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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, April 15, 2005

Be with us, Lord........

Some years ago, a young-ish priest in the Diocese of Newark told me a story that I will now re-tell for you.

Years ago, in his training as a seminarian, Bob was doing CPE at a rather large hospital in Chicago. He had been assigned the Psych. ward. Each day he came in and went through the usual rigors and rituals of getting into the ward. Barred gates were physically unlocked and unlocked, while others were controlled via buzzer system from the nurses station.

There were only fairly muscular male nurses on a section of the ward where particularly violent patients were confined or kept under close personal or video surveillance.

One day, having gotten into the inner sanctum, one of the nurses pointed to a video monitor. "Hey Padre, come over here and take a look at this one." Chaplain Bob came over to the black and white screen and watched, as instructed.

There was a patient, in a T-shirt and pull-on pants, pacing back and forth from one side of his padded cell to the other, his arms folded on top of each other across his chest. As he walked, he made a kind of rocking motion, back and forth. This wasn't particularly noteworthy, Bob thought to himself, thanked the nurse and went to the patient list to see if there was anyone lucid enought that he might visit. "No..... ya gotta wait. Pretty soon he'll just go crazy" (in 1960, politically correct comments were years off in the future). Bob dutifully came back.

Then it started...... the man became very aggitated, with either a determined or bleery look in his eyes. He made repetitive motions with one arm over the other, working his way down his arm. He gestured around his neck, around his head, seeming to adjust a hat that did not exist. He bobbled his shoulders about, he swayed, he moaned.

Bob was caught up in this pantomime fight or drama. When the patient finished his very repetitive movements, he walked to one side of the room, stood about a foot away from the wall and then began rocking back and forth, slamming his head against the wall. "Can you beat that??" said the nurse, transfixed at the monitor.

Bob went down the hall and peered into the small observation opening. The patient was bobbing, but he was not hitting his head. Why the violent behavior? Bob continued to watch the patient on and off for hours. Every four hours, this poor man would go through the same trauma, the same motions.

About at the end of his shift, Bob finally went back to the nurses station, everyone was making rounds, taking measurements, checking security. He sat down in front of the same monitor and began to pray...God, help this tortured soul find some peace, help this man with your eternal comfort. Let him trust you for calm. Make him...... and he stopped. Bob heard the Spirit say "He knows, Bob. He knows."

Bob looked at the monitor again. The old man was doing exactly the same things again. And the eyes of Bob's soul were opened. This man is an orthodox Jew. He is carefully tying on the leather bands for prayer up his arm, he is tying on the box holding Holy Scripture to his forehead, he is covering himself with his prayer shawl and he goes to the wall to pray. He is not banging his head... he is praying. In his cell, with no privacy, with little clothing, without something to cover his head, without any concept of the passage of time, he had mustered his dignity and turned to God in humilty and prayer. Prayer was his priviledge and his duty... and his only reality amidst the chaos of his confused mind.

It is amazing how much prayer can look like foolishness, even madness to others. It is NOT logical, it appears impractical. Yet what richness and greater reality prayer brings to us when we choose it as a trusted companion on our journey.

The Geranium Farm provides us with many opportunities to support each other through prayer and intercession. To this end, I draw your attention to the Vigils on this site, listed in the Menu page as "Virtual Candle Vigils & Message Board".

There feel free to post a one-line prayer request my lighting a 'virtual' candle. If you would like to share more details specific to the prayer request, then use the Farm's Message Board. Either way, know that on the Farm there is a place to share your hopes, fears, joys and sorrows and of course the concerns you have for others.

It may look foolish in the eyes of this often crazy world, yet we know it to be the path to saving Grace!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Choose your foolishness

This sermon was sent in by Bill Lewellis, Bethlehem,PA and written by The Rev. Andrew T.Gerns, who gave us permission to post it here.

Many thanks to both of you!

Martyred April 9, 1945

Choose Your Foolishness

The Rev. Andrew T. Gerns
Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a foolish man. He was a brilliant theologian, a gifted pastor, and very foolish. He lived in Germany when the National Socialists rose to power in 1933. Early on he worked in opposition to the Nazis, eventually going to serve two Lutheran congregations in London where he preached and worked against the Nazi. He came to the United States where he lectured at Union Theological Seminary in New York City when World War II broke out on September 1, 1939.

But Bonhoeffer was a foolish man. Instead, he returned to Germany and worked with the resistance in Germany. In the 1930’s he was a founder, along with others, of the Confessing Church movement—raising up a church that was opposed to the unchecked nationalism and super-patriotism that has swept through the German Churches as the Nazis rose to power.

Bonhoeffer was foolish because he advocated a non-violent approach to opposing Hitler. To stand against the military might and the police state power of Nazism with nothing more than ideas seems foolish indeed. And yet it must have been a threat to the regime because in early April, 1943 he was arrested and thrown into a Berlin jail. A year later, after one of the many failed attempts on Adolph Hitler’s life took place in April, 1944, he was sent to Buchenwald and later to the SS Prison Schoenberg. A year after that, he was taken out of a church service at the prison and hanged. As he was escorted away, he said to another prisoner “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.” Bonhoeffer was hanged the next day, April 9, 1945—sixty years ago--at Flossenburg Prison.

Bonhoeffer was foolish also because he gave up the relative safety of going along with the prevailing direction of his church in supporting, or at least tolerating, what Nazism was doing to German culture. He was foolish because came to understand that the strict pacifism of his early opposition was outweighed by the harm of not eliminating Hitler. He accepted responsibility for his actions, and went to his death filled with faith. That seems foolish, too.

The lessons for the lesser feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer teach us that what we consider wise in our daily transactions are pretty foolish in God’s eyes. What God considers wise is really foolish in the world! Proverbs 3:1-7 teaches us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” and “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” In a culture where we taught to be self-reliant, to always be a leader, and to always stand on one’s own, this advice seems strange. This scripture teaches us to rest in God’s wisdom, even when we think we might know better.

The Gospel is even more foolish. In Matthew 13:47-52, Jesus teaches us that God’s kingdom is like a fisherman who draws a net full of fish and who sorts out the good from the bad; or a household who inventories his goods and sorts out the useful from the useless. We often leave that sorting to God, and we certainly are to be wary when we start sorting other people out on God’s behalf. But there is a kind of sorting that must happen within us. We have to choose what kind of foolishness we want to live: do we want to chase after the foolishness of the world, with an endless chasing after wealth, or power, or acceptance, or material things. Or would we chase after God’s foolishness that is grounded in faith, that seeks justice, and stands up for the poor, the outcast or the weak?

Today, if you read or listen to the popular media, much of what has become the New Religious Establishment (aka The New Right) would tell us two contradictory propositions at once: that (their brand of) Christianity is oppressed by the culture at large; and, second, that the way to solve this is to legislate narrow religious values and run the courts according to narrow religious percepts. It is the world’s foolishness to believe that political power is the way to righteousness with God.

We must beware of strident religion. We are seeing today a potent mixture of Christian symbol and patriotic fervor at work. Left unchecked, it creates the false notion that to be a Good Christian equates with being a Good American—of a certain political party. This is the kind of foolishness that got the German Church into trouble in the Nazi era. They lost their ability to moderate, let alone critique, the Nazis because they either feared reprisal or bought into their ideology. The Confessing Church movement worked to free the Gospel from the constraints of culture and that meant standing mostly against the Nazis but also made the communists unhappy, too.

God’s foolishness is a hard road. God’s foolishness is costly. God’s foolishness is also redemptive. Dietrich Bonhoeffer paid for his foolishness with his life. He understood something that we often miss in the midst of our own anxieties: God foolishness is our power to keep the world demands at bay. In God’s foolishness the poor and the weak find a voice. In god’s foolishness justice rings. In God’s foolishness we discover the Risen Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a fool alright; God’s kind of fool.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

....."about your sermon"........

As a parishioner @ St. Intentional's Episcopal Church in Anytown, USA it is quite possible that you have NEVER uttered the above words to your pastor/priest/deacon.

You may, after hearing an inspired sermon have said upon exiting the church or in seguee to coffee hour, "I enjoyed (or really enjoyed) your words this morning". That's a compliment. Far be it from me to knock a compliment!

Maybe it's one of those unspoken Episcopal church etiquette rules (and there are many of these, in case you were unaware: come from another Christian tradition and you will be able to say 'well, come to think of it, she's right! ). In any event, I thought I would open this issue up to discussion, because I haven't seen it discussed elsewhere. I cringe to think this is the original application of the phrase "Don't ask, don't tell".

From the pulpit side of the equation (making "I" statements here, of course), I often get some spontaneous reaction to my sermons as I am preaching them. After the fact however, in the great exodus toward coffeecake or the world at large, few people come over to say one thing or another. Most smile politely while shaking my hand, or shake their heads with a wide grin and keep walking, or are a bit stiff with a blank but solemn look and give a limp shake. Now, did they hear anything? What did they hear? What did the homily bring up in them? I usually never know.

I can't believe I am the only person preaching - having worked hard on a sermon, a theme, prayed that God would come through in the words - who has ever yearned for feedback!

From the pew side, I can say that I have been blessed having heard many wonderful, wonderful preachers. There message was incredible, their delivery smooth and consistent. I have heard weak sermons preached with conviction and confidence that 'looked better than they were' (I'm sure I've done a few of these myself); in the reverse, I have heard sublime words presented in such a distracting way so as to make it a kind of spiritual discipline to get to the content rather than notice the delivery.

In this entry I'm asking us all to pay attention to what we do of a Sunday morning or during any public worship service. Preachers, pay attention to content and delivery... and have the faith to encourage constructive feedback. Parishioners, become good, attentive listeners and understand that an ordained person committed to preaching needs feedback to refine, improve or develop into a better preacher. The relationship between preacher and parishioner will strengthen when there is dialogue.

What's your experience... laity and clergy alike? Send in your comments! Thanks.

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