Archive for Peace

Partnering with Pokémon

Posted in Doing Church, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2016 by timtrue


“Dad, St. Paul’s is a Pokéstop!”

This was the statement that really caught my attention.

My daughter, Hannah, had been making comments for a few days about a new app she’d downloaded, something called Pokémon Go.  I’d listened to her explain how it works a time or two, half-interested, like I am with most things technological.  You know how it is: a new app comes out, it’s hot for a few days, then the fad passes and something else catches the attention of those who stay up with these things.

I don’t, though.  I’m not one of them.  My phone, for instance, doesn’t even have a camera.  I can text and call.  And I like it that way.

But I keep up with my kids.  And so what my kids are into, by extension I’m interested too, or at least half-interested.

But when she ran into my office on Sunday morning, wide-eyed and grinning, and expressed her excitement in the words at the start of this blog, my half-interest turned into full interest.

Here was an app that had caught her attention.  Moreover, a few days had passed and not only was her attention still caught, it was increasing.

And the out-the-box idea of a game to get people outside, off their backsides and into the highways and byways!

“So,” I replied, “explain.  What is a Pokéstop?”

Which she did, showing me on her iTouch just how this app worked, utilizing something called Augmented Reality (a term which, admittedly, before Sunday I thought referred to cosmetic surgery); something like a scavenger hunt all over the neighborhood, the town, the county, the state, or anywhere else a person determined to catch them all is willing and able to go, except what you’re hunting for are Pokémon, which can be seen only through a screen.  (Think of it as ghost hunting, where the ghosts can be detected only through paranormal cameras.  The Pokémon are the ghosts; the paranormal cameras your smart devices.  The more you catch, the more your rewards.)

And, for whatever reason, the creators of Pokémon Go decided to designate many churches (and gyms, by the way) as Pokéstops, places Pokémon could go to catch a breath, rejuvenate, whatever: a virtual Pokémon nest.

Now, we people in the church business think we’ve got something valuable to offer, namely, the calming presence of Christ to a chaotic world.  There’s salvation in this; it’s why we do the “business”—or it should be.  And thus we’re always concerning ourselves with the question of how to offer more of this message to the world around us, how to exude even more of Christ’s peace.  This question seems especially important now: politics, arguments over the second amendment, tensions over racial and religious differences—these matters are at a fever pitch.

So, my alarm woke me a 3:30am on Monday morning.  With another daughter, I was rising early to hike to the top of Telegraph Pass in order to catch the 5:40am sunrise.  I do some of my best thinking when I have a few hours of quietude, the heat would be unbearable by 8am, and besides it was a workday—so, yeah, a sunrise hike.

We enjoyed a brilliant sunrise in fact, summited just ten minutes before the eastern sky was pierced by fire; and returned home for breakfast just after 7am.


Unusual morning as it was, it turned even more unusual some ten minutes later when we suddenly realized that all five of us—my wife, both daughters, my seven year-old son, and I—were sitting casually around the breakfast table—all on summer break (except me)!

So, put it all together—concentrated time freshly spent with the younger set; recent more-than-half-interest in this new app; fever-pitched large-scale angst over politics, religion, and race; and a personal constant concern to offer Christ to the world—and a sudden brainstorm came.

“Girls,” I announced, “what if I put a message up on the church marquis about it being a Pokéstop?”

Almost instant and definitely loud yesses erupted.

The marquis, by the way, is a sign with changeable letters.  See top photo.  The church makes an effort to change it out weekly, offering a sort of calendar or inspirational or humorous message to passersby.  And there are many passersby, for it overshadows a main thoroughfare in town.  Between you and me, when I first started as pastor I thought, really?  So I’ve tried to see it as potentially useful, maybe somehow, possibly, to offer Christ to the world around us, etc., etc.  Still, many a Monday you’ll find me agonizing in my office over coming up with something worthwhile to say.

In any event, my girls and I deliberated over the exact message during breakfast, concluding something short and to the point.

And when I arrived at the office, instead of agonizing indoors I took matters into my own hands outside, set up the ladder, removed last week’s message (“Good judgment comes from experience that often comes from bad judgment”), and put up, simply, “Pokéstop!!”  (I would have used more exclamation points if we had them.)

So, that was at 9am.

At 3pm a TV reporter stopped by and interviewed me, with the sign in the background.

At 5pm a 20-second clip of this interview aired on the news.

At 6pm the news showed again, but this time the local police told the dark side of the Pokémon Go story: some bad people might use Pokémon Go to lure good people into secluded areas and mug them; and (oh the horror!) in fact teenagers were out hunting for Pokémon last night past curfew!

And at 10pm, the whole minute-forty-nine story aired—both sides of it—giving me a full thirty seconds of air time:

Then today a radio show from Phoenix called me and interviewed me over the phone—supposed to be broadcast on a morning talk show tomorrow—supposed to be emailed a transcript.

All from that silly marquis!

All from wanting to bring Christ’s peace to a chaotic world, and seeing how Pokémon Go is helping to do just that—a fun, community-oriented activity to distract us in a healthy way from the fear and anxiety over recent national and international tragedies.

Who knew?

On behalf of St. Paul’s, thank you for partnering with us, Pokémon Go!


Making Peace with Ghosts

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2015 by timtrue

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Do you believe in ghosts?  What about zombies?

Donny was my next door neighbor.  He was my hero; my role model.

I have an older brother, Andy, about a year and a half older than I—just this side of a year and a half, actually: fifteen months and sixteen days.

Andy wasn’t my role model.  Not so much anyway.  He was my older brother; and you know how that goes.

But Donny!  He was the one I looked up to!

My family had moved to Camarillo in January of 1972.  I was almost four; Andy was five.  And I can still remember that first day, pulling in with a moving truck, into the driveway that would be mine for the next twelve and a half years—the driveway; and the old ranch house; and the seventy or eighty avocado trees that came along with it!  Here was my boyhood home.

Donny lived next door.  He was two months older than Andy; and, to a boy of three, that made Donny so much wiser—and just plain better, any way you looked at it!

So, in time, Donny learned to come on over any time of the day and peek in the back door, the sliding glass door; and if Andy or I was there, he’d just let himself in.

We’d do the same, too, Andy or I, at Donny’s house.  We didn’t know any different.  This was life.

Happy doesn’t even begin to describe the emotion I felt, then, when—finally!—the day came: Donny was invited to spend the night.

Ah, my first sleepover!  Donny was my hero; my role model.  He was brave.  He was tough.  He wasn’t afraid of anything!

Now, Andy and I shared a built-in bunk bed.  He got the top bunk—he was older, remember.  And I got the bottom.  (I’m still sore about this, by the way.)  But tonight it was to pay off!  For beneath my bunk laid a trundle bed; and tonight it would be rolled out and occupied by Donny, my hero, my role model.  He was brave.  He was tough.  He wasn’t afraid of anything!

Also, we had this foreboding, creaky, and frankly spooky spiral staircase—made of cold, hard wrought iron—leading from a rather dark corner of the kitchen down, down, down into the basement.  The steps on this staircase were open at the back; meaning there was a perfect space underneath, to hide in and reach my hands through and scare the heebie-jeebies out of anyone who happened to be descending.

Mom never liked this staircase much.  But we boys did.  Most of the time!

And then I already mentioned the avocado orchard, right?

So: there was a squatter who lived in the orchard.  Like most squatters, he remained elusive, hidden away in corners where we wouldn’t happen upon him easily.  But he wasn’t what you might call a typical squatter; for he wasn’t exactly human.

Some time ago he’d been in a terrible accident: a pedestrian crossing the street, if I remember correctly, when a Mack Truck plowed into him, catapulting him onto the ice-plant some forty feet away.

Witnesses saw it.  The truck driver screeched to a halt.  A small crowd ran over to help the tall man, the seven-foot man.  One person checked his pulse; another called 911; someone else performed CPR.  But, alas, he lay crumpled and lifeless in a heap.  It was too late.  The seven-foot man was dead.

Well, you know how it is.  When something like this happens and everyone realizes it’s too late to do anything about it, things kind of slow down a bit.  The commotion settles.

The cops showed up and started taking witnesses’ reports.  The ambulance wasn’t yet on the scene.  And somehow or other everyone’s attention was diverted: no one was looking any longer at the seven-foot man.

When the ambulance finally did arrive and the people remembered the poor crumpled soul on the ice-plant, they turned and—oh, gasp!—he wasn’t there.  “So, where’s the victim?” the medics asked; to which everyone, including the cops, just shrugged their shoulders and scratched their heads.  He’d upped and vanished!

Except he hadn’t really vanished, I knew!  Because he was living in my avocado orchard!

If you can call it living!

Because I also knew that in the accident his body and spirit had been separated from one another; and for whatever reason they couldn’t be joined back together.  And now both were haunting my home and avocado orchard: both the disembodied spirit of the seven-foot man—his ghost; and his spiritless body—his zombie!

The seven-foot man was a double whammy!

And, late at night, after everyone lay in bed asleep, I knew that both zombie and ghost would sneak into that gaping maw, that space beneath the creaky spiral staircase, in order to try to reunite.

Donny knew it too.  So did Andy.  But we’d learned to live with it.

So then, after a long day of boyhood adventures, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of Mac ’n’ Cheese, donned our pajamas, and brushed our teeth.  Now it was time to climb in bed.

We boys had crossed the line a time or two that day, sure, daring each other to tempt fate.  We’d hunted for the seven-foot man, provoked each other to poke around in all the scariest corners of the orchard—the junk pile, the woodpile, the corner sectioned off by barbed wire—attempting to outdo each other in eight and nine year-old feats of manliness.

But, after all, the seven-foot man was just an invention of our own creativity, wasn’t he?  There really wasn’t some ghost-zombie man who would sneak into the basement after dark desperately seeking peace in the afterlife, was there?  Surely no!

Still, what if there were?

This question haunted me.  I mean, we’d just spent our day tormenting him, angering him . . .

Oh, well, it didn’t matter.  What did I care?  Donny, my hero, my role model, was at my side.  He was brave.  He was tough.  He wasn’t afraid of anything!

That’s when I heard the noise next to me.  Maybe a sniffle?

Oh, sure, Donny probably just had allergies or a little sleep apnea or something.

But then—it wasn’t just sniffing anymore—now I was hearing snuffles!  And now some throat-clearing!  And now, positively, sobbing!

“Donny,” I called out, “are you okay?”

A pause; then, “I wanna call my dad,” he replied (sniff, sniff).

Which he did.  And within five minutes he was packed up and heading home, leaving Andy and me to face the seven-foot man—and our fears—without him.

But he was my hero; my role model!

Whatever the case—whether you believe in ghosts or not (that’s not the point!)—today’s Gospel teaches us something about belief.

Jesus appears amongst the disciples and they are “startled and terrified.”  The disciples think they’re seeing a ghost.  They’re frightened.  Doubts arise in their hearts.

Then Jesus persuades them.  “Look at my hands and my feet,” he says; “touch me.”  And they do.  And their beliefs begin to change.  They are filled with joy; but there is still disbelief and wonder.

Finally, Jesus takes some food and eats it; and he teaches the disciples, opening their minds so that they understand the scriptures.  Now, no longer are they disbelieving.  No longer are they skeptical.  Their faith is now certain.

This Gospel story shows us three characteristics of belief:

a. Complete Disbelief—Jesus appears and they think he’s a ghost;

b. Skeptical Wonderment—their disbelief is mixed with joy;

c. Certain Faith—they hear the scriptures and understand.

I’m not saying that these characteristics of belief are progressive stages: that you have to go through one to get to another; that everyone needs to go through a time of complete disbelief and then a time of skepticism before he or she can truly believe.

Instead, you might find yourself in a state of sure and certain belief today—you can’t remember a time when your faith was stronger—; and yet tomorrow you experience a complete crisis of faith.  Belief is complicated.

Also, I’m not saying that these characteristics are comprehensive: that they cover the whole spectrum of belief possibilities.  Belief is not so simple as to mark it out in three easy steps.

But I think we can all relate.  We’ve all been here, right?

Have you ever thought something like, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my child’s tuition this year”; or, “I don’t know how my marriage is going to last”; or, “I’m not even sure I believe in Jesus anymore”?

These belief characteristics don’t just happen on the individual level either.  For example, a question might have been on this congregation’s mind in recent years: “How is St. Paul’s possibly going to regroup after so many have left the congregation?”

And yet God has managed; somehow, we have regrouped.

But belief is like that.  It’s complicated.  It can be unstable.  It’s insecure.

So, Donny called his dad and went home, leaving Andy and me to face the seven-foot man on our own. We were completely and totally freaked out by this prospect.

And not five minutes after we’d climbed back into bed, still spooked, now listening intently into the darkness, it happened: over in a dark corner on the other side of the house the spiral staircase let out a loud and telltale creak.

Well, Andy lost it.  He let out a scream to shatter a brandy snifter.  Which triggered a similar scream from me!  And together, like two coyotes under a full moon, we howled and wailed and cried until our real hero, our real role model, Dad, came into the room.

“Boys!” he shouted—mainly to get our attention.  Then, “boys!” he said, much more calmly; “I don’t know what went down with you and Donny today.  But I don’t have to.  I’m here.  I love you.  And if you need anything, just come get me.”

Peace, he’d said; be still.

Isn’t today’s word from God the same for us?  You might be in a sure and certain place today.  And if so, great!  Enjoy it!  You won’t always be in such a desired place.

Some of you, however, perhaps more of you, are not in such a certain and sure place.  You might be experiencing some joy and wonderment; but also some disbelief.  You might even find yourselves skeptical.

Others of you, probably a few, don’t believe at all right now.  You look around at the world and wonder how a god could even exist.

The truth is, we go back and forth between these places.  It’s a natural part of faith.  But we find it unsettling, unstable, insecure.  And, like that guy in the story who meets Jesus, in the very same breath we say, “Lord, I believe!  Help me in my unbelief!”

Peace!  Be still!  Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said, “Peace be with you.”  Peace—not stability, not security, but peace—be with you.

2014 Lent 30

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by timtrue


I Corinthians 14:20-33a; 39-40

“God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (v. 33).

I have a Jewish friend named Shay.  I met him one winter day on top of a mountain in southern California.  I had taken my family sledding for the day, a fun Saturday activity for a February southern California day.  So there we were, running up the slope and sliding down, time and again, when my forward-thinking wife thought it would be a good idea to take a family photo.  I then turned to the man next to me, to ask if he’d take our picture, when I heard him speaking to his six year-old son in a foreign tongue.

“Excuse me,” I said; “could you take a picture of us?”

“Yes,” he smiled, “I’d love to.  And would you do the same for my family?”

“Certainly.  By the way, were you just speaking in Hebrew?”

“Yes!  How did you know?”

So I recited Genesis 1:1 to him in Hebrew, which I’d memorized once upon a time, and we began a dear friendship.  Shay and his wife, Yael, and their two sons attended my daughters’ baptisms, in fact, eleven years ago on Pentecost.  We were now Presbyterians, having recently left a Baptist Church; and we lined the girls up for the sacrament, stair-step style, ages two, four, six, and eight.

“I’m Jewish by heritage,” Shay told me later that day as we picnicked, “but not by belief.  We keep the festivals: the holy days and all that.  It’s our heritage.  But it’s really hard for me to believe in God–or at least in ideas like providence–when we, God’s so-called chosen people, have been mistreated for so long.  Especially in the twentieth century!  Could there really be an almighty God who allows this kind of evil to happen?”

So that’s one side of the coin.  The other is seen in what the apostle Paul says here, writing with certainty that God is a God of peace, not disorder.

How do we reconcile this problem of evil in a world created and governed by a good God?

Yesterday I mentioned John Cage, the twentieth-century American composer (see “2014 Lent 29″).  In his composition 4’33”, he suggested a possible answer to this riddle.  There is apparent chaos all around us.  But after the chaos has had a time to do its chaotic thing, a sort of settling occurs.  A certain peace, in other words, or order.  It’s not perhaps as orderly or as peaceful or as settled as we would like, but there is nevertheless more order, peace, and settlement than before, when the chaos was running its course.

That Cage was able to convey this idea through musical examples is brilliant.  But what I have been wrestling with since yesterday (and indeed for many years) is the connection between chaos, determinism, and providence, not just in music but in the wider world we live in.

How are these three related?  Are providence and determinism just two different words to describe the same thing–but one sounds religious and the other does not?  Or, if they are not the same thing, how do they differ from one another?  And to what degree does chaos–or dynamical instabilities–affect providence and/or determinism?

We get so caught up in wanting God to answer our prayers just as we’d like.  But determinism says that if a butterfly were to flap its wings just once in just a certain way on one side of the world, the result would be a hurricane on the other side of the world a year later.  This idea has in fact been proven mathematically.  So with respect to providence, perhaps if God were to answer a specific prayer just the way I wanted, it would result in a catastrophe at a different time and in a different place.  And I most definitely wouldn’t want that!

Kind of makes me rethink how I pray, or at least how I want God to answer my prayers.

Well, this is not a definitive answer for my friend Shay, I know.  But with seven billion humans walking the planet, we’ve got to make room for dynamical instabilities in our worldviews, whether we believe in providence, determinism, anarchy, fatalism, or anything else.

At least Paul’s view–and mine–sees peace as a destination to which we’re headed.  Come to think of it, so does John Cage’s.

Arguing over Weather

Posted in Homilies with tags , on August 18, 2013 by timtrue

Luke 12:49-56


I have a confession to make: Today’s Gospel bothers me.

Jesus asks, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

And I think, “Really?  Division?  This was your mission, Jesus?”

This passage bothers me because in my heart, at my core, I don’t like division.

I come home from a day at the office, tired from mentally wrestling all day with difficult passages like this one, glad to see my family, to kick my shoes off, enjoy a sumptuous dinner and a glass of wine, maybe play a little Wii with the kids, and otherwise relax.

But no sooner do I walk through the door than a heated argument breaks out between two of the kids in the other room.  Now, abruptly, my plans are forced to change.  Now I must make a choice.  Do I intervene, engage this argument head on, act as mediator?  Or do I stick my fingers in my ears, walk into another room and close the door behind me, and hope that the kids will work it out themselves?  Either way—whether I choose to fight or flee—division has dashed my hopes for an evening of peace and tranquility.

I’ll say it again: I don’t like division.

It’s part of the reason I’m an Episcopalian today, you know.  Yeah!  I desire unity in the church, not division.  So, once upon a time on this journey I call my Christian story, I was a part of a small Presbyterian church.  Mind you, this wasn’t a mainline denomination, but one of those second- or third-degree offshoots, a break-off of a break-off.  So, every Sunday as a congregation we said the Nicene Creed together.  And every Sunday I found myself confronted by the words, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  And, looking from side to side at this gathering of maybe twenty-five people, I would ask, “We do?”

Since I don’t like division, this weekly confession of my faith got me thinking: Why has there been so much division in the history of the church?

I looked up the history of this particular denomination.  And—wouldn’t you know?—it was only a few years old!  Apparently it had started because a group of Presbyterians convinced themselves that church congregations needed to be independent and autonomous; or, in other words, a group of Presbyterians convinced themselves that Baptist polity was right and true.

“So,” I asked some of the church leaders, “why didn’t this group just go and join a local Baptist congregation?”

“Well,” they answered, “that’s because we believe that baptism is a sacrament, not an ordinance.  Baptists call it an ordinance, Tim.  Didn’t you know?  Besides, baptism’s for babies as well as professing adults.  This is simply the credo– versus paedobaptist controversy, Tim.  Don’t you know anything?  We’re paedobaptists.  Baptists are credobaptists.”

“Oh,” I said, “I see.”  But I didn’t really.

“So,” I asked, “why didn’t they join a group of modern-day Congregationalists?  They baptize babies, don’t they?”

The church leaders were again ready with an answer.  “Well,” they said, “Congregationalists allow women to be elders; and we all know,” they said, “that there’s no place in Scripture for that.”

At this point I had a choice.  Should I engage this argument further?  Or should I stick my fingers in my ears, walk into the other room and shut the door behind me, and hope that the kids would work it out themselves?

Point is, I wanted to be a part of a church that was much more unified than this—in spite of whatever internal divisions may exist.  This pretty much ruled out for me any denomination that began because of the Protestant Reformation.  That left, in my thinking, Roman Catholicism, the Anglican tradition, Orthodoxy, and not much else.

With four kids (at the time) and a sense of call to the priesthood, that pretty much ruled out Roman Catholicism.  And, to be honest, I don’t know much about Orthodoxy.  So here I am: an Episcopal priest, in no small part because I desire unity in the church, not division.

Yet right here, today, we read that Christ came to bring division.  Because of Christ, mother and daughter will be divided.  Father and son will be divided.  And, I could add, Presbyterian and Baptist will be divided.  Brother and sister, vestry member and parishioner, Democrat and Republican, progressive and conservative, Fox News and CNN—will be divided!

But I don’t like division!  Perhaps you don’t either.  What gives?  Could this really be Christ’s mission, to bring division to the earth, not peace?

So much of what Jesus says and does elsewhere in the Scriptures seems to conflict with this passage!  His overarching message has to do with love, after all.  And didn’t he model this message by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, with lepers and outcasts?  This was Jesus’s mission, this is why he came: love!  John’s Gospel says so: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

True then: Jesus’s mission was love.  Christ’s mission today is love.  The church’s mission has been and will continue to be love.  It is a love for humanity; it is a love that forgives and seeks forgiveness in all people; it is a love whose end is to reconcile a fallen universe to God.

But why should such a mission—a mission of such radical love—not yield division?

This question is especially good to consider in light of what follows.  “You hypocrites!” Jesus says.  “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky”—you know how to predict the weather—“but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Jesus came into the world at a time when religious leaders abided by a very strict set of principles.  They would not help a man, for instance, who lay in the gutter half-dead, the victim of a robbery.  They would pray long and loud prayers in the streets in order to be heard by crowds and have their names lifted up as spiritual leaders.  They would take the places of honor at banquet tables.  They would find it morally repulsive to be in the same room with a woman of questionable reputation.  They would bribe someone with thirty pieces of silver to betray a close friend.

These religious leaders did not know how to interpret the present time.  They did not know that Jesus was the Christ, sent by God the Father to reconcile a fallen world.  They did not know that Christ had come to seek and save the lost; or that it was the sick who need a doctor, not the well.

It is no wonder then that Jesus and his mission yielded division.  He poured forth the love of God upon a weary and miserable, yet pitiable world.  Yet the religious leaders of his day saw no sense in pitying it.  They did not know how to interpret the present time.  Rather than focusing on the mission of God they focused on differences, how they were right—they just knew it—when this Jesus guy was so wrong.  He offered sacraments to the forlorn people; whereas they maintained there were no such things, only ordinances.

Division resulted, sure!  But the religious leaders of Jesus’s day allowed themselves to become distracted by the division and therefore could not interpret the present time.  As it were, they argued about the weather instead.

The mission of Christ will yield division, no question.  We should expect it from such a radical mission, certainly.  But above this distraction God sent his only Son to reconcile a fallen universe to himself.  This is our ultimate mission statement.  This is the business of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  Our ultimate goal then is a sort of unified whole, not division.

Nevertheless, much division has, does, and will continue to happen along the way—in society, between faiths, among the Christian faith, within the Episcopal Church, in our parish, even in our individual families.  Do not become distracted by it!  Keep your eye on the goal: spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.  Then you will not be hypocrites.  Then you will be able to interpret both the weather and the present time.