Father Rob's Blog
Sometimes people wonder why we do some of the things we do at St. Matthew’s. Why exploding pumpkins, chainsaws and blowtorches, electric pickles, and bowling balls arcing through the air towards somebody’s head? This week it’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME IN THE WORLD. Why in the world would we do that?
The simplest answer is that we are trying to follow Jesus’ example. Because while many people disagree about who Jesus is, or even if he was a good man, few if any disagree the he was a master communicator. Long before anybody ever heard of EF Hutton, when Jesus spoke, everybody listened. The simple truth is, people are still listening today. (And who was EF Hutton, anyway? I have no idea.)
It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is precisely what Jesus did by being so willing to fully enter into the worlds of the people around him. He told stories that were relevant, reflecting the culture of the day. He drew upon people’s everyday lives, showing that he was both aware of and cared about those lives. He integrated the secular and the sacred in such a way that people came to understand that loving God cannot be divorced from loving our neighbor as well.
And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do too. Even if it means playing The Most Dangerous Game in the World. Because maybe—just maybe—if we all get real clear about what The Most Dangerous Game really is—you won’t have to play it.
This a chrysalis. In it, you can see a monarch butterfly neatly tucked.
He wants out.
With enough space in the opening, the abdomen--heavy with fluid that will be used to fill the shriveled wing--begins to fall free.
And then--very quickly--he's free! I've never seen a butterfly this early in its hatch cycle. It looks strange.
He situates himself so gravity can help pull the fluid from his abdomen into his wings.
The process now almost complete, another butterfly has hatched. To my utter delight, it's been a great year for late season monarchs.
Knowing that we were going to be way back in the wilderness, this year we decided to get a camera that could withstand the elements... and any abuse to which we might subject it. That it had an underwater feature was an added bonus. It let us take pictures like this one of a beautiful fish... oh wait, the fish is gone. The camera took some getting used to. At least the water sure is beautiful.
Fortunately, not all our pictures were underwater.
At least we got some of the fish in this picture. That's the one and only bull trout I caught on this trip, by the way.
Now that's a little better. What a gorgeous fish! I was particularly struck by how beautiful the fins are.
Not half bad, but still plenty of room for improvement.
The r0cks were a lot easier. They didn't move. You can sure see why people fall in love with free stone streams, can't you? I've been dreaming about them every night...
Looks like I'm just going to have see if I can't get some better pictures next year!
When I was a kid, I thought a point would come in life where I could just hit cruise control and everything would work out. In fact, that’s probably more or less what I thought it meant to be “grown-up”. If I worked hard, kept my head down, was a good boy, and did what everyone expected, life would turn out “wrinkle free,” exactly as planned.
That has hardly been the case.
It now seems to me that at almost every stage, life throws us curve-balls that we didn’t expect, never saw coming, or didn’t fully anticipate their impact. I recently talked with a man in his tenth decade who was in the midst of the most painful experience of his life.
“The things they never told us…” I said.
“Oh,” he replied, grief-stricken and heart-broken. “There’s just no way to know what’s coming…”
And if there’s no way to know what’s coming, how in the world are we expected to be able to deal with these things?
One of life’s most counter intuitive curves of all can be the way even good things don’t always satisfy. It’s not just the tough stuff that throws us for a loop; it’s also when we experience great success, but that success doesn’t necessarily bring the promised fulfillment. What do we do when we get everything we ever wanted, and it still turns out not be enough?
These "curves" are the subject matter of this next sermon series. There is so much we don’t know, can’t know, maybe even wouldn’t want to know, about what’s coming next. Maybe you are in the midst of just such an experience now. Or maybe you know someone who is wrestling with some aspect of their life. What do we do?
Each sermon will begin with a brief skit modeled after the improvisation of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” In improvisation, actors don’t know what’s coming but they aren’t caught unprepared. And then we’re going to dive right in, looking for the Truth that speaks to the deepest questions and struggles of our hearts. I hope you’ll join us.
Tonight I had the good pleasure of having my entire family gathered for dinner. It was a great opportunity for a moral discussion. Being as the aging truck I’ve been driving did not pass inspection this week, it looks like I’m going to have bite the bullet and get another vehicle. “I’m thinking about an older Mazda Miata,” I said.
Of course neither of my daughters knew what that is, so I explained a bit about it. “It’s a two-seater, but since your mom and I only drive about two miles to work and back each day, that’s really all we need. It’s a light car with a four cylinder engine, so it’s efficient and gets great gas mileage. It’s reliable. And since the ones I’m looking at are 10 years old or older, I wouldn’t carry collision on it. It would be cheap to insure.”
“So what’s the problem?” they asked.
“Well,” I replied, “it is a sports car. I wouldn’t want people to think that the hard-earned money they so graciously and generously give to the church is being used for anything other than to do more good.” Everyone saw the problem.
I didn’t like the direction this was going. So, being that we were at Cracker Barrel (no surprise there, right?) I decided to bring our waiter into it. “Sean,” I asked, “are you a person of faith?” My daughters dropped their eyes and groaned.
“I like to think so,” he said. “Here’s why I ask. I’m a priest…” At this Sean’s eyebrows shot up, so I quickly added, “… an Episcopal priest. This is my wife and daughters.”
“Oh,” he said, relieved. “I was wondering. Hi!”
“Anyway, the truck I’ve been driving aged to the point where it didn’t pass inspection this week, so it looks like I need to get a new vehicle. I’m thinking about a Mazda Miata. Do you think that’s a problem?”
“A Miata?” he said, rolling his eyes. “Why would you get that? I mean why not an older Trans-am or a Corvette?” Clearly my kind of guy. Now we were getting somewhere.
“Well,” I said, “I wouldn’t want the people in my church to feel like their money was being used poorly. If you were in my church, how would you feel if I drove up in a sports car?”
“Heck,” he said, “my last pastor drove a Mercedes.”
I wish I could say that settled the question. And maybe it did. But if so, it too seemed to weigh against the answer for which I’d been hoping.
This is quite possibly the biggest black rate snake I have ever seen. We didn't want to keep on driving because we were afraid it would try and cross the road and end up among the flattest snakes I have ever seen. Eventually we got it to turn around and head back into the weeds so we could pass.
The road was on a farm. A little later we met the farmer. I mentioned I had seen a huge black rat snake. A concerned look came over his face. "You didn't hurt it, did you?"
"No," I assured him
"Good," he said, relieved. "That snake's been here a long time. Helps keep the mice and rat numbers down. He's just like a big pet. We call him Charlie."
"For a moment," I ventured, "I thought about catching him. We have a Vacation Bible School starting next week and it's called Weird Animals. I figured he'd qualify."
The farmer thought about that a moment. "I reckon he would," he agreed.
Did I mention that on this farm there was also a limestone spring creek? That means cold, cold water, even in summer. Limestone also helps create the perfect alkalinity levels for massive aquatic insect populations. And that means... Big Trout.
Many of us will spend at least a portion of our hard earned money to go north during the summer. We do so, at least in part, to find some cool, dry air. This week that air literally came to us. What a gift.
Through the broken clouds, light came into the garden.
Mist laid like a blanket upon it. It began to glow a soft pink.
Couples took the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor breakfast together.
I was glad when my wife joined me, bundled up in a sweatshirt and cradling a hop cup of coffee.
"I like these," she said. Me too. They are, by the way, called "Wedding Band." Fitting, don't you think?
The light continued to dance and play.
It continued to grow. So did the colors.
A gladiolus was about to bloom, and it struck me that the day was filled with promise.
The time will come, I suppose, when I won't be able to hike into remote back-country alone. But it's not here yet. So I got up early and headed up one of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi.
It would still be a while before the sun actually rose, but the dawn light began to grow.
The access point to this area was closed, so getting to the creek meant bushwhacking down a mountainside. It was worth it.
Beneath the falls there was a fish.
Going higher, a lush meadow came into view.
A stream ran through it.
"The stream runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.," Norman Maclean wrote. I listened closely.
Eventually it was time to move on.
Fish on streams like this are not big. But they are wild, and they are beautiful.
The wildflowers were too.
As were the waterfalls.
And the stones beneath them.
Though I did not see any other people the whole day, that did not mean others were not in the woods with me. Mud is interesting because it lets you know who some of those companions are.
I will not always be able to do this alone, and then eventually will not be able to do it all. So for now, I'm going to enjoy journeys like these for all they are worth. The sun was setting for the climb out. It had been over 16 hours since hiking in, but seemed like I had just left.
On our way down to North Carolina to visit my parents, Linda and I stopped at Cracker Barrel. Making polite conversation, I commented to our waitress, "It's not too busy today."
"That's OK," she replied. "We need a break. Yesterday was all the church people."
Something about the way she said "church people" let me to believe the experience wasn't particularly positive.
"Ah," I said. "All the folks stopping in after church."
"Yep," she said flatly.
Lowering my voice, I said conspiratorially, "Church people sure can be cheap, can't they?"
She dropped her gaze and shuffled her feet. A nice southern woman, it wasn't her habit to say anything bad about anyone. Softly, she said, "They sure can."
Almost whispering now, I confessed, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I'm a pastor."
"Oh," she said, warming up considerably. "You know then!"
"I do," I said. "I'm fortunate that I serve an exceptionally generous congregation, but from what I all too often see and hear, they are the exception rather than the rule."
A good tip is 20%. We left her over 200%. The best thing about having wealth is being able to share it freely with others. Generosity is by its very nature a call to extravagance.
I like deer. I really do. But they sure can be a nuisance.
My morning routine these days consists of examining the fencing for weak spots. I fix what looks like might be a problem. It hasn't yet worked.
I'd be less than truth if I said I didn't find this distressing. I very much do. But it has been said that they key in situations like this is to focus on what is left, not what is lost.
True, the garden is not all I hoped it would be. It is not what I wished it would be, or dreamed it would be in the long months of winter.
But it is still beautiful.
Though I post a fair number of sunrise pictures, sunsets are pretty rare on here. That's mostly because I'm usually home at 5AM when the sun is rising, but not at 8:30 or 9PM when the sun is setting. Tonight, however, I was, and so I thought I'd correct the situation.
Ironically, a couple of the day-lilies the deer left were the target of a large branch toppled in the big storm that blew threw a little earlier with wind gusts up to 75MPH.
Still, the post-storm light was stunning.
A hummer stopped by for one last drink before turning in for the night.
Well, how will I be found? That's the question.
One of my favorite quotes, which I've posted here before, is from G.K. Chesterton:
"Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?"
I take that to mean that one of anything, duly appreciated, is enough. This is the key to contentment, the antidote to greed. It's at the heart of gratitude, and it chokes out self-pity. Life is not fair; truth is, it's extravagant.
All that is good and well--in principle! Actually living it is something else. Take daylilies, for instance. This year, the deer have found new ways into my garden. They have eaten hundreds, probably thousands, of blooms. But everyday I still have at least one (and frankly, considerably more). Is that enough?
There is a challenge here, to be sure. When I walk through the garden first thing in the morning and see all barren stalks, now void of blooms, my first thought is to be put upon, resentful, angry. But then I look around. Here grows another daylily, which sets a great multitude of blooms.
Each one is a marvel, a source of great delight in and of itself.
Why am I allowed two?
And that's not even to mention the turtles!
I knew it was going to be a great sunrise when, even while it was still dark, faint streaks of red began to appear in the sky. I went out into the field to take some pics, and found this guy watching me.
There wasn't quite enough light to get a good shot, but you can still see he is a pretty unique animal.
Back in the yard, this little girl joined me in greeting the new day.
Then the sun rose, and it was time to go to work.
I recently had a conversation with a man who had been sober for almost 40 years. Then, through an unfortunate string of events, he sat down with a six pack of beer. "The first three tasted like sh_t," he said. "But by the last three, I just didn't give a d_mn." He did not blame the circumstances, by the way, but fully acknowledged the choice he made.
Think about that a moment. What do you next? The great temptation is to say, "I've blew it. I'm back to zero. Why bother starting all over again?" And then to keep on drinking.
We might think that a better alternative would be to minimize it. Another choice might simply be not to tell anyone else, and go back to our meetings like nothing ever happened. Except for a person who is in recovery, this isn't a choice. Honesty is everything (truth is, honesty is everything for all of us, but we often don't admit that to ourselves. That's what is called denial). Something did happen. To pretend like it didn't, to be less than truthful with those who love us and support us no matter what, is the path back into hell.
But to admit that after all these years--all these years!--we've thrown our sobriety away... Man, what humility that would take. What courage in the face of such formidable shame.
But the next day, that's exactly what he did. He was faithfully back at his meetings, starting all over again. "I'm two months sober," he said.
I told him that was one of the best stories I've ever heard. And it was.
Evening time. Let's see if we can find anything to eat tonight.
Hey, where'd mom go? Let's see if we can find her...
There she is! She's getting a drink.
That looks like a good idea. Come to think of it, we're pretty thirsty too...
Dinners over. Time to play!
OK, play times over. Now it's time for your bath.