Seek the Face of God

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

An epiphany, an encounter with the living God, is sometimes fleeting – a moment in time where we know that we know God is powerfully present. And while the above collect is beautifully worded, it can easily be misconstrued to mean we will only see God face to face in the heavenly hereafter. That is not true.

We see the face of God in everyone we meet. We see the face of God in those we love and in those we barely know. We see the face of God in the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lonely. Intellectually we know this to be true, but it is much harder to live into this reality because to do so requires much of us.

First it requires an awareness of the other – an acknowledgment that everyone is beloved of God. This is true regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, social status, or income. Second, it requires listening to the other. Listening is a powerful way to bring someone into the fullness of who they were created to be. This is as true of a young child as it is those who are frail and at the end of their years. Their faces light up as they tell their stories. We see the face of God in others also when we take action to relieve suffering. Sometimes this requires hands on work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Other times it requires sharing our financial resources. Most times it simply means putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

The season of Epiphany ushers in a new year full of hope and promise. My prayer is that as we seek the face of God, there will be a double blessing – first for those we encounter, and second for ourselves. May you all have a very blessed New Year.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

It’s More Of A Promise

We are being challenged at every turn to take the powerful message of God’s creative and saving love out into the world, into the marketplace and into the communities in which we serve. And we make it hard. Like Moses, we tell God we can’t do that. We aren’t eloquent enough or smart enough. I have discovered that if we listen well, the very person who needs to hear the Good News will give us the words to share God’s story in ways that she or he can hear.

Jesus modeled this all the time. Whenever he was asked a question, he did not go off into a theological treatise, he pointed to the children in the midst of them or the vineyards that surrounded them or the sheep on the hills being tended by their shepherds. These were things they knew and understood. At the same time they conveyed the love of God in thought provoking ways. We have the opportunity to do the same in our everyday lives.

cow-174822_1280I had the privilege of officiating at my nephew’s wedding. It was held near the family’s dairy farm in a very pretty setting. The young couple had met in school where they studied dairy husbandry. They both live and breathe cows not just for the milk production but also for the pedigrees. The American Kennel Club has nothing on the dairy industry when it comes to showing and breeding animals at their best.

cow-1374685_1280So on the morning of the wedding, I was asking my nephew how his Guernseys had done in their classification—a measure of their conformation. He proceeded to go on at great length about each cow by name. I said to him, “When you breed these cows, you take great care to select a good mate for them, correct?” He agreed. But then I challenged him by asking whether or not there was any guarantee for the results. His response was immediate. “No, it’s more of a promise.”

God gave me the words for this young couple on their wedding day and it came from the groom and their shared lives together. Wedding vows are ‘more of a promise’—ones they would make to each other. But more importantly, they took these vows in the presence of God. And whatever happens, we know God keeps God’s promises. God will be with them as they work on keeping theirs. That is a guarantee.

God’s promise to us at our baptism is that we are beloved of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. As we are challenged to take this message to the world and are feeling inadequately equipped, remember, God keeps God’s promises.

Canon Martha Ishman, Rector at St. James, Titusville and Canon for Mission Development and Transition, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Martha Ishman

Bumper Stickers – The Illusion Of Control

494268452_f5586a2695_zI have always loved the idea of control. The idea that I can somehow make things happen, or prevent things from happening. I used to love the idea of prayer as a manipulation of God, a tool to make sure my kids were safe, that my life wasn’t going to come crumbling down to the ground. It seemed to be working until one day in March of 2001, when my brother was hit by a car and killed. That was the beginning of a new kind of journey. A journey that recognized and embraced that I control only my reactions to all that life throws at me. This shapes much of what I think and how I react to life going on around me. Even to what I think when I look at bumper stickers. I’m not talking about magnets or vinyl decals that you can easily change, but those pesky stickers from days of yore, that just wouldn’t come off, even if you were ashamed that you stumped for Mondale/Ferraro in 1984.

It is interesting to look around a parking lot and read bumper stickers. “Proud parent of an honor student” “My student beat up your honor student” “Soccer mom” “Proud Pitt Parent” are just a few that I saw at WalMart today. What is interesting about bumper stickers is their permanence. It is as if we are trying to fix our place in an ever changing story. As if a permanent adhesive will make it true forever. While it is true that I will always be a mother, it is not true that I will always be the mother of an elementary school student, in fact, as of June, I will not be anymore. I have seen six kids through elementary school, and now that chapter of my life is closing. As a recent graduate from Gannon, that chapter of my life is closed as well. Both events are pieces of my story that have shaped me, but they have come to pass.

The danger of trying to make life events permanent is that there is a chance that we will stunt our growth when it is time for those events to end. My mother had six children, just like I do. Unlike me, my mother cooked and cleaned and made us the center of her universe. She was fantastic! But she never took time to know herself, and consequently, she fell into disarray when that piece of her life changed. She did not consider the day when there would be no one left to clean up after, no one to pick up from basketball practice, no one to fill the days. She saw life as static and unchanging, fixed in place like an old election candidate’s bumper sticker.

But the truth of life is, it is more like a post it note than a bumper sticker. It is impermanent, and eventually the things that shape us change shapes themselves. If we do not embrace that change, if we do not continue to grow, then we begin to die. Although this seems tragic, there is a certain beauty in this. You see, if things were static, we would not recognize the beauty that those things hold. If the sky was filled with rainbows constantly, we wouldn’t think of the rainbow as much of anything, it would be commonplace. But the rainbow is fleeting and elusive, and so we follow it, we look for the gold. It creates a sense of wonder within our hearts.

This impermanence is not an easy truth, it eats into the illusion of control that we humans tend to seek after. But perhaps in the end control is not what creates a life well lived, perhaps it is in embracing the fleeting nature and seeking growth as we acknowledge change. Daily post it notes reminding us we are becoming, not bumper stickers telling us who we think we are. These days my prayers are more about gratitude and admission of my lack of understanding as I speak to a universe that is bigger than I can imagine. Prayers that are more like conversations, rather than manipulations and my bumper stickers are vinyl decals that can be removed as life takes me to different places and new incarnations that I could never have foreseen.

 

Angela K.  Jeffery, St. Stephen’s, Fairview

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Fruit Packer Evangelism

This is a story of how God breaks down stereotypes, restores faith in humanity and gives you what you need.

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Recently I had an early flight out from a conference in Portland, OR. I was taking the cities public transit (light rail) to the airport. The stop was an above-ground, outdoor platform across the street from my hotel, which was in a slightly gritty part of town. I found myself at 4:45 am, in this mostly dark and quiet place, at the automated ticketing booth failing to get the machine to print the ticket for me. As I am sitting there waving my credit card around with one hand and clutching my luggage with the other in frustration (an obvious tourist), this young disheveled man comes up from behind me. I was already nervous at being out that early and now my fear meter started going off the charts. I assumed that he was going to mug me. I new I wasn’t being rational so I pretended nothing was wrong

The young man saw thru my ruse, walked right up to me and…. helped me get my ticket. Apparently I don’t speak Portlandese and missed the “print here” button. He was kind and polite and made some joke about how the machine even confused him sometimes. My fear meter dropped significantly, enough so that I could get a good look at him. He had messy dirty hair, dirty clothes, old sneakers but a nice pair of headphones. Now my stereotyping judging side kicked in. I assumed the guy was one of those drug addicted urban campers (as my brother-in-law calls homeless people) and was buttering me up to ask for money. Oh, I like to help people in need just not at 4:45 am in a strange town (very Christian I know).

He started a conversation with me. We talked about Star Wars for a little while. For those of you in the know apparently the newest movie is terrible because it rewrites years of Star Wars lore. Though I liked the movie I pretended to agree with this guy, I really didn’t want to be in the conversation. No request for money ever came by the way. He finally asked what I was doing in Portland. When I told him I was here for a church conference he revealed to me that he was a preachers kid, but not one of the good ones because he had run afoul of the law. This was the first chip in my well-laid wall of protection and separation. A wall I too often find myself behind. I started, well sort of started, to see him as more than the homeless kid/young adult stereotype with which I had labeled him.

We then started talking about the bible. He very excitedly explained to me that dragons were real and proved by the bible as evidenced by the leviathan. It is amazing how fast my walls can go back up. Now I was thinking, not only is this dude homeless, he is several cards shy of a full deck! I hadn’t had the best time the night before and was down on myself because I perceived some of my work to be lower quality than I demand of myself. So, now I was feeling beat up upon, not only do I feel cruddy but I also have to deal with a crazy guy. Thanks God. I was hoping that the train would show up real soon. No luck.

At about this time a second person showed up at the train station. He looked slightly more put together and seemed to know the first guy I was talking to. They ended up introducing themselves and I learned that the first guy I had been talking to was named Jason. Jason began telling us his favorite story in the bible, “Job.” We ended up having a long conversation that lasted onto the train and all the way to their stop. We talked about how power and money corrupts and the true message Jesus was trying to share with the world. This was God’s one two punch to my wall of protection and separation, these guys were speaking my language and my walls crumbled.

Both of these guys were very spiritual and religious. They talked about having to give, in order to receive, but not give in a way that you expect something in return. The second guy talked about how his faith saved him from alcoholism and how he now “focuses on the man upstairs and not money.” We talked about having to live in the world but not be of it. We even discussed gay marriage and both of these guys expressed that they had no right to judge anyone.

It turns out Jason was not a crook, not homeless and not mentally ill. Jason and this other guy were just getting off the graveyard shift from a fruit packing company. They were dirty and tired from work yet they had no problem helping a stranger and sharing their faith and their love for God. The second guy was on his way to church and Jason was at the start of his three-hour commute home.

Upon reflecting on this afterwards I was reminded of the poor widow and her two copper coins. I was so caught up in protecting myself, like the rich only putting money in from their excess, that I almost missed God’s grace unfolding in front of me. I was mired in self-pity and God drew me out of it with an energizing and life giving conversation. I was afraid and God turned that upside down by showing me the kindness of others. I was judgmental and God reminded me of the complexity of every human person. God gave me just what I needed that morning, some good old fruit packer evangelism. Thanks God.

Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

The Rev. Tim Dyer is Kintsugi

This is the third and final installment in a three part series highlighting the stories of our three seminarians. Click here to read stories about the other two seminarians.

kintsugiKintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer and gold. The broken pieces are soldered back together with gold in the seams. The philosophy is that the pottery’s brokenness is part of its history and does not need to be hidden. Many regard the finished product as even more beautiful than the original. Something broken is remade into something stunning and useful.

The Rev. Tim Dyer considers himself a piece of Kintsugi. He has been broken both emotionally and physically and has been remade. Though he is shy about talking about his strengths, there is gold in his seams. Rightfully so, he attributes that remaking and the gold to God’s handiwork.

The story of Tim’s accident and near death is no secret [Click here to read an account by Vanessa Butler reprinted from “The Forward,” September of 2013]. Tim was literally broken in several places after a deer hit his car in November 2012. He spent 6 months in the hospital and at one point was not expected to live. He has been through a long road to recovery and in some ways is still broken: “I used to be able to bench press 450 pounds.” Being strong and physical was one of the ways Tim defined his identity before the accident. He is still relearning how to do things and is limited. Now, over three years after his accident, he can barely wield a shovel before his partially healed wrist swells up and keeps him from doing physical labor. He has struggled with losing that part of his identity.

The story of Tim’s brokenness that many don’t know is his ‘prodigal son’ experience. As a very young man Tim joined the Marines and was stationed in Spain. While there, he had a challenging relationship with his stateside girlfriend that ended up in a very emotional breakup. In response, Tim stayed drunk for two years and blamed God for his hurt. He couldn’t get leave to come home so it was easier to act like home wasn’t there and he isolated himself from his family. He was later transferred to California and, while there, started using crystal meth. When he realized it was killing him, he quit but at that point was too embarrassed to go home.

Unbeknownst to Tim, his father had been praying that Tim would return home and return to God. God answers prayers in mysterious ways sometimes. Tim got a call in 1999 that his father had a heart attack (which he survived). Tim knew it was time to come home.

Since then, God has soldered Tim’s broken pieces back together. It started with his family accepting him back without question. Tim then found his life partner, Noreen, and together they started going to church. Tim started feeling acceptance there as well and started getting involved by being a lay reader and a lay minister. Tim later figured out that the turning point for him was when he forgave himself and turned back to God: “God had forgiven me a long time before.”

16969_100564616643449_761487_nTim then started discerning a call to the priesthood and was guided in that decision by Deacon Michael Bauschard: “His dedication was an incredible example to me.” Tim officially entered the ordination process in 2007. He took local courses and, after the hiatus due to his accident, completed his bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2014. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate, surrounded by family, friends and supporters from across the diocese, in February 2015. This past June, Tim began his Masters in Divinity studies in the Church Divinity School of the Pacific’s low residence program and expects to graduate in 2019.

God has soldered Tim back physically as well. No, Tim may not be able to bench press that 450 pounds anymore, but he and Noreen are a team. What one could do before, two can now do even better. They get everything done together. Tim says that you don’t really know him completely until you get to know Noreen.

God has certainly reinforced Tim’s broken pieces with gold. Tim sees his story of brokenness as what has made him who he is. He is able to use it to relate to others. He has known what is like to be isolated from God and family and then to come back and is able to guide others through similar experiences. Tim feels called to be in relationship with people and to serve at a small local church. The way Tim identifies himself is no longer as someone with physical strength, but, rather, as a child of God. “When we place our identity in Jesus Christ we become secure because Christ is always with us.”

Tim lives out that identity through his service to others. He is a Clergy Associate for Pastoral Ministries and sees part of his ministry as helping to facilitate a different understanding of what pastoral care is about. He says, “the worship we do on Sundays is practice for what we are to take into the world and share, but we need to make sure we share that with each other too.” Tim is also the founder of the “The Children of Abraham Project,” through which he helps bring Christians, Muslims and Jews together to understand each other. Tim truly believes in living out this question from the Baptismal covenant: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

Tim is also grateful for all the support and love he has received from his community at the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. He is thankful for all the people who have taught him, guided him and supported him through his accident and ordination process. “Interacting with the body of Christ, my community, pushes my boundaries and forms me. I look forward to more of that.”

You can find the Rev. Tim Dyer, golden seams and all, at Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Warren and St. Francis Episcopal Church in Youngsville serving as a deacon. He is there giving back what has been given to him and helping to solder broken pieces back together.

Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Deep Deep Inside

“Deep, deep inside we finally meet the reality of our need for God and God alone.”

contemplate-694358_1920Where is God? Now I know where we meet; we meet in the heart. But there’s lots of open space in this human heart, so many ways to travel without seemingly finding that reality. I don’t even know what that experience with God would look like, feel like, smell like. Something would probably shift or open inside of me but I don’t know. What I know is the starkness of that place deep, deep inside. What I know is how challenging it is to sit in that space and await God. What I know is the despair of countless hours with seemingly no response. And yet I get up every day and say my prayers and read my Bible and sit in the quiet of God’s Spirit because I’ve tried all the other paths and they simply don’t work. Last night I couldn’t dial the phone numbers quick enough, nor puff on the cigar with more strength if I had wanted to. I knew what the problem was: that empty place in my heart that screams for God was busy eating away at my spirit. Calling friends would have helped a bit, but calling someone who sees me as “special” would be the perfect cocktail of emotional relief. My soul hungered for one person in particular. It made no difference to my starving soul that the relationship in reality and experience offered little grace and life. Projection is a powerful tool in the hands of the tired and lonely. How time and overwhelming hunger help us forget the last time we got the stomach flu with a vow to never eat that food again yet catapults us into the belief that the experience will be different this time. And that little voice that keeps reminding me that things will never be different, let this alone and move on? That’s what fly swatters are for; get out the fly swatter and put that devious voice out of its misery because tonight the darkness invites the belief that all things are possible.  Lord, I pray, help me sit right here with myself, this wonderful and complicated creature you have made, and give me the gift of patient waiting. I’ve gazed upon that reality so many times we’ve become old friends seemingly always sizing each other up in the perpetual challenge for who’s present and who isn’t. I have no argument with the statement above. Only radical agreement and deep yearning and, believe it or not, the wonder of a child! Where is my God?

Canon Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

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