Saturday, May 20, 2006

From our Treasure, Old and New

A reflection for the Feast Day of Alcuin, Deacon of Tours

A Deacon and an Emperor

On May 20th, we remember Alcuin, a deacon of the eighth century in Northern Europe. . .a time and a place of upheaval when the civilizations of antiquity had met a rough end. The Northern European tribes had won the day against the empire of Rome, and the land was splintered into various fiefdoms, warring factions, and military kings.

Into this landscape, Alcuin shone as one of the bright lights of his day. He was highly educated, inheriting an academic lineage going back to St. Bede. Heading the school of York, a great English seat of learning, Alcuin, near the venerable age of 50, caught the eye of Emperor Charlemagne, who sought to re-unify Western Europe under a single power.

Alcuin agreed to join Charlemagne in Parma as his prime minister, but it was a most curious political-ecclesiastical marriage. Alcuin, the elder consummate scholar and man of God, was to tutor the ambitious young monarch. . . one who was not known for his refinement. Alcuin’s tongue-in-cheek wisdom about Charlemagne went like this:

“Behold our Solomon, resplendent with the diadem of wisdom. . .
Cherish his virtues, but avoid his vices.”

Sound advice still to all of us who, at various times in our lives, work and live with difficult people!

While certainly a preserver of the Christian faith as he had inherited it, Alcuin was also a primary mover and shaker in reforms that still stay with us in our liturgical tradition: from the correction of biblical translations, to our creeds, to the Collect for Purity at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist.

But even more critically for us, with his fine teaching and educational vision combined with Charlemagne’s ambition, Alcuin helped forge a vision of learning as an ideal for all people – the foundation of what was later to become the university system of the West. And, through education, all of us here today have inherited the benefits of Alcuin’s vision over 1,200 years ago.

On being Rude and Barbarous

The collect for our feast day today, honoring Alcuin, calls the period a “rude and barbarous age.”

While our nation is at the height of its economic and military hegemony, and we are tempted to see ourselves as quite civilized and far from barbarous, we still are acquainted with the work of terrorists, an ongoing struggle for peace in many places in the world, and our own troops and loved ones in harm’s way. They all remind us that barbarism is still an intimate and uncomfortable part of our shared life with the human family.

I feel even more strongly that our age can also be rude. We live in a time where people are tempted by the wonders of technology and a hearty cultural emphasis on individualism to go it alone. We live in a decidedly post-Christian culture, where the Church as an institution is often frowned upon, especially in the Bay Area. . .a place in the world where the name “Christian” might get a second, not-so-charitable glance! We live in an age where the intellectual arts are being eroded for the more practical and selfish pursuits of individual wealth.

Most concerning to us as people of faith – we live in an age where story – and I mean the full kind of three-dimensional, enfleshed human story, is often collapsed into media soundbytes and partisan rhetoric. We are often caught between the popular fictional history of The Da Vinci Code on one side, and simplistic hellfire and brimstone on the other.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

It’s into this context that one of Alcuin’s more famous quotes echoes across the ages to us:

“The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

Alcuin knew something in his bones about the importance of preserving the full-bodied, warm-blooded story of the People of God – our voice, our Gospel, our prayers, our hopes, our shared history.

We preserve our stories, to use the words of today’s Gospel, like “scribes,” who have “been trained for the kingdom of heaven. . .like master[s] of a household who bring out of [the] treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:52

Alcuin’s mission in life, led by God, was to bring out the treasure of the People of God: the old texts – the texts of antiquity – the Christian and cultural heritage that describes us as a people. His mission in life, also led by God, was to bring out new theological insights; new vision for the future of the Church – our new story as Christian people, rooted in our present experience, born on the wings of wonder.

As a community of faith, we are called to follow Alcuin’s lead, like scribes for the kingdom of heaven. We preserve our traditions, because they are the stories of our faith, not only shared with Christians worldwide, but incarnate – born into our unique place and time in the cosmos – and worked out by the people we know, love, and remember. And we break into the new, drawing people in our own age into the story of Christ and the People of God, back into community, bringing out new language and new dreams for the people we serve today. . .and the people we prepare our communities to welcome tomorrow.

But we also know the tension between the old and the new. Alcuin, I think, would understand. No community lives in either the old or the new completely. If we live only in the old, we risk, at best, becoming a museum. . .at worst, we risk death. And if we live only in the new, we risk becoming rootless and wayward, chasing only the latest thing without anchor or depth. Our story then loses its authentic place in God’s story, which spans millennia and the great diversity of the human legacy.

God comes to us in both the old and the new. There’s something about that tension that is generative and Spirit-filled as it opens our hearts to God and each other through conversation, prayer, and shared ministry, drawing the community forward and more deeply into Life.

Alcuin reminds us that without our voice to proclaim the story, both old and new, God’s story will lose its place in the heart of our community. . .it could lose its power to bring redemption and hope to a rude and sometimes barbarous world. Our call, like Alcuin’s, is to continue carrying on this story – to proclaim God’s story in old and new ways, valuing the old, forging the new, and drawing real lives into its wonder. . .to find ourselves transformed by a God who keeps coming to us in story, old and new, with healing. . . and with resurrection.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What Witness Will We Make?

The Episcopal Divinity School president looks toward General Convention. . .

Bishop Steven Charleston sums up the challenge to the Episcopal Church with his always refreshingly clear insight here. It's well worth a read.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Seeing Blindness

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said,"Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Mark 10:46-51

Today, as I was preparing to post last Sunday's sermon online, I felt brought up short by several of my glowing statements about the election last weekend.

I had just returned to the office from a hard-hitting meeting with the leadership of the ethnic and multicultural communities of the diocese and our new bishop-elect. Bishop Andrus and the Standing Committee had called the gathering at St. Augustine's, Oakland, when concerns were raised about negative rumors and inuendos on the convention floor about some of our nominees for bishop.

We had publicly glimpsed the hurt stemming from this "talk" last Saturday in an article about the episcopal election in The San Francisco Chronicle. But that was only a glimpse. The disappointment was more widespread and was still deeply felt a week later amongst people of our diocese whom I have, over the past four years, grown to profoundly respect.

Talk is talk. Inuendo is inuendo. Rumor can be just that. In this case, there was no substance behind any of it. Nor was there any evidence of conspiracy or impropriety. But to us, the "talk" that had stirred up so much pain was still rooted in the painful reality that, while we have come a long distance, we still all suffer from our enculturated preference for white, straight males in this diocese.

Up until this point, I had been sorely tempted to stand behind all the assertions of last week's sermon and my experience of the election as God's truth.

Truth is, the pain I was witnessing was helping me realize there was a smugness that had crept into the text of my sermon. . .a smugness rooted in my being part of the dominant class and culture of not only this Diocese, but our country. . .of my being straight, white, and male. . .and of being "liberal" and, frankly, in a bit of denial because of it.

I had been operating out of a sense shared with many in the diocese that I had arrived, because I'd been "doing the work": living in a cross-cultural marriage, having attended the anti-racism training, laboring shoulder to shoulder with the men and women from all kinds of backgrounds in the leadership of ethnic, multicultural, and "mainstream" ministries of the Diocese.

The sense of arrival had led me to an arrogance. . .and an unwillingness to acknowledge that some of our worst biases had still played a role in our election. . .even in a Spirit-filled convention of a diocese that has prided itself on being enlightened and able to move beyond such sins. I was reminded again today that these sins around race, gender, sexual orientation, and class are slippery, subtle evils connected with our broken nature -- ones that I realized I am sorely tempted to deny in our church and in myself where they still have an active role in my worldview and relationships.

The word that came to mind about my state was "blindness." When I saw it, I was led back to the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who asks Jesus to restore his sight. Blindness is a common theme in the gospels, and I have begun to understand one reason why. Without steady vigilance and a healthy dose of God's grace, we are often blinded in all our human finitude. Even if we sport 20/20 vision, our everyday environment and the always limited scope of our experience is forever wooing us into insularity; to build walls that bar us from understanding others; into a blindness of the soul.

Today, our powerfully honest discussion of the heart with each other and with Bishop Andrus began to break into my settled sense of arrival and restore some broader sight, revealing to me again the wounds we share as a diocese, and beginning a transformative healing rooted in the depths of the Risen Body of Christ.

Like Bartimaeus, as a people gathered, we took the bold step of calling upon the Christ of Truth, manifest in the gathered community and in our lives, nourished by the sacrament, welcomed by open ears and hearts, to restore our sight of the greater world in one another: our sight of the truths we each hold, including our unique stories of pain, joy, and hope.


Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:52

Jesus tells Bartimaeus to "Go." With my eyes opened to the pain connected with the election that I had not or could not see at the time, I was tempted to let myself get stuck in guilt, shame, blame, and anger. But that was not the call of today's meeting, nor the vision many in the room were presenting from their hearts.

Instead, having spoken out of our sense of the truth of what had happened, we began plumbing the depths for hope . . . our hope to seek the path to wellness. We reconnected with our firm willingness to continue moving forward in the difficult, exhausting task of unwinding the power of "isms" from our church's life.

Bishop Andrus was still to be our bishop. There seemed to be a profound and renewed understanding that the Holy Spirit had indeed led us in the election last Saturday, despite the "talk." We were ready to forge ahead with vision, seeking with our new bishop an ever brighter future for all peoples of this diocese.

Like Bartimaeus, I felt called by Christ to go, get on the road, and follow. Restored sight is no excuse for staying put. There can be no sense of arrival. Now that I can see that, at least, back to work. . .and, I hope, better work with clearer vision.

Monday, May 08, 2006

We can take it

With all the ink. . .er, finger strength. . .that has been spilled into keyboards on the election of Marc Andrus as our new bishop in the Diocese of California, I was trying to come up with a few words of response of my own. But my good friend, classmate, and colleague, The Rev. John Kirkley of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco, beat me to it. I have little to add to his excellent apologetic piece (in the old sense of apologia) on why he voted for the "straight white male." It's well worth a look-see.

I've been in this diocese long enough to know that we have the stomach to take the divisive rhetoric bouncing around the internet and the media over the election.

If I had to bet good money on it, my guess would be that Bishop Andrus has the stomach for it, too.

From his record, and from what I saw in him during the search process, he seems to recognize that the way forward is to walk into the tension and engage in real, face-to-face, honest relationship and conversation. That's the incarnation in a nutshell: God comes and meets us in the face of Christ -- a face we see in each other, in the stranger, and even in our enemy. It's a reconciling ministry we are all called to. And it's also the place real conversion happens. It may be tough. But it's the Christian way forward. May we learn that even more from him as he arrives as our new leader.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

On Finding a Shepherd

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-16

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

May 6th began with a early rise for me, out of bed to prepare for the election of the Eighth Bishop of California. . .a desire to get to Grace Cathedral early to join our delegates, Frances and Keiko, before the madding rush. . .the anticipated rush of the other clergy and delegates, observers, and. . .yes, the media. The day had been long awaited. A year-and-a-half of preparation in the diocese had brought us here. Countless hours of diligent prayer and patient, arduous labor, and long conversation about our future leadership were now behind us.

As is my wont first thing in the morning, I fired up my computer to read e-mail and look at the latest news. I had deliberately not been overly-attentive to the rhetoric swirling around our election. The media really was enjoying the controversy over the nominees. But I looked a bit anyway on the morning of the election. After our conversations in our delegation and with the Christ Church community, we felt we had a pretty clear sense by now whom the Spirit was leading us to vote for on the first few ballots.

I immediately came upon a recent AP piece that captured some of the concerns coming from conservatives in the Church. I don’t know where Canon Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society based in Carrollton, Texas, was getting his information, but he said: “I don't think there's any question [the Diocese of California] will be compelled to elect a partnered gay.”

I found the statement a bit strange. With all my friends, colleagues, and mentors in this Diocese and the greater Church who are gay or lesbian, no one had approached me with any kind of bribe, loaded gun, or even earnest pleas that looked anything remotely like the compulsion Canon Atwood was alluding to.

Just to crank it up another big notch, Paul Zahl, Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, was quoted in the same article. . .He said the potential election of a gay bishop in California was like “a terrorist bomb, which is timed to destroy a peace process.”

When The Rev. Susan Russell of Integrity and All Saints’, Pasadena, and the Human Rights Campaign publicly called Paul on the carpet for such an outrageous remark, he refused to apologize. He explained further in internet contexts how the Diocese of California – yes, that’s not just our diocese, but us – how we were the Anglican equivalent of the Irish Republican Army when they were deliberately timing attacks to undermine peace in Northern Ireland. . .or how we were like Hamas in its attacks on Israel.
Jesus said, “The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”

Now, as a member of the Diocese of California, I suppose I should be able to take the name of “heretic.” I know some in this diocese, including our current bishop, who, with a healthy sense of humor, wears the title like a badge of honor. I can even stand being called “revisionist.” But the not-so-charitable title of “terrorist?” How does that fit for you?

I’ve met Paul – at a CDSP event where he was invited to speak a few years ago. I see him, for what it’s worth, as a three-dimensional human being just like the rest of us, with deep responsibility to an Episcopal institution that now feels and behaves embattled. I still believe Paul to be a Christian. And I’ve heard him talk about the pain he’s faced as he’s watched friends leave over the current debate in the Communion about human sexuality. I think his pain and concerns are real.

But in the end, this language using the great articulation of evil and darkness in our day. . . about “terrorists” in the Diocese of California getting ready to plant a “bomb” in the Anglican Communion. . .well, it was really all about one thing: fear.

And fear, we hear in today’s Gospel, scatters the sheep. Fear is about wolves. It’s about hired hands running away. It isn’t about shepherds. And it most certainly is not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I arrived at Grace Cathedral, half expecting some protestors. I was not disappointed. This is San Francisco, after all! But there was only one I saw: a lone protestor standing at the bottom of the steps of Grace Cathedral. He was carrying a large placard with various accusations for our Church: that we were lost, we were faithless, we were “feminized” (whatever that means.) I occasionally checked with friends and colleagues as they came into the Cathedral after me. There was still only one lone protestor standing out front holding the sign and shouting occasionally at delegates and clergy as they arrived. Though I heard of no one trying to run him off, someone told me after an hour or two, the lone protestor apparently gave up and went home. . .or on to the next electing convention, I suppose.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Our Convention and first ballots opened with hymns, biblical readings, meditations, and prayer. . .complete with cameras rolling and reporters at least half expecting some kind of radical agenda to emerge; maybe they were a little hungry for a fight – a signal, perhaps, to the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal equivalent of a civil protest. . .or even what Paul Zahl was predicting would be a “terrorist bomb” for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

There was one problem for the media who were hoping to witness this polemic firsthand in our electing convention. . .

It didn’t exist.

We were merely sheep of the Diocese of California, gathered around our Shepherd. . .and I don’t mean Bishop Swing (God love him, we were gathered with him, too). . .I mean our Shepherd of shepherds. . .Jesus Christ. We were together. We were united in prayer to God. We were determined to vote in the Spirit – threats, predictions, and fear notwithstanding.

When Bishop Marc Andrus was elected on the third ballot, the entire Convention rose to its feet in all its diversity – young, old, rich, poor, Americans of every background, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Latino, European, African, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, man, woman, clergy, laity, conservative, liberal, moderate, and independent. Did I get everybody? By the time the cheering and clapping was over, my hands hurt.

We had seven excellent and admirable nominees before us. Some will make fine bishops in the future. I believe we had indeed looked beyond sexuality and gender at full human beings honestly and prayerfully discerning with us about who was called to be our next bishop.

And we agreed yesterday that Marc Andrus was called to be our bishop. It’s where the Spirit led us. Please make no mistake. I do not believe he was a mere compromise or consensus candidate. Nor did I feel his election a response to fear. I know a number of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in California confidently voted for Andrus from the first ballot. Nor is he merely an olive branch to offer out of regret or appeasement over the current controversy in the Anglican Communion. Yes, I heard rumors about Andrus circulating on the floor of Convention yesterday: rumors that he commands respect from theological opponents, evangelicals, and progressives alike.

In the end, for me at least, he is, General Convention consenting, none other than the next bishop of California. . .our next shepherd who will work with us and the greater Church to point the way to the Great Shepherd, Jesus the Christ.
Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

Little was lost on Marc Handley Andrus as he spoke by phone for the first time to the Diocese as our bishop-elect. He’d been reading the papers. With their microphones held up high to the speakers of Grace Cathedral, the reporters listened intently as Bishop Andrus gave a very clear, very direct message to us, to the world, and to the Anglican Communion. He said our commitment to inclusion will continue in this diocese – and not just to gays, lesbians, and women; but to minorities; to children and youth; to young adults; to those outside of our doors; to those in need; to those who are seeking purpose and direction for their lives. With his election, we are re-committed to the radically inclusive, transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe he would willfully provoke controversy, but, as our bishop, he will continue to stand firm in his faith to this Gospel he believes in.

I confess, after hearing this, tears of hope and joy came to me as we began communion. I believe in that Gospel, too. Bishop Andrus’ unifying vision for transformative justice in the Gospel is palpable, catching, and may well help us as a people deepen and strengthen our mission to the people of the Bay Area and the world in the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong; my glowing remarks are not meant to suggest he is perfect. He will have his detractors. He will make mistakes. Every bishop does, just like the rest of us human beings. But I can tell you this: Marc Andrus came across very clearly in the search process as someone who would freely admit his faults. . .and his faith. I sensed someone who can be trusted. I sensed someone who speaks out of his heart and out of a deep place of prayer. I sensed someone who is profoundly open to God’s grace. This is why I felt called by the Spirit to vote for him.

I believe he will want to get to know you -- each of you – and personally. And his relationship with this Diocese will transform him, as will our relationship with him will transform us. As will the relationship with God in Christ we share with him. God will work through him to discern with us and call us in new and exciting directions.

The media got an earful and an eyeful yesterday about spiritual discernment – the kind of decision making in the Spirit that transcends black-and-white stories; that rises above polemical thinking and threats and name-calling; that breathes and speaks grace into the controversy that splits churches. We were not peddling fear or soundbytes yesterday. We were peddling the Spirit. And in that Spirit, we sought and found a shepherd. I wonder what the reporters and their editors will make of what they witnessed.

I’m happy to say there were no terrorists in our electing convention. There were only faithful Christians working in the Spirit to discern God’s will. And discern we did. I was grateful to be part of such a tremendous day. We found a shepherd.

And, though I believe we never lost him to begin with, we reaffirmed our devotion to our Good Shepherd. . .our Great High Priest. . .the One who is leading us home.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The wind blows where it chooses. . .

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8

There's been a little bit of dispute around the Diocese whether electing a bishop is a political or a spiritual process.

Jim Wallis writes in God's Politics that our representatives in Congress walk around Washington "with their fingers held high in the air. . .to see which way the wind is blowing." (p. 21).

This doesn't seem quite what Jesus meant in this quite famous passage from the Gospel of John, but perhaps the author of the Gospel and even Jim Wallis would chuckle at how, like our Congressional representatives, many of us in the Diocese of California have been walking around with our fingers in the air the past couple of weeks, too -- to see which way the wind has been blowing -- to see how the Spirit is leading us to elect the next bishop of California.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I've spent more than a few hours the past couple of days sending e-mails back and forth and holding conference, by phone and in person, with laity and clergy. . .prognosticating. I have very clear ideas about how things might unfold tomorrow. But too clear, I think, in light of John's Gospel.

Yet, as Episcopalians we pride ourselves on bringing our polity (yes, it is a word so closely related to politics) into the midst of our spiritual lives. . .into the midst of our liturgy. We may decide, as some of us do, to check secular politics at the church door (many of us most certainly do not), but then we get our kicks out of church politics. Just look again at the pecking order next time a procession comes up the aisle, and you'll see what I mean!

Enough self-ribbing. I love the Episcopal Church. Else I would not have been ordained in it. And, yes, I think I do love a bit of politics.

But I shouldn't too much. Still, I wonder if politics, too, cannot be the playground of the Spirit -- surely nothing is beyond God's reach, no matter how sullied by our cynicism or experience of scandal.

And, I'm happy to reflect that this particular chapter in church politics has been remarkably refreshing, real, and. . .well. . .Spirit-filled. I think the Search Committee did a terrific and prayerful job. 2,000 people showed up to meet the nominees for the Eighth Bishop of California last week. People were curious and engaged. There were many questions asked that had profound importance and insight. And unlike its secular cousins, this campaign seemed mostly and appropriately devoid of mudslinging. We have grounds to be proud not only of our colleagues in ministry (lay and ordained), but of the nominees, who all took their roles in this discernment both seriously and with an appreciable sense of humor.

At the end, our "political" process has been a stage. . .a stage we set across which we have been asking the Spirit of God to blow. And Spirit has come, with all of its unique and marvelous capacity for the unexpected. Expectations gave way to surprise for many of us at the walkabouts. We learned things we didn't expect. We were drawn to nominees we didn't anticipate. What was on paper leapt into the flesh. . .we met living, breathing men and women who love God and the ministry of God's people. We met people who pray. . .and pray hard. I was inspired.

And now we set the stage one last time for the wind of the Spirit to blow. And, if I really embrace the humility of the election, I ought to remember Christ's admonition that I know not where it comes from or where it goes. From the first ballot to the last, we share an adventure beginning tomorrow morning. An adventure we call discernment as the clergy and lay delegates gather to find the common ground we hold in the Spirit as we seek the next Bishop of California. . .

Is that politics? Or is that God's Spirit? Or is it both?

Now, which is the real Anglican answer?

God's peace,


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Learning to Live in God's Story

I've recently started re-reading Jerome Berryman's The Complete Guide to Godly Play. A few years ago, we tried introducing the children's formation program here at Christ Church with "The Faces of Easter." One of our members put together a beautiful calendar of the church year based on the Godly Play model that still hangs in the Sunday School room. We cleaned out the shelves to make "Godly Play space" and created the materials for a few additional lessons about Eucharist and the Apostles ourselves.

Then we hit a brick wall. No, our teachers didn't want to spend the resources, energy, or time to attend a Godly Play training. Nor did they see us spending the money on the materials needed to round out a complete year of lessons. And Godly Play, sadly, died at Christ Church just after germinating. "The Faces of Easter" barely lasted another year. The cards about the Eucharist came out occasionally if I asked, but like the seeds in the parable of the sower, they fell on rocky soil. No roots were put down, and the hot sun of our shared story as a congregation burned the tender shoots.

Our shared story at Christ Church is about scarcity -- it's about immigrants who came to this country and pieced lives together out of next to nothing. It's about the congregation being shut down during World War II as our members were largely shipped inland to be incarcerated by the United States government in the name of security. It's about returning after the war and struggling with the diocese and the greater Church to reconstitute a church family when so many had gone never to return. It's been about trying to forge an identity in the midst of a neighborhood that is very different from our little congregation. It's been about preserving tradition in the face of a slowly declining membership and watching many of our children grow up and leave the area. It's been about being unsure of when our original mission, rooted in 1895 and turn-of-the-twentieth-century immigration from Japan, needs to be re-invented. . .or be declared a success and put to rest.

We've lived out of this painful story for so long, introducing Godly Play seemed like introducing a foreign language. It may well have been, theologically speaking.

But Godly Play represents more than just an innovative program for a struggling Sunday school. It represents re-introducing the Gospel and the rich stories of our tradition as Christians. It represents inviting us back into the most important story of all: God's story.

And God's story has something profound to say to our story of Christ Church. The story of God's people is full of exile, disenchantment, poverty, faithlessness, and even stubborn resistance to liberation. God's story is about a God who responds to all of these instruments of death with a bold gift of new life. God promises our spiritual ancestors many descendants in the midst of the deserts of sand and old age. God liberates a people enslaved. God forges covenant with a stubborn and wayward community -- bound to fail God, perhaps; but God refuses to fail them. And God sends a Messiah, the Christ, who embodies the divine in the human person, healing the great cosmic rifts we all suffer from and beckoning us home. In Jesus Christ, God brings the marginalized back into the fold, heals the sick, and raises the dead. He proclaims good news to the poor and justice for a people, poor and rich alike, seeking the truth and a new way of life in God. And Christ, crucified and risen, finally breaks the bonds of death for a world in desperate need to be free.

God's story tells us we no longer have to live in fear or clutch habitually at our scarce resources. God's story tells us we are blessed with abundant new life, if only we will dare share our blessings and then partake. In our baptism and our breaking of the bread, Christ wants God's story to be our new story, filled with blessing, hope, and new life.

The future of Christ Church largely depends on our willingness to embrace, as Christians, the Easter message of this new story. It depends on our agreeing to engage God's story as the answer to our story, to live into God's great response of abundance and freedom to our history of scarcity and enslavement. And God's story promises to breathe into this community abundance, hope, joy, and a growing sense of Resurrection occurring in our midst.

Living in God's story, though, is tough. It requires letting go. It demands deep prayer and a commitment to community. It invites us to wonder about the mystery of God's love for us, rather than live in our set, cut-and-dried answers. And it asks for much more than a little attention. God's story asks for our entire lives -- our whole lives that Christ desires to make anew. This is the spiritual quest for our community and our call to pilgrimage. My hope is that we will find the strength to take a next step on this journey this Eastertide.