Oh, the Deacon You’ll Be[come]

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On Friday, November 7, 2014, I was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church. A few days later, my friend Christie asked me about what it was like since she’ll be ordained in a few weeks herself. I started typing her my response and this is what I came up with:

 

It’s weird.

 

First off, many people will tell you congratulations. These people clearly have no idea what a deacon is. Of course it’s a new role that you’ve worked hard to make it to, but this role is about service to the poor and marginalized and obedience to ecclesiastical authority. “Congratulations” just feel wrong. The only way you can make sense of this entire event is through a generous, creative, and funny God and ‘congratulations’ seems to be giving you too much credit. That said, say ‘thank you’ for that card that might have a gift of cash that you plan on buying shoes with.

 

You will expect to arrive at the church and receive the attention and concern of your bishop and his staff. You won’t. They are stressed with last minute preparations and only want to make sure everyone is hitting their marks. But seeing their stress, you become that much more thankful for their work.

 

Vest carefully. Or at least hope that a kind colleague will point out that you forgot to button your alb on the inside. When clergy gather like this, the vesting room is weird. Some people know and love you. Some people size you up. Some people will give you advice on becoming clergy but be careful what you listen to. Some people’s advice says more about them than about the church.

 

During the procession, look solemn. That is, until you notice a cousin in attendance who you weren’t expecting but so happy to see. Now you can’t not smile. The service will go by in a flash. All you need to remember is to say your lines and don’t lock your knees. Be aware that heels plus a lacy alb might mean some tripping so be careful when you kneel.

 

After the service, it won’t really hit you. You won’t feel different, except for a little. There are way too many hands to shake and too much gratitude to express, but try anyway. Smile for the pictures. Breathe.

 

That evening when you check your phone, you will have 200 facebook notifications. Facebook notifications trigger a release of dopamine in your brain so this will make you giddy. That is a scientific fact.

 

On your ride home, you will be alone with your husband and he will ask you earnestly “What can I do to support your ministry?” and you’ll nearly cry because he’s already written seminary tuition checks and helped proofread papers at the last minute and spent his first wedding anniversary volunteering at a church strawberry festival and so so many other things that make him a supportive partner that you don’t deserve. “Please just remind me to laugh.” you respond to him. He then makes you laugh. These inside jokes will be your marriage glue.


You’re a deacon now. And I have to tell you, because there’s really no better word, CONGRATULATIONS!

Sermon- Easter 2b

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So I’m an entire week late in posting this, but it’s my sermon from last Sunday at the church I grew up in, Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green.

John 20:19-31

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Let me ask a question that many of us might have been asked before, but it probably wasn’t in an Episcopal Church: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Maybe it seems like a loaded question- we live in a part of the country where it’s commonly used as a pretext for an agenda or as a litmus test for judgement, but since you can trust that you’ll get none of that from me, I’ll ask again: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

The thing is, personal relationships are sticky. They’re imperfect.  Personal relationships mean that we show both our good sides: our devotion and affection, as well as our less-than-flattering sides: our vulnerabilities, jealousies, and insecurities. We give our whole self to our relationships and don’t get to pick and choose.

In this morning’s gospel, we heard about Thomas looking for a hands-on faith. Literally. After missing out on seeing the resurrected Son, he’s dubious.  He couldn’t believe the resurrection until he touched Jesus’ own wounds. His so-called doubt isn’t about any lack of faith.

Put yourself in Thomas’s shoes: In a week, you’ve seen the person you’ve devoted your life to arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, tortured, and killed in the most humiliating and degrading way possible—and then, only a few days later, you go out to grab some food for your friends while you’re together mourning your loss, and you come back to them insisting that your teacher has come back to life!

Do you think maybe that will all seem a bit implausible—particularly in an emotionally raw state? It’s less a matter of “I’m not sure that really happened” and more a matter of “my heart simply can’t come to terms with that.” And he waits. He stays, and waits for one whole week.

Rachel Held Evans is an author just a few years older than me, from Dayton, Tennessee, and she wrote her book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions. (her hometown, Dayton is famous or maybe infamous for being home to the Scopes monkey trials, where in 1925 the State of Tennessee accused school teacher John Scopes of teaching about evolution in the classroom) It’s a book about how her own faith grew from being full of unquestionable answers,  to one more open and honest. In it, she writes “Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.”

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Jesus did make himself known to Thomas. Thomas’ vulnerabilities, jealousies and insecurities did nothing to scare Jesus away. In fact, Jesus addresses the problem even before Thomas says anything to him—note that right after entering the room, before Thomas has a chance to say anything, Jesus tells him to touch his hands and side. At this point, Thomas has told just the other disciples that he wouldn’t believe until he’d seen. But Jesus addresses Thomas’s doubts even before Thomas has talked to him—and there’s no rebuke there, no judgment.

This is what our best relationships are like, right? People who know us so well that they just walk into a room and see us and instantly know what’s wrong, who love us for our quirks but aren’t afraid to take us to task when the things we value most about ourselves are getting in the way of our moving forward.

That’s the same way our personal relationship with Jesus can work. As luck would have it, God’s omniscience even includes knowing you inside and out, backwards and forwards, your past, your future, your present.

If Jesus walked into this room right now, he’d know exactly what you needed to hear and say it.

What do you think Jesus would say to you right now? would it be a word of comfort? challenge? rebuke?

—-that’s the seed of the personal relationship with Jesus – let him talk to you – too often prayer is about talking at God or using a conversation with God as a pretext for talking to ourselves or to others – what would you and Jesus talk about, if he were here?

I get a lot of comfort from those last words Jesus says in this gospel — “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” — he’s talking about every one of us here today. In a few moments when we share a meal we call the Eucharist and eat and drink the bread and wine that we somehow come to believe is Jesus. However we get there, it’s in that coming to believe that we will be blessed.

A Watched Pot Never Boils

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Often when I was younger, our wider family would meet at our house for Thanksgiving. My mom would spend that morning cleaning every surface of our home, insisting that I help. I didn’t. I felt any child had an inalienable right to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, and, conveniently, whatever west coast equivalent was aired after it was over. (Sorry, Mom.)

And then it was time for my cousins and aunts and uncles to arrive. Almost. So I’d check the driveway.

Maybe they came early.

No.

But maybe they came early, but not as early.

No.

(Any view of the driveway required going to a tv-less room.)

They always arrived eventually, probably right when they said they would, but that didn’t stop me from wearing down a path to the front window, checking for cars in the driveway.

I was excited. And hungry. Today, 5 weeks shy of my 27th birthday, my life feels like Thanksgiving mornings. Is it time now? No? Okay, how about now? No? So, what I have 5 more minutes? Longer? Seriously?

A watched pot does boil. Eventually. And then it’s boiling and you have to make sure it doesn’t overflow and make a mess which it sometimes does even if you did put the precautionary olive oil in the water. But there’s plenty to do in the meantime, waiting for that.  And [because I can’t resist over-extending a metaphor] a larger, fuller pot does take longer to boil.

But, really, life. I can smell the turkey roasting in the oven.

Still here. Sort of.

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So it’s May 22, 2011- the day that will go down in history as when 99.999% of the population was proven right… again. It would be easy to take shots at the May 21 rapture theorists. Too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. (which would actually be hard for me because I’ve never even held a gun.) Let me just leave it as yet another example that a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to be. (that’s a quote from someone whom I can’t remember who was quoting someone else whom I can’t remember)

Except this weekend did mark the end of something. Small as it may be, it was monumental for the little Dale family that I call my own. For the 25th and last year in a row, one of us has taken part in Kathy Leonard’s dance recital. My older sister Kate started as a pre-schooler and today my little sister Paige is a high school senior. Now, with all that time and training, dance has only been a fun hobby for all of us and we’ve remained above-average-at-best. None of us have ever been paid to dance in any capacity (a testament, also, to our dad’s ability to love us).

This isn’t the biggest shift a family can make. I know for a fact that it’s not even the biggest shift my family will make this year. But it’s impossible to leave it unnoticed. Kathy herself made an announcement before the recital about the milestone, and it probably dumbfounded some of the families who are just now learning the ropes of tutus, sequences, and backstage jitters.

And as a friend pointed out on facebook, it was sort of a mini-rapture. Sort-of. Very mini. I don’t know what exactly defines a real rapture, but this final recital is the end of something good to move on to something even better.

We could focus a lot of energy on the crazy behind May 21 rapture theories. It’s a mixture of crazy and arrogance that is, let’s face it, highly entertaining. The Hollywood-esque apocalypse on many people’s minds is also entertaining. But the danger for those of us with an ounce of thinking skills comes in missing the real raptures, tiny as they may be. The jubilant, celebratory endings of a bygone era. A final curtain call, if you will.

Quote Corner

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This quote comes from Story People an artistic collaboration that combines wisdom with whimsy. I’ve had this print hanging in my office for some time now, but I think this week, it’s finally made sense. 


I spent a long time trying to find my center until I looked closely one night and found it had wheels and moved easily in the slightest breeze, so now I spend less time sitting and more time sailing.