An Unexpected Epistle

unnamedAs part of my Lenten discipline, I’ve been cleaning things out around the house. There’s a practical side to it, of course, and it was Bryna who suggested it. Frankly, her “encouragement” preceded Lent by some weeks and had nothing to do with a holy season in the Church year. But as I thought about it, I’ve come to embrace the idea of lightening the material load and there’s a spiritual aspect to this as well. Stripping away some of the stuff you accumulate over the years is freeing. So I’m trying to do a little work every day.

Not surprisingly, I got stuck on books. Some of these things I’ve been hauling around the country since college. I mean, you never know when you might need to brush up on the tobacco culture of the antebellum South. Anyway, I was sorting through some books when I came across a slim volume without any markings on the spine titled Siloama: The Church of the Healing Spring. Published by the Hawaiian Board of Missions in 1948, it was part of a series of books meant to capture “The story of certain almost forgotten Protestant churches.”

This particular book tells the story of the Protestant church in Siloama on the island of Molokai. Many people know the story of how the island became a leper colony in the 1800’s and of the heroic and faithful ministry of Father Damien who died on the island of the disease. What people don’t know is that there was a Protestant church on the island that predated Father Damien’s ministry.

Anyway, I have this book because my great-grandfather on my father’s side, the Rev. Norman Schenck, was a Congregationalist missionary who lived norman_schenckout his life in Hawaii. He served as General Secretary of the Board of Hawaiian Missions. I don’t know too much about him other than what’s been passed down by my family — that he was a beloved figure who was dedicated, passionate, and effective in his vocation.

But what truly amazed me was an old type-written letter I found tucked inside the book. Dated December 14, 1941, it was a pastoral letter sent to the Japanese congregations under his care in the immediate aftermath of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. It astounded me.

I thought I’d retype and share this unexpected epistle.  Here it is:

Statement by Norman C. Schenck read to the congregations
of Makiki and Nuuanu Churches — Sunday, Dec. 14, 1941

To the Pastor, Members and Friends of the ———- Church:

As General Secretary of the Board of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association it is my privilege and honor to bring you this morning, – Christian greetings.

All of us in the Hawaiin Islands are now under a strange and new order of things for our beloved Islands of Paradise.

We are, through no choice of our own, in a state of war.

The implications of this state of war were dramatically revealed to us on Sunday, December 7, 1941 when an attack was made upon our Islands. This caused immediate loss of life in the personnel of our armed forces and among our fellow residents. As a result, martial law has been declared.

All of us have spent this past week in one form of activity or another, seeking to do our part along the lines required by the emergency which faces us.

Every resident of our Islands is under a dual obligation.

First, he must do his part in the great program of national defense. This is not only a duty. It is a privilege. Hawaii is our home. Every Christian citizen will rise up to defend his home with all the courage and devotion of which he is capable. Already the calm and efficient manner in which our people of many racial ancestries have done this, has been commended by those in charge of our public and private welfare. Let us continue to work together with calm and patient and determined purpose.

Second, there is need for all of us to keep up the high levels of morale among our people. This deals with the sources by which men and women live. It is vital to our physical, moral and spiritual health.

In this realm, the Christian Church has  solemn responsibility.

I speak to you this morning not as a Japanese church, – but as a Christian church. We are “one in Christ Jesus.” We are bound together in love, – not to be divided by hatred.

The Christian Church is not afraid of suffering. Its only fear is disloyalty on the part of any Christian to our Lord and Master. And, of course, loyalty to Christ inspires loyalty to each other and to the government under which we live.

May I, therefore, urge upon the pastor and the members of this congregation to minister in every way to the spiritual needs of people and to intensify the Christian work of calling in the homes, of providing for the children and youth, and of holding high the Christian standard of conduct in thought, word and deed.

The Christian Church is needed for moral defense. It is also needed for light in a darkened world.

May God be with you, and with your spirits.

The Rev. Norman C. Schenck

Grammatically Incorrect Slogans

apple-think-differentI’ve always been both fascinated and righteously indignant about grammatically incorrect advertising. I’m not a grammar fascist — frankly, my grammar’s just not good enough to qualify and I still have flashbacks to trying to learn how to diagram sentences in Mr. Grimes’ sixth grade English class at Gilman School in Baltimore. But overt linguistic fouls annoy me. Maybe it stems from having two English majors as parents who always insisted on speaking and writing correctly. It’s not like they slapped me with a ruler if I used “good” instead of “well,” but if I delved into the realm of lousy grammar at home I generally heard about it.

Now, I’m not as bad as my mother who would often call over a poor, unsuspecting waiter to complain about a typo or grammatical sin on the menu. It didn’t matter if it was a fancy French restaurant or a truck stop. This usually had to do with a missing or extraneous accent mark, though even I had to agree when “Chicken Franchise” showed up on a menu in the Poconos when what they meant was “Chicken Francaise.”

I also remember my dad talking about grammatically incorrect advertising slogans like the old cigarette tagline “Winstons taste good, like a cigaretteimages should.” Of course it should have been “Winstons taste good, as a cigarette should.” 

This got me thinking about current or recent advertising that plays fast and loose withe the rules of grammar. I’m sure you can think of others but here are a few along with how they should read.

Eggo Waffles: Leggo my Eggo — Let go of my Eggo

Milk: Got Milk? — Do you have milk?

Subway: Subway, eat fresh — Subway, eat freshly

Apple: Think Different — Think differently

McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it — I am loving it

Staples: We got that. — We have that.

What others can you think of? (and yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition).





The “Dog” has Landed

Dog full cover

While my own copies are “in the mail,” my new book Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos is now available! Below is the press release which includes a nice quote from my archnemesis, Forward Movement Executive Director Scott Gunn. If the kind words shock you, just imagine him saying them though gritted teeth. I may or may not have said something complimentary in the Acknowledgments section — you’ll just have to buy the book to find out (and that, my friends, is what we call a “teaser”).

If for no other reason, I suggest you pick up a copy for the accompanying cartoons alone. Priest and cartoonist Jay Sidebotham is at his whimsical best, capturing the essence of each essay and conveying the inherent humor — scroll down to see a couple that appear in the book. As I’ve said before, I’m hoping people will buy the book because they think it’s one of Jay’s now famous annual church calendars. A brilliantly diabolical marketing scheme by the folks at Forward Movement!

The book makes a great, cheap ($10) last-minute Advent or Christmas gift. As I think about it, it would be perfect to give to friends and family for St. Nicholas Day on December 6th since it’s the ideal size to jam into a shoe.

Also, for clergy friends, you can use it for a fun, interactive Advent series — there are reflection questions following each section. I’m personally using it as a two-part series on Advent spirituality for parents but it’s appropriate conversation fodder for adults of any age.

Anyway, I do hope you enjoy it. It was fun to pull these essays together and it kept me off the streets during the Lent Madness offseason.



New Advent & Christmas Book from Forward Movement

Forward Movement is pleased to announce the publication of Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos, written by the Rev. Tim Schenck and illustrated by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham.

“Our faith is a gift, but it isn’t a perfectly wrapped present with exact folds and a precisely tied bow. Fortunately faith isn’t about being neat and tidy,” writes Schenck.  “You may burn the Christmas roast, Santa may not bring your child exactly what she wanted, you might even get sick and miss out on the best party of the year. But through it all, God remains.”

halofixWith its laugh-out-loud humor anchored by spiritual truths, Dog in the Manger helps us maintain our spiritual sanity through the often-frenetic chaos of Advent and Christmas.

“My heart weeps when I see people so frazzled in the weeks leading up to December twenty-fifth that it sucks the joy out of Christmas,” laments Schenck. “We all struggle to remain spiritually centered amid the frenzy of the holidays. Hopefully this book will make you laugh, nod your head in recognition, and help you keep both faith and perspective at the center of your celebration.”

Illustrated by popular cartoonist Jay Sidebotham, Dog in the Manger also explores the major characters of the season in new ways, including John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph – and of course, Jesus. Thoughtful questions following each section make Dog in the Manger ideal for personal reflection, seasonal book groups, or a last-minute Christmas gift.

ochristmastree“Creating illustrations for Tim’s engaging stories was a lot of fun,” Jay Sidebotham reveals. “I know readers will savor his insights into the joys and challenges we all face in navigating the holidays. I hope that my drawings, prompted by Tim’s fine text, add to that experience, and that the book will become one more way that we prepare, faithfully, for Christmas.”

Richelle Thompson, managing editor at Forward Movement, raves, “As a reader, a mom, a wife, and occasional perfectionist, Tim’s hilarious essays help me rediscover the joy of the Christmas chaos. These reflections encourage all of us to ensure Christ is at the center of the frenzy, from getting the family photo to wrapping unwieldy gifts to the inevitable post-Christmas blues.”

“Tim deftly uses humor to show us how we can find God even when Christmas Eve doesn’t end up looking like the postcard we had in our minds.” observes The Rev. Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement, and co-conspirator with Schenck on Lent Madness. “With laughter and wisdom in good measure, we can succeed in discovering the true joy of Christmas even in chaos.”

TES headshotThe Rev. Tim Schenck is rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts, and the creator of Lent Madness. He is the author of What Size Are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life (Morehouse 2008) and writes a monthly syndicated column for Gatehouse Media titled “In Good Faith.” When he’s not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Family Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family.

jayThe Rev. Jay Sidebotham is well-known for his cartoons about church life and his animation work on the television cartoon Schoolhouse Rock! He is the director of RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement. He served for many years as rector of Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois, and has served congregations in New York City, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and Rhode Island.

To order Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos, click here.

Forward Movement works to nurture discipleship and encourage evangelism by providing print and digital resources to all who wish to deepen their spiritual engagement. Based in Cincinnati, OH since its inception in 1935, Forward Movement is widely known for Forward Day by Day. Forward Movement is a ministry of The Episcopal Church.

Guest Blogger: My Mother!

41ZvMf8xTnLWhile most people blame their mothers for everything that’s wrong with them (paging Dr. Freud), today I’m thanking my mother for something she shared with me: a passion for writing. Despite a fruitful career in residential real estate — she always said that two people working in the non-profit world was one too many — she’s a writer at heart.

She did, in fact, author a terrific cook book in 1987 called The Desperate Gourmet. Yes, there were recipes but it was really a philosophy of life. With a symphony conductor for a husband, two children, and a thriving career the book was borne of necessity — if you like great food but don’t have time to prepare it you have no choice but to become a “desperate gourmet.” I’m particularly proud that my cheesecake recipe (“Tim’s Best of Show”) made it in since that’s really the only thing I can make that doesn’t involve a grill.

What I find interesting is that the older I get the more similarities I see in our writing styles. This became even clearer the other day when she sent me a piece she had written about 30 years ago. She never did anything with it and I’d never even seen it before. But I think it’s a great little piece of writing and told her I wanted to share it on my blog. It doesn’t have a title since she never got that far but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Guest Blogger — Lois Schenck

In 1975, a reporter was kind enough to write a very complimentary article about how I manage to be a conductor’s wife, mother of two young children, professional writer and Realtor, all at the same time. What is closer to the truth, however, is that my life is a variation of that old nursery rhyme that goes, “when it is good it is very, very good, and when it doesn’t work, it is horrid.”

There are times when I feel exactly like a New Yorker cartoon I laughed at years ago before it became my logo. It showed two pictures side by side. In the first, an impeccably well-heeled lady was revealed. In the second, the boudoir itself was revealed: a clothing jungle in which no article was left inside a single drawer or closet.

In all fairness to me, the reason for my own jungle is not so much that I hate housekeeping or consider it beneath me, but more a question of priorities. If you are aschenck5going to care about your husband and his career, yourself and your career, your children as people and yourselves as a family, something’s gotta go! When you are trying to choose a dress for your husband’s concert while a pair of jelly-tipped fingers is tugging at you, while you are trying to remember where the maestro put the cufflinks that are supposed to be in the box in his top drawer but aren’t, while a real estate client wants you on the phone and while you are trying to answer some ponderous question like “Mommy, where does my food go after I eat it?” your boudoir is likely to wear the scars for a year!

Whenever I complain about this to my mother she cheerfully reminds me that I didn’t have to have either children or a career, both of which are only true in theory.  But she’s right about one thing. I do lead this crazy existence of mine by choice and, if the truth be known, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the funniest examples of the kind of people, place and juggling that goes on around here happened about 4:30 on an afternoon when I had just gotten home. Andrew called from the concert hall to say that the soloist for his upcoming concert had just arrived and invited us out to dinner. I knew I couldn’t get a babysitter at that late hour, so joining them was out of the question. But I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity because spending time with guest artists is one of the pleasures of our existence.

Scan 5Could we invite the soloist to our house for dinner? It was already 4:30, a definite minus. I happened to have a pork tenderloin sitting in a lovely Chinese marinade, a definite plus. I also had something in the freezer I could pull out for hors d’oeuvres. Fine.

I decided that if I started right then, I might just be able to set the table, organize the dinner, get the house picked up (forget clean), get the kids fed (forget bathed) and put to bed without feeling rushed to the slaughter, and come out like a reasonable facsimile of a human being.

By some miracle, we had a delightful dinner. So delightful, in fact, that the festivities lasted until 1:00 am, which is fine and dandy until  a very few hours later, breakfast for the nursery school set comes crashing in without even knocking.

As I said before, when it works, those fleeting moments when I feel I might have succeeded in being all things to all people, life is wonderful. But when it doesn’t, when I go flying off to a real estate closing without the termite certificate, without which there can be no closing, or when the baby sitter calls in sick half an hour before we have to leave for a concert, or when any number of things happen to make my much too saturated solution break down.

At moments like this, it is hard to think positive about the joys of multi-tasking, but it does make the pleasures all the more enjoyable. Before Matthew was in Scan 7nursery school, I used to love to keep Timothy home for the day so I could take both boys to one of their father’s children’s concerts. Quite apart from their obvious pleasure in watching their father conduct, my compensation for trying to keep track of two little Indians in a concert was watching them experience some things most children never get a chance to do: climb on an opera prop, bang on the timpani, or take flowers to a star in her dressing room.

Times like these really make me appreciate the specialness of my life, but it’s funny. People invariable envy you for the wrong reasons. Everyone assumes my general state of happiness comes from the excitement of living with someone in the public eye. Actually, the public Andrew Schenck and all the “glamour” that surrounds him excites me far less than the person he is. Among other things, the thrill of being recognized in public brings with it the mixed blessing of being seen in places where you would rather be anonymous like  when the symphony gossip mongers see him in the grocery where he appears on rare occasions and report to their cronies that Andrew Schenck’s mean wife makes him do the grocery shopping!

If anyone is going to envy me, let it for the right reasons. Most of all, the relationship I have with my husband in which the happiness of one is directly related to the happiness of the other.

So many people ask me how I manage the number of roles I juggle that one day I tried to figure it out and came to the single conclusion that I am that rare breed of woman in today’s world: liberated, and very much in love.

I am the 1.37%

It’s not everyday that you write a book. Well, unless you’re James Patterson and you have a staff of 50 writers working for you. Alas, I have a staff of one. 

You may not be aware that I recently wrote a book. Technically I co-authored it with a bunch of other people. And technically I only wrote 1.37% of it. But I was proud enough of it to give my free author’s copy to my mother for a (no-cost-to-me-but-it-looked-like-I-spent-at-least-$15) Christmas gift.

Walking With God Day By Day is a series of 365 brief meditations for the whole year. I wrote five of them which means that if you’d like me to personally sign your copy I can only, in good faith, write 1.37% of my name. In the spirit of giving, I guess I could round up and give you the whole “T.” (At the bottom of this post you’ll find one of the five).

Even though the New Year has already begun, you don’t have to feel bad about getting a late start since my first meditation doesn’t appear until sometime in March. In fact, the publisher has offered readers of Clergy Family Confidential a 25% discount! Yes, my archnemesis, Scott Gunn, at Forward Movement has extended this generous offer. Act now and he’ll throw in a gratuitous blog post about the book as well.

Seriously,  if you click on the book title link above and enter code AUTH25 you’ll get a 25% discount on the printed book. You can also use the code if you call to place your order at 800-543-1813. There’s one trick on the website according to Scott, “Alas, our antediluvian website won’t show the discount right when they order, but we’ll take it off when we process the order.”

It’s also available for Kindle and Nook. No discount but it’s already cheap there.

There are a number of great authors who participated in this project including Lent Madness “Celebrity Bloggers” Heidi Shott and Penny Nash (stay tuned for Lent Madness 2012). Scott wrote a few reflections as did a bunch of talented writers I’ve never heard of (I’m sure the feeling is mutual).

If you do order it, I know you’ll enjoy it and get a lot out of it. And if not, complain to Scott.

Brush with Royalty
I once had a brush with royalty. When I was in high school, my family took a trip to London and we hit all the usual hotspots: the Tower of London, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Toward the end of the day, we ended up in the famous Tate Gallery. At some point I wandered off by myself, and when I turned around I came face-to-face with…the Queen Mum.

I’m not much of a royal-watcher, but even I couldn’t miss this one. There she was, in all her glory, wearing a bright purple dress with matching shoes and handbag. She was short but dignified and quite, well, old. While she was at least ninety-something at that point, she still made a striking impression. And there she was, close enough that I could have reached out and touched her were it not for the large bodyguard with his hand inside his sport jacket, ready to blow anyone away who even looked at her funny.

While keeping tabs on the British monarchy may be good fun, there is, of course, only one King. And when we reflect upon Christ the King, our earthly notions of kingship must be suspended. Jesus isn’t about the trappings of earthly monarchs—he was born in a stable, not a palace; he had a group of nomadic followers, not a royal court; he had “nowhere to lay his head,” not a royal bed chamber. It’s a different kind of kingship and a different kind of kingdom. And yet, as the Son of God, Jesus is the only king in the history of kingship who could authentically lay claim to Divine Right. —Tim Schenck

Snow Day

With half the country enjoying a snow day (and the other half — the parental half — surviving it), it seemed like a good day to reflect on the pain and pleasure of large amounts of snow. At our house there was great weeping and gnashing of teeth this morning when the boys heard the the Hingham Public Schools were open for business. The fact that all the surrounding towns had closed their schools merely served to rub (rock) salt into the wound.

Below is an essay I wrote a few years ago that appeared in my book “What Size Are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life.” The boys have gotten older but much of the principal still applies. Enjoy.

Snow Day

The dreaded call usually comes at about 5:00 am. It confirms what we suspected when we went to bed: snow day. Even in my sleep-induced stupor I make sure to pick up the phone on the first ring. If the call wakes up the kids, they’ll want to go sledding immediately. Who cares if it’s still dark with sub-Nordic temperatures and blizzard-like conditions?

No single issue in our house so divides kids and parents. The boys are thrilled with a snow day. And from a kid’s perspective, what’s not to like? For one thing, it means the previous night’s “snow dance” worked. Plus they don’t have to “do” anything on a snow day besides pelt me with snowballs, go sledding, build snow forts and snowmen, make snow angels, and end the outing with steaming mugs of whipped cream-topped hot chocolate. This so beats the alternative of sitting in school at circle time and listening to the teacher read Harold and the Purple Crayon. Even though that sounds great to me.

Then there are the adults, whose response is slightly more restrained than the boys’ unbridled joy. After the kids wake up, find out there’s no school, and start jumping on our bed, Bryna and I begin the day by canceling our various meetings. But the major difference between the two responses is that when it comes to snow, the boys play in it and we’re left to shovel it and drive in it. It never used to be this way. One of the clearest signs of aging is that I do the “anti-snow dance” to try and offset the boys’ efforts.

The heightened sense of joy in a snow day stems from the fact that children seem hard-wired to hate school. Even though they love going to school to see their friends, even though they take pleasure in all the activities, and even though they secretly adore their teachers, if you ask them how they like school they respond immediately with “I hate it.” At least that’s the case in our family. This takes tangible form in the daily struggle to get the kids dressed and out to the bus stop. “Why don’t you want to get dressed?” “I hate school.” “What are talking about? You had a great time yesterday.” “I hate school.”

We’re fortunate to have a pretty steep hill on the rectory property that’s perfect for sledding. But before we can even think about sledding, we first must don the cold-weather battle gear. If it’s the first snow of the year, we spend 20 minutes hunting for snow pants in the attic. Finally we find them in the box with the Christmas ornaments. Then we spend the next 15 minutes looking for boots. Oh, they were in the front hall closet where they belong. Who knew? Then comes the layering process which turns the boys into the Michelin brothers. And, finally, without fail, comes the “Dad, I have to go potty.” Of course you do, even though I asked you about this five times before getting you dressed. At least we get to avoid the fight over sunscreen.

Eventually we get outside. Snow has the same effect as a swimming pool – the boys could stay in it for hours, long after any normal adult could stand it anymore. If I stayed outside as long as Ben and Zack, they’d have to amputate several of my digits due to frostbite. But getting outside makes it all worthwhile. The boys have a blast racing down the hill. My job, like a beast of burden, is to haul the sled back up the hill after each run. It’s generally a thankless job but I barter a few runs of my own – it’s still a great adrenaline rush and the boys take an oddly intense pleasure in watching me wipe out.

Once I get beyond my initial annoyance at having my schedule turned upside down, I can appreciate the value of a snow day. It’s a forced Sabbath. And since most of us are lousy at planning days of intentional rest into our lives, it’s good to let God whitewash our calendars sometimes. We’re not as important as we think we are. Amazingly enough, life goes on even if we have to cancel a meeting or two.

Sabbath is a big concept in religious circles. Spiritual writers are forever extolling the virtue of spending a quiet day in reflection and prayer every week. It sounds great, of course, but they obviously don’t have young kids at home. Or a spouse: “Bryna, I’m going off to walk in the woods for the next eight hours. Have fun with the boys.” It’s just not happening. Maybe when the kids are old enough for sleep-away camp I’ll be able to piece together more than an hour or two. But it may have to wait until we’re empty nesters; or at least for that brief interval before they move back in with mom and dad after college. But in this season of life you take what you can get. Besides, the woods get awfully cold in the dead of winter.

Be It Resolved

In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal, I tackle the issue of New Year’s resolutions. I probably come across as grumpy — since I am — but I don’t like ’em.

Be It Resolved

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t have plenty to improve upon (just ask my children). I just find the whole set-a-goal-simply-because-the-calendar-has-changed to be a false dynamic. I’m also not a big fan of noisemakers but that may be a personal problem.

I don’t begrudge anyone else’s New Year’s resolutions and I wish them luck even as they crowd me out of the gym in January. If you’re motivated to lower your cholesterol or quit smoking or organize the files in your office because you’ve received a complimentary 2010 calendar from the local travel agency, more power to you.

But unfortunately the percentage of Americans who keep their resolutions is miniscule. Well, technically the percentage is infinitesimal but you get the point. And failed resolutions lead directly to guilt. Which is a tough way to start a New Year. Ask anyone who’s started previous years on various fad diets – Atkins, South Beach, Nantasket Beach, whatever.

Guilt is a great motivator, of course. But you simply cannot sustain a new discipline – whether that’s a diet or an exercise program by guilt. What starts off with the best of intentions turns into a downward spiral of guilt and depression. There are exceptions, of course. Like Jared from those Subway ads. But every time I see him on TV these days his midsection seems to be miraculously covered by a table or the head of a small child or a “$5 foot long.”

No doubt there’s something refreshing about New Year’s. We all need the occasional fresh start, blank slate, new beginning. Though actually I find the whole notion of being wedded to a calendar an artificial way of relating to both God and time. I know you’re thinking “Wow, that’s deep” or perhaps “I wish he’d resolved to stop writing,” so let me explain. In Psalm 90 we hear that “a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by.” In other words, God’s sense of time has little in common with our own. God is not constrained by calendars or clocks. God is not limited by human attempts to control or harness the ethereal notion of time. That’s what calendars and clocks are, after all.

Oh, they’re necessary. Otherwise our daily lives would devolve into disorder and chaos. And I’d miss “The Office” on Thursday nights. But we don’t own time. We plan, we resolve, we waste time, we maximize time but it’s ultimately not ours. We’re living not on borrowed time but on God’s time. And the sooner we recognize this, the better we’re able to enjoy the time we do have in this mortal life.

Not to be a party pooper but I guess my aversion to over-the-top New Year’s celebrations is that they always feel somehow like “forced fun.” When I was in the Army that’s what we used to call battalion events that were supposed to be fun – playing tug o’ war against the neighboring platoon – when we’d all rather be hanging out on our own. And anyone who needs a made-in-China noisemaker to show everyone what a good time he’s having needs a new definition of joy. Plus, have you ever seen anyone wearing those glasses shaped liked the New Year at any other time? I’d be impressed if someone wore 1984 glasses while shopping for deodorant at Wal-Mart. If only for the Orwellian overtones.

Perhaps what really bothers me about New Year’s resolutions is that they’re so inwardly focused. How many New Year’s resolutions have you heard about that do something for someone else? They tend to be self-improvement centered – lose weight, eat healthier, etc. Which, again, is nice but hardly does much to improve the world around us.

So here’s a challenge: if you need a New Year’s resolution, resolve to do something beyond yourself. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s walk; have coffee with a friend with whom you’ve lost touch; pray for a family in need; send the money you were going to use to download 10 new songs on your i-Pod to the Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry. And then resolve to turn these one-shot deals into yearlong habits. If you do any of these things, I’ll resolve to be less grumpy about New Year’s resolutions.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Visit him on the web at where you can access his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”

Act Now

Welcome to Cyber-Monday. You can buy my book “What Size Are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life” for practically nothing on Amazon today. Click here and it’s yours for $10.20. It makes a GREAT Christmas gift for every parent on your list. Grandparents too. And godparents. And anyone who’s ever had a parent. Or been a child.

The illustration on the cover even has me wearing a Santa hat (for reasons I’ve never understood). So it even looks like the perfect Christmas gift. People will think you scoured the millions of books on Amazon until you came up with the singularly ideal present. Just for them.

Act now and I understand Amazon will throw in a set of Ginsu knives when you purchase my book. Just enter the following coupon code: “clevercleaver.”

Help make all my Christmas dreams come true. Buy my book and help me realize the 3 cent profit I make on each one that is sold. Then one day I will be able to buy that cup of coffee I’ve always dreamed about. I will lift it high and toast each one of you while trying not to spill hot coffee on my laptop.

School’s Out

Alice-Cooper-Schools-Out-Below is a column I wrote on summer church that appears in the current issue of The Living Church. I’m not positive but I would wager that Alice C0oper has never before been quoted in the publication’s 131 years. Enjoy (or not). But here it is:


JUNE 14, 2009 • The Living Church 23

Summer Lovin’

In 1972, punk-rocker Alice Cooper released his single, “School’s Out,” with the chorus “School’s out for the summer; school’s out for ever.” And for a generation, it was the last-day anthem of school kids everywhere. I certainly remember singing it with my middle-school friends as we raced triumphantly out of our final class with pencils and notebooks flying everywhere.

And then we all looked forward to a lazy summer with, as Alice puts it in his inimitable style, “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks, out for summer, out ’til fall, we might not go back at all.” That was back when the “lazy, hazy days of summer” still meant something. Before we started over-programming our children down to the precise moment each morning when we lather them up with sunscreen.

Unfortunately, some of us keep this “school’s out” mentality toward church. The “last day” often coincides with the parish picnic or Pentecost or some other year-end event. And we live into the old adage that says “Episcopalians are the only ones God trusts enough to take the summer off.” Which is, of course, absurd; a caricature of another era. A time when everyone who was anyone was an Episcopalian. And the moneyed classes left to summer (yes, it’s a verb in this case) on the Cape or the Vineyard or Bar Harbor.

Clergy often unwittingly feed into this mindset. And it’s because we could use a break! But canceling all programs during the summer, offering flat and uninspiring liturgies, and recycled sermons sends the wrong message. It puts the church on auto pilot, which is hardly an engaging way to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. And it merely affirms people’s decision not to attend church during the summer.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The summer months offer a wonderful opportunity to try out new things: Introduce some supplemental liturgical texts; hold a “Mass on the Grass” in the courtyard; let licensed lay preachers have a turn in the pulpit. And at the heart of this is the unstated declaration that the incarnational presence of the divine never ceases; that Jesus is with us everywhere and at all times. The summer is a wonderful chance to model this to the world.

That’s not to say there isn’t something nice about slipping into amore relaxed way of doing church once the vaunted “program year” ends. The ceiling fans are cranked up, leading to that low-level hum that pervades the silences; perhaps only two lessons instead of three are read; there’s lemonade available at coffee hour in a big, crystal punch bowl that someone’s grandmother donated decades ago; choir members confuse us by sitting in the pews rather than in the choir loft; when the rector genuflects, you occasionally catch a glimpse of bare leg which shocks you until you realize he’s wearing shorts under all those vestments. There’s a nice, gentle rhythm to summer worship. It’s just that gentle need not translate into uninspired.

The last few summers I’ve put up a bulletin board in the parish hall and encouraged parishioners to post church bulletins from far-flung locales. The purpose is twofold: to encourage folks to go to church when they’re away and to see literally how we spent our respective summer vacations. It’s proved pretty popular as we try to outdo one another with exotic destinations. The only requirement is that you actually attend the service. Sneaking into an empty church and snagging a bulletin from the previous Sunday decidedly does not count.

Enjoy church this summer at home and wherever your travels may take you. And remember that even though school may be “out for the summer,” church is not.

Our guest columnist is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of All Saints’ Church, Briarcliff Manor, N. Y., and the author of What Size are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos & the Spiritual Life.

Chasing Cheever

John Cheever

John Cheever

Churches make great claims about famous people who sat in their pews. Scour East Coast Episcopal churches and you’ll find all sorts of plaques: “John Hancock Worshipped Here” or “Washington Irving’s Pew” or “Oprah Appeared on the Secretary’s Television.” We’re proud of our history and the era when anybody who was anybody or anybody who wanted to be anybody was an Episcopalian. Plus we have a great affinity for bronze plaques.

Everyone knows that George Washington slept in nearly every house from the Mid-Atlantic to New England. No word if he slept in any pews of our churches during particularly uninspiring sermons.

At my own parish, All Saints’, Briarcliff Manor, we’ve had a few brushes with royalty. Brooke Astor lived across the street for many years in her Holly Hill estate and worshipped at All Saints’ for a number of years. At some point she got mad at one of my predecessors and left to attend another nearby Episcopal church. Or at least that’s one theory. It may have had to do with the incorporation of the modern language rite or her dislike for female priests. I’m not sure — but by the time I came to All Saints’ that ship had sailed.

The other famous parishioner was the writer John Cheever. He’s been in the news recently because of a new comprehensive biography by Blake Bailey titled Cheever: A Life. One of our parishioners, Bob Minzesheimer, who also happens to be the book reviewer for USA Today, forwarded me some quotes from Bailey’s book.

Cheever was confirmed at All Saints’ in 1955 and the church “met his basic requirements: it used the Cranmer prayer book and was less than ten minutes away, and (as Susan Cheever pointed out) its altar was ‘sufficiently simple so that it [didn’t] remind him of a gift shop.’ Also the eight 0’clock service was sermon-free so he could have twenty-three minutes of relative peace each week.'”

Cheever apparently didn’t have much love for the church’s long-time rector, Bill Arnold. According to the book, Cheever “once told his son Ben that it didn’t matter if the minister was a jackass — though there were times, plainly, when it did. ‘I will not go to church,’ Cheever recorded one Good Friday, ‘because Bill will insist upon giving a sermon and I will not have the latitude or intelligence to overlook its repetitiousness, grammatical errors and stupidity.'” Ouch!

Finally, Bailey says of Cheever’s faith, “Not one to proselytize, her rarely mentioned his faith except at odd moments when visited by the same happiness that had moved him to become a communicant in the first place: ‘There has to be someone you thank for the party.'”

Not a bad sentiment. Though I may have to consider screening any writers and/or essayists out of my parish. Myself excluded of course.