Weekly Rector's Notes
The very best way to run is barefoot. I have no doubt about this, though you may, and if you read anything about running barefoot, you will see there is controversy.
Your shoes are the problem. Almost all shoes form soft casts around the foot, hindering it from working properly.
Your foot is a beautiful work of architecture, a flexible, cushioned suspension arch that compresses into a solid structure and becomes fluid again and again as you walk or run. It does all this without a conscious thought on your part, unless it fails. Then you pay attention.
The desert is no place to run barefoot. I agree with you there, but while in Michigan I began to experiment with it, moving from shoes to those gloves for your feet, to thin sandals to minimalist shoes. I have run thousands of miles in little more than slippers, or even less.
When I say the problem is shoes, what I mean is that the problem is the way our feet work or don’t work in shoes. They are not allowed to flex, compress, and strengthen properly.
When running barefoot became a big craze a decade ago, a whole lot of people ran outside in less and got injured more. If our feet are so wonderfully designed, what happened?
We simply weren’t ready to run.
I grew up in the golden age of breakfast. Especially breakfast cereal. No one was yet telling us that we should eat a “balanced” breakfast, whatever that meant, nor were we yet sold on whole wheat. I saved up money from mowing grass to buy my own Cookie Crisp, Fruity Pebbles, and Lucky Charms cereals; Frosted Flakes were like a health food.
Do you remember when they started telling us that we should eat a balanced breakfast in Public Service Announcement commercials where they would show a bowl of cereal and then pull back the camera to reveal a glass of milk (more milk), two whole grapefruits, eggs, bacon, and oatmeal? These always came on early on Saturday mornings when we were sitting in front of the television, watching cartoons and eating bowls of milk and sugar the size of small paint buckets. I loved breakfast.
I love breakfast. I actually love all the foods shown in the PSA, except for grapefruit. But my favorite food is cinnamon rolls. My wife makes the absolute best: homemade, warm, yeast-risen, flakey, soft, and soaked in sugary cinnamon-butter. I’m drooling as I type this. She makes them for me on special occasions like Father’s Day and my birthday. But after my last blood test, I probably won’t get another batch unless I’m inaugurated.
A free PSA of my own. Let’s get one thing straight, maple does not belong in a cinnamon roll. I spent seven years in Michigan, where they were somehow convinced that you could add maple flavoring to anything and make it better. But that isn’t true of coffee or cinnamon rolls. Leave the perfect alone. I’m just saying.
The next best thing growing up was when we made toast with Wonder Bread, butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Remember how you judged bread’s quality by how it didn’t get in the way of the peanut butter and jelly? And if it did, you could flatten an entire loaf into a number ten envelope and mail it in with the complaint letter.
You could do that because there was nothing in there to keep it from compressing. White bread is white because we take out all the stuff that keeps us alive. The wonder of wheat is actually in the germ of the wheat. In that little golden cell are omega three fatty acids and nutrients that our cells actually need, but we don’t want what we need. We take the part we need out and throw it away.
Have you ever realized that you missed something really important? Once, I missed a sign that said “Stage Door” when I was walking into a large gathering in my twenties. I have left countless cups of coffee sitting on tops of cars.
We have these moments in our lives when we realize that we have just been stupid. The old Merriam Webster’s definition of stupid:
a: slow of mind
b: given to unintelligent decisions or acts; acting in an unintelligent or careless manner
c: lacking intelligence or reason
dulled in feeling or sensation
marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting
a: lacking interest or point
b: vexatious, exasperating
We are all in moments where we act without thinking. Maybe it is because we are hurried to get somewhere, distracted, or grieving.
There are ways to prepare for life’s stupid-inducing moments. We can slow down, be more intentional, prepare. None of these is going to eliminate moments of crisis or grief, but they can help us to continue to be faithful to Christ in the midst of distress.
“Do you know what else is a dry heat? A nuclear blast.”
We all know the jokes about Arizona, and it is just getting to the point when we can’t joke about it anymore. The summer exhaustion is setting in, and the anger is just simmering below the surface.
Summer discipline in Arizona has to include self-care like water and electrolytes, and stress relief and maybe therapy. The heat can really make you crazy.
The Bible commands a sabbath of rest, a day off every week where you dedicate leisure to God. You could only walk so far, and you could only do the minimal amount of work possible to get to synagogue or even eat. It was a law!
We have sinned. We have moved so far away from that ideal that it seems counter-cultural to even mention it. Some of us can remember when you could not shop on a Sunday.
This discipline of rest does not compute in our cultural version of Christianity, but it runs absolutely in the opposite direction of secularism. Humanity, and especially Economy - that son of Mammon, should never be impeded.
There is a trail that leads from the asphalt in my neighborhood to mountain peaks scattered from Phoenix to Scottsdale and comes within a half mile of my work. It is brutal, dusty, and rocky. I can climb and drop a thousand feet in a run and not peak anything. I have dodged rattlesnakes and been trailed by coyotes along this trail. It eats “rough trail” running shoes like M&M’s.
I love it, and I run it every week. Sometimes I enter from other neighborhoods or take other loops than my own regular turns. Sometimes I run the whole way, and sometimes I walk more than I run. Sometimes I heave. I have broken several toes and right after moving here got stung by a scorpion running in sandals.
It is my happy place, this little brutal stretch of desert. It is sand and rock, slate and sandstone, and broken concrete. It is endless sky, creosote, palo verde, and saguaro, barrel and cholla. It is where my soul goes for deep cleaning.
Sometimes the only time I can run is in the afternoon. Extra electrolytes, caped hat, long sleeves, and patience. When you live in certain parts of town you can watch the rescue helicopters pluck the stupid off the mountains. I have watched them pick people up while I was waiting for my GPS to pick up a signal before a run.
There is a purity to the hot run, a humility that is life and death. You cannot abide pride, or it will kill you. You have to admit and know your limits. You have to ignore what your habits are and still have good habits. It is not too much to say that these things are fatal.
So why run in the heat?
There is a part of every life that is hollow without the experience of the Real. The Real is that which actually matters. The movie Fight Club is an absurdist masculine search for the experience of the Real that matters, but it involves real violence and sex. And it shows the dangers of making a religion or a cult out of its pursuit.
I want to think that everyone wants to experience something Real, something that truly matters, but I am not sure. I know that many people do not seem to experience the Real very often. Take religious life. It can be a honest stripping of everything false that leads us to the Truth, and it can be a true-sounding reinforcement of the lies that lie between us and the Real.
Does everyone want an experience of the Real? There is an elitist view of the world that many of my favorite modernist writers held that basically said no, not everyone wants to or can experience the absolute.
“Walk like an Egyptian” was one of the great pop hits of my childhood. And the video had hundreds of people walking with their arms and legs bent at right angles like the pictograms of ancient Egyptian art. It was obvious and funny at the same time, and I always appreciate dance numbers that have very specific instructions.
As Christians we are a unique branch, the Anglican tradition being neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but both and neither. We take a certain pride in our position, but that pride is often mis-attached to the worst aspects of our Episcopal church.
For example, I have been told more than once that Episcopalians don’t pray in public or know the Bible. Both of these statements are wrong historically and across the church. They may be true of some shy congregation or ignorant clergy person, but the church is centered around a common prayer book (almost entirely public and written for the express purpose of giving people back a simpler worship and knowledge of the Bible.)
We are Episcopal/Anglican Christians, but our primary affiliation is to Christ not to Canterbury. And as Christians, we have to learn to be Christ-followers, disciples. You are a disciple of Christ if you are a member of our church. Being a member means that you are a disciple.
I know that was repetitive, but it needs to be said repeatedly. We follow Jesus and believe in him as the Son of God. We trust what he taught and try to do and be what he commanded.
Among other things, that means we have to learn to talk like a Christian. We have to learn to speak with truth, love, respect, and blessing.
“What is the state of your soul?” There is always a little moment on retreat when I think, “Is this really what I need, to be asked about my soul?” It is not as bad as the “Who wounded you?” kind of therapy question, but it still gives me pause. Body scans and quiet time to journal and pray can feel a little soft for me.
I prefer to run in desert heat and punch a heavy boxing bag. Honestly, a lot of my survival as a priest has been predicated on my time in the wilderness and physical work.
As followers of Jesus, we have to realize that being born from above, as spiritually alive people, we have to grow up spiritually, and that means asking questions about the state of our internal being. It also means prayer and journaling and the quiet stuff.
The quiet stuff. We live in a world that is increasingly materialistic, a real accomplishment after the 1980’s. And we live in a world that is returning to spiritualistic, a throwback to the Romantic and Victorian periods. We may not go to seances and palm readers, but they are all out there to be had, and movies and television explore the spiritual primarily as something to be feared. None of it is quiet, and none of it feels healthy.
How do we find a healthy spirituality? You know already that you should be reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. But, do you know how to do that?
“Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” Mark 4:39 New Revised Standard Version
The disciples freaked out, and I completely understand. The storm was sudden and violent, and the waves were washing into the boat. It was chaos on the seas, and Jesus was sleeping soundly.
Storms rarely come in life when things are rosy. In my life they come when things are already tense and difficult. Or maybe I just remember them that way. No, they come when, like the disciples, I am on the verge of something, breakdown or breakthrough.
Jesus had just been teaching in parables, difficult stories bordering on riddles that he then had to decipher to the disciples. (Mark 4:1-34) These are loaded stories about receiving the word and having faith.
The Bishop is coming! The Bishop is coming! I always cry this to the parish when we are getting ready for a visitation from our overseer. It is only funny in reference to an old School House Rock song about the Revolutionary War. But Bishop Kirk is no invasion force. He is the actual pastor of our diocese, and so our parish.
There are four orders of ministry in the apostolic church: the laity, deacons, priests, and bishops. These come directly from Scripture, though the names have changed with changes in language.
The laity is every Christian not ordained to another order of ministry. This is the primary category of ministry in the church. It is the largest, of course, and it has vastly farther reach than the other orders. All others of ministry are called from and in service to the laity. If you are reading this, you are 99.9% likely to be a lay person, and so you belong to the most important and powerful ministry of the church. You are called and equipped to do God’s work in the world, and you may be called and gifted in many different ways.
Deacons were originally called forth to serve food, diaconos being the Greek word for waiter or servant. In Acts 6 you can read about the origin of deacons, serving so that the apostles could get on with prayer and teaching. The role of deacons has come to us as a ministry called to be sure everyone is served by the church, especially those who are being neglected or underserved.
Cody Bro is in training to become a deacon, God willing. His vocational ministry to the underserved is something you will hear about from him in coming weeks, but his role will be in line with Stephen and the other deacons of the church from the time of the apostles, being sure that every child of God is served in Christ’s name.
Dear Christ Church,
We are followers of Christ, and Christ calls us to the building of his Kingdom. This calling is essential to our life as Christians, though it may not be something that you have consciously considered this week. As a Christian, you are a disciple of Jesus, and the work you do is in his name.
As adults, our vocation in Christ is ideally an extension of the work of Christ in the world. We help build his Kingdom through spreading the Gospel, sharing the love of God, evangelism, and missions.
We raise our youth to do Christ’s work in a couple of key ways. We teach and we give them opportunities to serve. To become mature Christians, they need information to guide them, but also need experience. CCA provides many opportunities for our youth to serve Christ in the world, but the most immersive way is our annual mission trip.
June 20 through June 26, the CCA Youth Group is heading to Mexico to help finish a house they built for a family in Puerto Peñasco last year. Our youth will work with a Mexican Youth Group from the Family of God Church in Rocky Point. They will work on the house from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. During the afternoons, they will rotate to other mission activities that include helping with Vacation Bible School prep, visiting a local orphanage, and assisting with activities for kids with special needs.
Lament for the American school. Then stop and rejoice, because there is more to the story, and there is much more to our story.
When the church decided fifteen years ago to open a school as a primary ministry here, we knew that we would reach children and families in ways that are difficult to do in any other ministry. I don’t know if we knew all that would be asked of our parish and congregation and staff. Did we know the impact we would have on our community when we opened a school?
We know the lamentations about education in our day. Schools have become the epitome of our culture, representing all that is best and worst in us, and teachers have become front line workers for all that we dream and fear because children take to school all that we send with them: tangible and intangible. Some students come to class having eaten cake or kale or Doritos or nothing for breakfast. Some go home to drugs or instability or loving parents or nannies or no-one.
Dear People of Christ Church,
We are celebrating both Ascension Sunday and Mother’s Day this week. So don’t miss church. Get your reservations early for brunch so you can be with us as we rejoice for both moms and our church family.
Moms. A mother gives you life, and a mom gives your life joy and grounding. There are a lot of different kinds of moms in a church. Many churches in Arizona were founded by women, including the first Baptist church I worked at in Buckeye. There was a room at that church’s main building called the T.E.L. Room, for Ten Elderly Ladies, a Sunday School class that went back to the founding women’s Bible study.
One Sunday an older youth who was in a family crisis went missing, and her teacher and I went looking for her while the worship service began. We found her sitting at the large table in the T.E.L. Room with her head in her arms crying quietly. She told us, “I needed some moms this morning, and everyone else was busy.” I left her in the care of her Sunday School teacher who was just the mom she needed to represent those saints who were holding her through some tough years.
Benedict and Francis. There are a number of parallels in these two saints’ lives. Both had strong female companions, Benedict’s sister Scholastica and Francis’ convert Clare. Both responded to their times to create new movements within Christianity. But both shared a view of the world that is being lost to us.
They both believed that the world existed in Christ. This view is lost to us in a pluralistic world where we see multiple faiths in parallel competition and beliefs within the world. Benedict and Francis both understood that the world existed within its creator’s will, even though it had gone astray. Our belief or faith is not understood as a choice among choices as though we picked a product up off the shelf of options at a religious candy store. But rather the world exists in a reality that faith attempts to describe.
Last week I wrote to you about the influence of the monastic tradition on the Anglican and Episcopal church. This week I want to talk about how we grow up in faith.
Every denomination of the church could be seen as a tradition or method of discipleship, offering a way of following Jesus. In the Episcopal church we offer a method that we inherited from the English and Scottish churches. We pray Morning and Evening Prayer, gather weekly for communion, and we read and study our Bibles, reading devotionally.
In the last couple of decades the attention of the church has sometimes been distracted away from this core to current issues and survival as the age of Christendom, the dominance of the church in social and political life of the West, has really ended. But, our real vocation as a church is found in our following Jesus, making disciples, teaching them to obey what he commanded, and baptizing them in the name of the Trinity. see Matthew 28
Our method is codified in the Book of Common Prayer, which equips every member of the church to be a full participant in the disciplined life. The commitment to the church is to be growing in our following of Jesus.
Several years ago, several distinct faces of history came tighter as I was trying to plan a season of worship. One: the first Book of Common Prayer was written between 1538 and 1545 and revised shortly thereafter. It is marked by a simplified Daily Office and weekly Eucharist with primacy given to the Psalms in worship. It also includes a strong insistence on the regular reading of the Bible, which I always took to be Protestant overlay of the Roman Catholic pattern of worship.
But then Two hit me. Between 1536 and 1541 or so Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell closed the monasteries of England, Wales, and Scotland. The complaints and need for reform were real, but the dissolutions were terrible. Official numbers are hard to quantify, but somewhere between 620 and 900 religious houses were closed in an area 20% smaller than Arizona. Imagine all those monks, nuns, and canons integrating into local parishes. People who prayed multiple times a day in community, who read their Bibles devotionally, and lived according to a common rule of life.
In a few days now, a group of parishioners and others will travel to Italy together to see holy sights, which we call a pilgrimage. I say “we call” because I think of pilgrimage as generally involving more suffering than we ever do on these trips where Bonnie Waite makes sure that every detail is completely nailed down.
For many years, pilgrimage was something I dreamed of or simply did not understand. Then my first opportunity to take a group out of the country came through my work for the Diocese of Arizona back in the late 1990’s. I led a group of young adults down to Belize to build a community center, visit and work in a rain forest, and to live with locals for ten days. We also had one day on the Cayes of Belize before we headed back home.
It was a mission trip, but I was uncomfortable thinking of missions as merely taking Jesus to other people. So I began preparing the group to seek God’s work in a new place, and this is the essence of pilgrimage. It becomes not just a way to excuse travel, but a way of life.
He is Risen!
Easter. Finally. This has been a long Lent at my house. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but one of the main ones is simply business. Or busy-ness. Or both. And we always do stuff for Lent. Daily office. Prayers. And of course, some abstinences. I restricted my diet a little. But mostly I have tried to focus on prayers and the daily office.
We really get into Lent somehow. Even people who are not all that Christian know what we do at Lent. Strangers ask about it.
What do we do for Easter? The King has been enthroned. Crowned and set in his place as the rightful ruler and the “ruler of this world has been cast down.” Sins forgiven. The heart of God revealed to be as Jesus revealed, the heart of a loving Father, and not those other gods we carry around in our fears. God is good. Love wins.
Holy Week is upon us. It is hard to overstate the importance of these seven days to traditional Christianity. As we enter in to the mysteries of God’s salvation of the world, we tell the story of the last week of Christ’s life, from the entering of Jerusalem tomorrow to the Resurrection on Saturday and Sunday.
These days are our holiest, so make time for Christ this week and enter with us into his Grace.