"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Monday, August 30, 2004 At the end of our liturgies, the deacon often dismisses us with these words:
"Our time of worship is ended. Our service continues in the world."
I'd always really liked this dismissal because it brought home that "service" isn't something we go to on Sunday or Wednesday night but the action of living out the truth we encounter there in the world.
Only the more I think about it, this dismissal is pretty problematic, too. Problematic because it makes worship into that isolated instance ... and that's equally wrong, if not more.
We worship whenever we give ourselves to God. That's what worship is. It's self-offering. Taking every bit of ourselves that we can bear to surrender and giving it to God joyfully knowing that it and everything else we are and have is a gift from a God who creates us and loves us anew every second of every hour of every day.
Now, as people of faith -- or even as people trying to be people of faith -- we need intentional terms of worship. Where we sit alone or get together in groups and with prayer and song gather up ourselves and say "Here, God: All this--every bit of myself that I can bear to give up is yours ... and really, all the other stuff is, too, I just can't bear to give it up yet but I'm working on it!"
But if that's our total idea of what worship is, then our faith becomes an occasional thing -- perhaps regular, but still occasional.
The truth is, every action, every breath, every movement, every thing we do that involves us giving of ourselves or caring for and loving anything that God gives us, every little thing like that -- whether earth-shaking or mind-numbingly insignificant -- can and should be worship. And it is, if as we do it we remember that we are ever in God's presence and we do it out of love for the God who creates us out of love anew each day.
It's kind of a funny thought to get used to. Studying for that chem test is an act of worship. Doing the dishes is an act of worship. Tenderly touching a friend or lover is an act of worship.
Even reading this blog ... an act of worship.
When you get down to it, it's the difference between going to church and being the church. I think "going to church" sounds about as appealing as "going to the dentist." But being the church ... worshipping 24/7 ... striving together to have a life of self-giving love be not an occasional gesture but a transforming way of life ... well, sign me up for that!
Our ECM community has lots of intentional times for worship -- Wednesday nights, Sunday nights, daily morning prayer, silent retreats, the list goes on. And I sure hope you'll join us often for those times of worship. But even more I hope that when we come together in those times, they are a reminder to us and a strengthening for us to live worshipful lives the rest of the time.
A reminder that our time of worship is never ended, it only continues in the world.
| Mike at 8/30/2004 10:54:00 PM
Saturday, August 28, 2004 We're beginning the 9th year of Washington University Episcopal Campus Ministry. I guess you would call it nine, even though that first year was just Christiana, Ellen, Randy and me.
But over those years, it's been the most amazing community I could ever imagine being associated with. In January, I'll be attending the ordination to the priesthood of one of our first members, Noah Evans. We've got two others in seminary and a bunch more on the way. We've added a fantastic deacon in David. We've bought and remodeled a house. We've sent people to Nicaragua, Tazania, Ghana and the Sudan. We've said more hellos and goodbyes than I can count. We've had incredible parties and celebrations and we've held onto each other for dear life when Julia was killed.
And most of all, we've gathered, time and time and time again -- on the floor in Umrath, in St. George's Chapel, in people's suites and apartments, at retreat centers, and so many times in the front room at Rockwell House -- we've gathered as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ -- and in so doing become more fully what God created us to be.
I remember my first year at SMSG, I told myself I didn't want to be spending my life working as a priest if it wasn't transforming lives. If there is one thing I can be sure of about the life of this community, it has done just that. I am more grateful than I can express each day that God has put us all here together and that God continues to draw people in and send people out.
So, even as we start to meet the new students (and we've already met some really awesome new students!), I've been looking at some snapshots of those who have come and gone (and speaking of gone, a good piece of my hair has gone with them). Enjoy. Maybe you'll see yourself!
Back row (L-R) Cori, Brandy, Doug, Jane, Kate, Me, Peter, Noah.
Middle row (L-R) Ellen, Sarah, Christiana.
Front row (L-R) Lisa, Ivy, Amber
Too many people to name. This is the 2001 Christmas party at Rockwell House.
Our first night of our pilgrimage to Natchez the spring after Julia died. That's Tom and Leine McNeely on the far left, Rory (still in her pajamas from that morning!), Amanda Tillman (Julia's best friend), David, me, Laurie, Amy, Steph and Jen.
Christmas party, 2002. Schroedter is in motion in the bottom left. And no, that's not Rory's baby ... it's Hayden. Not pictured -- Emily Gibson, who is behind the couch.
Our latest group shot ... David's ordination!
Friday night at the BBQ for incoming freshmen, as I looked around, I saw so many faces that aren't in any of these pictures. That's the wonderful thing about this ministry. Every August is like Christmas with a whole huge group of people like presents under a tree waiting to be unwrapped. And every August also, people whom we have loved for years and still love are off starting next chapters in their lives. Some are doing that in St. Louis. Caroline is in Switzerland. Beth is getting ready for seminary. Sarah is in Med School. Eve and Nicole are in Minneapolis. Laurie is driving around the country writing a book. Hopie is moving to K.C. and then traveling around the world. Amy is headed to Philadelphia to do Servant Year. The list goes on and on and on.
My dream is to have a reunion in May, 2006. It will have been 10 years of ECM. And the joy of the reunion will not just be getting people back together again, but having the ones whose years never crossed meet each other.
I really could not be more blessed in my life. With my family. With my friends. And with this amazing community.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004 People are coming back!
This is my favorite time of the year. All of the returning students are starting to come back into town and tomorrow we start meeting all the freshmen. Jen, Cecily, Rory, Banji and Ryan came over and helped clean Rockwell House today (with Lindsay, of course), and it's looking really great if you don't count the gaping hole in the wall revealing the leaky pipe that caused the wall to disintegrate! Cecily got a new doormat and Jen planted flowers, so it's all looking extra-welcoming.
I've had some great e-conversations with some incoming freshmen, so it will be great to finally meet them tomorrow. It's wonderful how much the community took ownership of just about everything during my sabbatical --- they really stepped up, and it means we can hit the ground running this year.
*Talked with Kevin Jones today. Kevin has been working on something called the Anglican Malaria Project (a joint project of Episcopalians and Anglicans from Southern Africa to provide low-cost, highly effective malaria intervention in Southern Africa). He's also been active in Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and, with http://www.thegaia.org/aboutus/advisory.htmof http://www.thegaia.org/is working on a mapping project for 0.7%. The goal is to have an easily accessible & navigable online map that would allow people to:
*see which dioceses and congregations are giving 0.7% -- with links to contact people
*see where the money is being given and, where possible, have one-click links to their websites
*search on any topic (e.g. Malaria or AIDS or potable water) and get a list (with links) of who is giving to whom in that area
When completed, it will give us a complete picture of Episcopal financial involvement in international development. Right now, he, his assistant who is working on the project and I are teleconferencing weekly as we all do data-gathering and as they experiment with beta versions of the map. I'll keep you posted on this.
Also, if your diocese hasn't passed a resolution committing itself to giving 0.7% of its budget to international development ... or if your congregation hasn't ... or if you personally haven't committed to it, drop me a note and I'll send you all the information you need about how to give, some examples of where to give, a boilerplate resolution for your diocesan convention and lots of other stuff. Of course, you can get most of that from the EGR website.
*Been talking with two really great priests, Matt Cobb (chaplain at K-State) and Greg Rickel (rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Austin, TX), who have done a lot of good thinking on the theology of financial policy. No great revelations, but they have been helpful in clarifying my thinking. Two things Greg said in his email to me stood out (I figure he won't mind me sharing):
All I can say is that the Church, locally and otherwise, tends to see and use money in a hoarding way, out of scarcity and not abundance. The Gospel demands that we risk it and give a lot of it away. I am amazed at how churches and the Church still plan for the "rainy day." My thought, and what I have asked people here is, "is the rainy day only here on our block, or everywhere?" and second to that, "How hard does it have to rain?" I mean, can't we see around us that which we need to do.
I have always said, we stamp our prayer books and bibles with "property of..." when we ought to be giving them away. We install toilet paper holders that stop you from taking enough to make a difference!, we put coffee kitties out at coffee pots to basically say we can't afford a cup of coffee for you, it is, as we used to call it in my house growing up, "Poor talk" and the church is so good at it.
The more time I spend with this, the more I'm convinced is the way to tackle this is to walk with people as we examine the foundations of why we do what we do ... and discover what the engine driving it really is. Then we can ask the fundamental question of "is this really what should be driving us?" In the case of financial policy, I find the engine usually is secular policy practices ... which aren't bad in and of themselves but which the church should not substitute for sound theology.
Wouldn't it be great if we took our next diocesan council meeting and, instead of debating the figures, didn't talk about money at all and really talked, sorted and prayed through what the foundations of our financial policy are and what they should be. I think I'll suggest that. It might be too late ... and also people might just think it's a dumb idea ... but it's worth a shot.
Monday, August 23, 2004 A week or so ago, I had to turn in our budget for ECM for 2005. It was the best I've ever felt about turning in a budget.
For one thing, for the first time it wasn't me putting together the budget but our student leadership. But more than that, it was the process (though somewhat rushed) that we went through to to get there.
We didn't start by talking about money. Instead, we did some Bible study and prayed and started talking about what we felt God was calling us to do and who God was calling us to be in 2005. My instructions to them were to come up with a vision that they were so committed to, that they were so sure what God had in mind for us, that they were going to commit to doing it no matter how the financial situation turned out or changed.
This made the budgeting process incredibly easy ... and it was only then that we turned to look at money. We figured out how much it would cost to accomplish what it was we're being called to do. And, operating from the philosophy that God never calls us to something without making the resources available, they figured out where it was going to come from.
The result was a budget that actually was a decrease in asking from the diocese from 2004 ... but included a $9,500 commitment on behalf of the students -- through a combination of funding from Student Union, donations requested for specific events, and tithing.
I write about this because I think the way we do financial policy -- particularly budgeting -- as a church is pretty backwards. In my experience, we look at the expected pile of money we have and then decide what we can do.
People trumpet this as good financial sense -- staying within your means, not running a deficit. I disagree. While it might be good financial sense for a business, it is just terrible for a church. Our mission is not to be smart "money managers" ... our job is to be faithful to God's call.
Assuming that we can only do what our expected money allows us is the exact same thing as saying to God "yeah, I know you are asking me to do these things ... but I don't believe that you are really going to provide for them, so we're going to say 'sorry ... can't.'"
I'm not talking about making grand and irresponsible plans and throwing money around carelessly. I'm talking about honestly discerning the vision of God's mission ... and then having the courage to step out in faith and commit to it.
The irony is, I think if we would do this, the money that would come in would increase hugely. Exhibit A is the one time in my memory that we actually did this in the Diocese of Missouri. Bishop Hays Rockwell was advised by the consultants and lots of other people that the late 1990s was the wrong time to do a capital campaign for our diocese. But he believed that the four things for which he was raising money were truly what God had in mind for us ... and so he went ahead and we raised $4 million -- $1 million more than the consultants' best-case scenario.
We are prisoners of our money. The tighter we hold onto it, the more of a grip it has on us. And because it holds us so tightly, we, who are so wealthy, believe we are poor.
That's right. I just came from spending 6 weeks in the Diocese of Accra ... a diocese that has exponentially LESS money than the Diocese of Missouri. But if you ask someone in Missouri what our financial state is like, they will probably describe us as being in crisis or at least in trouble. If you ask someone in Accra the same question, the answer you will get is "we are rich ... look at how much God has given us."
There are so many ways I fall short of God's hopes for me that I can't keep track of them. It doesn't upset me that we as the church are falling short ... we're human and even when we try our best, we're going to fall short a lot of the time. What gets me is that we are falling short and calling it virtue ... and convincing ourselves that striving for the kind of radical trust and faith that Christ calls us to is foolishness.
We are becoming the antithesis of what God calls us to be ... and congratulating ourselves for it. And it will only change when individuals and congregations do something different.
We'll see what happens this year. We've done the easy part ... all the stuff that's on paper. We'll see how hard we have to work to make it happen. I'll bet we have to work plenty hard ... and I'll also bet that'll be a really good thing. That we'll end up with a renewed sense of what God is capable of doing through us and what is possible when we trust.
| Mike at 8/23/2004 09:06:00 PM
Saturday, August 21, 2004 Did you know that it costs $45 to do a wire transfer of money overseas?
Well, I didn't ... but it does (at least through Bank of America) ... so I'm having to rethink my idea of just providing people who want to donate to All Souls Episcopal Church and Child Development Center in Buduburam with the account information and have them do a wire transfer! I was going to send them $50 to test the system, but the nearly 50% going to bank fees kind of dissuaded me there.
Next step is seeing if we can set up an account with the diocese (or barring that, with a parish) where we can collect money and then wire it over when we have enough that it makes it economical to do so. Here's the question I need to get an answer to from someone who knows nonprofit tax law. Can people give money to a nonprofit in America (like a church) and get the tax deduction and then have the church turn around and send it to a related church overseas? It seems to me ... especially since they are both Episcopal churches and since the Liberian Episcopal Church is in close relationship with the American Episcopal Church, that this wouldn't be illegal in any money-laundering sort of way.
It certainly SHOULD be legal ... but since when is tax code about what SHOULD be legal! Anyway, if you've got any insight into this, please comment away. On Monday, I'm going to try to find out if anyone at the national church office has a clue on this one (and also call the guy who does my taxes ... two years and no audits ... must know something about clergy taxes!)
Oh, if you haven't already, go to Nicole's blog and read about her "fish with a death wish" nearly ending itself by leaping down a drain. It's a great read ... especially if you know and love Nicole!
| Mike at 8/21/2004 08:52:00 PM
Thursday, August 19, 2004 Regularly, I have revelations that to other people have been obvious all along. This past weekend, I had a revelation that probably makes you say "well ... duh!"
Our wars are fought by children.
I'd heard people talk about this before, but it had never hit home before. Part of it is that, growing up, people in the military were all older than me, and then as I grew older they were my peers. And then recently, the only ones you see on TV are the officers giving the briefings. Sure, you see it in M*A*S*H* and in the movies, but that's TV and movies.
Last weekend, I was in Oklahoma City officiating at the wedding of a young man who used to be in my youth group at St. Michael and St. George. After high school, he joined the Air Force and we've kept in touch as he moved around from basic training to Kuwait to London and finally to Andrews AFB where he and his (now) wife are currently stationed.
After Stewart picked me up at the airport, we went back to my hotel room and he showed me pictures from his tour in Kuwait. They were pretty typical pictures ... people holding big guns guarding trucks and gates. Interspersed were pictures of locals and camels and stuff like that. But it was the pictures of Stewart and his fellow soldiers that struck me. As I looked at them with their huge guns and body armor, I could only think of one thing:
My God, they're children.
Now, in one way, they're really not. I live with college students every day, and calling them young adults is really much more accurate. But in even the most mature of them, there is still a lot of child there. It's not vice but something beautiful. As I approach the ripe old age of 36, I'm finally able to see it.
And so as I looked at these men and women in the desert ... and as I looked at the honor guard that held their swords over Stewart and Nicki as they walked down the aisle ... it was all I could do to stop shaking my head in disbelief.
My God, they're children.
I am used to thinking about this in terms of other countries. In terms of the Sandanistas arming 12 year olds with AK-47s. In terms of terrorist groups using teenagers with bomb-laden backpacks as human land mines. But it's not just them. It's us, too.
There's a logical argument. The human body is at its physical peak when you're Stewart's age (I can tell you for a fact that even at 35, mine is far from at its peak!). If you're going into battle, you want machinery that is in top, new condition ... not something broken down and used.
But that logic really gets to the heart of what is wrong with all this ... and why we have war to begin with. It's viewing human beings as machinery to be used ... used against each other.
I'm not naive enough to think that all wars can just stop ... or even that we stop having them fought by these children who fight them now. I wish it were so, but it's not and, frankly, it ain't gonna be any time soon.
But maybe, just maybe if we just keep remembering that behind all the rhetoric and all the stuff that makes it to us through the military pool reporters the truth is that when it comes down to it, it's pretty much our children fighting their children ... maybe if we remember that, we be more likely to follow the criteria of Just War theory and use war only as a last resort instead of as a first strike.
In the meantime, pray for Stewart and Nicki. Pray for Paul Scharre. Pray for all the children, ours and "theirs" (whomever "they" may be). Pray that they might not only be kept from harms way but be kept from having to choose to harm each other.
Thursday, August 12, 2004 Can't tell from this picture ... but no training wheels here, either. But if you look at the side of his face, you can see that he's got a BIG smile! | Mike at 8/12/2004 07:30:00 PM
Here's Schroedter on his first ride without training wheels. Look at him go! | Mike at 8/12/2004 07:29:00 PM
If the problems of global poverty and injustice have seemed too big for you even to think about, much less do something about, E4GR will break it down for you in ways where you can not only wrap your brain around it, you can actually do something about it.
Come on ... take a few minutes and click over ... you'll be glad you did.
| Mike at 8/09/2004 10:47:00 AM
Wednesday, August 04, 2004 I'm spending a week on the beach in Southern New Jersey, where it is more difficult to get internet access than when I was in Ghana! But that's actually a good thing, since it allows me to really unplug in ways I haven't for awhile.
But I'm darting into an internet cafe for a bit this morning (and you actually can have a latte in an internet cafe in Cape May ... the "cafe" part is not just an affectation!) to send a few work-related emails, so I figured I'd drop into this as well.
I've been reading the latest issue of Cowley lately, the season publication of The Society of St. John The Evangelist. I love the SSJE brothers and the monastery, not just because of who they are, but because they represent what I believe all Christian community is supposed to be ... community committed to each other and committed to supporting each other in giving their lives to Christ.
One of the problems with monastic life is that it can encourage people to think that that sort of commitment is only for those who decide to become monks or nuns. It's not. At our baptism, we promise to put our whole trust in Christ's grace and love and we also promise to do all in our power to support each other in doing that.
So I believe many, if not most, of the words the brothers speak about their life together should and does apply to our lives together in our communities.
In his letter to the fellowship and friends, the Superior, Curtis Almquist, wrote this about living a vowed life in community:
"Christ's unavoidable call to "lay down our lives" for one another is remarkably unheroic and tedious most days. "Laying down our lives" comes in our offering to do the dishes or walk the dog for a brother who needs some time off, in our forgiving someone again (or being forgiven again) for the same thing, in our making time in our day or space in our heart for someone who needs to be cherished, in responding to the interruption of a sick brother's need, in living with the disappointment that something we value or desire is not equally valued or desired by the community and may never come to be. Some of us know the temptation of thinking that we are "above" doing certain things by virtue of our education, training, gifts or age. The common lie we share as brothers is quite humbling -- from the Latin, humus, which means "earth," i.e., to be grounded. We come to know and be known in the sacrament of the present moment, which is usually quite unspectacular and yet very real."
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be baptised, what it means to "turn and accept Christ as your savior" and to "put your whole trust in his grace and love." I thought about it a lot in Ghana and I've thought about it a lot here with my family. Where I'm coming to with it is nowhere revolutionary ... accept that it flies in the face of most of American theology ... and that is that once we are baptised we no longer own our lives.
That's what vows are about ... they're about giving up ownership of your life. In baptism, I am saying that I no longer own my life, but that Christ and the Christ's Body, the church does. In my marriage, I am saying that I no longer own my life but that my wife does (and that I own hers). In embracing the ministry of parent, I am saying that I no longer own my life but that my children do.
It's not about a theology of the hive where the needs of the many trump the needs of the one. Individual rights and needs are important. But it's not my job to concentrate on my own individual rights and needs. It is my job to make sure that other's individual rights and needs are defended ... and trust that the community, the Body of Christ, the wife and family to which I am bound do the same for me.
And Curtis is right... it's remarkably unheroic and tedious most days. It's about all the little things. For me, it's about making sure I have done all I can for others before doing for myself ... even if it means that I don't get to watch that baseball game or read a chapter from that book. It means, as I began to learn in Ghana, that the best way to start the day is by going to someone to whom you are bound by vows and say "how can I serve you today."
It is hard ... at least for me it's hard. I could blame some of it on our individualistic culture, and I'm sure I'd be right ... but mostly, I just like doing stuff for myself!
If the church is to be a transformational force in society, I think this is what we have to lift up. We can no longer accomodate the thinking that church is there for our personal benefit ... we are there for each other and God.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."