This morning

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The Episcopal Church: We don’t always do liturgical dance, but when we do, we do it very very well.

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Church and the Arrow of Time

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First, watch this video that explains what the arrow of time is:

Did you watch it? There’s also a wikipedia article on it, of which I understand about 17%. 

We are compelled to travel into the future. That’s because the arrow of time dictates that as each moment passes, things change. And once these changes happen, they are never undone.



And then there’s the church. This morning I listened to a recording of the Diane Rehm show from about a month ago. She interviewed the newest Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. Marianne BuddeThere was one caller who asked the bishop to explain what the Episcopal church is, and I listened to her give the response that I probably would’ve given myself: a history lesson. (King Henry VIII, Church of England, American Revolution) Knowing where we come from is important, but I really wished that she or I could come up with an answer to that question that was more present focused: tell me about the church today


Of the many callers, there were two presumable baby boomers who expressed dis-sasatifaction with the Episcopal Church and referenced a stronger, healthier Episcopal Church from their childhood. I was born in the 80’s so I’ll just take their word for it. The church that was. *sigh*

There’s nothing about the laws of physics … that prevent [the molecules] from all getting together on the surface of the lake, jumping out of the water, sticking together into a block of ice and then gluing themselves back to the surface of the glacier again. But, interestingly, we do understand why the world doesn’t run in reverse. There’s a reason, and it’s called the arrow of time.

I don’t want to claim that all change is good. Issues still need to be thoroughly debated and teased out. Change happens and our strength doesn’t lie in resisting it, but in marrying the bloodline of our traditions with the present.   


I think the church should function like a dance partner – the leading one, which, for the sake of tradition, we’ll say is usually a dude. It’s not just a matter of reacting to the music, but leaning into and offering it our best. 


Sometimes I feel like certain churches are trying to waltz while the world is playing a swing song. “But the waltz is a great dance!” they insist. 


The mystery of faith notes the past, present and future: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. There are things that need to happen in 2012. 2011 would’ve been too soon and 2013 will be too late. (That’s not a Mayan joke.) It’s the arrow of time. 







Sermon- September 4, 2011

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Matthew 18:15-20: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Though the words I speak are mine, let the word we hear be thine.
According to developmental psychologists, it was somewhere between 2 ½ and 3 years of age that all of us began to realize that these beings around us are actually other people who have their own thoughts and feelings. I want to eat graham crackers and play with toys all the live-long day, but you don’t? What? Enter temper tantrums and hissy fits.  It’s really a remarkable step in development that some people spend the rest of their lives trying to get over.
A friend of mine pointed me toward an article written by a UCC pastor. In it, this pastor lamented this growing demographic of Americans today who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. She described them like this: They like God and connecting with the divine, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t want to be bothered with a church or community or fellowship. Or maybe waking up early on the weekends. I have friends who fall into this category and as well-meaning and thoughtful they are, but they fall short in thinking their faith is personal, private and singular.
Because my faith cannot begin and end with me. Your faith cannot begin and end with you. This faith is one of We. .. Us. .. Our. This faith is built on community and a web of relationships. But things can get ugly quickly. Messy. Sticky. Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that somewhere in us is still that toddler a little taken aback that what I want is not what everyone wants. Whenever I come across this passage in reading my Bible, I think, what great news, church conflict is nothing new to us. But then I realize, what horrible news: church conflict is nothing new to us. Our grandparents disagreed. We disagree. Our grandchildren will disagree. What Jesus gives us this morning is an imperative to rise above the conflict and focus on what’s more important: the church community.
A friend of mine who has been a priest for multiple decades now put it like this: he said he finally figured out that it’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right. It’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right.
It is hard but it is imperative. We must seek out Jesus in all those around us. The people who vote differently then me. People with foreign accents. Those part of a strange generation. Fussy babies. Interns with coffee-breath. It is when two are three are gathered together in Jesus’ name that God will be in the midst of them. Any two or three.
When a batter steps up to the plate in professional baseball, the game is usually wild and hectic. Fans, scoreboards, advertisements- there’s a lot going on. What every major and minor league baseball stadium is equipped with is a green or black screen in the back perfectly angled so in all the noisy confusion, the batter just might be able to see the white ball hurling at him at 90 miles per hour. A good community  can work like that screen, giving us something steady in the noisy confusion of life to see what’s coming at us.
Like we probably realized as toddlers, these beings around us are people. And as Jesus wants us to remember this morning, these beings are beautiful, wonderful people loved dearly by God as much as He loves us. And it is only with these people and through these people that we can truly come to know God’s love for us. And through this we can say that not only did our faith story begin long before we were born, but our faith story will continue long after we die. 

I am a Christian because…

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Rachel Held Evans asked on her blog recently for people to comment on why they were a Christian. There were some great responses, including Ernie Bufflo. Feeling inspired, I couldn’t help but add my own story to the pot.

Sunset Behind Oak Tree

photo © 2011 Philipp Antar | more info (via: Wylio)

My faith, like Rachel’s and “Ernie’s,” is tremendously a reflection of when, where and to whom I was born. I recently had to dig through church records to find the date of my baptism: March 24, 1985, not even 6 months after I was born. It was written in the records as nonchalantly as a weather report. Without knowledge or consent, adorable infant Cortney became adorable infant Christian Cortney. And there were scattered clouds with a high temperature of 55 and low of 40. 
Except this post is about why I am a Christian and there’s a big difference between an acorn and an oak tree. Like my infant baptism, I’ve come to know Christ without my consent. Through friends that filled a need I didn’t know I had, through familiar hymns  that bring me tears and through snot-nosed kids I traveled around the world to “teach,” Jesus shone through to me.
At some point a few years ago, I began to believe that God’s will for me included more joy and happiness than I could possibly create for myself. I can’t defend this idea except for the the fact that I’ve yet to be proven wrong. This doesn’t mean that tragedy is taken out of the equation, but  as inspired by the cross, it does give me the strength to weather the storm and come out the better for it.

I used to tell people that I didn’t know if my faith begat my beliefs or my beliefs begat my faith and I’m okay with that. I champion critical thought thoroughly, like my liberal arts alma mater taught me. And I think religion and faith should be examined particularly critically. But I know my faith has been formed by an illogical blend of reason and intuition. How strange- there was this guy who lived 2,000 years ago, who said a lot of  good and crazy things then acted out a lot of these good and crazy things, but then he died gruesomely, but was only dead for a sad few days because he rose again and lives on because or despite of the church. And I am a part of that church and the church is a part of me.

Because I never notice it until I see it in the rear-view mirror, but this is a life touched by a loving God.

(Does this read like the senseless rambling I feel like it turned into?)

This is not a blog post about Love Wins. Yet.

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So I’ve spent the past hour occasionally reloading the tracking information on a package UPS is delivering to my house by the end of today. It’s the Amazon.com package containing, among other things, Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins. I placed the order March 4th, the book came out March 15th, but I’m just now receiving it because of the high demand. Of course I’m neither presumptive enough to write about a book I haven’t read nor important enough to receive an advance copy of the book, so this is not a blog post about Love Wins. Yet.

That said, I like Rob Bell. I work in campus ministry so I think of Rob Bell and Nooma probably the same way my second grade teacher thought of LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow: just press play and for 15 minutes, the t.v. does my job! Also, it’s not that Rob Bell pushes the envelope or is all that radical, but he has found a way of preaching that holds the attention of my generation. (When will the Vatican send an investigator to verify this miracle?)

But you don’t

have to

take my word

for it.

Yes, Kurt, but…

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This week, my second favorite show on air right now, Glee, took on an explicitly religious theme. And it was interesting for me to see the wide range of comments on Facebook about the episode from my wide range of religious friends (and by wide range of religious friends, I mean wide range of Episcopalians). Some loved it and some hated it. I personally felt irked by it, not for the show itself, but for how accurately it represented the misguided approach to religion that many Americans take.

To begin with, there was the quote by my favorite character, Kurt Hummel, whose Dad suffers a serious heart attack and his friends reach out to him with spiritual support. Kurt initially gets defensive and asserts his atheism. Because I can’t find the exact quote online, I know it went something like “Most Christians don’t believe in gays. Or women. Or science.” It’s a point where I see where you’re coming from but I also don’t. Yes, most Christians who make the news do so as a result of being anti-gay, anti-women and anti-science. But the living, breathing Christianity I know tries to embraces all people just as God created them, albeit always a work in progress.

Who’s to blame here? Is it the media for only shining light on the radicals and therefore painting us all with the same brush? Or is it us for not more loudly proclaiming a gospel that’s so good that it transcends any box we might put it in? Or maybe the mystery of the Gospel doesn’t appeal to the shrinking attention span of the American public.

Okay, that was my “gays can be Christian, too” bit, and now I’d like to delve even deeper into what this episode of Glee highlighted: the idea that faith is something we build up when times are good to sustain us when times are bad. Oddly enough, I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.

Most Americans live such cushy, secure lives, we’ve somehow fallen into the trap of thinking that suffering is avoidable. Where and when did we come up with this notion that with enough faith we can avoid suffering? (And let’s not forget the even-worse cousin of this thought- that suffering is a punishment from God.) Jesus repeatedly told us of God’s affinity for the marginalized and vulnerable. So when the events happen in our lives that bring us to our knees (and it’s bound to happen at some point), why does this seem to cause people to turn away from God and not too God?


Maybe this is the way Hollywood always seems to portray it. But if I’m whining about Hollywood painting all Christians with the same brush, maybe I should be more specific. Glee, Kurt Hummel, yes, but…