Texas Tuesday: At the Baseball Game

Friday, June 12, was Episcopal Night with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. As you can plainly see in this photograph, I tried to take a family selfie at the baseball game, but there was a couple two rows behind us who photobombed each attempt. Actually, that was Roger Hutchison, the new Director of Christian Formation and Parish Life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, and his wife Kristin. The Astros, by the way, routed the Seattle Mariners that night 10-0.


On the Eucharist

Eucharist is a Greek word that means thanksgiving. It’s the sacrament that was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, when he took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave them to his friends. He said to those disciples, “This is my body . . . given for you. . . . This is my blood . . . shed for you.” The holy meal at which Christians remember those words is also known as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

At Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, the celebration of the Eucharist is especially beautiful on Sunday mornings. Parts of the prayer in which the words of Jesus are spoken over bread and wine are chanted. One of our worship services each week uses incense. It engages the senses and, more importantly, symbolizes the prayers of the faithful, as described in Psalm 141: “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense . . .” When I’m watching someone else preside at that liturgy, and the incense rises slowly through shafts of light that are radiating down on the altar, other words come to mind from Psalm 96: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness . . .” The outstanding voices of the choir and sound of the organ add to that beauty, lifting up our hearts to contemplate the divine presence in our midst.

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina and Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, talks about the Eucharist in this short video. The story that he shares at the beginning of it points to the power of the Eucharist to create a community of love in a broken world. Although set in the 1940s, his story, sadly, appears just as relevant today as we reflect on the nine martyrs of “Mother Emanuel” AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, debates over flags and other symbols of the Confederacy and of the legacy of chattel slavery in America, and rising tensions between police departments and African American communities across the nation. Most of the time, the daily news reports that burden our hearts seem too distant from the beauty of the Eucharist that I described above. That’s because the Eucharist invites us into something “more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare,” to borrow a favorite phrase of Presiding Bishop-elect Curry. All of us need beauty in our lives, especially when there seems to be precious little of it in the world around us or in the world around our neighbors. So here’s some:

Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry


The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, was today elected to become the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He was elected to serve in that position for the next nine years by the House of Bishops on the first ballot with 121 out of 174 votes. That election was then confirmed by the House of Deputies — comprised of priests, deacons, and laity — with a vote of 800 to 12. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which is currently meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a triennial, bicameral legislative body that is comprised of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, both representing 110 dioceses.

Quite frankly, I’m thrilled about this election! When the Presiding Bishop-elect was invited to come to the House of Deputies and bring a word of greeting, he said:

This is the Church where I was baptized as a baby. . . . This is the Church where I learned about Jesus. . . . The Church has challenges before it but we have a God and there really is a Jesus. We are part of the Jesus movement, and nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world. Nothing.

Presiding Bishop-elect Curry is known for his inspirational preaching both within and beyond the boundaries of the Episcopal Church. Here’s a little taste for you:

Haiku Friday: Team Building

IMG_4410It’s staff development day at the zoo for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Seriously, this morning I was with my staff at the Houston Zoo, which is just steps away from our church. [At this point right here, of course, it would be appropriate to insert an ecclesiastical joke.]

Today wasn’t about brainstorming ideas for the future or pondering a calendar. It was an exercise in having fun together. But I did see this poster in a conference room there. Perhaps all churches should, at a very minimum, adopt zoo norms!

Perhaps you’ve been dragged to a brainstorming session or retreat at a conference center with your work colleagues. Maybe you had to choose what color of Post-it notes would highlight your brilliance as everyone slaps them on the wall to build a kaleidoscope of opinions. Maybe you put on safety gear and, with your heart racing out of control, stepped off a high platform on a zip line. Maybe you were merely given a box of crayons and glitter and glue and told to express yourself creatively.

11012586_1182612821764244_1621432464102571515_nMost of us have been there. Whether you loved it or hated it, this is your chance to write a haiku about that team-building experience. All your one verse needs is five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:

This giraffe has read
the Houston Zoo norms: “Assume
positive intent.”


Texas Tuesday: Ordinations

This past Saturday, at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, I witnessed ordinations in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas for the first time. That morning nine men and women were ordained as deacons. For some, that ministry of servanthood and being sent out into the world to help all of us respond to its needs will be their vocation. For others, however, it is a path that will lead to a different vocation in the months ahead, when, God willing, the Bishop will ordained them as priests.


One of those persons who is called to be a priest is Alex Easley, pictured below with me at the reception that followed Saturday’s diaconal ordinations. The Bishop has appointed her to serve for two years as a curate on the staff of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, beginning in August. During that time, Alex will learn about the priesthood not only through her experiences at Palmer but also with her peers who will be curates at other congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.


The festivities continued with a gathering at the original Goode Company Barbeque on Kirby Drive. As usual, there was lots of smoked meat, including beef brisket and Czech sausage, plenty of side orders to go with it, and, of course, cowboy boots.


Haiku Friday: Hymns

Eighteen years ago this month, I was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. So my heart grieves over this week’s awful news from the City of Charleston, where nine people — all of them African-Americans — were murdered in a racially motivated shooting at Emanuel AME Church. They had been attending a Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting, which was the same kind of mid-week gathering I went to as a teenager in my home state of North Carolina.

Last night my wife Carrie wrote a reflection about this sickening violence and why we take both ourselves and our children to church. I really hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read it by clicking this link to her blog. She wept at the dinner table because we had just watched a video, which you can see below, from yesterday’s gathering of hundreds of people in Charleston at Morris Brown AME Church. They came there, in the shadow of death, to pray together and sing hymns like this one:

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O, may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

Those words have stayed with me through the night. Hymns do that sometimes. This week’s haiku theme, therefore, is about the words and the hymn tunes that have shaped us. Perhaps they have expressed beautifully the faith that is in us or the faith that we have rejected or the faith that we would very much like to have — and long to have — but don’t. Try to say something about that in one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. This is what has been on my mind in the midst of so much sorrow:

I stand on the Rock,
but I don’t stand there alone.
No one ever does.

Texas Tuesday: Tropical Storm Bill

Mr. Bill’s Tropocalypse, in the end, turned out to be more of a potential threat than an actual one here in Houston. But it will continue to rain through the night, and — before the first raindrop fell this week — the ground was already saturated from recent flooding. Folks to the west of Houston were more directly affected by it.

Below is a photo of Tropical Storm Bill from the International Space Station (ISS) as it approached the Gulf Coast of Texas. That photo was taken by NASA’s Scott Kelly, an astronaut who is spending an entire year aboard the ISS. It’s humbling, really.


Haiku Friday: TV Personalities

CHPaY-3VIAADffbYesterday Texas-born, “pro wrestler” Dusty Rhodes (a.k.a. “The American Dream”) died. Over on Twitter, Ric Flair (a.k.a. “The Nature Boy”) referred to Rhodes as a mentor and expressed love both for Rhodes and for his family.

My previous congregation was located in Edina, Minnesota, which happens to be Flair’s childhood home. Fake-sports-oriented Episcopalians will surely remember him as the most stylish “pro wrestler” of the 70s and 80s.  Flair is looking away from the camera in this photograph in the ring with Rhodes.

It’s shocking to me — not really — that so many red-blooded Americans have never heard of “The Nature Boy” and his professional colleagues. I suppose this was what passed as so-called reality TV when I was a kid. Here’s a bit of what they’ve missed:

While it might not include “The Nature Boy” or “The American Dream,” most of us have a list of various personalities on TV that we’ve come to know, in a sense, over the years. These are characters that we admire, hate, pity, feel kinship with, laugh at, etc. Let’s write haiku about them since that’s our theme for this week. Just use five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. You can even share it here as a comment. And have fun, like I did:

“The Nature Boy” — whoo!
Stylin’ and profilin’ — whoo!
Heavyweight champ — whoo!

Texas Tuesday: Christ the King Lutheran Church

It’s been a great joy, during my first year in Houston, to meet each month with the heads of the faith communities around Rice University. Those faith communities include not only my congregation but also Congregation Emanu El in the Reform Judaism tradition, First Christian Church in the Disciples of Christ tradition, and Christ the King Church in the Lutheran tradition. Our people share the same neighborhood. It’s where we believe God is already at work, already present, walking beside people of faith and non-faith alike, asking all of us the same question from the Book of Genesis that was read in the liturgy at both Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and Christ the King Lutheran Church last Sunday: “Where are you?”

In fact, I was the guest preacher on Sunday morning at Christ the King Lutheran Church and used as my sermon text the passage from the third chapter of Genesis that includes that first question from God in the Bible. Literally, I was “in church.” But it’s really a bigger question than that, of course, asking us where we are in our life and in relationship with “the giver of life,” as the Nicene Creed says.


It was wonderful, therefore, to witness the baptism of a baby in this font, after my sermon, during that same liturgy. Just like my own children, she was brought to the font as she was born — naked. There she was bathed in forgiveness and, as she was lifted out of that living water, clothed in Christ and adopted into God’s household.

As you reflect on God’s first question in the Bible, imagine not dodging it with half-truths but saying boldly — if you have also emerged from the same living water as that baby — that where you are is with God in Christ. And because you are with God in Christ, you can be honest about your own brokenness and about our collective failure to become master gardeners who tend the world that God has made and entrusted to our care. That includes humanity, too, as part of the divine creation. Imagine your faith being awakened today to care for nature, east of Eden, because the outstretched arms of the Crucified One have embraced you with love and forgiveness and acceptance, leading you, even now, back to your spiritual home.

Haiku Friday: Farewells

A priest, a pastor, and a minister walk into a bar. Actually, it was a nice restaurant. There we had a last supper with our friend and colleague, a rabbi who has served as the interim at Congregation Emanu El in Houston, Texas. He’s the one in the photo below with a halo (i.e., the spotlight shining on him). May the Lord’s face continue to shine on him as he returns to New York. We, the heads of faith communities around Rice University, will miss him deeply. It was sad and joyful at the same time.


Farewells can be hard. One year ago, my family and I had just arrived in Texas. We had said goodbye to wonderful friends and a great church in Minnesota. This week someone else is doing the same thing with his family — heading out from South Carolina to move here and join our staff at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Later this summer, a priest will say goodbye to his congregation in Pennsylvania, then he will be welcomed by my previous congregation in Minnesota. Also to be welcomed will be, God willing, a newly ordained transitional deacon, who, having left her seminary community as a graduate, will come to Palmer as our third full-time member of the clergy. There will be lots of comings and goings, including, of course, the arrival of a new rabbi for the synagogue by Rice University.

So it seems appropriate for this week’s haiku theme to be farewells. Some are known far in advance. Others are surprises. Some are filled with tears of joy. Others are filled with tears of pain. Whatever the case may be, write about it in one verse of poetry with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Mine was inspired by theologian Jürgen Moltmann:

“In [ev’ry] end a
new beginning lies hidden.”
This I believe too.

Texas Tuesday: Commencement

Last August, on the first day of classes at Archway Academy for the 2014-15 school year, I wrote a post called “Grace in Addiction.” Archway Academy, as I described it in that previous reflection, is a high school that’s located on the campus of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and was “established in 2003 by concerned parents and adolescent addiction recovery experts who recognized the need for a school that was dedicated to supporting teens in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or dependency.” Its commencement took place last night in the church, which, as you can see in this photo, was already packed 30 minutes before the ceremony began.


This is Archway Academy’s Executive Director, Sasha McLean, as she announces the name of the student who received the Greg Hambrick Leadership Award.


Incense isn’t the only thing that rises into the air at this church. Graduation caps are tossed high too. Both the incense and those caps, however, represent the prayers of many people. These brand new graduates of Archway Academy might never know just how many. Last night I prayed for them, too, at the invocation.


The words of this prayer, which I offered at the beginning of this commencement, were slightly modified from a blessing in Prayers from the Heart: The Sacred Heart University Prayer Book (Fairfield: Sacred Heart University Press, 2002):

God of wisdom, bless these students who will walk out the doors of this church tonight as graduates of Archway Academy — students whose hearts you have fashioned for beauty and grace. Bless those who love them and those who have guided them to this holy time and place and to this holy community that has created a learning environment for adolescents in recovery. Call these students to discovery, to seek their truest self, to fall in love with wisdom and claim her as their wealth. Send them forth in knowledge, with your teachings and the teachings they have received on this campus as their guide. Watch over them, protect them, and walk always by their side. Amen.