If you’re trying to form a stewardship strategy for the year, maybe it’s not meant to be a struggle; check out the blog post below about balancing the call of the spirit with your financial planning. Thanks to Jeanne Sullivan for submitting the link to this reflection:
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In case you haven’t gotten a chance to check it out yet, the front of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts at 138 Tremont Street has received a lovely makeover.
The diocese chose to place a nautilus, a symbol of constant growth and change, atop the front of the diocesan headquarters building on Tremont Street. According to the Very Reverend Jep Strait, the design represents the Episcopal Church’s desire to look forward and embrace the exciting challenges the church is taking on at this moment in its history.
Read more in the story posted on the diocesan web site, and in the news article the Globe wrote about the building’s new look. Then, if you get a chance, go to see it first-hand; the nautilus design lights up at night, and it’s a sight to see the building with its bright new face on Tremont Street. The design was completed in early May 2013.
Mark your calendars! There will be a CoTA fall kickoff celebration on September 8, directly following the 9:30am service. At the event there will be light food, registration for Sunday school, and plenty of high spirits to usher in the upcoming fall sports season. We hope to see you there! There will be signup sheets posted soon if you’d like to help set up, clean up, or bring food for this event.
A Church of the Advent community member recently shared this uplifting excerpt from the writings of nurse and community activist Dixcy Bosley-Smith – enjoy!:
“Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars”
(An altar in the World Barbara Brown Taylor)
Some of my closest friends are atheists. Why do I hang out with them? Why do they hang out with me, a person of faith? Maybe it is the risen and present vision of Christ I see in each of them. Their lack of seeing does not threaten my faith. If anything, I think I am too lazy to be an atheist. It takes a lot of work NOT to believe in God.
It would be like trying to not to breathe, trying not to know something you know. Not to believe in God is like trying not to love someone you love. God’s spirit is in the everyday sacred. Indeed God’s very breath is all around us. As the poet Kabir said, “He is the breath inside the breath.”
~ Dixcy Bosley-Smith
Church of the Advent member Jeanne Sullivan recently submitted this article as a piece for Lenten reflection: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-mozart-obsession-20130325,0,3639008.story
In it, LA times contributor Randy Lewis thinks aloud about how singing entered his life through a piece of music by Mozart – first as part of a spiritual retreat, then in a long-distance choir started among three friends, and finally with his participation in a professional performance of the music. In the story, Randy is surprised over and over by how a tiny musical experience (singing Mozart in a rural retreat center with a couple of friends) grows (to a daily spiritual practice) and uplifts him (from “Woolly Bully” to Mozart). It was 17 months from the first time he sang the piece to when he performed it in front of an audience of 1,800. For me, this piece demonstrates how spiritual growth, whether within 40 days or many more, can always find you where you are.
What’s transforming you?
My mother recently sent me this article: The Crime of His Childhood.
It is the story of a man who had acid thrown onto his face as a child by a schizophrenic neighbor. It may not seem like something to put on a blog named “adventgoodnews,” but I think the way this man responded to the tragedy in his life is an example of how Jesus wants us to see each other.
The child, Josh Miele’s, injuries left him blind and with extensive damage to his face. Much of the story covers the ways Josh’s family tried to fix him after the event happened, and all of the pain caused by this random attack. I identify with Josh in some ways, as I underwent major surgery for congenital heart defects at 7 months old. I have a large scar down the front of my chest about which I got many questions in school. I also feel uncomfortably empathetic toward the schizophrenic neighbor in the story, as I have always been the most artistic, moody, and sometimes perversely irrational kid in my family.
Josh’s response to his injuries inspires me because he moves beyond the sensationalized dynamic of victim and perpetrator. The story ends with how Josh has grown into an adult with a wife, children, and Ph.D – while having visually shocking scars all over his face and no vision, and all because a misguided person decided to take advantage of his trusting nature as a child.
Part of me is still a 7 month-old with little hope for life outside of the skilled work of people ten times my size wielding medical instruments that could have taken my life with one wrong swing of a hand or pulling of a cord. Another part is a young adult uncertain of any path forward, and sometimes more willing to act out of random frustration than out of deliberate kindness. This story helps me to see that I, and others around me, are neither simply “good victims” nor “evil monsters.”
I believe that out of all religions, Christianity and Jesus Christ most closely reflect this paradox; Jesus was not fully divine, but neither fully human. And he was at peace with that complexity. Unfortunately, others in his day were not. But we as Christians have the ability to build the peace in ourselves that comes from accepting that good and evil cannot be easily defined, and that neither belongs nailed to a cross. We are ambiguous, imperfect, and vulnerable. If we can accept that in ourselves, I call that good news.
Bishop Gayle Elizabeth Harris visited Church of the Advent on Sunday, December 16, 2012. She gave the sermon at the 9:30am service. Her dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Piccola, then joined her at coffee hour as she spoke about the Episcopal Church’s place in the Worldwide Anglican Communion, her passion for peace work in the Middle East, and how the Church of the Advent can deepen its relationship with the Medfield community.
The following is a response from Reverend Eames to the tragic shooting this past Friday in Newtown, Connecticut:
Yesterday, I spend the day with my mother and father-in-law. We had a very pleasant visit. Their visit was a surprise, in the fact that it was unplanned, but my pastor’s instincts, as well as yours if you had been in my place, could see it coming. Both my father and mother-in-law are public school teachers in the Connecticut school system. My father-in-law teaches music at an elementary school. They decided to swing by Massachusetts on their way to pick up some groceries so they could hug their grandchildren. I can’t say that I would have done anything differently. It was definitely a day to hug a loved one, especially if that loved one was a child.
On Friday, a heavily armed young man entered into a quiet elementary school known for its quality and its security, and he murdered twenty children and six adults. This unspeakable crime has sent the world into shock. Many search for explanations that will not be forthcoming. I know an easy conclusion to draw is that he was crazy. Of course, in a certain sense, that is hard to argue against. I suspect the primary fault of this is not mental illness. Though, I would be surprised if it wasn’t a factor. I’ve worked with mentally ill people for most of my ministry, and I encountered mental illness on a daily basis during my homelessness ministry and during my hospital chaplaincy work. The vast majority of these men and women are every bit as human as you and me. They just have an illness that, when untreated, can bring misery, especially of the emotional kind, down on them and their families. A mentally ill person is still human, still feels, still loves their children, even if they might have a difficult time expressing it. I only met one mentally ill person in my life who I thought was a serious danger to strangers. I have met more sane people of which I could say the same.
I think a spiritual darkness is at work here. It could be coupled with other difficulties that can haunt us – just as a mental illness can use and hide behind an addiction. In this case, we could have a mental illness that exists in a culture that is far too violent, in a world with easy access to firearms, in a society that has far too often condoned bullying. All of this might be true, but I have to admit what I would rather not. If we did a better job caring for our mentally ill, if we addressed violence in our culture, and if we took guns off our streets, tragedy like the one on Friday would still sometimes happen. There is a darkness in our world that goes beyond all of this. This spiritual darkness is the opposite force of the angels. The angels’ message is always “fear not.” Spiritual darkness feeds and perpetuates fear. This leads most often to despair, but, occasionally, to anger and violence. I wish I could say this event was unprecedented. It really isn’t. Children have always been specifically targeted by monsters.
Women and children were targeted in the Bible. Even the psalmist has a homicidal dream of smashing an enemy child’s head. The biblical example that especially comes to mind is the slaughter of the innocents. This is the episode when King Herod, filled with hatred and paranoia, ordered all of the babies under 2 in the Bethlehem area to be murdered. I especially thought of this event because most historians of demographics think that Herod’s men killed about 20 children during that event. Christians, for centuries, have remembered the slaughter of the innocents on December 28th. A mere three days after our great feast of Christmas, we remember a terrible tragedy marking the death of innocent children in a rage of a powerful man. We often sentimentalize Jesus’ birth, but he was born into extreme poverty, surrounded by danger. From his first breath, he had to fight the disease of a barn, exposure to the cold, and the raging of a murderous ruler.
We don’t have to look back to scripture, however, to find violence against children. I have met former child soldiers from Uganda, who were forced to murder their families and join the Lord’s Resistance Army, where, through the use of psychological torture, they were trained to become professional murderers. These young people explained to me that they had experienced brutality that cannot be easily imagined, as they were cajoled into setting fire to villages, and shooting children. They lived in despair and raged against all those around them. The only ones they hated more than their captors was they, themselves. After they were rescued, they lived with terrible guilt and self-loathing. They hated everything, but Christ brought them love and forgiveness. Christ triumphed over the dark forces that had ruled their lives for years.
Jesus stood against fear and loathing, and, when he encountered the demonic, he brought the person who was suffering to wholeness of life and spirit. Jesus consistently identifies himself with the victim, with the oppressed, with those who suffer. He is a strength for those recovering, but also a comfort for those who mourn. I cannot explain why something this terrible and tragic happened. I don’t think there is an explanation that will satisfy. I know that God does not will such things to happen, and I know that this tragedy has the power to do yet more damage. I pray that it does not. That is why I pray not only for the victims but for their families that remain. I pray for the marriages that will be tested, and the other loving relationships that will need to support these families.
During this time we look to the scriptures for guidance. A familiar reading from this time of year is from Isaiah. He says that the Lord’s anointed will be sent “to comfort all who mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” I know that Jesus is on the side of those who mourn, and it is my deepest prayer that those children who survived this shooting will not grow up in the shadow of fear, but that something beautiful will rise from these ashes – that they will become advocates for peace – that they will have the grace to be more loving because they understand, more than any of us, the cost of hatred. I know the grace of God will be with them.
For those who return to the Lord much to early, another verse, from St. John the Divine:
“He said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither shall thirst any more; neither shall the sun burn them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Our world did not live up to the promises we made these children, and we will have to do better. Every one of those innocent children is with God. The world did not deserve them, so Christ will take care of them.
There may be some political solutions that can help mitigate these tragedies in the future, and that is important work to do, but we can honor their memories best by bringing greater love to this world. That is what Jesus set out to do 2000 years ago, and we carry on this mission today. If we are all more loving, more open to the stranger, we might save some poor soul, who has murder in his heart.
We examined the sermon on the plain in Bible study this fall. When I came to the command “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” – I admit to being convicted. I don’t do this. When I think someone is really difficult and I don’t like them, I usually avoid them. I can love that person from a distance, but you can’t do that. That isn’t what we are called to do. We are called to actively do good to those we don’t like, or who don’t like us. We are called to pray for them and bless them. This is all done so that they might not be our enemies. Not because we deserve to be universally loved, but because love demands that we engage in action. We can all be more loving. I can certainly be more loving. That is the call I receive from God out of this. I will hug my children extra tightly and be more loving to those who I don’t understand.
Our loving action is to pray for those who have lost their lives, their families, their community, and for all those who are angry and who despair. May they find love in this world.
We pray especially for:
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47; Mary Sherlach, 56; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Victoria Soto, 27; Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 25; Emilie Parker, 6; Charlotte, 6; Daniel, 7; Olivia, 6; Josephine, 7; Ana, 6; Dylan, 6; Madeleine, 6; Catherine, 6; Chase, 7; Jesse, 6; James, 6; Grace, 7; Jack, 6; Noah, 6; Caroline, 6; Jessica, 6; Avielle, 6; Benjamin, 6; Allison, 6. May their souls, and the souls of the faithful departed; rest in peace. Amen.
This morning, Church of the Advent held its annual Feast of Title, the Advent brunch! A large crowd of parishioners processed in from the fellowship hall to fill the church and start a special service of seasonal readings, including three talented guest vocalists. The fellowship hall was beautifully decorated and full of good food for the brunch that followed. We celebrated Reverend Marc Eames’ one year anniversary as our community’s vibrant spiritual leader. Thank you Marc! We also celebrated that Rev. Richard Morris has now been ordained for 62 years. What a lovely way to start the new church year!