The Gift of “Via Media”

“Via Media”, the middle way. It is a core part of our Episcopal heritage. At its most basic level, it simply means we kept a lot of Catholic ritual and liturgy while also embracing the Protestant Reformation and severing our allegiance to the Pope. But it also represents a mindset – one of “both/and” instead of “either/or”. And it is this part of Via Media that helps me through Holy Week.

Holy Week is a time of loss, gain, sadness, joy, death, resurrection, fear, love, awe, belief and disbelief. It is a week in which we experience the entirety of what it means to follow Christ. And in the face of such immense experience, it is easy to resort to “either/or” – to “have hope” or “not have hope”, to “mourn” or “be comforted”, to “have faith”, or “lose faith”, and very significantly, to “worship Christ” or “imitate Christ”.

This, however, is not the middle way. The Middle Way rejects dualism and seeks unity. We don’t need to “have hope” or “be hopeless”. Instead, we can hold the suffering of our times while also holding the presence of God within us and moving forward with the work of compassion. We don’t need to “reject religion” or “keep our faith” – rather, we can embrace our living tradition and understand that we are part of its evolution forward. We don’t need to fall into the trap of proclaiming “one right way to God”, but instead root ourselves in the beauty of our chosen path while acknowledging the presence of God in the paths of others (as Jesus himself did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

At its core, I believe “Via Media” is a mindset that allows us to look at the world with open eyes, eyes that see suffering, feel sorrow, and even experience hopelessness. And yet those same eyes can look inward, to the presence of God, to the loving presence of Jesus, who has shown us how to keep faith through suffering, through doubt, through pain, through defeat, through utter hopelessness. And in our relationship with him, we don’t need to choose between “teacher or savior”, “worship or imitate”. We can hold both. We can strive to be “Christ-like” in all of our moments on Earth, knowing we will fall. And we can know that when we do, His presence transcends time and space and self and other. For us, He is a presence that will come in our darkest moments and share in our hopelessness. And in those moments, we can rest IN him, and allow him to bring us back to hope – patiently, gently, forgivingly.

Understanding the mystery of Holy Week, the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is the work of a lifetime (and as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once said, it’s a mystery none of us will FULLY understand “on this side of the Jordan”). It is full of conflicting emotions and experiences. It is the time for Via Media. Amen.

Letting Go in Lent

In a way, Lent is kind of an easy one for “Take Home Faith”, because Lent already has its own well-known practice. We give up something for Lent. In imitation of Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days (which also pays homage to God’s people wandering in the desert for 40 years), we choose to give up a comfort.

This is something that makes sense to us adults, but can be harder to take on for children. So here’s another way to think about what Jesus was doing in the desert: he was LISTENING. Jesus was listening for God’s call. He was listening for guidance. He wasn’t fasting to be mean to himself, but to make sure he was open enough, empty enough, to hear the subtle voice of God.

So here’s a way to frame a Lent home practice: figure out just ONE thing that stops us from listening, and commit to replacing that thing with time listening for God. And for children, this needn’t be an absolute. If TV stops you from listening sometimes (I know it does that to me on occasion), commit to the idea that you’ll trade 5 minutes of TV time for 5 minutes of prayer time each day. Or maybe those 5 minutes are minutes away from social media. Whatever it is, name something you will “swap” for just a little time with God. Even 2 minutes each day can be a wonderful practice.

And this practice works really well in a group. You might gather as a family to decide what each of you will commit to for Lent, and come together as a group each day for those 2-5 minutes of quiet listening time with God. 40 days straight might reveal some pretty special things. Amen.

2/22/23 – The Beautiful Simplicity of Lent

I. love. Lent! I grew up essentially Buddhist, and spent a good deal of time in Zen Buddhist communities. And let me tell you, it can make Catholicism look like a non-stop Mardi Gras! Zen. is. serious. And as a natural contemplative, I loved it. I loved its strict observance of posture, its deep inward focus, and its simple focus on being in the moment. It is a disciplined practice of listening. With that background, the season of Lent felt instantly familiar to me, even as a new Episcopalian; even when the rest of the church year made me feel like a foreign exchange student.

Many people regard the “giving up” of something in Lent, the penitence in Lent, as a downer. Folks are quick to point out that Lent needn’t be restricted to these old practices. Lent can be about adopting positive practices. Lent can be about “adding in” rather than “taking away”. And I agree – even in “giving up”, we are not doing it to be arbitrarily mean to ourselves, but rather to open ourselves to the voice of the Holy Spirit. But I have never felt the need to “brighten up” my Lent. I deeply appreciate the simple beauty of forgoing familiar comforts. I appreciate the real joy to be found in quiet and humble listening.

Perhaps we can learn from our Zen Buddhist siblings. Because while Zen Buddhism is full of austerity and self-discipline, it is ALSO full of humor. Zen is full of absurd stories, stories purposely designed to “short-circuit the rational mind” as one Zen teacher told me once. Stories designed to get our “monkey minds” to implode, leaving us with literally NOTHING to grab onto, nothing to distract us from the simple joy of THIS precious moment. To put that into our Christian language, we are being asked to let go of everything but the simple, pure joy of God’s radiant presence; always pure, always joyful, always loving, and always, always, always enough.

And that is why I never lament the “giving up” in Lent, or feel the need to sugar-coat it (sugar is what I’m giving up this year, by the way). Because we are giving up a passing comfort to make room for the Love of God, for the treasure stored up in Heaven that rust cannot destroy. So welcome to Lent. Amen.

Who is YOUR Samaritan?

Did you know that in Jesus’ time, Samaritans were a despised group among the people in his audience? Over the years, this parable has been “tamed”, and it has become easy for us to forget just what a radical and challenging teaching this story really is.

To bring this story home, here is a simple practice you might try at home. Think of who YOUR “Samaritan” is. It might be someone you don’t get along with at school. It might be someone who you think is just plain “wrong” about everything. For us adults, it might be someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum. It might be someone who has done real harm to the world. The idea is to stretch ourselves to include someone we don’t WANT to include. Once you have figured out WHO your Samaritan is, make a practice of honestly praying FOR them morning and evening. And I don’t mean “praying they stop being a jerk”. I mean praying for their wellbeing, happiness, and comfort.

2/15/2023 – A Reckless Mercy

The Good Samaritan and the Sower – A Reckless Mercy

Both of the Parables we’ll be exploring this week, the Good Samaritan (which we’ll hear about in Godly Play) and the Sower (which we’ll explore in TSE), reflect a reckless mercy. They are boundary-breaking. They are shocking. Or at least, they were to the original ears who heard them.

I once told an agnostic friend of mine that the Good Samaritan is NOT a story just about being nice, or helping strangers. Sure, it IS these things. It is about charity, giving to those in need, and going the extra mile for our neighbor. But it goes so much further than that. Because the people to whom Jesus shared this story would have understood that the very notion of a “good” Samaritan was impossible. The Samaritans were wrong. They didn’t worship correctly. They didn’t believe correctly. They were on the “wrong side” of God!

Furthermore, the two travelers who refused to help the man on the road did so in order to fulfill their religious and ritual obligations to not become “unclean”. The Samaritan who helped the man on the road did so by BREAKING religious rules, while the two who walked by did so in order to FULFILL all the rules. And yet, it is the Samaritan who fulfilled God’s desire for mercy. As it reads in Hosea, “for I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. God desires our heart, not our creed.

This story represents what I call a “reckless mercy”, a mercy that is willing to say, “I don’t care what the rule says, I will follow mercy”. Let’s put that in modern terms: “I don’t CARE what Deuteronomy says, I will fully love and accept and affirm my LGBTQIA siblings”. Or even more shocking to some, “I don’t care what some religious leaders say, I believe my Buddhist, Muslim and Agnostic siblings are just as loved by God and will stand with me in the Kingdom by virtue of their love”.

And what of the Parable of the Sower? While not as overtly shocking as the Good Samaritan, it paints a picture of a God who sows seeds not just in the “right” places, but absolutely everywhere. In the thorns, on the rocks, on the road. This is a reckless God, a God who doesn’t look at a person and says, “no, I’m not going to waste my love on THAT one”. This is a God who casts love everywhere, all the time, without agenda. This is a God who still loves the absolute worst of us enough to reach out a hand and invite us into the Kingdom anytime we choose to accept that invitation.

My God, what would a world look like that truly embodied this kind of reckless mercy, this kind of reckless love? I venture to say, it might look like the Kingdom Jesus shared with us. So be reckless with your mercy. Amen.

SEEDS OF KINDNESS – The Parable of the Sower

“Seeds of kindness” is a simple idea based on the parable of the Sower. Jesus talks a lot about seeds in His teaching. The Kingdom of Heaven always seems to begin with small acts, small moments, small seeds. We don’t need to solve the WHOLE world to inherit the Kingdom – we just need to be sowers. 

One way I have found to be a sower is to plant “seeds of kindness”. Figure out ONE small thing you’re going to do each day that will plant a seed of kindness. It might be a compliment for a classmate, or forgiving someone you’re irritated with. You might create a card for a family member, or join us on Saturday to create cards for hour unhoused neighbors! The world is actually FULL of chances to plant these seeds of kindness, so make it a practice and see where it leads you!

Preparing for Lent

The winter months can be hard. Especially THESE winter months – when did Colorado turn into northern Wisconsin? I grew up in Colorado before spending 20 years in Philly (go Eagles, by the way). I don’t remember winters being this relentless, this constantly cold, this icy, or this tiring. Yes, this winter has been a grind, and it’s the time of year when we ALL start to feel a little bit depleted.

And of course in our Liturgical Church year, we are just coming up on Lent, a time of deep introspection. And I think Lent might feel a little bit harder this year. As we come out of our pandemic isolation, as we come back together, as we collectively breathe out, Lent can feel, well, almost a little re-traumatizing.

The traditional practices of “giving something up” for Lent might even feel a little laughable after 3 pandemic years. Honestly, what HAVEN’T we given up over these years? So I want to propose a different kind of approach to Lent, one that I have used in the past, and one that our families, children and youth might find a little more affirming this year.

Start with two questions:

  1. What do I want to let go of? What is something I’m still holding onto that I don’t need any longer?
  2. With the energy that is freed inside of me by letting go of this thing, what would I like to start building?

Some examples might be, “I want to give up arguing with my brother”, or if you’re a bit older, “I want to give up jealousy toward peers when I think they’re doing something better than me”. And then figure out what you would like to start building instead. Instead of arguing with your brother, perhaps you commit to one act of kindness toward him everyday. Instead of ruminating on feeling jealous, break that thought pattern by congratulating that person on their success to build up your own ability to feel happy for them.

This is something that can be done as a family, as well. You might think of one or two things that you, as a family, want to let go of, and then each of you can choose ONE simple affirmative action you can take each day to build something new in its place. After all, our tradition of Lent comes from Jesus 40 days in the dessert. Jesus certainly does a lot of renouncing in the dessert – fasting, turning down Satan’s offers of worldly power, and so on. But what can easily be missed is that this is his moment of clearing out the space for what is TO COME. This is the moment in which he clears out the foundation so that he is open and free inside, ready to begin building his Gospel.

So start thinking about what you would like to let go of in Lent, and what you would like to build in its place. Amen.