Mardi Gras at All Saints’

Six years ago our priest, Father Mike, began a tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras at All Saints’ on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Previously we had celebrated the day as Shrove Tuesday, and held a pancake supper to raise money for the Episcopal Youth Community (EYC) mission trip.

Father Mike is from Louisiana, and he explained to all of us, that there was a better way to celebrate! We have a parade. Families create floats, kids decorate their bicycles, people dress up with crazy hats, and everyone wears lots of beads. After the parade we go into the parish hall and have our pancake supper.

Three years ago Joey and Father Mike and a few other people began holding “Evangelism on the lawn” in the mid-afternoon on Mardi Gras.

They smoke or grill meat, drink beer, and pass out strings of beads with information about our Ash Wednesday services to anyone who walks past the church. Joey and Elanor have participated in all of the above each of the last three years.

Elanor plays with all the kids who show up.  She is very popular.  She hangs around the church lawn off leash all day.  Joey says she is extremely well behaved.  Then they put on her leash for the parade, which goes around the block.  They always come home completely exhausted, and covered in beads.

Somehow I am always teaching or out of town. I need to plan ahead better! When is Mardi Gras next year?

Maybe, if I’m really quiet, they won’t see me

Last weekend I went camping with some friends at Canyon Lake (a little west of San Marcos). Lee and I carpooled out to the campground. We loaded the car with gear and tied everything down before we loaded the dogs. Ela and Cali made the ride down without incident and with only a little whining. Saturday turned into a lovely day at the lake as we set up camp, made dinner, played Apples to Apples, roasted marshmallows, and counted stars – all the stuff that makes for a good campout.

So we got up the next morning, everybody cooked breakfast, we chatted for a while, and a little before noon we decided to break camp. We loaded the car once again, tied down the tents, coolers, and other gear, then loaded the dogs into the back of the car.

Just as we were about to drive away we decided it was best to stop and use the facilities before we got on the road. So we both got out of the car for a couple of minutes. When we got back to the car, Lee opened her door, sat down, got comfortable, then turned her head toward the driver side and…

If Ela was a bear she could have eaten Lee head first and Lee would never have seen it coming. Ela was so quiet that Lee didn’t notice her until she looked right at her. Lee nearly fell out of the car she was laughing so hard.

Ela had wormed her way through the ropes that were securing the gear and had become hopelessly tangled just shy of the front seat. It took two tries to get her into the back of the car again. Here are the pictures we took before we got her untied.

Canoeing on Lady Bird Lake

The All Saints’ Twenties and Thirties Group went canoeing on Lady Bird Lake on the same day as Daniel’s First Birthday Party!

We had the perfect size group.  Just enough people for three boats.  Joey and I had a kayak.  Don, Misty and Ewan had a canoe, and Brian, Robert and Greg had a second canoe.

We started on Barton Creek, and headed down toward the lake.  We turned upstream, since it is nice to have the current working with you on the way home.  We paddled a good way upstream, but were forced to turn back downstream before we reached the MoPac bridge, because there was a regatta going on further up stream.  We got to watch a few of the crews warm up and turn around.  It is amazing how fast they go!

After our paddle around the lake, we rested in the park and spent some time visiting.  Misty and Brian were smart enough to bring water, and we relaxed together awhile before we all went on our way.  It was a fun way to spend the afternoon!

Spiritual Growth Retreat

CIMG3063 I attended the Episcopal Church Women Spiritual Growth Retreat this weekend.  Our workshop leader was The Reverend Bobbie Knowles, vicar of St. Philip the Joy-Giver Episcopal Mission in Austin, Texas.  I had an amazing time, and made lots of new friends.  I also took lots of pictures.  The photo to the left of this text is of me and my good friend Pam, who is from Tyler, TX.  She keeps everyone honest, and has a blast doing so!

Covenant Players

DSC01708 Joey and I had surprise guests this weekend.  The Covenant Players came to All Saints’ to perform during our services and Sunday School hour.  Their original accomodations fell through, and our Director of Religious education, Elizabeth, called Joey and me to find out if we could host the players, Chuck and Miranda.  As you might imagine, we said yes!

We did have one problem.  For some reason, Saturday, 07 March 2009, was a very popular weekend.  Joey’s mom, Nancy, was in town, we had a TnT design team meeting, and we had to turn down invitations from two different sets of friends!  I called the Covenant Players and let them know they were welcome to stay with us, and invited them to our dinner at Lee and Billy’s house.  They agreed to join us.  The next day we discussed the fact that the invitation was a little nerve wracking on both sides – adding two new people to a group that are very comfortable with each other can be tough.  Churck and Miranda had no idea what we would think constituted a fun evening!  It worked out great!  I am so glad we took the chance, and made some new friends.

The mission of the Covenant Players is to use drama to communicate the reality of the Gospel.  We enjoyed the performances that Chuck and Miranda gave during Sunday School.  They put on several short plays with just the two of them. They travel all over the country putting these performances on for churches and schools, and anyone else who invites them.  The Covenant Players group is actually really big, and it has been around for a long time.

I am greatful that Chuck and Miranda came to stay with us, and I appreciate being able to support their ministry.

Ordination of a Priest

20090131-ordination Joey and I had the pleasure of attending the Ordination of John Wharton Newton, IV on Saturday, 31 January 2009.  John was a member of Canterbury, the Episcopal Student Center, during the last couple of years that Joey and I were in college, then he was the program coordinator for Canterbury, and then he attended seminary.  Now he is back at the Episcopal Student Center as the chaplain.

The Ordination of a Priest is always an impressive service, and John’s ordination was especially beautiful.  The church was absolutely packed.  It was a fantastic blend of All Saints’s high church style, and the more casual music and atmosphere of the Episcopal Student Center, for which John is the Chaplain.  Donald Wertz was the verger; if you have never seen Donald verge, you are really missing out!

The Reverend Miles Brandon gave the sermon.  I tell you what, that man can preach!  Father Miles held the position of chaplain for the Episcopal Student Center before John, and he shared preaching duties at All Saints’, so Joey and I have enjoyed his preaching for years.  Recently Father Miles was called to start a new church in northwest Austin, and he left All Saints’.  We knew we were losing a great asset at the time he left, but when he began his sermon at the ordination, Joey and I both felt a pang of regret that we don’t get to hear his sermons on a regular basis anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, All Saints’ is blessed with multiple great preachers, and Father Mike and Father Phil can really bring down the house with their sermons, but Father Miles has a passion that inspires you every time!  Most priests start their sermons with, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, but Father Miles starts with another phrase.  I can’t quote it accurately, so I won’t try, but it ends with, “…take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you”.  Wow!  Hearing those words just gave me a jolt of gratitude that he was preaching last night!

There was a reception after the ordination, and the All Saints’ Heavenly Host (yes, that is really the name of our hospitality group), and the folks from the student center, and Mona outdid themselves setting up a beautiful event.  We got to see several friends from our days in Canterbury, including Patrick, now Father Patrick!  So many people who were at the Episcopal Student Center with us went on to become priests.

I am so glad we were able to attend the service of Ordination.  I really enjoyed being there to support John.

Episcopal Church Women Annual Meeting and Retreat

CIMG2760 Many of you know that I was president of the Episcopal Church Women at All Saints’ Episcopal Church back a few years ago.  The last year of my tenure, our church hosted the Annual Meeting of the Diocese of Texas Episcopal Church Women.  The meeting was well received, and everyone had a great time.  It was a really tough job, and I was glad to take a break and relax once it was done.

Apparently people sat up and took notice of the job I did as Annual Meeting Chairperson, because this past spring I got a call from the president of the Diocesan ECW, Anne Hart, asking me to be a Communication Chair for the Diocesan ECW Board of Directors.  My job is to manage communication to the Diocese of Texas newspaper, the Episcopalian, and work on the ECW website.  I had to think long and hard, but in the end I decided that my skills are very well suited to the job.  The officers of the Dioscesan ECW are elected and installed at the Diocese of Texas Episcopal Church Women Annual Meeting and Retreat.

CIMG2764 I asked some of my friends from church to join me at the retreat so that I would have moral support, and the pleasure of their company.  Misty, Lee, and Lindsay agreed to attend with me.  They enthusiastically voted for me on Friday night during the business meeting, and then they stood with me during the installation on Saturday morning.

We went to three great workshops together.  We attended a fun workshop called, “How can I keep from singing?” with Brother Gallagher of Holy Cross Monastery.  We sang until we were horse, especially Lindsay!  We also met a most flirtatious monk, Brother Bernard.  He wore a habit that looked like jedi clothing.  We were pretty sad we did not get a picture!  He joked and laughed with us the entire time we were together.

We also attended Elizabeth Gibson’s workshop on labyrinths.  Elizabeth gave a wonderful presentation, and I think all of us were moved by our labyrinth walk.  I could not stop thinking about how lucky we are to have such a fantastic, creative person sharing her ministry with All Saints’!

The retreat was held at Camp Allen.  The facility is superb, the food was good, the setting was magnificent. The weather was cool, but beautiful.  Misty, Lindsay, Lee, and I took a couple of great walks through a small part of the grounds.    We could not have asked for a better weekend!

Prudence, the underrated virtue

Joey and I are long time members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church.  We love the All Saints’ community, and participate in a number of different ways.  Several years ago (could be five, could be six -  I can’t believe it has been that long) we got a new rector at All Saints’.  Our rector is a wonderful man: thoughtful, caring, good administrator, and he loves a good football game, and a glass of beer.  Joey and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him as we participated in parish life.  He preaches every few weeks (we have several priests who rotate the preaching responsibilities), and I very much enjoy his sermons, but the best spiritual guidance I have received in a long time came from something he wrote in our parish newsletter, Saints Alive!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

All of us have heard life described as a journey.  And, with every journey comes encounters with crossroads which force us to make decisions. Oftentimes when we reach one of life’s crossroads — in our job, in a significant relationship, or in any vital area of our life where we are confused about our direction — we turn to God to help us decide the best thing to do.  But, since God rarely offers explicit directions for our journey, we frequently find ourselves agonizing over what God’s will is. Or, when tragedy strikes, well-meaning (if misguided) people may try to comfort us by saying that God’s will ordained this catastrophe.  What is God’s will anyway?  And, more to the point, what is God’s will for you?

Now, many people tend to think of God’s will as “that big computer in the sky” that has a billion bytes for every human being — from Adam to the last person on earth.  This means that with every second of every day there is a command called “God’s will” for every human being on earth.  And, if this is believed, then it is only natural to dismiss any and everything that happens
as simply “God’s will.” We seem to long for a conscience that is automatic, like the metal detectors in airports.  Then we would have no dilemmas; everything would be black or white.  But, of course, we would be like robots if that were really the case. Sure, there are some “automatic” situations — for instance, when we run up against something described in one of the Ten Commandments.  And God has given each one of us some positive commands that hold all the time — like love, forgiveness, prayer, and honesty.

But these guidelines, which might be called the “general” will of God, do not tell us precisely how to meet the needs of our spouse while still attending to our own, or whether one should gamble family finances by starting one’s own business.  They do not tell us which school to send our children to, or how to be active in our church and in our community without shortchanging family time.  They do not tell us the most healing way to apologize, or the most comforting words to say to a child dying of cancer.  In fact, if you think about it, most of the time it’s a question of applying some general principle to a concrete situation.  You love your child:  Is the extracurricular activity hurting his studies?  You love your spouse:  Should you go along with her plan to invest in a new business venture?  You love your mother:  Should you bring her to your home to care for her better?

Many of you have probably seen the poster of Jesus that I have hanging on the wall behind my desk which reads, “He died to take away your sins.  Not your mind.”  Another way of getting at this issue is to ask questions like:  If God gave us a mind, doesn’t he want us to use it?  If God gave us a free will, doesn’t God want us to decide not just piddling things like where to hang the picture, but just which way to go at all the crucial junctures of life — vocation, home, work, community?  If God gave us imagination, does God want it to lie unused, like a Stradivarius in the attic?

Someone suggested a very practical definition for God’s will which went something like, “God’s will is what you prudently decide.”  Now, I know that “prudence” is often considered a rather “wimpy” virtue.  It often describes the life of someone who always does the safest thing, doesn’t make any waves, and doesn’t ever take any chances.  Remember the old saying, “Hang your clothes on a hickory limb but don’t go near the water”?  Yet, I would contend that true
prudence is not timid but is simply (though it is not simple) deciding on the proper means to an end.  You want to determine the best educational path for your child.  What is the proper, loving way to fulfill your purpose?  You want to help bring peace to a situation.  What is the most loving thing to do?  It won’t always be the “easy way out.”

It has been said that the verdict of conscience is nothing else but the verdict of prudence.  Author Joseph Pieper says that prudence has two faces.  One is turned to what’s real:  who you are, where you are, what ability you have, even what time it is.  The other is turned to the good — prayer, justice, peace, etc. — that you want to bring into concrete reality.  In some cases it’s easy to see what to do.  But how do you love the Lord your God today, in your present situation?  How should you honor your parents?  How should you keep holy the sabbath?  How do you translate “Lord, I love you” into “I’ll volunteer to serve the poor”?

Except for unusually important decisions, or the obvious ones, most of us wander around like shoppers in a new department store.  We zigzag between deliberating, searching for facts, half deciding, then going back, then forgetting the whole thing for a while.  Maybe it all becomes clear one moment in a flash.  Maybe we bumble along until we’re forced to decide.  It seems that’s life.  But one of the main purposes of life is to be prudent:  to form our conscience like Michelangelo forming “Moses” out of that stubborn block of granite.  By the grace of God we gradually acquire a more or less consistent way of searching for the facts, deliberating, deciding, and doing.  It’s not automatic, but habitual. And we may not like to use the word, but we’re being “virtuous.”  We are acting like the free and intelligent human beings God made us to be.  Prayer is not a mindless activity and using the Bible to affirm what we want is misusing it.

For all who believe, a prudent decision is the eye of faith focused on this moment.  God is always calling us to seek truth and to do the loving thing.  St. Augustine sums it up when he says, “Love, and do what you like.”  Now granted, most of the time, indeed, we seek God in the dark.  But that’s what trust means:  going on, day in and day out, making the best decisions we can, and trusting — that is, knowing for sure — that God makes them his own.

Your Servant in Christ,
Mike+

This was quoted from the November 2008 issue of Saints Alive!, The Rector Thinks Out Loud, written by the Reverend Mike Adams, rector.  The entire publication can be downloaded here.

TnT trip to the Blanton Museum of Art

The All Saints’ Episcopal Church Twenties and Thirties decided to take a trip to the Blanton Museum of Art as a group.  Most of us had never been there before, despite its location right in the middle of Austin.

We saw lots of great art.  Misty found an engraving with a chubby Jesus.  Lindsay was terrified that she might meet the same fate as St. Agatha, but happily she is still intact. Trenton found a car that he could connect with.  Joey found a penny.  Jeff, Trenton, Joey and I got lost in a bunch of yellow noodles.  Fun was had by everyone.  After exploring the museum, we wandered over to The Dog and Duck for some dinner and beer.  It was really a fantastic evening!

Hamilton Pool – June 2008

03 On Saturday LD and I went with some of our friends to Hamilton Pool. LD, Don, Coye, and Sydney drove out to the pool at about ten o’clock. Both Misty and I had commitments in town that left us free to leave at noon, so I hitched a ride with Misty and her boys. Brian is currently a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago in the Pyrenees, so he was not able to join us this year (Brian – I’m looking forward to seeing pictures from Spain).

Misty, the boys, and I got to Hamilton Preserve at about one o’clock. We had to wait about half and hour for a parking place (Hamilton Preserve only has 75 parking spots – once they are full they only admit cars as other cars leave). Once we were inside the park we hiked down to the pool and located the morning group. Coye had selected a nice spot on the far side of the pool for us to set out our towels and lunch.

Coye and I spent half an hour swimming and throwing his Frisbee across the pool. The waterfall was light and pleasant (not much rain lately, but still very nice). We spent a long time chatting and people watching (wow that was a short swimsuit!) and I took time to snap a few pictures.

When I got home I spent some digital darkroom time with a few of the photos. I liked these b/w prints produced with various color filters.