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Dry Desert
St. Paul's Manna Blog

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
(Deuteronomy 8:3)

This weekend, as a country, we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although this is a civic holiday and not a religious one, Dr. King was also a pastor an an excellent preacher. So, in church on Sunday morning, we'll watch an (abridged) sermon by Dr. King from 1967 called "But, If Not..."

(As your main Sunday preacher, I of course worry that showing you Dr. King's preaching will reveal how much my own preaching can still improve, but I think he's worth it!)

Listen to the unabridged version of the sermon here, or read a transcript here.

As we remember Dr. King this weekend, I want to highlight two important things that often get swallowed up in the celebrations.

"Peacemaking" is Not Just Being Nice

Dr. King famously said, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

Sometimes, Dr. King's legacy gets watered down. The narrative becomes something like:

"Dr. King didn't like how mean the racists were. He wanted people to be treated the same, no matter their skin color. He valued peace above all else, so he taught his people to resist with nonviolent means: sit-ins, marches, speeches, etc. His nonviolence is a model for dealing with injustice."

To be sure, much of this is half true. But the framing misses the point in two ways:

  1. Dr. King and the many other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement weren't only resisting individual "mean" racist people. They were trying to revolutionize an entire system based on inequality.

  2. The purpose of their actions was true peace, which isn't just everyone "playing nice" within a harmful system. True peace requires the presence of justice, which can be very uncomfortable at first, even if it is the right thing in the long run.

That means some of their biggest opponents were people like you and me! Many of their opponents were people trying to do good in the world, even trying to follow Jesus, but who unknowingly benefited from these systems.

That means that sometimes, they and we (however unintentionally) try to protect the systems, rather than the people being harmed by them!

Dr. King's most famous work about this is his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which he wrote to moderate clergy who were calling for him to make less waves.

That brings me to the second thing I want to highlight this weekend.

The Work is Not Done

President Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law in 1983. This made the third Monday in January a national holiday honoring Dr. King and encouraging all Americans to improve their communities. Some states decided to celebrate "Robert E. Lee Day" at the same time, as an act of rebellion against having to honor Dr. King and the achievements Civil Rights Movement.

(For more on the history of MLK Day, read this wonderful article by the National Museum of African American History and Culture: "The 15 Year Battle for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.")

Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, shortly after the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). Since then, our country has continued to make progress toward racial equity. For example, the 118th Congress, which is beginning its term, is the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. But there's a ways to go. In that same example: even though the 118th Congress is the most diverse ever, white males are still proportionally over-represented in that group, as compared to the U.S. population.

There is still so much work to do.

Our work, as Christians, is to continue living into the fullness of Christ, who preached and pursued the peace of God. Jesus emptied himself so that he could pursue the will of God the Father, not his own will, even to the point of death. This weekend, I ask you to contemplate:

When do you value "niceness" instead of justice, tension avoidance instead of true peace? And how can you cultivate the willingness to empty yourself, divest from the systems that you unfairly benefit from, so that you can pursue God's peace on earth?

When I first arrived at St. Paul’s in September 2020, we were deep in the thick of pre-vaccine COVID times. How was I supposed to get to know this new community when I couldn’t really meet any of you?

With a little help from the Holy Spirit, we made it work! You met me on Zoom, or on the phone, or socially distanced in the Memorial Garden. You went out of your way to introduce yourselves and connect, even as we also tried to stay distant and keep each other safe.

Now that we’re able to do more things face-to-face (or mask-to-mask, as the case may be), we can still use technology to get better acquainted and better connected. All that to say:

St. Paul’s has a new, online, interactive directory!

It’s called Breeze. I know new technology is scary, but don’t worry. This will be easy, I promise. There’s no need to download anything, and if you can use Facebook, you can use this new system. One might even say it will be… a breeze.

Link to Breeze is Here

You received an automated email at the end of November inviting you to Breeze (which went out by accident, sorry!), and some of you have already signed in and used it. If you can’t find that email and would like another invitation, fill out the form at that link above to request it.

Bishop Jeff crouches while visiting children's formation in December, getting to know about a dozen children and youth
Bishop Jeff visits children's formation in December

Why the change?

With Breeze, each member will have your own username and password. This is actually the most important reason we upgraded from the old system of posting a PDF directory on the website under a shared password. These days, that’s not responsible stewardship of our parishioners’ personal information. Lists like this are easy to steal and sell to unscrupulous marketing companies.

Also, we used to use an outdated program called PowerChurch, which was expensive but not particularly usable in 2023. If you’d like to hear a rant about its clunkiness, ask Rev. Helena, Angelo, Nancy, or anyone else who’s worked on the office computers in the past 10 years!

Now, our new system Breeze integrates with QuickBooks and takes online payments, which makes tracking pledges much easier for our treasurer—and for you.

The one sticking point

There is only one problem with Breeze: it’s only as good as the data we put into it. And the data we imported from our old system was sorely out of date and disorganized.

When you look yourself up, you may notice that your child is listed as your spouse, or the address we have on file from you has been out of date for three years. Or maybe your name is even spelled wrong! We need your help cleaning up your own entry so that our information is as up-to-date as possible.

What should I do first?
Look someone up!
  1. Click the People tab at the top of the webpage.

  2. Type a name into the search bar on the left, then type “enter” to search. Or scroll down until you find the person you’re looking for, and click on them. If you’d like to see a photo of me and John wearing fun Christmas sweaters, try looking up my profile.

  3. Now you can see the person’s email address, phone number, and mailing address. You can also see other members of their household.

Now, try looking up yourself and your family members. What updating does your profile need? If you can upload a photo to help people get to know you, that would be a wonderful act of hospitality.

Check on your pledge!
  1. Click the My Profile tab at the top of the webpage.

  2. Click the Giving icon on the left of the webpage.

  3. This page has two types of giving you can track: Giving (which is non-pledge donations) and Pledges. You can click between those two little tabs to look at details for each, and even export an Excel spreadsheet. Your pledges should be up to date as of the last week or two!

If you like learning from videos, here’s an introductory one from Breeze about your new account.

A very special thanks is due to our Treasurer Angelo Troiano, who worked hard to transition us from our old system and get us started on Breeze!

Questions? Concerns? Please reach out to me, or to Angelo. We’re still learning the system alongside you. It can do lots more than just act as a directory, and we’re excited to see how our use of Breeze can continue to grow as we use it.

When I was growing up, I almost never went to church on Christmas Morning.

Christmas Eve was for church. Sometimes, I went to two or three services on Christmas Eve, depending on which my family was attending and whether or not I was singing in a choir. But almost never on Christmas Morning.

Christmas Morning was for presents. As important as church was at Christmas, it was a distant memory as soon as would I first see our tree with presents under it.

So, as clergy, I never expected to see many people at a Christmas Morning Eucharist. That’s why, at the beginning of Advent, I suggested something fun: anyone who would be there on Christmas Morning was encouraged to attend in pajamas. (Mainly, I really didn’t want to have to get out of pajamas on Christmas.)

What a beautiful surprise, then, that this year, almost 25% of our Christmas attendees were there on Christmas Morning! And half of them wore pajamas!

One thing I love about St. Paul’s is that, while we take worship seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I loved connecting with some of the kids over my Baby Yoda Christmas pajama pants and seeing the fun pajamas everyone wore.

One more detail from our Christmas worship: at the 4pm service on Christmas Eve, I noticed just before worship began that our altar party was entirely female. Priest, server, Eucharistic minister, crucifer, and torch bearers—all of us were women or girls. The altar party prays together before we begin worship, but before beginning that prayer, I reminded them, “Very recently, not one of us would’ve been allowed to do what we’re about to do.” Some of them were surprised, so I explained that a bunch of women sitting in the pews that night had wanted to serve as acolytes growing up, but hadn’t been allowed to.

Our accidentally all-female altar party was completely normal at St. Paul’s. But in the history of the Christian church, it was remarkable. What an honor to be part of something so special to celebrate the birth of our savior!

Merry Christmas, all!

P.S. Most Valuable Player award goes to Cori, who served at all three Christmas services with me.

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