Monday, December 24, 2007

A Franciscan Christmas Blessing for Justice & Peace

I've mentioned this blessing of St. Francis before.  Episcopal Suffragan Bishop of Diocese of SE Florida, retired, often uses a part of it in his closing blessing.  I've been fond of Bishop Said for many years. He's such a wonderful preacher and has had a big influence on my life.  St. Mark's was so blessed when we got down to the last 6 weeks before our new rector arrived last Spring and Bishop Frade asked Bishop Said if he would fill in.  Of course, that got me all excited because I'm such a big fan. 
Somebody posted it to an email group in it's entirely. May it bless you as much as it has me.
A Franciscan Christmas Blessing for Justice and Peace
May God bless you with discomfort...  at easy answers, hard hearts,  half-truths ,and superficial relationships.  May God bless you so that you may live  from deep within your heart  where God’s Spirit dwells.  May God bless you with anger...  at injustice, oppression,  and exploitation of people.  May God bless you so that you may  work for justice, freedom, and peace.  May God bless you with tears...  to shed for those who suffer from pain,  rejection, starvation and war.  May God bless you so that you  may reach out your hand  to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.  And may God bless you with  enough foolishness  to believe that you can make a difference  in this world, in your neighborhood,  so that you will courageously try  what you don't think you can do, but,  in Jesus Christ you'll have all the strength necessary.  May God bless you to fearlessly  speak out about injustice,  unjust laws, corrupt politicians,  unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,  and senseless wars,  genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.  May God bless you that you remember  we are all called  to continue God’s redemptive work  of love and healing  in God’s place, in and through God’s name,  in God’s Spirit, continually creating  and breathing new life and grace  into everything and everyone we touch.  Source: "Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine," published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Message from Rev. Vincent Scotto, Punta Gorda, FL

The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Punta Gorda, FL
Father Vince

I was tickled when a dear church friend, Keith Duke emailed this Christmas message from Father Vince.  And I just can't blog it without appropriate commentary when it's by somebody who is really special to me.  

I received Father Vince's Christmas message when memories of Christmases past are in my thoughts and on my sleeve as well.

About a year after my mom passed away and about a year before my dad passed on, I was in Punta Gorda visiting my brother, sister-in-law and my dad.  I had invited my dad to go to church with me rather than the Salvation Army in Port Charlotte wherethey transferred to when they moved from St. Petersburg to Punta Gorda.  Dad had never been in an Episcopal Church before.  And my dad's Alzheimer's was rearing it's ugly head since my mom died. Anyway, to make a long story short the prayer bench fell down on my dad's foot and he let out a loud yelp, but let me know he was going to be okay. 

Going out of the church, dad shook Father Vince's hand and told him that the sermon was very good. 

In his kind and and jovial way, Father Vince thanked him.  The lady ass't rector had preached the sermon that Sunday morning.   

My dad constantly practiced the love Father Vince talks about in his Christmas message. Gordon Sr also had a great sense of humor and managed to smile and tell funny stories until the moment he died in the hospital in Port Charlotte in February of 1999.  I was holding one of his hands, my sister the other as we kept saying to dad, "One more breath, just take another one."  He took two more deep breaths, blew them out like a whistle and died with a smile on his face. My dad touched the lives of thousands of people both pre and post Alzheimer's diagnosis.

I hope I can handle my Alzheimers as it progresses with the grace and humor of my dad.

Larry and me went over to Punta Gorda last summer for the 4th of July to visit family and of course we made a point to get to the Church of the Good Shepherd.  It was good to see Father Vince again and sit and visit for a few minutes after the service.

I encourage any reader who visits southwest Florida to consider visiting one of the most beautiful small towns in America and attend services at Church of the Good Shepherd while visiting.

And now, a word from Father Vince:  

Let's give the greatest gift this Christmas season:  the gift of love. 





If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, 

I'm just another decorator. 


If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family,

I'm just another cook. 


If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family,

it profits me nothing. 


If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ,

I have missed the point.


Love stops the cooking to hug the child.  Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.  Love is kind, though harried and tired.  Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.  Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way,

but is thankful they are there to be in the way. 


Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 


Love never fails.  Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but

giving the gift of love will endure.


Merry Christmas and lots of love to you and yours!

The Holy Holy Family: Advent thoughts from Rev. Susan Russell

The Rev. Susan Russell's Advent message was shared with the Integrity News group and on Rev. Susan's wonderful "Inch at a Time" blog.  I like this picture of Rev. Susan because I like her smile.
When searching for a picture of the Holy Family to use for this blog entry, I about gave up.  About 90% of the artwork found reflected a very white Holy Family. They don't look like anybody from the middle east. I was about to settle for a stained glass window depiction, when I came across this lovely painting by Michelangelo. The family looks like the folk from the middle east like they are supposed to.
It is worth sharing:
Holy Family Values
Advent 4A – December 23, 2007 – All Saints Church Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
We’re running out of Advent. The season that began a few short weeks ago with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the lighting of the first candle on the Advent wreath is drawing to a close. The Christmas cards are sent – mostly; the packages are wrapped – well, some of them, anyway! And this morning -- as we see around us the beginnings of the halls decked with boughs of holly -- we light that fourth and final Advent candle that lights our way to that stable in Bethlehem and Little Lord Jesus Asleep on the Hay. When my boys were little, lighting those Advent candles on the dining room table was a really big deal. I'd like to think it was because they had grasped the significance of the holiness of this Advent season as a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord. However, I'm sure it was because if the Advent Wreath was there, the tree and presents couldn't be far behind! And it was a tradition that “stuck” in our family long after they had outgrown many others. I’m remembering this morning a particular evening in Advent. The boys would have been about twelve and fifteen. It was after I had come out and their father and I had separated and while we were working away at what my therapist called “reconfiguring the family on the other side of the marriage.” We were at the dinner table together with the Advent wreath in the middle and -- that particular night -- my younger son, Brian, was on about something he couldn’t live without and his father and I were ruining his life by not getting it for him. I think it was a dirt bike. He didn’t want to hear reasoned explanations that dirt bikes were not in the budget for newly ordained parish priests. “So how long do we have to wait until there’s some money in this family?” he asked. “What about those big jobs at those fancy churches? Why don’t you go be in charge of one of those?” And I must have run out of patience at that point for I remember saying, “You have be ordained longer than I have been to get those jobs, Brian – and besides, they usually go to the straight, white men.” “Well, so much for that idea!” he said. And then, unable to resist one last parting shot added “I just hope you know I always expected my mom to be straight!” And his father, without missing a beat, piped in, “So did I!” And we all laughed … and Brian did NOT get the dirt bike. Another thing Brian did not get was the family he expected – but that didn’t mean we quit being family to each other. And that’s because the values that made us family to each other transcended even the expectations we had for each other. And the icon of what that family looks like for me is my mental picture of the year both of my sons and their father joined my partner Louise in the pew here at All Saints Church on Christmas morning – after a Christmas Eve dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding the night before! I looked out at them from the chancel with deep gratitude for the family we had become. We may not be a family James Dobson focuses on but that doesn’t make us any less family. And it doesn’t make the values that bind us together any less holy. Joseph didn’t get the family he expected, either – and today’s Gospel according to Matthew tells us that his first reaction to the “unexpected” was to dismiss his pregnant fiancé … an act which would fallen firmly within the bounds of the traditional family values of his day – and would have made Mary and her child outcasts. Instead, Joseph did as the angel commanded and took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus – and the rest is Holy Family History. The Christ Child made the Holy Family holy – what made them a family were the values that bound them together as an icon of God’s love for the whole human family. Those values have nothing to do with either the gender or the genetics of those who make up a family and everything to do with the inclusive love of the God whose deepest desire is for this human race – created in God’s image – to become the human family it was meant to be. Sadly, one of the things that has far too often gotten in the way of proclaiming that love to all people is the very thing that was created in order to proclaim that love to all people – and that thing would be The Church. A case in point this morning is this story from the blog of a young Florida man who writes, “I was kicked out of the church when I was 16 for coming out. The pastor and youth minister both called me the devil and said I wasn’t welcome and my parents and family all used religion as a weapon against me … saying I was going to hell.” Not surprisingly he ended up with what he describes as “… a negative view of religion in general and Christians in particular. I found them to be disingenuous, non-thinking sheep at best and hate-filled, bigoted extremists at worst. That is," he says ... "until I met Bishop Robinson.” Describing his experience of +Gene when he spoke recently to a forum in Ft. Lauderdale, the young man goes onto say: “ … my views on religious people have shifted dramatically. Sure there are still the hate-filled bigots who use religion as a weapon. But that doesn’t represent them all.
. There are people like Bishop Robinson who simply want to use the lessons of God to make true change in the world. Honestly, he forced this jaded gay man to try and accept religious folks, or at least not write them off completely. If he can do that, I have every confidence that he can open the eyes of the world …” This young man didn’t get the family he expected OR the church he expected – and rejected by both he rejected them in return. Yet Gene Robinson’s witness changed that – or at lease “budged” it. And if he can do that, I too have every confidence that he can open the eyes of the world. Yes, the schism du jour presents challenges to both the Episcopal Church and our wider Anglican family. It is rare to pick up a paper or open your email and not find yet-another plot development in what I’ve come to think of as the real-life reality-show: “As the Anglican World Turns.” And yet they are also times of great opportunity. We are surrounded by people who didn’t get the family they expected or the church they expected … and who have not yet heard about a church where Holy Family Values have nothing to do with gender or genetics and everything to do with grace and the good news of God’s inclusive love available to all. Did you see the ad placed by the national Episcopal Church in the Los Angeles Times yesterday? It read in part: The Episcopal Church is emerging stronger for its insistence that all are welcome and full participants in Christ’s body. If this Christmas you are seeking a faith community that welcomes diversity of opinion and room for many voices building on more than four centuries of history, please consider visiting an Episcopal Church congregation near you. No, God is not yet finished with the Episcopal Church. In fact, I think God has her work cut out for her in the weeks and months ahead getting the Episcopal Church to the point where “all are welcome and full participants in Christ’s Body” is not just ad copy but reality. But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we can open the eyes of the world – or at least of the worldwide Anglican Communion. I’m hopeful that just as Brian had to get over not having the family he expected in order to embrace the family he had, the rest of the Communion can get over not having the uniformity it expected – and can embrace those in the American and Canadian churches celebrating the Holy Family Values being lived out in the lives and witness of the gay and lesbian faithful. Maybe it’s my own lived experience of reconfiguring a family on the other side of a marriage that gives me the hope we can also reconfigure a church on the other side of a schism. Or maybe it’s because, as we prepare to welcome again the Prince of Peace into this war torn world, we prepare to glimpse again in that baby in the manger the hope of all humanity for relationships restored, creation fulfilled and God’s love so alive and so real we can reach out and touch it – love described in these words from John Shelby Spong’s “Christpower:”

Here in this life we glimpse that immortal invisible most blessed most glorious almighty life-giving force of this universe in startling completeness in a single person. Men and women tasted the power that was in him and they were made whole by it. They entered a new freedom, a new being. They knew resurrection and what it means to live in the Eternal Now. So they became agents of that power, sharing those gifts from generation to generation, creating and re-creating, transforming, redeeming, making all things new.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – make us agents of the power to live in the Eternal Now and give us grace to live your Holy Family Values all the days of our lives. And may the God of hope fill us -- those we love, serve and challenge -- with all joy and peace in believing, these last days of Advent and always. Amen.

Here We Come a Wassailling at St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Waissail is a contraction of the Old English toast, "wæs þu hæl, or "be thou hale!" (i.e., "be in good health").
In the old days in England, carolers would take their waisailling door to door, singing and sometimes rather tipsy and they wouldn't leave a resident's doorstep until they were given money to leave.
Last Sunday evening we celebrated our annual Wassail Party at St. Mark's. The Waissal is citris based and has no alcohol. The food was good, too!

St. Mark's School Collection for the Children of Iraq

Last Sunday a staff sergeant from the U.S.A.F.  presented St. Mark's Episcopal School with a beautiful American Flag and certificate of appreciation for the students at the school. The kids took up a huge collection of badly needed items for the children of the war.