summer 2013 retreat(s)?
I am seeking (and am optimistic about getting) full-time work this fall that will provide much-needed stability, but will make it much harder for me to do something I could do at various points this summer:
A retreat. 5-15 people get together somewhere nice and spend time together breathing, praying, and falling in love -- again and/or more deeply -- with scripture such that it nourishes and energizes YOU in an enduring and contagious way.
There would be plenty of time during a multi-day retreat for optional one-on-one and/or small-group conversation in a supportive, relaxed setting with plenty of room for questions and doubts.
The topic is flexible (though I have a few potential ones in mind). The region is flexible, and if there's sufficient interest in more than one region, I'll schedule retreats in different places as long as I've still got availability.
If you're interested, please email me (using the link I've just provided) and let me know:
- What dates work for you
- What region(s) work for you (i.e., where you are and perhaps where you'd be happy to travel)
- (If you'd like) any special wishes about the setting (e.g., "someplace where there's kayaking)
So far, the leading contender is New England for a retreat on the Gospel According to Luke.
As soon as I hear from a sufficient number of interested folks, I'll get to work hammering out the details. I'm rather sad to think this summer might be the last time I'll be free to do this for a while, but I look forward to meeting folks face-to-face as much as time allows!
Christmas Day (Year A, Year B, Year C)
I want to apologize to you for three things.
One is my not posting before now. I've been working seven days a week of late, and often double shifts (e.g., yesterday I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.). Some folks here have been very generous, and several have ordered Guitar Center gear through me, and that's a huge help for which I'm deeply grateful. But it's clear that it's going to take a lot of hours to get me to the General Convention of my denomination (The Episcopal Church) this July -- a hugely (for me) expensive proposition, with plane fare, a hotel room for nearly , and meals (I plan to borrow a toaster or microwave oven and mini-fridge so I don't have to eat out as often, but a lot of work gets done over meals out as well). This season is the busiest of the year for Guitar Center, so this is my best chance to try to get a little ahead of things fiscally before the inevitable slowdown after Christmas.
Another is that I want to apologize if this post seems rushed. It is! This has been my first chance to sit down to write, even though I've had the ideas formed for some time. I've only got about an hour to write, but it's now or never if I want to be helpful to Christmas preachers -- which I very much want to be!
And a third is that I want to apologize if there's anything goofy-looking with fonts and whatnot in the post. TypePad, the system I use for SarahLaughed.net, has made some improvements and added features. This has changed the interface I use to compose entries, and I haven't had the time to read up on the changes.
I appreciate your patience, support, and encouragement.
P.S. -- Now I've spent forty minutes of that hour I had to write on the phone with six different people about such fun matters as a recent car accident I had (a fender-bender, so I'm not seriously injured, and the accident was entirely not my fault, as I was sitting in my parked car at the time) and various medical matters. Geez. I'll do the best I can with an entry now, and will add to it if I have a chance.
Most of the congregations I've served have consisted mostly of people for whom the system -- the way our world is ordered -- has worked, or seemed superficially to work, quite well. They had lovely homes in good school districts, lucrative jobs, and a strong sense that if they worked hard enough, they and their children would have be securely successful.
Christianity was known early on as a religion of women and slaves though, and it was a stereotype not entirely inaccurate: Christianity appealed deeply to those who felt the way the world was ordered shut them out of power, honor, and success as the world defined it. Jesus and his earliest followers proclaimed a message that the order of this world is passing away, and a new one that was already breaking through the old in spots would eventually or even soon become reality for all the world. The poor would be honored above the rich. No one would have need, as those who had resources would share them with those who had fewer, or none. The sharing represented in the Eucharistic meal, small gatherings in which people from nations traditionally in enmity and from classes of people normally shut out from the banquets of the privileged would soon be sitting down together -- rich and poor, female and male, slave and free -- to share meals as sisters and brothers with one another, would become a way of life throughout all of life for all people. Everything -- the whole world -- was already changing, and would change completely.
This was and is profoundly Good News. It's not surprising that those who most easily saw just how good this news was were the poor, outcast, and powerless. Who wants change when things are working as they are? And so came the difficult task of the prophet, to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."
But a lot fewer people are comfortable this Christmas. For some reason, people I come across in daily life -- on buses, trains, and plains, in line at the grocery store, and so on -- often start telling me their stories, or even asking for prayer, even when I'm not wearing or carrying any kind of religious symbol or book.
This year, working in retail at Guitar Center during the Christmas season, I've heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. I've heard families huddling in the store for conversation about what each of them might give up and what groceries they could do without to still get a guitar to bring joy to one musician in the family who'd sacrificed a great deal to help the family get through when one or more members lost their jobs, or the investments upon which they'd depended on for retirement dropped within weeks to a third or less of their former value.
A great many others are anxious about their future. Companies are laying off workers in great numbers, and it's not just unskilled or low-level workers. Store owners, real estate agents, travel agents, and all kinds of people who formerly thought of their living as secure and the poor as Those Other People who aren't like "us" and who are problems to solve, not people we need, are realizing how intimately and inextricably our lives are connected. A retail sales worker whose customers can't afford to buy will have to tighten her belt too. Perhaps she'll put off car repairs that aren't immediately needed. The repair shop owner may have to lay off a mechanic, reduce hours, or close shop rather than expanding her business. The banks making business loans have fewer customers as a result, and so do those who depend on bank officials' wanting new cars, a finished basement, or a more efficient home heating/insulation system (might save money in the long run, but if you don't have the cash now ...) will be hurting more as well. We're realizing increasingly as well how intimately our lives are connected with those continents away. Food prices rise not only with fuel prices, but also when arable farmland for staples shrinks due to climate change, or when a generation of those who would otherwise grow to work on farms instead die of malnutrition, of cholera, disasters, AIDS, malaria, or even diarrhea, or in civil and international wars (all of which perpetuate the poverty that causes or contributes to their rise).
So more and more of us are realizing that change -- profound change, change in the whole way we order our lives on this planet -- is Good News for all of us, that only profound change can give us the freedom to live into Jesus' exhortation to "be not anxious."
Christmas is Good News in so many ways. The ways I hear most often preached about are that a distant God actually visited humanity in the Incarnation and became knowable and accessible to humans. It's sadly and antisemitically mistaken to suggest that Judaism has ever suggested that God is distant, unforgiving, or unresponsive to humanity -- as anyone who reads the psalms, prophetic literature, or even the Pentateuch can see. Heck, check out the texts from the Hebrew bible in the lectionary for the Feast of the Incarnation. They weren't written by Christians -- indeed, Christians (and most of the earliest ones were Jews) got from from Judaism their most of their ideas about how God ordered the world at Creation and how God's redemption is reordering it. The Good News of Christianity and of the Incarnation isn't entirely new.
But here's some Good News.
Just think of how much the word 'hope' has been used of late in popular discourse, in the media, in conversation. Whatever you think about the U.S.'s most recent presidential election, I think most of us would agree that a central issue was who could provide us with hope, who could inaugurate real, profound, effective change. I know many people who feel a great deal more hope knowing that in January a U.S. president is taking office whom they believe will bring change and renew hope.
The Good News we proclaim in the Feast of the Incarnation is that something far more profound than that, than what any elected official can do, has already taken place. Luke says it by portraying Jesus as David's anointed successor from birth -- but a king whose courtiers aren't sycophants in fine robes, but outcast shepherds (and search for 'shepherds' on this site for more info about how shepherds were seen). John says it by saying the Word, the logos -- the word that philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria used for the organizing principle or force of Creation rightly ordered -- has become flesh and lives among us.
In other words, whatever your political party or expectations of government, we announce in the Feast of the Incarnation that THE leader, THE king, THE person who understands how things ought to be and what we must do for the world to experience the joy, peace, and love that characterizes God's order, has already come, and will never be deposed. The light of hope, the power to change the world, shines in the darkness, and to this day the darkness has not put it out. The darkness will never put it out.
We all know that real change can be hard, and requires real sacrifices. But in our heart of hearts, we know we need it. And that change has come among us.
The agenda of this powerful, wise, and compassionate leader is, as one might expect, too extensive to set forth entirely in a single sermon. But just knowing that this person has come and that such profound changes are coming, isn't it worth taking some time to find out what this person, these changes, and what they mean for our way of life might mean?
So if we want to know what the Incarnation we celebrate in this joyful feast -- if we want to experience more fully the joy we announce today -- we'll have to come back together again. Next week would be a good time. Perhaps as time goes on we'll want to gather more frequently for it. I hope we will. Because here is real hope, real change for our whole lives and for our whole world.
Thanks be to God!
new posts probable soon -- with your help!
Please pardon a post here that's personal news combined with (gulp!) a commercial announcement (and one that I've all but duplicated on Grace Notes at that!).
I've been to a few gatherings with large numbers of clergy lately, and have been honored and deeply encouraged in the work I do as a "paradigm planter" and public theologian by the profoundly gracious things that many have took me aside to say. And it's very clear to me now that a lot of people would love me to start adding new material once more to the lectionary blog. If you're one of those people, I've got good news:
I'm planning to do just that -- starting, I think, with the start of the church year in Advent.
I'm just trying to find ways to make it work, but I'm hitting something of a stride, and I think -- with your help -- I can do it.
I'm starting to catch my breath after the initial rush of demands from starting a job. Yes, as some of you have seen on Facebook and Twitter, I'm now working full-time for Guitar Center. Work in retail is tiring in some ways, but it hits the spot for my extroverted side, and it also uses some of my skills in listening (people talk -- verbally and with non-verbal cues -- about what they like, want, and need, and I reflect it back to them in a way that helps them recognize that), teaching (helping people make INFORMED decisions), and communication.
And I really needed the job. The economy's woes have hit everywhere, including nonprofits, and I just wasn't getting the hours I needed with IMPACT Boston to make ends meet. For example, I had no hours at all assigned for November.
Furthermore, The Episcopal Church's General Convention is coming up in July. I need to be there, for reasons that will become clear soon, and I very much want to be there, offering the kind of take on convention that I offered via The Witness magazine when it was still being published, and also raising my voice when I can and it's appropriate around important pieces of legislation. But airfare and two weeks of staying in a hotel -- even the über-cheap one I've managed to find and reserve a room for, and even when one cooks a lot of meals in a toaster oven or microwave, as I plan to do -- isn't cheap, and after paying seminary tuition for two years, I know I'm going to have to scramble hard between now and June to get through convention without an insane credit card balance. So full-time work was needed at least until I could cover convention expenses.
I also needed a job where working harder and doing better immediately generated immediate rewards. We had problems with dampness in our basement that needed remediation, and that isn't cheap -- plus I needed to make up in a hurry for the months in which I had budgeted expecting work from IMPACT that, due to no fault of theirs, didn't materialize. At Guitar Center, if I can sell more gear, then the rewards are immediate.
But I didn't want a job that had nothing to do with anything I loved, and I did want a job where I felt I was helping people like the readers of this blog in their work and in balancing work with other things that bring joy. Working with Guitar Center to connect people with what they need to make music, have their sermons, soloists, and Christmas pageants heard, and achieve excellence in liturgical sound and light seems like a pretty good way to go.
So I'm hoping that you and I -- and others that you and/or I know -- can help each other out, and that you'll pardon an announcement here that's at least in part commercial. If you're in the U.S. and you need or want anything of the sort Guitar Center or Musician's Friend carries -- or even some musical or sound-related things they don't carry -- I'm authorized to make absolutely sure that you get THE lowest price available anywhere in the country on it (indeed, if you find a cheaper price anywhere else within 30 days after purchase, you get a refund of 110% of the difference!). So the websites are great places to browse, but give me a call before you buy, as I very well might be able to do even better by you.
Thinking about giving a musical instrument, an amplifier, equipment to record music or a podcast, or even a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band for Christmas? Please feel free to give me a shout.
Need anything related to light and/or sound for your congregation? Microphones? Affordable and professional-sounding ways to record sermons, podcasts, and services? A portable P.A. you can use in the parish hall or at the church picnic? Instruments, from tamborines and djembes to guitars and keyboards? Music software? Please feel free to give me a shout.
Is there a guitar, bass, keyboard, or other piece of musical gear you've had your eye on? Please talk to me.
Whatever you need, I'll be very glad to give you a no-hassle, no-pressure, no-sales-fib way to get any of it, and to get it more cheaply than you could anywhere else -- and one of the advantages of working for a behemoth like Guitar Center is that there's a good chance I can get ahold of what you need and a 100% chance that it will be the most affordable way to get it.
Just drop me an email with your phone number, a couple of good times to call, and a bit of information about what you need (whatever you know about it -- I'll help you figure it out if you're getting a gift for someone else or aren't quite sure what gear will accomplish what you want), and we'll talk. You'd be doing me a huge favor, and I wouldn't be putting this out there if I didn't think I that I could help you out considerably in return.
And please tell your friends, colleagues, mail carriers ... I'd really like to do General Convention -- and to produce even more of the stuff you've found helpful from me -- without breaking the bank, and I think this sound/light equipment thing just might be the "tentmaking" trade that will make the other work I do sustainable.
And with that, I'll return for now to alternating catching my breath and doing some scrambling for sales this month so I can carve out extra time to start lectionary blogging again in Advent.
I do hope that you haven't found this post obnoxiously commercial, and please accept my apologies if you have. I'm just trying to figure out how to do the rather unconventional mix of things I do as a freelance theologian for God's reign, and to pay the bills at the same time. Sometimes, the territory feels strange to me, so if it is for you too, I'm grateful for your openness to potentially successful experiments and patience with the ones that go awry.
Blessings -- and thank you, as ever, for your support, encouragement, and reading on!
announcing the obvious
The good news is that I am planning to complete my Ph.D. dissertation this year, have signed contracts for two publications I'm really excited about, and am absolutely loving my work with IMPACT Boston -- teaching and coaching in assertiveness, boundary-setting, violence prevention, and self-defense in their regular classes (many of which, I'm gratified to say, take place in shelters for the homeless and for domestic violence survivors), certainly, but I'm also very glad to say that I've been working with IMPACT colleagues with experience in congregational ministry and violence prevention to craft a program called FaithIMPACT. FaithIMPACT is geared specifically toward clergy and lay leaders in communities of faith who want to be effecting change agents in the face of fear, and especially around issues of healthy relationships and interpersonal and community violence. I'll be blogging more about it, I'm sure, in the future, but for now I hope it suffices to say that I think it might make a major, concrete, and rapid difference in the lives of people and communities, and I'm working hard to help it get some initial funding and sites to offer the course.
The bad news, predictably, is that I've found that it's just not possible to cobble together a living from multiple part-time and one-off gigs, launch and nuture a few curricula (I'm still working with John deBeer on the Connect, Commit, and Covenant courses, on top of launching FaithIMPACT), complete multiple scholarly and popular writing projects, finish a Ph.D. dissertation, and stay holistically healthy without something suffering. Yes, just about anyone else could have told me so from the start, but I can be a bit slow on the uptake.
Having blogged the lectionary for over three years, I've decided that the best way I can serve myself, God's Church, and God's mission might be to take a hiatus from lectionary blogging for a bit. I do hope to return to it, and I'd love for that to be sooner rather than later, and in the meantime I'm still accepting speaking, preaching, retreat, and consulting work (my rent remains the same, after all). I hope that what I've written thus far can serve y'all well during the hiatus. The Spirit of Truth is Jesus' to give and not mine, but I can give you this:
- The "search this site" function in the left-hand sidebar. If you're preaching a sermon and the gospel text is John 9, verses something to something, enter -- using the quotation marks -- "John 9" in that search box and click the button, and you'll see everywhere I've used that phrase since this blog started in December of 2003. You can also search for key words and phrases that way, e.g., "Holy Spirit."
- There are categories of posts in the right-hand sidebar if you scroll down a bit. My posts have been categorized by liturgical season, pastoral occasion, and topic as well as biblical book. The category system isn't foolproof, as I might have categorized a post differently than you would, and occasionally I might have forgotten to assign categories to a post, but the categories should still be useful, particularly to someone putting together a small group study on a particular book or theme.
- I know many are looking for Holy Week preaching resources. You'll find my previous posts for Holy Week here.
- I will answer email to the best of my ability. Every now and then, some nasty person or group of people decides to start some kind of 'email bombing' campaign of sending me hundreds or thousands of messages a day, so if I don't respond within a reasonable time frame, feel free to remind me again if there's something pending I can help you with.
And, as ever, I appreciate your prayers, your encouragement, and your support. I hope to hit an astonishingly productive streak and be able to rejoin you soon, as I learn as much or more from interacting with y'all than you get from me.
Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
If you haven't seen it before, I encourage you to check out this SarahLaughed.net reflection on the texts for this coming Sunday, the themes of which strike me as being as relevant as they were in 2005. I'm continuing to reflect on the texts, of course, and will see whether something new emerges that's worth sharing.