transitioning shortly from rector of St. Paul’s in Yuma, Arizona to Vicar of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Temecula, California. What follows is a compilation of three newsletter articles I recently wrote to introduce myself to the new congregation.

 

Deep in the Heart

With some work yet to do in Yuma and other scheduled obligations, it will be some time yet before I am at the helm in Temecula. In the meantime (the June and July newsletters), as a way to begin our relationship with each other, I’ll tell you my story. How’d I come to be Vicar of St. Thomas of Canterbury?

Growing up with an avocado orchard on the outskirts of Camarillo, California, my childhood was ideal in many ways. This was the day of no seatbelts or bike helmets, and even though video games were just coming into their own with companies such as Atari and microwaves and VCRs were all the rage, the pull of year-round spring-like weather and a couple acres was a strong enough lure to keep me outside most hours—when I wasn’t preoccupied, that is, with the obligatory homework and piano practicing. Scouts, soccer, the neighborhood gang (20-ish kids within a 3-year age span), and my dad’s unquenchable thirst for adventure rounded out these formative years. Family meant everything to me then.

Church, however, was not a part of these idyllic times. Not sure you could call us Trues atheists back then; God or no God, we just tried to figure out life on our own.

My parents’ divorce changed all that. I was in middle school. My older brother and I would remain with Dad, it was decided, while Mom pursued her new life.

Suddenly, family no longer meant everything to me. How could it? It was no longer together. My rock, my foundation, had been pulverized.

And thus began my search for new meaning, new hope, new salvation.

Occasional visits to campus Bible studies turned into regular visits turned into a ski-trip conversion experience turned into baptism and church membership. By now I was in college, trying to figure out what I should be when I grew up, involved in college Bible studies and ministry leadership and, during the summers, program work at a large Christian camp.

College is where I met Holly, my future bride. We studied music and sang in the university choir together. We both attended the same church. This running in the same circles continued for a year or so until I finally got the nerve to ask her out on a date, which turned into another date, and another, and so on, until we married, me fresh out of college, her with a year to go, on Sept. 11, 1993.

September 11th was our anniversary first, by the way.

Anyway, back in college, back when I was thinking about what I should be when I grew up, the idea of vocational, ordained ministry was a constant. I considered other options, sure. But this idea I couldn’t shake. So I prayed about it. A lot. And I talked with Holly about it. A lot.

No wonder, then, that my first real job was as Director of Youth Ministries at a Baptist church.

Now, remember, I hadn’t attend much church before college. The idea of vocational ministry in my mind mostly looked like parachurch Bible studies (think Young Life, if you know what that looks like) and summer camp. Youth ministry in a Baptist church confronted me with messy things I’d never thought about before, like a board of Christian education: a committee that was effectively my boss.

Long story short, three years there was long enough to convince me I wasn’t a Baptist. The strong, internal sense of call to ordained ministry remained, sure. But as for which denomination, tradition, or perspective, I was befuddled, perplexed, and nonplussed.

I retreated into working other jobs—teaching mostly, but also some engineering and music directing and accompanying. I had bills to pay, not to mention an increasing number of family members to support.

Some twelve years passed—and in that time we passed through some churches and denominations, from Baptist to Presbyterian to Episcopal—until we found ourselves with our four daughters settling into St. John’s, New Braunfels, in the Diocese of West Texas, drawn to the Episcopal Church by its sacramental theology and its appreciation of and respect for liturgy and music.

Only to hear the rector declare, shortly after Holly and I had been confirmed, “The vestry and I have decided to leave the Episcopal Church! Next Sunday will be my last.”

And I be like, “What? No way! You can’t do this! This is my spiritual home! I can’t even!” Etc.

So I wrote a deeply thought out and probably passionate letter to my bishop expressing my frustration and my long-time desire to be ordained, and wouldn’t it be especially helpful now!

And my bishop replied, asking me to meet with him for a one-to-one conversation.

To be continued . . .

 

Back to Cali

“Come in, Tim,” my bishop greeted me in the waiting area outside his office; “have a seat. I’m going to get my suffragan. Back in a minute.”

I’d only ever met him once before, when he confirmed me. So I didn’t yet know him or what he was like—his personality, his ministry point of focus, and so on. Turns out he was very intent on future generations. Youth and camping ministries were key for him. So was providing priests for the next generation.

A minute or two later he and David, his suffragan, joined me at the small meeting table in his office; and he began, “Tim, I took the liberty to share your letter with David here. Why don’t you tell both of us your story, especially how you came to sense a call to the ministry?”

And so I did, much as I did for you in last month’s newsletter. Until, “I mean,” I admitted, “the idea of going off to seminary and completing the education part of my priestly formation is a wonderful one, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve always been the main bread winner in our home. I can’t see how relocating a family of six for three years is even possible.”

“Thank you for this, Tim,” the bishop wrapped it up. “It is a very real concern. Let’s stay in touch.”

And that was that—for the time being anyway.

But a year later we revisited the conversation, this time with Holly joining. Baby #5 was about to join our family, so we decided to table the idea for one more year. And then, in early 2010, it was decided: we Trues would relocate to Sewanee, Tennessee for three years. Somehow, we were determined, it would work.

And somehow it did.

The three years in Sewanee were tremendous. It is the home of the University of the South, the only university still entirely owned by the Episcopal Church, which houses a liberal arts college and a seminary. We Trues jumped in with both feet, immersing ourselves in all we could.

The seminary community is just one facet of this diamond, a fairy-tale town perched atop the Cumberland Plateau. Our kids went to school and played sports locally. Holly worked odd jobs around campus, including Wedding Hostess of the beautiful All Saints’ Chapel. We dined regularly at university and town eateries. I taught two semesters of Latin to undergraduates; took elective courses through the college; learned the carillon and became Assistant University Carillonneur; and worked as an organist at local churches. Sewanee became a real home. (Indeed, our oldest daughter, who graduated from the University in 2016, had spent a full third of her life there by that time!) Perhaps more than anything else, my time at Sewanee taught me to see the Episcopal Church truly as a nation-wide organization.

Ordination to the diaconate came for me on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, in 2012—back in Texas, over Christmas break. The Episcopal Church requires every priest to serve as a deacon for at least six months prior to priestly ordination. My bishop thought it would be a good idea to spend my last semester in seminary already ordained, to gain some working knowledge as I finished my time of focusing on the theoretical. A good idea, I agree, having experienced it! Priestly ordination followed on July 7, 2013.

Graduation took place in May and I began serving as a curate in mid-June at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, one of the largest parishes of the Diocese of West Texas.

The position of curate is designed to get one’s feet wet, so to speak. Curacies generally last a couple of years, equipping new priests with tools to carry into future positions. With my previous life experience in religious education leadership, not to mention some twenty years of following the call into ordained ministry, I was eager for these two years to pass and get on with serving Christ as a rector already.

So, eighteen months into it, happy for my time in San Antonio and forever grateful to the Diocese of West Texas for confirming outwardly my longtime sense of internal call, I began looking westward, where I could still be a part of the nation-wide Episcopal Church and also be nearer to where my aging parents live and to the home of my own childhood. That new call soon materialized: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, in the Diocese of San Diego.

Now, some two years hence, I can say that challenges and rewards at St. Paul’s have been many—some anticipated, others unlooked for. Working knowledge and the experience that comes with it are invaluable.

And so here I am, facing another move, ready to live into the new challenges and rewards that will come in Temecula, more prepared than ever before but knowing that we can never be fully prepared, looking forward to doing great things together for Christ in the Temecula Valley.

 

Formal Introduction

Dear People of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church,

It is with much joy that I write to you, eager to enter your fellowship and navigate the waters of ministry with you into our future together.

Some months ago I received a phone call from Bishop Mathes, in which he asked if I’d be willing to put my name in the vicar search for St. Thomas’. “As I’ve gotten to know you,” he said, “I’ve come to believe you have the gifts and talents that most align with what St. Thomas’ wants and needs for a leader. Tim, I think you’re the man for the job; I think you’d be a great fit.” Of course, I said to put my name in the pool—this was the bishop calling, after all. I then began to do my homework. And as I did so, the question to frame my analysis was, what is it about me in particular the bishop sees? Here’s what I’ve assessed thus far.

Especially exciting to me is your music ministry. Music, especially in the Anglican choral tradition, has played no small role in my own spiritual journey. To work with accomplished musicians in order to craft effective liturgy is a thing I’ve longed for in recent years.

I’m also eager to establish and develop a strong working relationship with the day school, its board, director, staff, and families. Prior to ordination I was a career teacher in private parochial and independent schools, experience that should go a long way in a school/church relationship.

Along these lines is Christian formation. A lifelong learner myself, I look forward to strengthening the already strong Christian education program for all ages.

And as for the location! It’s no secret that Temecula is beautiful, nestled between the California coast and desert, a perfect opportunity to exercise hospitality.

Focal points of ministry for me are music and liturgy, preaching, teaching, and formation. I consider my leadership style to be flexible yet organized, collaborative, and innovative, willing to go in new directions when old ones tire out or fail. Maybe I’m more an artist than a scientist (more a Greek than a Roman), though I believe the two are not mutually exclusive. For fun I like to hang out with my family, cooking, eating, playing bridge, and walking our 12 year-old Labrador, Arwen; and, as I’m able, I like to hike, compose, write, and ride my motorcycle.

Put these together and it’s plain to see that, as the bishop stated, here is a great fit!

Please pray for me and my family in the months ahead. Moving from Yuma to Temecula will not be our only transition.

May God richly bless us in our life together,

Father Tim

From Spigot to Rivers

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2017 by timtrue

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John 7:37-39

“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit.

1.

The Holy Spirit, Jesus says, like living water, will flow out of the believer’s heart.

It won’t just be the trickle of a low-flow spigot, he says; but rivers.

However!

Is this what we see in churches today? When we look around, do we see rivers of living water flowing forth from Christians, quenching the spiritual thirst of this parched land?

Yes, our land is parched. Yes, we’re thirsty.

We see spiritual thirst, for instance, in our individualism.

Culture tells me to be independent, self-sufficient, and confident in my own abilities. It’s a tempting message, especially when society is so accommodating to my independence.

I get in my car. I drive to the Starbucks I choose. And I order a café mocha, my favorite drink, except not as it appears on the menu but as I prefer it, with half the sweetener and twice the chocolate! Then I return to my home to watch my TV programs that I’ve pre-recorded to suit my schedule—after I run through my favorite apps that I’ve customized to my iPhone.

Ever wonder why it’s called the “i” Phone?

But, notice. This message is not all it’s cracked up to be. The “i” on the iPhone is lower case. You are actually quite dependent on others, whether you care to admit it or not.

And have you seen what this message does to relationships—or, should I say, to individuals trying to have relationships with other individuals?

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said. And yet that’s all most people seem to want anymore: to be left alone.

In the end, the water that independence sells us leaves us thirsty.

Likewise, there’s spiritual thirst in society.

Perhaps our societal spiritual thirst is seen best in the decline in mainline church attendance over the last four decades. Other spiritual are waters out there—spiritual waters that today seem more attractive than church. Their sellers have done a good job at marketing them, at making them more attractive.

I think we Christians are more to blame for this decline than those sellers though. For, if the unchurched or de-churched could actually see our living water, like the woman at the well, they would want it.

But they don’t see it. Which is our fault. Because—my thinking anyway—it’s not flowing out of us.

Oh, it’s there all right—living water. It’s just not flowing out of us. Instead, it’s bottled up inside our independent selves.

Thus we see spiritual thirst all around us; thirst that can only be quenched by the living waters of the Holy Spirit, by the living waters that we possess. So, let’s get it out there already!

2.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day in the Church when we recall the Holy Spirit descending from heaven and entering all peoples.

This is a big day on the Church calendar, right up there with Christmas and Easter!

Now, God sent his Son to be Incarnate from the Virgin Mary. And we definitely see this remembered and celebrated in our churches today—also in the world around us. Christmas and Easter festivities abound!

But God sent the Holy Spirit too. And the Holy Spirit is a lot like Jesus: another Advocate; God dwelling with us.

So, when’s the last time you walked into CVS and heard Pentecost carols playing from the speakers overhead? (For that matter, just between us, Pentecost hymns in our own hymnal are few and far between–and not very catchy!)

When’s the last time you walked down the greeting card aisle to buy some Pentecost greeting cards to give to your beloved friends and family members?

And why don’t we practice longstanding cultural traditions that involve a big, cuddly dove? A dove to descend our chimneys, maybe, and give us gifts? Doves fly better than reindeer, after all. Or red plastic dove egg hunts in our church courtyards? Doves actually lay eggs, after all, unlike bunnies.

No, by and large, we forget about Pentecost.

Maybe we should just get rid of it then, eh? Time to move on already—get with the times! Maybe we should just give up trying to figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is and just eliminate him, her, or it from our theology, liturgy, and practice.

3.

Who is the Holy Spirit anyway? Or, to frame it another way, what if we were just to get rid of the Holy Spirit altogether?

The Creed tells us who the Holy Spirit is. We say the Creed together most Sundays, including that section about the Holy Spirit: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” and so on.

But what do these words really mean? They all seems rather nondescript.

There’s this line: “He has spoken through the Prophets.” I get that one. Sort of. I mean, there were these fringy people in the Old Testament stories who stood their ground against dictators and despots; and how could anyone have done that unless they were empowered by something divine—or at least something supernatural, or unnatural?

But how do we make sense of the lines that follow?

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. / We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. / We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

What in the world do these words have to do with the Holy Spirit?

Maybe nothing. Maybe they’re just some important bullet points that the Creed compilers felt compelled to include somewhere—like a kind of faith appendix statement.

Anyway, why couldn’t the Creed compilers have been more concrete, like they were with respect to Jesus?

Jesus! He was born of the Virgin Mary, tried before Pilate, crucified, died, and rose again on the third day. Also, he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Yes, Jesus is easy to believe in. It’s all right there in the Creed, concrete, before our eyes.

So why do the words about the Holy Spirit have to be so abstract?

To which I say, yes, they are abstract. The Holy Spirit is a bit confusing—and has been for the entire history of the Church.

But notice this: everything about the Holy Spirit in the Creed has a communal focus.

The Holy Spirit spoke through individual prophets, yes. But why? It was to rouse a collective people, a nation: to pray as a people; to convict a nation of its societal sin; to rouse the nation to justice—which is just the profile of corporate love’s face.

And as for those other statements?

One holy catholic and apostolic Church means our communal faith with all the saints of all the ages.

Our baptism is our entrance rite into the one fold of God.

And as for the resurrection of the dead? Every single person who walks this earth will die. You cannot get more communal than that!

So, what happens if we just get rid of the Holy Spirit altogether?

We lose our prophets, our teachings, our conviction, our prayers, our communion, our baptism, our justice, our love.

You see, a god without the Person of the Holy Spirit is like a swimming pool without water. What’s the point? It has form and function but fails to serve its purpose.

If the Holy Spirit is not flowing from us like rivers of living water, what’s the point? We might testify of God’s form and function; yet what good are our testimonies when we fail to accomplish Christ’s mission?

4.

So, how do we get the living water of the Holy Spirit to flow out of us?

Well, it looks like the stuff I just mentioned—Spirit stuff, I call it: corporate belief, prayer, communion, baptism, justice, and love. Or, to use the words of our patron, it looks like “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”—the things St. Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

And that starts with each of us, as individual followers of Christ.

What? Did I just say individuals?

Yes!

I know many of my messages talk about our salvation, faith, belief, and so on in a corporate way. I’m not waffling on this theme! The Bible is clear throughout: Jesus’ mission is not to save individual souls from a world that is hellbound; but to save the world, the cosmos, all of it, by redeeming and restoring it to its rightful state. He’s already redeemed it, by the way; and now it’s up to us, his corporate church, to restore it.

But here’s the thing.

Do you remember what I said about that spigot? Jesus did not say, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow a trickling spigot of living water.” He said rivers.

But an individual, trickling spigot is better for a dry and parched land than nothing at all.

The living water of the Holy Spirit starts with each one of us. Each one of us would do well to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. See what this looks like in Galatians 5. And to help us, St. Paul also includes a contrasting list, “the works of the flesh,” he calls them, the things that shouldn’t flow from us.

And when this living water begins to trickle from you, even if you are a low-flow spigot, well, hey, at least it’s something! And when a second low-flow spigot opens up nearby, why, its trickle joins yours and the two become a bigger flow.

And a third trickle combines to make the flow bigger still.

And so on, each one of us intentionally committing to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, until our individual, low-flow trickles become a brook; our brooks a stream; our streams a creek; and our creeks, eventually, mighty rivers of living water, to renew and revitalize a parched and dry land.

Come, Holy Spirit!

Adopting a Classical Cosmology

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2017 by timtrue

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Ascension Day

1.

Since coming to St. Paul’s and the Diocese of San Diego, I’ve become keenly aware of the mainline American church’s decline over the past four decades.

Many parishes, including ours, have endured splits. Attendance and pledges have dropped significantly. Thousands of churches have closed their doors, given up, and walked away from their mission.

Here are just a few startling statistics from episcopalchurch.org demonstrating the decline in our denomination from 2005-2015:

2005                    2015

Total number of congregations:     7,635                    6,996

Active baptized members:              2.37 million         1.92 million

Average Sunday attendance:           830,706               614,241

These statistics yield an unnerving observation. Over the past decade the Episcopal Church’s average Sunday attendance has dropped by 26% and the active baptized membership has dropped by 19%; yet the total number of congregations has dropped by less than 9%. So: membership is dropping twice as fast as congregations are closing, a trend that is not sustainable.

And, thus, at the risk of sounding like a prophet of doom, I offer this prediction: the Episcopal Church will have to close many more congregations and sell off many more properties in order to reach a point of sustainability once more—even if the decline in membership plateaus!

Sad, I know. And worrisome! I mean, what if we—St. Paul’s—ever reach a point where we just can’t afford to keep the lights on anymore? Will the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in Yuma be forever cut off? And, is there anything we can do about it?

2.

Well, yes, there is something we can do about it. But before I tell you what, permit me to digress for a bit into the realm of ancient Greek cosmology. It is Ascension Day, after all; so why not hear what Plato had to say about the ascended bodies in the heavens—the sun, moon, and stars?

To begin with then, the ancient Greeks viewed our world as very unstable: our world—where we walk, talk, and otherwise live our lives—is subject to constant change.

This continual instability is readily apparent in the four elements of which our world is comprised: earth, water, air, and fire.

The order of these elements is intentional.

Earth is the heaviest. Take a handful of soil or a stone and throw it into a pond. What happens? It sinks.

Water, next, rises from the depths only as high as the air above it will allow. Or, on the flipside, rain falls; and rivers flow downward, to the sea.

Air is the element where we humans dwell—we humans, ourselves a complicated mixture of earth, water, air, and fire.

And fire, as we all know, rises through the air: it tries to escape the dominion of the air to reach its source, the sun.

Earth, water, air, fire. This is our world. And it’s constantly changing.

Earth seeks to go into the sea and sink to the bottom, where it can join the deepest pillars of the universe.

The sea itself—the water to which all waters flow—is at constant war with itself, rising and falling daily in what we call the tides. And have you ever tried to sail across it? It can be fiercer than the greatest navy; or smooth as glass. Talk about bi-polar!

Air is similarly unpredictable. It varies its temperature daily, up and down; and fluctuates vastly more broadly with the seasons—not to mention the rains, thunderings, lightnings, and tempests that so often infect it.

And as for fire, just light one and watch what happens! Anyone can see that it is trying to escape upward, back to where it belongs, back to its rightful home.

The world we inhabit is in a state of constant flux, change, even chaos.

Yet something curious happens when we gaze into the heavens: the flux, change, and chaos seem to diminish and even disappear.

Now, the planets are admittedly tricky. Take Venus. Sometimes she’s the morning star; other times she’s the evening star; and still other times she’s nowhere to be found. She can be unpredictable—which is why she’s a she and the other planets are all hes. Still, the same can be said, though to a lesser extent, about the others—Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Nevertheless, there seems to be some rhyme and reason to the planets, even Venus, much more so than the chaos that surrounds us in our daily world; we just haven’t figured it out yet.

But as for the sun and the moon, well, we know what they’re all about. We can predict when the sun will rise and set; and his exact path across the sky on any given day. And, though she seems to follow the sun’s lead, we can say the same about the moon.

And beyond them? Ah, yes, the stars; the most certain, fixed, and stable things we know.

— For the ancient Greeks, all generation and corruption happened in the sub-solar region of the universe; whereas, on the other hand, the celestial region was uncorrupted, unchanging and perfect.

3.

Next, consider today’s lectionary. It tells the story of Jesus’ ascension: that day, forty days after he rose from the grave, when he commissioned his disciples to carry on his mission, instructed them to wait for the coming Holy Spirit, blessed them, and rose from their sight into the heavens.

I died and rose again, he told them.

And now I am rising to the Father, he said.

He will send the Holy Spirit soon, he said, to carry on the work I started.

In other words, he said, the Father and the Holy Spirit are in on it too: my mission, that is.

And they dwell in the heaven of heavens, he said.

Where I soon will dwell with them, he said.

We three are uncorrupted, unchanging, and perfect, he said.

My mission therefore cannot fail, he said.

Even when people reject me, he said.

Even when mainline American church membership declines, he said.

Even when congregations must close and properties must be sold, he said.

My mission cannot fail.

The Church—with an upper-case C—will prevail. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. His Church—his mission—will persevere to the end.

4.

Ancient Greek cosmology teaches us a lot about our faith.

Though things might seem to be falling apart right in front of our nose—though membership is declining and we find ourselves lamenting the “good old days,” whatever those were—we follow a Leader who is uncorrupted, unchanging, and perfect. Our ultimate mission is one that will not fail.

At the same time, however—on the other hand—ancient Greek cosmology reminds us that everyday life is in fact full of change, transition, flux, instability, maybe even chaos.

Our mission is to share the Good News in such a way that yields transformation: transformation of individual lives into the perfect image of Christ; transformation of communities into the corporate Body of Christ; transformation of the realm of the world into the realm of God.

Indeed, just in its definition, the word transformation implies change, transition, flux, instability, maybe even chaos.

But the Episcopal Church has largely become an established church: with established buildings and established properties and established vestments and established liturgies and established music and established traditions—

Ever wonder if our message to the world is that we’re already transformed, nothing more needed, thank you very much?

If transformation is indeed our mission, why should we ever expect those we’re hoping to reach to meet us on our terms—to adapt to our traditions?

If the Church’s decline over the past four decades confronts us with anything, it is with our need to change. The way we’ve always done church, in all its deep richness, is no longer sustainable. As ancient Greek cosmology shows us, our world is just too unstable.

5.

So, is there anything we can do about it?

While it is true that the Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations have been in steady decline for the past four decades, it doesn’t have to be so for us, here, in this particular parish called St. Paul’s.

You see, here’s how decline happens.

Change makes us uncomfortable. So we try to avoid it, to control our world so that we are confronted by the least amount of change possible.

But change will happen. Long-time parishioners grow old and pass away. People get mad over a matter of theology and leave—along with their pledges. New people come—hopefully! Volunteers come and go. Staff members come and go. Rectors and bishops come and go. Change is inevitable.

When we try to avoid or ignore change; or when we try to control our environments so that we are confronted by as little change as possible, since we can’t avoid it altogether we effectively put change in the driver’s seat.

And change is a bad driver! When we let change drive us around, decline is inevitable.

On the other hand, what if we accept the truth that change will come? Or, better yet, what if we are intentional about making changes ourselves? What if we are proactive—if we actively plan for and make changes and prepare for their effects?

Then we put St. Paul’s in the driver’s seat.

And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a driver than a passenger.

Anyway, putting it all together, in order to combat decline in the church—in order to continue with Jesus’ mission of transformation—we must adopt an ancient Greek cosmology.

That is, we must embrace the uncomfortable idea that everyday life is full of change, transition, flux, instability, maybe even chaos; and, at the same time, we must fix our vision on the uncorrupted, unchanging, perfect Trinity and Christ’s mission to transform the world.