Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Memorial Service for Jackie Parsley

The memorial service for my cousin, Jackie Parsley, 42, will be Saturday, May 4 at 10:00 am at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

A reception will be held following the service.
Private committal of ashes will be at a later date.

Jacquelynn Marie Parsley, 42, Milwaukee, WI, formerly of Kindred, ND, died in her home Friday, April 19, 2013.  

Jackie was born April 11, 1971 in Fargo, ND to James and Anna (Bordt) Parsley. She attended school in Kindred, graduating from Kindred High School in 1989.  She went on to attend North Dakota State, and was part of two national Bison women’s basketball championship teams.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from NDSU and a master’s degree from Valley City State in education.   She carried her love for basketball over to the next generation.  Jackie was the head girl’s basketball coach for several high school in North Dakota and Minnesota.  She finished her coaching career at the University of Wisconsin- Platteville.

She is survived by three sisters, Deb (Paul) Arnason, Grand Forks, ND, Geraldene (Rob) Bodin, Medina, ND, and Jenelle (Bart) Hughes, Colorado Springs, Co.  Jackie was also survived by a plentitude of extended family to include nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.  She also had close friends spreading from Fargo to Milwaukee that will miss her dearly.  

She was preceded in death by her parents.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

4 Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday
April 21, 2013

John 10.22-30

+ This past week of course we have been, collectively, through a true spectrum of emotions with all the events which have unfolded in Boston. It was hard to maneuver them at times.  I couldn’t keep up with it all as times.  And there were moments when letting fear win out, when letting fear reign, was almost too easy.

For me personally this past week was particularly hard. On Friday morning, one of my closest cousins, Jackie, died in Milwaukee. Jackie was only a year younger than me. She was a very successful basketball player in her college days at NDSU and was one of the first members of the family (after me) to get a Master’s Degree in our family. I was particularly close to her and her death has hit me very hard.

In moments in which innocent people die in horrible acts of terrorism and violence, when loved ones die, it is hard in this Easter season to say, with any real enthusiasm, “Alleluia.”

Last Wednesday, at the Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen’s, I mentioned that I had just finished a wonderful book about the great Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.”

If you do not know this song, I highly recommend you listen to it sometime.  It is an incredible song.  The book, called  The Holy and the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light, is a fascinating look at this one song that has taken on so many different interpretations over the last almost fifty years.

I still cannot listen to the Jeff Buckley version of the song to this day, with its one long exhale at the beginning, without crying.

At one point in the book , a Presbyterian pastor, who utilized the song in a service in Canada (Cohen’s home country), said this.

There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even the great King David could only muster the cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonely Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation... The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”
“There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even the great King David could only muster the cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonely Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation... The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”

This past week, many of us have truly experienced the backhanded glory of God.  And doing so, is not easy. In fact, it is hard. But, this backhand glory of God is a reality.

This morning, on this co-called Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd—we also encounter the compassion of our God.  Yes, even in the backhanded glory of God, we also experience the compassion of God.  This encounter with the Good Shepherd makes all the difference in how we go forward, after that “turning point in our salvation.”

This image of the Good Shepherd is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him at that time. They would have understood what a good shepherd was and what a bad shepherd was. The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock. He looked out for them, he watched them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock.  He led the flock to a place to eat.

This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock. Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves. In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd. He is not the co-dependent shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed each one of them. Rather, he guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them to feed themselves. The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there. He protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water

Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there. This past week, with all the events unfolding steadily in Boston, and in our own personal lives, we know there are dangers out there. And frightening dangers, nonetheless.  There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt.

If we follow the Good Shepherd, if we allow ourselves to be led by him, we realize that those pitfalls are difficult, yes, but they don’t defeat us.   Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one. We can still get hurt along the way. Bad things can still happen to us. There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us. There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting to rain down upon us.

But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us.  We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will rescue us.

Most importantly the Good Shepherd knows his flock.

“I know them and they follow me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading.

If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold. This is the kind of relationship we have with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We are know him because he knows us. He knows us and calls us each by our name.

In Jesus, we don’t have some vague, distant God. We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves. We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock. We have a God who even, in God’s backhanded glory, knows us and loves and cares for us.   All these are important images, vital images to explain the relationship God has with us and we with God.

But the Good Shepherd doesn’t end there. This isn’t just about me as an individual and Jesus.  The image of the Good Shepherd must be taken and applied by anyone. Any of us who follow Jesus are called to be good  shepherds in turn.. We must love and love fully those who around us. We must care for those people who walk this path with us. We must look out for our loved ones and even our enemies, and we must shepherd them in whatever ways we can in our own lives.

Again, this is not easy, especially when it seems we are lost at times, when we are falling into the traps life sets before us, when we feel aimless in that backhanded glory of God, when our alleluias feels cold and lonely.   But, that’s the way God’s backhanded glory works, sometimes. Sometimes, God’s works through our brokenness and helps us to guide others in their brokenness.  Sometimes the best Good Shepherd is the one who has known fully what a lost sheep feels like, who knows the coldness and loneliness of being that lost sheep.

So, on this day in which we celebrate the Shepherd who leads and guides, let us not only be led, but let us also lead.   On this day that we look to the Shepherd who guides, let us be guided and let us guide others.  And let our alleluia on this Good Shepherd Sunday, even if it is a cold and lonely Alleluia, still be an Alleluia nonetheless. Let it be the sound we make, even in the cold and lonely places we sometimes find ourselves in.  And let us, in that place, know that, even there, even there in the backhanded glory of God, we are still experiencing the glory of God.




Friday, April 19, 2013

Prayers for the repose of the soul of my cousin, Jackie Parsley

I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of my cousin, Jackie Parsley, who died today very suddenly and unexpectedly.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

3 Easter

John 21: 1-19

+ Now I know this is a strange questions to ask on a Sunday morning. And I know the answer I’m going to receive before I ask. But…have you ever had one of times in which you seem to have a bunch of excess energy? The answer is probably a big fat no.  I know many of us would kill to have excess energy in their lives.

But, I’ve got to say it, I am experiencing that excess energy right now in my life. I feel like I’m revving with energy all the time. I don’t now if it’s because I’m a vegetarian or what, but I am just like some kind of mini tornado.

In addition to all the work I was doing during Holy Week and since in being your priest, I also have been working like crazy at the Rectory. I’ve been painting cupboards. I’ve been cleaning. I bought a pair of 1950s chairs this past week and they looks soooo cool in the rectory.  But of course that meant rearranging and changing around. You can see some of these changes I’ve made on my blog:

Often times in my life, anyway, I find myself feeling much more comfortable doing something, rather than just sitting around. Especially when the big things happen. For example, when my father died, I found that the worst thing  could’ve done is just sit around. I ended doing something everyone tells us we shouldn’t do in situations like that. I drowned myself in work. I don’t recommend that toany of you. But it was good for me. I found doing some thing helped me deal with that shock and loss.

In this morning’s Gospel, we find the Apostles doing something very much like that. They aren’t sitting around doing nothing. They are doing some thing. They are keeping busy.

In the wake of the murder of Jesus, in the wake of his resurrection, in the wake of his appearing to them—in the wake of this unusual, extraordinary activity in their lives—they do the most ordinary thing in their lives.  They go fishing. They pick up their nets and they go out onto the water. No doubt, considering all that had happened to them in the previous days and weeks, their minds were reeling.  But, now, are doing something they knew how to do Something that gave them some comfort, no doubt.   

This what they did after all. This what their fathers did and no doubt what their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did as well. Fishing was in their blood. It was all they knew until Jesus came into their lives.  And, no doubt, when the extraordinary events of Jesus’ murder and resurrection happened, the only way they could find some normalcy in their life was by going fishing.

The fact is, this is probably the last time they would ever go fishing together. Their old life had once and for all passed away with the voice that calls to them from the shore.  Their jobs as fishermen would change with the words “Feed my sheep.”

No longer would they be fishing for actual fish. They would be fishing from now on for humans. That symbolic number of 153 seems to convey to us that the world now has become their lake.

And what is particularly poignant about all of this is Jesus doesn’t come into their lives to change them into something else. He comes into their lives and speaks to them in language they understand. He could have said to them: “Go out and preach and convert.” But to fishermen, that means little or nothing.  They are fishermen, not priests or pastors. They are not theologians.

Instead, Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” This they would understand. In those simple words, they would have got it.  And when he says “feed my sheep,” Shepherd my sheep,” it was not just a matter of catching and eating. It was a matter of catching and nurturing.

In a sense, we are called by Jesus as well to be shepherds like Peter and the fellow apostles to feed.  And those around us—those that share this world with us—are the ones Jesus is telling us to feed as well.

It isn’t enough that we come here to church on a Sunday morning to be fed. We, in turn, must go out and feed.  And this command of Jesus is important. Jesus asks it of Peter three times—one time for each time Peter denied him only a few weeks before.  Those words of Jesus to Peter are also words to us as well.

In the wake of the devastating things that happen in our lives, the voice of Jesus is a calm center. Amid the chaos of the world, the calm, cool voice of Jesus is still saying to us, as we cope in our ordinary ways, “feed my sheep.” Because, it is in these strange and difficult times that people need to be fed and nourished.  It is in times like these that we need to be fed, and it is in times like these that we need to feed others as well. That, in a sense, is what it means to be a Christian.

Following Jesus, as we all know, is not easy.  The fact is: it’s probably the hardest thing one can do.  Christ—God in the flesh—is not present to us as he was present to those fishermen in this morning’s gospel. He is not cooking us a breakfast when we come back from ordinary work.  Loving a God who is not visible—who is not standing before us, in flesh and blood, is not easy.  And I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone here this morning: loving our neighbors—those people who share our world with us—as ourselves, is not easy by any means.

It takes constant work to love. It takes constant discipline to love as Jesus loved.  It takes constant work to love ourselves—and most of us don’t love ourselves—and it takes constant work to love others.

But look at the benefits.  Look at what our world would be like if we loved God, if we loved ourselves and loved others as ourselves.  It was be ideal.  It would truly be the Kingdom of God, here on earth.  It would be exactly what Jesus told us it would be like. But to do this—to bring this about—to love God, to love ourselves, to love each other, is hard work.

Some would say it’s impossible work.  Certainly, it seems overwhelming at times.  It seems too much for us to even consider in times when the world seems out of control, when hatred and violence seem to reign supreme, when crazy dictators threaten to launch nuclear missiles as a show of might and power.   It seems impossible when we realize that what we are asked to do is love and serve something that we don’t see.

Let’s face it, to live as Jesus expects us to live, to serve as Jesus calls us to serve, to love as Jesus loves, is not easy.  Being a Christian means living one’s life fully and completely as a follower of Jesus. It means being a reflection of God’s love and goodness in the world.

A quote you’ve heard me share many, many time is this one of  St. Augustine: “Being a Christian means being an Alleluia from head to toe.”

It means being an Alleluia even when the bad things in life happen. It means being an Alleluia—in our service to others—when we would rather go fishing. It means, occasionally, going and feeding the sheep rather than going off fishing when the bad things in life happen.

In the midst of all the things in the world that confuse us—as we struggle to make sense of the world—the voice of Jesus is calling to us, is telling us to “feed his sheep. Because in feeding those sheep, we too will be fed. In nurturing Christ’s sheep, we will be nurtured. In finding the Alleluia amidst the darkness, we—in our bodies and in our souls—become—from our head to our toes—an Alleluia.



Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rectory renovations

I have the great fortune of living in the St. Stephen's rectory, a lovely home built in 1959. I love that era of style and archetecture, so living here has been a pleasure for me.

Of course, the rectory has been remodeled at least once (in the 1980s) over those 50 years. With the blizzards of these last several weeks, I have found myself doing some inexpensive renovations, especially to the kitchen and bathroom.

I started out with this cupboard (above). Originally, it was the same ugly brown as the rest of the wooden cupboards. The problem with the cupboard was that there was not much that could be stored in it because it was so narrow. So, I took off the door, filled the holes, painted it white, the interiors red and placed these wonderful aqua-colored pieces in them.

Next I painted this wonderful little shelf. It also was the same dark, chipped wood as the rest of the cupboards. I painted the shelves white and the backs a light gray.

I then painted the panels of all the cupboards, which lightened up the room tremendously. It also brought out the wood.

This is the table and chairs in the kitchen. I had a single polka-dot curtain that I couldn't use anywhere else, so I used it as a table cloth (with the addition of a runner)

Then came the bathroom. I painted the cabinets first and attached new handles. I left it like that for a day or two, but quickly realized I always hated the 1980s-looking mirror frame. So, I painted the edges of both the mirror and the row of lights above it. Again, it definitely lightened up the room!

This past week I bought a matching pair of chairs from circa 1958. I love them!

The chairs definitely made the living room pop!
I bought this Rothko print on Friday and put it above the couch. It's the perfect touch!

Here's the ultra-cool purple vinyl chair I got some time ago. That end table came from Target of all places.
Then, finally I decided to paint the front door red.
This is the little table I made from a some 1950s table legs. That art piece came from Wal-Mart. Who'd a thunk?

A very ugly 1980s chandelier hung in the dining room. I took this great 1940s red shade that came from a standing lamp I bought at a garage sale and wired it upside down to the lamp (I didn't feel like taking the whole lamp down and replacing it with something else). It looks so cool in the dining room.

The aluminum Christmas tree (with an original color wheel in the lower right corner) looked great in the living room this past Christmas.

I found this great clock in February when I was on vacation in Florida. It's been updated to that it's battery powered, so it actually works!

Here are the two mobiles I made for the entry way (top) and the living room (bottom).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

2 Easter

April 7, 2013
John 20.19-31

+ I often get in trouble for this. Or I have in the past, shall we say? I often get in trouble for sharing some of my doubts. Doubts are not what people want to hear from their priest. I think people want their priests to have all the answers-=this rock-solid faith that can never be shaken. If you have ever met that priest, please introduce her or him to me. I would love to meet a priest like that. I want to BE that priest.

The fact is, yes, I have doubts too.

Yesterday, we celebrated the baptism of Emerson and Adeline Crosby. As you know, I LOVE baptisms. But baptisms are all about confronting our doubts. I say “confronting” our doubts. It is not about getting rid of them, or eliminating any doubt from our lives, or having all our doubts answered and proved.

But in Baptism, we are asked some very important questions about our faith. Do you believe these things? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Those are hard things to believe in at times. Those are hard things to wrap our minds around at times.

It’s much easier, I think, not to believe anything. It’s easy to look up into the sky and say, we see no God. It’s easy to say we don’t believe in things we can’t see. It’s easy to say there are no ghosts, no demons, no angels.  There are no hidden secrets. There are no frightening unanswered questions about existence. No one is watching us, looking over us, observing us.  No surprises await us when we shed this mortal coil and head into the darkness of death.  There is no hell, and no heaven.

I get that. I almost—ALMOST—envy that.

And when the atheists start raging about the white-bearded male god who sits on a throne in heaven, I realize: if that is what they don’t believe in, then…I’m an atheist too. I don’t believe in that god either.  I don’t believe in a god that is so made in our image. I don’t believe in a god that is simply a projection of our own image and self.  Who would want that god?  We might as well go back and start worshipping the pantheon of pagan gods our ancestors worshipped.

The fact is, our God is not like that. Our God is not that easy to quantify. Our God is not that easy to pin down and define.

For us, Christians, it isn’t as easy. Being a Christian is actually quite hard.  Yes, we do believe in the existence of a God that is beyond our understanding.

When I am done with this sermon, we will all stand and profess what we believe in the Nicene Creed that lays out quite clearly exactly what it is we believe as Christians.  That Creed is not easy. It’s actually quite complicated.  In it, we say we believe in complicated things like the Incarnation, the belief that, in Jesus, God has become actual flesh and blood. Or to use the words of the Creed:

We believe that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light,/true God from true God…”

Or the Resurrection.  We believe that Jesus, God in the flesh, having been murdered ‘[on] the third day…rose again…”—in his flesh and blood.

And we believe these things not because we’ve seen them with our own eyes. We didn’t.   We are essentially taking the word of a pre-scientific (dare we say “primitive”) group of people who lived two thousand years ago. We believing what a group of pre-Enlightenment, Pre-rational, superstitious Jews from a backwater Third World country are telling us they saw.

But believe because we know, in our hearts, that this is true. We know these things really did happen and that because they did, life is different—life is better, despite everything that happens. We believe these things in true faith.

We didn’t see Jesus while he was alive and walking about. We didn’t see him after he rose from the tomb.  We don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel.

Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.  It wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh—how many of us would only jump at that chance. For Thomas, Jesus stood there before him, in the flesh—wounds and all.  And only when he had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.

But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy. Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh. At least, not on this side of the Veil—not while we are still alive.  And we are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.

Let’s face it, to believe without seeing, is not easy.  It takes work and discipline. A strong relationship with God—this invisible being we might sense, we might feel emotionally or spiritually, but we can’t pin-point—takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work. It takes discipline. It takes concentrated effort.

Being a Christian does not just involve being nice on occasion.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean just being ethical and moral. Being a Christian means living one’s faith life fully and completely as a Christian. Being a Christians means being a reflection of God’s love, God’s Presence, God’s joy and goodness in the world.

 And when we do that, God is present among us. We can’t prove it. We can’t quantify it. But we know it. And we feel it.

 Now, for Thomas, he saw.  He touched.  It was all clear to him. But we don’t get that chance.  

 “Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

 We are those blessed ones. We are the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel. Blessed are all of you. You  believe, but don’t see. Seen or unseen, we know God is there.  And our faith is not based on seeing God here in front of us in the flesh or proving the existence of God, or finding scientific proof for the Resurrection.  Because we have faith that one day, yes, we will see God. Because Jesus died and was resurrected, we too will die and be resurrected.

 We too will live a life of unending perfect sight in God’s presence.   We will, on that glorious day, run to God and see God face to face.  And in that moment, our faith will be fulfilled.

 Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now.  The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.


3 Pentecost

  June 26, 2022   1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62   + I don’t want to toot my own horn, but for any of y...