Lone Ranger Syndrome

662778_lonely_manSo, I forgot to post this article a couple of weeks ago. On the other hand the day after Mother’s Day is perfect for a column that talks about the plight of the suburban male. Okay “plight” might not be the right word but I have a theory that men are lousy at maintaing friendships and are the poorer and lonelier for it.

Theology on Tap

Men are lonely creatures. At least suburban men who work, commute, and have families. No self-respecting man would articulate this publicly since it sounds either whiny or weak but it’s true. We used to pride ourselves on our close friendships be it the “glory days” of high school or the keg-stand fraternity days of yore.

But that was before the big “R” of responsibility took over our lives. Work, marriage, children, pets, the yard. They’re all wonderful things — mostly. Over time, almost imperceptibly, however, they crowd out our male friendships and suddenly many of us find ourselves left with a bunch of acquaintances but little depth in our relationships.

From the male perspective, women just seem to be better at nurturing adult friendships. They meet friends for coffee, they volunteer together, they have work friends, they join book groups (or as I like to call them, wine drinking parties). My own wife certainly checks all these boxes and she’s happier for it.

Yes, this is a gross generalization but there does seem to be some truth here. A lot of men simply don’t have close friendships. Sure, we have buddies from our college days with whom we share fond memories, some printable, some not. But they generally live all over the country and, while there might be an annual golf outing or fishing trip, that’s hardly sustainable for the other 362 days of the year.

We nod to people on the commuter train and we’re on a first name basis with Jeff from Accounting. But the guard’s always up, the protective emotional armor is always donned. We work hard not to show weakness or vulnerability which is why we wear power suits and deflect intimacy with a quip or by sticking to safe topics like sports or carburetors.

But what about our humanity? Where do men go to talk about the things at the depths of our souls? Events like the bombing at the Boston Marathon bring our vulnerability to the fore and yet we have few outlets to process our emotions. So they get buried and fester until our hearts become fossilized or unhealthy behaviors emerge.

At my parish on the South Shore of Boston, we’re trying to remedy this by introducing a men’s group. Now, this won’t be your typical church men’s group where a bunch of guys get together in the nether regions of the church to gorge themselves on pancakes, give each other hugs, and tell themselves that Jesus was really a man’s man — someone to shoot pool with or hang out in the bleachers at Fenway.

We’re calling this venture Theology on Tap. We won’t meet at church but in the upstairs room at the Liberty Grille. We’ll grab a pint, listen to one another’s stories, and talk about a topic of interest. God’s just as present when a bunch of people gather in his name at a bar as at church on a Sunday morning (just don’t tell anyone).

This won’t solve all the problems of the world but hopefully it will chip away at the hardness of our hearts that has built up through the years. Hopefully, over time, it will provide an outlet for friendship and some conversations that get below the surface of everyday life. I encourage all of my fellow men to be intentional about seeking friendships that move beyond safe topics. You may feel vulnerable at first but it sure beats the usual hunting and gathering.


Boston Strong?

BostonStrongRibbonI was down in Copley Square last week for the first time since the marathon bombings. The place was still crawling with news trucks and reporters and police on a beautiful Tuesday morning. I saw the impromptu memorials made up of running shoes and t-shirts and flowers and teddy bears and hand-made signs.

There was a hushed tone quality in the memorial area even as the bustle of downtown Boston swirled all around it. People were writing notes of prayer and support and simply milling around trying to take in the whole scene. Some looked stunned, some resigned, some were quietly wiping away tears; there were gawkers, of course, angling to get in the background of one of CNN’s live shots, but I think everyone was in some way seeking to come to grips with what happened on marathon Monday.

After I said a few quiet prayers, I started thinking about the Boston Strong slogan that’s been on t-shirts and stickers and hats and, more importantly, in the hearts of so many in this area. I agree with the sentiment that in times of trial and distress, it’s important for a community to band together and seek strength in its own unity. Those of us who live in the Boston area take pride in this community and our ties to it and there is great strength of spirit and character here. Anyone who witnessed or participated in the singing of the National Anthem at the Garden before the Bruins played in the first public event after the bombing couldn’t help but get chills.

IMG_1621But I think focusing exclusively on the image of strength has potential pitfalls. When we wrap ourselves in the mantra of Boston Strong, we face the possibility of denying our vulnerability both as individuals and as a community. Clinging to the notion of strength in the midst of uncertainty and fear, does make us feel better and safer in the short-term. But it also has a shadow side of desperation — if we only say we’re strong over and over again, it will magically become true.

Now I realize no one would buy a hat that said “Boston Vulnerable.” That’s not a slogan anyone would rally around or start chanting at a Red Sox game. But from a faith perspective we’re challenged to think beyond popular slogans to get to the heart of things. People being blown up in a public place on a sacred day at an iconic event makes us feel anything but strong. If we’re honest with ourselves, it taps into our deepest anxieties and fears; and feelings of vulnerability and helplessness can’t help but be stirred up.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, we hear Jesus tell St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. It is because of our vulnerability as human beings that we’re able to trust in the strength of God. It’s not our own strength that will see us through — no matter how many t-shirts get sold. It is the strength of God alone that allows us to endure and persevere in the midst of profound tragedy and grief and to find comfort and strength and solace in the context of community.

0502_boston-strongIn light of this Paul goes on to say, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Not because God will fix it and make it all better like a mother who kisses a skinned knee. But because through Jesus we know that God is present even in our darkest hours, even in those moments we feel most vulnerable or alone of forsaken.

When I was a priest in New York, a parishioner asked me if I’d go say last rites for his grandmother — the woman who had raised him. The catch was I had to go to some huge hospital in the middle of the Bronx, which I was happy to do even if it meant getting lost a few times on the way. It turned out her roommate had just died and one of the hospital chaplains was with the family as I arrived. He kept saying over and over again, “Be strong. You gotta be strong.” And I wanted to scream, “No! That’s not what they need right now!” This is precisely the time they need to cast their burdens upon the Lord. They don’t have to be strong, just faithful. And if they can’t do that right now they can just be, and let God hold them in the palm of his hand.

There’s a time to be strong but there’s also a time to admit our weakness, to admit our powerlessness in a situation and let God take the lead. And in that we find true strength.

Running for Our Lives

tlumacki_boston-marathon-_sportsJ“Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.” This quote from the Letter to the Hebrews sustained me the one year I ran the Boston Marathon — in 2008. Along with the supportive crowds along the entire 26.2 mile course, this mantra carried me from Hopkinton to Wellesley to Heartbreak Hill and into Copley Square. It is a quote we need now more than ever.

With Monday’s events we have collectively hit the dreaded wall. Unspeakable violence has been visited upon the purest of human pursuits with three dead, 150 injured, and the innocence of an iconic event forever altered. The images of destruction amid what would normally be a scene of unmitigated joy and triumph are seared into our minds as shouts of encouragement morphed into screams of terror.

It would be easy to quit or walk away — that’s the standard reaction when you hit boston-marathon-logothe wall. I hit it pretty hard in my first marathon, a result of the classic rookie mistake of starting too fast. Around mile 18 of the 2005 Baltimore Marathon I started cursing my decision to enter the race. I  began walking although what I really wanted was to curl up in the fetal position underneath the table at one of the water stops. Eventually, I snapped out of it and continued on to the finish line. I ended with my inflated time goal blown but was both proud and relieved as I swore off ever running another marathon.

I have no doubt that the city of Boston, all of New England, and our entire nation will push through the wall. Like the runners themselves, we are a resilient people. Unlike the elite runners, we may not win any races but we never give up in the face of adversity. We muddle through, placing one foot in front of the other. We keep moving forward partly because we have no choice but also because we believe in running with perseverance the race that is set before us.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHaving this happen on Patriot’s Day only strengthens our resolve as we hearken back to the spirit of our nation’s forebears. Paul Revere’s lantern reminds us that the darkness of tyranny and hate cannot overcome the light of liberty and love. Just as John’s gospel says of Jesus Christ’s entrance into the world, “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

As we continue to wade through the carnage and seek answers, I find it helpful to focus on the stories of heroism and selflessness that abound. So many have reached out their hands in love and compassion both in the immediate aftermath and in the intervening hours and days. In this Easter season, I see these acts as glimpses of resurrection glory amid the despair. As Jesus conquered death and the grave on that first Easter Day, he continues to do just that in our own lives even in the face of tragedy.

As people of faith our first response is always prayer. On Monday evening, as we held an impromptu prayer service at St. John’s, we closed with the following prayer. As you continue to pray for the victims, their families, first responders, medical personnel, and those affected by these horrific events, I encourage you to reflect upon it.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Hunting Season

easter-egg-hunt-game-photo-420-FF0407EFAA01In my monthly “In Good Faith” column I talk about the theological implications of Easter egg hunts (sort of) and why Holy Week is so awesome. Blessings to you all during these next Three Great Days.

Hunting Season

I like Easter egg hunts and I play to win. Actually, I haven’t been allowed to participate in one for quite a number of years, which is clearly a form of age discrimination. Just imagine the number of plastic eggs I could amass competing against a bunch of four and five-year-olds. I would dominate like LeBron James playing hoops against the local High School Junior Varsity team.

Most kids can’t imagine Easter Day without an Easter egg hunt. I used to love the adrenaline-pumping thrill of the hunt — and that was just last year. Actually we do hold an annual Easter egg hunt at St. John’s following our 9:00 am Family Service on Easter Day. A few parents organize it with help from some eager teens – which means I occasionally stumble on unfound eggs in mid-August. There’s no better reminder of the resurrection than encountering a gooey four-month old melted mixture of chocolate bunny and purple jelly beans inside a plastic egg.

I know that in some religious circles Easter egg hunts are anathema – something about being pagan in origin. And, yes, the egg as a symbol of rebirth and new life pre-dates Christianity. But I like Easter egg hunts and not just because free jelly beans are the best kind. I love watching a young child’s face light up with the thrill of discovery. Nothing beats it.

And that thrill of discovery was precisely what took place on that first Easter morning. No, I’m not comparing Christ’s resurrection to an Easter egg hunt but there is something wonderfully exhilarating about the moment of discovery. The disciples experienced it when they came upon the empty tomb and children experience it when they find an egg. The hope is that kids will find that same feeling of discovery as they mature and move ever deeper into relationship with God.

This week Christians throughout the world will be marking the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The liturgies of Holy Week allow us to fully participate in this, not as passive observers but as active participants. For the stories of this week are our stories; the drama is our drama; the victory is our victory. But we must be fully engaged in order to be fully transformed. You can’t experience the breadth of Easter joy without first experiencing the agony of the cross, or at least reflecting upon it. Otherwise you end up crashing from the sugar high – as if Easter morning was spent downing Peep after Peep with no genuine sustenance in sight. Which sounds dandy until the inevitable crash.

Wherever you worship this year, I encourage you to embrace the Christian “High Holy Days:” Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil as we move from the Upper Room for the Last Supper to the Crucifixion to Resurrection. At St. John’s we offer evening services at 7:30 pm on all those days as well as liturgies specifically geared toward children (in particular our 4:00 pm Children’s Good Friday service). Of course we also have services on Easter Sunday at St. John’s — three of them to be precise.

So consider this an invitation — to my own church or any church this week. You won’t be disappointed and your faith will surely be deepened along the way. I know how difficult it can be to enter the doors of a church for the first time. “Will they be annoyingly hard sell? Will I be smothered with pleasantries? Will I know what to do? Will they make me stand up and introduce myself?” But I bid you to overcome the feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. You’ll be glad you did and there is no better time of year to “try out” a new church. Know that you’ll be warmly welcomed and never judged for kneeling at the wrong time. Wherever or however you worship this year, I wish you a very blessed Easter.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. For a full list of Holy Week and Easter services visit www.stjohns-hingham.org.

God’s Country

swrnn-lost-hikers-art-smith-trailIn my latest “In Good Faith” column, I mention my recent trip into the California desert (I saw a road runner!) to preach in Palm Desert. My good friend Lane Hensley is the rector at St. Margaret’s and invited me to preach following my time attending and co-leading a workshop (with my archnemesis) at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes conference in San Diego. From 80 degrees and blue skies to wintery mix. But it’s still good to be home. Really.

God’s Country

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

I saw the most amazing sight while in southern California last week. After flying out for a mid-week conference in San Diego, I stayed through the weekend to guest preach at a church in Palm Desert. Having never been out that way I was mesmerized by the two-and-a-half-hour drive out into the desert. The waterfront quickly gave way to rolling green hills which morphed into giant rock-covered mountains full of cacti and, I was told, rattlesnakes. The topography was near Biblical — stunningly wild and beautiful.

I even had a road runner pointed out to me as it scampered across the landscape. For someone who’s only seen one on Saturday morning cartoons, this was impressive. Sure, we have coyotes in Massachusetts but definitely not road runners.

None of this is what truly captured my imagination or made me do a triple take. That moment would come just as we neared the peak of the highest mountain before heading down into the Palm Dessert valley. A young couple had pulled over to the side of the road. They were standing just slightly away from their car. At first I thought maybe they had engine trouble and we slowed down. Then in an instant it became clear what they were doing: the young man had a camera in his hand and he was taking a picture of a tiny patch of snow.

Imagine! Someone who had probably grown up in the desert wanting to record a rare remnant of cold weather. My first thought was “Picture? Get me a shovel!” But then I started reflecting on the power of different perspectives. We were both mesmerized by what we saw that day. We just came at it from diametrically opposed angles. As I thought about it, snow in the desert is an incredible sight. And if he thought about it, I’m sure he would recognize that the ancient rock formation upon which this small piece of snow stood, was also extraordinary. We could have mocked one another for our respective parochialism — that’s what people usually do when confronted with different perspectives (our recent national election is exhibit A). But it’s the diversity of viewpoints that enriches us and gets at the fulness of an elusive truth.

I admit I’ve always disliked the expression “God’s country.” I picture someone wandering around an unadulterated prairie of Wyoming saying, “Now this is God’s country.” Well, of course it is. But so is every other corner of the earth. It’s all God’s country: the populated urban parts, the desolate rural areas, the tract houses in a nameless suburban county. To imply that one part of the world is “God’s country” is to suggest that God is somehow more present in certain areas than others. Which is not only lousy theology but also a rather arrogant worldview.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate reveling in God’s creation — especially when there seems to be less and less of it these days. Driving through the desert made me think about the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry. This season of Lent, in which we find ourselves, mirrors Jesus’ time in the desert and helps Christians walk the way of the cross that leads to Easter joy.

Each one of us takes a different spiritual path — there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to faith. Some of us might encounter two-foot snow drifts; others 120 degree desert heat. Yet as our Lenten journeys bring us closer to God, we recognize that while we don’t have all the answers, we do have unique experiences worth sharing.

The Theology of Ray Lewis

nfl_raylewis_05Just whipped off my latest “In Good Faith” column while basking in the warm glow of the Ravens Super Bowl victory.

The Theology of Ray Lewis

Whenever anyone asks me whether God has a hand in the outcome of sporting events, I have a ready answer. I point to the three little league baseball seasons I coached with a fellow Episcopal priest: we never had a winning season. Granted we weren’t exactly down on our knees in the dugout or teaching our players the proper way to cross themselves in the batter’s box. But you’d think God would have at least sent one power hitter our way or blessed us with an outfielder who could actually track fly balls.

There’s been a lot of talk about God’s role in sports the past few weeks. Sports Illustrated even ran a cover story with the headline “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” featuring a picture of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis emerging from a body of water with his hands clasped in prayer.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you I’m originally from Baltimore. I am a passionate, life-long Orioles fan ray-lewis-on-sports-illustratedand a huge Ravens fan. As I write this the morning after the Super Bowl, I’m reveling in last night’s events while drinking coffee at Redeye Roasters wearing my Ray Lewis jersey.

It’s no secret Lewis is a polarizing figure — as a young man he was put on trial in connection with a double murder following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. He was cleared but charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. For some, that connection, regardless of the fuzzy circumstances and outcome of the trial, has forever vilified Lewis. Like most Baltimoreans I believe he’s done an admirable job of turning his life around and have seen first-hand the impact he’s had in that city through charity work and inspiring a generation of underprivileged young boys and girls. I also love his passion for the game of football, admire his leadership skills, and feel privileged to have seen the best linebacker of his era play both live and on television.

I must, however, take exception to Lewis’ brand of public theology. There’s no doubt he has a larger pulpit than any member of the clergy. He can “preach” to millions while most of us are stuck preaching to hundreds. His platform makes the pulpit at the Washington National Cathedral look like a battery-operated megaphone. The problem with this is that Lewis can preach the Gospel According to Ray without consequence or accountability. He claims to answer to God alone but sometimes there’s a fine line between God and Ray and that not only makes people uncomfortable, it can be dangerous.

In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, a reporter asked Lewis, “How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?” He responded “When God is for you, who can be against you?” The implication being that God was “for” Lewis and the Ravens more than God was “for” the 49ers. That’s a slippery theological slope. Does it mean that God preferred one Harbaugh brother over the other? Does it mean that if you pray enough, God will reward you with success and riches beyond your wildest imagination? If you don’t win the big game or get that promotion or get an A on your calculus test, are you a lousy Christian?

gods-linebackerThis not only turns faith into competitive blood sport, it sets up a dangerous dualistic approach where you’re either on God’s side or not. Everything becomes black and white with no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the human relationship with God is much more nuanced than this — our faith ebbs and flows, there are moments of inspiration followed by periods of doubt. Like the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, faith is a living, breathing life-long journey of falling away and returning to God.

In other words, if God is for us, that doesn’t mean there’s an equal and opposite person that God is against. It just doesn’t work that way since God is “for” everyone who seeks God out and takes even the most tentative step toward relationship.

I’m still going to enjoy this Super Bowl victory and wear my purple with pride. I just don’t think I’ll be inviting Ray Lewis to guest preach any time soon.

Good Grief: Bidding Farewell to a Beloved Pet

CasperIn my latest “In Good Faith” column, I discuss the loss of our beloved ferret Casper in the days after Christmas. And also the importance of modeling for our children healthy ways to grieve.

Good Grief: Bidding Farewell to a Beloved Pet

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

When a pet dies, it leaves a hole in your heart. For anyone who’s bid farewell to a beloved animal this isn’t exactly a news flash. To love and to lose is to grieve.

We experienced this firsthand in the days after Christmas as Casper, our adorable little ferret  was diagnosed with a fatal liver disease. Yes, I just used “ferret” and “adorable” in the same sentence. Let me explain how we ended up living with not just one but two of these carnivorous mammals (Ferret Ownership 101 teaches you that they are not rodents).

When the boys met two ferrets belonging to a family friend last fall, they quickly became enamored with these cuddly yet mischievous creatures. The next thing I knew we had a giant cage set up in our family room and had adopted two ferrets from Rhode Island. This is what happens when you dare to blink around our house.

Casper and Mimi, as the boys dubbed them, were quickly folded into family life. While our dog Delilah defiantly ignored these interlopers, letting them out to run around their playpen became part of the morning and evening routines.

When we received the diagnosis from the vet, the boys were devastated. Actually we were all in bad shape as we processed the news. Didn’t we just send out a Christmas card featuring our entire extended “family?” But I also recognized an important opportunity — something that will remain part of Casper’s legacy. Modeling healthy and appropriate ways to say goodbye is an important responsibility for any parent and Bryna and I had an opportunity to do just that.

When we shield our children from grief we do them no favors. Yes, there are age-appropriate ways to introduce kids to the concept of mortality. We started the conversation years ago with goldfish — I’ve conducted more toilet-side burials than I care to remember. We’ve also taken the boys to the occasional wake or funeral of family members or friends, allowing them to ask questions and helping to guide the conversation.

Over the years, I’ve seen families grieve in healthy ways that unite and I’ve seen families grieve in unhealthy ways that divide. When things get nasty it’s often the result of either a broken relationship with the deceased or an inability to face death. For people of faith, death is not the end nor is it the final goodbye. Rather it is an entrance into a larger life and thus death is merely a temporary farewell. This doesn’t make grief un-Christian — hardly — but in time it does take the sting of lasting anger and bitterness out of our hearts.

The healthy approach is to acknowledge the pain and the myriad emotions of grief. We let the boys grieve in their own ways and gave them space to do so even while walking with them through our own sadness. We prayed; we talked; we acknowledged the pain and loss we were all feeling. This isn’t a magic formula; it’s not always neat and tidy. But just as God weeps when we weep and rejoices when we rejoice, we can do the same with our children.

Casper’s last day on this earth was all any of us could hope for. He was surrounded by love and compassion and prayers and friends. Jen, whose two ferrets the boys first encountered, stopped by with Mahi and Fenway. While Casper rested comfortably the other three ferrets played, occasionally checking in on Casper. Other friends came through and some of the neighborhood children who knew Casper stopped by to pay their respects. Even Delilah was attentive to Casper, standing guard near his cage in the hours before I took Casper to the vet to be put down.

I’m not comparing a human death to the death of a ferret but the emotions of grief are universal. Pets also communicate in ways that transcend language, allowing us to relate to them on a purely emotional level. When dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever live in our homes we develop special relationships and attachments to them that defy rational logic. But then love itself is hardly rational or logical.

Ben's Casper Collage

Ben’s Casper Collage

In Good Faith: Season Creep — The Lost Art of Waiting

xmascreeppier1My latest monthly column explores the reasons we can’t seem to enjoy one holiday without jumping ahead to the next one. I call this “Season Creep” and it’s both  insidious and harmful to the soul.

Season Creep — The Lost Art of Waiting

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Season Creep. It’s what happens when Halloween candy is put out with Back-to-School sales and Christmas decorations are up before Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day chocolates are juxtaposed with New Year’s noisemakers. People have been bemoaning this for years even as we keep feeding into it. “I can’t believe they’re having a Christmas sale in the middle of November!” we proclaim with righteous indignation as we slap down our credit card to get a great deal on an xBox.

It’s easy to complain about the madness of it all; to reminisce about the days of yore when we actually enjoyed one season before moving on to the next. It’s harder to do something about it. It’s harder to change our lifestyle to reflect a healthier and ultimately more fulfilling approach to the changing of the seasons.

But first it’s helpful to think about why we’re in such a hurry. Why are we so ready to drop one holiday for the next even while the first holiday is still going on? Why do we have to plot out our Christmas shopping strategy while still eating pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day? Why can’t we be more attentive to living in the moment and enjoying the present before jumping to the next big thing? As easy as it is to foist blame on the nameless, faceless “culture of materialism,” I think it transcends consumerism and marketing.

We also have to take some responsibility here. Because when you strip away our handheld technologies and the instant access to information to which we’ve become accustomed, we’re still simply human beings seeking to make sense of our transitory lives. We rush around like mall Santas with our heads cut off because we don’t truly believe that God is present in every moment. We act as if we can just stay ahead of the pack our deep insecurities and fears will never catch up to us. Of course that’s merely setting our lives up like a house of (Christmas) cards — it’s not sustainable in the long run.

One thing that’s also lost in all of this rushing ahead is the sense of sweet anticipation. We’re not so good at living into the practice of waiting. Like your average toddler we want what we want and we want it now! Our tantrums are less public than the one thrown on the floor of the the home goods department at Macy’s but the attitude is similar.

Think about the first time you were in love. The ache of parting and then waiting until the next time you were together made your time together that much sweeter. That’s what waiting does for the soul. It makes each moment more precious and allows us to enjoy time spent together without racing to clean up the dishes or put up the Christmas tree or box up the ornaments.

This year, I encourage you to live into the season of Advent — the four weeks that precede Christmas Day. Advent is the Church’s time of holy waiting and, yes, it is extremely counter-cultural. We don’t belt out Christmas carols at church until Christmas Eve; we don’t hang the greens and put out the poinsettias around the altar until much later in the season.

(Actually I no longer refer to decorating the church at Christmas as the “hanging of the greens.” I used to, until we had a family join the church named “Green.” So now we call it the “greening of the church” and the Greens don’t have to watch their backs this time of year).

Advent is a reminder that there’s a sacred rhythm that runs parallel to the secular timetable of the season. Go ahead and shop and hum Christmas carols and watch Frosty the Snowman with the kids but be mindful of season creep. And know that only when you allow that anticipation to build as you wait and watch and prepare to meet Jesus anew, is the deep joy of Christmas complete.

In Good Faith: Oh, Sandy!

In my latest In Good Faith column I talk about hurricanes, Jesus, and what it means to get “lit up” at the rectory.

Oh, Sandy!

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

One of the perks of living next door to a church is easy access to candelabra. This may not seem like a big deal unless you’re setting up a haunted house in your cellar or doing your best Liberace impression, but it comes in handy when the power goes out.

Here in Hingham, on Boston’s South Shore, we were spared the worst of this week’s “Frankenstorm” but at the St. John’s rectory we did lose power twice for a few hours. Having gone without power for a week following a hurricane when we lived in New York with two toddlers, the flickering lights still make me twitch. This time, thanks to a plethora of candle stubs and said candelabra, we were all lit up at the rectory. And by “lit up” I’m not referring to any pre-Sandy run to the liquor store but having the whole family awash in candlelight.

For me, one of the enduring images of Scripture is Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). Sure, it would have been nice to have had Jesus doing the same down in New Jersey and other places on Monday; to cry out “Be still!” and have the wind and rain obey. While I don’t doubt that he could, the danger here is reducing Jesus to little more than a glorified Mother Nature.

I’ve always thought this episode speaks more to Jesus’ ability to calm the storms that rage within our souls and the way he brings peace into our hearts amid uncertainty and fear. It’s not that faith prevents storms from swirling around us — they are part of the human condition — but rather it guarantees God’s presence with us right in the midst of them. Just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples during the storm, he is with us in our own metaphorical boats providing comfort and offering hope. Sometimes we only see this in retrospect but that neither diminishes the reality nor lessens the impact.

I admit it was nice having a few hours without the TV or xBox. Once the kids get past the inconceivable reality that the “on” buttons really don’t work without electricity, we can settle into a Little House on the Prairie routine. Thankfully only for a short period — there’s only so much any of us can take. But being taken out of our routines offers a good dose of perspective on what really matters and forces us to be grateful for the many blessings that surround us. Even if that didn’t include a second day off from school (sorry, boys).

One modern phenomenon that brings the world closer during trying times is the advent of social media. Say what you will about the “anti-social” behavior of staring at small screens but the interconnectedness through forums such as Facebook and Twitter allow us to stay in touch with friends and loved ones in harm’s way.

It is this same interconnectedness that binds us together in prayer and so my prayers go out to families and individuals affected by this storm. At last report nearly 20 people died in the United States alone and nearly a hundred others in countries to our south. We pray for those who mourn, we give thanks to the first responders who put their own safety at risk, and we ask for God’s mercy as communities and lives are rebuilt.

If you are seeking a way to make an immediate difference in the lives of those most affected, please consider a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development Hurricane Relief Fund. Log onto their website at www.er-d.org or call them at 855-312-HEAL.


In Good Faith: “C’mon Get Happy”

In my latest “In Good Faith” column I explore the possibilities of leaving it all behind to go on tour with the family. Sure, there are a few obstacles standing in the way like adequate talent and the lack of a Partridge Family-style bus. But surely those aren’t insurmountable?

“C’mon Get Happy”

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

“Don’t look now but we’re becoming the Partridge Family,” I muttered to my wife the other day. No, we didn’t trade in our ten-year-old mini-van for a vintage tour bus but over the summer the boys and I started taking music lessons.

Although it’s been 25 years since my last one, I’m officially a guitar student again. Now that my dream of playing major league baseball has been unceremoniously jettisoned – evidently no team wants to sign a 40-something with little talent and less experience – all I have left is my dream to become a rock n’ roll star.

Over the summer the boys and I discovered the newly opened Guitar Center in Braintree. Occupying the former Borders space, the place is a cavernous candy store for would-be rockers. Despite the name, the place is packed with not only guitars but drums, keyboards, amps, basses, and anything else you could possibly need to imitate the Rolling Stones. Or Danny Bonaduce.

Best of all, they offer on-site lessons. So after drooling over various instruments, the next thing I knew the three of us were signed up to start rocking out.

The real musician in our family is Zack who has played the clarinet and recently graduated to the oboe (if you get confused among woodwinds, it’s the duck in Peter and the Wolf). The instrument is so obscure he’s evidently the only oboe player in the entire Hingham Middle School. During summer camp he became enamored with the bass guitar and has been plucking away ever since. Well, ever since I put out the call on Facebook to ask if anyone local had a bass guitar burning a hole in their basement. Someone did.

Ben tooled around on the violin in elementary school before dropping it like a bad transmission when he had the chance. So naturally he’s our drummer. I always swore no child of mine would ever play the drums. Of course this is coming from the same father who swore that no child of his would ever become a Yankees fan. A few lessons and a starter drum kit off Craig’s List later, our house sounds like a combat zone heavy on the artillery.

So far, our repertoire consists of the opening bars of “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band, “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion, and, well, that’s about it. No, we’re not going to be learning “C’mon, get happy.”

Actually, I’m a big fan of the blues and have hacked around with basic blues riffs for years. Every once in a while, when it’s been that kind of day, I’ll plug in the old Fender Stratocaster that sits in my office closet and crank up the amp after everyone’s left. There’s just something about the blues for me that connects with the soul and relieves stress. Now that I’m actually taking lessons again, with a phenomenal teacher/guitar hero named Matt Sullivan, I’m learning new things every week and some of them even stick.

There’s something about tapping into your latent creative side that is wonderfully enriching. I find it’s especially easy for adults to lose their creative edge amid the demands of simply getting through the day. Like everything else in life – including prayer – it takes intentionality to carve out time for creativity. It’s not about the talent – fortunately – it’s about finding things that nurture the soul and allow us to use the gifts and passions bestowed upon us by God. I’m trying both metaphorically and literally to plug into this but pursuing your creativity may well be unplugged – like art or writing or cooking or gardening or woodworking.

At some point I’ll obviously be leaving my day job to hit the road and start touring. Aside from getting Bryna a tambourine, the only other thing we’ll need is a tour bus.