News following Hurricane Irma

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I hope far all of you things are beginning to get back to normal following Hurricane Irma. If not - if you are in any need dealing with the effects of the storm - please contact the church office as soon as you can and let us know. We are ready to help.

Some good news - St. Michael's is intact and apparently undamaged by the storm. Many thanks to Mike Johnson, our Junior Warden, Jane Riner, our Altar Guild chair, and Judy Naylor Johnson, our Parish Administrator, for their tireless work securing the property prior to Irma's arrival. Thanks also to Nancy Relyea, our sexton, for her mighty efforts cleaning up afterwards on Tuesday. Our Cub Scouts are coming Thursday night to clear away the sandbags, and by Sunday, things should look pretty much as they did beforehand. We have some good folks here, but y'all already know that.

The Revival at Honey Creek with our Presiding Bishop has been postponed until Saturday, 20 January 2018. Honey Creek was hit hard, but we are delighted that no buildings were badly damaged. We lost some shingles, and the dock did suffer a little, but nothing that cannot be repaired. We will still charter a bus, and if you made a reservation, it is secure. We will have the bus roster available on Sunday for you either to confirm that you will still be going or to release your seat for someone else. Look for it in the back of the church this Sunday. Since the revival has been delayed, we will follow our normal Sunday schedule this week - services at 8:00 and 10:30, with Rector's Forum and Lectionary Class in between. 

As of this writing, it appears only one church property in the diocese suffered any real damage. Holy Nativity, St. Simon's has three trees down on the church and rectory. One of those is fairly large, and they haven't yet been able to remove it safely, but it has damaged the roof of the nave, directly over the organ. Glynn County was hit hard overall, and it will take them many months to recover fully from all the damage. If you'd like to make a contribution to Holy Nativity, you can do so this Sunday.

In the meantime, there are still countless individuals and families whose lives have been totally disrupted by the recent storms. What can we do to help? First off, we continue to pray for them and for those assisting them. Prayer is a powerful way for us to enter into God's healing and restoring work in the world. Pray for their safety and recovery; pray for God to move others to generosity and willingness to help; pray for a clear revelation of God's presence with all those in danger or sorrow.

Other than prayer, there are many ways to be involved. Perhaps you loaded up on canned goods or other items in anticipation of days without power or water in your own house. Bring some of that surplus to the I AM Food Pantry. Many of our clients are among the hardest hit by and the least able to deal with the storm. Check on your neighbors nearby and see if they need help with clean up or debris removal. Even if they don't, invite them over for dinner one evening; a friendly welcome and good fellowship go a long way to healing the anxiety and uncertainty this kind of event can bring. Make a donation to a reputable charity - Episcopal Relief and Development is an excellent choice, or make an extra contribution to St. Michael's designated for storm relief.

Lastly, and just as importantly as any of these others, take stock of what you have in your life now and give thanks to God for all of it. Gratitude is an incredibly potent pathway to serenity and joy, and in these major crises, we cannot get enough of either of those.

Hurricane Harvey

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As of this writing, Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on the Texas coast, about 180 miles southwest of Galveston. It is currently a Category 2 storm, expected to strengthen to Category 3 by landfall. Because of the steering currents, what happens after that is at this point unknown. The storm might move back over the Gulf before traveling north and making landfall again, or it may stall out over land for up to a week. Current estimates put rainfall in some areas at over 30". By all accounts, Harvey is likely to be one of the worst and most destructive storms in a long, long time. Areas hit directly are likely to be uninhabitable for weeks or even months to come.

I bid your prayers for all those in the path of the storm and for all those who will labor to help protect others affected by Harvey. I commend to you this prayer by Fr. James Martin, SJ: 

God of the Universe, at the dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. You created the oceans and rivers, and all that dwell within them, and at your word the wind and the waves were born. The seasons follow your plan, and the tides rise and fall on your command. In both calm and storm, you are with us. 

On the Sea of Galilee, even when the disciples began to fear, Jesus showed that he was Lord over the waters by rebuking the storms, so that all would know that even the wind and the waves obey him. 

Creator God, we ask you to calm the wind and the waves of  Hurricane Harvey, and spare those in its path from harm. Help those who are in its way to reach safety. Open our hearts in generosity to all who need help in the coming days. In all things and in all times, help us to remember that even when life seems dark and stormy, you are in the boat with us, guiding us to safety. Amen.

In addition to offering our prayers, we can help in other ways. The single most effective response any of us can make is to send money to reputable institutions that can help. The American Red Cross is certainly one of those; I also wholeheartedly recommend the Episcopal Church's organization for such emergencies, Episcopal Relief and Development. Their website is here: http://www.episcopalrelief.org.

In any case, please remember the people of the Texas Gulf Coast in your prayers over the coming days.

Clergy respond to Charlottesville

Episcopal bishops and other clergy of Virginia in Charlottesville

Episcopal bishops and other clergy of Virginia in Charlottesville

A Statement on the Events in Charlottesville

We watched with horror the events of the weekend unfold in Charlottesville. As White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and others with similar ideologies committed murder and other atrocities, many of those did so while at the same time professing to be Christians. As clergy in the Episcopal Church, we proclaim clearly and with certainty that they do not represent Christ or Christianity. 

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Over the last few days we saw in Charlottesville our failure to follow those commandments. As the clergy of Episcopal Churches of Savannah, we re-affirm our desire to follow the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. In so doing, we are clear in our conviction that the overt racism, raw hatred, and horrific violence that we saw this weekend is contrary to all that he taught and did. 

We pray for Heather Heyer and her family, for Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, and all those physically or spiritually harmed. We repent of our own complicity in the structures of our society that allow or support these behaviors and for our silence when we have lacked the will or courage to speak out. We pray also, as Jesus taught us, for the perpetrators, for James Fields, and for all those wielding the words and weapons of hatred and bigotry. We pray God’s blessing on them, and pray for their own repentance.

White Supremacy, bigotry, racism are all sins, egregious ones. They deny the humanity of those at whom they are directed and destroy the humanity of those who follow these ideologies. They are contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and they grieve the heart of God. While we recognize these attitudes and actions as evil, we also recognize those who displayed them this weekend are, even so, created in the image of God and are in the same need of repentance and redemption as we are.

We commit ourselves again to the vows we made in our baptism and in our ordination - to seek and serve Christ in all places, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by Word and Example and the Good News of God in Christ. We call upon all the faithful likewise to commit themselves to prayer and repentance for the things that have been done and for those things that we have left undone.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

The Rt. Rev. Scott A. Benhase
Bishop of Georgia

The Very Rev. Dr. William Willoughby III
The Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah

The Rev. Charles Todd
The Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah

The Rev. Michael S. White, Christ Church, Savannah
The Rev. Liam G. Collins, Christ Church, Savannah
The Rev. Helen S. White, Christ Church, Savannah

The Rev. Kelly Steele
Church of the Epiphany, Savannah

The Rev. Hunt Priest
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. James Parker
St. George's Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. Denise M. Ronn, Ph.D. 
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Hinesville

The Rev. June Johnson
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Tybee Island

The Rev. R. Kevin Kelly
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. Lauren Flowers Byrd
St. Francis of the Islands, Savannah

The Rev. Guillermo A. Arboleda
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. David Rose
St. Luke’s, Rincon

The Rev. Joshua Varner
Missioner for Youth, Diocese of Georgia

Why I started wearing that funny little hat

Priest's zucchetto 

Priest's zucchetto 

If you've been around S Michael's on a Sunday or Wednesday the last couple of weeks, you probably noticed that i have acquired some new headwear. I thought i'd take a moment to tell you what it is, and why i decided to start wearing one. 

First off, let's deal with what it's called. It's not a beanie or a skullcap (okay, yes it is a skullcap, but in the Church we like cool-sounding names in other languages, so we don't call it that); it is also not a yarmulke (because i'm not Jewish). It is properly called a pileolus, but it's more commonly known by its nickname, a zucchetto, (which sort of rhymes with the name of the the wood carver in Pinocchio.) Zucchetto comes from the Italian word which means gourd and, by extension, the head. So despite what i said above, it really can be called a skullcap. So, what exactly is a zucchetto, and why do clerics wear them?

Dating back to around the fifth or sixth century, when one was received into the clerical order, a spot was shaved on the top of his head. This spot (and the rite that accompanied it) is called tonsure. Before being assumed by the clergy, it was originally a mark of slavery. Over time, the tonsure became associated with the vows of the the monk or priest. It was a sign of the obligation of humility and obedience the new cleric was taking on. In those days, monasteries, cathedrals, and even parish churches were often quite cold and drafty and to prevent the newly tonsured clerics from losing too much heat through their newly shorn pates, they developed a small, semicircular hat to cover them. Thus was born the zucchetto. As time passed, the zucchetto itself became a sign of the vows the monks and priests had taken. To wear one meant that you were under vows, under orders.

As the centuries passed, and customs changed, the tonsure almost entirely disappeared. With it, for most, went the zucchetto. In the Church today, they are mostly associated with the pope and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Relatively few parish priests wear them any more. Recently (and i mean "recently" in church times, not as in secular fashion trends) we've seen considerable changes among clergy vestments, with more and more room being given for "creativity" (i use that term lightly) and individual expression. Whereas for centuries, street dress for priests was black (be it cassock, frock coat, or suit and shirt) and liturgical vestments adhered to specific seasonal colors and religious adornment only, it is quite common now to see just about anything worked into a priest's stole or chasuble, and i won't even begin to address the liberties we now take with clerical shirts and collars. I will limit myself to only one example of a modern priest's stole, and i will leave it to your own imagination how this fits with any season or feast of the Church.

Yes - that is the tardis from Dr. Who.

Yes - that is the tardis from Dr. Who.

As this trend towards free expression has gained momentum, many of the traditional ideas about clergy dress and customs are now looked upon as quaint or silly. People think of the older expressions of clergy dress and practices as "dressing up" or "playing church." Lately i've found myself wondering what's wrong with either of those. When we "dress up" and "play," we allow our imaginations to lead us out of the ordinary and the understood and into the mystical and mysterious. Imagination leads us to belief in that which is unseen and perhaps to touch for a moment  that which cannot be fully grasped. The most powerful and most normative expression of our corporate worship, the Eucharist, is an imaginative re-entry into the events of the Jesus' Last Supper. Is that not the very height of "playing church"?

For me, though, the decision to wear a zucchetto reaches beyond even that. It is a visible and tangible reminder that i took vows when i was ordained, that i am a person under orders. It is a reminder that i am called to obedience, humility, and prayer, not just when i want to be or when i "feel like it" but as my obligation, my duty in the service of Christ and the Church. We are at a time in our culture when self-expression is running rampant, when the norms and expectations of decency, kindness, and respect are being cast aside in favor of viciousness, anger, and ridicule. We have come to openly admire power and egocentric greed instead of recognizing them for their addictive and destructive natures. At this moment, i can think of nothing more countercultural than to turn to a centuries-old sign of servitude and simplicity. I think it will be good for my soul. 

And for those who think it is just silly, being thought of that way is probably also good for me, and besides, it's certainly no sillier than what else is out there. I'll take a zucchetto over a tardis any day.

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

This Sunday, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Towards the front of The Book of Common Prayer is located The Calendar of the Church Year; in it are lists of all the Feast Days of the Church. Only three named feasts take precedence over Sunday celebrations: The Feasts of The Holy Name of Jesus, The Presentation in the Temple, and The Transfiguration. This feast marks that moment (which appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in the life of Jesus when he took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain. There, Jesus' appearance is changed - transfigured - and his clothes become blindingly white. Moses and Elijah appear next to him, and a voice from heaven names Jesus as "Son" and "Chosen."

I have always loved icons of the Transfiguration, especially those, like the one above, where to demonstrate the power of this experience the iconographers show the disciples literally being knocked out of their shoes. Here is a detail of the above:

I have to confess one part of my attraction to these images is that they remind of a different sort of artwork from my childhood...

... and another that i discovered some years later...

You could argue that Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes aren't quite on the same plane spiritually as centuries old Greek icons, but I would say that's just because you haven't spent enough time with them. That could be the subject of a later post. What is certain is that in all three, we see the figures involved being knocked out of their shoes. I do believe these other two images help us grasp the immense power being portrayed, something that is often easy to miss in the elevated style of icons.

Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up this mountain, not really knowing what to expect. Whatever they had in mind, i doubt it came close to what actually happened. Throughout Holy Scripture and elsewhere, mountains are often seen as places where the space between God and humankind is very thin indeed. The Transfiguration is a vivd and raw encounter between human and The Divine; it's little wonder the three disciples are terrified.

The readings this Sunday draw our attention to those moments where we come into conscious contact with the Living God; the Feast of the Transfiguration provides us an opportunity to examine our own lives for those same moments when we know God is present, and it is a reminder that we experience one of those moments every time we draw near to the altar of God, when we are fed with the Body of Christ, and we drink from the Cup of Salvation. It is easy to come to church with our thoughts occupied by and our attention turned to something - anything - other than God. My hope is that perhaps this Sunday we might be more mindful of the power of the presence of God. Who knows - we might even get knocked out of our shoes.

What's new at St. Michael & All Angels

For some time it has bothered me slightly that, with the exception of the wooden cross hanging over the coffee pot and the small photograph our our bishop near (of all places) the scullery door, if you found yourself in Patton Hall, you would really have no idea that you were in a church building. In most homes, the photos and other artwork on the walls tell you a great deal about the person or people who live there. You can often see the history of their lives laid out; you can tell something about their interests or about what is important to them. As i have asked some of you personally, what does what hangs on the walls of our church buildings say about us? What stories do those items tell about St. Michael's?

Don't get me wrong - i'm very glad we have some blank walls. Too much of even a good thing is too much, and it's helpful to have wall space that can be used for newsprint from time to time or other needs. But i have really wanted something in that space that says something about who we are and what we believe. I have learned, though, about things like this that often it's best to just wait and be patient, and a solution will present itself in time. That time has come.

St. Michael and All Angels has very recently been given two incredibly lovely gifts by folks with longstanding attachments to our parish. The first was a set of 22 icons given to us by the Rev'd Canon Bob Carter. Most of them depict scenes from the life of Jesus or are images of the four Evangelists. Thanks to the labor and skills of Judy Naylor Johnson, our Parish Administrator, those icons now adorn the walls of Patton Hall.

Last weekend, i returned home from a wedding in Atlanta to learn that Louise Shipps had given us one of her own creations, a mixed media representation of St. Michael the Archangel, our patron. This one will not go in Patton Hall; i am hoping we find the right place in the sanctuary or nave of St. Michael's for it. It is rather large and quite striking. (If you were here last Sunday, you saw it in church.)

I'm enormously grateful to both Fr. Carter and Louise for their generosity, grateful that St. Michael's is important enough to them for them to want to give these gifts to us. I hope the next time you're near the church with some time on your hands that you'll drop by and take a look. Be warned, though, especially if it's an I AM pantry day, we may put you to work while you're here.

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

This Saturday, July 22, is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen (Magdalene), one of the most important figures (other than Jesus) to appear in the Gospels. Not much is actually known about her at all, though, and in some ways the Gospel accounts are not much help. There may be as many as seven different women named Mary in our four Gospel narratives; there may only be three or four. Scholars and others argue over whether Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany are the same person and, if so, is that Mary the same "sinner" Luke describes as the woman who washes the feet of Jesus. This last idea has been helped along over one school of thought around the origin of the name "Magdalen" and also by a sermon given by Pope Gregory 1 in the 6th century. (From this homily arose the notion of the Seven Deadly Sins, taken from the seven demons Jesus cast out of Magdalen.) There are other, wilder ideas about Mary Magdalen that have persisted throughout the ages, most recently in novels by Dan Brown.

Regardless of any of these ideas or traditions, there are some things about Mary Magdalen that we do know. She is mentioned more times than nearly any other of Jesus' disciples, Peter being the most notable exception. She was present with Jesus at multiple times throughout his earthly ministry. Most importantly, she was present at both his crucifixion and his tomb after the resurrection. John tells us the most poignant of these stories - after Peter and John have returned home from the empty tomb, Mary stays and stands there, weeping for her dear Lord. Jesus then appears and calls her by name. Mary then rushes with joy to tell the other disciples, "I have seen the Lord." (The photo above depicts this moment; it comes from the 12th century illuminated manuscript "The St. Alban's Psalter.")

Mary Magdalen is in many ways my favorite saint, at least among the named saints of the Church. (There are two unnamed characters in the Gospels for whom i have an even greater fondness, but they are a subject for another time.) She comes to Jesus out of life marked with difficulty and suffering, and her encounters with him transform her into perhaps the bravest and most faithful of his disciples. When the others flee at his arrest and dare not draw near the cross, Mary is there. When they leave the empty silent and not sure what to believe, she remains, and in her grief and loss, Jesus comes to her and reminds her that she is known to him, that she belongs to him, and he sends her to be the first witness of his resurrection. 

For many in Christianity, this Saturday will pass with no mention or thought of Mary Magdalen, but we would do well to remember her and to give thanks for her faith and witness to our Lord.

VBS 2017

Many thanks to everyone who helped with and participated in VBS this year. We tried a "New Thing" this year, meeting in the evenings instead of the mornings and inviting people of all ages to take part. It was a wonderful week, with yummy food, meaningful fellowship, fun songs, and quiet worship. Most of all, it was just fun to be with one another, to worship and pray and reflect upon what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

We had such a good time with each other, it may be that this week could be a model for something we do the rest of the year. Maybe once a month (to start) we could meet for dinner, conversation, singing, and worship - something very relaxed and informal, with time to be together as fellow followers of Jesus and to learn more about what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

For more pictures of the week, check out our Facebook group here.

Violence downtown: How do we respond?

The Fourth of July brought terrible violence to downtown Savannah this year, violence that killed three people, injured several others, and brought fear and grief to many. While i didn't know him personally, Scott Waldrup, the general manager at The Grey, was a close friend of some of my close friends. They are saddened and angry, and - like we all are in similar circumstances - looking for answers and solutions to the problems that led to Scott's death.

There will be no shortage of suggestions there, I suspect. Some will suggest tougher and more restrictive gun control laws, others more police officers or security personnel. Still others will suggest that more "good guys" carry guns with them at all times or that we should arrest everyone known to have any connection to gangs and hand down longer prison sentences. These are just a few that come readily to mind; they are the ones we seem to hear the most whenever a tragedy like this strikes close to home. Let me be very clear - i do not believe that i have THE answer to the problem, but i do believe this: not one of those suggested reactions will solve the problem. They are simple solutions to a very complex problem, and the complex problems of society and humanity never have a simple fix. If they did, we would have solved them all long ago.

As followers of Jesus, even if we don't have the answers, we still can respond. There are real, practical, and positive actions we can take. In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I believe our appropriate responses are found in these words.

Come to me - Jesus beckons all of us who are weary and (in an older translation) heavy laden and promises to give us rest. If we're honest, this is probably not our first instinct upon hearing what happened. We tend to look first for who is to blame, for some target at which to aim our anger. Then we look for other people to fix the problem until they can't, and then we can blame them as well. But Jesus knows better and invites us to turn to him instead. This course of action requires faith and patience, which at these times are often in short supply. When we are sad or angry, we want immediate relief, preferably the kind that will bring some consequences upon those we blame.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me - uh, oh. Just bringing our problems and laying them at the feet of Jesus, as comforting as that sounds, apparently isn't enough. If we turn to Jesus with the burdens we're carrying, he's going to offer us another one. Jesus asks us to learn from him, and that of course means learning to live as he did, to respond as he did, to see others as he did. Taking his yoke upon us means practicing those difficult exercises of love and forgiveness, and it means being willing to ask him not just to change the world around us but to change us, too. It means having the courage to look honestly at ourselves and ask if we play any part in how the world is. Do our own fear and selfishness,  the "devices and desires of our own hearts," contribute in any way to the things we see happening that we do not like? That isn't to say that any one of us caused these terrible events Tuesday night; it is to say that our own brokenness is part of the brokenness of the world, and we, like it, are in need of redemption.

I am gentle and humble in heart - these two qualities, gentleness and humility lie at the very heart of the problem, I believe. If we are looking for a solution to the ills of the world, we need look no further than the lack of humility and gentleness to which we are all given in some measure. If we want the world to change, if we want there to be an end to hatred, violence, and murder, that change begins with and depends upon our capacity to be gentle and humble. Humility shows us who we are and what we are, and gentleness allows us to forgive ourselves and others. To be followers of Jesus means that we hold Jesus to be the model for our own lives, to see where we fall short and, with that in mind, to deal gently with others when they also fall short.

This is not an easy path, but Jesus never promised it would be. Anger and retribution are quicker and easier, but the history of humankind shows us that they have never worked, not once. So we turn away from them and turn instead toward the One who calls us to him, to the Light of the World. We place our trust and our hope in him; we lay our heavy burdens down at his feet; and we take up in their place the one that he offers us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: Draw us ever closer into that embrace that we may be changed more and more into your likeness and reach out our own arms of love to those around us. Amen.

Vacation Bible School 2017

This year for Vacation Bible School, St. Michael's is going to take a different approach. In the past, we have followed the typical model of VBS every morning for a week, for children only. While that works pretty well, it does leave out the vast majority of our own congregation, many of whom are not children, who do not have the usual VBS-age children but who may have jobs. We'd like to include as many folks as possible this year, so we're changing the time and the format.

VBS 2017 will be Tuesday - Friday, July 11-14, from 5:00pm-8:00pm. It will be open to all ages. We will gather for dinner together in Patton Hall at 5:00, split into different age groups for the evening program, then re-join one another in the church for singing and worship at the end of the evening. We hope this will be fun for all and will also be an opportunity to learn more about God and our faith in God. 

Registration forms are available starting this Sunday in church and from the parish office throughout the week. Come yourself, bring your children and grandchildren, invite your neighbors. Let's show folks why we have chosen to make our home at St. Michael & All Angels.

Thoughts about Manchester

I am, as we all are, deeply saddened by the recent violence in Manchester, England. I have to say, though, i am nearly as deeply troubled by some of the responses i have read and heard from folks here, both famous and "ordinary," who profess to be Christians. They lament the wanton and senseless murder, especially since the targets were mainly young people, and offer prayers on their behalf. Good - that's what they should do. What so often follows next, though, is exactly what Christians should not do - their calls for equally violent retaliations. One of my own friends said, in response to another friend's support for "putting them all 6 ft under," "God knows if I was in charge I be asking the scientists if we can collect the oil in radiation suits?"

Knowing him as i do, i know this was meant to be a joking way to deal with the awful reality of the death of these children, and if i'm honest, i understand his feelings. This horrific murder of children makes me furious, and fury can turn quickly hate and to thoughts of violent retribution. I recognize that part of me that would want to give into those feelings, that wants to do something to make sure this never happens again and that the people responsible are held to account for what they did.

But then i remember that i am a follower of Jesus, that i want to be his disciple, and i remember what he taught us - unequivocally - "I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Jesus commands us not to give into those first dark thoughts that come to mind in the face of violence and hatred but instead to love, do good, bless, and pray. He offers us no exceptions or exemptions to this command, no easy way out.

When i suggested to my friends that their response was not only not likely to work but was also at odds with what we profess to believe, i was told that was fine for me but not for them. Then they gave me the oft used Edmond Burke quotation, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Jesus, however, does not tell us to do nothing, quite the opposite in fact. He tells us to love and to pray - two actions that are, in the end, both efficacious and irresistible. 

The simple fact is this - the only truly Christian response to the situation in Manchester and all those others like it is to love and to pray. We can have our anger and our desire for vengeance, but then we set them aside and turn towards Jesus. And if we think we simply cannot bring ourselves either to pray for or to love our enemies, then we pray for ourselves, for God to give us the desire to pray for them and, finally, to love them. It may not be quick or easy and make us feel good, but Jesus doesn't promise us any of those things; he only promises us eternal life.

Happy Mother's Day

This first Mothers Day in the United States was held in 1907 in the small but beautiful town of Grafton, West Virginia. (There's wonderful mountain trout fishing very near Grafton, by the way.) The state of West Virginia declared it an official holiday in 1910, and the rest of the country did likewise very soon afterwards. Four years later, Congress officially designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day, and we've been celebrating it ever since.

While Mother's Day can be a wonderful and joyful day for many, for many others it can be a very difficult or sorrowful occasion, often for reasons people find hard or painful to articulate. On this Mother's Day we celebrate those women in our lives who have shown us and taught us the tenderness and loving kindness of God, whether or not they are our own or anyone else's actual mother. Thank God for these women, for their fierce and powerful love and for their gentle and compassionate hearts.

As we draw near to the altar this Sunday to lift bread and wine as an offering to God, i hope you also lift to the Throne of Mercy those women in your life who have shown you the face of God.

Mystery Priests to Supply at St. Michael's

Okay, not really that big of a mystery, but St. Michael's will be having a couple of guest celebrants and preachers in the coming weeks, as i will be away for a couple of Sundays at the end of May and beginning of June. The first, May 28th, Christine and i will be in Las Vegas for her brother's wedding. No jokes about Vegas weddings, please - and yes, i realize that's a challenge. The following Sunday, June 4th, the Kelly family will be on their annual vacation to Bald Head Island, what we lovingly refer to as "our annual penance." 

The liturgically aware among you are at this point thinking, "Oh no! June 4th is Pentecost, and we have our traditional Pentecost in the Park service. What will become of us?" To borrow one of the most common of Scriptural pronouncements, "Be not afraid." St. Michael's will be in better than good hands for both of those Sundays.

On May 28th, we will welcome Canon Frank Logue among us. You're probably already very familiar with Canon Logue, but you may not know about his blog, which i recommend. Here's a link to his latest post.

And on Pentecost, June 4th, please be on hand to say "Welcome back" to the Rev'd Kelly Steele, our former curate. You can check out her website here. Remember that day we have one service, in Daffin Park, with lunch following.

I'm counting on y'all to show them why we think St. Michael's is the friendliest church around.

Easter at St. Michael & All Angels

"In the darkness, fire is kindled..." The Book of Common Prayer

"In the darkness, fire is kindled..." The Book of Common Prayer

Easter begins where Good Friday left us, in darkness. The darkness is both figurative and literal: the sky darkened in mourning as our Savior hung on the cross, and surely no nights have ever seemed darker than those two that followed that terrible day. Then on that first Easter morning, St. John tells us, "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb," to see if what Jesus had said just might be true. 

On Easter Eve, we will gather in darkness to proclaim what she went to discover, that what Jesus had said, what God had promised, is still true - "He is risen." Beyond all the preparations, all the rehearsals, all the errands, all the traveling that Easter entails nowadays, beyond music, flowers, and liturgy, these three words are still the most powerful, most important part: "He is risen." The gates of Hell are smashed apart; the power of sin and death is broken; the captives are set free; and we are given new life. All because of those three simple words. Not since God spoke "Let there be light" has one phrase so changed the fabric of creation and the course of human history.

With Christians at all times and in all places, we gather again this Easter to repeat those three words, not only to remind ourselves of their meaning but to proclaim to all who are still yearning to hear the Good News that good has triumphed over evil, love has conquered hate, and life has beaten back death. In the words by Matt Maher:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

This is the great truth of Easter, the simple, ancient, and eternal message that needs no embellishment or explanation: He is risen!

Palm Sunday

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Hosanna to the Son of David!

This Sunday we begin our services with the Liturgy of the Palms (in Daffin Park) as we commemorate Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Of course, things take a turn very quickly in our liturgies that day, as we move quickly from Palm Sunday to the Sunday of the Passion.

We echo the cries of the crowds who shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest!" While the word hosanna is associated with a joyful shout of praise to the coming king, it is helpful to remember that what it really means is "help us" or "save us." That casts our shouts in a different light - we rejoice that the King is coming, and we proclaim him as our King, but we do so because on some level we know that we need saving, and that this King is the only one who can.

Anonymous Angel

Last week i wrote about an angel whose name we know, Gabriel. This week, it seems we have an unnamed angel as our subject. The back of our church has been filling up (as it so often does) with bags and bags of food you've brought in for our I AM Food Pantry. This week, it turns out there was what Louisianians refer to as a "lagniappe" -a little something extra.

That little something really isn't little at all. Tucked away among the bags of canned goods was a stack of Kroger gift cards - 50 of them, in fact. Along with the cards was a note, unsigned, that simply reads, "FOR FOOD PANTRY FAMILIES FOR EASTER. EACH CARD HAS A $20.00 VALUE. IN CHRIST'S NAME." Fifty cards at $20 a card - $1000 worth of groceries for our pantry guests, donated by an unknown angel.

Thank you, whoever you might be, not only for the food your gift will provide but also for your example of generosity and humility. Thank you for showing us that angels do indeed walk among us.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c. 1450)

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c. 1450)

This Saturday, 25 March, is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to tell her of God's intention that she should bear the Son of God for the world. The event is portrayed in countless paintings and musical compositions, including one of my absolute favorites, "Gabriel's Message."

Mary's response to this startling request is, thankfully, "Yes," or "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." One wonders how the story of salvation would have proceeded had Mary's reply been different. The Gospel narratives give us little insight into what she was thinking at the time, only that she was "much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be." That might be one of the great understatements of the New Testament.

Regardless of what she really did think, Mary's "Yes" becomes a powerful witness to our part in God's plan for creation. God invites us in as active participants in the plan of salvation, even if that invitation now mostly comes in far less dramatic forms than it did for Mary. Like Mary, we have a choice to make each time - yes or no - and if the story of the Annunciation shows us anything, it's that saying yes to God may mean we are in for quite a ride. Saying yes means allowing our lives to follow God's plan for us, not our plan for ourselves. That can be a scary proposition, but if our stories show us anything, it's that we can and do often make a mess of of things when we relentlessly pursue our own selfish goals, when we "follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts."

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word," - perhaps not the easiest choice, but always the best one.