30-Day Gratitude Experiment

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
“A General Thanksgiving,” in The Book of Common Prayer

Will you join me?

For the next 30 days, I invite you to write each day in a notebook or journal or in a document on your computer at least 3 things for which you are grateful. Try not to miss even one day, but if you do, simply start again. Some of you may already do this, or have some other daily practice of gratitude. If so, simply continue! But some of you may be like me and practice gratitude more sporadically.  Now can be our time to set a new intention.

What’s the point of this, besides the fact that Thanksgiving is next week?

There are all kinds of studies being done on the power of the practice of gratitude. The positive benefits described in these studies are nothing short of amazing: better health, lower stress, better sleep, and greater capacity to deal with the very real challenges of life.

Over the past decade, science has shown that gratitude is one of the most valuable and important emotions we possess, and it is a virtue that anyone can cultivate. There are many ways to foster an attitude of gratitude, and research indicates that many of them really work to make life better for people, including the one I suggest we take on–the daily gratitude journal.

A few things to consider as we begin:

First, the important thing is the daily practice of expressing gratitude. Holidays like Thanksgiving are wonderful extravaganzas of gratitude, but according to the studies, it’s the small, daily practice that has the most positive, lasting effect.

Second, in the course of a month, as in the course of our lives, hard things will happen we don’t need to pretend we’re grateful for. When things are hard, it’s important to acknowledge that, to yourself, other people, and to God. But then, in the midst of the hardship, identify three things for which you are grateful–a supportive friend; good food; a hot shower in the morning.

Third, a side benefit of our gratitude practice, according to all the studies, is that we will become more generous and kind.  Out of a growing sense of blessing, we naturally want to be a blessing to others. That is a very good thing. But for now, what I encourage you to focus on is what the practice of gratitude does for you. I pray that this  30-day experiment will bring you joy.

For gratitude is one of the best antidotes for two of the most joy sapping conditions of our time: envy and anxiety. We’d be made of stone not to feel envious and anxious in this high achieving, high consumer driven culture. As a result we can lose sight of how much we have to be grateful for and–most important of all–what a gift it is to be alive, what a gift it is to be who we are.

In a month, I’ll reflect on the results of my experiment and ask you to do the same.

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Church Safety

The Rev. Dr. Maria A. Kane

The Rev. Dr. Maria Kane, rector of St. Paul’s in Waldorf, wrote a pastoral letter to the congregation that she has given me permission to share:

After Sunday’s tragic shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, we have been forced to confront a dreaded yet ever-present reality: Could this happen here? What would we do? Are we safe?

While I strongly believe that there is no need for panic within our congregation, I recognize that we live in a time and place when complacency is no longer an option. In response, I have established an Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT), which will be led by parishioner G.O. Lyon, retired Battalion Chief with the Arlington County Fire Department. With support from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Emergency Services, and the Diocese, the EPRT will assess our current needs and assets and create an appropriate emergency response plan.

Even as we seek to ensure the safety of our faith community, we will not give in to fear. Nor will we waver in our commitment to welcome and serve all God’s people with compassion and respect. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2). Indeed, Jesus calls us to nothing less.

I give thanks for Maria’s calm wisdom and unwavering faith. I share her conviction that this is not a time to give in to fear, nor to waver in our commitment to follow Jesus in the way of love. Yet I desperately want you all to be safe.

Thus while we all pray and work for a day when we need not live in fear of such violence, I urge you to consider safety measures within your congregation and to establish emergency response plans. In each jurisdiction of the diocese, civic authorities are eager to engage with congregations on safety issues. And we are here to help.

Maria ended her letter to the congregation with a word of love and encouragement, and a blessing for us all:

May God transform your fear into trust, your anger into action, and your exhaustion into hope. Above all, remember that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from God’s endless love.

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Blessed in All Things

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5.1

Years ago I presided at an outdoor wedding for the sister of one our friends in the neighborhood. It was joyous occasion, as weddings are. The reception took place in the same park as the ceremony, one celebration flowing seamlessly into the other.

As I mingled among a crowd of young adults I did not know, a lovely woman, standing by herself for much of the afternoon, approached me. She asked if we could speak, and we wandered away from the happy crowd. In tears, she told me she had been romantically involved with the groom for years. They had ended their relationship amicably, with mutual awareness that theirs was not a life-long relationship. They maintained a cordial, if distant friendship. She was surprised to receive a wedding invitation, but felt it was important to be there.

“Why am I so sad?” she asked. “I know we weren’t meant to marry, but my heart aches for who we once were to each other and for all that will never be.”

I consoled her as best I could. “Of course you’re sad,” I said. “You won’t always be, but there’s no need to will the sadness away. There’s a gift in the sadness, too.” I had once attended a similar wedding and knew something about grieving in the midst of joy.  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5.2

The passage known as “the Beatitudes,” a list of those whom Jesus declares as blessed, is filled with paradox and promise. Many whom he calls blessed may not feel that way in their current state: poor in spirit, in grief, with a hunger and thirst for a righteousness that remains unsatisfied. And while there is in each statement a promise of fulfillment, there is also the mystery of blessing in the midst of suffering infused, perhaps not with joy, but with a feeling of aliveness so powerful that it, in itself, is a gift.

There are three sacred occasions for which the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-11, is among the suggested readings: weddings, funerals, and the Feast of All Saints. In each, there is a recognition of the breadth and depth of human experience–for better, for worse; in sickness and in health; both sinner and saint.

“We do our people a great disservice,” a colleague said to me recently, “when we promise them only good things as a result of following Jesus.” Suffering cannot be avoided–it is as much a part of the human experience, and faith experience, as joy.

The suffering, we’re promised, will not last forever. Weeping may spend the night but joy comes in the morning. Two years later, I presided at the wedding of the woman who had approached me in tears and her new love.

But there can also be blessing in suffering, through the mystery of grace. How good it is, it’s often said, to have loved someone or something so deeply to feel the grief of loss.

And there is blessing in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessing in the longing itself and where it leads us.

There is blessing in acknowledging the rich complexity of each human life, that we are capable of both good and evil, and thus always called to a common humanity and acknowledgement of our reliance of grace.

This being human is a guest house,” writes the poet Rumi. “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. . . .Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

May that grace be real for you today and every day. May you feel the power of your blessedness in all things, even those–perhaps especially those–most costly gifts.


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Who Will We Be While We Do What We Do?

That was the question posed by Nancy Beach, one of the speakers at the Leadership Institute sponsored by the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City two months ago. It’s a question that strikes to the heart of our culture, our ways of being the church as we go about the tasks of ministry.

Nancy Beach, who works as a consultant for churches seeking to thrive and grow in ministry, said that what she looks for is the spiritual health of the leadership body. Because everything about the church community emanates from the quality and depth of relationships at the core.

She suggested the following indicators of spiritual health:

When healthy leaders gather, there is laughter in the room. They are able to relax and have fun with one another. They set aside time for celebration and renewal.  

The team’s joy is rooted in intensity and passion. All know why they are there and why they do what they do. Healthy teams believe they are making a difference. Leaders communicate a vision in a way that captures imagination and inspires engagement.  

Self awareness
All leaders have blind spots, she said, and tend to believe things are going better than others in the organization may experience. Healthy leadership teams routinely seek feedback and establish metrics of accountability.

As St. Paul writes in Romans 12, healthy leaders think of themselves with sober judgment, and know both their gifts and their limits.

Without trust, people are reluctant to invest. Trust is the fruit of character, when leaders are willing to be known, and to be consistent in values and action.  

Commitment to speak candidly
Ministry, Nancy Beach observed, is a series of difficult conversations. Healthy leaders cultivate an environment of openness and curiosity, asking others to speak their truths and committing to do the same in love.  

The closer I get to senior leadership, Nancy said, I hope to find genuine love–people willing to show up for one another, and genuinely care.

The first step toward greater spiritual health in leadership is simply asking the question, “How  are we doing?” On a scale of 1-5, how would we rate ourselves on these qualities?

Or to return to Nancy’s opening question, “Who will we be while we do what we do?”

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Prayer 201

What follows are excerpts from a sermon preached at St. Alban’s  Church,Washington DC on October 15, 2017.

One of the more challenging aspects of prayer is how to pray for other people and what we hope or imagine will happen as a result of our prayer. A lay leader from the diocese wrote me: “The great area of struggle for me is the petitionary aspect of prayer. I understand its necessity as an element of the relationship you describe, but, taken literally, it does suggest that God’s mind can be changed by our requests and that God is ready to perform particular acts for our benefit in response to those requests. That, for me, is the rub, because we know that so many pious and innocent people suffer so greatly when their prayers go unanswered.”

Haven’t you struggled with that very issue? It’s impossible to witness great suffering and not question what is possible through prayer.

But there’s another aspect of prayer, equally challenging, that I’d like to address first, which is the danger of prayer. I learned first hand of this danger at a young age, as I learn most things–the hard way.

The summer before my freshman year in high school, I was hired by one of my father’s business associates to care for her young children at their cabin in the mountains. I had a lot of anxiety, typical enough for a 15 year old girl: Would I be accepted in my new high school and able to make friends? Was I pretty enough to ever have a boyfriend? Did I have the right clothes to fit in?

That fateful summer, I would walk into town in the evenings, enter a particular store, and try clothes on that I could never afford. One night I slipped something I had tried on into my purse and walked out. The next night I did it again. And the next. And the next.

I knew what I was doing was wrong and I felt guilty. For penance, I would read a chapter from the Bible every night and pray for forgiveness. That pattern continued for some time: I would steal during the day and pray for forgiveness at night. I felt, if not invincible, somehow invisible, as if those prayers shielded me. I had no awareness that people were watching, biding their time.

Until one night the local sheriff came knocking at my host family’s door, accompanied by the store owner. As I stood before them, the heat of shame coursed through me. I was really scared. Later that night when I lay alone in my bedroom, I saw the Bible on my night table, and I felt exposed and ashamed before God.

Suffice to say that I paid for the clothes I had stolen and did further restitution to pay my debt to the community. It was a long, humiliating, yet also liberating process. Imagine what might have happened to me if I hadn’t been caught.

Though I didn’t yet have the language to describe it, I learned something important about prayer: God is not easily fooled and cannot be manipulated. There’s a line in Psalm 50 that sums up how I felt God speaking to me in that moment: “These things you have done, and I kept still and you thought I am like you.”

Years later I would encounter the same truth expressed in prophetic literature. Hear these words, spoken by God through the prophet Amos: “I hate, I despise your festivals and take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” He’s talking about our worship. “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Take away for me the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

Jesus was also clear that God is not one to be toyed with. God is not an extension of our whims and preference, and certainly cannot be contained in the boxes of our self deception. And if we persist in our self deceptions long enough, our worlds will come crashing down. The consequences are not what God wants for us, but nor will we be spared them.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson once and for all as a teenager, but sadly, whenever and wherever in my life I am not yet able to face the truth, I pray within the confines of my self imposed blindness. God knows that, and while God has compassion, the process of answered prayer in those situations will always be painful before it is liberating. The truth will set us free, but first it will cut like a knife through the bubbles we’ve created to maintain the illusions we’re not ready to relinquish.

In some areas of our common life we are seeing the consequences of our collective determination to remain in our sin. We pray to be spared the consequences, and for others to be spared, but we are not yet ready to change our behavior.

We cannot blithely pray to be spared the consequences of our sin while we keep on sinning. For God is always on the side of truth, wherever truth lies. We must seek the truth even when it hurts. And when the walls of our illusions come crashing down, God is there, working among those who offer comfort, consolation, mercy. God is with us in our suffering, even at our own hand. But God will not collude with us in self deception and self imposed blindnesses. God cannot spare us when we deliberately close our eyes and refuse to see, but God will be there to pick up the pieces.

Which leads me to the ways we pray with and for one another.

Let me begin with an affirmation of faith: God is at work in the world, and at work in and through human beings. In the words of theologian Marjorie Suchocki, God is always at work in the world to bring about good within the context of the world’s own power, which is revealed to us through careful observation and study of science, mathematics, and more.

God is at work within us, within the context of our own freedom and capacities. We are free to align our creative power with God’s and we are free to resist. But as Suchocki writes, we cannot eliminate God. We cannot defeat God, nor can we rid ourselves of divine presence. As St. Paul audaciously declared from his prison cell: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. (Romans 8:39)

In our sin, we often distort God’s creative power. Alternatively, inspired by grace, we can open ourselves to God, become co-laborers with God, and experience our capacity for love amplified by God’s creative presence. When we do, we give God more to work with.

That’s why God wants to us pray for ourselves and one another–not because God needs to be flattered or appeased, nor because God needs reminding of what needs to be done or can be moved to change His mind. I think we’re the ones who change. Then the possibilities for God change when we choose to join our energies with divine love in order to bring a preferred future into being.

We change the equations of possibility when we pray for one another. There is more creative possibility as a result of our prayers. But along with prayer must come a willingness to act upon what we receive in prayer, whatever that may be. So our most fruitful prayers, in terms of actions, are prayers that are combined with a willingness to be proximate.  

When we pray from a distance, the distance has an impact both on our knowledge of the complexities of the situation and what needs to be done, and our ability to engage as a result of our prayer. Thus one of the most important decisions we make in praying for others is our positioning as we pray. And the choices we make when we’re not praying affect the efficacy of our prayers.

And so I encourage you to pray, with and for one another. Remember the power of prayer; be mindful of the dangers of prayer. Pray aloud, pray in the silence of your heart, pray sometimes, as Rabbi Abraham Heschel described his prayer while walking with Dr. King on the road to Selma, with your feet. Remember that God always wants more for you than God asks from you, that God loves you and is deeply moved whenever you respond with love in return.


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More Thoughts on Prayer

These are excerpts from a sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport. I’ll continue this series on prayer both in these writings and in the pulpit.

Today I would like to talk to you about prayer.

How we pray to God depends a great deal on our image of God. When we pray, with whom do we imagine are we communicating? Our experiences–or lack–of God come into play. So does our sense of wonder and gratitude. We must factor in how we are affected by suffering, and what we believe about God in relationship to suffering. Finally, how we pray depends upon what we imagine is possible as a result of prayer.

In the Episcopal Church, we say a lot of prayers. Most we read from the Book of Common Prayer, a book designed to be the repository of prayers we pray in common, as one people, and also a collection of prayers for various occasions.

I love our prayers–to pray them in worship and on my own. But because we pray them from a book, we risk mimicking words without considering what we hope for in relationship to God. This can leave us with the impression that we can only pray with a book in our hand. That’s not true, of course, but we can understand how anyone of us could get that impression.

Jesus prayed “by the book,” or more accurately, by the scroll. We have his prayer book, so to speak, embedded in our own, for Jesus prayed with the psalms of ancient Judaism. The psalms are an astonishing collection of prayers, giving expression to the full range of human emotions. In praying with them ourselves, we’re encouraged to speak with equal candor before God, without censuring our emotions and thoughts.

Jesus also prayed on his own. He would go away for stretches of time on his own and pray late into the night or early in the morning. He prayed with and for other people. And he prayed with his actions. The great Jewish leader, Abraham Joshua Heschel, said of the time he walked  alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the now famous March to Selma, “I felt as if my feet were praying.” Jesus prayed a lot with his feet.

My hope is simply to encourage you in prayer, and remind you to think of prayer in the broadest possible terms. You don’t need a book to pray or think of prayer as something you only do in church.

The Apostle Paul, in one his letters, writes this: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6-7)

When Jesus prayed, he addressed God using an intimate familial word  for parent–Abba–that could be translated as “pappa” or even “daddy.” He encouraged his disciples to do the same, giving an image for God of unconditional parental love. Think of the father in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, the one waiting anxiously to welcome his wayward son home, running to meet and embrace him on the road.

At his last supper with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I call you friends. You are my friends.” (John 15:1)

So whenever you approach God in prayer, imagine yourself before a spiritual parent who loves you unconditionally, or a friend who has only your best interest at heart and wants to know all that both burdens and delights you.

You needn’t ever worry that you’re not good enough, or can’t find the words, or the image of God you carry isn’t the right one. St. Paul assures us that even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit of God dwelling within us prays on our behalf  “with sighs too deep for words.”

In an introductory course on the Christian faith known as Alpha, pastor Nicky Gumbel makes three suggestions for prayer.

Keep it real. Be honest with yourself and with God. Remember the prayer with which we begin nearly every Sunday worship service: “O God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” Acknowledging that God knows our secrets signals that we know they are there, too, and that we’re open to divine presence and mercy.

Keep it simple. When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them the words we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a short and simple prayer. The writer Anne Lamott suggests that we can live most of our lives on three prayers alone: help, thanks, wow.

Keep it up. We can pray anywhere, anytime–as we walk, commute to work, when we can’t fall asleep at night, in conversation with loved ones and those we struggle to love. I relish even a few minutes a day of what Bill Hybels calls “chair time,” sitting in silence, a candle lit beside me, reflecting on a word from Scripture or offering what’s on my heart and mind, and listening for whatever God might choose to say to me.

Next week I will focus on why and how we pray for others, and what we can expect to change as a result of our praying.


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Thoughts on Prayer

Thoughts on Prayer

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray. . .”
Luke 11:1

I was among those who publicly stated, in response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.”  Since then, I can’t stop thinking about prayer, and what it means to say that in certain situations prayer is insufficient. Perhaps it isn’t that prayer itself is insufficient, but rather our understanding of prayer.

I’ve been reading a book on prayer, Talking with God: What to Say When You Don’t Know How to Pray by Adam Weber, at United Methodist pastor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, whom I heard speak l at the Church of the Resurrection’s  Leadership Institute last week. What I love is his honesty about the struggles of prayer, his own and that of those who dare to confess to him that they don’t know how to pray.

“We throw ‘praying’ around a lot,” Weber says. “A tragedy will happen and we say ‘We’re praying for you,’ and ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” So obviously, everybody else knows how to pray, right? It’s almost like an acquaintance that you’ve hung out with time and again. After a certain point, it’s too late to ask what the person’s name is without its being awkward.I feel like that’s what it is with prayer. It’s like “I have no idea, but I can’t ask the question.”

I’m going to devote this Sunday’s sermon to the topic of prayer, with special focus on how we pray for others in times of crisis, both personal and societal. For now, here are Scripture passages and resources for your own reflection.

When I spoke this week of the insufficiency of prayer alone, I was thinking of the New Testament passage found in the Letter of James which warns us against faith without works:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? . . . If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and and eat your fill’ and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
James 2: 14-17

And also the words of the prophet Amos, through which God addresses the people of Israel:

I hate, I despise your festivals and take no delight in your solemn assemblies, . . .Take away from me the noise of your song; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and the righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  
Amos 5:21, 23-24.

But I do not mean to disparage prayer as understood in the most intimate way we converse with God.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him how they were to pray, he encouraged the most simple, intimate conversation, and suggested words we refer as the Lord’s prayer. Certainly that is where we can all begin, as our Presiding Bishop encouraged us in his response to the Las Vegas shootings.

St. Paul also encourages us in prayer, saying we needn’t worry about finding the right words:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27.

Such was a prayer that Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed during the loneliest days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

Lord, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.

And here are words from the theologian Marjorie Suchocki on the power of prayer from both God’s perspective and ours:

We are taught in our tradition that God bids us to pray, invites us to pray, inspires us to pray. God’s call to us to pray is neither whimsical nor irrelevant to God’s work in the world. It is not a manner of receiving compliments, nor is it a reminder service informing God of what needs to be done in the world. Rather prayer is God’s invitation to us to be willing partners in the great dance of bringing a world into being that reflects something of God’s character.

Can it be that God needs us to pray when God needs resources, when God needs more to work with to bring about God’s kingdom?  “Christ has no body here but ours,” St. Teresa reminds us. “Ours are the hands with which he works; ours the feet on which he moves; ours the eyes with which looks upon this world with kindness.”


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Dr. Brené Brown to Speak at Washington National Cathedral

Stop walking through the world looking for evidence that you don’t belong because you will always find it. You don’t negotiate belonging externally; you carry it in your heart. No one belongs here more than you.
Brené Brown


Dr. Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown begins her newest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, with characteristic vulnerability:

“When I start writing, I inevitably feel myself swallowed by fear.”

The antidote to her fear, she tells us, is to seek inspiration from those with tenacious courage. Among those she turns to: J.K.Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, author and activist bell hooks, Oprah Winfrey, and–at the top of the list–Maya Angelou.

What Brené Brown seeks, she also gives. She is one many of us turn to when in need of inspiration and courage. Her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is among the top five most watched, with over 31,000, 000 views. The titles of her books alone are enough to invoke our innate strength and resilience: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong.  

On Sunday October 1, we’re blessed to have Dr. Brown as preacher and forum speaker at Washington National Cathedral. Thanks to the streaming and online services of the Cathedral, those who can’t be present in person can watch either on Sunday morning or anytime at your convenience.

Brown defines true belonging as:

The spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

While her writing is profoundly personal, the social implications are high. As she told Joshua Johnson on WETA’s radio show The 1A, “It turns out you can’t write a book on connection and belonging without being really honest about how difficult it is today, given the level of vitriol and mean spiritedness.”

Brown is unflinching in her sober assessment of the spiritual crisis of disconnectedness of our time. “The world feels high lonesome and broken to me right now,” she writes. “We’ve sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We’ve turned away from each other and toward blame and rage.”

Yet Braving the Wilderness is full of great stories, humor, and specific ways we can find our true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Her sermon and forum presentation are sure to be full of the same.

We’ll also have the opportunity to learn how faith informs her life and work. Brené Brown is a Christian and active member of Christ Episcopal Cathedral in Houston. She and her family have been deeply involved in rescue and relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

Join us in person or online as we welcome Brené Brown and draw inspiration from joyful presence and hard won wisdom. “The price of true belonging is high,” she warns us in advance, “but the reward is great.”


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What Matters Most

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

Some of the most helpful life rules are counter-intuitive, in that they invite us to go in the opposite direction from where we assume we’re supposed to go, or must go given the circumstances we’re facing and the demands before us.

One my favorite examples of this comes from the author and journalist Sara Miles. In her 20s, Miles worked as an assistant to a short order cook in one of the busiest restaurants in New York City. Things in the kitchen could get really intense, with as many as a hundred orders coming through in a matter of minutes. The cook, a seemingly ageless man who had worked in kitchens all his life, had a series of rules for the kitchen’s staff. And one of them was: when things get busy, slow down.  

“You gotta go slow to move fast,” he’d say when Sara and the others were inclined to panic under the pressure and respond with speed. Why is slowing down a good idea when things get busy? Because when you start running in a crowded kitchen with a lot on your mind, you’re far more likely to drop a plate of dishes, spill a vat of boiling oil, slip on wet floor.

Where else is such a life rule helpful? I was on my way to a meeting in Southern Maryland, running, as usual, about 15 minutes late. And what was I tempted to do?  Drive faster–way beyond the speed limit. I had to say to myself, “Better to arrive late, Mariann, than not arrive at all.” When it’s busy, slow down. When you’re running late, stick to the speed limit.

Here’s another counter-intuitive life rule, made famous by then-First Lady Michelle Obama, as she described how her family coped with personal attacks made by political adversaries: When they go low, we go high.  

There are many of versions of this one, all calling us to take the proverbial higher ground, “I shall never allow myself to stoop of low as to hate any person,” said Booker T. Washington. Why not? For his own soul’s sake. Moreover, as a way of combatting the evil in the world, hatred on our part often serves to give evil more energy to work with: “Hate cannot drive out hate,” Martin Luther King, Jr. would say. “Only love can do that.” We hear such counter-intuitive teachings throughout the New Testament:  “Render to no one evil for evil.” “When someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek as well.”  

Here’s one more re-directing life rule: When you’re feeling pulled in a thousand different directions at once, tend to the one or two things that nourish your soul. Said another way, when the demands of your life and the pressures of this world  have the effect of scattering your thoughts and energies, leaving you perennially exhausted, go deeper with those few things that matter most.

What matters most to you?

I’d like to make a case for the priceless value of your local church. I believe, as Bill Hybels once said, that the local church–your local church–is the hope of the world. I expand on the reasons why the church is of priceless values here, but for now, I give what is probably the most important reason of all: We are Christ’s body in the world.   

Quoting St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body here but ours
No hand and feet here, on earth, but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he look on this world with kindness.
Ours are the hands through which he works, ours the feet on which he moves.
Ours are the voices through which he speak to this world with kindness.

What could be more important?

So remember: when things get busy, slow down. When others go low, go high. When you feel yourself scattered and spread thin, focus on those things that matter most. And never forget that we are Christ’s body in the world.

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
So let us go now, filled with the Spirit, into his world with kindness.


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When Walking by Faith

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
Exodus 12: 1

We often say, for good reason, that September is the first month of the year for us, marking  the season of beginnings and beginning again. This September, for many, marks the beginning of a new reality  brought on by unexpected events. Certainly that’s true for those whose lives have been forever changed by wind, rain, and fire. Perhaps it’s true for you, due to circumstances beyond your control or because a new opportunity has suddenly presented itself. It’s true for me.

In the first days of a new reality, it’s comforting to remember disorientation is normal. We’re not expected to know the path forward right away. Rather, it’s a time for faith, asking God to illumine our path and inviting Jesus to be our companion and guide. It’s a time to pay attention to our intuition alongside our logic; and to seek the wisdom of others who have walked the path we find ourselves on.

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation for September 7, writes:

I came out of the seminary in 1970 thinking that my job was to have an answer for every question. What I’ve learned is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is—surprise of surprises—a deeper way of knowing and a deeper falling into compassion. . . Maybe that is why Jesus praised faith even more than love;  Yes, love is the final goal but ever deeper trust inside of darkness is the path for getting there.

Whatever this “first month of the year,” means for you, I pray God’s blessing and tender mercies. And I encourage us all to tend to the spiritual practices that are particularly helpful whenever we’re called to walk by faith and not by sight. Here are three tried and true practices:

  • Taking  time each day for silence and intentional prayer. It’s astonishing how nourishing even a few minutes of prayer can be. If you have a prayer practice, be faithful to it. If you need one, try something as simple as sitting in a chair and reading the stories and teachings of Jesus. I’m personally inspired by the example of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who prays with the daily office of Scripture readings.  I strive to do the same.
  • Being faithful in Sunday worship. I know that Sundays can be crowded with competing demands, and that church can sometimes feel like work. But the gifts of Christian community and the grace available to us when we show up to pray, be fed at Jesus’ table, and play our part in the body of Christ are priceless.


  • Finding ways each day to be of service to others. One of the surest ways to experience blessing is to be a blessing to other people. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us all, “Christ has no body on earth but ours. Ours are the hands through which he works; ours the feet on which he walks; ours the voices through which he speaks to this world in kindness.”


I’m grateful to live in Christian community with you and look forward to this new year, with all its challenges and opportunities. We needn’t have the answer for every question. I certainly don’t. But I place my trust in Christ who is within, beside, and among us all. And I trust the Holy Spirit, whose power working in and through us can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.


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