Father Harrison’s Blog

Walk on by.

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Posted on: April 10th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Something I thought I would never own is a treadmill.  Never say “never.”  I know plenty of folks who own one and I’m quick to ask them how long it took before their treadmill was converted into a coat, shirt or pants rack, or a clothes drying rack; you know, the thing you hang your delicate-hand washable items on rather than over the shower curtain rod?  I take some consolation in the truth that I did not go out and purchase our treadmill.  We inherited it.   A priest colleague and spiritual brother, priest of the parish neighboring my most recent-past parish, purchased the thing.  Announcing he had no plans to move it, (was leaving it behind as he prepared to move), we hauled it home, and it sat in the enclosed back porch of our little rental house for some 9 months, without a foot treading upon it.  I hung a coat on it one day, and said a prayer of reconciliation that I’d be forgiven for all the tongue-in-cheek remarks I made to other well-meaning and potential exercisers who lay their robes on their treadmills, blocking their pathway to better health. Truth be said, our treadmill would not work after its long haul to our house. “It’s not getting power to its motor,” I said, “Perhaps it’s the fuse.”  I removed the fuse, studied it carefully, set it down, and let a couple more months go by.  After a trip across town to the Sears Repair and Parts Store, the fuse was ordered.  I forget why I waited so long to get one. The fuse was delivered through the mail, and the delivery fee cost more than the fuse.   “I have the fuse,” I announced arriving home from the post office one afternoon.  Within minutes we were on our hands and knees trying to remember where it was supposed to fit.  “There, it fits,” I said, attaching the fuse to the only loose wires I could find, “Plug it in and let’s see what happens.”  “You’re a genius,” She declared, “It works!”  “Blast,” I thought to myself, “It works.” A couple of hours of shuffling “back porch stuff” around, She set our “walking shoes” next to the “rare-‘n to go” treadmill.   “We have a nice view of the back yard, we don’t have to dodge traffic, there’s no need to bundle up, and we could both use the exercise,” She said, with great enthusiasm.  “Yes, you’re right,” I replied, noticing there are already hooks on the walls of the porch to hang plenty of coats and shirts and pants on. One afternoon, a few days later, I stepped into and laced up my walking shoes, set my trusty mount’s speed on “minimum” and began walking – to nowhere.  My mind went back about 12 years ago when I kept a membership at a health club.  There I was in the proper exercise clothes, real running shoes, about 20 pounds lighter, pushing up the speed on a treadmill (way beyond minimum) to keep up with the other fit people there. Some listening to music through a headset, some reading a book propped in front of them, some watching a bank of televisions hanging from the ceiling; CNN, stock market reports, Oprah, As the World Turns.   About 3 minutes into my “walk to nowhere” I thought, “This is too boring,” stopped the thing, got off and went looking for a book.  I grabbed my Book of Common Prayer, remounted the thing, re-set its speed to “minimum” and opened my prayer book to page 585: Psalm 1.  It read, “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,* nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!   It reminded me that we all have been on a walk these past few Lenten weeks. We have been walking with Jesus, in and around the “counsel of the wicked” (those plotting against him).  He has led us into the path of sinners and non-believers where he taught, and healed, and preached, and resurrected, but we did not linger; he gave his message and moved us on.  We have celebrated his birth, witnessed his baptism, his Transfiguration, became his followers; all the while others along the way scorned him, held him and us in contempt, sneered at him.  We promised to follow.  He set his face on Jerusalem, dragged us along with him, we have seen some powerful stuff.   This coming Palm Sunday morning we will follow him triumphantly into Jerusalem shouting and singing, “Hosanna in the Highest; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” only to suddenly blend into the crowd ourselves, and for or own safety’s sake we will shout with the others, “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED – CRUCIFY HIM!!!!  How could we, how could we?  How could we so quickly turn and walk with those who plotted against him, mingle among those who do his teachings harm, did him harm, sit among those who mock him, even deny we know him?  How could we.  So its one more walk along the road with Jesus again, and it’s not leading to nowhere after-all.  What he was telling us all along is true after all.  He was handed over, and he is dragging a cross, (his cross), along the road to the hill shaped like a skull where they crucify criminals for all to see. “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,* nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful.  Happy are they, who just walked away.

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“When You’re Nobody’s Child.”

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Posted on: March 27th, 2014 by Father Harrison

This is the time of year I often take stock of what’s going on inside my head, almost to the point of considering a whole-life overhaul.  My checking-in with myself has nothing to do with the late-winter blues, the Ides of March, mud season, or my favorite trout stream being yet a little to cold to stand in.  It is not the effect of the Worm Moon (the traditional name for the full moon of March), or disappointment with any perceived failure at keeping a particular Lenten discipline.  This time of each year the death of my parents, and a deeper recollection that they are gone, intensifies a sudden need to take some control of my own aging process.  Becoming “nobody’s child,” losing both mother and father was a turning point in my adult life.  Sharon Begley wrote a short essay in the April 3, 2000, publication of Newsweek magazine titled “When You’re Nobody’s Child.” After reading it I cut it out and have since kept it where I can find it.  She wrote the death of a parent(s), hits the baby-boomer generation harder because we came of age in a “period of optimism and unlimited horizons.”  And we know our parents “worked hard” to create that sense of optimism and unlimited horizons that they did not have.  My dad died first; twenty five years ago this month.  A victim of cancer, he was only sixty-eight years old.  Mom missed him so much she kept his clothing in his closet for nearly a year after he died.  One day over lunch she announced she was getting rid of his things that week.  “A new boy-friend moving in,” I quipped?  After pausing for a moment she put down her fork, folded her hands and replied, “No, I’ve smelled his scent out of all his clothing, I’m ready to let them go.”  We sat in silence for what seemed like a long time. With our appetites gone, we left the table and together emptied his closet and dresser drawers, folding and packing it all up in a reverent silence.  Three years later, Mom was diagnosed with cancer; she died at home within two years.   After she was gone, I joked about being an orphan until I read Begley’s essay and it really set in that I was indeed “nobody’s child.”  The people who knew me best, loved me unconditionally, the two who created me out of their love and knew my earliest history by heart, were gone.  Begley went on to write that baby-boomers have a ‘habit’ of turning every one of life’s milestones into a “consciousness-raising opportunity.”  Yep, that’s me.  My consciousness regarding life soars every March.  Dad’s death came in March, his death was my first brush with the death of someone I knew intimately, and I was with him when he died suddenly and without warning.  Because of my vocations in life, first as caregiver, now priest and pastor, people said over and over, “It was so good that you were with him when he died.”  No one said, “I’m so sorry you were alone with him when he died, that must have been awful.”  Standing there at his bedside, with no one between me and his grave, death came as too much of a shock to be smoothed over by a belief or fantasy of afly-fishing-picture scriptural promise of immortality.  I recall that now, every time I stand in vigil with a family for their dying loved one.  Death is awful, and we are all left wondering about life after death.  It’s enough to make one take stock of what’s going on in their head, even consider a whole-life overhaul.  During one beside vigil a few years ago, I asked a dying nursing home patient I had gotten to know well if there was anything I could do for her before I left for the day.  Propped up in her bed, wearing a frilly bed jacket, with her thick, wavy, snow white hair brushed and combed flawlessly as to be beyond criticism, she motioned me closer and whispered to me, “I’d like just a taste of a Pina Colada.”  I looked over my shoulder and behind me in the direction of her two daughters.  Both had their hands folded and eyes closed thinking their mother and I were praying.  I whispered back, “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”  ”I’ll get rid of them,” she said.  “A pina colada in a plastic cup with a lid and straw to go; hold the little umbrella,” I told the barkeep at Caddy’s, my local pub.  “It will be hard to plead ‘no I wasn’t’ drinking and driving officer’ with this one Hare, said the barkeep.”  “It’s a medicinal pina colada,” I shot back, “and make it snappy.”   My elderly friend took a long pull off of the straw, swallowed deeply and sighed happily.  “You’re a saint,” she said, holding my hands in hers.  “Now you know I have to perform two documented miracles before I’m beatified, my dear.”  “Getting a Pina Colada past my two teetotaler daughters, that’s one,” she said.  She spent the next few days saying her good-byes.  We all know what is said about death and taxes; they’re inescapable.  That’s why preparation for both, if possible, is highly recommended.  In spite of the personal head-games I play this time of year, eventually my tendency to live life “heart-over-head” returns, renewal becomes my buzz-word of the day, and I am curious about what will come my way, every day.

Now what!?

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Posted on: March 25th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Photo10091114We are a people today who are assaulted daily with the message that everything might fall apart at anytime. And in some cases, the message is truth. It only takes a bit of ice on a road or a few (human) cells dividing out of control to steal away our loved ones. The daily news headlines seep into our consciousness pushing us to lock our doors even while we are home, hold our purses and wallets a bit closer on the street, and worry about who may be carrying a gun to a school, today.  Fearfully, we collect the day’s news stories as warning signs, constantly telling us which paths and places to avoid, until finally we are stuck in our “safe” zones, limiting our activities, our relationships with strangers, locking up everything from everyone, including our places of solace and worship. We end up spending so much time guarding our health, our possessions, and our safety, that we miss the merit of letting go, and wandering a bit, (straying away from the “usual and normal”) through this life.  If Jesus’ life is our model, we dare not (we can not) imagine that the path set before us, is always the safe and respectable one.  Through prayer, turning some things over, and radical sharing, Lent calls us to confront head on that which stands in the way of the Way.  We could live: fearlessly, generously, free of temporary things, taking care of others.   Lenten disciplines could be additive — more time with God, more generosity to our neighbors. And no matter how you look at it, attention to these matters is rarely entirely safe.  Praying will bring awesome grace, sharing will create awesome abundance, which could lead to having faith in everlasting grace; and some folks fear even that.  In my life, in this vocation, I attract and collect stories of folks who, against all odds, have (in a sense) walked to hell with only one shoe on. The foxes (the sly and sneak-up-on-you trouble) in this world have stolen away their treasure, their health, reputations, sometimes even loved ones, yet many still give themselves over to caring for strangers and other needs that walk into their lives.  Folks with personal economic downturn, still give generously to their church and to those who have less.  People hobbled by mental illness, trauma, or addiction, manage some how to get out of their troubled selves wishing to be of help to others.  The stories and journeys of most people I meet are more difficult than mine, yet somehow many are certain of and stand firm in the way of Christ.  Jesus is so certain of his path (his way) that even kings appear to be no more than little foxes, little trouble-makers, who cannot always have the last word.  The word, (Jesus said), is always very near. Christ’s word is the sign that grace is at hand, and even his death will not get in the way of that.   In the Word of the weeks ahead we will watch him walk again; all the way to Jerusalem; all the way to the cross; most likely, with no shoes on at all.

Never too late to begin, again.

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Posted on: March 21st, 2014 by Father Harrison

Well, we’re about half-way through Lent now.  Those of us who still really belong to churches that still really observe Lent (there’s still a few) we get a dose of wilderness experience every year around this time, even if it is reduced to just hearing it is Lent.  Our own worship records at St. Barnabas from over the past few years show fewer and fewer folks observe Ash Wednesday as inspirational, and few give the Lenten season little credence.  That’s OK.  At least a kernel of wisdom still exists and I’ll toss it out here: anyone who claims to follow Jesus all the way to the cross needs the kind of clarity and grit that is found only in the wilderness.  

From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, (forty days, excluding Sundays) Christians are invited to do without some things they are perfectly capable of having as much as they want and to take on some behaviors that they are just as capable of avoiding -such as a taking a moral inventory or making lunch date with someone they’d rather not share a meal with.  The key word is “invited.”  The priest says in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, “Dear people of God, I invite you to observe a holy Lent …

“Lent,” it is called, from an old English word meaning “spring,” is not just a reference to the crocuses pushing their way out of the ground in the season before Easter, but also to the greening of the human soul, pruned with regret, fertilized with fasting from that which overwhelms us, spritzed with self-appraisal, and mulched with prayer.

After my own early church upbringing I was at least twenty-five years old before I learned that Lent wasn’t about punishing myself for being human, and it took me a few more experiences (in the Episcopal Church) to figure out that it wasn’t about giving up good bourbon or taking on a book or bible study.  So I really don’t blame anyone who has decided to pass on Lenten disciplines.

But if you have spent a lot of time and/or energy dabbling in whatever it takes to grow your soul without seeing any new buds, then maybe a little spell in the wilderness is worth a try, there’s some time left,  a few short weeks of choosing to live on less of more, practicing subtraction instead addition, not because your regular life is bad, but because you want to make sure it is your real life, the one God intended for you, the one you actually long to be living during your short span on this earth – are you living the way you wish you would or could?

Remember when red lights in traffic gave you a minute just to sit alone and think?  Not so any more, not with your cell phone right there in your lap, your ear, or built in to the dashboard of your car, begging you to reach out and touch someone.

The problem for most of us is that we cannot go from setting down the cell phone to wanting to hear the still, small voice of God in our ears.  If it worked like that, churches would be full and Verizon would be out of business.  If it worked like that, one’s Lenten wilderness would seem to be only about twenty minutes long, a walk in the park, a piece of cake – chocolate.

What we have instead are forty whole days (excluding Sundays) for finding out what life is like without the usual commotion.  Once you take the earbuds out, silence can be really loud.  Once you turn off the television, a night can get really long.  After a while you can start thinking that all of this quiet emptiness or, worst case, all this howling wilderness, is a sign of things gone badly wrong - devil on the loose, huge temptations, no help from above, God gone AWOL, not to mention the spiritual and scriptural insufficiency to deal with“things.”

But if you remember to breathe, and say your prayers (say the prayer that always works) then nine times out of ten you can make it through your first night with no extra bread, (chocolate)DSCF1917 power, I-things, or protection.  You can get used to the sound of your own heart beating and whatever it is that is yipping and yapping and scratching outside your door.  You may even be able to sleep a little while longer, and wake up happier to be alive than you can ever remember.

Open your heart and you will pray.

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Posted on: March 13th, 2014 by Father Harrison

DSCF1930Lent, is an anxious time for many Christians, but not so much because of our fragile commitment to “observe a holy Lent.”  Most all our days (these days) are anxious times.  I’ll encourage you to take a moment, right now, to sit in silence and lift up in your heart just what it is you are the most anxious about. Right now, at any given moment for that matter, what we are most anxious about in our lives is what we hold on to like treasure in our hearts.   And like a treasure, we cannot easily let it go.  We can’t give it away, we can’t share it, we cannot get rid of some angst, and fear, and worry, that troublesome junk that fills our hearts.  It is ours to have and to hold until what seems like some days, till death do we part.   We are taught and told if we do good things in the name of God and the Church, we will be rewarded, good things will come our away, we can be anxious for nothing.  We offer our trouble up in prayer publicly, in private, behind closed doors, in the line at the grocery store, while we’re driving – we pray.  We try to love our neighbors and enemies, do the deeds of Christ.  We make deals with God, “God, I won’t do this or that, if you’ll give me this or that.”  We get up each day, wash our face, comb our hair, make our daily dash, do it all over again, only to store up more anxiety in that treasure box of a heart, until its almost ready to break.  Jesus, in his little sermon about giving and praying and fasting according to Matthew (6:1-6, 16-21), is telling us that we go about it all wrong, too often.  We concentrate too much on process and too little on content.  Jesus finally says, “Pray like this …” just pray, just do it.  I have come to certain wisdom about my life and it is this: I am at my best when I am humbled the most, and I’m not talking about being humbled by God, rather more like when things about my life here on earth go so poorly, or at least they are causing more anxiety for me than I think is fair.  Then I wonder, what little tool I have, or trick have I learned in life, that will clear my path to happiness, maybe even treasure.  Well, I have tried them all, at least all the tricks I was taught, or concocted, and none of them, none of them, ever really helped as much as turning my anxiety, my trouble, my desires, over to God.  It is best, I have discovered, to negotiate with God – not with the world.

“Lift up your heart.”

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Posted on: March 8th, 2014 by Father Harrison

This is the time of year (the Lenten season) that most Christians are a bit more aware about the pit-falls of the appeal and cravings that coaxes us to “live in the flesh,” apart from a life in the spirit.  We are compelled , this time of year, to give something of that up, offer it up to God, or at least release our tight grip on it so we can make an attempt at so-called right living. Well, don’t work too hard at giving up what-ever you wish give up; temptation is always near, but so is God.  We are bound to fail, but God has got us. God has tried, in many ways, some quite spectacular, to come near us to take away the pain and sorrow, remorse, even evil, that can dwell in our hearts.  All of that would be better to give up, not just now, during Lent, but every day. We belong to God.  We don’t belong to anything or anyone of this world for very long, but we always have and always will belong to God; and God will find a way to remind us.  We know, all to well, what lives in our hearts that can keep us from completely knowing God; all that which keeps us from giving into the temptation to love recklessly, instead of guarding and holding fast to all that which can break our heart. Is it really worth living all our life with our heart drowning in some unsatisfied expectation of this life, when all the while God intended something much different for us?  That will break both yDSCF1692our and God’s heart.

Wear them with great devotion.

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Posted on: March 4th, 2014 by Father Harrison

I attended seminary in Boston, Massachusetts. On Ash Wednesday, after morning chapel and all (well, most) at the seminary had received the “Imposition of Ashes,” I would make my way along Brattle Street, to Harvard Square, and catch a ride on the “T” Boston’s subway system.  I had no particular destination.  Some of those three Ash Wednesdays it took me to graduate from the Episcopal Divinity School, I would ride for a long while, others, only a short distance, deciding to walk if the weather was spring-like.

I was riding and  looking for other pilgrims, Christian pilgrims, who were happy, perhaps more dutiful than happy, to wear the sign of The Cross that had been stroked on their forehead at some early Ash Wednesday Service.  I considered myself to be in solidarity with them and their pilgrimage.  I believe I saw a few of them nod my way in some sort of silent and holy recognition.  We shared a secret that was now fully revealed to whoever looked our way – we belong to Jesus Christ.  The Oxford Dictionary defines the word imposition as, “a burden imposed unfairly.”  I never thought of wearing the ashen cross as that sort of burden, actually, I don’t feel it is a burden at all.

I was 12 years old when I was baptized.  I can recall feeling as though something “special” had happened to me, and I remember riding home in the back seat of the family station wagon feeling less and less special the farther away we drove from church.  After the three splashes of the water of baptism, I was stroked along my forehead in a sign of The Cross with the oil of Chrism, marked as “Christ’s own forever.”  With my “special” feeling fading, I was eager to arrive home so I could check my forehead in the bathroom mirror for any sign of being “marked,” disappointed when I discovered it had disappeared.  I’m not quite sure when I began to understand the imposition of walking around a full day with an ash cross on my forehead as a day that my cross of belonging to Christ, my baptismal chrism, had reappeared for all to see, but that’s how I understand that mark today.  In a sense I celebrate belonging to Christ on Ash Wednesday

I, for one, need Ash Wednesday.  I need to see and know there are others.  Tomorrow I’ll impose the Ash here in the “Big House” (the church) and for a few hours out on the street downtown, and once again I’ll recognize the camaraderie of belonging to Christ we share as Christian pilgrims.  Yes, “We remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return,” but for now we wait, and watch, and we live with the opportunity to know we are not alone – there are others who know the secret.

Come to the Manger.

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Posted on: December 18th, 2013 by Father Harrison

Not too long ago, area ranchers around our communities were busy cutting and putting hay in their barns.  These days, winter feeding chores take precedence over much of their doings.  The livestock we pass all along our way to town, the cows, sheep, and horses we count on seeing are no longer grazing, rather they wait for their daily ration to be spread in the snow before them or if they are afforded the luxury of lounging quarters in a barn, they will most likely gather at a manger at feeding time, or soon before, knowing someone will eventually come to feed them.

The barn in Bethlehem where an infant laid some 2000 years ago, housed a manger that was prepared for him by its occupants; its wood worn smooth by the animals that rubbed and nuzzled its surfaces as they ate over a long time.  It was free of splinters and sharp corners and at its very center was a hollow nest, just the right size for an infant, fashioned by the livestock’s habit of feeding from the center of the manger sorting out the leafier ends of the grasses, leaving the stems at the sides.

Artist’s interpretations of the Nativity show the manger set apart as a holy vessel, the animals always displaced from it yet appearing content, none seeming to attempt to take their place at the manger as if to understand its special purpose.  Standing in the shadows, placed by the personal preference or creative muse of each artist, the animals assume their spot near the manger much like they do in the nativity scenes in our homes, according to barnyard status and size or family tradition. The smaller and less threatening closest to the manger, “this one here, that one there, not too close.” All eyes gaze upon the child in the manger.

In a place that was much less than hospitable for people was the mother, the child, the shepherds from the field, and the rumor of angels, with the animals looking on with comfortable confidence.  All eyes were fixed with the same knowing trust that the one who comes to the manger will feed them all.

A relationship with God … really!?

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Posted on: October 11th, 2013 by Father Harrison

This Sunday, October 13, we consider the story of the “grateful Samaritan leper.”  It is a story of thanksgiving, which is often twisted into a tale of the perils of ungratefulness.  Only one of the healed lepers (in this story) returns to thank Jesus. We wonder what’s up with the other nine, but they did nothing wrong; of course they were overjoyed to be healed.  They did exactly what Jesus told them to do, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  Yes, Jesus points out that out of ten cleansed only one returned to say “thank you” personally.  So Jesus uses the example of the one, and the other nine, to teach us what God values most about us – our relationship to God.  A transformation of the one healed leper had begun, he now respects his relationship to God.  Come consider your relationship to God this Sunday.

Fire! No Peace! Division! Oh my!

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Posted on: August 17th, 2013 by Father Harrison

So – what happened to Mr. Nice Guy Jesus, the compassionate “Do not be afraid,” Jesus we heard about just last Sunday (Luke 12.32-40)?  Within the span of a week we have a “I came to bring fire to the earth, not peace, but division,, name calling, stressed out, Jesus to contend with. Everything was going along so nicely; so why the sudden change?  This is one of a few gospel lessons (Luke 12.49-56) that can cause any one of us preachers to turn to the other readings of the day, hoping to keep peace and unity at home, and not set any fires under their congregation. Feel welcome to join us at St. Barnabas at 8 or 10 a.m. tomorrow to hear how it goes.  

Fire!  No Peace!  Division!  Oh my!