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Trail Notes: 01/03/2016

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What would you put in your backpack?

This was question posed in a blog written by Winnie Horvat, who serves as a missionary for The Assemblies of God in Croatia. She and her husband Aaron, have been responding directly to the crisis of thousands of Syrian refugees desperately seeking safety in Europe. This is the question she asked all of us to think about.

Here is her list: 1. Wet wipes, it’s dirty on the road - how would YOU get clean?; 2. Kleenex- tears, pee - need we say more? 3. Flashlight, traveling at night, by foot, through a field? 4. Dried fruit, granola bars; 5. Copies of all our documents, important phone numbers; 6. Maps of Europe (hey- if the GPS goes out...); 7. Hand sanitizer- kill those germs; 8. Band aids and other 1st aid supplies; 9. A small zip lock filled with travel size toiletries; 10. Travel rain ponchos.

I’m not sure my list would be much different, but when I first thought about it I also included my cell phone and the necessary ways to charge it - outlet and car. And of course, I have never been in this situation or dealt directly with those who have. My only experience similar to this happened five years ago. In the spring of 2010 I had to move out of my house in SC; pack everything I owned into a storage facility; and placed those items I believed I would need for the next year into my car. It wasn’t easy but I wasn’t fearful for my life. I had time and space to think about those choices. I also had a place to go where I knew I would be greeted with love and welcome.

By night Joseph took Mary and their newborn child across the desert into Egypt with only what they could carry. They were afraid and it was probably a good thing that they were not at home in Nazareth. They were much closer to Egypt and had already packed for the journey to Bethlehem.

I wonder what I would take with me in the middle of the night.  If I didn’t know where I was going or how I was getting there and if I were different - looked different, spoke a different language, and was of another faith - I wonder who would choose to befriend and aid me. Someone surely did this for Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Are we not called to do the same?

Sue von Rautenkranz



Trail Notes: 12/20/2015

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Turning the world upside down?

This week we hear a very familiar story in our gospel passage commonly called the Visitation. In this particular portion of the birth narratives from Luke, we learn of Mary’s journey to the “hill country” to spend time with her relative Elizabeth. We are not told why Mary went, only that when Gabriel told Mary that she would be giving birth to Jesus, he also shared that Elizabeth was also pregnant. This was supposed to be impossible as Elizabeth was considered to be too old to have a child. And shortly after hearing all of this news, Mary left and spent about three months with these relatives. We could speculate as to why Mary goes, but probably the most remarkable aspect is the reaction of Elizabeth’s unborn child.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. Luke 1:41

I have no idea what this is like, even though I have had the pleasure of being allowed to touch another who is experiencing this movement. And I’ve even seen and felt the movement of both a calf and a foal in their mothers. It really is quite remarkable. But in this story, Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting and the child in her responds; and Elizabeth then shares her exhilaration about Mary and  the child that she is carrying.

It is a rather fantastic storyline, and many Christian scholars refer to the  birth narratives as myth. Some Christian scholars write them off and say we shouldn’t hold any truth in them. Maybe so. Yet, this story and the rest of the birth narratives are some of the most well-known and shared stories of Scripture. 

Why? I think we might find some understanding in the passage from Micah, a short but also well-known prophetic book. Micah describes the birth of one who is from a small unknown place, Bethlehem, and one who is both from of old and who will bring the return of all to Israel. This is one who will feed his flock, will make it so all shall live secure, and be the one of peace. Are these not the things we hope for deeply?

And wouldn’t the coming of the one, who brings all of this, turn our world upside down?

Sue von Rautenkranz



Trail Notes: 12/13/2015

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Wanted: Anger, and Courage


“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
—Saint Augustine    

In seminary at VTS years ago, we had a course called, “The Bible and the New York Times.”  Each week, the class worked through the scriptures appointed that week, and the articles published in the New York Times, looking for connections.  It was a great class. 

And there are always connections.  The Gospel message of Jesus has everything to do with today’s news: the moments of victory and joy, and the pain and misery that are reported every day. 

Last Saturday, the NY Times did something it has not done for 70 years: it published an editorial on the front page, down the left hand side, above the fold.  It’s entitled: “The Gun Epidemic.”  Its point is clear:  American gun policy and gun laws, and rates of death are a “moral outrage and a national disgrace.” 

The U.S. is an outlier in this way – unlike any other industrialized nation.  We allow easy access to weapons whose only purpose is to slaughter human beings, and we pay a terrible price.  For instance, in the U.S. I am 62 times more likely to be a victim of gun death than our daughter Maggie is in Scotland.  

This is not the kind of “American Exceptionalism” we can be proud of.   We have allowed a noisy minority in our nation to cry “Second Amendment” whenever gun regulations are even mentioned (even though we haven’t seen a militia in these parts for a long, long time).  No right is absolute and unlimited.  We reasonably regulate all behavior that can be harmful to oneself or others, from seat belts to smoking to prescription drugs.  

St. Augustine tells us that hope is not a passive emotion.  Hope has two beautiful daughters and they are anger and courage. 

Jesus wouldn’t even let his disciple defend him with a sword; how Jesus must weep to see our gun-riddled society.  It’s time to change our response to the latest shooting, from lament to anger, from paralysis to courageous action.  To overcome the gun lobby will require millions of us to start voting for candidates who promise to act on common-sense gun regulation.  We must be noisier than they are – we can no longer be a silent majority.  We need to show the world that we object to the violence of easy guns – we should be wearing buttons and ribbons.  We should write our legislators. Churches and other institutions need to announce and post a “no-guns-here” policy.  We need to get angry.  We need courage.  Let’s start praying for anger and courage to act.  And then can begin to hope for a safer, saner, better future.  JBM  



Who is your John and Baptist?

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As I get older, my relationship with the scriptures has changed. These texts become less an object to study, and more a life-companion to point the way on this strange journey with Jesus. In other words, the biblical writings – especially the gospels – get under my skin. How about you? 

This Sunday’s Gospel introduces, or re-introduces, a figure well known to us: John the Baptist. We know him as the feisty, unvarnished character who confronted the people who came to him with the truth of their lives: their need to repent, to turn around. For those who accepted John’s challenge to see themselves as they really were, John used a symbolic act: ritual washing in the River Jordan.  We call it Baptism. 

My thoughts run to those few brutally honest, candid, blunt people in my life who have told me the truth about myself – confronted my self-deceptions, and challenged my way of seeing and acting. I’m grateful I’ve had a few such people in my life. I hope you have, too. 

A true friend, a colleague, an honest mentor, or a good psychotherapist - they can all be a “John the Baptist” to us.  They will challenge us to see your life more clearly – both the bad and the good.  They knock down our delusions of grandeur, and also challenge our irrational self-criticism. In spiritual terms, they reflect back to us what God sees in us: flawed, but cherished, human beings: 

  •  “Do you think you are so capable that you can get along without any          help?”
  • “Are you really aware of the amazing gifts you offer…at home, at work, at church?”
  • “How come you are so ready to forgive others, but you are so hard on yourself?” 
  • “Why do you pay attention to other people’s feelings, but discount your own?” 

We need this honest self-examination – a stark wilderness time – to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus fully at Christmas – a time in the verdant garden of God’s love and light poured out upon us. That’s what Advent is about.  I hope there is someone in your life who will honestly reflect back to you your whole human self: the dark hidden places that need to come to light, and also the glorious, God-filled person that you are. If you have a “John the Baptist” in your life, you are blessed indeed.  JBM 



Trail Notes: We don't like Kings!

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Americans have always had trouble with the idea of kings, ever since we revolted against one (King George III) in 1776. We picture kings as greedy, selfish despots, concerned only for their own power and glory, with little regard for the subjects over whom they rule. Our U.S. government was set us to guard against that kind of unchecked power. 

Even the Episcopal Church in the U.S. was designed to avoid the perception of bishops as “princes” with the trappings of royalty. Consequently, our American bishops have very little actual power to act or change our church, but carry tremendous responsibility. It’s an impossible position to hold, in my view. 

When we come to the last Sunday of our church year, however, we still celebrate Jesus Christ as a kind of king. We love to sing the coronation hymns: “Crown him with many crowns,” “All hail the power of Jesus’ name.” But I’m not at all sure we really want a king to reign in our lives. We Americans covet our independence and self-determination, so the image of a king sitting on high rankles. Let the Brits have their monarch and palaces and royal falderal. We’ll stick with leaders we can elect, and throw out when we get tired of them. 

And yet, we’re not doing that well by ourselves down here on earth. We fight over power and turf, even while our neighbors go hungry, or wander homeless like “a man without a country.” We kill each other with our bombs and guns.  

Yet we pray regularly, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  I believe we’ll have to reconcile this dichotomy if we are ever truly to accept God’s right to rule and direct our lives. We have a hard time with kingship, because it’s difficult to surrender to a power greater than our own.(Ask someone in A.A. or another 12-step program how hard it is!) But that’s what the Christian journey is all about.  JBM  


Trail Notes: The Godly Optimist

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“Celebrating God’s Abundance” – that’s our theme this Fall for our Annual Giving Campaign. I’ve realized I’m not very good at that! Contrary to my deepest beliefs about God’s desire for us have all we need, to enjoy this life, I tend to gravitate toward bad news in the newspaper. I seem more interested in news of scarcity than news of abundance; more interested in sorrow and tragedy than in joy. 

A while ago, I got an offer for a regular email from the Washington Post called “The Optimist.” It’s a short digest of good-news stories. I signed up to receive “The Optimist,” because I thought it would be good for me. But I confess I have rarely opened and read it…I’m always hurrying on to something else that seems more urgent, more important. What a mistake.  I need to see and hear good news much more than bad. 

For instance: CEO promises to pay for college tuition not just for employees, but for their kids. Why? He says it’s the best way to make a lasting change in the futures of these families. He wants to invest in the people who are investing their lives in his company. Wow. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the huge stones which were built into the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus said this huge monument to human greatness – to the religious establishment - would all be thrown down in the end. The world would be turned on its head…upside-down.  Conventional thinking would be revolutionized in Jesus’ economy: instead of hoarding wealth, instead of  hungering for power over others, God’s abundance would be shared and all would have enough.

What a concept. 

We need to hear and treasure the good news of this world (I’m preaching to myself here). If we are Gospel people – people of Good News – we need to share it, hear it, immerse ourselves in it, wherever good news can be found. We know that the world has many troubles, of course. We don’t deny that.  But our joy in Christ is meant to shine even in the presence of the world’s darkness. We need to celebrate God’s abundance…until we reach God’s dream of abundance for everybody. The Eucharist, our main act of worship, is a thanksgiving service at its heart. We start with gratitude, and that leads to generosity, and that leads to joy and love. JBM

Daily doth the almighty Giver bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth, pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand at his hand; joy doth wait on his command.
(From “All my hope on God is founded,” Hymn 665, text: Bridges/Neander)



Trail Notes: 11/08/2015

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Widows take the lead in today’s scriptures.  One is Naomi, the bereft mother-in-law of Ruth, who is herself a new widow.  The widow Naomi may have lost her husband and both her sons, but she is far from powerless: she is clever – even shrewd – beyond belief!  She engineers a new life for her daughter-in-law, and for herself.  And in doing so, she gives Israel her greatest king and leader, David.

Another widow is seen by Jesus in the Temple, offering her gift – her “mite” – of two copper coins to God.  Jesus admires this poor woman for giving all she had.  Jesus drives home his point: “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  (Matt 12) 

[Just for good measure, yet another story from I Kings about the Widow of Zarephath is also an appointed reading for this day.  Elijah comes to this poor widow who, with her son, is about to starve.  At Elijah’s request, she shares her last morsel with Elijah, and discovers that her jar of meal never emptied, and her jug of oil never ran dry! In giving, she received much in return.]

These widows have almost nothing.  How can they give?  How can they trust God to walk with them into their future?  My first impulse when I’m “running short” is to save, to hoard, to conserve what I have and try to make it last.  There is some wisdom in that.  But that is human wisdom, wisdom without God, without claiming the promises of God.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of earthbound thinking, where life is a zero-sum game, it’s everybody for himself or herself, and I’d better look out for number one.  I get that!  And I struggle with that every day.  But I do not want to live that way.  I want to live according to God’s economy of abundance and sharing. 

It comes down to trust in the end. Can we trust God that we can give today, and God will fill us full again tomorrow?  That is the question when we consider our pledge, our annual giving to our church here at St. Dunstan’s.  Can we trust God that we can give generously today, and God will walk with us tomorrow…and the days after that? 

I can only speak from my own experience.  Giving a tithe (10% of income)  to God has never brought our family material want, or caused financial distress to us.  Other financial decisions I’ve made have sometimes caused me grief, but not my pledge to the church.  I’ve made bad investments and lost money.  But our investment in the church has always returned many blessings to us, to our children, and, I believe, to the world.  Our jar of meal has never emptied, and our jug of oil has never run dry. 

I can only ask you to talk to God about your giving.  Ask God what a bold level of generosity would be for you…what step you can take this year in your trustful giving for the church and for the world.  You might be surprised at what becomes possible!  JBM



Trail Notes: 11/1/2015

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Passing on the faith

Today in the church one of the greatest needs is assisting all of our people to with tools to pass on the faith. Why is this? Well, there are lots of reasons – fewer and fewer people know the story of God at work in the world; fewer actually are raised in the faith, and even among those who are, many do not know the biblical story; and an even smaller number are either willing or able to take the time to learn and grow in their own faith journey.

How did you come to know Jesus?

An interesting question on this All Saints’ weekend. All Saints’ Day is the day the Church remembers all those who have gone before us, those who we remember but who don’t have their “own” day of remembrance. You know – like the big SAINTS – Francis, James, John, Mary, Julian, etc. All of those big saints have a day on the Church’s calendar for remembrance. But for all of those who have passed on the faith but only have special days in our hearts, this is the day that they are remembered.

Who taught you the stories about Jesus?

This Sunday, The Episcopal Church will be installing our next Presiding Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry. This will happen at Washington National Cathedral at 12 noon. Bishop Curry wants all of us in this church to be part of the Jesus Movement. By that he means that he wants us to know and love Jesus Christ and to share that knowledge and love with others. You can watch that service here at St. Dunstan’s.

Are you willing to share Jesus with others?

At the 9:00 liturgy this week and the 10:45 liturgy next week, we will welcome three new folks into the Christian family through baptism. Aidan and Quinn McNally are being baptized this week and William Gormley the following Sunday. In those liturgies we will affirm their baptisms by saying that we will do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ.

At our adult formation offering this Sunday at 9:50 a.m., we welcome Dr. Elisabeth Kimball. Lisa has been my friend, colleague, mentor and companion on my journey of faith for over 30 years. She is on the faculty of Virginia Theological Seminary and works primarily in the areas for faith formation. Come and hear her thoughts and wisdom about Passing on the Faith.

Sue von Rautenkranz



Trail Notes: 10/25/2015

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Creation - Celebration

My mother lost almost all her eyesight from macular generation in the last several years of her life. She had used her eyes well for 8 decades – she loved to read and instilled that love in me; she used to do fine needlework. She had an eye for the beauty of creation – for color and design. She always looked her best for visitors: as a southern woman she never left the house without her “face” on! 

Jesus encounters Bartimeus near Jericho: a man who had gone blind (we don’t know how) and was reduced to begging for his daily bread. He hears of Jesus, and cries out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus meets him, asks him about his hopes and longings, and restores his sight. Imagine his amazement, looking up and seeing, for the first time, the Master’s face!

The story of blind Bartimeus always reminds me what a blessing is the gift of sight: eyes to see the earth and sky, the grass and flowers, a cat, a mouse, a crackling fire…eyes to behold the wonderful variety of people I meet, and expecially those dearest to me. And, of course, eyes to read – everything from murder mysteries to Holy Scripture. Never take your sight for granted. 

Our Creation Season has taken us from planting to nurturing to harvesting, and this Sunday, to celebration. Let us see anew the wonder of creation and rejoice in all that we have been given! My mother died in darkness, but I believe she is with the Lord now and sees again all that is lovely in life and love. Her eyes have been opened. May God open your eyes and my eyes to see God’s hand in all God’s works.  JBM  



Trail Notes: 10/18/2015

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Look around. 
God has done God’s part. 
Now it’s up to us!

Crisp bright days and chilly nights, autumn leaves in a riot of color – we can’t miss the movement of God’s creation outside. This is one of Washington’s most beautiful times. I’m so glad I live in a place with four real seasons! 

Yes, God has outdone Godself once again in the splendor of creation around us.  We now need to look within – within ourselves, within our church – to see and mark what God is doing in us. This is not as easy to point to as a sugar maple glowing an impossible shade of orange, but our inner lives are just as much the site of God’s creative work!

What has God been doing in you – in your heart, your mind? Where has God moved you toward greater love, a growing passion for justice, a heart for people who are poor and struggling? Where has God given you greater joy and gladness?  Where is God calling you to greater generosity? What is the harvest God wants to gather in?

Our parish’s Annual Giving Campaign begins today. Every year, we take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going. We open our eyes to see God’s gracious hand at work in our lives and in our world. And then we respond with our own offering of praise and thanksgiving…for the church and for the world. 

Our response – our pledge to St. Dunstan’s – is first and foremost a spiritual offering, a part of our spiritual journey with God. It is our small act of reciprocation to God’s huge gift of life and love and beauty. Most of us here have been given so much more than we need. At our house, our problem is too much stuff, not too little! 

But we have an opportunity, with our giving, to make a difference in the lives of others…to welcome and teach children in our faith, to help students in Ecuador, to feed the hungry in Washington, to care for a neighbor who is sick or is grieving a death. We gather to celebrate births and marriages and all the milestones of life.

Through our pledge to our parish church, we can touch people in real need. We also uphold this wonderful house of God and keep it strong, as our forebears have done since 1958. 

The Judeo-Christian tradition has always upheld the tithe – 10% of income – as our standard of giving. That may seem like a lot, but it is a goal that can be reached.  We can take small steps every year to increase our giving. Our parish needs more money each year, just to continue our current ministries. Can you take a step upward in your pledge commitment for 2016? 

Some folks who feel stretched by expenses work toward giving 5% to the church.  If your income is $100,000, that would be a $5,000 pledge. That’s easier on a tight budget, and yet still so helpful to the parish! Every single pledge makes a difference in this community, so please listen to the voices of our 4 week campaign, read the letters in the mail, and make this your most generous year ever.  JBM

Look around. 
God has done God’s part. 
Now it’s up to us!


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