Merry Christmas

Christmas demonstrates we are loved far beyond our capacity to imagine.
We are blessed beyond our capacity to evaluate.

We have so much that we do not deserve.
We are captured by grace and catapulted into eternity---for we were chosen before we had chosen.

Oh Come, oh come, Emmanuel.
Rejoice. Rejoice.

I'm sure this video has been passed around, but I want to share it. It seemed to be worth sharing.

Garrison Keillor on Episcopalians

Okay, that last post seemed to be a bit intense, so I thought I'd just leave a :) with this link to something Garrison Keillor wrote on Episcopalians.

And no--- to quote a concept from an old Seinfeld episode--- I did not convert religious traditions for the jokes. Though I will admit, there are some great Episcopalian jokes out there...and Episcopalians seem to love them.

Yes, Episcopalians are Christians

Yes, I’m Episcopalian now. Yes, I’m still Christian.
I know that different denominations have disagreements, but I have never had the experience where I felt people doubted my sincerity to Christ simply because I changed denominations...until recently.

I mention this because a friend of mine from a former church I went to (conservative Baptist) told me (probably without realizing I had “converted”) that she was concerned because a friend of hers was visiting an Episcopalian church, and she didn’t think her friend knew what they “really” believed.  She said her friend liked the ritual and service of the Episcopal church and “that’s a pretty poor reason to choose a church.”

Um, really? Not if God is speaking to you through said ritual. A lot of people go to churches because of the incredible music, or extensive children's programs. Yet, no one says, “well, good programs for your kids is a poor reason to choose a church.” Granted, that should not be the ONLY reason to select a church, but friend was alarmed because her friend experienced a liturgical service...and she liked it.

She asked where she could get a copy of our beliefs, like it was something hidden like out of a Dan Brown novel. (And of course, then I had to keep my passive aggressiveness in check and resist the urge to joke that we worshipped a head of lettuce named Ralph.)

Of course we disagreed on some things (I think she thought I was Catholic ) but I just don’t see how much good can come of debates like that. I think people are often less concerned about my relationship to Jesus Christ and more concerned with whether or not I agree with everything he/she does at whatever church he/she attends.

Bottom line: we may worship in different ways---but the important thing is the focus toward the one true God. I think whatever we do that helps us focus on Him, whether it be with contemporary music and drum sets or contemplative prayer, is a good thing.

Is any denomination right about everything? Nope. I think that as long as we live in a fallen world with human bodies, we are frail and incapable of understanding the deeper mysteries of the Lord. I think as long as we are in this world,we are prone to division because of our own selfish nature.

I have to confess, debates like this upset me, and the Lord has told me I need to seriously back away from them---I can be like a dog with a bone.

As I got angry and hurt and upset by this, the Lord convicted me--- I did not need to criticize a well-meaning person who I dearly loved, even though I disagreed with her. This verse has been in the forefront of my mind,and I think we would do well to keep it in the forefront of any dogmatic discussion:

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4--NIV)

Poem: Forgiveness

Forgiveness stings a bit...
Soft and cunning, you forget
that you don't deserve the slightest restoration
the slightest recognition
from the God you serve.

Yet somehow, he pulls you through the mist as it
settles across the frosty pond
and you're gone---
He pulls you under into forgiveness...

baptizing you...

--poem copyright 2011 The Artsy Episcopalian

My favorite religious piece of art

It's by Salvador Dali. I love Dali, though I recognize that his stuff is kind of out there, and as the saying goes "good art won't match your sofa."

I love this painting. It's called "The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

We are not the hero of our story

I was reading John Eldridge's "Epic." With all due respect, I wonder if we truly are the hero of our own story.

I believe the Lord may be calling me to something---but why is it we always like to think that our calls to service to him have to be dramatic, featuring ourselves as the hero. For example, everyone wants to think of themselves as being the next Billy Graham or Desmond Tutu, but what if God is just calling you  to serve as athe Sunday School teacher for a bunch of ADHD three year olds in Podunk, Texas?

I think that's my issue. I believe God is calling me to do something, and I want to believe it is sooooooo important. Like God can't get this done without me. Like I am going to be the next Flannery O' Connor who turns the world upside down wtih her fiction that is heavily watered in Jeuss themes.

The truth is: God doesn't need us at all. He doesn't need anything. He is God. However, he CHOOSES to use us. This is a privilege; we cannot pick and choose that we are only going to serve God if we get accolades, or if we do something dramatic  like move to Japan or something.

Come thou long-expected Jesus.
I am such a sinner, and His holiness is so great.

Poem while looking at a stained glass window

I wrote this poem while looking at a stained glass window of Jesus holding the church and a flowering staff.

"Jesus of the Flowering Staff"

He surprised me.
Evening sun caught the blossoms and burned their bright salmon-pink into a
deep royal purple and scarlet,
lingering with blooms that I swear were not there before.
He lifts His church upward--supporting it
and bringing the flowers to its door,
knowing it could never do so on its own.

Are You Thirsty?

I read somewhere that the body sometimes has a difficult time distinguishing between hunger and thirst. That kind of surprised me, but I realized it is the same with our spiritual life: Sometimes we can be thirsty without knowing we are thirsty.

How many times have I---in fact even just recently-- substituted something else for what I was TRULY thirsting for? Living water. Jesus Christ.

We need Him so much we often don't realize how much we need Him.

Art and Perception of Heaven / Hell

At our parish, we are doing a study on Hell, prompted by the controversial Rob Bell book "Love Wins."  I have only read snippets of Bell's book, and will thus refrain from making any comment about it until I have read it (my pet peeve is always folks who criticize something --- valid or invalid---before looking at it). I do know that any questions I or anyone else has about the afterlife do not threaten God.

Nine times out of ten, many of these controversies are created by ourselves and our attempts to wrestle the divine in some type of our limited human understanding.

That being said, it was interesting to hear how artists have influenced our perception, some rightly so, some otherwise. I do not believe that the devil has horns and a red cape and a pitchfork, yet he is interpreted that way by many artists. I wonder why?

Maybe it is because artists through the Middle Ages, etc. wanted to try to create a picture of what was scariest to them? In a time of insecurity, the black death, and insecurity in getting just the basic necessities of life, maybe this represented to many artists (and maybe those in the church) the scary creatures that were in the bushes, the unknown, the beasts on the edge of the map, where most cartographers  simply put "past this point there be dragons...."

I don't think we are as entranced or frightened by the unknown (other than the unknown state of the stock market), but we want to examine it and break it a part, so these images don't hold as much----I dont' want to say "truth," because I honestly believe this represented something true to those artists---but let's say influence. That works.

Nowadays, personally, I think the scariest image of the devil is one that is seductive and handsome, keeping in mind his title as the "Father of Lies." Why? Because it's very easy to be entranced with beautiful things. It's in our nature. It frightens me because it means no one is "noble" enough to completely resist on our own.

Reminds me of a humorous quote from Jack Colton, the lovable, adventurous, rake from the movie "Romancing the Stone, " --- "I ain't cheap, but I can be bought."

I think that's what I'm afraid of. That there is a point where I could be "bought" into something.

I never heard the soldiers come

I sleep-walked through Gethsemane
thousands of years ago
I never heard the soldiers come
the sinful echo
on a loud, fitful shore.

When I opened my eyes
the dawn was crowing
and I hid my eyes in shame-silence
that with ruffled sorrow
I abandoned you on the way
to Golgotha.


The mediocre is drawing me downward-drowning
and I run back to my home-dungeon
buried half-naked in the groundling-dark
because the midnight
was all I ever knew
in the circumference of my soul

But I know one desperate, painful-cry
and you will lift me from the mire
fit my robe
with angelwings
and show me that I was meant for better
"just enough."

Poem: Valley


You were so near,
so clear,
before I entered the valley
as I withdrew my mustard seed
and used it to cut through mountains
put on my sandals
and have locust and honey
for dessert
and the world was re-centered
through my pain.

Now in the valley
views, I rough with the
hum of complacency
of dishes in the sink
milk that's gone bad
and TV reruns
and I almost wonder
if the mountain lofty
happened at all

 All poetry copyright (c) The Artsy Episcopalian.

POWER of God...from an infant's view

Our rector, S, gave a great sermon the other day reminding us that the Holy Spirit is POWER, and often as Christians, we do not lean on the power of God to sustain us.

While I was in church, there was a small infant about two rows in front of me, wide-eyed and way above the legal limit for cute. As I watched the baby leaning on his mother's shoulder, I wondered what the world of the parish looked like to the child. He was not making an effort to pray or participate [obviously] but he was merely looking around and observing, soaking in all that the Lord was offering.

It reminded me that this was a Sunday I needed to be quiet. I needed to "soak up" all of that which was around me, and all of that power that God offers us.

Afraid of Being Afraid?

I am tired of being afraid.
Afraid of everything. 
Afraid of love, life, risk, hope, hate, not being accepted, joy, tears, sorrow.
Seems that we live most of our lives afraid—sometimes afraid of nothing in particular, just a random gnawing at our lives.
Jesus says perfect loves drives out all fear. In Him there is no fear.
In 2 Timothy, a reminder.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Discomfort? Sure. I don’t  think Jesus ever promised that life was smooth sailing. Unfair? Definitely.  Frustrating and all those other words? Sure.
But not fear.
We know how the story ends.
 Hallelujah, Lord Jesus.

Whitsunday Clip Art

Whitsunday, part two

I just felt inspired to do some freehand clip art....I'm not a professional artist [my training has been with writing] but I just enjoyed doing this for Whitsunday.

Whitsunday: Part One

Dude, I didn’t even know what Whitsunday was.
Then I was like, oh, yeah. It’s that.  The tongues of fire. The disciples. The Holy Spirit. I had known it as Pentecost. I didn’t realize they were one and the same.
I had heard the story many times before --- I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home. Though I confess, as a child, the term “tongues of fire” brought a bit of confusion, and some unusual imagery. It was celebrated in all the faith traditions I had visited, but I never connected it with Whitsunday or a part of the liturgical calendar.
I had never been to an Episcopalian Whitsunday service before last year, and just by chance [or perhaps by divine intervention] I just happened to wear red. Which I found was not a requirement, but a part of the celebration.
I’m a very visual person. I think many artists are. I remember the choir in a procession singing, and one of them had –not really a puppet, I’m not sure how to describe it— a large, decorative, paper dove at the end of a pole that he caused to dance over the heads of the congregation.  It was a beautiful scene…though I confess, I’m a bit of a klutz, so I did start thinking, thank GOD I’m not the one assigned to do that,because I could see me smacking some member of the congregation upside the head with it. Or tripping. (Needless to say, I will not be seeking to become a lay chalice bearer.)
But when I saw this gorgeous image and the singing of Holy Spirit come to us, something clicked.
Yes. Spirit. Fire. Peace.
God is with us even now.
PS—here’s a painting of Pentecost by Jean Restout (1732) that I came across. I thought it looked cool, so I wanted to post it.

Oh, and special thanks to my priest—S---for patiently pointing out to me that it is tradition to abbreviate Book of Common Prayer as BCP. And everyone, feel free to call me on anything like that. I’m learning. I guess, in some ways, we all are.

Does Episcopal Worship Have "vain and empty" ritual?

 I had been cautioned about it by other well-meaning members of other denominations: why do you never see Episcopalians carrying their Bibles to church? (well, in many Episcopal churches the Bible is in the pew, along with Book of Common Prayer) . The Book of Common Prayer (BOCP) defies sola scriptura (BOCP is more like the order of the service. And if you’ve never been to an Episcopal church, a LOT of scriptures are read, and a large bulk of those are found in the BOCP.)

* Sidebar-- I hope that as a newly confirmed Episcopalian, I'm not offending anyone by abbreviating BOCP. It's carpel tunnel. The spirit is willing, but... **

Some told me they thought the service, saying the Lord's Prayer every week, was the vain and empty repetition Jesus warned about.

While I can only speak for my personal experience, I think the key word here is not repetition, but “vain” and “empty.”

I think we can clearly say that services of all denominations can be "vain" and "empty" if they do not focus and concentrate on the worship of our one True God. We can also see how for some, this routine may become tiresome, while for others, spontaneity of other services may be distracting.

Like most artists, I can tend to be a bit on the ADHD side. I can vouch that, at least for writers, it seems that ideas and thoughts are like moths gathering around a summer porch light, each one popping up at unexpected times and fighting for attention. For me, the formality of the Episcopal service and the BOCP  and  seems to keep my mind from wandering.

Sometimes I don’t say the prayers out of the book at all, but silently pray while letting the words wash over me.

 I like the fact that the book reminds us to pray at regular intervals for our president,our city mayor, our governor and even folks like policemen and firemen,the imprisoned, convenience store clerks and health care workers. Not that I don’t pray for those men and women---I do---but in a society where we try to cram as many morsels of information as possible into our minds, I find even the most well-intended can be unintentionally forgetful.
It just seems that my overactive mind needs a bit of guidance, like holding a child’s hand in a grocery store. I don't feel limited, but I feel grounded.  As strange as it may sound, the repetition and structure gives me freedom.

The Christian Artist

A Christian artist should be blazingly bold, a branded communion with
 creativity that is conceived in flaming embers, searing
the bleeding-hope from  arms, elbows, throat and allowing molten tongue to
goldenly lavish poetry upon lilies, upon fields, upon altars, upon stained glass
and breathe deeply a pristine snowlace rapture.
Instead, I bury my head in mediocrity  cleaned
With Epsom salts and tepid bathwater, cradling my empty slingshot
Against a million imagined Goliaths
And pushing myself away from the communion table for no reason
Other than I’m afraid my shoes don’t match my skirt.