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Of onions, marigold, St. Francis and Tianna – October 14, 2012

Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage –
“a transformative journey to a sacred center” full of hardships, darkness and peril.” In the tradition of pilgrimage those hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself.

-Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

St. Francis, Erin Dunigan Sermon, la MisionThis morning I’d like to begin with onions – doesn’t everyone think spirituality and onions?

Last week I decided that it was time to plant onions. You can plant onions from seed, or you can plant them from a seedling that is a little baby onion. I had a patch of ground prepared and wondered what it would hold. I decided that it would hold onions.

So I put them in – the right spacing apart, point up, in about two inches into the ground, covered. It was actually pretty easy as my gardening goes – normally I am pick-axing giant rocks out of the ground.

I moved on to do a few other things in the garden.

But then I walked back to the onion patch and looked at it. Of course I had only just finished. But I looked at it, this blank part of ground, thought of my grandmother, and I said, “Grow dammit!”

Erin Dunigan Grandmother, 'Tianna'My grandmother died when I was still very young – I was 7 when she passed away, so I didn’t get to know her for a long time, but the knowing that I had of her was very, very fond.

Not only do I have many fond memories of her from my own experience, but I also have the family stories about her that I learned later on. One of them had to do with plants.

Supposedly she was having a hard time with her house plants – they were dying, and someone said to her “You know don’t you, you are supposed to talk to your plants – that’s what makes them grow.”

Without skipping a beat my grandmother said, I do talk to them. I talk to them everyday. I say, “Grow dammit, or I’ll pull you out!”

We are talking today about harvest and about purpose and finding meaning.
You will also see, up here on the table, in addition to the book by Parker Palmer and a handful of onions, that I brought my grandma’s St. Francis bird bath – which is not really a bird bath anymore, but more of a succulent garden now.

My favorite catholic priest Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, talks about what he calls ‘birdbath Franciscanism.’

I’m assuming most people have heard of St. Francis – the first sermon he preached was to a bunch of birds – it is said […]

By |2013-03-05T05:57:21-08:00October 20th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on Of onions, marigold, St. Francis and Tianna – October 14, 2012

pruning, abiding and bearing fruit: repentance and the days of awe*
Sunday, September 9, 2012

“Grapes”

I remember, after I had been ordained–three years ago this October–though there were many emotions present, there was one with a very particular outlet.

I was excited, finally, to be able to have something to say that I ‘do’ when crossing the  border from Mexico to the US and being questioned by the border guards. Up until that point I had tried to describe it–well, I’m in the process of becoming a Presbyterian minister, but I’m also a photographer and a writer and I travel a lot–but now I could just say “I’m a Presbyterian minister.” Easy. Done.

Right.

My first time crossing, after being ‘official’ as a minister I drove up to the gate (this was pre-SENTRI pass for those who pay attention to such details) ready to give my answer.

Sure enough the guard asked me, “What do you do?” Almost too proudly I responded, “I’m a Presbyterian minister” to which his immediate response was, “Recite the 23rd Psalm.”

I blanked. Totally blanked. This was not what I was expecting from the US Border Guard.

“Yea though I walk thru the shadow of death…” I tried, starting in the middle and stopping far short of the end.

“Keep going,” he said.

“Well, I don’t have it memorized,” I had to admit to him. “Do you?” I asked him in return.

“Yep,” he responded.

“Well, you must be Catholic,” I replied, to which he, smiling, answered in the affirmative.

“I’m Presbyterian, we don’t have to memorize Psalm 23,” I responded, rather pathetically, I can admit.

He, smiling, waved me through as I, in my shame, crossed over to the other side.

The very next time I crossed, not to be dissuaded, I planned on the same answer–though I still hadn’t memorized the 23rd Psalm.

“What do you do?” the border guard asked me. “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” I responded.

“Do you have any drugs, tobacco or alcohol with you?” he responded.

Oh, so you must be Presbyterian too…

This month our Not Church theme is the Days of Awe. It is a phrase that references the Jewish calendar, a ten day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and ending with Yom Kippur.

It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur those records are sealed. The time between, then, is a sort of ‘purgatory’ if you will in which one can, if necessary, attempt to change the outcome.

What is interesting is that the two days are not back to back, one right after the other.  They are separated by ten days, what are known as the Days of Awe. This ‘grace period’ in a sense, is a time of penitence, of repentance, of considering what one has done that is not exactly what might have been best, and what one might do, in the coming year, to change that.

The new year […]

By |2013-03-05T05:57:29-08:00September 11th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on

the heart of the matter

In the summer of 2002 I worked as a hospital chaplain. It was not by choice, but a required internship as part of my seminary training and preparation to become a Presbyterian minister. In fact, I had put off the internship from the summer before, deciding instead to take an intensive Greek course. Greek. As in, ‘it’s all Greek to me.’ That’s how excited I was to do the chaplain thing.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion for sick people, and not that I have a fear of hospitals in general. It was the death part that terrified me. Not even the dying part, so much as the dead part. I had heard stories of chaplains having to go to the morgue, to be with the family as they confirmed that their loved one was, in fact, the deceased. It terrified me.

Okay, it was the dying part too. I had never, at that point in my life, been with anyone as they died. I had no idea what to do. How to act. What to say. I had a friend who’s father had died a few years prior, and I vividly remember being with the family in the hospital as they awaited the inevitable. Their pastor was not available for some reason, so a rookie, stand-in pastor came to the hospital to console the family. All I remembered was how incredibly awkward and how, well, how inadequate he seemed to the task.

It was the fear of being that guy that I brought with me to Mission Hospital in the summer of 2002. But what I hadn’t counted on was that it would be life, more than death, that would end up disturbing me to my very core.

The story I’m about to read you, of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, is a disturbing one–perhaps one of the most troubling stories told about Jesus in the Bible. It’s not typically a go-to story if you’re on PR for team Jesus.

Mark 7:24-30

From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of  Syrophenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

I warned you–it’s kind of a random story, isn’t it? Sure, there’s the whole demon possession thing–that’s […]

By |2013-03-05T05:58:19-08:00February 12th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on the heart of the matter