mainestewards

November 29, 2014

Arm’s Length Generosity

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent,Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:56 pm

My latest inner journey began quite innocently. There was nothing particularly unusual about the Sunday morning: I settled into my pew, opened the bulletin, and began to sift through the various inserts that would shape a good portion of my calendar for the next few weeks. The announcements were things I already knew about, but a special green half-sheet offered something new, “Sign Up for Christmas Giving Opportunities.”

It’s been quite a while since we have been part of a congregation that had an active Angel Tree sort of ministry. This is going to be fun!

There were two invitations to choose from: We could provide gifts for a family in need through our relationship with one of the local food pantries, or we could provide gifts for children of incarcerated people as an extension of our parish jail ministry. Aside from some differences in the details, the guidelines were pretty standard for this sort of outreach…until it came to the delivery instructions:

Gifts are to be wrapped and returned to the church office by Wednesday, December 10th. Please put the recipient’s first name on the gift and use the Family # in place of the last name.

Pretty standard. I can do that.

Gifts are to be wrapped and delivered to the children’s families several days prior to Christmas. If you prefer not to deliver the gifts yourself, we can arrange delivery for you.

Are you kidding me?! My reaction was immediate and visceral: Not. gonna. happen.

I would love to be high-minded and claim that I was living into the tzedakah, the Jewish practice of generosity that places a higher value on situations in which the giver and the recipient are unknown to one another. But that’s not my truth this time.

I could also claim that it’s somehow more “Christmas-y” for the recipients to receive anonymous gifts. It’s a little more magical, and it preserves the recipients’ dignity. But, again, it’s not the truth.

No, it’s not the face of poverty that’s the problem here. It’s the face of generosity. The real reason that I recoil from the notion of personally delivering gifts to the homes of children whose parents are incarcerated is not because of their situation; it’s because of mine. Abundance is embarrassing. Admitting to my share in Lady Bountiful Syndrome is simply too big a risk, too raw a truth, too real in its disparity. I drop gifts off in the church office for the same reason that I buy neatly wrapped cuts of beef from the grocery store—it tidies up the reality.

Perhaps it would be appropriate, therefore, on this First Sunday in Advent, to make a New Liturgical Year’s Resolution: I am challenging myself to live openly as a generous person, in spirit and in practice. I will learn to put a face on loving my neighbor as myself, to stop hiding from the light of genuine engagement. Will I be ready to deliver the gifts myself next year? I don’t know. I can’t promise that. I can only promise that I will, somehow, be changed.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy “Jenny, Family #16” that sturdy lidded stock pot she’s wishing for.

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September 10, 2013

Sinners and Saints

Filed under: Children and Families,Congregational Development,Leadership,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 9:57 am

Every once in a while I sit down to write, to reflect on something that has spoken to me, and discover that the source does not want to be quoted, but rather shared. So it is this week with Sunday’s broadcast of On Being.

Nadia Bolz-Weber on Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Tattoos, Tradition, and Grace

She’s the tattooed, Lutheran pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, a church where a chocolate fountain, a blessing of the bicycles, and serious liturgy come together. She’s a face of the Emerging Church — redefining what church is, with deep reverence for tradition.

I found this hour to be deeply moving, funny, provocative, and refreshing. She talks openly about wrestling with her own sense of mission and ministry when the wrong kind of newcomers started showing up in church, and how her congregation opened her eyes to new dimensions of welcome and community. She has the best Good Friday line I’ve ever heard. And in her fierce commitment to liturgy and tradition I found the balance I needed in my understanding of the emerging church.

But here’s my favorite moment of all: Forget the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear. That’s Western individualism run amok. The truth is, God doesn’t give any one of us more than the community that upholds us can bear together.

Give yourself a 51-minute gift at http://www.onbeing.org/program/nadia-bolz-weber-on-seeing-the-underside-and-seeing-god-tattoos-tradition-and-grace/5896#sthash.zfW0GJZW.dpuf. I would love to hear your own reflections and talk more in the comments area below about how her words resonate with you.

September 1, 2013

Hosts, Feasts, and Angels Unaware

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 2:45 pm

Twenty years ago a middle-aged couple fell in love with a house on the edge of a lake—and on the edge of their price range. In wrestling with the purchase of this beautiful house, they made a covenant that, should Providence deem this to be their home, it would be dedicated as a place of hospitality. They did indeed purchase the home and six weeks later, barely unpacked, they gathered for Thanksgiving dinner with family, friends, and those who were alone.

Among the “strays” gathered for that first Thanksgiving were a foreign graduate student and a young administrator from the local university. Today, that graduate student is a US citizen, father of a lively seventh grader. His career has taken a serpentine course through multiple relocations, landing him back in the community where he started. (The former university administrator now writes a stewardship blog.) In the intervening years, neither has forgotten the gift of hospitality that this couple embodied. Their example has been multiplied many times over, not because their guests paid them back, but because their partners in baptism have each paid the original offerings forward in their own understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Another banquet story tells a less noble tale. In fact, it is the story of one of my least baptismal moments.

Mallory and I were struggling to fill a quiet Sunday—we had managed to do fun things on Saturday, and Monday would send us back to school and work, but the long Sabbath of a Sunday was daunting. We decided to spend the day in Pretoria—the drive alone was three hours round trip, add a visit with my in-laws, lunch, maybe a movie, and we’re set.

Nestled into our favorite lunch spot, all was going beautifully until our food arrived. She took one look at her beloved seafood pizza, piled with scallops, mussels, and assorted other delicacies, and her face fell: I’m sorry, Mommy. I didn’t know that the reason I like this pizza is because I share it with Daddy. It isn’t the same when he’s not here.

It’s OK. I get it. We’ll box it up so it doesn’t go to waste.

Now, here’s something that might surprise you about life in South Africa: It’s incredibly difficult to find someone in need on a Sunday afternoon. I did eventually find an older man, clearly malnourished and living in poverty, seated on the sidewalk outside a small general store, hoping for mercy from the few people who were out and about. I approached, greeted him, and offered him the untouched pizza. He accepted it, thanked me, and immediately began to enjoy this unexpected feast. As I got back in my car, I turned to see two or three clearly affluent young boys on bicycles speak to him, reach into the box, and happily pedal away, laughing and enjoying their “score.”

I was furious. So furious, in fact that I caught up with them, rolled down my car window and told them exactly what I thought of their behavior. Without missing a beat, their leader called back tauntingly, “He said we could have some.”

I was furious. However….

What if he did choose to share his abundance? What if this homeless man was no different from my previous hosts? What if he, too, carried a deep baptismal understanding of Providence, of our very need to bless, break, and share in celebration of unexpected abundance?

Second, with whom was I actually furious? Don’t you think Jesus would have gotten a kick out of a destitute homeless man schooling Lady Bountiful in hospitality? I am so grateful to him for the gift of humility that day, for the gift of allowing me to see an angel in disguise as he hosted those above his station at a banquet on the sidewalk.

I am grateful to both of these hosts for enacting the simplest of sermons, the most elegant of Gospel admonitions: Go, and do likewise.

Amen

August 18, 2013

Backpacks and Baptism

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 2:54 pm

I don’t know how to say this without sounding selfish. I know we’re shopping for donation and I know that my backpack is in good shape and I don’t need a new one. But I can’t help it—that tie-dye backpack is awesome.

And thus it was—right there in the middle of Target—that she encountered her baptism.

 You know what, Sweetheart? I’m glad you love that backpack. The fact that you love it tells me that it’s the perfect choice for our donation shopping. One of the things we talk about a lot in church is the dignity of all people and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Today that means picking out things that we would like to have for ourselves, not just choosing the one that’s least expensive, one that’s just OK. It means that we believe that just because someone’s family relies on the food bank, they shouldn’t have to settle for an ugly backpack.

Teachable moments aren’t just for kids. Mike Piazza, Co-Executive Director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, has one very strict rule for the congregations he pastors: In the back-to-school and holiday seasons, he does not permit financial contributions toward backpacks or food baskets. Anyone who wants to participate must take the shopping list provided in the bulletin/newsletter/website and actually do the shopping.

Piazza’s purpose is not to make giving harder. His purpose is to engage the congregation in hands-on baptismal thinking—he has a genuine pastoral desire for them to experience that moment in the aisle of the grocery store, when they reach for the cheaper store-brand stuffing and think, “I buy the name brand for my family’s Thanksgiving, but this is good enough for the food bank.” He wants them to wrestle with their truth-in-action when loving their neighbor as themselves would add up to a few extra dollars at the check-out.

In my effort to live as a whole and healthy steward of my own baptism, I have certainly wrestled with that truth myself…and with its counter-argument, “If I choose the less expensive one, I can donate more.” But even then, the answer is already contained in the covenant itself: I am vowed to love my neighbor as myself. So yes, I do choose an awesome backpack and I do buy name-brand stuffing for the Thanksgiving boxes. And during our Lenten mac-and-cheese challenge, I buy the same cheap stuff that Mallory’s friends gobble down at every sleepover—not only can I afford to give more that way, but it’s so much fun to watch the mac-and-cheese mountain grow each Sunday!

As many of our congregations are blessing backpacks and looking ahead to holiday baskets and giving trees, think about how these ministries invite us go grow in our baptismal journeys. What truths do you—or your congregation—need to wrestle with? Where does loving your neighbor as yourself trip you up? How do you practice whole and healthy stewardship, right there in the middle of Target?

August 3, 2013

Hiatus

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel,Stewardship of the Environment — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 8:48 pm

I can’t put it off any longer. It’s Saturday night. I have to face this week’s readings.

I’ve put off writing for so long because I really enjoyed my hiatus, my month away from my desk, my month of getting out of my head and into Martha time. It started with the fulfillment of a cherished fantasy: I rented a dumpster. The family thought I was joking. I had been threatening since winter that our vacation this year would consist of a week at home with a dumpster. It turned out to be a month. And it was great.

First went the obvious stuff: The broken down sofa, the vacuum cleaner that made scary smoke smells, the off-cuts of plywood and random chunks of insulation from walling-in the upstairs of the barn. We were having fun, and feeling very freed.

As we moved into the finer layers of our various rooms, the pace slowed. It wasn’t that our energy was waning, far from it. It was our engagement in the process. We began to offer one another quiet gifts of time and presence. I first noticed it when I pulled out two big boxes of old photographs. I began to sort through them, tossing some into a trash box and others into a keep pile. Before long Robert started reaching into the trash box, retrieving things, asking questions, encouraging me to keep more than I really wanted. Mallory curled herself up beside me. She wanted to hear about pieces of my life so far removed in time and space; she drew out stories of people long dead or estranged.

One was a picture of my great-aunt Elsie, the patron whose voice had been my constant companion through the purge, her wise and gentle voice saying, “We keep things for a certain amount of time.” I remember her saying that to my mother, and I take comfort in its permission, both permission to keep and permission to toss. In one simple phrase, Aunt Elsie taught me the essence of stewardship.

Last Monday the dumpster was rolled off. Four cubic yards of junk…three packed carloads to the thrift shop…four trips to the recycling center…and priceless time with my family and its artifacts. It felt good.

It was in that lighter state of mind that I returned to my desk this week. After a month of sorting, tossing, donating, scrubbing, clearing, shop-vaccing, and power-washing, I returned to life inside my head. As I moved back into the more familiar Mary mode, I was greeted by a lectionary reading from Ecclesiastes:

Pointless. It’s all a pointless waste of time. Whoever buys your house is just going to change everything any way. Your paint job might help you sell the house, but after that, who cares? And when you die? She’s never going to remember which stories go with which heirlooms; she probably won’t even keep most of them. No matter how carefully you provide for her, at some point she’s going to cash out her trust fund and live her own life. It’s all pointless.

You can understand why I’ve put off writing….

How do I reconcile the words of Ecclesiastes with the stewardship of abundance? Where’s the good news? I followed Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler—I got rid of all the clutter, all the stuff that was clogging my life and getting in the way of my family’s wholeness. I gave anything usable to a thrift shop ministry that serves an impoverished rural area, with the proceeds supporting the vicar’s care for individuals in crisis. I recycled the materials that can be reused to tread a bit more gently on the resources of creation. How could it all have been in vain?

The answer, of course and as always, lies in our baptism. Through baptism, we are called to live not just as stewards of our stuff, but as stewards of one another. We are called to care for one another’s hopes, and dreams, and prayers…and memories, and stories, and artifacts.

The fellowship of family time and the passing of wisdom and memory across generations is just as spiritually formative at home as it is at church. The early church, after, broke its bread in homes, around the tables of its members. And what better way to live out Christ’s teachings by word and example than to sit with my child while she sorts her own belongings for donation, nurturing her love of neighbor and care for those in need?

In the end, it’s a both/and: The new homeowners will undo a fair chunk of my work. Mallory will consign a fair chunk of my belongings when they pass into her care. In the meantime, however, I am the steward of so many good gifts—tangible and intangible—in this time, and in this place. That’s where I find the good news this week: Whether it matters or not, it matters to me.

For that I am truly thankful.

June 13, 2013

Flat-Out Mission

Have you met Flat Stanley[i]? If there’s an early elementary student within your orbit, you’ve probably been asked to include Stanley in a family event, take him on vacation, or share in one of his adventures…and take lots of photos along the way. For those of us who have not had the pleasure of his company, here’s a little background:

He’s a perfectly normal boy until one morning he wakes up flat. After his parents peel the incriminating bulletin board off of him, Stanley must adjust to life as a pancake. Ending up four feet tall, a foot wide, and half-an-inch thick, Stanley discovers that being flat is not only novel (he can slip under cracks), but also exciting. He is mailed off to California in a large envelope; he can be flown like a huge kite; and one night, disguised as a shepherdess, he hides in a painting in the art museum and foils some thieves.[ii]

Earlier this week I found out that in the Diocese of Texas, Flat Andy (a cutout of Bishop Andy Doyle) travels with members of Christ Church Cathedral, helping them stay in touch with one another over the summer. This sparked an idea: How could Flat Saints help our congregations engage in mission and ministry, get to know one another better, improve communication, and bring a little fun to our lives?

How might Flat Patrons bring to life what Wayne Scwaab describes as “member mission”:

We know about “congregational missions” at church or under the church’s “banner.”  Beyond church, the other kind of mission work begins. “Member missions” are what church members do daily on their own at home, at work, in their communities, in the wider world, during their leisure, and for their spiritual health, as well as what they do in their church’s life and its outreach. Since the members go everywhere in the world each day, what they do can have far greater impact on the world than what they do together as church.

We share in God’s mission by what we do and by what we say. We draw on our church life and each other for the support, the guidance, and the power we need to do God’s work.[iii]

So here’s what I’m imagining as a mash-up of Flat Stanley and Member Mission:

Provide each member of your congregation with a cutout of your parish’s patron saint on a piece of cardstock—and be sure to put a printable pdf of same on your website for seasonal members, others who might want to participate, and fellow lay leaders who might want to steal the idea. Encourage people to include Flat Patron in their baptismal lives and make provisions to share and celebrate their ministries in real time on a church bulletin board and a photo gallery on your congregation’s web site. For something like a youth mission trip, your Flat Patron could even tweet the highlights of the day!

It might take a little a time for people to warm up to the idea that “the stuff I just do because I do it” is in fact ministry. But once it catches on, once people start to look at their every day lives through a baptismal lens, I predict that Flat Patron will be very busy.

Before you know it, Flat Mary will join the Little League team for ice cream. Flat John will be sewing Quilts for Valor while Flat Andrew poses for a picture outside the local prison. Flat Ambrose will tweet from the finish line of the walk for mental health awareness and Flat James will share his week as a camp counselor.

As we continuously discover and rediscover our baptisms, we will get to know one another in our Monday-through-Saturday dimensions, enriching the fabric of our Sunday communion. Newcomers will have a user-friendly way of getting to know the life of the congregation and make connections with individual members. (Be sure to include Flat Patron in your newcomer welcome packet—it’s a meaningful invitation and a great ice breaker!)

So is anybody up for trying it? So far I’ve only thought it through on the congregational level, but how much fun would it be to gather up a slide show for diocesan convention showing the incredible breadth of member mission among all our congregations? How cool would it be for a confirmation class to use this as a vehicle for engaging the vows they are preparing to make in their own voice? How might a regional fellowship that meets only a few times a year use their own Flat Saint to stay in touch, or to catch up when they reconvene?

The possibilities are endless—I can’t wait to hear your stories!


[i] Brown, Jeff. Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure. Harper Collins (reprint edition), 2009.

[ii] Amazon.com, Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure

[iii] Membermission.org

May 9, 2013

Heaven Can Wait

“I wish I could go to heaven. I don’t want to die; I just want to see what it’s like and then come back. I wish people could go to heaven without dying.”

The good news was that my five-year-old didn’t want to die. The more urgent concern was that her mother had to think of a response.

“Well, you know Sweetie, there are stories in the Bible about people who went to heaven without their bodies dying in the way that we think of dying. It’s called ascending.”

Really? Now we’re on to something. How does one go about it? Could Charles Branson add this to his long-range plan for Virgin Galactic? We know the bishop; could she help?

“But it’s pretty rare. In the whole history of people we only know of three who have done it. Remember when I told you that after he was on the cross, Jesus died for three days, and then he came back and spent some time with his friends, comforting them and helping them know what to do next? Well, when he was done with that part he ascended.”

Of course she wanted to know who the other two were. (Why do I talk myself into these corners?) Elijah for sure. Who was the third? Moses? Possibly—all we know was that his body was never found. Or was it Enoch? I don’t remember…and her attention span has expired anyway.

So many years later, this conversation stays with me. I revisit it on this Ascension Day to ask, If I could go to heaven without dying and then come back, would I want to?

Remember Plato’s allegory of the cave? A small family group has lived their entire lives in a primitive cave, their backs to opening so that all they can see are the shadows of things, playing on the back wall of the cave like a puppet show from the street above.

What would happen if they were to leave the cave. What would it be like for them to discover that everything they know about the world is but shadow? And once they had discovered the light and color and vibrancy of the real world, could they be content going back into the cave? Having seen face-to-face, could they settle for a mirror dimly?

Which brings me back to the question: If I could go to heaven without dying and then come back, would I want to?

Could I stand to just for a moment join my voice with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, singing and proclaiming the glory of God’s name, then return to the life I love?

I’ve decided on “no.” I prefer to be a steward of the here and now, to delight in all that is, seen and unseen. Our pleasure in what God has created, our discernment of how God would have us be in this time and in this place, are calls to stewardship as surely as our commitment to tithe or our practice of the baptismal vows. God delights in the joy I take in my family, in exploring new places, discovery the little nooks and crannies of the Earth. God wants me to love every minute of this life, to use my talents as a good and faithful servant.

I live into the assurance that the life of the world to come will come…in due time.

Today, heaven can wait.

April 9, 2013

Feed My Sheep

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

In this week’s Gospel reading, John manages to capture every single one of the deepest emotional, spiritual, and financial anxieties that I inhabit.

And yet, as I read and re-read this passage, I find themes that are oddly comforting, that give me confidence and hope.

I am struck by how John makes a point of telling us that the disciples’ net was not torn.

When the disciples lower the net, approaching their need—in this case their need for food—from a new perspective, they encounter overwhelming abundance, an abundance that requires the combined strength of six men to manage.

And they are provided with a net that is so strong, so well sewn and soundly woven, that the weight of this catch just isn’t a problem.

John shows us a God who goes way beyond the cliché of not giving us more than we can handle. John shows us a God who proactively equips those who heed his voice with the tools and the strength to be stewards of what they receive.

In the net that is not torn, John shows us the God who blessed Bill Gates not just with the talent to generate unprecedented wealth, but with the strength to use that wealth to strive for justice and peace among all people, and further the dignity of every human being.

In the net that is not torn, John shows us the God who is at work in the life of a woman named Carol. If I told you her full name, I doubt that any of you would have ever heard of her; she doesn’t get much press. But if you were a single parent in a small town on the Ohio-Indiana border, Carol would be famous.

At some point as you adjusted to your new and frightening circumstances, Carol would have taken you by the hand, looked you in the eye, and said, “I have raised six daughters, by myself, on an income of $15,000 a year. You are going to be OK.” And then she would proceed to teach you everything she had learned about living with what she had, rather than fretting about what she did not have.

In their vastly different contexts, Bill Gates and Carol choose to respond to the world around them from the basis of what they have, finding a sense of deep joy in their practice of generosity.

The disciples model this same joy as they come ashore.

Notice how they completely abandon the practicalities of dividing the fish into fair shares, cleaning it while it’s fresh, and salting it so it will last into an uncertain future.

No, the disciples’ immediate response is to celebrate God’s bounty in the company of their beloved Jesus. They instinctively gather to bless, break, and share a common meal, offering the first fruits—or in this case, the first fish—of their morning’s labor.

This ritual of blessing, breaking, and sharing is repeated over and over again in the lives of the disciples and in the early church. It is integral to our own lives as Christians: In our Easter Vigil and with every celebration of Holy Baptism, we renew our promise to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.

In this promise, we also commit ourselves to the risks of intimacy that make Peter so irritable this morning.

***

The February night was bitterly cold.

The man caught our attention simply because he didn’t fit the landscape. In a cafe full of clean, casually dressed couples, parents with small children, and little clusters of friends, the dirty, unshaven man with his arm in a sling and dried blood around a gash in his forehead didn’t make sense.

He asked if he could sit for a moment. He pulled out a chair, settled himself heavily, and asked my husband if he had any spare change.

In the silence that followed I leaned forward, “We will not give you money, but I would be happy to buy you dinner.”

He shifted uncomfortably, sighed, looked around. He put his good arm on the table, raised his head to look directly into my eyes, and in a soft, even voice, “Dear, I am an alcoholic.”

“I understand. When was the last time you ate?”

“Two days ago. But really, just some spare change.”

“We will not give you money,” I repeated. “You are hungry. I will pay for a sandwich. It’s cold. Maybe some soup.”

He held my eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then finally, “OK, just a sandwich like you’re having I guess.”

My head started swimming as I was snapped back into my surroundings. The ambient light was suddenly glaring. The background music was grating. My half-eaten dinner turned my stomach.

This was not the serene wood-between-the-worlds of C. S. Lewis. This was the hard and confusing space between the comfortably vague fundraising thermometers of our community services and the uncomfortable immediacy of discipleship.

While the voice had merely asked for some change, the eyes of Christ had asked, “Do you love me?” And they weren’t the eyes of the cleaned up risen Christ from my Art Appreciation class; it was the beaten, rejected, broken Christ whom we promise to seek and serve in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I am still amazed that I had the presence to say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

I still can’t believe that “buzz off” was overcome by a deeper impulse to bless, break, and share the resources at hand—in this case a sandwich, the fleece blanket that we kept in the car, and some advice on where he could meet up with truckers who might help his progress toward destination.

But thanks be to God, when we choose the way of abundance, we find that we do indeed have the strength to live out our Baptismal Covenant in all that we do, with all that we have. We find that we are in fact willing to risk intimacy for the sake of living the Good News.

Our abundance might not be as obvious as Bill Gates’. Our encounters might not be as dramatic as a homeless person plunking himself down at a restaurant table. But each of us, in our own way, encounters the question, “Do you love me?”

Jesus challenges each of us to engage our time, our talent, and our treasure as stewards of the Gospel when he says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

Amen

January 8, 2013

With God’s Help

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 5:23 pm

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him our beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.[i]

I’m pretty sure we can agree that Jesus’ parents didn’t have an easy time of it. First there was the socially awkward conception…. Mary had to give birth away from home…. Then they fled the country when she would rather have raised the baby with her family.

Yet they still managed to hold it together as good Jewish parents…most of the time. His bris was lovely, with those beautiful words of Simeon. But they lost him after his Bar Mitzvah—they didn’t even notice that he was missing until they were well on the road!

With all that they had to deal with, in this week’s lectionary readings it’s nice to see Mary and Joseph finally catch a break—Jesus presented himself to his cousin John, baptizing there in the wilderness of Judea.

While I would never, ever trade places with Mary, I can honestly say that presenting our infant daughter for baptism is the single most intimidating thing I have ever had to do. Wedding vows pale in comparison to reading the sacrament of Holy Baptism through the eyes of a parent. Going before a judge to finalize her adoption was a snap after presenting her to the priest and congregation.

It was quite the event: the church’s baptism coordinator had the moms of all seven babies in the Pentecost batch on speed dial. The Associate Rector held a rehearsal on Saturday morning. We planned activities and made up gift bags for out of town guests, hosted a Saturday night dinner at home, and went out for Sunday brunch. The baby had three fittings for her gown, sat for a portrait, and spit up all over my dusty rose silk suit just before the service started.

And like any event that takes on a life of its own, the details could very easily have drowned out the deeper significance of the spiritual journey that began with two, who became one, and now were three.

I am so thankful that as the music moved us toward the font, I was able to shut out all the trappings and focus on the working of the Holy Spirit in that moment. I was glad that I had incorporated a renewal of the Baptismal Covenant into my wedding vows. I loved it that Robert’s Best Man and his wife now stood with us as Godparents. It meant the world to me that my father, who had been my Man of Honor, had worked with me to have my mother’s wedding dress remade as a baptismal gown. Instead of getting lost in details that had no eternal significance, I immersed myself in continuity and community.

Then came the vows, that moment in the movie when the dream sequence snaps back to reality.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Oh man…I could really screw this up. How am I ever going to manage it?

The grace, of course, is that we make these promises “with God’s help.” That’s the only way any of us can even begin to manage it. A few weeks after The Great Baptismal Event, I myself knelt at the same altar as a confirmand…with God’s help. A few years later, I presented my Anglican husband to be received in the Episcopal Church…with God’s help.

Today I am the parent of a questioning youth, one who “believes in everything that goes on in church; I just don’t like the bread.” (She’s a wafer girl.) A few months ago she asked what confirmation means. After I explained she said, “But what if the bishop asks me and I say no?”

I assured her that the bishop won’t ask her until, through prayer and discernment, she is sure of her answer.

And I assured myself that she will…eventually…with God’s help.


[i] BCP, p. 214.

December 25, 2012

Christmas Bells

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

To all my readers, greetings of hope, joy, peace, and love this Christmas Day.

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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