The Roman Road

Written by Canon Lisa Senuta

Ironically, it was the Roman infrastructure of roads and cities and commerce that made the spread of the gospel so effective and pervasive in the first and second centuries. A beautiful paradox that the same brutal rule that killed Jesus and martyred Christians was also the very vehicle that spread abroad the peace, mercy and presence of God through the Holy Spirit building up communities of faith, hope and love.

The anxious and uncertain social and political times we live are the background of our daily life.  My teenage daughters feel the anxiety so deeply even though they do not fully understand the polarizing politics that divide our nation and communities. Like many, both felt attacked by their own government that Roe V. Wade was overturned.

I felt compassion for my girls yet I know disagreement regarding the legal right to choose to abort a fetus has been going on for as long as I have been alive. I remember taking Women’s Studies at KState and returning home to my Italian Catholic family and experiencing my own awakening to the tension in the 80s. A feminist and a catholic, I have always felt the power of this disagreement in my veins.

Often to be spiritual and religious means we do not fit neatly into the political rhetoric of the day. Our official Episcopal stance does not fit on bumper sticker. Instead, we hold an appreciation for the complexity that reveals our preference for action over debate. Whatever the future holds, to be spiritual and religious means we must act in ways that reveal the awesome expanse of compassion and grace that God holds all of humankind.

Like the Roman Roads, these anxious political and social times are the paths the church travels to bring the Shalom of God to individuals and communities.

The disciples were sent out on those roads with nothing for the journey. The power of this orientation is the vulnerability of being divested from security is the freedom to do the work of healing. It is counter intuitive to travel the roads of anxiety defenseless and yet it is only then that we rely on the mercy and grace of God. Where will these roads lead the church, only God knows, may we be faithful to our calling.

Dying To Our Expectations

written by Canon Patrick Funston

We begin the long season of “After Pentecost” this Sunday. Between Pentecost and Advent, the Revised Common Lectionary gives us the option of choosing from two distinct “Tracks” of Old Testament readings. If you are following “Track 1,” the semi-continuous track, you’ll hear the gorgeous story of Elijah’s exhaustion and frustration on the journey from Beer-sheba to Mount Horeb. Elijah, has just committed incredible acts of violence and wonders on God’s account, which has angered the queen; so he’s running away and he’s frustrated that God isn’t making things better for him.

I’m very much like Elijah. I get very stuck in my head, ruminating and catastrophizing. And so it’s funny to me when God says, “How about you just stop doing that, eat something and take a nap.” Elijah expects God to do something amazing, to smite his enemies… God expects Elijah to slow down and rest.

The story continues when Elijah arrives at Mount Horeb. He’s still ruminating, he’s still catastrophizing; God sends a sign. “‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” There at the mouth of the cave, God speaks and directs Elijah on his way.

This week, while listening to the Working Preacher Podcast from Luther Seminary, I was startled to be directed to the fact that God, explicitly not “in” the wind nor earthquake, is also not “in” the sheer silence. The sheer silence succeeds in pulling Elijah out of his rumination and catastrophizing and opens him up to actually listen to God.

We regularly think God will behave according to our expectations, but God pushes us to die to our expectations. Elijah is a flame and earthquake prophet who God needed to shake-up by showing God’s presence outside the flame. However, God isn’t only there in response to the silence… Those of use who spend our lives coveting silence are likely to find God calling us through flame and earthquake. We need to open ourselves to the possibility that God will come to us outside of the boxes we’ve built. Thanks be to God for being bigger than our expectations!

When it is Difficult to Speak

Written by Chad Senuta

Have you ever felt confused and scattered? Like you couldn’t put two words together that made sense? Like you couldn’t explain your thoughts to someone if you tried? Of course. We all have. There are so many things that make communication difficult. Sometimes even if we are speaking the same language, we can feel worlds apart from another person or group of people and as if there is nothing that can bridge the gap of understanding. What do you do when you reach that point of impasse? There are so many temptations that rush in. Maybe we just give up, withdraw deeper into ourselves, or even lash out in anger.

This Sunday on the liturgical calendar we remember the day of Pentecost, a day when the early disciples of Jesus were able to communicate about God’s Kingdom with citizens of Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven.” They were not hindered or obstructed by the barriers of language and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues, so that all could understand and hear the message of the love of God in their own native language.

We may have difficulty imagining that God could somehow empower us to suddenly speak French or Mandarin. But what if we began relying on the power of God’s Spirit in those moments when we find it difficult to speak, to connect, and to love. What if we ask the Spirit to help us translate and break through our communication barriers, so that we can love one another as God loves us? Where do you need to invite the Holy Spirit into your communication?

O Holy Spirit, when I find myself without words, help me to know what to speak. And help me to listen so that I may also hear your voice being spoken to me through others.

Transforming Frustration

Written by Canon Patrick Funston

From my earliest memories of the text, I’ve associated Lydia of Thyatira with wealth. As we hear her encounter with Paul in this Sunday’s Acts reading, notice the mention of purple cloth and the implication that she’s the head of a household. However, as I was praying over my lectionary this week, I wondered if my assumptions about Lydia’s wealth were fully warranted. Isn’t it possible that other elements of her story indicate that she might not have been as privileged as I’ve assumed? She is after all a foreign woman finding community outside the walls of Philippi. Her name is an ethnicon: she’s known as the place she is from rather than by her true name. (It’d be like if people called me “Kansas” instead of “Patrick.”)

As tends to happen, in thinking differently about my embedded assumption, the story cracked open, and I noticed some new things about the way God works. If Lydia is less privileged, she’d hear Paul and Luke a bit differently. Would she have been frustrated at the life she leads in Philippi? Would it have made her more receptive to Paul’s preaching about Christ?

In her most recent book, Atlas of the Heart, Social Work Researcher Brené Brown says that frustration is when “something that feels out of my control is preventing me from achieving my desired outcome.” I can easily see such frustration in Lydia’s singular response to Paul.

Frustration was almost certainly on the minds of the people of Mozambique, who suffered under civil war from 1976-1992. During that war, “millions of guns and other weapons poured into the country and most of them remain hidden or buried in the bush.” (Plaque in the African Department, British Museum) In an effort to transform that frustration, the Transforming Arms into Tools (TAE) project empowered the people of Mozambique to claim their power “to eliminate the threat presented by the hidden weapons. Mozambicans [were] encouraged to hand them over in exchange for items like ploughs, bicycles and sewing machines.” (British Museum) In 2005, four artists, Adelino Serafim Maté, Fiel dos Santos, Hilario Nhatugueja, and Christavao Canhavato (Kester), transformed many of the 600,000 collected weapons into the sculpture Tree of Life displayed at the British Museum.

Weapons of war becoming useful tools and a model of Revelation’s Tree of Life is an example of what can happen when a Christ-like message of peace and empowerment of the marginalized and oppressed transforms frustration.

As Lydia heard Paul preach about Christ, did her frustration transform as she heard herself in the story of Christ’s ministry to sinners and outcasts?

Like many of you, I find myself saddened and frustrated by this week’s news of the mass shooting at Tops grocery in Buffalo, New York; of ten more victims of our culture of violence; of ten lives extinguished as an outcome of the radicalization of a young man by the forces of white supremacy. If frustration is the disempowering feeling that things are out of my control, I cry Kyrie Eleison at yet another example of how out-of-control our American gun culture remains. And I cry Christe Eleison at the ways our out-of-control racist culture remains. And I cry Kryie Eleison at the death that comes from the terroristic violence that results when guns and racism mix.

But the promise of Revelation’s Tree of Life shines forth. The model of Kester’s Tree of Life invites. Lydia’s acceptance of Christ’s transformative love for the frustrated goads.

The Kingdom of God is right here! May we let our frustration be transformed and join Christ in bringing about the Kingdom.

Joy Joy Joy

Written by The Rev Canon Lisa Senuta

Persian Sufi poet of the 14thc, Hafiz, is unmatched in his ability to share the joy of life in unexpected verse. He wrote:

You carry all the ingredients

to turn your life into a nightmare

Don’t mix them!

You carry all the ingredients

to turn your existence into joy,

Mix them

Mix them!

Isn’t it true? Perhaps there is nothing better to do with your time than pause here to make recipes for joy.

When you reflect on what brings joy, the whole creation is in the list of ingredients. As spring moves into summer, Kansas has become a totally immersive living icon of joy.

And there is more, Jesus yearned for humankind to know the fullness of joy, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”

More than individual pleasure. More even than happiness or the pursuit of happiness. St. Paul claimed joy as a gift of the Spirit in the letter to the Galatians. Joy is God’s Spirit with us, in us and through us. The Rev. Tilden Edwards wrote about the awareness of joy, “ Such awareness reflects our very existence as an unmerited overflow of God’s joy.”

Can I say joy is another name for God? Because when we experience joy it is because we are experiencing God’s life. Joy is something we join we don’t create. Joy is communal. Joy is indelible, as it is experienced even amid grief and pain. We know God’s spirit is with us when we sense joy. Tilden goes on, “God’s heart seems to continually swell with joy and burst into creation that “at heart” is made of that joy.”

Jesus taught us the path to the fullness of joy. God’s joy grounds our moral and ethical commitment to all people and to all creation. Isn’t that better than the seriousness of duty? We join God’s joy for all people- as we reach out to help, heal, sooth, support, stand up for, and tenderly kindly care for and even give our lives for. With God there is no happy – clappy easy fix to life, instead God overflows with endless life transforming joy.

Haviz reminds us we have joy already, we simply have to nurture our awareness of it.  

Send me your recipes!

Where do you belong?

Written by The Rev Gar Demo, St Thomas Episcopal Church, Overland Park

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” -Amy Poehler

I look forward to being at church every Sunday. The community gathers interesting people living inspired lives and doing so much in the city where I live. Teachers, lawyers, technicians, plumbers, doctors, homemakers, politicians, musicians, school administrators, social workers, and students (and many more) can interact, learn together, and worship. We bring together all works of people around a central altar for the purpose of prayer, study and ministry together in the foundations found in the teachings of Jesus. It is in that community that belonging can happen.

 To belong is more than just physical presence. Belonging means being fully in the space you are in, with the people and in your true self, seeking depth of relationship, and being seen and heard. Brene Brown writes, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” Truth, that is deep truth.

We want to belong, we yearn for it, and it is sometimes the hardest work we do. In the end, we all belong to God as God’s children. In this holy season of Easter, we stand with Jesus in the resurrection. In this broken, divided, fragmented, hurting, pained world, we are beacons of community with each other and God. We are where others find their belonging. It might be at church, at a park, at school, at work, or wherever we are. We become the resurrected body through belonging with others- where do you belong? Who seeks to belong through you? 

Written by The Rev Gar Demo, St Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church

Holy Week Hall of Mirrors

The Rev. Canon Lisa Senuta

In a fast paced world, Holy Week slows down and takes a long, loving gaze upon the ancient story of Jesus of Nazareth’s betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. The spiritual wisdom of slowing down to gaze at something that happened so long ago is summed up by Father Richard Rohr who said the story of Jesus’ Passion is like “walking through a hall of mirrors.” Our true reflection is seen everywhere as we walk through Holy Week.

All the faces of the false self are reflected back at us; the anguish of Judas, indecision of Pilot, cowardice of Peter, self importance of the High Priests, sanctimony of the Pharisees, the mob, the policies and procedures of the Roman empire that all conspire to put Jesus up on the cross.

The hall of mirrors reveals your own acknowledged or unacknowledged shadow self, and it reveals more.

At the center of the maze of mirrors is Jesus. He remained in the middle of all the posturing and fleeing, in the midst of fear, hatred and indifference, Jesus was present. He was not fighting, arguing, or defending himself. Abandoned and tortured Jesus did not condemn instead he raised up the powerful divine perspective of compassion. God gazed out through Jesus’ eyes, a vision of outpouring compassion on all who were lost to their false selves.

If we do not slow down, if we are not open and vulnerably present to this old story we cannot learn how God is lovingly present to us. The incredible truth is that God is loving our false shadow selves to death.

By God’s reconciling love a new path is opened for us to live healed and saved by God’s mercy that will not condemn or change this world through force but only through quiet embracing love. That was how hell was overturned. That is how transformation happens in our world, not by force, but by the power of steady, uncompromising love death is undone.

Black Cross

By Canon Lisa Senuta

Georgia OKeeffe’s Black Cross hangs in the Chicago Museum of Art. The way she exaggerated and simplified the objects she painted somehow brings spiritual clarity.

Black Cross stands off center and is magnificently strong. An orange red and yellow horizon glows just above the horizontal wood arms of the cross that stretch beyond the canvas. Below gray mountains roll as far as the eye can see. The exaggerated strong beams of the cross become a shadowed lens as one views the landscape ahead. 

The cross is the central image of Christianity because it unites heaven and earth. The pain and suffering in life are not evidence that we are cursed or forgotten. Instead Jesus taught that the suffering of this life even death itself is dramatic stage for love to be known, shared, and experienced.

“love endures all things”

I remember the last week of my father’s life which we spent together in an ICU room. He was so weak. His body required life support to breath and for his heart to pump. There was no fixing him. I rubbed his feet, I read to him, I told him jokes, I held his hand and caressed his head. But I did not pray he would live. I did not leave his side until his last shallow exhale.

Death is not the worst thing. It can be untimely, painful, ugly, violent, and feel cruel. But it is not the worst part of the human experience.

Jesus taught us this truth. To see through death to the horizon ahead.

So often we fight the wrong battles. We fear the wrong enemy.

Jesus taught the disciples to take up their cross, to lose their life to find it. Jesus viewed death as an entrance, a doorway, as a beginning.

Spiritual maturity is discovered through the process of dying. The definition of a sin is anything that separates from God…or if it helps…anything that separates us from love. We all sin. We all have addictions, fears, possessiveness, violence, hatred, insecurities, and vanity that keep us from giving and receiving love.

Spirituality is the practice of letting die what does not serve love.

Helping my dad die was one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences in my life. The invitation for me was to gently let go of all the thoughts that hammered at my mind, “this is awful, I don’t want him to die, I don’t want to see this”. And stay. In letting go, I also found the way to love. In letting go, I made room to sense true love.

In dying we are born to eternal life.

Georgia O’Keefe

Trauma and Growth

by Canon Patrick Funston

Trauma is having a bit of a heyday in our popular culture. As we begin the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, hit TV shows like Ted Lasso and WandaVision dwell in the stories of traumatized characters, Bessel van der Kolk’s 2014 book The Body Keeps the Score stays at the top of the charts, and the corners of social media have become places to share trauma. This year’s Festival of Homiletics is themed, After the Storm: Preaching and Trauma. I’m grateful for expansion of language and treatment and the willingness of people to share their vulnerability and witness, but I’m also interested in how we understand trauma from a faith perspective and how we encourage post-traumatic growth.

This Sunday we will pray Psalm 126 in which we hear a poetic reflection on Israel’s exilic trauma. Scholars connect 126 with Psalm 137 for their thematic consonance. While its partner-psalm dwells in the grief of the Exile, 126 opens with a celebration and recognition of God’s agency in bringing the Exile to an end: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” When it comes to that collective trauma, Israel dwells on the joy of God’s deliverance.

Exilic trauma is remembered, but its end serves as a prototype for future expectations. The people of Israel will never stop telling of the Exile, but neither will they stop praising God for its resolution and hoping that God will continue to redeem. With beautiful antithetical parallelism the Psalmist intones: “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”

Psalm 126 reminds us that we misapprehend God’s nature when we seek to maintain a status quo, whether it’s of comfort or of pain. God is about growth and growth is about change. As we walk toward Jerusalem and our remembrance of Holy Week, I pray that we are brave enough to recognize our tear-soaked seeds planted on Golgotha. In that soil, God is at work.

The Design of Compassion

Written by Canon Lisa Senuta

The Celtic Design is from Lindisfarne Illuminated Bible

The prayer written by John Philip Newell goes on, “Let me learn the love and anger and wild expanses of soul within me are true expressions of your grace and wisdom.”

Monday evening at home, I sat in a chair by the window and listened to the rain. Wearied by the day, aware of my failures, all the things out of my control and longing for a break from the passion of life, I turned to prayer. When one prays we never really know what will happen. That night, I started out gripped by a wanting to be free from the heartbreak of life. Instead I heard a tender admonishment, encouraging me to trust something beyond weariness, failure, and longing. To trust that my wild soul is on a journey of becoming beyond my comprehension.

The way Newell writes I could sense that the wild soul is God’s own design painted into life. And I could let go of the riot of questions about what a soul is or where it lives or how it got there; and fall into the Celtic expression of trust in the mystery of being.

I was admonished for my disrespect of myself and God. Reminded that my soul is actually not mine at all. Whatever soul is and whatever earth is, is knotted so tightly, woven together so closely, there is no distinguishing what is divine what is human. Sufi Poet Hafiz says, each person “is the entire ocean in a single drop.”

Particularly, American culture is so overly focused on preferences, style, owning, building, wanting, wanting, wanting; the self has become something we think we can design and control. The lies of “me and mine” keep us from sharing the burden of life yoked with Jesus our Brother.

God saves us from ourselves. Religion claims the “almighty me” is the wrong starting point to a good life. In God we live and move and have our being.

On Sundays we practice worshipping God and not ourselves. Forgiven, healed and renewed we are sent out to live reconciled to God and neighbor. To be spiritual and religious means we recognize we need a lot of practice at letting go. And that means letting go of everything we think is ours, even our failures.

When we are lost in self focus we believe we are weaving our own life isolated and alone. The truth is, we are inextricably woven together. And flawed as we are, God is using our lives to express the great design of loving compassion.