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Making New Year's Resolutions?

Ordinarily, about this time of year, I make several resolutions for the new year. You know, the typical stuff: to lose the spare tire above my belt line; to be a better husband/father/pastor/writer/preacher/teacher/brother/friend; to spend less and save more; to exercise more/eat and drink less.

But this December, a funny thing happened on my way to making my resolutions: I decided to pray about it.

When I asked God, in prayer, what I should resolve, what I heard in response surprised me. (Although it shouldn’t have surprised me, because it’s something I’ve heard God telling me many times over the years -- a consistent message.)

It’s this:

“Lighten up a little, will ya, John?”

How’s that for a New Year’s resolution -- to lighten up a little!?

At first, that resolution might sound self-serving or even reckless, as if I’m giving myself permission to be irresponsible, lazy, or uncaring. Thinking of “lighten up” as an excuse for hedonism would take you in that direction.

But if you think of “lig…

The Line to See Jesus

Just two simple thoughts today: one serious and one whimsical.

The serious thought: several people have forwarded me the YouTube music video, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” It’s based on a question asked by a little boy at a shopping mall. Seeing long lines of children waiting to see Santa, the little boy approaches the singer/songwriter and asks, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?”

If you want to see the video yourself, I’d recommend the original version over the newer, slick, professionalized version (fair warning: both versions are over-the-top schmaltzy).

But it isn’t the video’s schmaltziness that I want to address. It’s the question in the video’s title: “Where’s the line to see Jesus?”

And I don’t just mean the long line that will form at the time of communion during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and regular Sunday morning services (although that definitely is a line to not only see, but “taste and see” Jesus!)

No, I hope you know that the answer to the question, “Where’s the line to…

Just When We’ve Made Our Minds Up, God’s Dreams Interrupt…

The Gospel appointed for this, the fourth Sunday in Advent, begins with the words, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” It goes on to describe the birth of Jesus from an unusual perspective: the perspective of Joseph.

Jesus’ mother Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph. Remember what “betrothal” was in the Jewish marriage process.* It consisted of two steps.

First, a formal marriage contract would worked out where a young man would be given marital and legal rights over a girl, usually when she was between twelve and thirteen years old.

During this time of betrothal, the boy and girl would be considered “husband and wife,” legally, but the girl would continue to live at her own family home, usually for about a year.

Second, after the year or so of betrothal, there would be a formal transfer or “taking of the bride” to the husband’s family home, and from that point on, he would be responsible for her support.

During the time of betrothal, no marital relations were tolerated…

Snow, and a Meaningful Advent and Christmas

(Photo credit: Steve Axeman)

Well, first--as I sat down to write this (Friday morning about 10:00) it started SNOWING! There’s already enough to cover the ground.

Yay! I love snow! Not just because I’m a Midwesterner who loves cold weather--we believe cold weather builds character, you know--but because when I see snow, I think of God blanketing the earth. Or should I say God re-blanketing the earth, with love, in the middle of winter, much the same way a parent re-blankets a sleeping child in the middle of the night.

Snow “tucks the earth in” a bit. Snow quiets things down (at least until the snow blowers come out) and is comforting (at least until we have to start shoveling it.)

I know some of you feel differently about snow, and even dislike it. And granted, loving snow is easier for someone like me who walks to work! But those of you who agree with me: let’s lift our coffee cups in a toast and say, in our best Dean Martin voice, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

There, now that…

Capturing the True Spirit of Christmas

It seems this year there’s even more talk than usual about how over-commercialized Christmas has become. At the same time, there seems to be a concurrent sense of appreciation--a strong, favorable reaction--to things that seem to capture the true spirit of Christmas.

Several years ago, when I wrote a column for the local paper, someone wrote in this time of year to say how they really want to feel “the Christmas spirit” but have had an increasingly harder time seeing through the malls and the parties and the pressures of the season. “Christmas morning seems like it’s all focused on presents,” they said, and “I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but am I the only one who is glad when Christmas is finally over?”

I’m grateful that our Personal Finance Ministry has been running a series called “Finding Christ in a Simpler Christmas,” and this week’s installment featuring “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas” is particularly appropriate, because as I said in my response to that…

Rejoice and Give Thanks, Saints of God!

Sunday is, as you know, Halloween. Did you know the reason Halloween is always on October 31 goes all the way back to the 7th Century, when Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, a day to honor, or “hallow” (as in “hallowed be thy name…”), saints and martyrs. In about 1,000 AD, the Church added November 2 as “All Souls’ Day,” a day to remember the dead.

So the three days together -- the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’ came to be called “Hallowmas,” from which we get our modern-day term “All Hallow’s Evening,” or “Hallowe’en.”

So what, you might ask?

These three days are days set aside not just for the fun of the Leesburg Halloween Parade, dressing up in costumes and going to haunted corn mazes or trick-or-treating (all of which are perfectly innocent fun, by the way; don’t let some modern-day Puritan deprive you of it); but these days are also days to remember by name (as we’ll do at each of our services this Sunday) those who have died in the past yea…

Running a Marathon, and a Strong Faith in God, Part Two

I hope you’ll excuse me if I pick back up on a theme I wrote about two weeks ago: running a marathon, and having a good, strong relationship with God.

As I shared with you a couple weeks ago, running a marathon is on my mind lately because I’ll be doing just that: the big day is tomorrow (Saturday, October 16), when I’ll be running the Baltimore Marathon, starting at 8:00 a.m.

(Lest you be too impressed: my one and only goal for this race is to finish it. I don’t care how long it takes me. . . which is good, because at the time the first several winners are crossing the finish line -- about 10:00 a.m. -- I won’t even be to the 13.1 mile halfway point!)

(Well, actually, I do have a time goal. I want to finish in time to grab a quick shower back at the hotel before their late check-out time, which is 1:30!)

Two weeks ago I said that having a good, strong relationship with God in a time of crisis is a lot like running the 26.2 miles of a marathon: it’s relatively easy, IF you’ve put the time…

Brussels Sprouts

Today I want to repeat something I said a few years ago, when the Gospel story of Jesus curing ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) came up.

In the story, Jesus heals ten lepers of their disease, but only one of them turns back to give thanks. So – as I’ll be exploring further in Sunday’s sermon – it’s a lesson about the difference between “feelings of gratitude” and “actions of thanksgiving.”

As I said several years ago, I’m all for feelings of gratitude, and especially for translating those feelings into acts of thanksgiving, but I think the feeling of gratitude needs to be sincere and based on reality.

If our gratitude is forced, then our thanksgiving comes across as pandering; and even the person receiving it feels that it is contrived and insincere.

So I’ve never thought it is a good use of time to try to manufacture feelings of gratitude where none exist….trying to make yourself feel grateful for relationships or things for which you really aren’t grateful.

You know the dynamic I’m talking abo…

Running a Marathon, and a Strong Faith in God

Today, I want to write about the connection between two things that might not seem related to you: running a marathon, and having a good, strong relationship with God.

Running a marathon is on my mind lately because I’ll be doing just that: running one later this month, specifically the Baltimore Marathon on October 16.

Having a good, strong relationship with God is on my mind because that’s a main reason for going to church -- St. James’ or any other.

What’s the connection between these two things?

Lots of people, when they hear I have run 4 marathons (although the latest was in 2003), or that I’m going to be running another one soon, are impressed, but will say something to the effect of “wow -- you’re going to run 26 miles?! That’s got to be SO difficult!”

And no doubt about it, running 26.2 miles is a challenge. But what most people don’t realize is that running that distance on the day of the marathon is not the most difficult part of running a marathon. In fact for many people, and i…

Thanks Be to God

My daily time in prayer has a structure to it, a structure that’s recommended by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The first step in prayer, Ignatius says, is to remind yourself that you are in the presence of God. No matter where you are – in your bedroom, walking alongside a river, in traffic – you recall that “you are a creature in the midst of creation,” and that God is with you.

The second step is to go back over the past day and give thanks to God for favors received.

It’s that step I want to talk about today. This step – of looking back and giving thanks – is so important, especially for those of us who have perfectionist tendencies or who are future-oriented. That’s because taking time out of each day to look back over the past day and give thanks to God for the good things that happened focuses our attention on the good things that DID happen that would otherwise (because of our perfectionist tendencies or future-orientation) be overlooked.

There will be other times to focus our at…

Being the Church

Okay, I have a confession to make.

This Sunday – our Annual Ministry Fair Sunday – is my favorite Sunday of the year.

I find myself looking forward to this Sunday more than any other in the year. I sense God’s power and presence moving among us more on this Sunday than any other of the year.

“Even more than on major feast days?” you might wonder. Am I really saying I look forward to, and feel God more powerfully present on Ministry Fair Sunday than I do on even Easter and Christmas?

Well, the answer is, yes.

Part of me that thinks something is wrong with that picture: that I’m not supposed to feel that way…that Easter and Christmas, or baptism Sundays, or All Saints Day or St. James’ Day or Confirmation Sunday is “supposed” to be my favorite day in the church year. Maybe that’s why I said this feels like a confession, the lifting of some secret weight I’m carrying. But I’ll say it again: I find myself looking forward to, and I sense God’s power and presence more, on this Sunday than on any…

Labor Day and Routines

I have a love-hate relationship with Labor Day weekend.

I love the fact that it’s back-to-school time. Because it also means back-to-routines.

And I love routines: getting up earlier than in the summer for coffee and quiet time, then seeing Mary and the kids off to school, then realizing I still have the bulk of the morning ahead of me to get a morning run and a little bit of writing done before heading over to the office for more regular office hours and the excitement and energy of the program year.

But I also hate the fact that it’s back-to-school time. Because it also means back-to-routines.

And I hate routines: being forced awake by the alarm, needing three cups of coffee just to be alert enough to not fall asleep during what little quiet time there is before seeing Mary and the kids all go off in their own directions, having to squeeze in a run (and writing time? — fuggedaboutit) before heading over to the office for more regular office hours and the busy-ness and demands of the pro…

Followers of Religion, or Followers of Jesus?

In the Gospel we’ll hear on Sunday (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus is criticized by a religious leader for healing someone with a severe physical handicap, because he healed her on a Sabbath day. Jesus responds to the criticism by calling the religious people “hypocrites.”

Religion -- religious practices -- had become more important to them than acts of mercy and compassion. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites.

We are hypocrites when our religion -- worship, holding orthodox beliefs, saying our prayers -- becomes more important than following the founder of our religion in our day-in-and-day-out actions of setting people free from whatever ails them.

A few weeks ago, we heard a similar theme, when Isaiah (1:10-20) reminded us that God has grown weary with “solemn assemblies.” Acts of worship are “an abomination” to God unless the people doing such worship are “seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow.”

This is the reason we encourage every membe…

Know Jesus, No Peace

In the passage that is appointed for Sunday, Jesus asks the question,

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?”

It’s perfectly understandable if your first answer to that is, “Uh… yes?”

After all, isn’t Jesus referred to as the “Prince of Peace”?

Didn’t the angels sing at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth”?

Weren’t some of his last words on earth, “Peace be with you, my own peace I leave with you,” and don’t we exchange the Peace each Sunday, saying “The peace of the Lord be always with you.”?

It is true that Christ came to bring peace, peace between us and between us and God.

So why did Jesus answer his own question by saying, “No, I tell you [I have not come to bring peace], but rather division!”?

Part of the reason -- something I hope to more fully explore in Sunday’s sermon -- is something we polite Episcopalians don’t take very seriously, and that’s this: whenever and wherever we take our discipleship (being apprentices of Jesus) seri…

Financial Safety

In the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday (Luke 12:32-40), we hear Jesus calling his followers to make sound financial investments.

Have you ever purchased one of those money belts that you wear inside your clothing?

In Sunday's lesson, Jesus advises us, his followers, to create for ourselves a special kind of pouch, or depository, for our money that is tougher - longer lasting, less likely to wear out - than Kevlar.

There's a safe, or safety deposit box in which we can put our money that not only has never been broken into, but no would-be burglar has even come near - it's far more secure than Fort Knox.

Now here's what's interesting: Usually, putting our money in a safe (low risk) investment means getting very little back in return. That's because, as we all know from Economics 101, there's usually a correlation, or trade-off, between making low risk/low return investments, and high risk/high return investments.

But putting our money in the pouch or place that…

Guest Column--Memorial Day Thoughts

In 2006, for Memorial Day’s e-Pistle, I shared an essay from the Rev. William Shand, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac, Maryland. I got to know Billy, as he is called, when I was served there two years as a seminarian.

The essay is, I promise, worth reading in its entirety, but if you’re not able right now to do so, I hope you’ll at least scroll down to the bolded paragraph, and take those words to heart this weekend.

His essay:

“In the body politic, one occasionally hears a specific criticism of the Iraq war that argues that the American people have not been asked to make any sacrifice in this conflict.

“Without weighing the merits of the nation’s policy on Iraq, I wonder if this criticism is not misguided, probably aimed at the administration for political gain. For is it not so that the casualty rate in this war now numbers in the thousands? I wonder, too, if the brave souls in rehabilitation over at Walter Reed believe no sacrifice has been made by the American people.

Flabby With Small Passions

I don’t know what got me thinking about it, but lately I’ve been wrestling with a tension in our call as Christians.

On the one hand, we’re called to be passionate, to engage all of our heart, mind, soul and strength in our faith.

On the other hand, we’re called to live counter-culturally: to rise above all the bickering and infighting and ugliness that characterizes too much of our political and church culture.

Maybe what first got me thinking about this tension is the fact that this Sunday is St. James’ Day, and Jesus gave James (along with his brother John) the nickname “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder.”

One doesn’t earn a nickname like that by being a milquetoast.

God created us with strong desires. But too often we lose touch with those passions. In a passage called “Flabby with Small Passions,” the author John Eldredge reminds us that the devil’s ploy is to first make us humans flabby, with small passions and desires, and then we offer small satisfactions to those diminished…

Mission on the Bay

I’m writing this from the “Mission on the Bay” near Gulfport, Mississippi, where I’ve been as one of two adult sponsors of youth on a St. James’ youth mission trip.

We arrived here on Sunday night, and jumped right into the week’s rhythm: “lights on” in the barracks at 6:15, breakfast from 6:30 to 7:30, followed by cleanup duty in the dining and bathroom/shower areas. (There are about 45 teenagers here, so staying a few steps ahead of the mess wave is important!)

We then leave for our assigned worksites. Our group of six has been assigned “Miss Georgia’s” home in Pass Christian, about a fifteen minute drive along the shoreline. We unload our tools and equipment from the Mission on the Bay truck and trailer, and start working.

Miss Georgia has been living in a FEMA-issued trailer in the backyard of her property ever since that day in August 2005 -- just about five years ago -- when Hurricane Katrina hit.

This Bay St. Louis area of Mississippi -- not New Orleans, as many imagine -- had the …

Are We Following Jesus, or Christianity?

I was recently reading a book by the teacher and writer Mike Erre, who was sharing an experience he had at a conference.

“The focus [of the conference] was Jesus -- not Christianity, but Jesus, and the speaker talked about how Jesus loved people and how Jesus engaged the culture around him.

“He talked about how Jesus hated empty religion and loved to see expressions of simple faith in him… Jesus was much more interesting than I had been led to believe.

“I realized I had not been following Jesus; I had been a follower of Christianity -- an organized set of rules and beliefs substituted in his place.

“That [realization] changed everything: it changed how I taught, how I pastored, how I loved my wife, how I saw my job, and how I viewed people who [did not go to church.]”

How about you?

Have you ever had a realization that you are not so much following Jesus, but Christianity?

Or let’s back up a bit and ask, have you ever had a spiritual realization of any sort that “changed everything”?

Is there…

The Good Samaritan

The Gospel for this upcoming Sunday is one of Jesus' most famous parables -- the parable of the Good Samaritan.

To remind you of the major movements in the story:

A religious expert (lawyer) asks Jesus what he must do to "inherit eternal life."

Jesus asks him, "what's the Bible say?"

The religious expert says, "love God and love your neighbor."

Jesus says, "that's correct; do that, and you'll experience eternal life."

But "wanting to justify himself," the legal expert asks, "and who is my neighbor?"

"Say a man is severely beaten by robbers and left for half dead," Jesus says. "Later on, a religious person sees him lying there but crosses to the other side of the road in order to avoid him. A little later, another religious person shows up on the scene, but he, too, avoids the injured man."

Then - think quickly about a group you would never associate yourself with...think quickly of some person whos…

Fireworks of Independence

Three dates to share with you as you think about Independence this weekend:

The first date is July 4, 1776.

The second date is more than a year earlier: April 19, 1775.

And the third date is September 3, 1783.

We all know the first date -- July 4th, 1776 -- as the date the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

What we need to remember, though, is that the Declaration of Independence didn’t start the American Revolutionary War.

That’s why the second date (April 19, 1775) is important -- it’s the day, fifteen months earlier, that the war did start, as the first shots were fired in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

By the time the Continental Congress declared our independence from Great Britain, we’d already been in armed conflict for over a year.

Which brings us to the third date -- September 3, 1783 -- a date even less familiar, but equally important to remember this Independence Day weekend.

It’s the date, eight years and five months after the bloodshed at Lexingto…

Father's Day

On Sunday, the lessons and sermon will concentrate on the Scripture message for the day, but in recognition of the fact that it’s also Father’s Day, your service leaflet will include a special insert.

The insert, “The Best Advice My Father Ever Gave Me,” is a collection of quotes that your fellow parishioners of St. James’ have shared with us over the past several weeks. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

I submitted two quotes from my own father. One was from a sign that hung above his desk while I was growing up:

Children need models, not critics.

I’d like to share, again, an image with you.

Imagine, if you will, a child working in the backyard, helping his father build a mini barn. The child is doing it wrong: cutting the wood the wrong length; using the tools wrong, even dangerously. Taking too long to do the work.

The father knows he’s doing it wrong. He has several ways to respond:

One possibility is to ignore it, to “celebrate the child’s individuality,” to pretend there are no standards; to ex…

Sympathy Cripples; Compassion Liberates

In the Gospel assigned for Sunday, Jesus is walking toward a town called Nain when he notices a funeral procession. A man who’d died was being carried out.

Funerals are sad enough, but this man was his mother’s only son.

Losing one’s only child is bad enough, but the dead man’s mother was already a widow.

Keeping in mind that in ancient Palestine, the only “social security” one had was one’s family, the death of this woman’s only son meant that from now on, and for the rest of her life, no one would care for her, or about her.

Why? The belief system of the day was misfortune of this magnitude must mean that God is punishing her…she must have done something (the thinking went) to have fallen out of God’s favor, or she wouldn’t be suffering so.

Lest we think we’ve overcome that kind of bad theology: I’ll bet a fair number of people reading this believe that God rewards us human beings for good behavior and punishes us for bad behavior. That’s what’s called a “celestial Coke-machine God”…

Breakaway Churches and the “Coach Norman Dale Approach to Confrontation”

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in favor of our Diocese in the case of the so-called “break-away” parishes who have attempted to claim Episcopal Church property as their own.

This is good news for our Diocese. In a complex world filled with nuances and shades of gray, it’s not often that a case comes along where things are fairly clear. This is one of them.

I have a lot of respect for conservative parish leaders like my colleagues Tom Simmons (St. Peter’s, Purcellville) and John Sheehan (Our Redeemer, Aldie) and others throughout the country who, despite strong differences of opinion, stay in the Episcopal Church and fight for change; I have a lot of respect for my liberal colleagues who are delighted with the overall direction of the Episcopal Church and say “full steam ahead.”

And worthy of even greater respect are those conservatives who decided they could no longer in good conscious remain in the Episcopal Church but who had the courage of their convictions and left Ep…

Our Truest Identity

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about roles, or identities.

It started a year or so ago when I re-read the chapter in Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he encourages you to “begin with the end in mind.”

At one level, that means begin meetings you go to, or projects you’re working on, by thinking about what the end result should be…spend a little time envisioning what you want to accomplish when it is all over. And then to keep that “end” in mind throughout the meeting or project.

To the degree I remember to apply that principle to meetings and projects, it sure saves a lot of time and energy, not to mention needless squabbling.

Keeping our attention focused on “what matters most” keeps us from getting drawn too far into “the thick of things.”

As Covey says, too often we spend time and energy climbing the ladder we’re on, only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

But Covey’s real point is to begin with THE end in mind -- our end!

And to take a few minut…

Common Enemy = Leadership Laziness

Well, the Episcopal Church is back in the news again.

Yesterday the Diocese of Virginia was before the Virginia Supreme Court arguing that even if a majority of the members of an Episcopal Church vote to leave the Episcopal Church -- as is the case with nine so-called “breakaway” churches -- they cannot not claim the Episcopal Church property as their own.

Rather than try to summarize the conflict myself, here’s yesterday’s article from the Loudoun-Times Mirror:

On April 13, the Virginia Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a property case that pitted nine churches in Loudoun and Fairfax counties against the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The final decision will be made June 10 or June 11.

The Church of Our Saviour, on Oatlands Mill Road south of Leesburg, is one of the churches involved.

After the nine churches left the diocese in 2006 to join the Anglican District of Virginia, the diocese argued that the churches had forfeited the right to the properties upon which their church buildin…

Why Church?

Only a week ago at this time, it was Good Friday.

Since then, a lot has happened.

Between this time last week and the end of our fourth and final Easter Sunday service, over 1,500 people worshipped here. That’s a lot of people.

Literally hundreds of hours of preparation went into planning and carrying out our nine separate Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter Sunday services, from the office staff to the Altar Guild, to musicians, clergy, ushers greeters and readers. I’m appreciative of everyone’s efforts all year round, but I’m especially thankful this time of year, when so much is happening.

I said that since Good Friday, “a lot has happened.” And that this time of year, “so much is happening.”

But what is it, exactly, that happened since Good Friday? What’s behind all the activity, all the worship? What’s the point?

I asked three questions in my Easter sermon:


When we come to church, do we expect to be changed?

Does the beauty (and power) of Sunday morning fade, or does it draw you closer to…

We Have an Enemy

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week, the week set aside each year to reflect on the passion of Jesus.

The "passion" of Jesus refers to the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection: the Last Supper, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest and trial, and the crucifixion itself.

The Presbyterian preacher William G. Carter has written,


"There has always been something about Jesus that people have resisted from the very beginning. He has done nothing wrong. He has not led people down the wrong path. He has not rejected the Scriptures. He has not trained terrorists to resist the empire. He has not spoken against God. Yet there is something about him that people resist and wish to eliminate. ... From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced opposition to his words and deeds, not because he did something wrong, but because he came in the power of God's Spirit."

A fascinating concept, and one that polite Episcopalians don…

No Time to Rest?

In a quick check of email this morning, I saw that several people had forwarded today’s “Lent Day by Day” reflection to me, mentioning how appropriate it was as we enter what promises to be a gorgeous weekend.

If you didn’t receive it, or even if you did and didn’t reflect on it, here it is again:

“The Sabbath is a day of rest. What does it mean to rest? Tilopa, a 9th-century Buddhist master, wrote:

‘Do not remember the past;
Do not predict the future;
Do not think about the present;
Do not analyze;
Do not control;
Rest.’

Powerful limits.But what do we rest from? What is work? Most of us work with our minds, so do we shut off our minds with the glowing screen of the TV? Is that “rest” -- turning everything off?

We should not forget active rest. Play. Exploration of questions and interests that are simply fun. When you were a child, what was more relaxing than play?

What if we rested from the media that surrounds us? Imagine a day with no TV, no newspapers, no magazines. Imagine shutting off the …

The Only Person We Can Change

Somewhere along the line, I picked up an image of humanity that -- to the degree I can remember and apply its truth -- is tremendously liberating. I share it with you as a pretty good way to enrich your Lent.

The image is that of everyone being locked up in their own individual cage.

Imagine, for a second, every single human being locked up in their own personal cage… a prisoner… captive somehow, to their own limiting beliefs, or deeply ingrained habits, or regrets, or fears.

If it’s difficult to picture all of humanity that way, just picture someone close to you… your spouse, child, or parent, or a close friend or colleague. With just a little bit of thought, you can probably see their cage… some way they are imprisoned, captive to a limiting belief, habit, regret, or fear.

Now here’s the second part of that image: every single human being, standing in those cages, also holds in his or her hand a key.

The key fits one lock, and one lock only.

Most of us assume our key can unlock other peop…

Becoming a Better Person

One of my Lenten resolutions (well, actually, a New Year’s resolution, but that’s a different story) is to pray, on a daily basis, a prayer based on Ignatius of Loyola’s “examen of conscious.”

The “examen” encourages the person who is praying to search for the ways that God was present in the day-to-day events of our ordinary life.

At one point in the prayer, you’re encouraged to look back over the past 24 hours, recalling who you were with…what you said…how you might have been torn between different thoughts or courses of actions. In all this, you are to search for “the internal events of your heart.”

As the guide says, “Many situations will show that your heart was divided…moving between hope and hesitation, helping or disregarding, scoffing or encouraging, listening or ignoring, rebuking or forgiving, a word or silence, neglecting or thanking.”

I’ll say this: keeping that Lenten resolution -- to take a good honest look at the internal events of my heart -- is a heckuva lot more difficu…

Patience -- A Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Well, what a week it’s been!

We’ve seen record snowfalls in Loudoun County, resulting in all kinds of disruptions, including an “eleven-day weekend” for the schools, power outages, and two consecutive “record-low-attendance” Sundays.

A huge shout-out to all those for whom the snowfalls did not mean “Sabbath time” but who had to soldier on: those who work in grocery stores, gas stations, police and fire/rescue personnel, hospital staff, snowplow operators, and others.

As much as I love snow, I have to admit: it was nice to see the blue skies yesterday and today, and to see more and more folks emerging, digging out, and trying to return to normalcy.

But -- here’s your pastoral advice for the next few weeks -- keep in mind that it will be a long time before “normal” returns.

Even if school resumes next Tuesday, school buses and commuters will be sharing roads that are half or less their normal width, causing even greater congestion than normal. And with many sidewalks buried under chest-high …

Last Bag of Lettuce

Well! How can I not write about the snow?!

As I sit down to write this (early afternoon on Friday) the real snow is just starting, but if predictions are anything close to accurate, then tonight, we're in for what meteorological experts call "a real doozy."

Two thoughts about snowstorms:

First, snowstorms are disruptive. That's one of the reasons I love them so much.

Yes, to some people in some occupations, snowstorms cause a great deal of additional work and stress. But I suspect for most of us, snow days give us permission to do what our heart of hearts yearns to do: slow down the frenetic pace for a while...quit racing around...nestle in...chill out...give rest to our soul.

In other words, the disruptiveness can be enjoyed as "forced Sabbath time."

Most of us, I think, have lost the sense that the 4th Commandment -- to rest one day in seven -- is every bit as serious as the commandments against lying, stealing, adultery, and murder. We violate the commandment …