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Darkwater

This is a semi-fictional account of two events: a spiritual quest I went on in Schuylkill County yesterday, and a session with my spiritual director this morning. There’s no need to try to discern how much of it is “true.” In a way, it all is.

Continue reading “Darkwater”

Labyrinths # 10 and #11: Two churches in coastal Delaware

I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society

Last week, I was on vacation in Delaware. While there, I found a few labyrinths to walk. Today’s labyrinths are both at churches in seaside towns. These two labyrinths were built very differently, and have very distinctive feels.

Continue reading “Labyrinths # 10 and #11: Two churches in coastal Delaware”

Pinewood Men Double Feature!

It’s summer time in America, time for cookouts and swimming, and double features at the movies. So tonight Pinewood Men present Lakebed and Abba Redux.

First, a disturbing little slice of life tale inspired by the recent draining of Lake Minsi in Eastern PA. 

Lakebed from Pete Barry on Vimeo.
Next, a “Pinewood Men Classic” film. About fifteen years ago, the two young men who would one day become Pinewood Men, along with a few other friends, made a poorly edited film entitled “The Music is Abba.” Newly edited and rescored, we present the story of the worst party ever.

ABBA Redux from Pete Barry on Vimeo.

Labyrinth #9: Community United Methodist Church, Ocean Pines, MD

I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society.  

I’m currently on vacation in Ocean View, Delaware. I thought I’d try to find a labyrinth or two around here. Today I walked the labyrinth at Community United Methodist Church across the state line in Ocean Pines, Maryland. It’s a really nice one.  It’s a typical 7-circuit classical design, professionally installed with two colors of pavers. 


The grounds surrounding it are also beautiful. Adjacent to the labyrinth is a cemetery, as well as a frog pond, and some woods. It was a perfect day, overcast and 75 degrees. I decided to take my shoes off for this walk. 

The question I entered the labyrinth with was this: “How can I enjoy life?” Lately I’ve found enjoyment to be something foreign to me. I just haven’t been having fun lately. I’ve been getting things done, and found meaning and hope here and there, but I haven’t really been happy for any length of time. I’ve been using a lot of my free time to either nap or play video games, because I just find I just can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I don’t like this. I’d like to be able to find joy again. 

As I walked around, I looked at the richness of the grounds around me, and I saw the richness of the colors in the pavers beneath me. And it struck me that that is precisely what I’m missing — the richness of life. I felt connected and happy, and thought I heard a voice telling me to look for this richness wherever I am, whatever I’m doing. Not to keep looking for meaning, because that way lies confusion and disappointment. It’s so hard to pick out what the meaning of something is, but richness is different. Richness is just there — you don’t have to figure it out, you don’t have to interpret it. Perhaps what I mean is something like beauty. It’s ineffable, but truly there. 

So now that’s what I’ll try to do — look for richness. 

They Worshiped, but they Doubted

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, a day known as The Holy Trinity. The gospel reading was Matthew 28:16-20. The elephant in the room this morning was a very contentious vote the congregation took last week. Had the motion before the congregation passed, we would have become a Reconciling in Christ congregation; the motion failed. The congregation is fractured; many are hurt, some are angry.

Matthew tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

In fact, in the original Greek, the word that is translated here as “some” can also just mean “they.” When they saw him, they worshiped him; but they doubted.

I wonder what they doubted. These are the last words in Matthew’s gospel. Right after the resurrection. We have recently heard Luke’s words, and John’s words, about what happened then. This is Matthew’s version. When they saw him, they worshiped him. But they doubted. Did they doubt that this was really Jesus? Did they doubt that he was really alive? Did they doubt that he was he would really be with them? Did they doubt his promises? Perhaps they were just so hurt, traumatized, by his death just a few days earlier. Perhaps they doubted that things could ever be the way they once were. And they were right. They worshiped, but they doubted.

Let me tell you the story of Lucy. It started when I was in seminary, almost twenty years ago. Lucy was a classmate of mine there. So one day, my friend Justin and I were sitting on the porch of one of the seminary buildings, talking about some nonsense or other, and we saw Lucy walk by, walking and talking with another seminarian. And Justin and I made a joke about Lucy and the other guy. I don’t recall what it was. I’m sure it was dumb, and quite possibly crude. I don’t recall because it just wasn’t important to me. But apparently she overheard us. The next day, I got a phone call from her demanding an apology. Justin got one too. Apparently she accepted Justin’s apology, but not mine, because mine didn’t sound sincere. Fair enough; it wasn’t sincere. I really thought she overreacted, and I wasn’t going to apologize for something so stupid.

A few weeks later, I was called into the Dean’s office. Lucy had contacted him to bring sexual harassment charges against me. I was floored. It was just a dumb joke. And I guess the dean agreed, because I just had my wrist slapped, and had to attend a sensitivity seminar. But what a pain. Something so minor, and now my life was affected by it. I was glad when graduation came around, and I wouldn’t have to think about Lucy ever again.

Several years later, I was in the process of being commissioned as an Associate in Ministry in the Southeastern PA Synod. Associates in Ministry, now called Deacons, are people who are called and trained for a ministry of word and service. The last thing I had to do was have a meeting with the bishop. So I went to his office. He and I had some small talk, and then he said, “I received a phone call from a pastor who knew you in seminary. She said that you had sexually harassed her, and she thought I should know about that before agreeing to commission you.” That pastor, of course, was Lucy. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t thought about her in years. Now she was trying to ruin my career. I got my wrist slapped again, and the bishop made it clear that he’d be watching me. I just wanted things back the way they were.

A year or two after that, I attended a retreat for Associates in Ministry and pastors. We were assigned into small groups for part of the retreat. Guess who was there, and assigned to the same small group as I. When Lucy walked into the room and saw me there, she turned around and walked out. I was stunned. It had been six years now. And I made a decision. I decided that I was going to apologize to her, sincerely this time. Whatever I had done or not done, she was hurt, and I wanted to try to end this. I was going to let go of my pride, and apologize. I just wanted things back the way they were. So after the session, I sought her out. I called her name. She turned to me, and said, “What do you want?” I said, “I owe you a long-overdue apology. I’m sorry.” The frown fell off her face, and she said, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear,” and she hugged me. We talked, and we sat together at worship that evening. We never became friends, in fact I never saw her again. But I have never forgotten that moment, or the lessons I learned. I learned that I don’t get to decide how other people take my actions. I don’t get to decide whether she should or shouldn’t be hurt. She was hurt. It was never my intention to cause her six years of pain, but it happened, and I finally realized that reconciliation was more important than pride. I have found apologies easier to give since that day. And I also learned that forgiveness and grace are possible in any circumstance. A six-year grudge fell away in an instant. Things didn’t go back to the way they were. They were better, better in a way I never imagined. In that moment, just in that moment, Lucy and I worshiped, and I did not doubt. I believed in grace and hope.

I told you that story today because there are a lot of people hurting in our midst. Some who are here, some who are not here. And while I believe it was nobody’s intention to cause that hurt, it happened. At this moment, we are a fractured congregation. Fractures can heal, and I truly believe that this one will. But it takes time. Healing and reconciliation will come. But not yet. Forgiveness will come. But not yet. I believe that God has some real plans for us, and that through this, we will grow stronger than we’ve ever been. But not yet. I believe there will be a moment when we will worship together, and not doubt at all. But not yet.

Today we are like the eleven apostles. We worship, but we doubt. We doubt if these words of hope are true. We doubt if we will heal from this. We doubt if it was worth it. Those doubts are normal. But I have great hope that this hope is true. Because you are here. Because even though you doubt, you also worship. You have gathered here. And while today’s attendance may be smaller than usual, you are here. I see people here who disagree with one another. I see people who have hurt one another. I see people here who voted differently last week. But you are here. You are here. Together, worshiping the God who will get us through this.

As time goes on, I may have some suggestions, some guidance for you. But for now, my only suggestion is this: share and listen. Share how you are feeling, honestly. If you are feeling hurt, share that, but as much as you can, try not to lash out at others while you do so. And if someone shares their feelings, honor them. Try not to tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. Let them have their feelings. And if someone does lash out at you, as much as you can, try not to respond in kind.

And one more thing: continue to worship together. Even though you doubt, worship together. Worship the God who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. I promise you, the age is not over yet. Christ is still here. The Holy Spirit is still flowing. There is healing ahead.

Amen.

 

They All May Be One

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The gospel text was John 17:1-11

So…when Jesus had said all he wanted to say,
He looked up to heaven and started to pray,
“Father, this is my hour, the end of my story,
So glorify me that I might show your glory.
I’m marked with a stamp that says, ‘return to sender,’
So fill me with light, with your awesome splendor. Continue reading “They All May Be One”

Memorial Day: Apology and Dream

I am sorry. To the brave men and women who have given their lives in service of this country I call home, I am sorry.

You sacrificed for the ideals of this nation, for the ideals of freedom and liberty and justice. You gave your lives with those ideals in mind, sometimes defending the freedoms I enjoy, other times fighting to enable others to enjoy those freedoms. And I am sorry that I have not done my part.

On this Memorial Day, I am sorry that I have not been brave enough to take a stand for what America is truly supposed to be about: the truth that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I have not stood up as the rights of people in the LGBTQ community (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of Muslims (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of the poor, of people of color, of immigrants (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened.

Dear brave, fearless fighters we remember today, I have been so distracted this past year by the ugly, cruel bigotry I see growing throughout this country. And I have been reminded that it’s nothing new. The country some of you fought for in 1776 was a country that enshrined the sin of slavery. The country some of you fought for in 1941 was a country where Jim Crow was the law, and women were expected to stay in the home, raising the children. From the very beginning of European settlement in America, the story of “freedom of religion” was the story of “freedom of religion for Puritans, but nobody else.” There has always been nastiness in America, there have always been fear and bigotry. And I am sorry that that’s all I’ve remembered lately; I’ve just given into that, and started to bitterly accept that that’s just who we are.

And while our nation does indeed have this underbelly, that’s not all that we are. And I believe it’s not at all what you fought for.

I believe you fought for something better. You fought for the America that declared independence from a “tyrant prince,” not seeking selfish gain, but seeking freedom for a whole people. You fought not for the America that has kept people of color down, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, breaking down the chains of slavery, of Jim Crow, of segregation; the America that continues to proclaim, despite any evidence to the contrary, that black lives matter too. You fought not for the America that kept women in their place, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, the tens of thousands of women who have always persisted; and those certain men who saw that the women were right, who supported them or quietly stepped aside to make room. You fought for the America that is always growing in its understanding of what liberty really means, always growing in its understanding of who is included in those who are “created equal.” Always growing, and always pushing and pulling and fighting if necessary.

I think you fought not for America as it was, or as it is, but for America as it could be. This grand experiment is one that will never be fulfilled; this shining beacon on a hill is always just around the corner, never here now. For there will always be injustice. There will always be poverty. There will always be bigotry. But America always pushes itself forward. The true hope of America is that tomorrow might be a little more just than today. Tomorrow, life might be a little better for an immigrant than today. Tomorrow, the people who are oppressed might be more free. Tomorrow, the people who enjoy power over others might be toppled. I had almost given up on that hope. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that I let your sacrifice be in vain in my life.

I thank you for your service, your sacrifice, your belief in the goodness of the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I will try to do better in the coming year. I will try to do my part to make this nation worthy of your sacrifice. I will try to believe in the tomorrow of America, and do what I can to make that tomorrow a better day. The Dream of America is something that we need to work for. And I think it’s worth it.

I Know That You’re Here (poem)

I know that you’re here. I feel you in the air.
The frost in the trees. The taste in my hair.
I know you’ve come back. You fool me no more.
I know what you smell like. I know what you’re for.

I feel depression crawling, clawing back to play.
I feel my eyesight change, from vividness to grey.
I feel the sleepy, creepy cold that coffee cannot slake.
I feel the touchy, tetchy mold that makes my brain cells ache.

I will give in. I choose not to pretend you’re gone.
I will give in. I acknowledge the control trip that you’re on.
I recognize my weakness, and I recognize your skill
You suck away my stamina and drink away my will

But I will not give up; giving up ain’t giving in.
I will not give up. This ain’t a game you’ll win.
I know that you’re here, and I’ll play on tonight,
But soon you will vanish, drift out of my sight.

So I pray for forbearance as I wait through the dark.
I seek now the patience of Noah on his ark.
The storm will soon end, and I will emerge.
For now I will nap, and just write this dirge.