Father Rob's Blog
Even if they have kept the faith. Even if they have fought the good fight. Even if they have lived a good life and left a legacy much cherished... The holidays are a particularly tough time for those who have lost somebody dear to them.
Or are in the process of doing so...
So it is that we ended up in a hangar at Leesburg Airport at o' dark thirty on Friday morning. With single digit temperatures, the first order of the day was to warm up the plane's engine so we could get the prop going.
Not too much longer after that we were in the air, flying over the mountains. Our passenger slept.
The ski slopes do have snow, and there were people skiing below. The incongruence between those who are enjoying life as normal, and those who are not, is always startling to me.
The mountains pulled the clouds down, the heavens giving evidence of unrest.
We arrived at safely at our destination, and then later, safely home. Our passenger had a good visit.
I share this only to say how much we need other. Really, it's the only way any of us get through. And even if we are in one of those rare and beautiful moments in life that bring so much joy that they inoculate us from any sense of need, there is someone who needs us.
Whoever your people are, whatever your tribe, gather with them this holiday season. Even if you've been away for a very long time, there has never been a better occasion to come home.
“Do you still believe in God?”
That was the question Fr. Dick Bowman asked me privately when I was nearing the end of the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. I was young then—full of fire and certainty and not a little arrogance, though I did not yet recognize it as such. I did not understand the question.
Today, on the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I do. The day was chosen to coincide with the celebration of the life of St. Andrew the Fisherman on Nov 30. I expect the reason is obvious. But had I known then what I know now, I might’ve chosen St. Thomas the Doubter, celebrated Dec 21st.
I do still believe. And I hope that at least little bit of the fire still burns in my belly; if it ever goes out or even grows dim, it’s probably time to hang up my collar. But these days certainty looks a lot more like a sin than a virtue, breeding self-righteousness, and I do my best to repent of it.
And arrogance… For reasons I don’t fully understand, it is so hard to recognize let alone root out. I can only say that life, and maybe even God, have a way of humbling us when humility is needed. There has been no escaping it. The truth is, though I will always regret the pain this has caused others, there are few things for which I am more grateful.
It is in our nature as human beings to want to know our creator. Certainly this pertains to God, or whatever it is that has brought us all into being. But more immediately, I think, it pertains to our parents. Who are these mysterious people who chose to give us birth?
With our parents, we are fortunate that some of the answer we are looking for can often be found directly. Most of us get to spend at least some time with our parents. We can talk with our mom and dad, or if they are gone, with others who knew them. But time is limited, and parents frequently would rather hear more about their kids than talk about themselves. So, perhaps like with the question of God, much of what we would know about our parents must be put together through a sort of sleuthing, of looking for clues and then piecing them together in a story that seems to fit.
In regard to our fathers, I have been thinking that one of the places we find such clues is in a man’s garage. This thought has come to me as I have had the opportunity to visit my parents this week. In the evenings, after my parents have gone to bed, I stand in my dad’s garage and feel his presence.
Hanging above his work bench is a poem. It writes of the lunar landing, in which my dad played a part. It also speaks of Christmas. I mostly know my dad as a man of faith, but many of the things in the garage are a reminder that by education, career, and interest, he is also very much a man of science.
Like this poem, his life stands as an eloquent blending of the two.
In space the lonely missile spins its way,
Beyond the earth’s soft breathing atmosphere
Beyond the note of song the wind’s wild play
The cumulus, the rain’s recurrent tear
Throughout the sky of orbits hung by One
Who saw his handiwork and called it good
There moves this metal deed which man has done
I tremble in the name of brotherhood
For I remember how another night
A new star pierced the heavens from above
Not in the name of power or of might
But in the name of His eternal love
May satellite and star be reconciled
And bring us nearer the waiting child.
--Christie Lund Coles
I should know the answer to this.
I grew up around cows. From our front yard in Monroeville, PA, we could see cattle from Kuehn's Dairy grazing on a hill side across the valley. One of the ways I paid for college was by working at Turner's Dairy, and of course there were lots of cows there as well.
So I really should know the answer to this question, and frankly it embarrasses me that I don't: Are the cows above dangerous?
Here's my problem. I fish a little stream that runs through the pasture where these cows graze. When they see me, several of them come running for me. I don't think they'd actually hurt me. They probably just want to be fed. But I'd rather not discover I'm wrong on this.
Take this cow for instance. It's a young bull. He made a bee line fore me as soon as he saw me. If I stand my ground (with an electric fence between us) he acts afraid. But the second I turn my back, he charges.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the best pool on the stream is just over a hill side that is just at the far edge of this picture. There is no fence around it. It definitely has some nice fish in it.
So... continue to avoid these cows, or just fish right through them?
Friday was such a beautiful day I decided to head out and do some evening fishing. Do you see who was waiting for me when I got to the stream? Maybe enlarging the pic a bit will help.
Unfortunately, because I brought a camera that is good for underwater close-ups of fish and not for pictures of wildlife further away, this is not a very good shot. It does not even begin to capture how adorable that little ball of fuzz with two coal-black eyes staring at me was. I wish you could have seen it.
There were two fledgling owls when I first came upon this pool, but when I tried to get a bit closer one flew away. This was the best I could do. As soon as I took another step closer, this one too flew up into a tree.
Since we most commonly see barred owls, I assumed that's what this was. I didn't stop to think about how big even this baby bird was. But then I heard some commotion high up in a tree to my left and saw one of its parents.
Sadly, this is another crop of a pic that wasn't that good to begin with. But do you see the large tufts on the top of that owl's head? It's a great horned owl--the first one I have ever seen in the wild.
And because I know you are wondering--yes, I did catch come fish.
To me, wellness speaks to all aspects of one's well-being. Eating smart, exercising, and maintaining a healthy spiritual life contribute to one's well-being and confidence. I believe this begins when we are children.
Last February, we wanted to try something new at St. Matt’s. The idea was to show kids how to embrace a healthy lifestyle. We wanted to reach out to the community and show that St. Matthew's cares about their overall wellness. And, we wanted it to be fun. So, Children's Wellness Day was born!
Last year was a huge success. Over 200 children came to participate in exercise classes, play games, and run through the 30-foot obstacle course. Parents were able to sit back and watch their kids have fun while they learned about health and wellness. Many of the attendees had never been in our church before, but they left that day with a smile on their faces.
It was such a great day … we're doing it again!
This Saturday, we are going to have lots of fun activities for kids like yoga, Zumba, a 30-foot obstacle course, jump rope, and an inflatable basketball court. Additionally, LAJ Foods will be here with their delicious plant-based soups, Drama Kids of Loudoun County and Kids First Swim School will be here to talk with parents too.
Join us as we get out of the house and get active!
Please bring a non-perishable food item to help support our local Backpack Buddies program.
Thank you for your support and we'll see you Saturday.
Whether you are a believer in God or not, have you ever at some point in your life prayed for something? Have you had the experience in a moment—any moment, no matter how fleeting, or whether you continued to believe in such a moment or not—that God granted your prayer? For many of us, this creates one of the biggest God-problems of all. Here’s what I mean.
Recently my wife had a tooth problem. I care about my wife, and personally I believe God cares about her too. So I prayed the problem would resolve itself without major complications. Now let’s just suppose that all of a sudden all of Linda’s pain went away and her tooth was a good as new with no further dental attention or procedures needed. Great, right?
But… what kind of God answers that prayer, which in the grand scheme of thing is relatively minor, and lets a starving child die? How would such a Being fit any of our definitions of good? I benefit. I gain. I receive. But what of the person whose plight is so much worse than mine who does not? It is problems like this that lead JB Phillips to write,
Many men and women today are living, often with inner dissatisfaction, without any faith in God at all. This is not because they are particularly wicked or selfish or, as the old-fashioned would say, “godless,” but because they have not found with their adult minds a God big enough to “account for” life, big enough to “fit in with” the new scientific age, big enough to command their highest admiration and respect, and consequently their willing co-operation.
Is there a way out of problems like these? Can the issues behind them really be resolved with any kind of integrity and intellectual honesty?
That's what we are asking in our current sermon series at St. Matt's. And this week we ask one of the toughest questions of all. Where is God in the Holocaust, the killing fields, the genocides, the terrorism and religious violence of our age?
Oh, and by the way: my wife needed a root canal...
As you might expect of a priest, I spent several years formally studying the doctrine of God from a wide variety of philosophical, anthropological, sociological, psychological, and religious perspectives. I was pretty young at the time, and I think one of the follies of youth can be a certain hubris. At the end of my studies, I believed I had God pretty well figured out.
But there was... a problem.
The God I thought I had figured out didn’t really hold up.
Some of my beliefs began to feel false. Doubts grew. That’s not an easy place to be if you are a priest.
At the time I only saw two choices: believe what I had been told was true, or become an unbeliever. Neither felt right, and so I did what I think most of us do in these situations: I ignored my discomfort and the issues behind it.
That’s not a workable long-term strategy, of course. With time I realized I was going to have to think more deeply about God. Initially, this felt like a betrayal. I was ashamed of myself for not having the strength and courage to uphold what I thought I had promised to uphold. My younger self would not trust my older self, and would think I have gone far astray. That has been something of a hard pill to swallow.
But the simple truth is: I was wrong. Sometimes terribly wrong, and terribly wrong about very important things. I expect I still am. But here's the thing. At this stage in life, as much as I appreciate my youthful passion, I do not think I would fully trust anyone my age who has not come to a similar place on at least some subject or treasured belief.
There is one thing has not changed. In fact, this belief has only grown. It is the belief that there is no question more important than the question of God, and in particular of who God is. Everything I have ever studied, seen, heard, and experienced affirms this.
And so I invite you to join me at St. Matt's on a journey. For the next five weekends in Lent, we'll explore together a more accurate (and life-giving) knowledge of the God who Is. This isn't an exercise in dogmatism, but discovery. I do hope you'll come along!
Learning to spin deer hair is the next skill on my fly-tying list. There is something about even this stage that makes me happy just to look at it.
The next stage is shaping the head with a razor blade. It's fun letting loose one's inner sculptor.
There's still plenty of room for improvement, but it ends up looking something like this.
It does make a bit of a mess.
When my personal world gets particularly chaotic, I used to do puzzles. To be able to bring order to even a small piece of the universe was somehow calming. These days I tie flies. Learning how to tie wool-headed articulated streamers has been most enjoyable. This guy is in need of a hair cut.
Clipping away, it starts to take shape.
Now all that is left is to fish these in hopes that somebody like this will find them tasty.
Despite the snow, the foxes are out and about. Unfortunately, this one seems to have sustained a wound on his right front leg.
This one looks a little healthier.
At the suet feeder, things we're heating up. A squirrel wanted up the tree. The pileated woodpecker wanted its space.
The cat, uninterested in anything except having her belly rubbed, lolled.
With school canceled for the week, one might have thought my wife would sleep in. She decided, however, that the sunrise was worth getting up for. Just in case you missed it, here's another pic. Perhaps the prettiest sunrise I've seen in a long time.
In other news, the snow is starting to melt.
That's good because the snowdrifts on the roof looked like high mountains, their peaks glistening in the sun.
The hummers are long gone, so it would probably also make sense to take down the feeders.
I think all the snow and ice reflected the colors of the sunrise and made it even more spectacular than usual.
The birds arriving for their morning breakfast picked up the light as well. Take a few thousand pictures, and perhaps one gets a good one every now and again. This morning I got lucky--I think I did.
It always seems strange to me that a bird with so much red on its head is called a red-bellied woodpecker, but it is.
As it looked down for a sunflower seed, its feathers caught the rising sun just right, and its head was set ablaze. Seeing things like those, one cannot help but feel he is lucky to be alive.
In between what hours of shoveling yesterday, I took a few pics of birds. There were the usual blue jays, the crest on their head often flattened by the wind.
I take too many pictures of them, I suppose, but it always seems like there is a reason to take another one.
A wren came too. Love the colors, the intricacy of the feather patterns.
And there were cardinals, like this guy with icy eyebrows and an icy beard.
Cedar Waxwing didn't come to the deck, but ate fruit from the trees. Unfortunately, they too far away for a good picture, but you can still get a sense of how pretty they are.
Meanwhile, Linda relaxed by the fire with a good book and a hot cup of tea.
It’s Friday morning, 6AM. Like every Friday morning, the Friday Flash is sent.
But unlike every other Friday, a snow storm of epic proportions is predicted to begin today. Already words like “historic,” “colossal,” and “monster” are being used to describe it. Will it live up to its hype? We’ll soon find out.
At this point, we think it prudent to cancel the Saturday night service and reschedule the Annual Meeting to February 7. Oh, and did I mention we’ve also scheduled the 2016 CHILI COOK-OFF on that day as well? You will know doubt want to put that on your calendar right now.
But back to this weekend. At 5PM on Saturday, a decision regarding Sunday services will be posted to our website and Facebook page. If we can hold services (or even just a single service at 11AM) without compromising people’s safety, we will do so. But in that case, we will also stream the service for those who do not in any way feel comfortable venturing forth.
In my experience, challenging circumstances bring out the best in churches. That has certainly always been the case at St. Matt, and you can be sure we’ll be out in the community, helping where help is needed. Your staff has developed an extensive list of people who live alone or who otherwise may need a hand, and we’ll be calling them on Saturday night. Based on what we learn from those calls, teams will be going forth as soon as possible to dig people out who would otherwise be stranded. If you can think of any one in particular you’d like us to call, please email Miriam at Miriam@stmtts.org.
Please do remember those who live alone. Events like this can be isolating, and hence very scary.
For those fortunate enough to have loved ones around, make the most of what will no doubt be a chance to create memories that will perhaps never be forgotten. Some of my best memories, both from childhood and from my own family, were shaped in snowstorms. Don’t fight the opportunity to slow down and simply enjoy being together.
May God keep all of you safe and warm, Rob+
The world saw him as a marching protest leader, but Martin Luther King, Jr., was first and foremost a preacher. “In the quiet recesses of my heart,” he once remarked, “I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.” Here's a few quotes from his sermon "Loving Your Enemies," preached Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on November 17, 1957.
In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing [your]self.
The second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy...
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it ... The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.
The final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies” is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals... if they succumb to the temptation of using violence (in our age it would be shame, a particular form of violence--Rob) in their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that.
All this is why Dr. King says that following Jesus "is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies." Clearly, Dr. King was not a timid man.
Leader: To the God whose love is with us all, we pray.
People: Help us to find the spiritual life we long for but do not always have.
Leader: We pray for those who are mean, and for those who drink all the time
People: Help them, and all of us, to be heroes, beating the demons that plague us, and choosing our better ourselves.
Leader: We pray for the church, recognizing our failure to capture people’s interest and imagination
People: Create in us such a robust life that the natural response is to dance with great joy, freely and without reserve
Leader: We pray for our world, a planet that you made so very good in all its great diversity
People: May we find the grace and courage not only to turn and face the strange, but to love those who are different from us.
Leader: We pray for all those who feel they have been put where things are hollow.
People: Deliver us all from living in such a way for twenty years that we die for fifty more.
Leader: We pray for all those who are under pressure, who feel the pressure “pushing down on me”, especially those on our prayer list.
People: We pray that tomorrow would take them higher, higher into the comfort and healing of Love.
Leader: We pray for our leaders, that they would be wise in dealing with the fame their position brings them
People: Deliver from being seduced by their status, and doing things with short term benefits that carry higher long term costs.
All: Though “love” is an old fashioned word, may it dare us anew to change our way of caring that we might care more deeply than we ever have people. As those who follow in the way of Jesus we pray, Amen.
One of the thing that unites humans at their best—whether religious or not—is that we are all committed to recognizing and affirming truth wherever we find it. That is why a truly reasonable atheist is willing to learn from a Christian. They recognize that while we may get a great many things wrong, at least occasionally we get some things right, and at least some of those things are pretty darn important.
But it is also why (in my opinion) a truly christian Christian is willing to learn from people who believe very differently than we do, or who may not “believe” at all. To my mind, there is no better example of this than Jesus. He saw truth in nature, agriculture, the events of the day, the economy, even in the practices of the nation of Rome (upon hearing a high-level Roman soldier describe the concept of authority, Jesus exclaims, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel. the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.”) I think one of the things that drew people to Jesus was the he was a master at seeing God’s truth all around him.
And that is why, though it may puzzle some, we are incorporating the music of David Bowie into our 9:30 service this Sunday morning. It is not gimmick or glitz or an attempt to entertain. It is, quite frankly, that we believe that he has some important things to say—things that, whether intended or not, can help us be better Christians. And certainly help us be better human beings.
Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people? ... Some moment happens in your life that makes you say Yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have it happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love.
Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you try to turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to Business as Usual, it may lose you the whole ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul. --Frederick Buechner