by whitneyrice

Anxiety Procrastination: Ending Up With Your Head on a Platter

This is not a pulpit sermon, this is a blog post, which means I can be irresponsibly personal and say whatever I want.

And that is good, because I really have something on my heart right now.

It’s something small and insignificant in the scope of the issues facing society, but I know you understand how a small, niggling worry can undermine your outlook until it colors your whole world.

So let me go ahead and admit up front: this piece is not some great theological treatise and you may not take anything away from it that deepens your own spiritual journey.

This is just me telling you that I’m stuck.

Here’s the deal: I thought I had written a whole book, but it turns out I’ve only written half a book, and now I’m not sure I can finish it.

It’s called The Darker Blessings: Finding God in Doubt and Depression, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far on it.

So is my editor—he says all the writing I’ve submitted to him is really solid.

His feedback said that I’ve really delved into the darkness and mined it for its treasures. The problem is that there’s not enough light, and I have to admit he’s right.

The basic structure of the book is to explore what we would normally call “dark” emotions or experiences, like anger, fear, or regret, and explore how each of them was a way to God for someone in the Bible.

So I talk about Mary of Bethany’s journey with grief, for example, and Nicodemus’ experience of uncertainty, and Pilate’s relationship with fear.

And with each of these chapters, I tell a bit of my own story.

The problem for the reader, my editor says, is that while they can see clearly how depression and darkness created the crucible for my spiritual journey and held me underwater for my entire young adulthood, they can’t see how I came to the other side of it.

The reader doesn’t magically understand how blessed and fulfilled I am now. I have to tell how I got from there to here, from suicidal to (most days) really happy.

I think there are a couple of things going on here.

First of all, I very much did not want to write a book with a happy ending all tied up in a bow.

Real life is not like that, and real life with God is especially not like that. Continue reading

Stop Offering Hospitality (Yes, I’m Serious)

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus comes to his hometown, and far from welcoming him with open arms and proclaiming him their rightful king, his neighbors scoff at him, imply he’s crazy or deluded, and flatly refuse to believe that he is a prophet and a miracle worker.

Jesus is a big flop in Nazareth.

And he’s not expecting it. “He was amazed at their unbelief,” Mark says.

Poor Jesus. He must have been crushed.

Everyone wants to look good at their high school reunion, to show up twenty pounds lighter and a thousand dollars richer than everyone else.

But Jesus’ friends, the people he grew up with, the people who watched him play in the streets as a little boy and bought benches and tables from his carpentry shop as a young man, turn their back on him.

He wants to show them all the amazing things God is doing through him, but he cannot access his power and he has to leave in disgrace.

Anyone after this humiliating experience would feel vulnerable.

Anyone after this failure might consider approaching things a little more carefully, with a little more thought and planning, would want to ensure success before taking any more risks.

Not Jesus. Continue reading

Crackpot Jesus

No doubt all of you have heard the story of the water pot that has an existential crisis. No? Let me share it with you.

“A water-bearer in India had two large pots. Each hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other was perfect. The latter always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. The cracked pot arrived only half-full. Every day for a full two years, the water-bearer delivered only one and a half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, because it fulfilled magnificently the purpose for which it had been made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After the second year of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the unhappy pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you,” the pot said.

“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” Continue reading

We Are All Separated Children

I haven’t preached or written on the new phase of the migrant crisis, the separation of children from families, mostly because there are so many people who are expressing their moral outrage so eloquently.

People are arguing from Biblical texts, from religious tradition, from American values, from simple human decency, from the very fact that the Holy Family were refugees and immigrants, to express the deep sin and shame of the United States of America taking children from their parents and warehousing and imprisoning them.

It doesn’t seem as though I could add much to the discussion.

But there comes a point in time where silence is taken as consent, and failure to speak is collusion with sin.

And so I asked myself, as so many have, “How did we get here? How did America, a nation I was raised to believe in and be proud to belong to, stoop to this level of racism, xenophobia, and toxic militarism?”

And for me, the answer comes back as it almost always does, to a deep and debilitating lack of spiritual groundedness.

Values and ethics cannot survive on the thin sustenance of stirring emotions or even cultural traditions.

To be effective, to withstand controversy and trial, to guide people to actions that are just and altruistic, values and ethics must be based on something deeper.

And that something deeper is the spiritual life.

It doesn’t matter what tradition that spiritual life comes out of—Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other.

It simply matters that there is a worldview greater than the paltry ends of the individual self, that calls us to something higher than selfish and short-sighted tribalism, and that awakens the soul, that dwelling place of God within us that lies deeper than mind or even heart.

But as I continued to reflect on our spiritually starving people, I realized that the most damaging part of the lack of soul life in America is unspoken and unrealized.

Americans cannot deal with death. Continue reading

When People Underestimate You, Are They Right?

Getting more than you bargained for. That’s what all of our scriptures are about today.

And it’s not a concept that is very familiar in our capitalist society. We are used to paying an agreed upon price, and receiving exactly what we’ve paid for, no more and no less.

I sometimes wonder if we carry that consumer mentality into our relationships as well.

If I make dinner x number of times this week, my partner will mow the lawn without having to be reminded.

If I attend x number of recitals or soccer games of my grandchildren, my daughter will pick up the phone when I call her.

If I read x chapters of the Bible this week, God will answer my prayers.

That’s not how God’s economy works.

The Greek root from which we get the word economy means household and refers to how people manage the day to day finances and organization of their homes and families.

And God’s economy has a very strange balance sheet.

Things are simply not predictable with God.

Two plus two does not always equal four.

It often equals five, or a hundred and five, or a purple elephant. Continue reading

Translating Tradition

The first half of our worship service today has no doubt seemed very familiar to you. It’s regular 1979 Book of Common Prayer Liturgy of the Word. Comforting, customary, accessible to those of us who have been Episcopalians for awhile.

But the second half of our service, the Liturgy of the Table, will be according to the first Book of Common Prayer, the 1549 edition.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Book of Common Prayer, and it seemed worthwhile to bring back the 1549 liturgy that we used back during our historic liturgies project last fall.

And no doubt the second half of the Eucharist, the 1549 version, will not seem familiar and comfortable.

We’ll have to concentrate. We’ll have to read carefully. We’ll squint at the page and struggle to translate the Elizabethan language into something that is meaningful for us today.

This is such a worthy exercise because it helps us understand Thomas Cranmer’s goal in writing and compiling the Book of Common Prayer.

During our historic liturgies project last fall, as we made our way backward in time from 1928 to 1789 to 1662 to 1549, did you ever feel totally lost in our worship service?

Did you struggle to understand what was going on?

Did you ever wonder what was the point of coming to church at all if everything was so confusing?

That is exactly the situation that faced the people of England in 1548 and for generations before when they went to church. Continue reading

Sabbath of Joy

Our scriptures today are all about Sabbath, which is supposed to mean rest. But “keeping the Sabbath” across generations in the church often turned into grim adherence to strict traditions rather than true rest and refreshment.

It was as if people were supposed to work hard at resting!

We sometimes think of Christianity as hard work—and it undoubtedly is.

We have to work against our old familiar sins and pray for God to help us increase in virtue and generosity.

But at heart, Christianity is not about work.

Suffering and struggle are vital parts of the journey that have their own unique spiritual value, but suffering and struggle and work always lead somewhere else. And that somewhere to which they lead is joy.

The Bible is full of joy.

The entire purpose of the Bible is to communicate the joy of salvation—it even says so: “We are writing these things to you that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4).

The psalmist says of God, “You show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11). The opening line of our psalm this morning is, “Sing with joy to God our strength.” (Psalm 81:1)

And Jesus says to us directly of his entire message to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11).

The church is a place of joy that encourages the believers and strengthens them to go out and serve in the world.

In Acts we read that “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).

Paul writes over and over to the congregations of the early church about how their prayers and good works and simple presence as people give him such joy. He tells the believers in Thessalonica, “Yes, you are our glory and joy!”

Paul writes about an upcoming visit to the Romans, “Join me in earnest prayer to God…so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (Romans 15:30-33).

That is my prayer for St. Francis this summer as well, that we may abide in joy and take refreshment from one another’s company in this church.

You have worked so hard! I want you to take these summer months to really enjoy church. Continue reading

God’s Kiss is Fire

We began church this morning in our opening hymn with three simple words: Holy, holy, holy.

We sang “Holy” three times for two reasons.

First, because the holiness of God is so great that we need to say it three times to express it.

And second, because we are calling on the three persons of the Trinity to be in our midst: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we reflect on the multiplication of holiness that is our Triune God.

Holy, holy, holy. These are the words that begin the Sanctus, a Latin word which means Holy and is the name of the part of the service that comes right at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist.

First comes the Sursum Corda, the Latin words for “Lift up your heart.”

Each week as your priests, Father Davies and I call on you to lift up your hearts in praise to God, and you tell us that it is a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere.

Our celebration of Holy Eucharist begins with a dialogue about the goodness of God.

This is not a coincidence. Continue reading

The Rebirth of the Church: That Which Cannot Be Scheduled

A dear friend of mine and his wife, both priests, are getting ready to welcome their third child.

The baby is expected within the next two weeks, but as we know, even with all of modern medical science at our disposal, there really is no way to schedule or anticipate a birth. The baby comes when the baby is ready to come, and unless there is an urgent medical need to influence the birth more specifically…we wait.

We worry. We anticipate with joy. We guesstimate.

We exchange family stories and histories of other babies being born to hunt for clues as to how this birth might unfold.

And we wait, in a strange in-between world of being hyper-prepared while spinning our wheels.

We know we have to be ready for it to happen at any moment, but we also know that no matter how much mental or emotional energy we put into our racing thoughts, this momentous occasion will unfold at its own pace, in its own time.

As my friend was telling me about the strange liminal space he and his family inhabit while they wait for labor to begin, he mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for one of the most important days of his life while having no idea when it was going to happen.

And I thought: what if all the most important days of our lives were like that?

What if we knew that our wedding was approaching, but not what day it would be?

What if we had to have our graduation cap and gown packed up and ready to go, because our graduation ceremony could break out at any moment in the next two weeks?

When I think about the work I put into planning my ordination service, all the preparation and careful choreography—and how nervous I was that morning—and then to imagine that some invisible but undeniable signal could arrive at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, out of the blue.

It’s time! Get everyone to the church! We have to ordain her! Get the bishop here, stat! Continue reading

Apostle: The Job You Didn’t Know You Had

“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

This is a line from our scripture from Acts today. The disciples are beginning to build the early church, to take up their mission and go forward in the spreading of the Good News, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven.

But Jesus began the leadership of the church with twelve apostles, and since Judas’s death, they are down to only eleven. They need someone to replace him, to be a witness as Peter says.

In the crushing tragedy of the crucifixion and the giddy uplift of the resurrection, the disciples have been broken down and remade.

They are actually no longer just disciples; they have become something else.

The word “disciple” means “one who is taught.”

When they followed Jesus on earth, listening to his preaching, seeing his miracles, receiving his instruction, they were disciples, ones who were taught.

But now they have crossed over.

Their personal, visceral experience of abandoning Jesus when they wanted to stay by his side, feeling their hearts break in two when he died on the Cross, and then suddenly knowing themselves to be healed and whole when he came to them, alive again, has changed them forever.

They are no longer disciples, ones who are taught. They are apostles.

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

They have been sent by Jesus to go forward and spread the Good News, to preach liberation to the captives, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And what does it mean to be an apostle, one who is sent?

How does one qualify for it?

I think although we easily identify ourselves as “disciples,” followers of Jesus who seek to learn from him and imitate him, we think of the apostles as “others,” just the Twelve, big, important, historical people that we have little to do with.

They’re heroes and martyrs, leaders and prophets, bold preachers and architects of the early church.

There were only Twelve of them.

We’re not apostles.

We could never be that great.

And frankly, we don’t really want to.

We’d rather outsource work that hard and that grand to someone else, comfortably far away in a dusty old Bible story.

But I have challenging Good News today: we’re all called to be apostles as much as we are called to be disciples. Continue reading