Entries by Jeff MacKnight

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Trail Notes 02/23/2016

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A rabbi named Harold Cushner once wrote a popular book called, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  He struck a nerve with people of many faiths. (It’s also interesting to speculate on why good things happen to bad people, but that’s another conversation….)

I think we all wonder at times why bad things happen, when we have a good and loving God at the heart of things.  Was it something I said?  Something I did wrong?  Jesus addresses this issue directly.  He mentions two recent horrors in his own world: Pilate had murdered Galileans and desecrated some Jewish blood sacrifices; and in Jerusalem, a tower called Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen people. 

Jesus asks the question we ask in our hearts: did these people somehow sin and deserve their horrible fates?  Jesus’ answer is no.  Bad things happen when we do not deserve them…that seems to be a risk that comes with human freedom, and a condition of the creation we live in.  With the beauties and joys of life comes vulnerability to misfortune, whether naturally occurring or by human agency. 

Our faith can and will be sorely tested when we witness, and experience, gratuitous evil in our lives – the cancer at a young age, the freak accident that leaves us paraplegic, the random shooting that kills a child on the street.  How do we keep our faith in a good and loving God? 

We also face a world with huge, intractable problems with poverty and disease, where violence kills thousands and leaves refugees homeless; where we continue to pollute the earth and sky and use up resources.  Sometimes this leaves me with little hope for the future.  But I fight that sense of hopelessness; it is the enemy of faith in God, and it is paralyzing.  Let us be real about the problems of the world, but also claim the power of God to move us forward to greater peace, greater generosity, greater wholeness.  Let us lift up every sign of God’s work: of healing, of resurrection from death, of reconciliation of enemies.  Let us, with all our might, hold fast to that which is good.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 02/21/2016

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ANNUAL MEETING 9:50 a.m. Sunday - Say yes to St. Dunstan’s.   

Only once a year do we gather as a congregation to elect leaders and conduct the business of our parish, St. Dunstan’s.  This year’s meeting is different.  We’ll start with a fun slide show of parish activities of the last year.  And we’ll hear from Praveen Jeyarajah about the exciting plan to grow our parish this year.  And, for the first time ever, the Vestry presents a Three-year Plan for our budget and ministries.  All in 50 minutes, starting at 9:50 a.m. in the Parish Hall, with refreshments.  Will you come? 

I want to thank and celebrate those who have stepped up to be nominated as leaders of our congregation.  We have a bumper crop of talented and dedicated people this year.  Six people are nominated to join the Vestry. 

We’ve also formed two new committees:

Growth Committee: Praveen Jeyarajah, Chair; Meghan Jarvis, Rosi Sweeney, Ray Donnelly, Anne Taylor, Nastya McNally, Julie Anderson, Jeff MacKnight (staff)

Membership Committee: The Vestry...Nils Overdahl, Chair; Fred Bentley, Pete Sather, Jessica Ault, Ryan McCormick, Sue von (staff)

Please welcome all these leaders, thank them, and consider what you can do to support them. (Nominees this year in boldface, underlined.  Note that additional nominations may be made at the meeting on Sunday.) 

Your proposed new Vestry 2016: (New nominees in bold italics.)

Jeff MacKnight, Rector
Nils Overdahl, Sr. Warden
Julie Anderson, Jr. Warden
Shelly Brett-Major, Registrar (Secretary)
Cliff White, Treasurer

 

Vestry Class of 2017

 

Fred Bentley                                 

Vestry Class of 2018

 

Jessica Ault

Vestry Class of 2019

 

Nancy Douglas

Anne Taylor

Cathie Morton

Matt McNally

Carl Adams

Trudy Surut

Pete Sather

 

Diocesan Convention Delegate: Rosi Sweeney (’19); Alternate Delegate:  Mark MacCarthy (19)

New Endowment Committee members: Clare McCown (’19), John Wyss (’19)

Continuing on the Endowment Committee: Chris Hemus, Chair (’17), Chuck Cash (’18), Ron Poropatich (’17), Cliff White, Treasurer ex officio

Columbarium Committee (At least 5 members, appointed by the rector, including Chair, Vice Chair, Clerk, Treasurer, Member(s))

          New Apptmts: Chair: Carl Adams, Member:  Sue Newman
          Reappointments: Vice Chair, Brian Berger; Clerk, Nancy Fassett;
            Treasurer – Cliff White

Growth Committee - Praveen Jeyarajah, Chair; Meghan Jarvis, Rosi Sweeney, Ray Donnelly, Anne Taylor, Nastya McNally, Julie Anderson, Jeff MacKnight (staff)

Membership CommitteeNils Overdahl, Chair; Fred Bentley, Pete Sather, Jessica Ault, Shelly Brett-Major, Matt McNally, Nancy Douglas, Trudy Surut, Ryan McCormick, Sue von (staff)

I also want to thank our leaders who are leaving office at this point, having served from one year to many years. 

Thanks to those leaving the Vestry: Lynne Ryan, Boots Quimby, Rosi Sweeney (Registrar), Don Baker. Thanks to Elin Botha, faithful Diocesan Convention Delegate. Thanks to Bob Boyd, faithful Columbarium Committee Chair. Thanks to Mark Tatelbaum and Praveen Jeyarajah for service on the Endowment Committee.


 

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Trail Notes: 02/14/2016

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LENT, AND THE POWER OF HABIT

Lent is here early this year, ready or not! As always, on this first Sunday in Lent, we read the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness, right after his triumphant baptism. If we let this story sink in, we can see how much it reflects our own lived experience. We are constantly tempted to take the easy way out, use our privilege to get around problems, and worship things other than our One True God.

This Lent, our parish focus is on “Growing a Rule of Life” - that is, a pattern of practices and habits that reinforce our faith in God. 

We have always known that practices and habits help us live faithfully. We think of daily prayer, scripture reading, works of mercy and compassion, exercise, worship, and generosity. And yet most of us struggle to maintain even the simplest spiritual practices over time – I know I do. 

Jesus in the wilderness demonstrates the strength and power of habits: when the devil presents each temptation, Jesus draws on scripture and his relationship with God to refuse the temptation. These practices serve him well in the pinch!

Charles Duhigg in 2014 wrote a book about The Power of Habit. He explores habits in business, personal life, and religion. One of his findings he calls “The Habit Loop.” He explains that habitual behaviors occur when there is a “cue” to prompt the behavior, and some sort of “reward” following the behavior. For instance, I set an alarm on my phone to get on the treadmill in the evening. After I do my routine, I know I get to relax, read a fun book, or watch a murder mystery on TV.  Cue –> Routine –> Reward:  the Habit Loop.

I believe we can use this thinking to help us establish and maintain spiritual practices – a “rule of life.” It should be enticing and rewarding! Jesus seemed to be prepared when the devil came to visit; he had some spiritual practices ready. And I imagine that he felt a considerable reward afterwards, knowing he had stayed true to his Father-God. 

In our own small ways, we can do likewise.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes:02/07/2016

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I decided to enter the priesthood when I was 24 years old. It was a somewhat tortured decision…as young people are apt to experience! The law was the other main contender for my path in life. Once I decided to go to seminary, I felt I had faced and overcome a great hurdle; I had accomplished a defining moment in my life. 

I didn’t even notice that most of my nearest male relatives were either clergy or lawyers. I was, in a sense, going into one of the family businesses!

I realize more clearly now that we are the products of our histories and families.  The truly individual decisions most of us make are few. And there’s nothing wrong about that. 

Jesus, too, was the product of his history and family. His Jewish faith was passed down to him; his working life as a carpenter came from his father Joseph; his people were the peasant Galileans in a rural backwater of a Roman-controlled province of the Middle East. 

Today’s strange story of Jesus on a mountaintop - with Moses and Elijah, no less – reflects Jesus’ roots in history, family, and religious tradition. This is not surprising. In many ways, Jesus followed in the prophets’ footsteps. 

What is new here is the transformation (called “The Transfiguration”) that Jesus undergoes on that mountain. His appearance and his clothing blaze dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus of his “departure,” that is, his imminent confrontation in Jerusalem, his death, and his radical triumph over death itself.  Jesus is stepping out, beyond the path laid down by his Hebrew forebears. This is confirmed by the booming voice from the clouds: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” This echoes his baptism 3 years earlier, as God confirms Jesus unique status as the one human being who will lead us all through death into life. 

Most of us follow paths that have been laid down by our elders. Jesus blazes an entirely new trail for us beyond death, into life. Thank God he does.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 01/31/2016

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Out of control

I hope you’ve all stayed safe and warm through the storm.  After “the blizzard of the ages,” we’ve all been thoroughly reminded that life is out of our control, no matter how much we love to plan and program and prepare.  Maybe this is a good lesson for us to relearn periodically…so that we stay nimble and flexible in this life…able to regroup, retool, and re-invent ourselves.   

After Jesus announced his mission statement (quoting from the prophet Isaiah):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the poor…
release to the captives…and sight to the blind…,” 

Jesus’ hometown crowd in Nazareth responded predictably: “Wow – amazing – but this is Joseph’s son, a local boy!”  I’m sure they thought they could make good use of this neighborhood guy as a wonderworker around town.

But Jesus responds very clearly, I have come on God’s mission, not yours.  I will not fix all your problems for you.  I will not be your tool.

Jesus would not be controlled by his Nazarene neighbors, or by anybody, for that matter.  And the people responded with rage.  They tried to throw Jesus over a cliff!

So, Jesus does not conform himself to our wishes or our convenience.  In fact, Jesus’ actions in the world may make us very uncomfortable.  Jesus can require changes that we really don’t want to make. (That’s what the word repent means.) 

I believe this is happening in the church today.  The ways of doing church that we (of a certain age) grew up with don’t work very well anymore.  That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us – far from it!  It does mean that God is doing new things, and we must change, adjust, even re-invent ourselves to align with God’s mission for us.  It’s not ours to control.  (Actually, it’s never been ours to control, but we – I – have often forgotten that.) 

So let the blizzard be a lesson to us: God is doing new things in the world, and in the church.  These are demanding times.  As we did in our snow shoveling these last few days, we need to use muscles we haven’t used in a while to grow our congregation around God’s mission of compassion and justice and freedom.  Parish leaders will be asking your help.  I hope you will say yes.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes 01/24/2016

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Mission statements have been popular in recent decades, to help organizations clarify their reasons for existence and their goals. Organizations can spend a lot of time defining and wordsmithing their mission statements! 

Today, Jesus gives us his own mission statement. It’s not original to him; he gets it from the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah. 

It’s not a safe mission. It’s often hard to quantify. But it’s clear enough, if we want to hear it:

To bring good news to the poor. (What is good news to the poor? Probably a job that pays a living wage.) 

To proclaim release to the captives. (I think of many American students who graduate with a mountain of debt before they ever get a first paycheck)

Sight to the blind. (Do we help people see all God’s people with dignity, and not demean groups… whether Muslims, refugees, gay people, black people, or brown people?)

To let the oppressed, go free. (think of families with little children, risking their lives to escape persecution in Syria) 

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Jubilee year – erasing all debts, restoring economic equality to all the people)

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” proclaims Jesus.

When we think of our mission at St. Dunstan’s, how well to we match up with the mission of Jesus, the one we serve? Are we truly finding ways to bring good news to the poor? Are we helping to release captives and people who are oppressed by the system? Are we bringing new sight, and insight, to ourselves and our neighbors? 

Well yes, we do make efforts to do some of these things. We make sandwiches, tuna casseroles to feed people. That’s good. We explore scriptures and the events of the world around us, seeking insight and wisdom.  Some of us have studied economic inequality and proposed actions the church can take to lessen the huge gap between rich and poor. 

But we tend to play it safe. We are risk-averse. That may have worked for the church in the past, but it doesn’t work in today’s environment. Jesus’ mission is a bold, audacious one…turning the established order on its ear. If we want to be faithful to Jesus, we as his church can be no less bold.  JBM

 

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Trail Notes: 1/17/2016

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Gifts, Known and Unknown

Some years ago, the Bishop asked me to serve on the diocesan committee on Constitution and Canons, which is concerned with church laws and statutes and their revision as needed. I was puzzled, since I have no legal background. Still, I wanted to help, so I said “yes.” Well, I found it fascinating, and I served quite happily for over 10 years, and even became chair of the committee for a while! I would never have known I had any gifts for such things if I had not said “yes” when I was asked to serve. 

St. Paul speaks in I Corinthians 12 about the variety of gifts given by the Holy Spirit – gifts to build up the church, and gifts to serve people in need or trouble.  The Body of Christ – the Church – has need of all these gifts, and the Spirit gives them for the common good. You might have some gifts you’ve never used! (I’d like the gift of working miracles myself….) If you don’t explore your spiritual gifts, how will you ever know? 

As St. Dunstan’s begins a new year, we need your gifts for ministry:  the gifts of every person in our congregation. When one person isn’t offering the gifts God has given, then both that person, and the community, are impoverished. We have been recruiting for Vestry and other offices, and – thank God! – most people are saying yes! We are forming a new team under the leadership of Praveen Jeyarajah to bring growth to our parish. Growing is our primary task and focus in 2016 and beyond, with a goal of a net gain of 10 new households a year for the next several years.  I’m grateful for all who have said “yes” to serve on this crucial project. To grow our church, we’ll need everybody to be on the growth effort – talking about St. Dunstan’s, bringing friends to church, doing visible ministries in the local area, and reaching out to welcome new members in your neighborhood. I hope you’ll offer your God-given gifts to help our parish. Please offer your gifts and skills! And if you are asked to serve, say “yes.” You might be happily surprised.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 01/10/2016

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"Baptism by Fire" and Atticus Finch

Have you ever experienced an arduous, harrowing event which required extraordinary effort to reach the other side and conquer the challenge?  It could be a sudden assignment at work, with a quick turnaround time, or learning a whole new skill on the fly. Or maybe a relationship changes dramatically and you have to regroup. Or it could be a spiritual experience where the givens and assurances of your faith seem to fall to pieces, and you must rebuild something new to depend on. In any case, this event leaves you changed, different, transformed in some way.
 
Luke's Gospel says that we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That means that God is dwelling in us in a new, powerful way (the Holy Spirit), and that God is also refining and purifying us, stripping away all that is not strong enough to withstand God's fire. There is some discomfort implied here!
 
I had this experience when I read Harper Lee's newly issued novel Go Set a Watchman. There has been much debate about the genesis of this novel and its literary quality. But what was not debatable for me was the change that it wrought in me.
 
This book showed me that Atticus Finch, the enlightened Alabama lawyer who defended a black man in To Kill a Mockingbird, wasn't who we thought he was. He wasn't an unqualified hero, seeing past the racial divisions of the American South. As an older man, he was clinging to the ways he understood society, that is, with white people in charge and people of color subservient. Racism was the very water he was swimming in; racism was part of him. He could not change that fact.
 
And I was convicted. All my liberal and inclusive perceptions of myself fell away like chaff, and I had to face the fact that I do not always see people of every race equally, though I try. I am not colorblind. I make distinctions and assumptions based on my upbringing and the American society I live in. I am not proud of that. In fact, I'm ashamed. But it's the water I swim in, a baptism in the truth of my racism and America's racism, which is clearly America's original sin.
 
This Sunday, January 10, we welcome the Rev. Paula Clark to preach and teach. Paula is a delightful, vivacious woman who works on our Bishop's staff in the area of multicultural ministry. She will lead the adult class at 9:50 a.m. and preach at 10:45 a.m. I hope you will be present to hear her. I believe we shall all be blessed by her presence at St. Dunstan's. JBM


 

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Trail Notes: We don't like Kings!

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WE DON’T LIKE KINGS!

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  

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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

 

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