Weekend Digest 2021:08
16 April 2021
Happy Easter, St. B’s Family —
This was the week the dandelions came back!
It’s like one day they weren’t there, the next — bang, there they were. Renee and I watched them pop up almost overnight from our place on the rectory porch. I pray out there when the weather’s right, so it’s often where St. B’s is on my heart the most.
Dandelions. And church. They go together in my mind because of something I read a while back. I can’t remember the first person to share the image with me, but a quick Google search turned up this post quoting Lutheran Bishop Claire Burkat that says it well:
“Just one bright yellow flower, when it’s done blooming, yields hundreds of tiny seeds that parachute through the air and land to take root, starting get process all over again
. . . .” The religious authorities of Jesus’ time thought they had dug out the roots of our faith, but the resurrection changed everything and hundreds of seeds were carried by the wind and planted everywhere. “Ecclesia Plantanda — the church [must be] planted.”
So that’s the link in my brain between dandelions and church. If you’ve heard me talk about the Barque of St. Bartholomew, you probably heard me crib Tim Keller’s line to an interviewer: “After the pandemic, we’re all church plants.” Ecclesia Plantanda — the church must be planted — was the motto of Henry Melchior Mühlenberg, the patriarch of American Lutheranism. And for us to grow, our best chance is follow Mühlenberg’s lead — to plant, to scatter as many seeds to the wind as we can.
We need to be dandelions.
As life normalizes for our parish, we’re taking the Barque of St. Bartholomew out of its slip in earnest for the first time, and remember — our first sail is evangelism. The impetus for this is our baptismal covenant — Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help. So with God’s help, we are appointed to take the gospel — the euangelion or “good news” of Jesus — to the world around us. As Episcopalians, we are guided by the example and encouragement of our church’s Evangelism Initiative set up by the Presiding Bishop. The initiative defines evangelism as “the spiritual practice for seeking, naming, and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people, and then inviting them to more.” As Fr. Titus Pressler says in this Covenant blog post: “Evangelism is seen as a spiritual practice, a prayerful orientation to God and the world, rather than as an aggressive program.”
So how do we orient ourselves prayerfully toward the world like that? Well, there are as many different ways to evangelize are there are evangelists (and God calls us all to be evangelists!) and those who have yet to come to know the love of God in Christ. For instance, we can make it a part of our daily spiritual practice to try to be as gentle and amiable in the world as we can be. Be winsome. Meet cynicism with encouragement; counter fear with hope. Resist the temptation to speak ill of others. Bless, always. Do that long enough, and people start to get curious. So when they inquire (and probably not before) into what makes you tick, give an honest answer: It’s because you’ve been loved by Jesus. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet. 3.15)
That’s a seed.
Or be “guerrillas of charity” (I love that phrase from this post). Charity, or caritas, shouldn’t be a bad word — I say we reclaim it! Charity is simply the love that God has for the world. And, in turn, it’s our love of God for God’s sake, and our neighbor as ourself for love of God. Add to that the fact that a “guerrilla” is a member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces. See where I’m going? The forces arrayed against God’s people in the world are ominous and immense — poverty, shame, addiction, violence, racism, fear. What if at St. B’s we all trained to be combatants — to ambush poverty with generosity, to sabotage oppression by thrusting a spoke in the wheel that grinds down the outcast, to mount an insurgency of love for the least, the lost, the lonely, the left behind? As Nikki Toyama-Szeto and Abraham George wrote in 2017:
We can tend to think of the work of justice as secondary or an add-on. But the Bible makes it clear that evangelism can be carried out through the work of justice. When we respond to the deep needs of others, we are demonstrating to them that God is good and loving. We should seek to do the work of God as Jesus did, seeing justice and evangelism as complementary to one another. As God’s “hands and feet,” the church is continuing the work of justice that Jesus started.
Justice. That’s a seed.
Just brainstorm, and you’ll come up with ways to share the good news of Jesus that I could never think of!
Offer to pray for someone who’s hurting.
Invite a neighbor to a backyard picnic.
Cook a meal for a new mom.
Drive someone to the clinic.
Pick up the phone when the ID says the call’s coming from the neediest person you know.
Invest in the flourishing of your community, tether your wellbeing to that of your neighbors.
Any selfless act, done for Jesus’ sake . . .
Seeds. Every single one.
It’s been a while since I’ve written, so I should share a little of what I’m up to this Eastertide:
- Listening: Musically, I’m into Eric Whitacre this week. In 1999, Northern Arizona University commissioned Whitacre to compose a set of choral works to commemorate the centennial of the school. Whitacre chose three poems by E. E. Cummings and set to work. He took eight words from one of the poems, and out came an astonishingly gorgeous canticle. The lyrics are simply:
Hope, faith, life, love
Dream, joy, truth, soul
Full of dissonance and resolution, yearning and anticipation, tension and release, the song both surprised and blew me away the first time I heard it (I’m convinced the choir at the Advent in Boston intentionally inserted songs like that at certain points in the mass just to watch me fall apart). Listen to it here on Spotify, and even watch the composer direct the Eric Whitacre Singers’ performance of the piece on YouTube here. One reviewer said “The design of the song has no true function, meaning it holds no inherent purpose. It simply exists to be beautiful . . . .” And that is precisely what it is — beautiful.
- Reading: Did you know we ring the “Nine Tailors” at St. B’s on Good Friday at 3 o’clock? According to Radford’s Encyclopædia of Supersitions, the word “tailors” is a corruption of “tellers,” the full title meaning the nine tellers or strokes of the bell that indicate a man has died in an English village. “The living are notified that someone had died, first by the tolling of the bell, then by nine strokes for a man, six for a woman, and three for a child, and finally by a single note for every year of the dead person’s age.” So on Good Friday we toll nine times — three rings and a pause, three more and a pause, a final three and a pause — then the bell peals 33 times, once for every year of our Lord’s earthly life. This year, I happened to remember Dorothy Sayers wrote a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery called The Nine Tailors, so I picked it up at the library and am loving it. Nice to get a break to read a little fiction now and again! If you’re a fan of Sayers’, or even if you just like a good mystery, check it out (but don’t tell me the ending).
- Watching: I’m still not entirely sure whether we moved to Nashville because God called us here or because of country music — I love it, probably more than is reasonable. I’m fascinated with songwriters, too — how they grind away, how they move us with such simple melodies and lyrics. I had exhausted almost every music documentary (rockumentary?) I could find when I came across It All Begins with a Song on Amazon Prime. Don’t like country music? That’s cool. But I defy you not to be moved by the story behind “I Drive Your Truck” written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary, and recorded by Lee Brice. Cue it up at the 1:06.46 mark if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare. You’re welcome.
- Practicing: You know I’m a champion of the “Three-fold Regula” (or “rule”) — Holy Eucharist, praying the Daily Office, and “private prayer” (or “habitual recollection of Christ’s presence”) — what Martin Thornton calls the essential shape of English/Anglican spirituality. We’ve grown as a parish in those ways — praying Morning Prayer together, first in person and then, during the pandemic, going online; and also by celebrating the Eucharist every weekday in addition to our Sunday worship. From time to time, I run across a tool to recommend to you, and the most recent find that has intrigued me is the Venite App from Forward Movement. I still love to pray with the heft of my prayer book in hand, but if I don’t have one with me, Venite is elegant, easy to use, adaptable, self-explanatory — everything I’d want in a prayer app (you can pray through an app on your phone or on your laptop). If you aren’t praying the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) already, maybe this is a chance to get acquainted with the practice via Venite!
And one last thing — A quick appeal from me:
St. Bartholomew’s is a going concern. We’ve remained a vibrant parish this whole last year, despite the difficulties faced. The staff are running throttle-open, populating the parish calendar with events — more chances to worship together, a range of classes, newcomers’ events, LifeGroups (old ones and newly-formed ones), youth QuranTeams and zip-lining, Pentecost Picnics around the city. What we need now . . . is you!
The coming months will no doubt be a crossroads for our parish — Who’s still here? Who will come back? Who’s new here that we haven’t met yet? Who will God add to our number? And what will the level of parish giving allow us to do together in the world?
My appeal to you is to come back as soon you feel safe to come back. And tell your friends about what we’re building here at St. B’s. I can’t imagine St. B’s without you.
I’ll end with a couple more words from Bishop Burkat —
“We are called to spread the Gospel,” Said Burkat. “Everyone is a potential dandelion seed who believes that the power of God through Jesus Christ springs eternal—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”
So be dandelions.
Consider that an invitation.