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painting of a bearded man with eyes closed and calm look on face, with hands held open with fingers pointing upward, near the face

Confession: Holy Peace

John 20:19-23

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.’

painting of a bearded man with eyes closed and calm look on face, with hands held open with fingers pointing upward, near the face

Waiting For the Word

Anyone who knows me well has heard my story about confession. Actually, you don’t even have to know me well to have heard my story because I’ve preached on it, I lead with it in my book on confession, and I often use it to describe what it feels like to hear a confession.

As an Episcopal priest, I have the honor of occasionally hearing people’s private confessions. These are sacred moments when people get to lay down the burdens that they have been carrying – burdens of guilt, shame, and the pain that comes from knowing you have done something that has put you out of relationship with those you love. In this role, I continually run up against the need to let the weight of my own sin go as well as helping others do the same. It is an awesome responsibility. And because of my story, I know the importance and magnitude of what can happen when that option and gift is denied to someone.

My story goes something like this: When I was young I decided I would like to try private confession. As an Episcopalian, I’d only experienced corporate confession on Sundays. Since my church did not openly advertise the rite of reconciliation, I decided to go to a local Roman Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday (by skipping class with my friend – which was the first sin I was planning on confessing). They were offering private confession to those who wanted to begin Lent free from the burden of their sin.

As I took my place in the surprisingly long line up, I began to catalog my sins. My trespasses and brokenness began to weigh heavily on my soul. I thought of more and more ways that I had “wronged” God. By the time I finally took my turn in the confessional, I was not only on the verge of tears, I was incredibly elated by the idea of being able to “get rid” of the sins that had tarnished my soul.

As I stepped in the confessional, I decided that I should not add to this list of sins by lying to the priest and told him right away that I was not a Roman Catholic. I told him that if he would listen to my confession, I would feel lighter and understood if he could not offer me absolution as an Episcopalian. He replied, “No. Please leave now.” Read more

Geeks in the Pews: A Review of The Ultimate Quest

One of the fun parts of my ordination process was a summer parish internship. I served at a little church, where I stayed in their apartment and could walk down to the farmers market on Sundays after services. Now that I’ve been ordained for a while and preached more, I’ve become increasingly thankful for that church. They kindly listened to some sermons I would preach very differently now. Along with their homiletical patience, and an inside peek at day-to-day church life and power differentials, they also taught me something very important about who sits in our pews: Geeks.

I had preached a sermon that mentioned my deep love of speculative fiction (SF—often called science fiction and fantasy). While I don’t remember the details of the sermon, I do remember that for the rest of the morning people would approach me, always when it would be just the two of us, and confess their love for Star Trek. We were all, I learned that morning, Star Trek geeks.

This memory surfaces when I’m afraid I’m about to get too geeky for people. It’s a balm against the cultural norm that asks us geeks to stay in the basement with our dice, books, and scale models. It helps me remember that, even when the rest of the world seems a little too normal, I have a place in the pews with all the other geeks.

Jordan Haynie Ware’s book The Ultimate Quest: A Geek’s Guide to (The Episcopal) Church, tackles the topic of the Church and geeks, establishing her as a wise and witty writer. Jordan and I are friends and colleagues – we have known each other for a long time via Twitter, were once in the same room at General Convention 2012, and we will soon be in the same diocese.

Far more effectively than The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Ware guides readers through the basics of Christian faith, with special attention to Episcopal pomp and circumstance. Read more

kids with hands raised

Ask a Priest Day

kids with hands raisedHow do you know God is real?
Why is Jesus special?
Are there any Bible stories you don’t like or don’t believe in?
Why do we have to believe that Jesus is alive and the stories about him are true?

No, those weren’t questions posed by the Commission on Ministry during my ordination process. They weren’t topics raised by a search committee. They were asked by students in grades kindergarten through five at my parish’s day school. It was Ask a Priest Day in school chapel, and the kids pulled out all the tough topics for me.

Being the rector of a parish with a school generally means some involvement with the administrative side of the school: sitting on the school board, working closely with the head of school, coordinating facilities use, and so on. Some schools, including ours, also want the rector to take part in the spiritual life of the school community. In my case, that means leading school chapel once a week, presiding at monthly celebrations of the Eucharist, visiting religious studies classes, and being a supportive presence in children’s faith lives. I’ve baptized students and talked about death with them after the loss of a grandparent. Interacting with students was not something I expected to enjoy when I accepted this call, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my job. The kids are engaged, curious, creative, profound, and often hilarious.

Silicon Valley is a challenging cultural location for a faith-based school. Read more

Fulfilling the Baptismal Promises

Before I was ordained, I spent time as a seminarian intern and youth minister in a total of seven congregations.  The jobs of baptismal preparation and of talking to parents about how to raise Christian children, often fell to me.  In order to have something to put in people’s hands, that would sum up the most important aspects of what it means to make and fulfill the baptismal promises, I wrote up a short list, with explanations.

I wish I could say that as a result of receiving this, every family I ever prepared for baptism became regular, committed church members! Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – and, of course, nothing substitutes for a good, in-person pastoral relationship.  But I still believe that the list offered here covers the basics.  Quotations and page number references are from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

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When we bring our children to baptism, we vow to “be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life.” (BCP 302)  This is a tall order, especially in a materialistic, violent, sex-obsessed society like ours.  Here are a few ways to go about it.

  • Become regular members of the church.  The church is uniquely suited to be the “village” that it takes to raise a child.  Its members vow during the baptismal service to do “all in their power to support” the candidates in their life in Christ.  Fellow church members can do anything from sitting with a squirming child during the service so parents can have a little peace, to being Sunday School and youth group leaders, to becoming special friends and mentors to children as they grow.  If nothing else, they show children that their parents are not alone in trying to live as Christians.

 

  • Begin some kind of ritual at home.  You don’t have to rearrange your entire home life, but deciding to take one or more nights a week to have a family dinner, light candles, and pray together can make a peaceful center to a hectic family life.  The family that prays together, stays together.  Prayers don’t have to be long, and you don’t have to make them up; there are many beautiful prayers in the Prayer Book (814-841).  Read and discuss Scripture together, or tell each other what you are thankful for and what you wish for.  Observe the church year with an Advent wreath, Lenten disciplines or offerings, and Easter eggs.  Light your child’s baptismal candle on the anniversary of their baptism.

 

  • Set an example – consciously.  When you do volunteer work, give money to charity, treat an annoying relative with compassion, refuse to buy the products of companies that abuse human rights or the environment, or make another decision motivated by morality or faith, your children will notice.  You can explain to them what you’re doing, and why, without bragging:  “I’m doing this because this is what Christians do.”

 

  • Answer questions honestly.  Parents can get very nervous when their children ask questions about God, but children don’t need definitive answers as much as they need to know that it’s OK to ask the questions.  You don’t have to know all the answers; God is beyond the knowledge of adults and children alike.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and continue the conversation.  You and your child can wonder about God and explore questions of faith together.  If you’re faced with a real stumper, you can always encourage your child to ask the priest!

 

  • Turn off the TV, and keep screen time to a minimum.  The scientific evidence is mounting that TV is simply bad for children in any but the most minimal amounts; and are the values of TV programs, and particularly commercials, really the ones we want our children to be absorbing?  TV wants to make us into pure consumers; is that what God wants?

 

  • Get outside with your kids.  Modern children are frequently cut off from the glory of God’s creation.  Take a walk in the woods every so often to reconnect with nature and get some exercise.  A sense of wonder may be the most valuable thing parents can transmit to their kids.

 

  • Lastly, and possibly most importantly, read to your children and provide them with quality children’s literature.  There is no substitute for stories and the life of the imagination for a child’s developing mind.  Children need to be able to encounter on their own terms (not in a preprogrammed “entertainment” format) stories that are subtle and challenging enough to become part of their ongoing imaginative life.  Start with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and anything by Tomie DePaola, and from age 4 or 5 onward, give them C. S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Winnie the Pooh, E. Nesbit, Lloyd Alexander, The Wind in the Willows, Brian Jacques, Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Joan Aiken, Arthur Ransome, The Phantom Tollbooth, Watership Down, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, and whatever else seems good at the public library.  (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games won’t hurt them, but won’t do much all by themselves, either.)  The three Christian virtues are faith, hope and charity:  to believe in the invisible, to go forward when all seems lost, and to love the unlovable.  A child nurtured on good kids’ books will know these three virtues intuitively, in his or her bones.  Nothing on TV comes close.

The prayer over the newly baptized (BCP 308) asks God to “give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”  Children nourished by caring parents and godparents who set an example; take their faith questions seriously; and provide simple home rituals, the love of a church community, judicious screentime restrictions, exposure to God’s creation, and plenty of good books, will have all of these things.