June 12th, 2019

In my backyard there’s a dead spot. About two feet in diameter, it took up residence near the backdoor next to the gutter. For months I tried to get rid of it and—for months—I’ve failed. Until now. As I was mowing yesterday (I’m away this weekend at St. Crispin’s for Iona, so honey-do’s have to happen on Tuesday?), I noticed this spot was diminished somewhat. It’s starting to ‘green up’ and grow again. I know where the spot originated, I know why I wasn’t able to ‘fix’ it.

It was where Tyrone marked his territory. Every. Single. Day.

Tears began to well in my eyes as I saw the new growth. Although I’d tried everything to rid my yard of that eyesore while Ty was alive, I’d purposefully been mistreating it to—after his death—keep it there. It’s one of the last physical vestiges of his presence. One of the last places I can physically see evidence of him. One of the last places I can visit and stare at and just…cry. And now it’s healed. And I’m not, at least not fully. Sigh. So, with a little mist in my eyes (it was hot, alright…) I kept mowing. I finished the yard like a good boy and went inside to shower, the spot ever on my mind: The spot that marks my yard echoing the spot that marks my heart. I started thinking about all the ‘spots’ I have internally, the vestiges of loved ones’ passing, the scars that bloomed from broken moments. My Dad. My Grandparents. Close friends from childhood.

Monty Howard. Clark Oden. Selma Witzke. Rita Jamison. Bob Sackett. Nadine DeWitt. Tomi Sackett.

Then I started thinking about how—even though I miss my family and friends—the pain of their loss has seemed to lessen. New growth has sprouted and soothed the dead areas brought about by their passing. Sure, it still hurts. Sure, this Sunday is Father’s Day and I’ll undoubtedly think about Dad. But just as surely, my heart continues to heal.

I wish that for all of you. My prayers for you to start and continue to heal match my own prayers for the same. I hate that any of you ever hurt; if I could take it from you, I would. But please know that we all have spots, that all of us have been through something devastating to varying degrees—each unique with its own sense of pain—and that many of us are willing to sit with you and say nothing, just ‘be’ with you during your hardships and your low moments of life. Tomorrow is one of those times for this parish. As we remember Tomi and her life, we wrap Chani, Eric, Brett, Grant, and Emily (among many others) up in steadfast love and prayers. Just as we’ve done for many before them and just as we’ll continue to do for many others in years to come.

May all our spots grow over, but may our memories remain. May the peace of God be upon all of us who grieve. May the love of God enfold us, emanating from Him to us, and from us to one another. May the Grace of God see us through the difficult times. And may all those who went before us rest in peace and rise in glory.

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

June 5th, 2019

Pentecost is coming!!!!

Otherwise known as ‘The Fifty’, Pentecost is seven weeks after Easter. We celebrate it because

of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—tongues of fire and power to heal and courage to spread

the Word.

But it’s also a time to come together and fellowship. So much of our year is taken up with

fundraising, ministry and worship; I LOVE THAT. But there comes a time in every church family

wherein we need to just sit and have a few laughs, a burger or two, play some games and just

BE. That’s what this Sunday is…a time to be together as a family. Picnic STYLE! And an added

bonus: everything from this weekend’s picnic has been donated by Homeland, Walmart, Crest,

Coop, Elk Valley Brewery and more. It’s my present to you for all you do…you deserve to be

loved on and appreciated for your hard work and dedication and faith…and just for being who

you are.

So come. Come Sunday and worship, stay Sunday and eat and just ‘be’. Let’s start summer off

with some fun!

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

May 29th, 2019

A LETTER TO MY CLERGY FRIENDS, TO MYSELF, TO THE WORLD

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you…”

The last two decades have been riddled by terrorism, natural disasters, and heinous acts of social injustice. Initially, we were shocked. When the twin towers sent smoke billowing into the sky on September 11th, we watched in absolute horror. The following weeks served as a

testament to the American spirit and how we could come together…for a time. Then, one by one, atrocities seemingly began to abound. School shootings, night club massacres, bombings, floods, hurricanes, injustices afflicting many groups…the list built. As these moments came and went, the words, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” started becoming trite. People began to decry the phrase’s usage due to the lack of outcome and a sense of insincerity—we wanted prayers to be answered. And answered the way in which they were presented.  In essence, people were treating (and still treat) God like a cosmic coke machine, expecting that the heinous crimes against humanity and the loss of life would cease simply because we were ‘prayin hard enough’. Now, it seems that our patent response of, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you…” has become a tagline that isn’t even accompanied by prayers. Or thoughts, for that matter. Sometimes I think they’ve become mere meaningless words. (I know that many of us humbly pray and do so with intentionality, but much of the outside world does not). 

Because we want action.

We don’t want to sit faithfully and pray, awaiting the Marvel-esque God to sweep down and avenge the evils done to us. So, we march. We organize. We speak out. And we should. We are called to speak out against hatred and we have a sacred desire to come together in community to try to make this world a better version of itself through our actions. But we shouldn’t lose the true sense of prayer, nor should we cease reminding those around us of its power and importance. Luke 11:1-13 provides step-by-step instructions for us. “How do we pray?” could also have meant, “How should we pray when we’ve lost hope; or, have no idea how to ask/discern what’s best for us?” Our congregations and ourselves need reminding—the WORLD needs reminding—that prayer is the most potent tool in our everyday toolbox. Reteaching those around us (and perhaps ourselves) that prayer is more about a relationship with God, and is less about controlling the free will of others, is of paramount importance these days.

When travesties occur, our thoughts and prayers do matter; we have to remind ourselves of that. We may not always get what we want, but we will be granted the grace to help one another through our darkest moments. The times of trial only come when we face them alone—that is something we too often forget.

Perhaps a prudent plan for preaching Luke on Proper 12 would involve walking people through The Lord’s Prayer with intentionality. What does it really say? What is it really asking for? The people sitting in church on Sunday are most likely on auto-pilot during The Lord’s Prayer (thinking of lunch when ‘daily bread’ is mentioned) and aren’t being intentional about the prayer at all. If we're honest with ourselves, some of the priests/pastors/ministers are guilty, too. But if we can successfully walk our people, and ourselves, through the lines of Jesus’ recommendation for prayer, maybe new meanings will emerge. If we think about what we’re praying for, our prayers will become more about encountering the Holy in times of joy, need, sorrow, and pain, and less about “Okay, God, I prayed. Now make all this go away.” Because, to quote the funny commercial, “That’s now how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

If you’ll remember, Christ prayed multiple times to be taken from the hands of his enemies while in Gethsemane. Was he delivered from captivity and death? No. But he prayed anyway. I have to believe that, during those frightening moments, Christ’s heartfelt prayers were answered.  They were answered with a sense of grace that gave him the courage to keep moving, regardless of the outcome. That’s the point of prayer: to remember God’s promise of salvation and that, while we ask, we may not always get what we ask for, but in the words of theologian Mick Jagger, we’ll get what we need. In the end, God will recognize part of Godself in us.

Preaching on the power of prayer—and the importance of it—is something we should never stop doing. Just like we should never stop praying. By reminding people to connect or reconnect with the words they’re praying while they’re praying them, we’re repairing a broken promise typed out in response or said aloud in rote tones…

 

Because our thoughts and prayers really will be with them. And within us.

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

May 8th, 2019

When clergy people gather, inevitably we brag about our churches. We talk about our average Sunday attendance (ASA), our building projects, our programs, and—with the most pride—our people. But just as inevitably, there’s almost always one person who questions why we care about all that. “Aren’t we here to spread the Gospel? Why are we so concerned with building projects or the amount of people that come to church?” It’s a good question, really. Does it matter how many people we have at church? Does it matter if we have ‘nice’ facilities? Does it matter…

Well, in short answer form: Yes. And yes. YES.

The amount of people matters because they bring along with them time, talent and treasure. Those are valuable. Of course, we’re not in the mode of recruiting people for self-preservation; our call is to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ, AND to bring that good news to as many people as humanly possible. But it’s through those media, the three T’s, that we do so. The programs in the church are ways to connect folks with one another, while also helping people in need or educating those yearning for learning; the facilities help us to do that. With proper facilities, we’re able to cook for the hungry, house clothing items for the needy, hold meetings about how to impact our local community, and—you guessed it—worship in a safe space that we want to make as beautiful as possible. (Before I go further, I want to state in no uncertain terms that I do not, in any way, believe God cares more for those with prettier worship spaces or bigger crowds or huge endowments. I have decent theology that allows me to understand that even if this church dwindled to say…oh, I don’t know…forty people (just a random number), that God would still work within that congregation to do miracles and change lives.)

But. We’re not a congregation of forty. We’re currently blessed to be a growing community with new ministries on the horizon; with new folks—and existing folks—passionately pursuing the prospect of better the lives of themselves and those around them. I AM going somewhere with this…stick with me. The importance of our building and all the other ‘stuff’ is this: It all has the potential to attract others to an outward and visible sign of an inward and searched-for change. To prove the importance of church building and church projects, of faithful people who give in all areas, I’d like to share with you all an experience I had last Wednesday evening.

June had just arrived for community dinner; she text me and asked if I could meet her outside (the side parking lot) and help her carry food inside. As I met her at her car, I looked over at the new memorial garden—as I often do, to gauge progress and appreciate that which has already been done. As I glanced, I noticed a vehicle parked parallel to the area. A woman was standing next to the car and simply staring at the cross on the brick. Naturally, I followed her gaze. There, at the foot of the cross knelt a man with his hands in prayer. He knelt at the base of the cross with his forearms resting in the praying position on top of the ‘new’ rock wall we just built. I didn’t move. I watched. He looked up at the wall, raised his arms just like I do every Sunday when I celebrate the Eucharist, and then went back to the praying position. I just stood there amazed for a few more minutes.

Eventually, he stood, and I walked over to speak with him. We’ll call him John. He was driving by and noticed the new structure we were adding; he said he hadn’t been to church in a while, but the cross seemed to call to him. He remarked on the space, how beautiful it was and how holy it felt to him, and thanked me (and asked me to thank you all) for providing it. I’m not making this up. He said, “I’ve been to this church before, years ago, but it didn’t feel like this. This feels holy.”

You did that. All of you. The changes we’ve made together, the money we take in, the ministries we provide, the education we all undergo…all of it, from choir to daughters of the king—all of it matters. Our physical plant is beginning to call out into the community. It’s stopping people in their tracks, calling them over, a beckoning beacon of hope to folks who just feel the need to kneel at the cross.

I invited John to the meal—he’d already eaten and had somewhere to be—I invited him to church, and I hope he comes. But if he doesn’t, I will at least know that—for one moment—our holy space served as a church for him. And in that moment, he felt the presence of God.

That’s why. Keep up the good work, Res. I’m proud of this place, proud of what we’re doing, and beyond blessed to be among you. Thank you for making this space look inviting, and for continuing to be faithful with all you give—the time, talent and treasure are paying off and beginning to create a ‘feeling’ within others that calls them to the space. Thank you. Thank God for you. If we’ve just managed to change one life for one moment, then all the work is worth it. Have a good week. I’ll see you at the cross on Sunday.

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

May 1st, 2019

I recently saw Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, no spoilers were created in the making of this article. The day the tickets went on sale, Nicole sat at her desk fervently pressing the ‘refresh’ button on the site; millions of folks were trying to see the culmination of ten years’ time. We were so excited when the purchase went through—we’re huge Marvel fans and couldn’t WAIT to see the last movie.

So, the weeks went by and last Sunday, we were on our way. We settled in and ordered food (as one does at bougie movie joints), watched excitedly as the previews for the upcoming movies played, and nervously prognosticated what might happen in the next three hours.  

Then. It was finished.

A great movie to be certain, but I left the theater both satisfied and yet, a little sad. This was the end. There would be no more ‘Avenging’ for me…just what had already passed. I thought about it for a while; these movies have been produced over the majority of Nicole and my relationship. They were part of our beginning, middle, and present culture. We toss around quotes, knowing that the other ‘gets it’. We have fond memories of anticipating the next movie, getting excited about who we’d go with, and what would happen. But this was it. The last stand. The last movie of an epic adventure.

There have been so many ‘firsts’ at Church of the Resurrection in the last two years. So many new and exciting things. And all of us have been on a wild ride. But there have also been some ‘lasts’, too. The last day I saw Monty. The last time Emily Hileman would come to church as a ‘youth’. The last time we heard Britney and Ponder sing with us. The last service Mtr. Beth and Rex would worship with us. While the ‘firsts’ are joyful and exhilarating, the lasts can be hard…painful.

There will be more of these ‘lasts’ in the coming years. People will come, people will leave; either by virtue of mortality or of necessity to be in a different town. But the time we have together now…that’s what makes us, ‘us’. There will be the ‘last movie’ so to speak, concerning members of our congregation. The last scenes of what has been so far, an epic adventure.

The point I’m getting at is this: We have been given the grace to live in a stolen season together, a time in which we make ourselves and each other better people. By doing so, we also make the world a little bit better. Last week, we had another ‘last’; Bee Delbridge is moving on to a new community down South and she won’t be with us anymore. This past Monday, Tom and Tawana Ruder told the vestry that they are moving to Kansas City. Tom has accepted a promotion within his job and the move is necessary. While I’ll miss him as Junior Warden, the deep sadness comes with missing them both as a vibrant pair of evangelists who have brought others to share in this beloved community, and have made it brighter by their presence.

With a smaller congregation, we feel those losses. We notice them, we miss the people, and we wish they wouldn’t go. But life has a funny way of sending people forth, in life itself and even in death. In life, we sometimes have to say goodbye to folks who are moving somewhere else. In death, we say goodbye to our loved ones with hope of a swift reunion in the graceful presence of God.

As Christians, we know death isn’t permanent. We know that we’ll be in the company of those we love, eventually. Grief uninvitingly accompanies us after death, but does not diminish the love we have for those who pass. Life is much the same, but holds a different hope. In life, when someone departs for another place, we also grieve. But we hold the hope that their time here has impacted them so that they can be sent out to a new place to be disciples, there. To lend their time, talent, and treasure…and most importantly, their love…to somewhere and someplace new. But the work continues for us, here. In those absences, new souls will find their way to us. New relationships will begin and new ministries will thrive. While we grieve the departed, we must also cling to hope for the not-yet arrived. So for Bee, for Tawana and Tom, for Beth and Rex, for Britney, for Ponder, and for anyone else who has moved or will move on to a new community, we say God bless you, God keep you safe, and God remind you that you come from a long line of love that starts at the altar rail, and follows you wherever you go.

Love that remains strong, and love that you can always call home. And love that never ends. 

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

April 24th, 2019

This past week has been a whirlwind. We held nine services, Sunday to Sunday, with over 450 people in attendance throughout. I genuinely believe that folks ‘got’ something from the services they attended, and I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of visitors that came through the doors during the week—not just on Easter—to be with us.

But that’s not all that happened to create said tempest. As many of you are aware, Nic and I lost our dog, Tyrone. That, in and of itself, was (and is) a life-altering moment. I hadn’t realized how much of our daily schedules revolved around that furry stinker, thus I didn’t expect the additional emptiness added to morning/evening routines…of daily life. We both appreciate you all texting, sending cards and making calls to comfort us. On the outside looking in, pets (to some) are just pets; but if you have one…they’re family, and ours just became a whole lot smaller.

The next thing that happened—on Easter Sunday—was a mini-flood in our home. Nicole and I came home from church, started the water in the yard, went to Walmart, and came back to lazy rivers in our living room and back den. “How long, O Lord, indeed.” We spent the majority of Sunday afternoon and evening shop-vac-ing (that’s not a word) out our vents and sopping up water from the floors. Fun stuff. Also, the lights began flickering in a few areas of the house due to an unrelated issue, so there was that added joy.

I don’t tell you these things for lament, there’s a point here…

I always try to see the silver lining; it’s how I’m built. In every sad or frustrating situation, I react appropriately at first (using choice words, or shedding a few tears), but shortly thereafter I’ll search for God in those moments. I won’t lie: The search isn’t immediate but it IS pretty dang close. So here’s where God found me in those moments…

We have American Home Shield at our house; it is there to ‘fix’ issues that occur when something goes awry. Although it isn’t going to ‘pay’ to fix the plumbing, it did pay to fix the electrical. They sent two sets of technicians/plumbers out in the span of two days. The first, and I won’t name him, is a young man who recently moved to OKC to head-up the work his parent company from Tulsa does in this area. He talked about being new to the area, and so I asked him about church. I invited him to ours. He’s apparently been searching for a smaller yet strong community within which to engage and become closer to God. I handed him my card and we talked about God for twenty minutes. Next came the plumber. This man noticed my guitar and we started talking about our ‘musician’ days. He has a church home, but he’s been looking for places to ‘play’ and hasn’t found any. I told him about our open mic nights and he’s excited to join us for the next one. Finally, throughout all of this, each person noticed that I was a minister and felt comfortable talking about God and their relationship to him, in general.

The point?

Through severe sadness, through catastrophe at home, through the exhaustion of Holy Week (yet still beloved), God found ways to seep in and be present with me…with the gentlemen working at our home…and with Nicole. Our issues still exist, but they seem less weighty than they did. Our hurt still exists, but having a community such as ours upon whom to rely has helped. My question to you all is this: Is God trying to seep through and be present during your difficult times? Are you listening to that call? Are you seeking to serve Christ in others by accepting the presence of God when it seems the most difficult? Again, maybe not immediately, but close, we would all do well to hear the voice of God in our tribulations. Instead of counting our miseries, perhaps naming our blessings is something that can help us through the valleys of would-be despair. You’ll never know the impact you can have on someone with a kind word, a reaffirming statement, a mention of the Holy, a short phone call and a prayer, a gentle reminder that they’re loved even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment…these are all ways in which we defeat darkness, ways in which we conquer the death that encroaches upon our souls by means of sadness, frustration, and hopelessness.

Holy Week is still upon us. Because every week can be HOLY. Remember this past week. Remember the way it made you feel, the way it affected you. Share that, and you’ll change the world around you.

And maybe shed a little light of your own.

Faithfully and lovingly yours, 

Fr. Sean+

April 9th, 2019

It’s just a game, right? I mean, to be truthful, games are meant for our enjoyment and entertainment; we watch, we eat, we fellowship, we partake in letting the referees know when they make mistakes. It’s not like we take these things seriously. It doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s just a game…

Or is it?

What begins as spectating quickly turns into reckless passion. People at sporting events boo one another for the color of their shirts. Fans in parking lots across America have been known to start fights, vandalize opponent’s property, and disparage their fellow human’s allegiance to a certain team within the sport. And that’s not even the worst part. No, the worst part of all of these actions (when thinking of collegiate athletes in particular) is the amount of strain and expectation we place upon our young people. Boos and slurs are thrown at these kids; Monday morning talking-heads break down every mistake for the world to see; campus’ become places of utter ruin for ‘losers’ of the previous match, game, or meet. And we’re ‘ok’ with it. It’s just the way things are…

But should we be; and am I still talking about just a game? 

The truth of the matter is this: sports, art, literature, music…CHURCH… All these are simply microcosms of life. We choose something we love, invest in it fully, and then set the world on fire if it disagrees with us. We go so far in our fandom of whatever it is that we love (again, not just sports, but think of your favorite hobby/pastime) that we turn on one another in the name of a human construct.

Church can be like this. I like to think ours isn’t, but I am biased. What starts as faith in Christ turns into, “WE do it the ‘right’ way; those other people (insert denomination or religion) are (insert negative) and I’m glad I’m an Episcopalian. Think about the analogy. We come together, we watch (the procession, the sermon), we fellowship (coffee or class before service), we eat (communion and coffee hour), and we partake in letting the leadership know when they make mistakes (a reader, an altar guilder, a youth rep, a music minister/choir member, clergy, or other people sitting next to us in worship). But that’s not the even the worst part. No, the worst part of all of this is the lessons we’re teaching our kids. We’re basically saying, “It’s alright to belittle others in the name of the Lord”, or, “It’s alright to point out the faults in others to make our own losses feel lighter.”

I wonder what message that sends to the next generation. We complain about the way of the world and yet it is us, all of us, that set the standard for the future. Will our kids see places of worship as another ‘game’ in which they’re supposed to pick a ‘team’ and begin their reckless passion? Or will we stop here, now, and turn our attention back to why we started coming together in the first place: The love of sports for the first analogy, the love of God for the point. Teams matter. But not to divide us. Teams make people come together with a common goal; teams work together to achieve greatness—true greatness, not just ‘winning’. And we definitely don’t want our houses of worship to become unsafe havens for those who will sometimes, inevitably, ‘lose’ in life. What I’m trying to say (while also holding onto an analogy that lessens my own disappointment from a loss) is that we can learn from our behaviors. We can set up the people that follow us for success, teaching them to love in loss, speak kindly to opposition, and playfully compete while all moving toward the same goal: Eternal life. I want our community to be one for the ages; that ‘team’ that shocked the world, the Cinderella story that shouldn’t have been able to achieve greatness but refused to be cast aside in the name of current popularity. Because no matter how big we get, how many people we have here, the true metric of our success isn’t measured in these things. Just like sports, it isn’t whether we ‘win’ or ‘lose’, but how we live our community life together. The only thing that matters in this life is love. The rest?

 

Well, it’s just a game…

 

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+

March 21st, 2019

Perhaps one of the hardest moments in life is losing a loved one. Regardless of age—and the knowledge that no one escapes death—mortality still sneaks up and steals our breath; its strike leaves puncture-wounds on us, collateral damage caused by the taking of someone dear. As our grief pours out, we seem to diminish—becoming changed by death and removal, physical proximity no longer being our companion. But that lessening isn’t permanent. That lessening is really lessoning; a teaching of our nature, one final instruction of the heart that never ceases, continuing to mold us into the next version of ourselves.

Many of you are experiencing loss, right now. Your family members, friends and/or loved ones have died, leaving you behind to sort out what your life will be like without their presence. There are few words, if any, that can aid in these first steps of healing. Anger, denial and betrayal run can rampant at the onset, seemingly forming an unbreakable wall between you and your past, you and your ‘normal’ and you and your God. This is a possibility, not an inevitability, and yet many of us struggle with it nonetheless. The first stage of grief is—for most people—unconsciously set and traveled with little regard for hope of the future. Food turns to ash, sights lose their color, sounds become muffled and numbness diminishes our extremities in these first months.

But hope remains.  

In what seems like a distant cell, locked away for safekeeping, hope burns like a candle with a skinny wick—hope for understanding, hope for pain relief, hope for the presence of God. But hope remains for us to seek it out, to unlock its prison and set it free in our hearts. The trick? We can’t do it alone. Just like no one makes it out of life alive, no one makes it out of grief, alone. Companionship may seem counter-intuitive to some of you during grief. If anything, the thought of having a conversation about a lost loved-one with a present loved-one is daunting and formidable. Do it, anyway. Allow yourselves to be loved. Spending too much time in the confines of your own head disables your heart to break and mend effectively. You can’t think your way through grief—not solely—just as you can’t emote your way through grief, either. And neither of those actions will aid you if you don’t pray through grief.

Your church community is so much more than a building, a space for occasional worship. Within this family you have people who genuinely care for you, who desire your wholeness, who seek your joy to be returned. I am one of them, but one of many. If you find yourself locked away or feeling disconnected, please reach out. Church isn’t a static place for complacency; church is a vehicle within which we can congregate and take the finite physical journey through life together, arriving at the infinite gates of beloved immortality given to us by God. God gave us one another to see the spark of divinity created within, a small flecking that can be urged to a roaring flame when fed by support, love and the freeing knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Let not your hearts be troubled for too long; the grief within which you dwell is not a permanent dwelling place. Your loved ones no longer seen are still with you; they have joined the great cloud of witnesses that create the rain of joyful tears upon being reunited at last. When your own tears of loss restrict you to the dark corners of your mind, remember that they loved you and that you were made better because of that love.

So live. Live for yourself, live for them, and live a life committed to continuing that love to others still present. Together, we can overcome grief. Together we can grow. And with God’s help, together we can rise in glory.

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+  

Ash Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

I remember giving up smoking for Lent in 2012. I had this plan, I was going to be a better steward of the temple bestowed upon me (my body) and take better care of myself. I was going to be kinder to people, as well. With my new-found faithful heart set on success, I ventured out into the world.

I was not kind. I was not happy. I was not even near holy.

Giving up cigarettes for Lent (for me) was perhaps the one of the greatest mistakes I’ve ever made. Have you ever tried to quit smoking? If not, good for you—seriously—cigarettes are almost impossible to divorce; they call to you in moments of despair, moments of triumph, and in the waking and waning hours of the day. An unintentional life-partner, cigarettes accompany you wherever you go, selfishly stealing you away at parties, during movies, and in the middle of meetings… And yet, something so small held great sway over me; cigarettes determined my actions, my mood and my sanity most days. I remember Nicole looking at me that first day and sweetly sayin, “Hey babe, you want me to go get you a pack of smokes?”

Yep. It was THAT bad.  

I was an awful human. I snapped at the dog, threw things at the television, cursed in traffic (well, let’s be honest, I still do that sometimes) and all because I had set my sights on ‘better living’. If this was better living, then I wanted to live in the worst way…it didn’t seem worth it. But then something amazing happened sometime around that third or fourth day. Nicole hadn’t suffocated me while I slept, thankfully, so I lived to tell this tale. 

I woke up feeling…better. I succinctly remember praying that morning, asking God for grace and comfort and also thanking God for trials set in my path. Trials conducted by me, the judge, plaintiff, defendant, and jury. I realized that I was being too hard on everyone around me, especially myself. From then on, quitting smoking became a little easier everyday. Of course, eventually I chose to start chewing nicotine gum—I believe whole-heartedly that the Holy Spirit heard the plea of my wife and instilled in my the knowledge that I needed a bit more edge taken away, but not by smoking. Anyhow, I began to think about God when I would think about cigarettes. I began to pray instead of smoke. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Time spent smoking turned into time with Christ, in thoughtful prayer (most of the time, albeit I did gnash teeth and wail, too) and time spent committed to the activities of which I was part. The transference of time spent smoking to time spent in spiritual practice literally changed my life. My prayer life blossomed; I couldn’t go an hour without at least thinking about God, or talking to God about some inane thing occurring around me.

It still affects me to this day.

If you smoke, this isn’t a diatribe against you or your habit. Instead, I hope to trigger something inside of all of you that whispers, “…hey, you know that thing we do…maybe we should turn that off and make room for God in its place…” Choosing something to quit for Lent just for the sake of doing so is like taking a shower before working out—it makes zero sense. Rather than giving up or taking something on for Lent, just for the sake of doing so, perhaps my story will help you to discover possible areas in your life where God is knocking but you are otherwise occupied. Whatever you choose, know that by attempting to please God, you will please God. I wish you all a Holy Lenten season, filled with new experiences and deeper understanding of your relationship with Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide all of us with patience and strength, so that we may know the love set aside strictly for us—and that that love has no cost.

So if you’re struggling, despairing, hopeless or afraid; if you’re joyful, hopeful, excited and determined; or if, like many, you’re going to half-heartedly approach Lent or watch it whisk-by untouched by any new practice; I urge you to consider what it is that can bring you closer to God and what it is that may be taking you away.

Bless you during Lent, and remember that you are beloved by God the Father, guided by God the Holy Spirit, and marked and sealed as Christ’s own, forever.

Faithfully,

 Fr. Sean+

February 27th, 2019

I used to hate it when people were sore winners. You know what I mean? People that would soundly beat you at something and then rub it in, almost making the loss hurt less than the trash talk. Ugh. But sore winners aren’t the people that drive me to crazy town the most; nope, that award goes to the folks who sat on the sidelines, simply watching the contest with smug looks on their faces. These people make my blood boil. You know the ones: The people that have already played the game before, been there and done that, and think of themselves as beyond the current contest. It’s like these bystanders are there for the sport of pain; they only came to watch the bloodbath and congratulate each other on their past victories. “We’ve already done that…and man were we better,” their looks seem to say. “I’m so glad our team has already won and doesn’t have to worry about this hard work anymore…”

Yesterday, the United Methodist Church met in St. Louis for their final deliberations concerning many church-related topics. And yet, the main point of contention held homosexuality as its hostage, each side placing a well-loaded spiritual gun to the victim’s head. As the world held its breath waiting on the outcome, multiple denominations remained silent; some standing on the sidelines thinking, “I’m so glad our team has already won…”, while others stood in horror, silently judging the UMC for even THINKING about making a theological change on their stance.

We HAVE been there. In 2003, the Episcopal Church fractured after its decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop. A gay man, Bishop Robinson would come to represent a new way of thinking within the polity of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Not everyone agreed. They still don’t. But we’ve learned, as our Bishop so eloquently stated in the Oklahoman, “to live together with one another in the midst of our disagreements and our tensions — on the foundations of loving our God, loving one another and respecting the dignity of every human being.” And now we have millions of Christians—United Methodists—who need to learn how to do the same thing, to move forward. But it won’t be easy, especially given that a specific group was told they were not ‘pure’ enough to serve God at his table, or that they didn’t ‘love rightly’ enough to have the sacrament of marriage opened up to them. One difference between the UMC and the Episcopal Church is—among many—that we’ve had almost two decades to begin healing and practice reconciliation with each other, regardless of our theological beliefs. They’ve just started.

So, before we begin putting on our smug faces, proclaiming that we’ve ‘already fought that fight’ I urge caution. People are hurting within the UMC. Not everyone is so tied into their beliefs that they’re left unscathed by the events and decisions of yesterday’s meeting. How will we react? Will we, due to our National Church’s stance and our local stance, simply stand with one side and disengage with the other? Or will we talk to our Methodist friends on both sides of the aisle, offering comfort to the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Will we choose to re-engage into the fray, knowing that this disagreement isn’t one for a single denomination but one for the ages—one that involves people just trying to be loved because of who they are and what they believe, on both sides. It won’t be easy to sit with someone with whom we disagree and patiently hear their opposing views; it never is. But if we idly sit back and don’t offer support to those who have been left out, AND offer ourselves in LOVING WAYS to the conversation with those with whom we disagree, then we’re no better than the people smugly sitting on the sidelines. We weren’t called to watch, to wait, to be insular. We are one church. We are one body. And right now, we’re wounded. We must respond with love to those who are hurting. We must remain Christian in our response to those with whom we disagree. We will get nowhere by slinging accusations and labeling people as hate-mongers. But we will also get nowhere by halting the conversation, stamping it as ‘over’ and parting ways.

Love will win. Grace will overcome. Hope has to remain.

Faithfully,

Fr. Sean+