Recently, a new building went up in my hometown of Fiddlestix. It’s a big deal when there is any new construction in Fiddlestix. It turned out to be a storage rental business, with a couple of dozen stalls for people to warehouse the stuff that they can’t store at home.

That has come to strike me as odd, that we have so much stuff that we can’t even keep it in our own homes, but need to rent space to store our “overflow stuff”.

C and I rented a storage unit when we first moved here, for we lived in a 2600 sq. ft. home for our family of five back in The Big City. When our last child moved out of the house, we moved to Fiddlestix for a while until we bought and built Windy Hill, a few miles outside of town. The cottage we rented could not hold all our stuff, so we rented a unit to store it all.

When Windy Hill was finished about a year later, we moved into our new, 1100 sq. ft. home. If you do the math, you’ll see that 2600-1100 = 1500. That is 1500 sq. ft. less of homespace than what we had, which means that much of our stuff was not moving in with us.

The thing of it is, after a year of living without much of our stuff, we realized that we did not miss our stuff. In fact, we were hard pressed to recollect all the stuff we stored in the rental unit. A quick look into the unit on a Saturday afternoon told us that many of the things we had would never fit in our new home, and we had not missed them at all anyway. So, why did we have them? What’s more, why were we paying someone to store stuff that we didn’t even miss? This made no sense to us.

We got rid of our storage stuff. It all went, with the exception of a couple of buckets of tools and some pots and pans. Once we dusted off our hands and congratulated ourselves on getting rid of our stuff, we looked around Windy Hill and realized that one of our bedrooms was still full of other stuff. Stuff hiding in plain sight! We decided we wanted to reclaim this extra bedroom, and began to get rid of the “residual stuff” in our new home.

We First-Worlders sure have a lot of stuff. I suppose it is part of being a First-Worlder. We live in a consumer society, and we are afflicted with mega-marketing which sells us stuff at a surprisingly wicked rate. Some experts say that we see about 300 ads per day, if not more, from every source imaginable.

Much of our economy chugs along powered by consumerism, not need. So, we buy a ton of stuff and stuff it in every nook and cranny of our homes, garages, sheds, and now there is a billion-dollar industry to help us store our stuff. Stuff we never need.

I think we have too much stuff. It’s beginning to own us, not the other way around. In essence, I was paying twice for my stuff: once to buy it, then a second time to store it, and I didn’t even need it. This is the point where people start calling their stuff “crap”. Now, I’m a little kinder to my stuff than that. After all, they did exactly what I asked them to do when I bought them, and it wasn’t their fault that I bought more stuff. And they can be someone else’s wonderful stuff when I drop them off at Goodwill. So, there is little need to get all hostile with our stuff by insulting it with the name of crap.

But I think we First-Worlders need to reassess our relationship with stuff. We have too much of it. It’s a waste of money that could go to things like trips, or charity, or education, many things that would give a lot more enjoyment than most stuff. I have few things among my stuff that compares to a trip C & I took to the redwoods in No. California this year. Or the Smoky Mountains a couple of years ago. Or Ireland ten years ago. That stuff is in our heads and hearts. Lots of room there.



The Ancient Ones and the Presence of God

As I scribble these notes on my knee, I am sitting on the ground with my back against a tree that is 238 feet tall, 24 feet wide, and 1,500 years old. I am in a redwood forest in northern California on a pilgrimage, of sorts.

It took C and I two solid hours of picking our way over an endless path of tree roots to get to this exact tree. Called The Boy Scout Tree, it is one of the largest trees in the world. There are some trees on the planet larger and older, but when this one was a sapling, Vandals were sacking Rome, the Mayans were laying the foundations of their temples, and Benedict of Nurisa was scoping out Monte Cassino for a place to build his monastery.

We nearly missed it on our way along the trail. We were so taxed by our hike and confused by the thickness of the redwood grove that, were it not for the little sign by the edge of the path that said “The Boy Scout Tree”, we might have walked right past it. The tree stood serene and dark at the top of a small bank to our right, a brontosaurus standing among the dinosaurs.

The hike here through the redwood grove is, in itself, a transcendent experience. The trees are so tall I cannot see their tops from the ground. Their trunks are the size of cottages, yet they grow within a few feet of each other. The grove is as silent as a church on a weekday morning. Time seems to have overlooked this part of the world, and does not have much meaning here. Time is absent, and by its absence makes this place all the more unearthly.

Then there is this colossus. It is, simultaneously, the largest and oldest living thing I have ever encountered. Try as I might, I cannot see it all at once. It is beyond my vision to capture it fully, and beyond my understanding to appreciate it completely. All I can do it lean against it and feel it.

God is everywhere here. Just to smell the dank pine aroma rising from the forest floor makes every breath a prayer. The rough bark digging into my back is the support of grace after a hard pilgrimage to this shrine. Perhaps I should say that all here is in God, rather than God is everywhere here.

Sometime over the past two days, C and I started seeing these trees as beings, not plants. We have no idea if they are, in any way, sentient, but their presence has such a power and life to them that we cannot help but feel they are living beings within their own ageless community. And, for some inexplicable reason, as I sit here on the forest floor leaning against one, I feel welcomed among them. They are the Ancient Ones, and they welcome us to their sanctuary.

I remember a verse from the Psalms that says the righteous shall grow like the cedars of Lebanon (Psalm 92:12). If the cedar forests in ancient Lebanon were similar to this redwood grove, I can well understand how the psalmist came to recognize the presence of God in an ancient forest. The presence of God in this grove sings a psalm. It is as if the trees sing with God’s silent voice, and we listen. C and I do not speak but whisper to one another, as if in a cathedral.

The hike back out of this grove will be just as long as the hike in, but not as arduous. The return journey of a pilgrimage is seldom as demanding as the journey in – we are on a journey of discovery on our way in, and discovery demands much. The journey back is one of reflection, and it preoccupies us until we suddenly find ourselves back were we had started, back in the land of time again. But now we are changed by our experience, and all is different.

The light is at a sharp angle through the trees now, which tells me it is getting late. It is time for us to leave. There it is again, that thing called time. As we trudge back, we will have much to reflect upon regarding time, the Ancient Ones of creation, and the presence of God.


The Boy Scout Tree

On the Sanctity of Human Work – a Labor Day Meditation

Everyone engages in some kind of human work. Either we are an employee, or a small business owner, or a student, or a volunteer…whatever kind of work we do, whether we get paid for it or not, we all work in one way or another.

It is very much a part of what makes us human. In Genesis it says that God placed us in the Garden to “keep and till it” – we were not there simply to hang out.  Even the Ancients understood that work was an essential aspect of what it means to be a human being.

I wonder if we ever consider that ordinary work – daily work carried out in the midst of the world – is God’s invitation to ministry and mission? That ordinary work is an important part of building not only the Kingdom of God, but also our own divine vocation?

After all, work done well speaks of our character and our devotion to the dignity of human work. This work that we do, which we pass on to others, also speaks to the care we show others as fellow laborers in our mutual endeavors.

But consider that work well done can actually contribute to your personal sanctification, the sanctification of others, even the world in which we live, if we fulfill our daily tasks with devotion and love.

Sanctification means to “make holy”, by means of the Holy Spirit working within each of us, blessing and making holy that which we do and those with who we come in contact.

Work, done with “right intention”, becomes a holy act. Work becomes prayer, if dedicated to God and God’s people task by task, and moment by moment.

So, what is our intention when we do human work? Do we see it as a means and a path to holiness?

After all, every noble task can be sanctified, can sanctify the worker herself, and sanctify others, if done with the devotion and love which is at the heart of the Way of Jesus. Work sanctified begins in the hands of people and ends up in the hands of God. To divorce work from God is to diminish its reality and its meaning, to reduce it to the merely human.

All human work bears witness to the dignity of humankind, and our directives from God to tend and nurture this world.

Faith, hope, and charity will come into play in our professional work done for God. The incidents, problems, friendships which our work brings will give us opportunities to be Christ for others, and provide experiences to consider in our prayer life.

From our understanding of the sacred nature of work, Christians come to understand other things…

We come to understand that just wages, benefits, and rights due workers are our duty to see fulfilled in society. The person who wishes to be just in the eyes of Jesus will work to establish just structures of wages and benefits for his/her fellow workers.

How can we honor the sanctity of human work and the sanctity of the worker,  yet deny them just wages and benefits appropriate to a sustainable life? It would be like inviting them to church and denying them the Eucharist at the altar rail.

Let us never forget the holiness of human work, and that the worker is worth her wages. Most workers have not seen a rise in real income in over 40 years. This dishonors the justice due them, and disrespects the divine nature of the work they do.

Just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus, it is equally true that there is neither surgeon nor janitor, lawyer nor truckdriver, bishop nor street-sweeper, all are one in Christ Jesus if they do their respective work with love of God and love of neighbor in their hearts.

The Man Living Under the Porch

I am sitting on the steps of the two-family flat that serves as our parish office.  I am waiting for Jack to crawl out from underneath the porch next door so I can talk to him.

Jack (not his real name) lives under the back porch of the building next door.  He is homeless and he has what is called a “nest” in the crawl space.  The building next door is also a two-family flat, but it is currently unoccupied, as the owner is rehabbing it for future residents.  Unfortunately, he is taking his time about it, and it has been empty for at least three years with no end of the rehabbing in sight.

Jack appears to be happy about it.  It means he can live under the back porch unmolested.  Jack is homeless, and the back porch is a near-perfect location for a nest: hidden from sight, quiet, isolated from foot traffic, safe.

Of course, it means he is also subject to extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter, as well as bites from mice, rats, and insects.  He has no kitchen to cook meals, no fridge for the food he collects from begging or acquires from pantries, and no bathroom with toilet.  He has no place to poop, except our parish campus.

You see, apparently, Jack wanders up the back alley in the night, sneaks onto our property on the other side of the church, and poops in our campus.  We find his load dumped here and there, complete with used toilet paper, nearly every morning when we inspect the property.  Which means that one of us on staff or on the vestry must get a shovel and scoop up the poop to dispose it.

Obviously, this cannot go on.  It is a serious health hazard as well as incredibly unsightly and offensive.  It’s not conducive to the communal life of a parish…or any other kind of communal gathering, for that matter.

So, that’s why I am out here, waiting for Jack to come out from under the porch.  We need to talk.  He needs to find a different living arrangement than what he is living now, and we folks here at St. John’s simply don’t want to call the police on him.  The police usually arrest people like Jack and send them on to another neighborhood where it starts all over again.  It’s kicking Jack down the road, so to say, like he’s the proverbial can.  What’s more, the department of the police that handles these sorts of things used to be called the “Community Resource Officer” and today it is called “Property Nuisance Officer”.  So, their response to the homeless has gone from community outreach to property nuisance.  Not an attitude in keeping with the Way of Jesus.  But he is also pooping in our yard.

Rev. Amy and I concluded that we should try helping the guy out with some professional assistance before we involve the police.  There are some social services that can help Jack get back on his feet/assist with mental healthcare/whatever before we take the last step and call the police.  Amy+ has a friend in social services who has been kind enough to step in and help.  She said that her organization is stretched to the max, like many other social service agencies, but she will see what she can do.

As I sit here, waiting for Jack to appear, I think about a chat I had on the ‘net with a fellow who published a meme about public assistance to the poor.  It was a photo of bear cubs standing at the open window of a car as the people inside fed them cookies and crackers.  The caption said, “Please do not feed the bears…it creates a dependent population, unable to fend for themselves…. Like welfare programs?”

I took exception to the meme, as it compares the poor and the troubled to animals.  I engaged the fellow who posted this meme and discussed with him how ill-informed the meme is relative to the attitude that assistance corrupts, and that there is an underlying contempt in the meme for the people who need assistance.

We have vilified the poor and troubled in our society and have contempt for them.  This is wrong, and not in keeping with the Way.   We once had compassion and mercy for them; now it is contempt, blaming them for their situation rather than understanding their situation.  We think assistance exacerbates their poverty situation, and I don’t understand why people think that.  Research by MIT, the World Bank, Un. of California, Rutgers, and the Un. of Kentucky demonstrates that the “corrupting influence” of welfare to the poor is a myth: it does exactly the opposite – it helps them out of poverty*.

Yet we are on a warpath against the poor, cutting them off from the very systems that will help them.  This is wrong-headed and will make things worse, not better.

So, we here at St. John’s are going totally Anglican and looking for the via media regarding Jack: let’s get him in contact with our social services friend and get him out from under a porch and back up on his feet first before we call the police.  It is going to take some work, for in his current mental state he may not be real cooperative, and even though he may not be mentally stable, he does have civil rights as a citizen and he has human worth as a child of God.  But we are going to give him our best shot, because anyone who can’t even find a place to defecate with dignity needs some help.  Remember the Three Rules of The Micah Society: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.


*See “The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor”; Oct, 20, 2015; NYT;


The Gig Priesthood

There has been a trend in mainline churches to hire part-time and/or bi-vocational priests and ministers to fill pulpits. The reason is simple: money.

Communities have concluded that they cannot afford a full-time priest, and are opting for permanent part-time priests or bi-vocational priests (priests who hold down a secular paying job and work as a priest for part-time pay, or even for free).

It reflects the secular world’s reliance on similar arrangements: “temp work”, or “contingent staffing”. The employee works at jobs for short periods of time or part-time instead of holding down a permanent, full-time position. It’s called by those who work this life a “gig economy”.

My question is whether a gig priesthood is something we can tolerate as a faith community.

The gig economy has a mindset that is anathema to a faith community, as it is based solely on profit and loss. As Gerald Friedman, professor of economics at the Un. Of Massachusetts wrote:

Some have praised the rise of the gig economy for freeing workers from the grip of employers’ “internal labor markets,” where career advancement is tied to a particular business instead of competitive bidding between employers. Rather than being driven by worker preferences, however, the rise of the gig economy comes from employers’ drive to lower costs, especially during business downturns. Gig workers experience greater insecurity than workers in traditional jobs and suffer from lack of access to established systems of social insurance. *

Increasingly, priests have been recruited to non-paying jobs with the opportunity to grow the congregation whereby it can support them fulltime, posing the idea of congregational development as one of growth in numbers, not growth in holiness. The priest’s career advancement is tied to growth and profit, not building a community based on the Gospel.

A gig priesthood creates greater insecurity for the priest’s life, as they suffer from lack of access not only established systems of social insurance, but also spiritual systems of embrace and support from the very community they are asked to pastor. We must ask ourselves what we are saying to our priests, and the very vocation of priesthood itself, when it takes second-place to buildings or programs in the budget?

We read in the New Testament: ‘For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!”’ – 1 Timothy 5: 18. Priests are not oxen, of course, but what does it mean when we treat our priests less than what oxen are treated in the New Testament? How vocation-killing is it? The model of employment we see in the New Testament is radically different than what we see in secular business today, and we should be modeling the New Testament, not the modern business world.

I think the idea of a gig priesthood is a dangerous one. If we are concerned about trends in the larger society effecting the direction and growth of the Jesus Movement, we must stop and consider how nefarious the quick-fix of a gig priesthood is to the Gospel and the future of our faith community.

*The Rise of the Gig Economy,, May, 2014

On the Birth of an Intentional Community

This week marks the birth of a new Christian community – the Community of St. Brigid.

The Community of St Brigid is a creation-based community of Jesus-followers who practice sustainability as a core Christian value.

Centered around community food gardening, the Community of St Brigid will embrace a Simple Church model of being an intentional community.

We will not own a sanctuary building; the garden is our sanctuary.

We will meet for worship around a picnic table, a barn, or someone’s home.

We will eat meals together once a week after worship.

Fellowship is our outreach: no “marketing”.

Sharing is our catechism: our faith is more caught than taught.

People are not pressed to join or decide anything – rather, after time, they will  “discover” they have become members.

We start with smaller circles of people and, as we grow, we will split to make two smaller circles. Then split again and again making certain the circles are always smaller and welcoming.

We don’t have a community Rule yet – we’ll see if that occurs and when. We hope it arises from the community, led by the Holy Spirit.

We hope to train up people who can start other circles and other garden-bases throughout the larger community, perhaps throughout the country.

All that is for later.

For now, we are focused on being an ancient expression of the Christian faith for the 21st century without the baggage of traditional Church life – the baggage that has turned off so many people in search of a faith community.

The Brigid Option

Much is being discussed about the book “The Benedict Option”. It’s author, Rod Dreher, poses that our current culture is so corrupt that we Christian people need to withdraw from it to some form of monastery – a community fortress or societal bunker to separate ourselves from the corrupting influences of this world and its evils. It’s Dreher’s assertion  that radical separation was the essence of Benedict’s “option” and it should be ours.

It is interesting to consider that St. Brigid, a contemporary of Benedict some 1600 miles away in Kildare, Ireland, did precisely the opposite and was extremely successful, perhaps even more so than St. Benedict.

Benedict based his idea of community on the Egyptian monastic model of radical separation from the local community and the world in general. The Egyptian monastery was all about personal cultivation and the savings of one’s own soul.

Brigid’s monasteries were different. They were places of sanctuary yet open to all, intensely involved in the lives of the larger community. She practice radical hospitality, not radical separation, welcoming everyone, and the focus of her monestary was replicating the life to be lived in the Kingdom of God.

A Brigid monastery was unique. Not only were they more like villages than fortresses, but all manner of activities and people could be found there: prayer, farming, craft, worship, herding, music, reading, weaving, men, women, children, seminarians, nuns, entire families. It was less like a monestary and more like a “monastic settlement”. Truly, Brigid was trying to create a corner of the kingdom of God in Kildare.

She established a number of them across Ireland, a warrior culture as violent and corrupt as Benedict’s Rome. Yet she persisted, as we like to say today, and she, along with other missioners like Patrick and Columba, converted the entire wild Celtic people of Ireland without the tools of Empire so often employed later on in Western Society. Brigid used friendly persuasion instead.

The 21st century is ripe  for another Brigid option, not Benedict’s, for Brigid engaged in the world like Jesus did.

Jesus’ entire ministry was carried out in the streets, fields, temples, and parlors of first-century Palestine, not at a bunker or a fortress. Brigid took her cues from Jesus how to conduct her option and it proved very successful. We can and must do the same.