a paycheck

How much do we really need in order to “make a living”?

For three pay cycles toward the end of summer, the accounting department at my work overpaid me by about a third.  When we all realized the error, I took a 1/3 cut for the next three checks (which worked out to more like 1/2 of what I’d been making for the previous six weeks).

Because clergy are in a strange tax situation, we took the extra and put it away in our account for saving to pay our taxes–ours aren’t taken out check-by-check–so we’ll be set a little bit earlier this year.

The wild-and-convicting thing?  My husband and I didn’t much notice the difference.  Sure, we spent less and kept closer track of our spending decisions, but our lives didn’t look or feel significantly different; indeed, now that the first “normal” check arrived in our account, I realize how much more we could (and probably should) be giving away.  Have you ever tried to live on less?  What did you notice–anything?

Since January, I’ve been on a clothing-spending-freeze.  You see, there’s an intentional living community in Durham, NC (the Community of the Franciscan Way) that fostered my adoption and growth in the Anglican tradition; this group reminded me how to be Christian again.  My heart longs for those people and the way God is present in them, but my work is elsewhere now.  To stay invested and connected with them this year, I decided to give to them monthly, and since money doesn’t grow on trees, I looked at my budget (and my closet) and decided I really didn’t need any more clothes.  I’ve been sending them my clothing budget this year, and though I’ve missed the numbing sensation of retail therapy (I hadn’t realized till this commitment what a “therapy”–perhaps in a bad sense–it really is!), my closet is plenty stocked to accommodate my fashion whims.

Full disclosure: after ripping my one set of jeans on a recent grocery store trip, I did buy a new pair.

What sorts of habits have we fallen into with our money, mindlessly spending rather than intentionally enjoying, and sharing with others?

fake it until it makes you

– the point of liturgy.

I’ve heard worship in the Episcopal Church described as a method of “fake it till you make it.”  I think this is close to right.  There’s no requirement or expectation that a person will come every Sunday or walk through the church door and feeling something every single time; there’s no lofty ambition that every attendee will be bowled over by the mystical mind-body-soul connection and the deep meaning of what their bodies and voices are doing during the service. But there is a sort of trust that something profound and shaping is going on at an almost-imperceptible level when our voices are saying the psalms and when our bodies are bowing and folding our hands.

However, unlike the popular adage, it’s not about our own effort, or our feelings about the experience, or even about our own experience of the moments at all.

When learning to cook something new, or trying a new cleaning method for the bathtub, or working on a new regimen for exercise, the steps are clumsy and take a long time and feel foreign and unproductive.  It’s frustrating and unfamiliar–sometimes we even give up, trying this new thing, because it feels so totally useless.  Think of all the things you’ve tried, and worked for, and gained proficiency in, though–these have become second-nature.  Maybe it’s cooking eggs, or swiffering the entire house in just a few minutes, but these things have had a real impact on your everyday life as they were practiced.  They made you into a person who was a master omelette-maker, or a whiz with dusting. These skills might even prove useful in other realms of life, giving you an edge when volunteering in the soup kitchen or providing a subject of conversation when seated next to a fellow shedding-dog-owner.

How much more do we hope and intend for daily Scripture reading and repeated meditation on psalms to change the way we understand the world around us, make us more attentive to the God revealed in Scripture, realign our habits and instincts to be centered around the God who came to be with us.

What a comfort to trust that it’s not up to me to “make it,” but to show up, as willing as I can be–and sometimes it’s not willing at all–for the sake of being trained, habituated, realigned toward Hope.

What is Your Name? – All Saints’ Sunday – Trinity Cathedral


“22 ‘Blessed are you when people… cast out your name as evil because of the Son of Man… 26‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” (Luke 6:22, 26; NKJV)

Today, the celebration of All Saints’ Day, is a moment to consider our baptism.  In some of the services today, babies will come to be baptized, and when they are, their families will be told, “Name this child!”  My own middle name is for my great-grandmother, who died in May of this year; I think of her especially on this celebration of All Saints’ Day, as many of us remember people who have died in the last year who were holy beacons of Jesus’ love.  I’ve noticed since moving to the South that down here, many more people name their children after family members.  I even know a family who boasts something like seven generations straight of women with the same name.  Names still mean something down here, and that makes the name that God gives us all the more sweet.  The most important name that any of us could be called is “Christian.”  “Christian” means “little Christ,” or perhaps more colloquially, “imitator of Jesus.”

God is fond of giving people new names.  In the Old Testament, God changes people’s names at profoundly significant moments in their lives.  Just a few weeks ago, we heard the moment when Jacob’s name was changed to Israel.  Do you remember?  The reading from Genesis told us, “‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'” (Gen. 32:28; NKJV) God changed Jacob’s name to Israel the night before Jacob was to meet his brother again for the first time in decades.  But to understand what’s significant about this name change, we should understand what the names mean: “Jacob” means “trickster,” and stories about tricksters are common throughout ancient literature.  Think about the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, or the Hare in the parable about racing with the tortoise.  These characters don’t make friends, they are scrappy, and they have to stick to themselves because their only way of getting ahead in the world is at another person’s expense.  Jacob did that to his brother Esau, cheating his older sibling out of the blessing and riches which were meant for him; later, Jacob did it again to his uncle, stacking the deck so to speak, to make sure the sheep in his herd were the most hardy.  But here in Genesis 32, Jacob’s name changes–God comes near to Jacob and transforms him.  God changes Jacob so completely into a new person that his name can’t even be “trickster” anymore.  It’s changed to Israel, which means, “God fights.”  You might think of it as something like, “God fights for you”–I imagine that’s what Israel hears any time his name is said after it changes that fateful night.  God loves Jacob just as he is, trickster and all, but God loves Jacob too much to leave him that way.  God transforms Jacob, and gives him a new name with a new identity.  He’s no longer a “trickster,” but a person for whom “God fights.”

This happened to Paul, too, in the New Testament–the writer of those letters starts out with the name “Saul,” but when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus tells Saul that he’s got a new job to do now and it’s such a change that he needs a new name to go with it.  That’s how Saul becomes Paul.  We could think about it this way: Saul starts out with a sensible life–he’s a Pharisee, well-respected, super smart, the jock, the popular kid, the A+ student–he’s the top of everything, the wonderkid.  God comes along and stands in his path one day, and the great reputation that Saul has, his trophies he’s won and collected–this life Saul’s built–it comes undone and is remade by God into something that doesn’t make sense at all to Paul’s old friends.  Being transformed by the God we meet in the person of Jesus Christ means that we do strange things, like giving someone who’s cold our new, fresh, warm coat, not the old, smelly, ratty one.  We relentlessly forgive the person who continues to stand us up when we’ve made a date, or keeps hanging up on us when we call on the phone.  No matter how many times someone asks for a coat or a blanket, and no matter how many times someone hangs up on us, we give and we forgive one more time, every time.  These actions make no sense unless Jesus Christ is Lord; unless he is God incarnate.

No one is naturally generous or forgiving; developing holy habits takes lots of hard work, and it’s a hopeless pursuit unless the person is utterly devoted to the God revealed in the person of Jesus.  Every saint we celebrate today recognized God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and committed their lives to that truth.  I heard someone say once, “People who are saints don’t know it until God himself tells them.”  Saints’ lives are transformed by the truth of Jesus; their first name is “Christian.”  God has re-named them.

Today we celebrate All Saints.  There are hundreds of faithful Christians who have passed through these doors, many we remember as living hard, holy lives devoted to Jesus.  There are thousands more, through the last 200 years at Trinity, and millions throughout the world, who has been called saints by God because of their holy lives, oriented completely toward Jesus.  We do not remember, nor could we ever know, all their names.  But God has recognized them, and that is the only lasting remembrance.

After these buildings crumble and the plaques are tarnished, after the communion kneelers disintegrate and the endowment runs out, though our names and the names these parents give their children as they are baptized today will disappear and be forgotten by future generations, may we so fight to live lives that only make sense in the sight of Jesus’ resurrection; that our reward may be God remembering our name when we see him face to face one day.

Morning Prayer & I-85 Exits

Back in June, when I made my first voyage back to my hometown* (Durham), about ten minutes out from my best friend’s home, I realized that we NEEDED cheese for our Sunday night repast. Flipping my brain quickly into cheese-emergency mode, I thought, “Must get to Whole Foods (only cheesey place open on Sunday nights). Where am I now? How to get there fast?” And my brain then did a very funny thing. It shut off. I exited the interstate, and my arms felt like they were moving themselves, turning the wheel; my foot had a mind of its own, pressing the brake and the gas. And then, I turned up in the Whole Foods parking lot–presto! What a strange thing to happen, I thought, that my brain wouldn’t do the think-through-the-map-you-keep-stashed-in-your-mind, calculating distances and times and the length of stoplights…

It dawned on me: my brain had done that exact thing so many times on those exact streets that it didn’t need to think anymore. Living in St. Louis, and now in Columbia, I can get around very well, but my mind is constantly calculating and reorienting itself to remember where things are located and how the streets line up. My mind didn’t have to think through routes from here to there because it’d been making that route in my brain so long, through so many seasons of road construction and rain, that my body–in a way–just knew how to get where I wanted to go.

It wasn’t like that in the beginning, back in 2004. I knew one way to get from point A to point B, and though it may have been super-inefficient, I wasn’t going to abandon that route for anything. Gradually, I added more mental map and I colored in the way traffic affected roads at various times of day–eventually, I knew the roads so well, they were just part of me, my arms and legs could take over.

Back in 2008, I prayed Morning Prayer for the first time. I was in one of the hard, straight-backed wooden pews at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham. I didn’t know which page we started on, I didn’t know how to choose readings or canticles or collects (or exactly what “collects” were) or when to stand or kneel. It was uncomfortable and foreign and not very enjoyable, but it was required for Confirmation, which I’d decided to undergo for some reason, and so I mouthed the words and listened.

20130925-173749.jpgI was committed to leading one of the Daily Offices (Morning, Noonday, Evening Prayer, and Compline) every week of the academic year, which roughly lined up to our time as catechumens, preparing for Confirmation in the Episcopal Church. Further, we were to pray this set of Offices every day by ourselves, if we didn’t show up at church for it. I was overwhelmed and a little bit rebellious. I didn’t stick with it well at all over winter break that year. By the next summer, a newly minted Episcopalian for just over a year, my field education supervisor expected me to pray Morning Prayer with him every day in our parish’s chapel, and though I felt a bit rebellious here too (when I led, I used contemporary language), I think that is when I fell in love with the Daily Office. Those weeks cemented something in me; some mornings I almost cried through the prayers, I was so tired, so humiliated, so lonely. But every morning, those words were there again, and in a way, that time and place–8 a.m. in St. Agnes’ Chapel–became sacred and became home.

I returned to Durham and to St. Joe’s that autumn, to the people and place that had already been with me through plenty of change and confusion. Morning Prayer was no longer a burden, a commitment that I’d made and felt imprisoned to keep, but a joy and delight–a place and time where I kept meeting God in the words I said and heard.

A little more than a year ago, I arrived late to a service of Morning Prayer in the parish I was serving in Missouri; I jumped right into the canticle being recited, and then I just forgot to pick up a prayer book. The rest of the service had hidden itself in my memory and in my heart. My brain turned off and the words easily came out of my mouth. Just like my body knew exactly how to drive my car to the grocery store, my heart practiced and found its way to God in Morning Prayer.

Years ago, when I started eating breakfast at St. Joe’s with who ever showed up for eggs and grits, they gave me a key, for the mornings that I’d be the first one there to start the coffee.  I still keep that key on my key chain to remember the place and people who re-introduced me to Jesus.

Last week, a dear friend of mine said, “Sometimes big things are the easy things to be courageous about; the little things are hard.” Why can we commit to things like marriage and jobs, but find it so difficult to commit to something like daily prayer, Scripture memorization, or keeping up with pen pals?

(postscript: this is the community now)