Friday, December 17, 2004

Youth Missioner as sports star (?)

I mentioned before that I play indoor soccer during the white months of the year. Well last night was the final date in this session so it was playoff time! Why we have playoffs in a league that doesn't keep standings, and you get nothing for "winning" the playoffs is a puzzle to us all but there you go.

Our first playoff game (20 minutes instead of the usual 50 minutes, another irritation) we won 11-2. Yours truly picked up a goal and an assist. Also a whole load of bruises on my back because the opposing goalkeeper decided he didn't want me to play in front of him (I was playing completely legally) So he begun pushing and smacking me in the back, at one point pushing me the whole way to the front of the penalty area (that's about 15 feet). Have to admit scoring the goal on him felt good.

Then we had an hour off while other teams played.

Second game we won 5-0 and I got another goal and assist. The assist was a very spiffy little back heel pass that did EXACTLY what I wanted it to do. That so rarely happens.

The third game started 10 minutes after the second one ended, against a team that had about a half an hour's rest and was significantly younger than my guys. Didn't look good. Then we jumped out to a 2-0 lead! Didn't last. We ran out of gas by half time but never gave up. We lost 11-7. I contributed nothing to the score sheet and not a whole lot at all. I was EXHAUSTED! This morning my body is extremely unhappy with me in fact.

Seems to think we're old or something. I haven't told it yet......

I'm signing up for the next session!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Laughter in the church

I had one of those "moments" at church yesterday. No, not a senior moment although they are starting to crop up with more frequency these days. It was the kind of moment that some people will remember for a long time and the kind of moment when I realized that something had changed for me.

I was one of the lay readers for the 10 AM service

(quick note for any non-Episcopalians in the crowd - during our service we read from both the OT and NT plus a psalm and the Gospel. The first three are read by lay people, one of whom is usually also serving as a chalice bearer (oops more jargon - the person who offers the wine to everyone at Communion) and so is vested. For us that's a black cassock with a flowing white surplice over it. The kind with the big swoopy sleeves)

Anyway I walked from my seat to the lectern to do my readings. This means walking by the choir in their pews. The end of each choir stall has a carved wooden fleur de lis on top (kind of three pronged pointy thing). As I walked by the first stall my sleeve billowed out and snagged. I didn't notice till it pull me up short. I stopped, backed up and freed myself. The congregation gave a quiet chuckle. Then on the very next pew my sleeve did it AGAIN! This got quite the laugh and a big smile from me. And the thought that I had changed.

There was a time, not all that long ago when I would have been mortified at what happened in church yesterday. Church was a solemn, dignified, serious place that had no place for light-heartedness. People talking, children making noise, heck even people smiling bugged me. What did they think this was? Some kind of romper room? God was here and God was one tight lipped, deadly serious kinda hombre who didn't want any messing around when we were here bowing and scraping and begging His pardon and maybe, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, and I know I have no right to ask, let alone think you might be listening, but maybe Sir could you do me this small favor?

That was back when I really didn't much care for church or most of the people who seemed to attend.

Today I think maybe God laughed along with His people. This is still pretty serious stuff - sin and reconciliation and forgiveness and all the stuff that goes along with it. Somewhere along the line it dawned on me that maybe this is stuff I'm supposed to be happy about. Our Book of Common Prayer talks about the "celebration" of the Holy Eucharist. For a lot of years growing up I don't remember much celebrating going on, more like a whole lot of "You're darn lucky we let even get a sniff of this, so get down on your knees and be grateful". I don't deny that there is an element of that present. I don't deserve God's love or his Grace or to share in his Communion. But He wants me there anyway. And He let's me have it anyway.

And that seems like something to celebrate, to smile and laugh a little. If you show up in my congregation and spend the whole service chattering you'll probably still get a look or even a word from me. But I love the sound of babies in church, I enjoy watching children learn to grow comfortable in the pew and at the rail. I truly love the chance to read a lesson like yesterday's that spoke of the joy of being with God and the wonderous things that He can make happen.

And I enjoyed being reminded not to be quite such a stuck up sticky beak and to remember to laugh with God.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I Have a Problem With The Bible

(This is my column from the December issue of ChurchActs, the newspaper of the Diocese of WNY)

This column comes with a warning. I’m about to say something that might upset some folks. So I’m asking you to stay with me till I can explain, OK? It’s not as bad as it sounds I promise. I’m just trying to head off angry, torch bearing mobs at my doorstep. So here we go:

I have a problem with the Bible.
(Take a deep breath, it’s not what you think I promise)

Actually I have to admit I only have a problem with some bibles. Some translations have little headlines at the start of chapters or stories. My problem is with the one in Matthew chapter 14 that inevitably says, “Jesus walks on the water”. (Oops that just spiked some folk’s blood pressure too. I’m almost there I promise). You see I would change it to “Peter walks on the water”.

I’m not denying that Jesus walked on the water. But Jesus is God. That God is capable of the miraculous is wonderful but is kind of….. expected, right? What’s not expected is when Peter climbs out of the boat. That’s astounding. This story has always drawn me in. So I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about Peter climbing out of that boat.

Peter isn’t suddenly a super hero, walking on water is not some new power or gift that he’s given. There’s a good chance that Peter couldn’t even swim. Recreational swimming is a relatively uncommon activity until the last century. While he’s comfortable on the water, even during a storm, Peter knows the danger facing everyone on the boat in this story. The boat used was probably designed for fishing. It was designed to perform specific duties under specific circumstances. Being out in the storm is probably a bit of a challenge. Peter has the skills to get them through this and deliver them safely to the other side. Strength, experience and training make Peter the right person at the right time in the storm.

So while they fight their way through the storm in the early morning hours Jesus comes across the water. Everyone in the boat knows that this can’t be happening. They are terrified by the battering of the storm, they’re tired and now this.

Now we’re back to Peter. Note that at first even Peter isn’t sure what’s going on. His first words are “IF it is you Lord…” Then he does what is probably the bravest thing he’s ever done in his life to that point. The fisherman who probably can’t swim, who knows that people can’t walk on water, that they sink and drown, climbs out of the boat. All of this in response to a single word from Jesus. No fancy promises, no big explanations about how his divine will will keep Peter safe. Jesus says “Come” and Peter tosses everything he knows aside and climbs over the gunwale.
And the miraculous happens. Peter finds that his foot doesn’t sink, the he can walk on the water. His mind is focussed on Jesus, on the “Come”. And it works. Now I figure that Jesus must be standing a little ways away because we’re told that Peter walks to Jesus, not just gets out and stands next to him. So Peter takes a couple steps. He's probably starting to get a little comfortable with this whole thing when he gets distracted. The storm is still going while all this happens and Peter’s mind suddenly starts thinking about what is happening. Jesus reaches out to Peter, brings him back to the boat and calms the storm.

Think about it. When Peter has his attention centered on Jesus he is capable of doing things he knows he can’t do. In defiance of his experience, logic and common sense he can do it. But when he let’s his mind wander suddenly things go wrong. For me that’s the lesson from this story. We need to remember the lesson of Peter climbing out of the boat. We climb out when Jesus calls us and we can do the miraculous. When we stay locked in on Jesus we will be able to continue doing the miraculous. When we let other things distract us we can end in over our heads very quickly. The good news is that at that moment Jesus always has a hand out for us.

Now who do I talk to about editing the Bible?