Sunday, December 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I don't often actually get feedback from such a person--any feedback at all, let alone articulate and penetrating feedback. Over the past couple of years at St Anne's, we've been getting a small stream of visitors from the local evangelical liberal arts college. In the milieu of that community, St Anne's is kind of para-normal; clearly we "know the Lord," but we do strange stuff. Some of them have a taste of our liturgical worship rooted in Catholic tradition, quietly roll their eyes, and move on. Others have an epiphany.
Connor Park is one of the latter, apparently. This morning he posted the following (longish) poem on his Facebook page, and I share it here with his permission. I love it when somebody "gets it" even without the benefit of months of careful catechesis. It's almost enough to make on believe in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.
(Connor Park's poetry blog is here.)
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Monday, November 01, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Some hours after the event, someone told me the bells of St Paul's Cathedral in Springfield were rung, announcing my election. It was at that moment that I nearly broke down and wept. I am quite certain I have never felt so humbled in my life.
So begins a time of transition--a rather long one, actually. I will probably end up being a bishop-elect for as long as I was a deacon in 1989. But there will be an immense amount to do on both ends of the transition, so I'm not particularly worried that time will drag. At my age, time never really drags much, anyway.
One of the questions that I had to answer during the "walkabout" events in the diocese three weeks ago was, "If you have a blog, will you continue it after you are a bishop?" I answered then that I'm not entirely sure, but I hope so. I realize that being a bishop is a rather different kind of job (that is, not merely different as a matter of degree) than being a parish priest. It comes with its own peculiar constraints, constraints that I am at this time only conceptually familiar with. So that may have an effect on the character of my blogging. I don't know. It's something we'll just have to live into.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
So, M...'s been sick for a couple weeks, and I haven't let her drink from the chalice at church. This morning at the altar rail she asks, "Mom, can I have salvation this morning?"M. is her daughter, who turns seven this Friday. Reading this was, for me, one of those luminous moments when the veil that divides Heaven and Earth is exquisitely thin.
If you know the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, it's not difficult to see where she got the language of her petition. For longer than this child can remember, she has drunk from the chalice while hearing the words, "The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation." Hence ... can I have salvation this morning?
Of course, M. was saying more than she knows. I suspect that she also knows more than she can say. (Shameless plug: This little girl has been formed for the past two years in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.) And I thank her mother for sharing this precious moment. We all stand in need of being reminded just what it is we're doing every time we stretch our hands across a communion rail. We are, implicitly, asking, "Can I have salvation this morning?" And the answer, unfailingly, is ... Yes.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
What follows is cross-posted from my parish’s website and newsletter, where I maintain a monthly reflection on one of the hymns we will be singing in our worship.
Hope is one of the traditional "cardinal" Christian virtues (along with Faith and Love). It is something to which we are invited to aspire, to cultivate. Hope is a habit of the heart that is perhaps well illustrated by Yogi Berra's famous quote, "It ain't over till it's over." Hope is the fruit of a deep inner conviction, that, in the end, God wins. Creation is redeemed, and all is well for those who are reconciled with God. Our Prayer Book catechism puts it this way: "The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purposes for the world."
The Scriptures give us several images of the fulfillment of our hope in Christ, especially in the Revelation to St John. It would probably be inadvisable to take them with exact literalness; they are, rather, compelling poetic symbols that point to a reality much grander than anything human language could describe. One of these images is "Jerusalem," which is, of course, literally a city on this earth that has been intimately bound up in the sacred story of God's dealings with humankind, but which is also a sign of something greater, something yet to come.
Peter Abelard was a 12th century theologian and poet who lived in a place and time in which it was arguably much more difficult to cultivate the virtue of Hope than it is for us here and now, much more difficult to see "Jerusalem" descending from the clouds as a bride adorned for her bridegroom. It was a time of widespread violence, epidemic disease, and corruption at all levels of church and state in Europe. It was in such an environment that Peter Abelard penned the lines of this Latin hymn, drawing on the biblical imagery of Jerusalem, and painting a vivid picture of the realization of the Christian hope.
O what their joy and their glory must be, those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see; crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest: God shall be all, and in all ever blest.
The notion of Sabbath denotes rest, and rest is part of the symbolic vocabulary of our hope (as when we pray for the departed that they may "rest in peace"). When we come to our eternal Sabbath rest, we know God to "be all, and in all."
Truly “Jerusalem” name we that shore, city of peace that brings joy evermore; wish and fulfillment are not severed there, nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.
Indeed, "Jerusalem" literally (and, it would seem, somewhat ironically much of the time) means "city of peace." The second half of this stanza is perhaps the most poetically and spiritually profound part of the entire hymn. In the realization of our hope in Christ, there is no longer a gap between wish and fulfillment, between what we pray for and what we receive from God.
There, where no troubles distraction can bring,we the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing; while for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise thy blessed people eternally raise.
Of all the poetic images of what goes on in the heavenly Jerusalem, "singing" is the most prolific. Perhaps this is what lies behind St Augustine's aphorism to the effect that "those who sing pray twice." The importance of singing in our earthly worship can probably not be overstated; it is evidently in some way a preparation for what will become a consuming occupation when our hope comes to fruition.
Now, in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high, we for that country must yearn and must sigh, seeking Jerusalem, dear native land, through our long exile on Babylon’s strand.
Of course, while our hope is assured (because it is founded on God's victory manifested in Jesus rising from the dead), it is something we yet wait for. We live in a time "in between." We are in the ironic position of citizens of a country they have never seen, who live in exile, awaiting their arrival in their "dear native land."
Low before him with our praises we fall, of whom, and in whom, and through whom are all; of whom, the Father; and in whom, the Son; through whom, the Spirit, with them ever One.
Latin hymns from the Middle Ages invariably close with a trinitarian doxology, a final outburst of praise and adoration toward the Triune God.
This text was rendered into English by the great John Mason Neale, a Church of England priest from the 19th century who is singularly responsible for brining innumerable treasures of Greek and Latin hymnody into the experience of English-speaking Christians. It has been married to the tune O Quanta Qualia (the opening words of the Latin text) since its first appearance in the 1868 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The tune is somewhat older, however; it appears in several 17th century French sources.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I've been doing a good bit of reading and reflecting lately on poverty, particularly poverty that is not situational (i.e. middle class folks who suffer job loss, divorce, or disability and end up broke), but generational (I’m poor, my parents were poor, and my children will be poor). I’ve been very impressed by the work of Dr Ruby Payne on this subject, particularly the book she co-authored, What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty. The drum she keeps beating is that generational poverty is not so much a circumstance as it is a culture, a system of assumptions and thought and behavior that conspire together to keep people in poverty from one generation to the next. I’ve been paying attention to these things because of some people that the Lord seems to have “sent” to my parish—not only, I’m convinced, for their benefit, but for the benefit of the good-hearted middle-class majority, to enable us to learn to bridge the cultural—indeed, veritably linguistic—gap between between the middle-class mainstream and generational poverty.
So I’m sitting in the tire store yesterday, on my day off, waiting for a new set of tires to be mounted on the vehicle I drive, feeling depressed about what I’m having to pay, and reading a book while I wait. A family walks in and sits down in the waiting area with me—apparently a husband, wife, their grown daughter, and their grown daughter’s daughter, who is about three. I don’t know whether they’re actually “poor”—certainly not if they’re paying what I’m paying for tires—but they give off all the signals. They are a walking bundle of stereotypes that one associates with that nasty label, “poor white trash.” I begin to feel subliminally uncomfortable, and subliminally guilty for feeling subliminally uncomfortable.
Then the older female in the group asks me, out of the blue, “What are you reading.” Well, what I’m reading is a volume entitled If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Rethinking Priestly Ministry, by a Church of England priest named Justin Lewis-Anthony.
OK. Talk about a deer-in-the-headlights moment. My mind raced over possible responses. I could simply show her the book title and let her draw her own conclusions. But somehow that didn’t seem charitable. I could try to paraphrase the subject of the book, but it made my brain hurt to think of just how to do that. So, after a few seconds, what came out of my mouth was, “It’s not a story. It’s non-fiction.”
“Oh, really? I sometimes like to read books like that.”
“What are some of your favorite books like that?” I’m an introvert, and wouldn’t choose to ask a stranger an open-ended question, all else being equal, but my subliminal guilt over the way I had “profiled” this family was asserting itself.
She proceeded to not be able to remember either an author or a title, but from her description I surmised that she was talking about The Shack, which is, of course, fiction, but I didn’t go there.
I’m still pondering the meaning of this encounter. But the fact remains that I was reading a book that makes eminent sense to me and to most of my first-world middle class colleagues in Anglican parish ministry, but may as well be written in Klingon as far as many of the people I drive and walk and look past in my daily life are concerned—people whom I would like to find ways to reach with the gospel of Christ in the tradition that has formed me.
As they say, “food for thought.”
Friday, August 13, 2010
If you stop by here from time to time, you know that I like to dig around once in awhile in the detritus of the Hymnal 1940—items that were passed over when the “new” hymnal for the Episcopal Church was compiled … thirty years ago (!).
Today’s treasure is #348, a text penned by Frederick William Faber in 1854, nine years after his conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.
Jesus, gentlest Savior, God of might and power, Thou thyself art dwelling With us at this hour.
Nature cannot hold thee, Heav’n is all too strait For thine endless glory And thy royal state.
Out beyond the shining of the farthest star, Thou art ever stretching Infinitely far.
Yet the hearts of children Hold what worlds cannot, And the God of wonders Loves the lowly spot.
No, it’s not on the level of the ineffable early 17th century metaphysical poets (Herbert, Donne, Herrick, et al), or even Wordsworth (to choose a contemporary of Faber’s whom he admired). But there’s something quite affecting about how he lays out the paradox of the Incarnation, with subtle gestures toward New Testament imagery (say, Colossians 1): The universe itself is too small to “hold” Christ, yet that same Christ can dwell in the heart of a child.
I guess what I like about it is that it’s not only Victorian schmaltz (which it indeed is), but has both literary and theological integrity as well.
The tune, Eudoxia, by Sabine Baring-Gould (who wrote the text, but not the music, to Onward, Christian Soldiers), is one that I find quite charming, but I fear my tastes are so rarified as to be eccentric. Most would find it … well … stodgy.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
O GOD, unto whom the martyrdom of thy blessed deacon Laurence amid the raging flames and upon the searing iron of the grill was received as a sweet smelling savor in thy nostrils, mercifully grant that we, by the yearly keeping of this feast, may be so nourished in our faith that we pass from the spiritual hunger of this world, where we do but recieve rare portions of thy grace, unto the fullness of thy heavenly table, where we shall hear those blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant"; through . . .
Monday, August 09, 2010
The Diocese of Springfield (Illinois) will be electing its eleventh bishop on September 18. Two days ago, I learned that my name will be among the three that appear on the ballot at that election. This is a great honor, and I am still taking it in.
It is also a place of some risk and vulnerability. Whatever transpires over the next six weeks, I am aware that one of the results--not the only result, of course, but one of them--will be agony, agony for me and agony for others. No, not life-shattering or even gut-wrenching agony; it will hardly be the torment of the damned. But it will be more than just the prick of a needle to draw blood; it will be a wound, a wound that leaves a scar. The scar will fade into nothingness rather quickly, I expect, but it will be there.
The election of a bishop is a dynamic process. It is a simultaneously holy and unholy alliance between faithful spiritual discernment, raw power politics, unintended consequences, deep and worthy aspirations, hedging of bets, the operation of the collective unconscious on a scale that would impress even Dr Jung, and, one hopes, a generous dollop of the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit. I'm not entirely persuaded that the Church would be any less well-served if we just threw dice, or had each candidate pull the lever of a consecrated slot machine. Nonetheless, the process we have is the process we have.
The process in Springfield began with some 24 priests, I am given to understand, having had their names submitted to the Election Committee. Fifteen then opted to fulfill the rather demanding requests that the diocese asked them to comply with. These included reading and digesting a lengthy profile of the diocese, a large number of statistical data compiled from a survey of clergy and communicants there, and writing nine 500-word essays in response to specific questions, each of which had to then be rendered as a video presentation. This required a considerable investment of time, initiative, intellectual energy, and prayer. One of the fifteen subsequently dropped out along the way.
Then the poor clergy and lay delegates in the Diocese of Springfield had to deal with dossiers that I have not seen but could only have made War and Peace seem like the Sunday comics! They all got together last Saturday at their cathedral church with the intention of winnowing the list of fourteen down to four. Three "selections"--your humble blogger among them--were made relatively quickly. But they then ran into a snag, with one of the remaining nominees showing strong support among the clergy and the other showing strong support among the laity, but clearly there was not going to be any significant movement. It was getting late, and some the delegates had long drives ahead of them, so they opted to stick with the three birds they had in hand rather than continue to pursue one more of the two in the bush.
A process of this sort is one of discernment. For me, at least, discernment requires imaginatively "trying on" the role under consideration. This is psychically and spiritually costly--worth it, one hopes, but costly. I have found no other way to faithfully do the job. I have to make myself totally available, in an interior way, to the possibility that is being discerned. I can only assume that my two colleagues who are in the same place in the process also have to do the same. Sometime on September 18, two of us are going to be invited to suddenly close the book on that work (as eleven others had to do last Saturday). I imagine they (or should I say "we"?) will wince, at least, as we do that. A moment of agony. It isn't that my self-esteem is tied up with becoming Bishop of Springfield (or bishop of anything else, for that matter). The pain will be in the sheer suddenness of the conclusion.
If I am elected, there will be the joy and excitement of taking up new work, but the challenges of being a bishop are legion. It will not be a walk in the park. I have served as a Rural Dean and a member of Standing Committees long enough to be familiar with the sorts of very un-fun issues bishops have to deal with. There is agony in that. But the greater agony, I think, flowing from my election, should it occur, will be that of taking leave once again of a congregation and a community that Brenda and I have come to love a great deal. We like our life in Warsaw. We have been at St Anne's only three years, but it's long enough to have put down some roots and form relationships that are quite precious to us. We have dreamed big dreams together at St Anne's, and I remain energized and joyful in my ministry. It would be not only agonizing, but wrenching indeed, to leave it all.
The point, of course, is that agony, of whatever scale, is not something to be avoided, but embraced. It is the way of the cross, and only by taking up the cross do we find it to be "the way of life and peace." Of your charity, do pray for me--as well as for Father Gunter and Canon Stevenson, and for the clergy and delegates of the Diocese of Springfield--that we will be courageously faithful in taking up the cross of guaranteed agony in the time between now and the election, and that the wind of the Holy Spirit will permeate St Paul's Cathedral on that day.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I'm about to make the turn from the "at home" portion of my vacation (this is the eleventh day thereof) to the "on the road" portion (the next twelve days, in eastern and northern Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin). The summer reading that I'm in the middle of, and which I'll be taking with me, is Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, one of the (many) classics I missed when reading was forced on me and which I'm getting around to only in my dotage.
It's Easter morning, and the story's narrator, Ethan Allen Hawley, is conversing with his wife in their kitchen after getting home from church.
"Do you know whether you believe in the church or not, Ethan? Why do you call me silly names? You hardly ever use my name."
"To avoid being repetitious and tiresome, but in my heart your name rings like a bell. Do I believe? What a question! Do I lift each shining phrase out of the Nicene creed, loaded like a shotgun shell, and inspect it? No. It isn't necessary. It's a singular thing, Mary. If my mind and soul and body were as dry of faith as a navy bean, the words, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,' would still make my stomach turn over and put a flutter in my chest and light a fire in my brain."
"I don't understand."
"Good girl. Neither do I. Let's just say that when I was a little baby, and all my bones soft and malleable, I was put in a small Episcopal cruciform box and so took my shape. Then, when I broke out of the box, the way a baby chick escapes an egg, is it strange that I had the shape of a cross? Have you ever noticed that chickens are roughly egg-shaped?"There is perhaps more truth here than can be spoken, more than was intended--more than Ethan intended, doubtless more than Steinbeck intended. It invites reflection.
Unless something quite unforeseeable happens, my mind will be other places than on blogging until well into the first week of August, and probably for a few days beyond that, as there will be a pile of demands waiting for me when I get back into harness. I intend to focus on the natural beauty of the Great Lakes and the northwoods, and to enjoy the mostly undivided attention of the one whose name rings like a bell in my heart.
Summer is, for me, the icon of "things as they were meant to be." I intend to drink it in with abandon, and store up such spiritual reserves as will help see me through the darkness and gloom that will descend inexorably all too quickly.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Imitation still being the sincerest form of flattery, there eventually appeared a video that is technically, I suppose, a spoof, but the intent behind the obvious humor was quite serious. Instead of a PC and a Mac, it featured a "Christian" and a "Christ follower, respectively. Just as the original was set up to make a Macintosh computer much more attractive than a PC, so the imitative spoof was set up to make being a "Christ follower" decidedly superior to being a "Christian."
The implication is clearly that to be a Christ follower is to be accountable solely and directly to ... Christ. Simple. Transparent. Unaffected. Weighed down by nothing more substantive than the question mark at the end of "WWJD?". To be a Christian, by contrast, is to carry 2,000 years worth of baggage--controversies, councils, creeds, sacraments, orders, doctrines, dogmas, and institutional infrastructures. Why bother with all that? Why not just cut through it all and and just get on with following Jesus?
There are two angles (at least) from which to approach such a conclusion. One is the evangelical, ultra-low church, hyper-individualistic strain of piety and devotion that is fairly ubiquitous in the history of American Christianity. But another route to the same spot is the ultra-modern liberal deconstructionist school of thought represented by, inter alia, the Jesus Seminar. These two camps are pretty much mortal enemies, so I realize the irony of painting them with the same brush. But they both uphold, in differing ways, the notion that what we are accountable to is what the actual Jesus who got Palestinian dirt between his toes would want us to think an do. The fundamentalist would claim that such knowledge is unambiguously accessible on the pages of the New Testament. The modernist takes a more complex and sophisticated approach in proposing that the "historical Jesus" (a term coined about a century ago) is accessible by carefully combing through historical and literary artifacts with the disciplined and detached eye of a scholar. Importantly, however, both would contend that most, if not all, of what the generations succeeding Jesus' own said about him (for the modernist, this would include the way Paul theologized Jesus) ought to be taken with several grains of salt, if not tossed out completely. The two might come up with very different descriptions of what it looks like to be a "Christ follower," but they would both maintain a suspicious attitude toward the theological and institutional apparatus associated with being "Christian."
This is a pluralistic world and a free society, and I don't find myself particularly scandalized by these views. They are certainly nothing new. What utterly baffles me, however, is when someone who is personally implicated, by free choice, with institutional structures and commitments that are decidedly "Christian" takes the position of the cheeky "Christ follower." Yesterday, on the HoB/D listserv, there was a thread inspired by tomorrow's Epistle reading from Colossians that speaks of Christ being "pre-eminent." At one point, an Episcopal priest from Tennessee (his name is Peter Keese, which I share at his request), wrote this:
My thinking (still evolving, I hope) is that we misunderstand and misuse the notion - the reality, if you will - of incarnation. I'm suggesting that incarnation is a universal reality - Jesus being a symbol and example of what God is doing everywhere and all the time. It is not that I object to the notion of God incarnating in Jesus; what I object to is your (and my) reluctance to claim that God inhabits you (and me) no less fully.I have heard such suggestions before--from Unitarians, other non-Christians, and from Episcopalian lay people who are poorly-catechized. But Peter (whom I know personally and with whom I have had a quite cordial relationship over the years) is a presbyter--an elder--who helps form candidates for ordained ministry and whose diocese has elected him to represent them at the last two General Conventions. So we're not talking about some crackpot on the margins of the institution.
In another part of the thread, another priest (again, someone I know personally, and who is in charge of a parish), gave voice to the modernist "Christ follower" position that traditional christology--from the language of "pre-eminence" in the New Testament to that of the creeds--represents the successful attempt to certain forces within the movement begun by the historical Jesus to exert political control over others. It's the shopworn "history is written by the winners" mantra.
Friday, July 09, 2010
You may answer all or some of the following questions. Please turn in your answers before picking up your diploma.