29 November 2014

A Plea for Slightly Less Stuff for Christmas

I have too much stuff. My kids have too much stuff. I sent this out to my family a week ago. 

Dear Family,

Although they don't realize it yet, Bird and Airplane are two very lucky kids because they have all of you who love them very much, and who provide them with fantastic presents. The boys have plenty of stuff, even after several sessions of sorting out toys, some of which have been donated and some of which are stored in my closet so they'll be more exciting on a rainy day.

This year, as you think about Christmas presents, I hope you'll consider giving experiences instead of stuff. Ideally the experiences would be with you, of course, but if that's not possible then gift certificates will allow us to take the boys.  I have a short list of suggestions, but it's hardly inclusive. If you have something in mind but aren't sure if the boys would like it, please ask.

1. A trip or a membership to the National Aquarium
2. A trip or membership to Port Discovery. This is one of the places that the boys mention most often when asked what they would like to do on a day off.
3. A trip to the movies. Here is a link to our favorite multiplex.
6. A tour of Washington DC on a duck bus.

If you prefer to give stuff, the boys both love to make art. Airplane has been drawing lots of pictures and writing short letters to his friends, so a gift of colored pencils and stationery is likely to come back to you via the USPS. Bird loves constructing art, so glue, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks and similar items would be popular. 

And of course both boys love books. Bird is a strong independent reader, loves adventure stories and anything silly.  Airplane loves being read to, especially if the book has great pictures. Both boys enjoy longer books to read aloud a chapter (or two) at a time at bedtime.  I've added several books to their Amazon wish list.

much love,
Bread, Wine, Salt

18 November 2014

The Spare Room

Worn In
There was a room in my house that only I knew about. You got there through a half door in my sister’s closet. I haven’t been in that closet in years, but I believe the half door is real. The room itself is impossible, which isn't to say that it’s not real, only that it can’t be. We’re not talking about a bit of a cubby, a utility space where one could stash a journal or a treasure box or even one’s own small self. The secret room was whole room, as big as any of other bedrooms in the house but instead of being crammed with furniture it was empty and it’s only appeal was that is was a room entirely devoid of stuff.  There was no point in putting a wardrobe in there after all. The room itself was already in Narnia.

At some point early in my childhood my parents built an addition on their house so that they would have a bigger bedroom for themselves and my sister and I would each have our own bedroom. I remember the addition being built, and I remember sharing a room with my sister, so I think I must have been five or six when it happened and the dreams must have started before then.

It is not a room I imagined on purpose. I dreamed it, repeatedly throughout my childhood, sometimes rediscovering it, sometimes simply arriving from sleep directly into the room. It was a haven. Enough space to play with friends, or to read a book entirely alone.

Even after I moved out of the shared bedroom into my own room, I still went to the secret room sometimes, and the entrance remained firmly, stubbornly in my sister’s closet. If it had been a real room that would have been a serious problem, because getting to the secret room would have become increasingly difficult. Big sisters are not generally known for enjoying having little sisters creeping about opening real doors to impossible places.

My mother still lives in the house I grew up in, and if the family pattern holds I’ll be at least in my fifties before I have to say goodbye to the house. When it is emptied, all those years from now, and I walk through one last time, I will check the closet for the door which I’m sure is real, but I may not open it, because a cubby full of plumbing would be such a disappointment.

Inspired by Justine’s post about keys.

16 November 2014

All We Like Sheep, A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Year A

As prepared for delivery, November 16, 2014*
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, College Park, MD

There are lots of sheep in the readings today. Sheep in the Hebrew Scriptures and sheep in the Gospel, with some goats thrown in for good measure. As I was working on the sermon this week I joked that the Bible is fifty-percent sheep.  You could say that all of Christian tradition is fifty-percent sheep. Sheep in the histories, sheep in the prophesies,  sheep in the psalms, sheep in the parables, sheep in the liturgy, sheep in the stained glass, sheep in the hymnody.

We have metaphorical sheep stacked to the rafters,  but because we are mostly urban and suburban residents most of us don’t know a lot about actual sheep. I am not an expert on sheep, but I was an Animal Science major in college, where I learned a little bit about sheep. I learned how to flip a sheep, which sounds like tossing a sheep on its head, but really means gently sitting the sheep down on its backside, a position used for shearing, hoof trimming and other husbandry practices. I took a course in sheep, visited any number of working sheep farms, designed sheep diets and for a final project wrote up a business plan for a hobby sheep farm that would sell the wool of Black Welsh Mountain sheep to the hobby spinners, weavers and knitters all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I had to design a barn, find a source for my starter flock, and write up a budget. I got an A, and  my paper farm turned a tidy profit in its first year, which is something real farms almost never do. If you think you’d like to start a farm, I highly recommend a paper farm. Very few bad things happen on a paper farm. None of your feed is ever moldy, your employees are trustworthy, your lambs never die of disease or exposure, you don’t need to worry about the big sheep pushing with flank and shoulder and butting all the weak animals until they are scattered far and wide, and your livelihood isn't threatened every time an animal gets sick.

Of course, a paper farm full of paper animals doesn't produce real wool, milk and meat that can be turned into clothing, used as food or sold for money. You need real animals for that, and because sheep are nimble, good foragers, compact, gregarious and multi-purpose they were popular livestock in Ezekiel’s time, and in Jesus’ time, as they are in many parts of the world today.  The biggest drawback to sheep is that predators find sheep as tasty as people do, and sheep, while they  have many fine qualities, are not smart. They need protection, and if a flock of sheep is following the best grazing, you can’t just bring them all back into the barn at night and go sleep in your soft, warm bed. The shepherd has to be out there with the sheep, keeping predators away and caring for the injured. The shepherd has to know which sheep have the best temperaments and which sheep have the easiest time at lambing.  If there is danger, the shepherd needs to be able to bring the sheep to him quickly.  The sheep, in turn, must know that the shepherd is trustworthy and safe.

That’s the image of God we’re given in this Sunday’s readings, and yet if you look on the cover of your bulletin you will see that we call this Sunday “Christ the King.”  As an American whose ancestors were kicked out of the all of the respectable countries, I don’t have much good to say about Kings and Queens. For a long time, Monarchs used the Church as a tool to oppress the poor.  The rich and powerful were said to have been anointed by God and the poor were poor because of God’s will. To be a good Christian was to be obedient to the Monarchy. Kings and Queens wore crowns of gold and if there were blood, sweat, and tears to be shed, you can be sure that it was not their own. A King used his power to push the little people around. A King ate rich foods every day, while the peasants who tilled the soil and raised the livestock barely had enough to survive. A King turned peasants into foot soldiers and sent them into battle knowing that many, if not most, would die, caring not how many fell, but only that they defeated the enemy in the process. Come to think of it, there are plenty of rich and powerful folks doing that today. We might not call them Kings and Queens, but they sure act like Kings and Queens, some of them even still use God as a cudgel to get the peasants in line.

The Rich and Powerful of today are not listening to Scripture any more than the Kings and Queens of the past who claimed that their leadership was a Divine Right.  Earthly rulers may push and shove to get their way, they may see themselves as God-like, but  the God of our scripture is a Shepherd King with dirt under his nails instead of blood on his hands, and the earthly powers are mere sheep,  just as the exiled Israelites of Ezekiel’s time were sheep, just as you and I and the poorest of our brothers and sisters are sheep. Humans, like sheep, are nimble, and good foragers and gregarious.

Gregarious, when used to talk about a college student means friendly and outgoing, often seen in groups, in livestock circles it means not only does the animal like to be in groups, it needs to be in a group. A sheep alone in a pasture is a sheep that is about to be eaten. When I say that humans are gregarious, I don’t mean that we’re all extroverted, but that we all need our flock. We depend on each other and on our Shepherd for our survival.  In today’s Gospel reading, the flock, our flock, is sorted not by how well they followed the rubrics of the church, or how well they obeyed the rich and powerful. They are not sorted by how quickly they called their neighbor to account, or if they cast out their own eye because it offended them. They are not sorted by how often they went to church or which church they went to or what clothes they wore when they were there. In this parable they’re not even sorted on whether they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

When the Son of Man turns to the sheep at his right hand he doesn't tell them “Congratulations, you were the smartest, the most pious, the shrewdest investor.” He tells them “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” That’s the criteria. We get to be sheep on the right hand side if you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned. We do these things because Christ is in all of those people and we serve Christ, and because Christ the Shepherd is in us, and the Shepherd serves the flock.   We promise, in our baptismal covenant, which we’ll renew today as we welcome Drew, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Not the powerful human beings, not the human beings who have the same race, color, creed, gender, sexuality or nationality as we do, not even just the ones that we can see Christ in, all people, the whole flock. The promise is to SEEK and serve, not to SORT and serve.  The love of God which we are called to spread is the servant love of a Shepherd King, and every sheep matters.

I’d like to close with a quote from Thomas Merton, a Twentieth Century Trappist Monk and theologian: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

*St. Andrew's celebrates Christ the King Sunday a week early so that we can celebrate St. Andrew's day the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Most Episcopal churches will celebrate Christ the King next Sunday.

The Lectionary Page
The Listening Hermit: The Feast of Christ the ComradeThe Church of Scotland, Starters for Sunday (.pdf.)
Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer
The Church of Scotland, Starters for Sunday (.pdf.)

Cross posted on the Sermons at St. Andrew's blog


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