Thank You!

I feel truly blessed to have had your support in my time of leave this summer. It was a time of intentionality with family and deliberate study. It was refreshing to be away for a time and generate new ideas for our mutual ministry at Ascension, too.

While in Seattle I had the opportunity to spend time with the kids and explore a bit. I want to share a little about how I spent my time while the kids danced each day. I read some great books, including but not limited to: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book by Dan Harris, Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton, The 3 Day Effect by Florence Williams, Walk in Love by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe, Conversations with Scripture: The Psalms by Louis Countryman, and Paradox: Creating Christian Community Beyond by Ken Howard.

I completed some online coursework. Specifically the bonus modules from the "Next Level Leadership Course". Topics ranged from leadership principles and managing well to work with the Enneagram. I had completed the main course last year, meeting with the leader Shane Hipps and others.

I also spent time working on projects that are difficult to manage while in the office. Most days I spent some time writing, focusing on ministry experiences and a longer piece about scripture that has been on my mind for some time. While in Seattle I also arranged to meet with several local clergy. This time allowed for sharing ideas and generally learning from one another.

Again, I am grateful for your support for this time. We are all happy to be home! I missed Ascension and our life here in Dallas.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Blessing in a Time of Violence

Which is to say this blessing is always.
Which is to say there is no place this blessing does not long to cry out in lament, to weep its words in sorrow, to scream its lines in sacred rage.

Which is to say there is no day this blessing ceases to whisper into the ear of the dying, the despairing, the terrified.

Which is to say there is no moment this blessing refuses to sing itself into the heart of the hated and the hateful, the victim and the victimizer, with every last hope it has.

Which is to say there is none that can stop it, none that can halt its course, none that will still its cadence, none that will delay its rising, none that can keep it from springing forth from the mouths of us who hope, from the hands of us who act, from the hearts of us who love, from the feet of us who will not cease our stubborn, aching, marching, marching until this blessing has spoken its final word, until this blessing has breathed its benediction in every place, in every tongue:

Peace.
Peace.
Peace.

--- by Jan Richardson, 2017, The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

Jesus' Way

Our Scriptures this week have much to do with vanity and greed. Ecclesiastes warns us against the illusions that vanity can produce, and in Luke's Gospel, Jesus warns us against storing up wealth at the expense of one's soul. These are tough lessons to hear, and even tougher to live. The point is that our goal shouldn't be to live for the acquisition of bigger and better things if it means we neglect the needy.

There is so much need in our zip code of 75243. Not a week goes by without at least three or four people knocking on our doors for some type of assistance. Many stories are heartbreaking. A young woman with six children evicted from her apartment. The man whose diabetic wife couldn't work and was short on rent. The lady with no insurance with a hole in her roof and no hot water since the recent storm. The Afghan family who arrived in Dallas with only the clothes on their backs. I could go on and on.

When people came to Jesus hungry, he fed them. We at Ascension are doing our best to be like Jesus. We will be taking lasagnas to Austin Street on Saturday, August 3, at 5:30 p.m., and we will be making an extra food pantry shopping trip this week to restock bare shelves. In addition, we want to connect with local refugee assistance agencies to offer help with resettlement. But we must move forward with a wise plan, not one which one author refers to as "toxic charity." Please consider how you might get involved in helping us help others. Cash assistance is great, but in the spirit of Invite-Welcome-Connect, how might you make it your personal mission and ministry? That was Jesus' way.

God's Peace,

Mother Marci+

The Lord's Prayer

This Sunday, we will be looking at The Lord’s Prayer. It’s so familiar that I wonder if we even think about it much when we’re saying the words. Yet Jesus’ lesson in prayer holds the key to a true relationship with God. Instead of praying so that we might “get right with God,” we should instead look at prayer as a means of atonement.

Author Scot McKnight writes that true prayer is facing God honestly and humbly, with all our heart and soul, and it is facing God together in community. This is atonement. And atonement allows us to commune fully with God. Here is salvation!

Jesus says, “Come pray with me.” He doesn’t say, “Wait until your life is perfect and then come pray with me." Instead he welcomes us in our brokenness. He gives us the Holy Spirit and through the Spirit, we can better understand and cope with life’s problems. May you set aside some time for Christ this week, in faith, believing.

God's Peace,
Mother Marci+

Conflict Between Busy-ness and Spirituality

There is probably no better text in the Gospels that describes the conflicts between busy-ness and spirituality as Luke 10:38-42. As Martha bustles around getting ready to host Jesus and his friends for dinner, her sister Mary sits at Jesus' feet to listen to him and to bask in his presence. When Martha becomes frustrated by Mary's seeming laziness, Jesus reminds her that what Mary is seeking --HIM -- is way more important.

I'm afraid I'm guilty of being Martha much more than Mary. Responsibilities and distractions usually convince me that I do not have enough time for the contemplation of the Holy. Yet this is not what God wants for us. Only ONE thing is needed, says Jesus -- a divine synergy of relationship. God wants us to put Him first, but He doesn't want us to do so at the expense of efforts on His behalf. If our efforts to create a banquet fit for God Himself leave us exhausted and overwhelmed, then we've missed the feast itself!

Jesus is our Living Bread and our Water of Life. According to author Joanna Weaver, ("Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World," Random House: New York, 2000), only one thing is needed. Fellowship. She writes that we must first invite Jesus into our hearts to rule and reign. Next, ask God to reveal the next steps. Then have faith that what needs to get done will get done. And finally, be open to the Spirit's leading. My prayer for you is that you will take some time during these warm summer days to imagine yourself sitting at Jesus' feet, basking in his loving presence. Listen to what He tells you. Rest. And enjoy the banquet.

God's Peace,
Mother Marci+

Who is my Neighbor?

In this week's Gospel text from Luke, Jesus tells the classic parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable is in response to a lawyer's question, "And who is my neighbor?" A deeper reading of the Greek text implies that the lawyer is not so much wanting to "trick" Jesus as he is trying to truly understand Jesus' meaning. There is some urgency on his part to realize the path to eternal life. When Jesus tells the lawyer to, "Go and do likewise," he is telling the man to literally "make himself like" the Samaritan. Since the Samaritan is himself an outcast in the Jew's eyes, Jesus' meaning is profound. He is not dismissing the lawyer. He is telling him to humble himself

like the outcast, in order that he might understand what it is to be that person that's ignored, scorned, and in need. When we look with eyes humbled by the love of Christ, we see the needs of others much more clearly.

When Tracy and I traveled to the Texas border, we both gained a new understanding of "Who is my neighbor?" Now is the time to ask ourselves this question. Who is my neighbor? Who am I as a Christian? What could I do to assist the church in caring for others? Well, I've got great news -- there are many ways to assist!

Volunteer! You are needed! Contact Mother Marci if you are interested in any of the following areas: picking up food from Sharing Life for our Food Pantry, helping in the Food Pantry, baking lasagnas and serving at Austin Street on Saturday, Aug. 3rd, raising funds for KIDS-U backpacks, stocking the Tasby Middle School food pantry, serving as a Stephen Minister, visiting our homebound, preparing meals for the sick, and collecting items/setting up refugee resettlement apartments (through Hope Harbeck at this time).

And if your soul really needs a new perspective, consider going on a Courts and Ports mission trip. We still have 3 spaces open for the Sept. 15 - 18 trip. Let me know immediately if you can join the team that's going.

In considering, "Who is my neighbor?," consider how you might be a Good Samaritan to someone in need today!

God's Peace,
Mother Marci+

Texas Impact "Courts and Ports"

Texas Impact was founded in 1973 on the central religious conviction that religious communities are called to minister to the whole person–to respond with compassion to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all people. Texas Impact’s member organizations include Christian denominational bodies, regional Jewish and Muslim social justice committees, and local interfaith councils. Texas Impact and its sister organization, the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, form an interfaith network that brings faith to bear on social issues through grassroots education and policy advocacy. Individuals and communities can become members of Texas Impact to join in this work of faithful advocacy, several members from Ascension have made this commitment in the past few years.

Texas Impact currently sponsors an educational program called "Courts and Ports" This program encourages interfaith teams to travel to the Texas border at Brownsville to observe the immigration process. The teams will attend a district court hearing, talk with ACLU representatives on current legislation, assist at respite centers, tour a refugee sponsoring community, spend time at the International Bridge into Mexico and talk to refugees who are waiting on the bridge to be accepted into the US. Mother Marci and her husband Tracy traveled with the program in April. We are excited to be sending a group of eight folks from Ascension, September 15 - 18. It is our hope that they return to Ascension with new perspectives and ideas on how we might continue to "offer a cup of cold water to the least of these." Jesus calls us to radical love and hospitality to all!

Want to know more? Please see www.texasimpact.org.

Christ's Peace,
Mother Marci+

Tips for Contacting your Elected Officials

A few weeks ago, after our presentation on the Texas border crisis, many of you were saddened to learn of the deprivation and fear faced by asylum-seekers. Others were upset to learn that there are not enough respite centers or civic assistance. As more refugees seek the safety of the United States, the need for a more humane border control process and aid to asylum seekers will continue to grow.

The presentation prompted a great desire among parishioners to “do something.” One thing we urged you to do was to contact your elected officials with your concerns about the refugee crisis at the Texas Border. Here’s a brief guide on how to do that.

First, find out who your elected federal, state, and local officials are. You can go on-line to discover your congressional district. (See below).

Next, do your homework. Research. Plan out the issues you want to discuss and be prepared to discuss specific points. Make sure your position is clearly stated. If you’re unclear, it can also be helpful to call and simply ask what your representative’s position is, or if they support or oppose particular bills or legislation. You can then respond by affirming their position, or noting where you disagree with them.

There are many ways to contact your representatives. You can email, write a letter, make a telephone call or plan a visit. I have to give my congressman credit -- I received a phone call from Kenny Marchant’s Washington office the day after I sent him an email about the need for more respite centers and judicial officials to clear the overloaded dockets. I spoke at length with his assistant, Ryan, who was very pleasant and listened to my concerns. I felt like I had done some good, as he did not understand the difference between a “holding pen” and a respite center, and that needed to be clarified for my letter to make any sense! You can be sure I will be continuing that conversation!

Finally, here are some websites that may prove helpful:

National representation:
https://whoismyrepresentative.com/

Texas representation:
https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home

www.whitehouse.gov
(White House switchboard #202-456-1414)
www.house.gov/representatives
www.senate.gov
www.usa.gov
www.aclu.org

Make your concerns KNOWN. You CAN make a difference!

Blessings,
Mother Marci+

Crisis at the Texas Border - How Do We Respond?

Thank you for your great response to our recent presentation on the crisis at the Texas Border! If you missed it, you can view the presentation here or on our Facebook page. Following the presentation we discussed what we might do as a parish as a response. Many of you had excellent questions, and even more of you offered your willingness to help Ascension as we ponder the best ways to help our refugee brothers and sisters.

It is important to distinguish between asylum seekers, and refugee resettlement. Asylum seekers are passing through Dallas to join up with sponsoring families or agencies. They may join up with sponsors in Dallas and may stay until further court process. Most, however, pass through Dallas via bus on to other cities. These are the people in need of respite centers. They arrive with nothing but a small backpack, and they arrive in Dallas needing food, medicine, toiletries, clothing, and a brief place to rest until their bus comes. They usually do not stay overnight. This is the work that Oak Lawn United Methodist Church is doing  With interest from the parish we could volunteer in partnership with OLUMC to help fold clothes, sort through items and hand them out or whatever their immediate need is. This page of their website contains more information about their response.  

Refugees seeking resettlement have already come through the immigration process. They are not seeking asylum. They have been assigned by local government agencies to apartments and are attempting to put their lives back together in the United States. Hope Harbeck is currently working with Refugee Services of Texas to collect items to furnish resettlement apartments. Since our presentation, I have contacted Refugee Services of Texas, and hope to meet with them and with Hope Harbeck soon to determine what Ascension might do to partner with them. This would likely be supplying an arriving family (perhaps one family a month) with basic furniture, bedding, clothes, towels, paper goods and food.

If you are interested in these options we need to hear from you. Please contact me to indicate your interest. In the coming weeks I will offer more information, including how to be an advocate with your elected representatives as well as the possibility for a mission trip to the border to experience the "Courts and Ports" program.

In Christ, 
Mother Marci

Fr. Paul's summer plans

Each summer we each make plans for time with family, both near and far. I have also made a point to spend at least two weeks with youth programing each summer, including things like camp, mission trips, pilgrimage and EYE in the past few years. This year I will be the “Dean” during the second week of Camp at All Saints with many of our own youth in attendance.

Then, from July 8th to August 9th I will be in Seattle with Noah and Emma. In many ways it is hard for me to imagine being gone that long, longer than I’ve been away from a church since I was ordained in 2005. My decision came in part after Emma was diagnosed with Epilepsy earlier this year. Both Noah and Emma had been accepted to the Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer Intensive and had their hearts set on it. We knew they could only go if a parent was present now.

As I made my request to the vestry I included my plans for the time. I will spend two weeks focused on Continuing Education. In February 2015 I attended the “Daring Way” certified leader training with Brene Brown. This is excellent course work and gave me access to an online portal that offers continuing education videos led by Brene. Further, I completed the “Next Level Leadership Program” with Shane Hipps last year, it includes five bonus modules that I haven’t completed yet. I expect to spend part of these weeks focused on writing as well, I have three separate projects started that would benefit from a focused effort.

The third week I will continue writing some, but shift my focus to “out of office work”. There are many projects that would benefit from undistracted effort. Planning for our confirmation curriculum is high on my list. I also have another video series in mind that I hope to make progress on while I am away.

Finally, the last two weeks I will be on vacation. Cycling around Seattle, seeking out good food and good beer and generally enjoying time with the kids. Sarah will join us the last week we are there for some family time before Noah leaves for Idyllwild this fall.

I am very excited about this plan, but was a bit nervous to present it. Indeed, it makes me a bit nervous to leave for that long! I feel blessed to have found support from the vestry and many other leaders at Ascension. They recognize the value of the time away to study and rejuvenate and the value of the time with family. Further, I feel support as I seek to support our children in their pursuit.

Ascension will be in good hands with the staff and vestry tending to most immediate needs. They will be able reach me in the event of a crisis, pastoral or otherwise, but I will not check my email daily in order to be able to focus the aforementioned plans. I hope that this blog will help the community understand where I am and what I’m up to during this time. I know that many in the parish will be traveling during this same time, but hope that you will fully participate in worship and ministry whenever you are in town.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul