Archive for iPhone

Seeking New Life

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

FatherTim

Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Amen.

We say this together, yes.  And we’re happy to be saying it—alleluia!—after setting it aside for the past 6.5 weeks.

But I wonder: do we mean it?

Christ is risen.

But do we tire of hearing the same old story?

Don’t we come back to the same old place at about the same old time of the year to engage in the same old service and hear the same old story?

Think about Mary Magdalene.  Not what you know about her today, in 3rd-millennium America; but how it must have been for her when she approached Jesus’ tomb on that dark morning and saw, incredibly, that the stone had been rolled away.

Can you do that?  Can you remove yourself from our twenty-first century mindset long enough to put yourself in Mary’s place?

What must have gone through her mind when she saw this?  What did she think when she entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was not there?

Did she think someone had stolen Jesus’ corpse?  That’s what the Gospel of John suggests.

Whatever the case, here in Luke she didn’t have much time to think it over.  For, suddenly, she found herself standing in the midst of two other-worldly beings, “men in dazzling clothes”!

What must she have thought then, at that moment?  The passage says she was terrified and bowed her face to the ground.

Amazing!

But is all this lost on us?  Do we somehow miss it?

Because if it is, if we do; then surely we’ll miss the best part.

The best part of this story is not as dazzling as the rest of the show.  So if we’re no longer dazzled by this dazzling story—I mean, we’ve heard it so many times now—we’ll pass right over the less-dazzling-nevertheless-more-important part—the most important part—of this story.

It’s what these other-worldly messengers say.

They ask why.

Do we miss that?  Do we miss the challenge that these other-worldly messengers present?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Now, there’s something in us that desires the new and novel.  There’s something about our humanity that seems to be wired this way.

  • The first iPhone was released in 2007;
  • The iPhone 3G came out in 2008;
  • In 2009 it was the iPhone 3GS;
  • 2010 launched the iPhone 4;
  • 2011, the iPhone 4S;
  • 2012 revealed the iPhone 5;
  • 2013 saw both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C;
  • 2014 gave us the iPhone 6;
  • 2015 went one step further with the iPhone 6S;
  • And—don’t worry, Apple will not let us down—2016 promises to give us the iPhone SE, with all the capabilities of the iPhone 6S but the more popular and convenient size of the iPhone 4.

Apple keeps giving us new phones—new, expensive devices—and we keep buying them!

Of course, this is just one example.  But what is it in our human nature that likes the new and novel?

And so we come to the Easter story—that same old story.  It’s not new.  It’s not fresh.  It’s the same old thing we’ve heard over and over for the last two thousand years.

And no matter how the church tries to repackage it and resell it every year, it can’t keep up with Apple.

Unlike my iPhone, the Easter story doesn’t have touch screen technology.  It doesn’t cater itself to me specifically, knowing what makes me tick.  It doesn’t interact with me with an almost human-sounding voice.

We’ve all heard it said that Jesus meets me where I am.  And yet Jesus doesn’t close to where my iPhone meets me.

And the same old story Easter and its men in dazzling clothes have, well, lost their dazzle.

It was there in the Garden, you know: this human desire for the new and novel.  Satan, that serpent of old, knew it.  And he capitalized on it.

“You’ve been in this comfortable garden a while now, Eve,” he slithered.  “Hasn’t it all begun to feel a little too comfortable?  A little too familiar?  A little ho hum?  A little, perhaps, mundane?”

And with a focus on the new and novel, he continues to wear Eve down.

“You know,” he says, “God calls it monogamy, when two people like you and Adam are bound in lifelong matrimony.  Sounds to me more like monotony.”

And so on and so forth until Eve actually becomes sympathetic; until,

“Has God really said,” Satan questions, “that you will die?  Surely, you’re not gonna die just from taking one little bite from that delicious fruit.  Instead—let me tell you—it’ll blow your mind.  You’ll know new things, see new things, beyond your wildest imagination.  Just do it, Eve.  Just take one bite—and hold on for the ride of your life!”

There’s something in our human nature that craves the new and novel.  Satan knows it.  Apple knows it.

Now, to clarify, and for the record, I am not equating Satan here with Apple, Inc.

In fact, I will go so far as to say there is nothing inherently or morally wrong in craving the new and novel.

In the story about the Garden I just reiterated, Adam and Eve’s desire for the new and novel was there before they fell into sin.  In other words, it was there in our humanity before sin ever entered the picture, in that part of our divine image that’s not tainted by sin.

So there’s nothing morally wrong when you find yourself craving the next version of the iPhone.

And Apple, Inc. is not in league with the devil.

Nevertheless, sometimes we crave the new and novel so much that we forget about the important parts of life.

Like the same old Easter story we hear year after year.

Or that same old message the “men in dazzling clothes” tell us all: not to look for the living among the dead.

But that’s just what’s going on here; that’s just what the dazzling men are telling us.

This is not the same old story year after year.  This story is new and fresh each time we hear it—or it should be.  For we are not told to look for the living among the dead, but rather to look for the living among the living!  That’s what resurrection is, after all, isn’t it?  New life emerging from the old!

So then, this story of resurrection, rather than being confined to the pages of a book, is alive and all around us.  We just need to know where to look!

For example, how many of you know a cancer survivor who, after getting a clean bill of health, has said something along the lines of, “Now I have a new lease on life!”  Isn’t this a kind of death and resurrection?

As another example, what about marriage?  What married person doesn’t know the truth of dying to self in order to enjoy new life in and with another person?

Now, okay, these are big things—overcoming cancer; deciding to leave the single life for marriage.  There’s a certain sense of death and resurrection in them that’s fairly obvious.

But what about in smaller things?  Do you see resurrection—new life—in these?

Do you see new life in the waters of baptism?  We go down under the water—symbolizing death to self—and come up again—symbolizing new life in Christ.  Isn’t this an expression of death and new life?  And so we renew our baptismal vows, annually, at this service.

Or, did you see it in the new fire and the Paschal candle?  New fire snuffs out darkness with its light.

Do you see new life each time you come to the altar to receive communion?  This is your spiritual sacrifice, where you die to self and live in Christ.

Or, to move out of the realm of the sacred, what about in the first-grade classroom, when a student’s eyes suddenly light up with the joy of a new truth discovered?  Do you see new life here?

What about in the smile of a homeless person as you hand her a sandwich?

Any time hope overcomes despair; any time truth defeats falsehood; any time beauty conquers ugliness; any time charity gives selflessly; any time goodness prevails—aren’t these all examples of new life overcoming death?

New life is all around us!

Let’s take the advice, then, that the men in dazzling clothes give us.  Jesus is not here, they tell Mary, where you might expect, in a tomb, among the dead.  Rather, he is risen.  He is out there, with the people, among the living!  Go, seek, and find him!

This “same old story,” rather than being dusty, old, and monotonous—is alive.

That’s because this same old story is about resurrection.  It’s about seeing new life all around you, in and through and with all the living souls with whom you interact day in and day out, all those people who may or may not clamor to get the latest iteration of the iPhone.

Do you see the new and novel in your daily life?  Do you see new life all around you, in the world of the living?  Do you live out resurrection?

Civil Engineering, Silicon Valley, and the Transfiguration

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by timtrue

FatherTim

John 9:28-43

The shortest distance between Points A and B is a straight line.  Or so I’ve heard.

This holds true if you’re a civil engineer and Point A is a flooding problem and Point B is the installation of a culvert, you know, a kind of tunnel to carry the water away from the problem area the next time it rains heavily.

You may or may not know that I used to work for a civil engineering firm in San Antonio, once upon a time.  And this is in fact the kind of work I did with this firm: flood control work.

You can be sure that when a problem came our way we would plan as precisely as we could to go from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, taking the straightest line possible, with the fewest oversights and contingencies.

So, putting together a proposal required planning.  Lots of planning!

We’d look at drawings from previous projects in the problem area, trying to determine why something was flooding now and how future flooding could be averted.  We’d go out into the field, armed with various tools, surveying equipment, and a camera—always a camera—in order to obtain the present-day information we needed.  Then we’d return to the office where I’d sit at a computer, absorbed in AutoCAD, drafting information into a drawing; I’d develop and overlay a proposed design; I’d go over it all with the engineers; and we’d repeat whatever steps were necessary in order to go from Point A to Point B with the fewest surprises possible.

Next, when the city accepted our proposal, that’s when the often more difficult work began: the work of liaison between whatever contracting company was awarded the bid and city officials.

I’d have to step in on occasion and tell the gruff, tattooed contractor, I’m sorry to say, but, no, this culvert is not at the correct elevation; or, worse, you’ve installed it backwards.

The shortest distance between Point A and Point B is a straight line; and the civil engineering firm I worked for was that straight line.

But—to change the image now—what if Point B is an iPhone and Point A is Apple Inc. in 1984?

1984 is when Apple Inc. announced its revolutionary new computer, the Macintosh 128, via a commercial that first aired on Superbowl Sunday at a cost of something like $1.5 million.

Computer technology had come of age.  In fact, by 1984 some innovative types were already imagining the marriage of computers and touch-screen technology.

But how did Apple Inc. get from Point A to Point B?  Did it follow a straight line?  Back in 1984, did some forward-thinking people sit in an R&D lab somewhere and map this all out through drawings, meetings, and analysis, targeting a specific launch date of June 29, 2007?

No.

You know, as well as I, that Apple Inc. did not develop the iPhone through a thoroughly planned, Point-A-to-Point-B process; but rather through what’s called an iterative process.  It was a long journey, full of twists and turns, mistakes and failures, types and prototypes, trial and error.

Back in 1984, the future for Apple Inc. was unknown.  Or, to say it another way, its future was shrouded in a cloud.

So we have two images.

The first image, the one from civil engineering, let’s call establishment.  In the world of civil engineering there is an established way of doing things.  The City of San Antonio will call on several engineering companies to put forth a proposal on how best to fix a flooding problem.  The engineering companies make their respective proposals based on the established, time-tested ways of doing things.

The second image, the Apple Inc. image, let’s call innovation, for reasons that I hope are self-explanatory.

Now, a couple questions.

First, which of these two images aligns with Peter, James, and John on that day when they saw Jesus transfigured?  Isn’t it the second image?

Peter, James, and John are thoroughly confused here.  Not only are they overshadowed by a cloud physically, but so are they mentally.  The passage even says, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake—”

Um, excuse me?  They’re weighed down with sleep but also awake?  Forget Peter, James, and John: I’m confused!

Then Peter, in his half-asleep-half-awake stupor, starts to move around excitedly and offers to make three dwellings—one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  Clearly he’s not getting it.

Next, just to make sure we the readers aren’t in the dark any longer, the text explains: Peter does not know what he was saying.

Finally, after this whole scenario comes to an end; after the cloud overshadows them all, they hear God’s voice, and suddenly find themselves alone with Jesus again, we read this: “And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”

And they kept silent.  And they told no one.  And they were confused, befuddled, nonplussed, dumbstruck, flummoxed, mystified, bewildered—we get the point!

We call this the Transfiguration of Jesus.  But this is also just the beginning of the transfiguration of Peter, James, and John.  This is just the beginning of the process of groping through life and into the future for them, from a band of uncouth fisherman to the stalwart founders of the Christian Church.

You are Simon Peter, Jesus said, and on this rock I shall build my church.

You, Simon Peter, are Point A; and the Church is Point B.

Now, can you imagine Jesus saying, “And you’re going to get from Point A to Point B by sitting cloistered up in a room and getting out some parchment and planning, planning, planning until you’ve got a decent proposal, one that has analyzed and minimizes all possible glitches and contingencies . . .”?

No!  Peter, James, and John are going to have to grope their way through the cloud of the ancient Roman world.  And their way through it is innovation.

But I said I had two questions.  My first, which we’ve just answered, was, which of these two images—establishment or innovation—aligns with Peter, James, and John?  So my second question is, which of these two images aligns with the church today?

Isn’t it the image of establishment?

We want a new ministry, a new mission church, a new program, a new whatever.  Don’t we plan how to get from Point A—where we are—to Point B—the new ministry we desire—with as few contingencies as possible?

This is an establishment mindset.

But let me offer an even more specific example.  Now, this might hit a little close to home for some of you.  But I’m not trying to pick on anybody; I’m just trying to illustrate my point that the mainstream church today—including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma—possesses an establishment mindset.

So, here’s my example.  I’ve made a few changes around here in the last year or so.  Some have been accidental; some intentional.  But that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the single largest response I’ve heard to change is, “But we’ve always done it that way”; or some variation thereof.

Well, that response is the epitome of the establishment mindset.

And, by the way, that response is not a good reason not to make a change.

For instance, let’s say that every time I saw a $100 bill in the offering plate I stuck it in my pocket—not a $20 or a $10 or a $1 or any other denomination, just any and all Ben Franklins.  Eventually somebody would confront me.  (I hope!)  And I’d just smile and say, “But I’ve always done it this way, ever since I’ve been rector.  It’s my tradition.”

That’s not a good reason not to make a change!

Well, anyway, here’s where I’m going with all of this.

The mainstream church, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, has had an establishment mindset for many a decade.  We’ve believed that if only we plan the right programs, preach the best sermons, build the right buildings, follow the tried and true examples of outreach, youth ministry, Sunday school, whatever—if only we follow the right recipe, we’ll cook up the most delicious church possible.

But the culture has largely changed over the last four decades.  We can no longer say that America is a Christian nation.  Practicing Christians are in the minority.  The church is no longer the establishment it once was.

St. Paul’s can’t simply be an established presence in our community and expect people from the neighborhood to come to us.  We need to take St. Paul’s to them.

What this means is that we need to rethink church.

But not like a civil engineering firm.

Rather, we must innovate, like Apple Inc.

We must be like Peter, James, and John, groping our way into a future that is shrouded in cloud.

We must experiment, troubleshoot, even fail—understanding that failure is simply part of the learning process—in order to move forward.  It’s an iterative process.

And it might even mean that we’ll end up changing some things from the way they’ve always been.

This Saturday the vestry and I will be on a retreat together.  It’s our annual meeting.  It’s also a time for us to get to know one another, to plan, and to strategize.

But not like a civil engineering firm!

So, there are some things I’m going to encourage the vestry to do in 2016, as we consider the future of St. Paul’s.  And today I’m encouraging you, as you are able, to do these things too.

First, I will encourage the vestry to value our traditions.

The Episcopal Church is big on tradition.  I’m big on tradition.  St. Paul’s is big on tradition—including many of its own, peculiar traditions.  As our church moves forward with a mindset of innovation, I will encourage the vestry not to eradicate any of our traditions without good reason.

In other words, I actually kind of sympathize with the statement, “But we’ve always done it this way”—even if I never want to hear it again!

Which brings me to my second encouragement: I will encourage the vestry to suspend judgment.

Here’s what I mean.  Innovation requires a safe place for discussion.  I will be asking the vestry this year to share ideas—about our worship space, about our mission, about what to do with that plot of land just beyond the playground.  A safe place for discussion means no idea is too small, no idea is too big, and no idea should be pushed aside just because we’ve always done it another way.  No one should ever feel ashamed for sharing an idea.

Help me and the vestry make St. Paul’s a safe place for sharing ideas—maybe even crazy ideas.

Third, we should build upon what we already know.

This goes back to valuing our traditions.  But, also, isn’t this the way true innovation works?

Apple Inc. didn’t arrive at the iPhone straight from the Macintosh 128; but after decades of trial and error building upon what they already knew.

Peter didn’t go straight from uncouth fisherman to church’s foundation.  He got there by building upon what he already knew.

I’m not advocating a blank slate here.  Rather, I’m encouraging the vestry and you to innovate with what we already have, from what we already know—from the uncouth fishers of men that we already are!

Fourth, and finally, I will encourage the vestry to fail.

(Gasp!)

That’s right.  I said fail.

But I mean this in the sense of Thomas Edison’s failures.  We’ve all heard how he failed more than a thousand times before he successfully invented the lightbulb.  This kind of failure is actually essential to learning and growth.  I want the vestry—I want this entire congregation—to learn and grow as we adopt a mindset of innovation.

We should anticipate failure along the way, as we grope our way into the church’s future together.  But we should also expect to learn and grow from these failures.  It is an iterative process.

Like Peter, James, and John, we are on a journey of transfiguration.  Therefore let’s not stifle the Holy Spirit, who wants to lead us on this journey!