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I’ve been taking pictures of this Friends meetinghouse for more than forty years and I still don’t have it quite right, but little by little I think I’m getting there. I love the simplicity of the wooden benches and white walls and the play of light through clear glass, most of it so old it has ripples.

I love the places where people have worshiped. I can’t explain it, but they seem to retain some residual sense of peace and presence that grounds me. Even in the years when I wasn’t particularly religious, I looked for churches that were open during the day so I could drop in and sit for a while. In the silence I could feel myself drawing closer to a mystery I could not name or explain but knew I wanted more of.

I still do.

Memorial Day

He came home from the war so it’s not technically his holiday, but I think of my dad on Memorial Day because he loved the parade. The Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, the high school band, the volunteer firemen (they were all men) and pretty much anybody else who could muster up some kind of uniform turned out to march down the main street of the town where I grew up. The bad boys lined the street with their pea shooters, aiming mostly at the bottoms of the Girl Scouts, and their aim was dead accurate, or at least that was my experience. The cop who manned the crossing at the school down the street from our house was there on the sidelines, his back pocket full of confiscated pea shooters. I’ve often wished I had a picture of that, but the mental image—and the feeling of vindication—is still clear.

I think in my father’s mind it stood for everything he had fought for, everything he’d wanted to come home to. What I realize now is that it represented an America that didn’t fully live up to the ideals of the flags we carried and saluted. There was a lot missing but I didn’t know that then, and sheltered as it was, it was a good place for someone who looked like me to grow up.

Interestingly enough, we never attended the memorial service that followed the parade, and my dad’s comments about the vets who put on their tired old uniforms and marched that day—or rode in convertibles, as the years passed and they, too, grew older—were not all that kind. He could, of course, have qualified for either the American Legion on the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I think I asked him once why he didn’t join. I believe he answered that they were sad men for whom the war was the most meaningful thing that had ever happened to them. After that we didn’t talk about it.

With time on my hands yesterday, I set about a task I’ve been meaning to get to for a while: reading through a collection of the letters he sent home to his mother and three older sisters, one married and living in another state, the other two still living at home (as they would for the rest of their lives). He was 19 years old, and full of enthusiasm. He thanks them for things they sent: new glasses (surely the Army should have taken care of that?), cookies and candy (he always had a sweet tooth), and a little money. His mother sent a dollar, the married sister and her husband sent five, and six bucks made him the richest man in his outfit. His monthly pay was $35.

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Old friends

I call these two trees the old friends. They were growing in my back yard, side by side at the edge of a pond, when I moved here more than 40 years ago. I don’t know enough about trees to guess how old they were by then. They stand side by side, together enduring whatever weather comes, shedding their leaves each fall and growing new ones in the spring.

Although they’re different species, from some perspectives the two appear to be one tree. Sometimes I think of them as a family, the pair of smaller trees on either side their offspring.

We’ve asked our tree guy if we should be concerned about the health of the darker one standing slightly to the front, but he says no, it’s fine. I hope he’s right because it grows at an angle, leaning toward our house, but the tree guy says the roots are strong.

We moved several times when I was a kid, and I never felt rooted the way other people seemed to be in any of the places I’ve lived. Even now. There’s some sadness for me in that. Other times, though, I’ve just felt glad that I’m not stuck in one place. At least in theory.

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Moonrise

Full moon rising

I’m really pleased that two of my photos including this one are included in the Pace Center for Photography’s current show, Odyssey, which opened online today. Go to this page – https://www.pacenterforphotography.org/odyssey-2021…/ – and scroll down to see them both. Of course you should really go to A and look at the whole thing if you have time. I’ve just started to browse through it and it’s fabulous!

Made new

Ghost train #1, Lambertville: coupling

My thoughts both personal and professional are deeply immersed in Holy Week at this point, and when I walked past this abandoned train which has become a canvas for creative graffiti writers, what came to mind was this from the Book of Common Prayer Good Friday service: “… let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new … “There is just so much we need to raise up and make new, with God’s help (not necessarily including abandoned railroad cars, but beauty is important, too).

A sermon for Palm Sunday 2021

Because we want to let today’s service really focus on the Passion Gospel, instead of having a sermon right after the Gospel we’ll observe a minute or so of silence before we move onto the prayers, to let the story sink and perhaps to recover a little from the heartbreak of it. And I want to warn you about that now, so don’t think we’re having technical problems when we pause and you don’t hear anything. And again, in order to keep the focus during the servce on the Gospel itself, I’m going offer a short reflection here before we begin the service. I want to just mention a few things to listen for.

The Gospel we’re about to hear is a story of human weakness and self-giving love. It’s about betrayal, injustice, political intrigue, lost hope, fear, jealousy, abuse of power, bitter bitter regret, pain, loneliness, and finally, death. It shows how a mob can be swayed by angry voices, and it shows just how dangerous that can be.

It’s really a terrible story, a heartbreaking story, but like most stories about human nature, it also has some shining moments of faith and bravery and loyalty and tenderness.

So, a very basic outline: It begins with the cheering crowd that greets Jesus as he arrives in Jerusalem, but some people feel threatened by his popularity and they’re plotting to have him killed. He’s betrayed by one of his closest firneds, and the rest of his friends are so frightened they run for their lives. His trial is a travesty of justice. He’s condemned and mocked by soldiers. He suffers horribly. He dies a brutal and shameful death, and he’s buried in someone else’s tomb.

Because it’s such a familiar story for many of us, I think it can be hard to hear it with fresh ears, so I’d like to suggest just a couple of things to listen for.

The first is what it tells us about the nature of God. How it shows us that selfless, self-giving love, the kind of love that isn’t always sweet and easy. It’s tough love. It’s hard love. And we, too, are called to give ourselves following this example.

Another thing it shows us is about friendship and loyalty. When Jesus asks his friends to stay with him they fall asleep in the garden. They run when he’s arrested. One is in such a hurry he leaves his clothes behind. In the courtyard that night, Peter denies him. Jesus knows our human sorrow and pain and he is with us in it no matter what’s going on in our lives. And we, too, are called to stay with him in this story, and to stay with everyone who is in any kind of pain, just to be there with them.

And finally Jesus stands agains the powers that be. The Empire has no use for him. His own religious leaders fail him utterly, because his teachings contradict their values. Because they’re jealous, as I said, of his popularity. But we, too, are called to stand by the values he taught, even when it means going against the prevailing culture, no matter what. And we, too, are called to stand up against the powers that be in our own society when they impose injustice on those who are powerless to defend themselves.

Today’s Gospel ends with the stone rolled to close the entry to the tomb, but even as Jesus dies, we hear the centurion say, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

That is our faith, and the source of all our hope.

Preached for Church of the Ascension in Parkesburg PA.

It’s difficult to hear over the sound of rushing water, but some hidden cellist in a house near the road is playing Bach’s Cello Suite No 2 with the windows open. Creation and creation making a duet together. Sublime.

It goes right along with Makoto Fujimura’s Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, which I’ve been reading lately. I like it a lot for a couple of reasons, one of which is that I found a good start to an Easter sermon in his discussion of the New Creation that’s born out of the Resurrection. And then I read on and came to his long reflection on “doubting” Thomas and thought, wonderful, he’s got Easter 2 covered for me as well.

This creek runs along one of my favorite local cycling roads. It was like a bike highway out there today, but in a show of the abundance of divine and human creativity, there was enough road, music, air, and view for all of us.

Beauty and mercy are two paths into the sacred work of Making into the New Creation.

Makoto Fujimura

The work of ministry

I’ve been reflecting on this photo of mine and what it’s actually about. It’s one of 25 images selected for a show titled “Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait,” which opens today at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. When I submitted it a few months ago I was thinking about the heroic work of ordinary parish clergy this past year and how my fellow priests and deacons have stepped up during this covid time to meet challenges they could never have imagined.

But when I was interviewed by folks from the museum as they prepared for the opening I found myself telling a different story, talking not about hardship but about joy. Liturgy, as they taught us in seminary, is “the work of the people,” and the people in this picture were just so glad to be together, even if it meant bundling up and standing outside on a cold December morning. They were so glad to see each other again and to have communion again. (And maybe, from what folks said to me, in that order.)

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Pandemic life

One measure of how long this strange time of constrained activity has lasted: I’m starting to read the books (the ones stacked sideways) that I always meant to get to … some day …

On pilgrimage

Francis, in Assisi

It’s not that we didn’t already know that “the church” is actually the people of God, the living body of Christ, and not the building where those people gather to worship. But that point has certainly been driven home for us during this past year of pandemic, and what a comfort it has been. It means that “church” can continue even when we’re not able to be together in our buildings, no matter how much we miss them. And it has opened new possibilities we could never have imagined in “normal” times—including my presence in the Ascension community this Lent and Easter. This blessing was never part of my plans back in the time when I made plans and fully expected I’d be able to live them out.

So many of our plans have evaporated during this past year. One of the plans I did have for 2020 was to join a 10-day group pilgrimage to the mountainside town of Assisi in Italy, home to saints Francis and Clare. I was looking forward to making photographs in Assisi’s clear light, spending time with its art treasures, getting to know Francis and Clare and my fellow pilgrims better, spending time in community and precious time alone in that holy and peaceful place, and enjoying good, wholesome Italian food and wine. It was all supposed to happen last May. And of course it never did.

And that’s exactly the thing about pilgrimage. It means letting go of our own carefully laid plans and putting one foot in front of the other, living life as it comes to us and opening our hearts to receive the grace present in each moment. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is the author of a titled Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage. He says that as pilgrims “we open ourselves to each event, each person, each sorrow, each suffering, and each joy that we discover, daily, on our path.” In doing so we find blessings where we weren’t expecting them, and we find that God has been there with us all along. 

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