Sunday, December 28, 2014

I Christmas

December 28, 2014

John 1.1-18

+ As you have heard me confess many times from this pulpit; I am a church nerd. But, I think I need to be more specific with the self-description.  I am really, in all actuality, a liturgy nerd. Now, saying that I can say that I am no liturgical scholar. For me, I am more experiential in my love of liturgy.

No one has to guess what I believe, because I believe what I pray. You want to know what I believe? Look at the Book of Common prayer. Look at the Eucharist in it, look at the Daily Office in it—and there’s what I believe.  Liturgy is the basis for my personal theology, my spiritual life and my outlook on life.  So, I take it seriously, but maybe not intellectually so.  I am more interested in doing liturgy than studying liturgy at times (though I do like studying liturgy at times as well).

One of the most exciting liturgical experiences I ever had happened a few years ago. I was in Los Angeles attending a meeting. One of my dear friends and seminary classmates invited me to his church in Orange County for Sunday morning mass.  My friend is a Deacon in the Anglican Catholic Church, which is a church that is actual separate from the Anglican Communion, for various reasons. The Mass at the church he served was fascinating to me.  The liturgy was based on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and , I believe, the Anglican Missal, which was essentially an Anglican version of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Mass. I was certainly impressed because I had never experienced that particular Mass before.

And it was lovely.  I was blown away by the beauty of this mass.  But the thing I loved it best about it was something called the Last Gospel.  Some of you who were Roman Catholic might remember this. At the very end of the Mass, the priest read a portion of the Gospel we just heard.  That essentially marked the end of the Mass.

When you think about it, it’s liturgically brilliant really. In a sense, a reading about the beginning—the very beginning—is read at the end of the Mass.

In our beginning is our end, in our end if our beginning.

I love the concept of the Last Gospel. Because I love this reading from the first chapter of John. In fact, if I had a favorite scripture, this one would be it.  It’s theologically compact. It’s a perfect summary of Christian faith and theology.  And there are just layers and layers of thought and sentiment in this passage from John.

The beginning we experience today in our Gospel reading is a bit different than the beginning we read about in Genesis.

The beginning we encounter today even harkens back further than the creation of Adam and Eve. It goes back to before those creation stories to who and what God was initially.

“In the beginning…” we hear at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.

And they are certainly the most appropriate words if ever there were any.  Especially at this time of the year.  As this year runs down and the new year begins, our thoughts turn to beginnings.  

We think about that New Year and how important a new year is our lives.  It heralds for us a sense of joy—and fear—of the future.  All of a sudden we are faced with the future.  It lies there before us—a mystery.  Will this coming year bring us joy or will it bring us sadness?  Will it be a good year or a bad year?  And we step forward into the New Year without knowing what that year will hold for us. But, the fact is, at the very beginning moment, we can’t do much more than just be here, right now.  We need to just experience this beginning.  And we can’t let that anxiety of the future take hold.  We just need to be here, right now, and take part fully in this new beginning.

That’s what beginnings are all about, I guess.  That one moment when we can say:

“Right now! This is it! We are alive and we are here! Now!”

And we all know that just as soon as we do, it’ll be past.

In our reading from John this morning, it’s also one of those moments.  In that moment, we get a glimpse of one of those “right now” moments.  

It seems as though, for that moment, it’s all clear.  At least for John anyway.

We encounter, the “Word.”  The Word, as John intends, is, of course, Jesus.  Jesus as the knowledge and mind of God.  Jesus as the essence of God.  This is an appropriate way to begin the Gospel of John and to begin our new year as well.  And, in those early Masses before the 1960s, it was an appropriate way to end Mass.

It is a great beginning. It sets the tone for us as followers of Jesus.  He was there in the beginning.  And he is here, now, with us in our beginning.  And in him, we experience a beginning that doesn’t seem to end. In Jesus, God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.  

God appears to us  here not as God in the Old Testament, cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind. Instead, in Jesus, God appears before us, as one of us in a whole new beginning.  God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s essence became flesh.  

The Word spoken to us in this beginning moment, is a word of Love.  The commandment this Word tells us of is a commandment to love.  Love God and love one another as you love yourselves.

I enjoy this beginning because this is the true message of Jesus as the Word. Maybe the true message of Jesus is that, in God’s Kingdom, that beginning keeps on and on, without end.  

In God’s Kingdom there is constant renewal.  In God’s Kingdom it is always like New Year’s Day—always fresh, always full of hope for a future that does not end or disappoint.

As we prepare to celebrate 2015, this is a great way to live this beginning moment.  In this beginning moment, let us think about beginnings and how important they are for us personally and for our spiritual lives.  And let us do what we can to be the bringers of new beginnings not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.

With this encounter with the Word, we, like John, are also saying in this moment, this moment is holy.  This moment is special.  This moment is unique and beautiful, because God is reaching out to us. Unlike how we might feel at the New Year—full of both hope and apprehension—in this instance, in our grasping of it, it doesn’t wiggle away from it.  It doesn’t fall through our fingers like sand.  Or snow.  It stays with us.  Always new.  Always fresh.  Always being renewed.

We’re here.  Right now.  We’re alive!  The future is happening right now.  The Word, the Essence, of God has come to us as one of us.  It’s incredible, really.  This moment is a glorious and holy one.

So, let us, in this holy moment, be joyful.  Let us in this holy moment rejoice.  And let us, in this holy moment, in this holy beginning, look forward to what awaits us with courage and confidence.  Amen.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas

December 25, 2014

 +Once, a long time ago, when I was brand new priest, I had a parishioner at another congregation come up to me and critique one of my sermons. This is common thing that happens when you’re a clergy person. Now that I’m older and crustier and less patient about such things, whenever anyone makes a critique I listen politely and then, I very gently direct them toward the pulpit and say, “Next Sunday the pulpit is yours. I’m sure you’ll preach much better sermon than I ever could.”


Back then, though, I wasn’t the savvy, with-it, together priest who stands before you tonight.  Back then, this parishioner came up and said, “You preach way too much about love.” I was a bit shocked by that statement. I was, uncharactesrically, speechless, actually.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“All you do is preach about love. Love, love, love.”

I didn’t know how to respond then. But if I was going to respond, knowing what I know now, I would ask, “What should I be preaching about? Hate?”

I will say this: I very unapolegtically preach about love. Even to this day, I will preach about love.  I will, hopefully, with my dying breath, preach about love.  I’m a poet after all.

And love, after all,  is a good thing. A very good thing. Now, I‘m not talking about sweet, Valentine’s Day love with hearts and cupids. I am talking about real love. Solid, strong, oftentimes messy love.  

And I can tell you this: love is what Christmas is about.  A love from God to us.  A love very unlike any other kind of love.

When we think long and hard about this night, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that night when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story.  It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land.  What happened on that night was a joining together—a joining of us and God.  God met us half-way.  God came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.

On this glorious morning, we celebrate Light and love.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration.  And as it does, we realize---there is an intimacy—a love—to that action on God’s part.  

God didn’t have to do what God did.  God didn’t have to come to us and meet us here.  But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable love.  Or, as the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti put more eloquently:

Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

We will never fully understand how or why God has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. We realize that we are a people loved by our God.  All of us—no matter who we are, or what we are, or what we’ve done.  We are loved. And the proof of that love happened on this day.  And that love is all powerful.  It is all encompassing.  It is all accepting.  It is radical. And it breaks down barriers.

One of the things I enjoy doing at our Wednesday night Masses throughout the year—and we sometimes do it at Sunday morning masses too—is time travel. We sometimes will take a trip back in time. Well, this Christmas morning, we can take a little trip back in time, back 100 years today, to Friday, December 25, 1914.  On that day, in France, World War I, of course was raging.  It was already six month along and it was going to be bloody and more horrible than anyone could even imagine.

But, on that Christmas day, a brief and unofficial truce was declared and, for a moment, the German troops and the English and French troops crossed the battlefield and met.  They drank, they laughed, they sang Christmas carols, they played soccer. For a moment, in the midst of the darkness of one of the most horrible wars of all of humankind, there was a glimmer of light and peace and joy.

Even in the midst of our darkness and turmoil, even in the midst of the wars that are raging within us, what this day represents is peace and joy in our war-ravaged lives. This day is all about the love that descends into the wars of our own lives.   Our lives are different because of that love that descended into our lives. This baby—this love personified—has taken away, by the love he encompasses, everything we feared and dreaded.  

When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened.  We find ourselves expressing our intimacy back to God.  But the love and intimacy we feel between ourselves and God is a very real one tonight—in this very holy moment.  We find that this love we feel—for God and for each other and for those we maybe don’t always love, or find difficult to love—that radical love is more tangible—more real—than anything we have ever thought possible.  And that is what we are experiencing this morning.

Love came down.  Love became flesh and blood.  Love became human.  And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing today.  We are rejoicing in that love personified. We are rejoicing in each other. We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time.  And we are rejoicing in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him.

We are rejoicing in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land.  We rejoice in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die.  We rejoice in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.

But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

See, now you know why I love to preach about love.  This beautiful day, let us each cling to this love that we are experiencing today and let us hope that it will not fade from us when this day is over.  Let us cling to this holy moment and make sure that it will continue to live on and be renewed again and again.

Love is here.  Love is in our very midst today.  Love is so near, we can feel its presence in our very bodies and souls.  So, let us share this love in any way we can and let us especially welcome this love— love, all lovely, love divine—this love made human into the shelter of our hearts.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

4 Advent

December 21, 2014


Luke 1.26-38

+ I know it’s hard to believe. But, I went to a very conservative seminary.  But…to be honest…it was kind of a good thing for me. Even people who are more progressive can be a bit close-minded about things at times as well. And I was a bit of close-minded progressive before I went off to seminary.  I learned a lot there.  A lot about how to deal with people who have different views and different thinking than my own. I didn’t necessarily have accept those views, but I did understand why people had those views.

I also learned some interesting practices at my seminary.   At the seminary I went to—Nashotah House in Wisconsin—something happened three times every day. Three times every single day the big bell in the bell tower—named Michael—would chime, once in the morning before Morning Prayer, once at noon and once in the evening before Morning Prayer. Whatever we were doing at that moment, we were expected to pause and quietly pray as the bell chimed.

The traditionally thing to do was to pray the Angelus as the bell rung. The Angelus consists of three Hail Mary’s—the prayer based, yet again, on our Gospel reading from today—interspersed with vesicles also from our Gospel reading today. It begins with:

V. The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Say the Hail Mary

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it unto me according to your Word.

Another Hail Mary

V. And the Word was made flesh .
R. And dwelt among us.

Another Hail Mary

Then it ends with a wonderful collect that summarizes the Incarnation for us:

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel to the Virgin Mary, so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Angelus has a long tradition in the church.  No doubt you’ve sent the very famous painting called “The Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet of the farmers pausing in the midst of their field work to bow their heads in prayer as they hear the Angelus bell. I always loved the Angelus, because in a very real, it is a theological microcosm of what we will be celebrating this coming week.   And it is an important week on which we are about to embark.

Today, of course, is the last Sunday of Advent.  The big Day—Christmas—is now almost agonizingly close.  On the surface level, we, hopefully, are as prepared as we can be.  Presents are hopefully bought (I still have a few to buy).  Cards have been sent. Menus have been prepared. But spiritually, where are we?

This time of Advent was a time for us to prepare ourselves spiritually for this glorious event.  Has it been worthwhile?  Are we prepared spiritually for this big day? The truly honest answer to that question can only be another question: are we ever truly prepared?  Or maybe even more honest would be the question: what exactly are we preparing ourselves for?

The answer to the first question finds its answer in the second question.  What are we preparing ourselves for?  What do we believe about this day that is about to dawn upon us?  Do we believe it is just another holiday full of trinkets and caroling?  Or do we believe that this Day is an awesome Day—a Day in which, truly God draws near to us.

And there, I think, is the gist of it all. This day we celebrate this coming week is not some sweet, gentle little holiday, just involving a smiling, bright-faced baby in a barn.
Not for us, anyway, who called ourselves Christians.

This day is about God coming to us. God, in the form of this baby. That is what we are hearing about in today’s Gospel reading with the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary and that is what we are celebrating this coming week in the birth of Jesus.

In the Gospel reading, we are looking back roughly nine months from now.  We are looking back to that moment when God came to us, when God moved—and it all happened because Mary said “yes” to the Angel.

Incarnation—God with us and among us—is at the heart of what we as Christians believe.  For us, Jesus isn’t just some nice teacher like the Buddha. (and to be clear, I greatly respect the Buddha) But Jesus isn’t like the Buddha or any other great teacher.  

For us, in Jesus God has come to us.  It is the defining belief among us.  It is what makes us different than our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Yes, we believe in the same God.  But we believe that this same God has taken on human flesh and come among us.

It is also what makes us different than our Muslim brothers and sisters.  Again, we believe in the same God.  Yes, they revere Jesus as a great prophet and Mary as a truly holy servant of God, but they cannot quite accept the fact that God has become flesh in the person of Jesus, that God would have a child.  We, as Christians, do believe this.  We profess it every week in our Creed.  We celebrate it in our scripture readings.  And we partake of this belief in a very tangible way at the altar when we share Holy Eucharist with each other.  And certainly it also a major part of our outreach and ministry.

Because God has come to us in Jesus, we now see God present in those we serve. Every person—no matter who or what they are—is holy and special.  And we can even see God present in own selves.  Everything we do as Christians proclaims the fact we believe that, in Jesus, God has come among us.

The fact is, most of us probably haven’t given this whole idea of God-with-us a whole lot of thought.  Even the early Christians struggled with this belief and defined it in various ways.  For us, though, as Episcopalians, we do believe in this remarkable fact.  And we celebrate it at every opportunity we can.

Certainly every Sunday we celebrate it—here at the altar.  Our Eucharist is a remembrance of the fact that, yes, God continues to come to us, in this bread and this wine.  

In Jesus, God has become present with us.   He also encompassed everything we longed for and hoped in.  He was—and is—God. In Jesus, we find God breaking through to us. In Jesus, God has come among us and dwells among us as one of us, speaking to us as one of us.  And although many of us are still resisting it, those of us who recognize it and see it, realize that God has truly broken through to us.

It’s all, of course, a mystery.  It is beyond our understanding and our rational thought that God could do this.  

But at the same time, for those of us who have faith in God, we can just easily ask the question: why not?  Why couldn’t God do just this?  Why couldn’t God come among us and dwell with us as one of us.

Certainly this is the reality we face this coming Wednesday night and Thursday.  For those of us who have been preparing ourselves spiritually for this day, this is what we are forced to examine and face.  Our faith might not be quite at that point that we believe all of it.  But what our faith does tell us is that, whatever happens on that day, it is God breaking through to us in some wonderful and mysterious way.  And all we have to do is not be stubborn or close-minded and cold-hearted.  Rather, all we have to do is be open to that breaking through to us.

The Word was made flesh.  And dwelt among us.  Our response to that word should be the words of Mary when this incredible mystery descended upon her. Let it be with me according to your word.

God has broken through to us.  Let us meet God at that point of breakthrough rejoicing.  And let us come away from that breaking through to us with God’s word being proclaimed in our own voice.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

My new book THE DOWNSTAIRS TENANT due out MONDAY


Available Monday, December 22, 2014

THE DOWNSTAIRS TENANT AND OTHER STORIES

Jamie Parsley’s first book of short fiction contains 15 stories (and one play) of Dakota at mid-Twentieth Century, a time when morals, ideals and society in general were in flux. Capturing the “Prairie Gothic” genre, these stories are, at turns, tender and haunting, mystical and stoically unflinching, furtive and emotionally raw, violent and humorous. The characters in them struggle with overwhelming loss, tenuous faith, persistent doubt, nagging obsessions, haunted affection and, of course, an unpredictable natural world in which they ultimately find themselves exposed and vulnerable. 

 

JAMIE PARSLEY is the author twelve books of poems, including Fargo, 1957 (2010, Institute for Regional Studies). An Episcopal priest, he serves as Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Fargo, ND. He was appointed an Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota in 2004 by Poet Laureate Larry Woiwode.

 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Article from today's Fargo Forum


He's raising the bar with his vintage glassware
By Ryan Johnson Today at 10:28 p.m.

FARGO - When Jamie Parsley spotted a 1940s bar cart at an antique store, he knew he needed to buy it.
“I was really looking for something for my vintage (cocktail) shakers more than anything else,” he said.

But over the past two years, the small stand with brass legs and three glass shelves has become much more than a practical way of displaying his shakers, decanters and glasses.
“It’s definitely a conversation piece, and not everybody has one of these,” he said. “That was part of the other reason why I really, really liked it.”
Vintage bar carts are a popular home accessory once again, according to Brett Bernath, owner of Midmodmadhaus in downtown Fargo – but he has a hard time finding them for his midcentury modern store, and an even harder time keeping one in stock.
“They sell right away when I do find them,” he said. “They’re something that I’ll throw up on my (Facebook) page and usually get a call or someone comes in in the first couple days.”
While the resurgence of midcentury modern furniture, accessories and even cocktails from the 1940s-1960s is often said to be a reaction to the popularity of AMC’s period drama “Mad Men,” Bernath said the main driving force is easier to understand: nostalgia.
“For people of my generation and maybe a generation older, the people who are my prime customers, this is what was in their grandma’s house or was their parents’ secondhand furniture when they were a kid, and that’s the connection with it,” he said.
‘Epitome of style’
Parsley, a priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo and a poet and author, said he had always loved the midcentury modern style. But he got a chance to embrace that six years ago when he moved into the church’s nearby rectory, a large single-family house built in 1959 that’s still full of detail from that period.
Through careful searching at thrift and antique stores, as well as gifts and freebies from congregants and friends, he’s filled the space with accents from 1957 to 1963, including an old aluminum Christmas tree with a retro color wheel to light it up.
Like the rest of his vintage goods, Parsley slowly amassed an impressive collection of vintage decanters, glasses, shakers and an old seltzer bottle to fill up the bar cart that he said has become a piece to gather around whenever he entertains at home.
“There’s a sturdiness to this, and you can tell the way they built it that it was meant to last,” he said. “That was the epitome of style at that point.”
While Parsley said it’s not necessary to use a bar cart like the characters of “Mad Men” – a morning cocktail at a business meeting is no longer as accepted these days – he said new owners of this fun, functional furniture should use it for its original purpose of serving drinks.
“I think the key is to be creative,” he said. “If they’re interested in the vintage stuff, this is probably going to be your focal point for the vintage kind of things. If nothing else, it’s a great place to put some of those vintage glasses out and to really display that.”
Vintage bar cart, classic cocktails
Like midcentury modern style and design, old-fashioned cocktails also are making a “huge comeback” in Fargo-Moorhead right now, according to Richard Pallay III, restaurant manager at Mezzaluna.
“Old Fashioneds, last words and perfect Manhattans, these are all drinks that are really, really booming and customers are getting aware of it again and they’re loving it again and finding little variations,” he said.
So it makes sense for new owners of vintage bar carts to up their game and master at least one classic cocktail to impress their guests, according to Pallay.
How to stock a bar cart will depend on the owner’s individual tastes and preferences, he said, as well as what kind of drinks they’d like to serve during parties and gatherings. But Pallay said quality tools, such as a bar spoon and shaker, will come in handy for any at-home mixologist.
He recommends stocking up on the basics, including sweet vermouth, a good whiskey and vodka that’s at least triple distilled and a gadget to squeeze juice out of fresh fruit – something he said will make every drink much better and fresher.
For those who are uninitiated with mixing up classic cocktails, Pallay offered a simple recipe for a classic Old Fashioned that’s sure to keep guests coming back for more.
First, pour about an ounce and a half of bourbon or rye whiskey over ice. Add two dashes of angostura bitters, a few dashes of plain water and a little bit of simple syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water.
“You just muddle all that together, garnish with an orange slice and you’re good to go,” he said.
Once comfortable with the basics, Pallay suggests incorporating variations into our own drinks to make a signature cocktail that guests will remember while still getting a classic flavor.
“It’s this re-picking back up instead of recreating something brand new,” he said. “Why not take something that’s been done before, put a little tweak on it and just make it delicious and fit your needs?”
After four years of covering news for the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Ryan Johnson has been a features reporter for The Forum's Variety section since 2013. His prior beats included politics, business, city government and higher education. Johnson is a 2008 alumnus of the University of North Dakota. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
(701) 241-5587

3 Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 14, 2014


Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11;1 Thes. 5.16-24

+ In case you haven’t noticed, it’s kind of a special Sunday. James yesterday posted a Facebook meme:

“Everything’s coming up roses!”

And it sure is. Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Or Rose Sunday.

Traditionally, on Gaudete Sunday, we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  

I’m impressed by all of you. More often than not, when there’s a shift in our liturgical season, you definitely notice it. You notice the change in the colors. I get lots of comments on the color of my chasuble when I greet you at the door.

And today, of course, it’s a noticeable change. We don’t get to trot out the rose-colored vestments often. The next time we’ll do it is in Lent.

But I love this Sunday. Lighting the pink candle is a sign to us that the shift has happened.  Now there are more candles lit than are unlit on the wreath.  The light has won out and the darkness, we are realizing, is not an eternal darkeness.

Gaudete means “rejoice” and that’s exactly what we should be doing on this Sunday.  We should rejoice in the light that is winning out.  We should rejoice in the fact that darkness has no lasting power over us.

This Sunday sets a tone different than the one we’ve had so-far in Advent.  We find that word—rejoice—ringing out throughout our scriptural readings today.  It is the theme of the day.  It is the emotion that permeates everything we hear in the Liturgy of the Word on this Sunday.

In our reading from the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah, we hear

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

In our Epistle, we find even Paul—who seems a bit, shall we say, dour at times— rejoicing. “Rejoice always,” he writes to the church at Thessalonika. This emotion of joy is something we oftentimes take for granted.  Let’s face it, joy doesn’t happen often enough in our lives.  It certainly doesn’t happen enough in my life.  It is a rare occurrence for the most part.  

And maybe it should be.  It is certainly not something we want to take for granted.  When joy comes to us, we want to let it flow through us.  We want it to guide us and overwhelm us.  But we often don’t think about how essential joy is to us.  Joy is essential to all of us as Christians.  It is one of those marks that make us who we are as Christians. Or it should anyway.

Sadly, I don’t think there all that many joyful Christians.  But we all should be joyful Christians.  

Still, as we all know, there are moments.  There are moments when we simply cannot muster joy.  No matter how many parties we might plan or host or go to, no matter how much we try to break the hold the hard, difficult things of life have placed on us, it is hard sometimes to feel joy.  Cultivating joy in the midst of overwhelming sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression can seems overwhelming and impossible.

That’s why joy really is a discipline. When things like sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression descend upon—and they descend upon us all—we need, in those moments, to realize that joy might not be with us in that moment, but joy always returns.  We need to search deep within us for that joy that we have as Christians.  And when we search for it, we can find it.

That joy often comes when we put our pains into perspective.  That joy comes when we recognize that these dark moments that happen in our lives are not eternal.  They will not last forever. That, I think, is where we sometimes fail.  When we are in the midst of those negative emotions in our lives, we often feel as though they will never end.  We often feel as though we will always be lonely, we always be sad, we will always mourn.

As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to be boxed in by despair.  As Christians, we are forced, again and again, to look at the larger picture.  We are forced to see that joy is always there, just beyond our grasp, awaiting us. Joy is there when we realize that in the midst of our darkness, there is always light just beyond our reach.  And when it comes back into our lives, it truly is wonderful…

It’s not always something one is able to identify in a person.  Joy doesn’t mean walking around smiling all the time.  It doesn’t mean that we have force ourselves to be happy at all times in the face of every bad thing.  If we do that, we become nothing more than a programmed robot or a trained puppy.

True joy come bubbling up from within us.  It is a true grace—it is a gift we are given that we simply don’t ask for.  It comes from a deep place and it permeates our whole being, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world around us.  It is a joy that comes from deep within our very essence—from that place of our true selves.

Advent is, essentially, a penitential season.  It is a time for us to recognize that we are slugging through the muck of our lives—a muck we are at least, in part, responsible for.  But Advent is also a time for us to be able to rejoice even in the midst of that muck.  It is a time for us realize that we will not be in that muck for ever.  The muck doesn’t win out.  The joy we carry deep within us wins out. So, as we gather together this morning, and as we leave here this morning, let us remember the joy we feel at seeing this pink candle lit.

We have made it this far.  The tide has shifted.  The light is winning out.  The dawn is about to break upon our long dark night. As we ponder this, as we meditate on this, as we take this with us in our hearts, pay special attention to the emotion this causes within us.  Let us embrace that welling up of joy from deep within.  And let it proclaim on our lips the words we, along the prophet Isaiah, long to say:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;


Friday, December 5, 2014

Vegan Diary: One Year Vegan



One year ago today, I went vegan. So, essentially, this is my first vegan birthday. As strange as that might seem t some people, it has been a truly amazing year.

One year ago today, I planned on only trying veganism for one week. I had been vegetarian on and off for many years and I thought being vegan, though it seemed quite extreme, couldn’t be that much different than being lacto-ovo vegetarian. To say the least, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

            Mind you, I am not saying it was an easy year. In no way was it easy. But it was a good decision to make for myself. And for that, I am grateful.

            Here are some of the benefits I’ve discovered in being vegan:      

Allergies
Within that first week, I noticed that for the time in my life, my allergies were gone. This was the most surprising and most amazing aspects for me. I had suffered with allergies ever since I was very young. Those first few days waking up without a clogged nose or a sore throat were wonderful. I was, at first, a bit apprehensive in giving up my allergy meds, but soon I really didn’t them. The real test came in August, when my allergies were the worst. This usually was a very miserable time for me, especially during harvest time. Although I felt a bit of a tightness in my nose at times, I had no real symptoms during the time, though I had meds ready in case it got too bad.

Illness
I have been amazed by the fact that I have barely been sick with anything, not even a cold. 

Energy
My energy levels have been better than ever. I sleep better at night than I ever have in my entire life. I awake in the morning feeling refreshed and clear-headed and I actually have the energy to do the work that needs to be done in a day.

Weight
This was the most surprising for me. For the better part of this year, I had lost no weight. In fact, I actually gained a few pounds here and there. Only in the last month and half have I started to lose weight—as in losing 20+ pounds. There are two reasons for the lack of weight loss: one, I found myself eating much more as a vegan than I ever did as an omnivore or a lacto-ovo vegetarian. The food tasted so much better as a vegan and there were so many more varieties of food. Plus, it was fun exploring all the vegan foods I could eat. That phase is pretty much over. I have learned that, like any food one eats, one needs to eat in moderation and, even for vegans, the old maxim of “eating less and moving more” really is best. The second issue I discovered regarding weight was that there were one or two contributing factors that were hijacking the whole thing, namely, alcohol. I like to have drinks on occasion, but I have discovered that cutting back on alcohol has most definitely helped with eh weight loss.

Compassion
This is an issue I have not discussed too often with people, partly because I did not want to sound like some bleeding heart. But I have discovered that both the meat and dairy industries are industries based on much suffering. Those animals who produce the meat and dairy we eat suffer. There’s no way around that, of course. For any living thing to die, it has to die somewhat violently. I grew up in a world where this was a fact we simply accepted. I’ve remember vividly my grandmother and aunts cutting the heads of the chickens they raised. I remember seeing cows slaughtered. We always knew this and accepted it.

But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to accept kind of Christian karma in life, namely that there are consequences to every action we make. Or, as I always like to quote, “the chickens always come home to roost.” That thinking can certainly be applied to the food we eat. There is violence involved in meat and dairy, and I can’t help but believe that many of the health issues we have come from eating food gained by violent means.  That violence, at least on a spiritual level, can, I believe, be ingested by eating food gained by violent means.

For me (and I only speak for myself on this issue), a decision to not eat meat and dairy is as much a moral issue as it is a health issue. As a Christian, I really strongly believe in non-violence as much as possible, and that conviction carries over to the very food I eat.

The apologetic vegan
One important lesson I learned this year was  to be (borrowing a term from pop star, Moby) an “apologetic vegan.” I realize how threatening veganism seems to people who have never even considered it before. I can say that it used to seem very daunting to me in my pre-vegan days (and even during my first month or so).

I have found that people are much more open to discuss and ask questions if I gently and apologetically inform them I’m vegan rather than wave it in their faces. Restaurant servers, friends and family hosting meals and dining partners all seem to appreciate this approach. And, more importantly, feel more comfortable engaging me in conversations about why and how I’m vegan.

Saying all that, I will stress that I was not, however, a spineless vegan. If something I ordered came with cheese on it, I sent it back with a respectful but firm explanation. I wasn’t willing to make compromises so I could be nice. 

Proselytizing
Yes, although I am a priest, I’ve never been good at proselytizing about my faith and I am certainly no good as doing so about what I eat. I realize that being vegan is not for everybody. Yes, ideally, it would be great if people could eat compassionately and healthy. But food is a sacred matter to people, I’ve discovered, and as such it, like religion, becomes a very passionate issue for some people.

            It has been frustrating having people tell me I should not be vegan because it is unhealthy (people who, ironically, have had health issue which were probably due to their own eating habits). It has been frustrating having people not being as respectful of my diet as I have been of theirs. But, as apologetic as I may be to some people, I have not backed down nor compromised my convictions on this issue.

            Like my faith, I have found that probably the loudest thing I can say about being vegan isn’t at all what I say, but the life I live. And I can say that my life as a vegan, has most definitely been a good and healthy one.   

Mistakes
I made many mistakes this year. Who knew that animal products were in so many different things? I certainly never had a clue that even things like some guacamole, my white soy latte at Starbuck’s or some of the wine I enjoyed had animal products  in them (and don’t even get me started on sugar).

            Sadly, I realized, that it is almost impossible to be 100% vegan. Sometimes I had to learn that that delicious cheeseless pizza was made with a dough that had animal product in it. Or that burger bun I ordered at the pub had dairy in it (after I ordered it).

            Probably the biggest lesson I learned was this: I learned to forgive myself. And I learned that being vegan meant more than being a purist. Being vegan meant making the best choices I could in a particularly situation and ultimately to remain true to my convictions.