Sunday, August 19, 2018

First Day of School

Grandpa had picked up Nigel and Zoe and they were riding home from school when grandpa interrupted the silence and asked how the first day had gone. Nigel was the first to answer and he said in a huff; “They made us change-up the teams in our basketball game partway through. If they had let us play with the team I was on at first, we would have won all the games, but they made us change. That’s not fair.”

A wiser Zoe explained to Nigel that they shook-up the teams so that everyone would have a chance to win. “It’s not fair that one team wins all the games, Nigel,” she said. “Everyone should get a change to play on a good team. Everyone should get a chance to win.”

“But, it’s not fair that we should have to change teams just because we are better than the rest of them. It’s not fair. We should get to win, ‘cause we’re better,” Nigel protested.

Again, Zoe tried to explain the concepts to Nigel, that everyone should get a chance to win. "Everyone should get to play on a winning team, Nigel. You were just lucky you won because you were on a good team and the other guys were on a bad team. Everyone should get the chance to win.”

Nigel took a deep breath and prepared himself for a final retort; “Oh yeah! Well that’s just what they tell you when you’re losing!”

It’s gonna’ be a long year, grandpa thought to himself.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

A Few words About Prayer

Like most parents, as my wife and I were raising our children we worried that we were not doing it the right way; that somewhere along the way one of us would say or do something that would lead them astray or would not equip them with the right stuff to be productive members of society. Wow, what righteous dreams we had for them, and for ourselves.

It didn’t take too long to realize that as long as we were talking, we were doing the right things. When there was communication going on between the four of us, our family was making progress, and everything would be alright.

Prayer is kind of like that. We have lofty goals for our prayers, and we worry that we are not accomplishing what we should with our prayers. Or, we worry that we are not equipped with the right prayers to say in every situation. We bog ourselves down with too much head-knowledge that we cannot offer prayers from the heart.

Often, we believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray and that we only know the wrong way; that God doesn’t listen to prayers offered in the wrong way and that God finds our prayers unworthy of attention or action. I went through a stretch thinking God was grading my prayers. Imagine how frightening that was.

Trust me when I say, there is not a wrong way to pray to your Father in heaven. Well, actually the wrong way is to NOT pray to your Father in heaven. Avoiding prayer is not prayer and it is not growing in relationship with God. When I realized that our family was talking together, exchanging ideas and thoughts with each other, and strengthening our bonds with each other, I stopped worrying about whether we were raising our children the right way. It was when there was no communication that I worried.

I imagine God feels the same way.

Prayerfully,   Father Mark +

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Future of Starbucks

Howard Schultz recently retired as the CEO and President, of Starbucks, the coffee producer and distributer in Seattle. For nearly thirty years Schultz led Starbucks’ growth from a small chain of coffee shop in the Pacific northwest to an international corporate behemoth with more than 28,000 shops in 77 countries producing net revenues of $22.4 billion in 2017.

Bryant Simon observed in his book “Everything But the Coffee”, that Starbucks customers believed because of their grande lattes—that they were “cooler, richer, and more sophisticated” than non-Starbucks coffee drinkers.  As long “as Starbucks customers could get all of this for the price of a cut of coffee, even an inflated one, they eagerly handed over their money, three and four dollars at a clip.”

One might think that Schultz’ successor to this empire would be facing a “slam-dunk” future in the coffee business, but one would be wrong. Today, Starbucks faces declining sales, a problem with social issues in many locations, and difficult choices in planning the opening of new locations and closing existing, under-producing stores.  Starbucks must find ways to continue to satisfy its legacy customers while also developing new product offerings to attract new customers into its 28,00 stores world-wide.

As I listened to this story, I thought of the Episcopal Church. A long-time successful “brand” in the Christian Church marketplace, the Episcopal Church struggles to continue to offer the style of worship that appeals to its legacy member base, and to attract new, young congregants to its wide network of churches. In addition, too many churches were built in areas that are no longer supportive of their multi-church presence. Arlington (Fla) is a good example with five or more Episcopal churches located in a five-mile radius.

Unlike Starbucks, however, the Episcopal Church has a superior CEO and President who always has a plan for his church. It doesn’t take much to see that God is firmly in control of God’s church and will never let it fail if we continue in our mission to bring all people into discipleship of Jesus Christ.

We may change—shrink and expand—but failure is not an option.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thoughts from Your Rector

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has come under criticism recently for not using the pulpit to speak to (or protest) current political actions in our world. Lately, we have seen a rash of activity from the leadership of the empire that many consider racist, homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, and morally bankrupt. Often these policies and behavior come from leaders who count themselves as good Christians or Jews or Muslims or other religious types.

If I have chosen not to directly confront Evangelical Conservatives or their arch opponents, Progressive Christians, who clutter our airwaves with sound bites and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, it is because I believe there is a better way.

Kings come, and Kings go. Presidents are elected, and Presidents are defeated. Senators and Representatives and lobbyists and captains of industry all have their day in the sun, yet we cannot as Christians stake our future and wisdom on the opposition to any particular party or leader.

Our leader, the source of all wisdom, love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness (and many other good things) is Jesus Christ. We cannot be the voice of Progressive Christians or Evangelical Christians or Left Wing or Right Wing or Moderate Wing or even the voice for America.

Our voices, whether timid and feeble or strong and clear must remain rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ or we become nothing more than the religious arm of the current political party in protest. We must draw our strength from the teachings of Jesus, the iconoclastic and spiritual leader who started a lasting movement based upon love. This was his message, not the overthrow of the Roman Empire but the building up of the Kingdom God.

This is our message; love God with all that we have, and love of neighbor as we love ourselves.

Peace,  Father Mark

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Who We Are

Assume for a moment that Jesus is more interested in who we are, what we are called to do, and what our values are; in what do we believe. That is a slight stretch for some because many still believe that Jesus’ life and death were about our salvation and eternal life. I’m not denying that was part of the plan, but I also believe that Jesus wanted our world, here and now, to be more than it is and be more like what God created it to be.

I believe that the difficulty that Jesus’ mission poses for us is that he calls us to take a stand. Who are we and whose are we? What do we stand for, and what exactly do we believe? What are our values and what are we willing to sacrifice to have those values? If we are to be followers of Jesus, exactly what do we need to do to stay on the path upon which he leads.

If Jesus has won the battle over sin and death, which we purport to believe, what is left to do; collect our winnings and start accumulating our stuff? Are we to sit back and enjoy the good life while others less fortunate fend for themselves as best they can?

To follow Jesus is going to require some tough decisions. We will have to buck the current and get our feet wet. After a war is won, the mopping up often takes the longest and is the most difficult. Defeating the defeated insurgence is no task for the uncommitted. It takes grit and determination and a fearless leader.

We have the leader. Do we have the grit and determination?

Faithfully,   Father Mark +

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

In C.S. Lewis’ classic Screwtape Letters, senior demon Screwtape is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior Tempter, on the ins and outs of securing the damnation of a British man we know only as "the Patient".

"We (demons) want cattle who can finally become food; (God) wants servants who can finally become sons". With this end in mind, Screwtape urges Wormwood to use unconventional tactics and promote apathy and irresponsibility in the Patient. Screwtape says to Wormwood; "(God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them" (Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis). Screwtape has learned that the quickest way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach but through his ego, and that’s where he wants Wormwood to focus his efforts.

Pride is the root of all our sin. Through pride we turn away from God and turn our attention toward ourselves. Because of pride, we rebel against God and what God wants for us. And when we put ourselves ahead of others; when other’s feelings are less important than our own, when we believe other people are constantly out-performing us regardless of how well we do, we are acting prideful.
Jim Carrey said it well in a commencement address in 2014; “If you listen to the ego, there will always be someone doing better than you. No matter what you gain, the ego will not let you rest. It will tell you that you cannot stop until you’ve left an indelible mark on the earth, until you’ve achieved immortality. How tricky is this ego that it would tempt us with a promise of something we already possess?"

Father Mark +