Friday, February 27, 2015

Malcolm Boyd, RIP

The Rev. Malcom Boyd died this afternoon. (Story can be found here.)

His book "Are you running with me Jesus?" has been helpful to many people, including myself. An excerpt:
It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.

I’ve got to move fast… get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more. I just don’t feel like it. What I really want to do is get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep.

All I seem to want today is the big sleep, and here I’ve got to run all over again. Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me.

What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot. So I’ll follow along, OK? But lead, please. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus? (Malcolm Boyd, Are You Running With Me, Jesus?, p. 19)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How will you die?

I grew up with Dr. Death. To be truthful, I was in college, but it seemed like he was always in the news.  Jack Kevorkian pushed the idea of physician assisted suicide at a time when no one was talking about it.  It was a one man crusade and he paid dearly for it.

The idea seemed so foreign that a physician would help a person die or aid the dying.

The Senate Judiciary Committee in Hartford is now considering a bill that authorizes aid in dying and will hold a public hearing in the coming weeks.

I have been thinking about this and these articles have been part of my reading:
Desmond Tutu: a dignified death is our right – I am in favour of assisted dying. The manner of Nelson Mandela's prolonged death was an affront. I have spent my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying

Gene Robinson: On Her Own Terms: Why Brittany Maynard Has Chosen to Die - The athletic 29-year-old got a Stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis. So rather than lose her dignity, she’s ending her life. On November 1.
A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.
I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
BRAVE. You hear that word a lot when people are sick. It’s all about the fight, the survival instinct, the courage. But when Dr. Elizabeth D. McKinley’s family and friends talk about bravery, it is not so much about the way Dr. McKinley, a 53-year-old internist from Cleveland, battled breast cancer for 17 years. It is about the courage she has shown in doing something so few of us are able to do: stop fighting.

This spring, after Dr. McKinley’s cancer found its way into her liver and lungs and the tissue surrounding her brain, she was told she had two options.

“You can put chemotherapy directly into your brain, or total brain radiation,” she recalled recently from her home in suburban Cleveland. “I’m looking at these drugs head-on and either one would change me significantly. I didn’t want that.” She also did not want to endure the side effects of radiation.

What Dr. McKinley wanted was time with her husband, a radiologist, and their two college-age children, and another summer to soak her feet in the Atlantic Ocean. But most of all, she wanted “a little more time being me and not being somebody else.” So, she turned down more treatment and began hospice care, the point at which the medical fight to extend life gives way to creating the best quality of life for the time that is left.
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds–from 5 percent to 15 percent–albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.

It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

Of course, doctors don’t want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone. They’ve talked about this with their families. They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen–that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that’s what happens if CPR is done right).


The Great Litany

This was said at the beginning of the service - the first Sunday of Lent...

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts
and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory,
and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want
of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the
deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness
of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and
flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from
violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity
and submission to the Law; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in
the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that
it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church
Universal in the right way,
We beesech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illumine all bishops, priests, and
deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy
Word; and that both by their preaching and living, they may
set it forth, and show it accordingly,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to send forth laborers into thy
harvest, and to draw all mankind into thy kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all people increase of grace
to hear and receive thy Word, and to bring forth the fruits of
the Spirit,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such
as have erred, and are deceived,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us a heart to love and fear
thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants,
the President of the United States (or of this nation), and all
others in authority, that they may do justice, and love mercy,
and walk in the ways of truth,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to make wars to cease in all the world;
to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord; and to
bestow freedom upon all peoples,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to show thy pity upon all prisoners
and captives, the homeless and the hungry, and all who are
desolate and oppressed,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the
bountiful fruits of the earth, so that in due time all may enjoy
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings,
to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of
heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve all who are in danger by
reason of their labor or their travel,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve, and provide for, all
women in childbirth, young children and orphans, the
widowed, and all whose homes are broken or torn by strife,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to visit the lonely; to strengthen all
who suffer in mind, body, and spirit; and to comfort with thy
presence those who are failing and infirm,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to support, help, and comfort all who
are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to have mercy upon all mankind,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive
us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue
us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives
according to thy holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors,
and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to
comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who
fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant to all the faithful departed
eternal life and peace,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of
Blessed Peter and all the saints, we may attain to thy
heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Kyrie eleison.
Christ, have mercy upon us. or Christe eleison.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Kyrie eleison.    

Sermon: February 22

Take away, O Lord, the veil of my heart while I hear the scriptures and partake of your sacraments that I may hear your voice and feel your guidance. Amen.
There is an old rabbinic story about a faithful Jew who every morning would write down on a piece of paper the words I am but dust and ashes and place the paper in his pocket. Throughout the day he would take out the paper and read it; the words, spoken by the patriarch Abraham in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 18: 27), served as a prayerful reminder of his mortality and humility before God.
One day he showed the paper to his rabbi. The rabbi was moved by his congregant's reverence. But the rabbi took out a second piece of paper and wrote the Hebrew words Bishvili nivra ha'olam - "For my sake, the universe was created.”

"Take these words, as well, and carry them too," the rabbi said. "Let there be balance in your life. Realize that of yourself, before God, you are nothing - but because you are created in God's image, out of love, you possess the greatest dignity imaginable: you are a child of God." [As told by Burton Visotzky in Genesis: A Living Conversation by Bill Moyers.]
That beautiful story dovetails nicely with our tradition of Ash Wednesday – remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

And so maybe we need to add the words: Bishvili nivra ha'olam - "For my sake, the universe was created.”

Our Lenten experience is a time for reaching that balance between realizing our humility before God and our identity as God's child. When we are consumed by the notion that we are in total control of our lives, when we have arrogantly self-absorbed because of what we possess and what we have achieved, we should take out the first "paper" & remember the dust on our foreheads: I am but dust and ashes and to dust I shall return.

I was listening on Saturday to “Whad'Ya Know?” Radio Hour on NPR where author and ASU Professor Lawrence Krauss talked a little a bit about our place in the galaxy, and said we were such a small part of it, we were but a dust speck in the universe. We are truly dust and ashes.

But when we feel abandoned, when hope seems far away, when we feel lost in the wilderness, we need to embrace the message of the second sheet: For my sake, God created the universe. I am God's beloved child; I am created in God's image.

As we sit with those two pieces of paper: dust AND our being made in God’s image, think again about the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, our first stop on our Lenten Journey after Ash Wednesday.
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
That is all that the Gospel of Mark gives us with the Temptation of Jesus. A quick snapshot. He was tempted. Out in the wilderness. Angels came.
“I believe that Jesus underwent this ordeal on our behalf, to break open the ground of the heart and make real choice possible for us.” ~ Malcom Guite
Mark doesn’t go into the choices; but as Guite puts it, Jesus undergoes that temptation for us, to break open the ground of our hearts and help us to see the choices before us, both our humility and our belovedness. A choice that also invites us to go deeper…
A young man sought out the advice of a hermit who lived deep in the forest.

“I love my wife deeply,” the sad young man said, “and I know she loves me. But she says almost nothing to me for days on end.”

“A love without silence is a love without depth,” the old monk replied.

“But she never even says she loves me.”

“Some people always claim that,” the old man answered. “And we end up wondering if their words are true.”

The monk then pointed to the field of wildflowers surrounding them. “Nature isn’t always repeating that God loves us. We only realize it through His flowers.” [Adapted from a story told by Paulo Coelho.]
Lent calls us to our own interior deserts — that place within us where we can turn off the noise and shut out the fears and tensions of our lives. It is only in such stillness that we can realize the many manifestations of God’s love in our midst, a love that is difficult to see in all the distractions demanding our attention and hard to hear in all the noise blaring at us.

Lent calls us to rediscover, in the stillness of our souls, what it means to be a person of faith, what values we want our lives to stand for, what path we want our lives to take on our own journey to Easter. May this Lenten season be a time for attaining that balance in our lives: a balance between humility that leads to selflessness and joy in the ever-present love of God in our midst as we plumb the depths of who we are as God’s beloved children. Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our Everyday Bias

Bias effects us all.  The unexamined bias hurts others.  We need to begin to address such lack of love toward our neighbors.

An excerpt from an op-ed piece:

Two scholars, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, sent out fictitious résumés in response to help-wanted ads. Each résumé was given a name that either sounded stereotypically African-American or one that sounded white, but the résumés were otherwise basically the same.

The study found that a résumé with a name like Emily or Greg received 50 percent more callbacks than the same résumé with a name like Lakisha or Jamal. Having a white-sounding name was as beneficial as eight years’ work experience.

Then there was the study in which researchers asked professors to evaluate the summary of a supposed applicant for a post as laboratory manager, but, in some cases, the applicant was named John and in others Jennifer. Everything else was the same.

“John” was rated an average of 4.0 on a 7-point scale for competence, “Jennifer” a 3.3. When asked to propose an annual starting salary for the applicant, the professors suggested on average a salary for “John” almost $4,000 higher than for “Jennifer.”

It’s not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness...Let’s just acknowledge that we’re all flawed, biased and sometimes irrational, and that we can do more to resist unconscious bias.
Read the whole article from the NY Times (Nicholas Kristof) here.

How was God created? Archbishop Rowan responds to a 6 year old

This is from a blogpost from the Telegraph (2011):
Alex Renton, a non-believer who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school. Her teachers asked her to write the following letter: "To God, How did you get invented?"  He asked other churches their thoughts and then he sent it to "the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace" – and this was the response:
Dear Lulu,
Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –
'Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected.
Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I'm really like.
But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!'
And then he'd send you lots of love and sign off.
I know he doesn't usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.  +Archbishop Rowan
What the letter also tells us is that the Archbishop took the trouble to write a really thoughtful message – unmistakably his work and not that of a secretary – to a little girl. "Well done, Rowan!" was the reaction of Alex Renton's mother, and I agree.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (prayer by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel)
Today, we begin our yearly Lenten pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that takes us from the beginning as dust of the earth, into which God breathes life, to where we are now, joining Jesus for 40 days, in temptation and hope. It all starts with ashes.

Ashes on our foreheads reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In those ashes are our acts of self-examination and repentance, of our beginning this Lenten journey in humility and hope. Ashes that were once palm branches held up in triumph at Jesus entry into Jerusalem last Palm Sunday, many turning into Palm Crosses and Jesus journey to death. Palms burned this past Sunday and turned into ashes.

So with these ashes, we are marked as human, as dust of the earth, placing ourselves with all of humanity& creation.
“A person is a person through other persons” is how Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it. “None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.”
We don’t live into our humanity in a vacuum or alone. We journey with others. This year, those ashes aren’t there for our new growth, our own fruitful lives alone. They are for the betterment of all creation.

Our service on Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance for we have not loved God with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not repented of our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, nor of our waste and pollution of God’s creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.

There is sin and much to repent of (Lent!) but those ashes are not a scarlet mark for us to be shamed by, but to live into hope. As the author Stephanie Paulsell put it:
“The smeared crosses on our foreheads are an incarnational work of art that helps us confront our greatest fears. When we are marked with ashes we are marked not only with a sign of our mortality but also with a sign of the struggle to remain human under the greatest possible pressure. We follow Jesus into the desert of Lent to learn about the most mysterious possibilities that our humanity holds: healing, resistance, love, and forgiveness. Again and again, year after year, he teaches us that human life holds more possibilities than we’ve ever imagined.”
In his poem for Ash Wednesday, the Poet Malcom Guite, reminds us of our need for repentance and renewal of the sinfulness and destruction of God’s creation by our hands.
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
In these ashes are hope, hope that could rise from the sign of the cross upon each of our brows.

So let us work this Lent, let us repent of our actions and words that hurt, let us renew our world with acts of kindness and generosity, let us walk with creation and believe anew what our gracious God can do in us:
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge we bear.
(poem by Jan Richardson)

Hand Out on Ash Wednesday

Take a glass bead…
Think about its composition (sand, ash,)
Think about your composition…
Think about others…
Give thanks to God your Creator for it all
And remember all in your prayers

For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139: 12-14)

Ash Wednesday (all poems by Malcolm Guite)
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Communion Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

Stones into Bread
The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here
The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.
When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.
Now He must dare, with us, to make a choice.
In a distended belly’s cruel curve
He feels the famine of the ones who lose
He starves for those whom we have forced to starve
He chooses now for those who cannot choose.
He is the staff and sustenance of life
He lives for all from one Sustaining Word
His love still breaks and pierces like a knife
The stony ground of hearts that never shared,
God gives through Him what Satan never could;
The broken bread that is our only food.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday

I found this post at Malcom Guite's post on Lent & thought it especially helpful as we approach Lent on this Shrove Tuesday:
Shrove Tuesday: This is the day we think about being ‘shriven’ – confessing our sins and receiving the cleansing and release of forgiveness. The word ‘shrove’ drives from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘shrift’ meaning to hear someone’s confession, or ‘shrive them’. So Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, when he makes it to land, and needs to be released from the burden of his guilt, says to the hermit: ‘O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy Man.’ It was the duty of priests especially to hear the confession and grant forgiveness and spiritual counsel to those who were facing execution and when prison chaplains failed to do this properly, with time care and attention, there was a complaint that people were being ‘given short shrift’, which is where that phrase comes from.

Here and now on this Shrove Tuesday we can take that time and care. But the whole idea of confession and absolution can seem strange and alien if it was not part of our life and culture, and sometimes daunting if it was! Sometimes it takes a poet to help us re-imagine the possibilities of being ‘shriven’, really letting go, being truly forgiven.
This poem is from Seamus Heaney’s Station Island, a sequence of poems about confronting the past, letting it go, in order to be released, freed and unburdened for the journey of life. The whole sequence ‘Station Island’ is a masterpiece; but ‘XI’ is the jewel in its crown, containing as it does not only a fine emblem of sin and redemption, but also a powerful new translation of perhaps the greatest of the poems of St John of the Cross. The poem opens with the poet’s memory of having ruined a kaleidoscope he had been given as a child, by plunging it ‘in a butt of muddied water’, in his desire, even then, to see into the dark. This gift, ‘mistakenly abased’, becomes an emblem for all that is ruined and ‘run to waste’ in us. The kaleidoscope becomes an emblem of the gift of imagination itself, an instrument in which we may see refracted through the creation, the glories of God’s light. Our fall, collectively and individually has plunged this kaleidoscope into muddied water.
The world we see habitually is not the true world at all, because it is seen through the sludge with which the kaleidoscope is encrusted, a sludge which Coleridge so charitably called, ‘the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude’. The question is, has the gift been ruined forever? Can the kaleidoscope surface again? Can it ever again become the ‘marvellous lightship’, the window into heaven? That is a sharp question, both for ourselves individually and for our whole culture. In this poem, Heaney suggests that it can: ‘What came to nothing could always be replenished’, and the replenishment, the restoration of vision, like the resurfacing of the kaleidoscope, is precisely the business of poetry. The monk to whom Heaney has made confession understands this absolutely; he understands that Heaney’s vocation as a poet comes from the same source as his own vocation to be a monk, and is therefore able to say, ‘Read poems as prayers’. It is not that Heaney is asked to, or would be prepared to sloganize for the Catholic Church, but rather that this cleansing of the instruments of our vision by the power of his imagination as a poet, is part of that whole restoration even in our darkness, of the vision of Truth which is the work of the whole Trinity, but especially in us of the Logos, the Word who is also the Light. This becomes abundantly clear in the poem Heaney goes on to translate, in which at last, after all his journeying, he arrives at and names the Source of that river which Milton named, ‘Siloam’s brook’, and Coleridge called, ‘Alph, the sacred river’. Perhaps we can see our own Lenten pilgrimage as a journey upstream to the source of that ‘fountain, filling running’ that is celebrated in this poem.
Station Island XI Seamus Heaney/St John of the Cross

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope
I plunged once in a butt of muddied water
Surfaced like a marvellous lightship

And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face
That had spoken years ago from behind a grille
Spoke again about the need and chance

To salvage everything, to re-envisage
The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift
Mistakenly abased …

What came to nothing could always be replenished.

‘Read poems as prayers,’ he said, ‘and for your penance
Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.’

Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness,
His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining,
He had made me feel there was nothing to confess.

Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this:

How well I know that fountain, filling, running,
Although it is the night.

That eternal fountain, hidden away
I know its haven and its secrecy
Although it is the night

But not its source because it does not have one,
Which is all sources’ source and origin?
Although it is the night.

No other thing can be so beautiful.
Here the earth and heaven drink their fill
Although it is the night.

So pellucid it never can be muddied,
And I know that all light radiates from it
Although it is the night.

I know no sounding-line can find its bottom,
Nobody ford or plumb its deepest fathom
Although it is the night.

And its current so in flood it overspills
To water hell and heaven and all peoples
Although it is the night.

And the current that is generated there,
As far as it wills to, it can flow that far
Although it is the night.

And from these two a third current proceeds
Which neither of these two, I know, precedes
Although it is the night.

This eternal fountain hides and splashes
Within this living bread that is life to us
Although it is the night.

Hear it calling out to every creature.
And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
Because it is the night.

I am repining for this living fountain.
Within this bread of life I see it plain
Although it is the night.
You can find his wonderful books at!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lynchings - #BlackLivesMatter

As we continue in this country to move forward and remind everyone that #BlackLivesMatter I saw a recent posting at the NY Times that reminded me why this is so important:

History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names
Most Southern terror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues and monuments that record, celebrate and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror.
The point of the lynchings was never about justice.  It was about power and control, to make sure Jim Crow laws and racial segregation were maintained at all cost.

But why is this important for today?
It sees lynching as the precursor of modern-day racial bias in the criminal justice system. The researchers argue, for example, that lynching declined as a mechanism of social control as the Southern states shifted to a capital punishment strategy, in which blacks began more frequently to be executed after expedited trials. The legacy of lynching was apparent in that public executions were still being used to mollify mobs in the 1930s even after such executions were legally banned.
Taken from Lynching as Racial Terrorism

The memory of these lynchings have been lost from our civil memory but the terror they exacted upon African Americans is still with us today.  We need to mend the ties that are broken.  Read more here:

The Crusades

President Obama made a few people upset when he mentioned the crusades in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast:
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends? Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ...
He is correct.  Christians have done terrible things in the past.

The First Victims of the First Crusade
THE first victims of the First Crusade, inspired in 1096 by the supposedly sacred mission of retaking Jerusalem from Muslims, were European Jews. Anyone who considers it religiously and politically transgressive to compare the behavior of medieval Christian soldiers to modern Islamic terrorism might find it enlightening to read this bloody story, as told in both Hebrew and Christian chronicles.
History does repeat itself. Read this too on the Inquisition:

and finally summed up nicely at NPR (look at the end of the transcript):

50 Shades of Grey

I must admit, I have not read the book (fiction is rarely my book of choice) and I don't plan on seeing the movie.  There is some commentary out there about the movie, and I want to highlight two articles that caught my attention and deserve to be read:

A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey

An excerpt:
There’s nothing gray about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all black. Let me explain.

I help people who are broken inside. Unlike doctors who use x-rays or blood tests to determine why someone’s in pain, the wounds that interest me are hidden. I ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. That’s how I discover why the person in front of me is “bleeding”.

Years of careful listening have taught me a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are utterly confused about love – finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I don’t want you to suffer like the people I see in my office, so I’m warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don’t see the film, its toxic message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.
Sadly there are times when alternatives are not any better...

Christian Alternative to 'Fifty Shades' Makes the Same Mistakes, Just Without the Sex

An excerpt:
This Valentine’s Day, two films will battle for the hearts and minds of the American public. One of them is Fifty Shades of Grey, the popular culture juggernaut that has earned millions of dollars worldwide. The other is a Christian-produced independent film, Old Fashioned, which bills itself as the scrubbed-up, evangelical alternative.

Having faith-based responses to secular media (and saying Fifty Shades of Grey is secular is a little like saying the Grand Canyon is big) is more than appropriate. It’s necessary. Otherwise we risk ignoring the vital words of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Christians and non-believers alike should be regularly exposed to art that causes them to question the world around them.

Sadly, Old Fashioned is not the movie to fit that bill. Both it and Fifty Shades of Grey present dangerously unrealistic portraits of relationships — one just does it without the sex.

Read both articles!  What might be the best response?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon - February 15

God of life, in a blaze of light on Mount Tabor you transfigured Jesus, revealing him as your Beloved Son and promising us a share in that destiny of glory. Let the beacon of that gospel pierce again the clouds enshrouding the earth, so that even in the darkness of times we may believe your day will dawn and your light will shine through us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Why not say it was the altitude,
the hot sun, the long hike up that winding trail,
the lack of food and drink, the thin air,
wishful thinking?

Why not say we were dreaming,
seeing things, hearing phantom voices
in the warm breeze,
manufacturing convenient meanings,
telling wild tales like half-drunk sailors
of what was — or wasn’t — there?

Why not just say that we didn’t see
whatever in the world it was we thought we saw?
That would be easier.

It was late. We were young.
It caught us by surprise, and left us wondering:
without, then or now, even a clue
how to put into words what it was we wanted to be true.
That poem by Bruce Robison got me to thinking about Peter, James & John, and their experience of the Transfiguration, what might they be thinking after the event, as well as Elisha watching Elijah disappear from his sight. What to say after it all happened…
Why not just say that we didn’t see
whatever in the world it was we thought we saw?
That would be easier.

It was late. We were young.
It caught us by surprise, and left us wondering...
How to explain what they experienced? Elijah’s prophetic role was nearing its end and it was being passed on to his disciple Elisha, and the Gospel of Mark tell us of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor to three of his disciples. They all were witnesses to an extraordinary sight.

But what is really extraordinary about these events is not that the chariots came to take Elijah away or that Jesus became dazzling white and Moses & Elijah were with him, its how these events propeled those who witnessed the events onward.

Elisha doesn’t make a shrine at that spot, but takes up Elijah’s mantle and goes to be the prophet he was called to be. Even though Peter wants to stay in the moment and build three dwellings on Mount Tabor, Jesus guides the disciples back down the mountain to continue their ministry with all the people.

It is as if God uses those moment to do something to catch the attention of the disciples so that they understand they too need to be transformed, to do what God calls them faithfully to do…

Jimmy Liautaud was a nightmare of a high school student: he was constantly in trouble for drinking, smoking and skipping class. The faculty at his prep school had had enough of young Mr. Liautaud and voted to expel him. But he had an unlikely champion: the dean of discipline. The dean recognized Jimmy’s rebellion as insecurity and saw what others did not: a student from a financially struggling family, trying to fit in at a prestigious school among wealthier, more polished classmates. Having spent many hours with Jimmy in detention, the dean realized that this was a pretty good kid, struggling to find out who he was. The dean, who had come from a working-class family himself, put his job of the line — he told the angry teachers: “If he goes, I go.”

The talent and goodness that the dean saw in Jimmy was realized. Jimmy finished school, (college wasn’t an option), went to work and soon opened his own food business — his sandwich shop pioneered the model of delivering good, inexpensive food to college dorms. Over the next 20 years, his small Illinois shop grew into a chain of more than 800 restaurants throughout the Midwest and Southeast.

Now just about every educator has a story about a dismal student who somehow made it. But here’s the twist in Jimmy story: The school, Elgin Academy in Elgin, Illinois, recently dedicated a new building with 12 classrooms, a theatre and a library. The new upper school is the gift of Jimmy Liautaud. But Jimmy’s $1-million gift came with one condition: the building was to be named after James Lyons — the dean of discipline at the school who saw the possibilities in a troubled kid. The school accepted the gift, but insisted that Jimmy’s name be included, as well: linking both names would inspire Elgin students to persevere in working for their own dreams, and to be grateful for those who help along the way. Jimmy Liautaud reluctantly agreed. And so the Elgin School community celebrated the dedication of the Liautaud-Lyons Upper School. [From “Troublesome Student Makes Good, and Honors Disciplinarian” by Dirk Johnson, The New York Times, December 31, 2008.]
The talent and generosity that the dean witnessed in a troubled teenager and the realization of that potential is an experience of transfiguration. On the mount of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John see the divinity possessed by Jesus. That same Spirit, that same “divinity,” shines within and through them and us, as well. It is what Elisha saw in Elijah and he wanted a double share to continue his prophetic work.

The Spirit of God dwelling within us enables us to realize our own potential for generosity, compassion and gratitude — and, in the light of Christ’s transfiguration, to recognize that same goodness in others, even sometimes hidden and unappreciated. We are challenged by Christ to see our world and others in “transfigured” light: to let the Spirit of God possess us to help transform our world in grace and blessing.

As our own Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: “God places us in the world as his fellow workers – agents of transformation. We work with God so that injustice is transformed [transfigured] into justice, so that there will be more compassion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.”

On this last Sunday before Lent, may we remember how God has acted in the past and believe in a vision of hopeful things to come, and in that way, hear a call to help transform and transfigure the world around us now. To understand that we are the witnesses today of God’s love and glory, and that we in our own way need to help take up the mantle handed down to us by sharing God’s light in our world today. Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Prayer for Availability to God's Will

O God, I do not know what to ask of you. You alone know my true needs and love me more than I know how to love. I ask neither for cross nor consolation, but only that I may discern and do your will. Teach me to wait in patience with an open heart, knowing that your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Help me to see where I have erected idols of certitude to defend myself from the demands of your ever unfolding truth: truth you have made known to us in the one who is the truth, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

After Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, 1867

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#RememberingMadiba - 25th Anniversary of Nelson Mandela's Release from Prison

From the Office of the Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa - Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town has called on people of faith to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela by committing to “a new struggle... for social cohesion and the end of inequality.”
"We humbly give thanks to You, O Lord, for giving us the gift of Nelson Mandela. We are grateful for his heroic and selfless leadership of South Africa in guiding our country to freedom and democracy. We are grateful for his courage and dignity in adversity, and for his mighty power of forgiveness, which helped create this great nation. We are grateful for how he united us, and served as a dedicated and humble President."
(Chief Rabbi S. Africa)

Monday, February 9, 2015

At the Presentation of the Bread & the Cup

In conjunction with our work on the Discipleship Project in 2015, we will be using words I first heard at the Monastery at SSJE:

Behold what you are.  May we become what we receive.   
The words used at the presentation of the Bread and Cup derive from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist, a sustained teaching pointing to one of the deep truths of Christian faith:  through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world.  St. Augustine (354 – 430 c.e.), together with St. Paul and Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most influential voices in the Christian tradition, and the clerestory windows of the monastery feature a window in his honor. (from SSJE)

Sermon: February 8

"Don't tell me what you believe.
Tell me what difference it makes that you believe."

Those are the words from the theologian and author, Verna Dozier, whose book The Dream of God, asks us: does the world come nearer to the dream of God, that all of creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment, because of what you believe? It is the question of how you live out your discipleship, how you follow Jesus.

As we listened this morning to the Gospel story from Mark, Jesus answers that question by what he does with his life and invites his disciples to follow.

After his time of teaching in the Synagogue he goes to the house of Simon Peter & Andrew. Simon’s mother in law is in bed and not feeling well and even at that moment of quiet for Jesus, he goes and heals her and in her thankfulness, she goes and serves Jesus, her son in law and their friends.

But that’s not all, people have heard who Jesus is and “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons and he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”

In the morning he rose early, went out to a quiet place and prayed. When he was found, the disciples said people were looking for him. Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

For Jesus, he is not interested in a popularity contest, or praise, he sees faithfulness as his calling to go and proclaim and teach and heal. And he takes time to refresh that vision in prayer and quiet.

Likewise, we are to understand our faith by living out our discipleship in the world and taking time out to refresh who we are and what we are doing. I think of a story from the Desert Fathers & Mothers:
Many years ago, there were three friends who wanted to devote themselves to the work of God. The first devoted himself to the work of making peace among those who were in conflict, helping to reconcile the estranged and alienated. The second opened a small house to care for the sick and dying. The third went off to live a life of prayer in the desert.

The first friend worked tirelessly to help warring factions settle their differences, but could not resolve them all. Tired and frustrated over the wars he could not prevent, he went to visit his friend who was caring for the sick, but found that he, too, was exhausted and discouraged in the holy work he had taken on. So the two friends decided to go spend time with their friend in the desert.

They told their friend the monk of their difficulties and frustrations and asked if he had dealt with the same discouragement. The monk was silent for a time; then he poured water into a bowl. “Look at the water,” he said. The water was turbulent and moving. A few minutes later he asked them to look at it again. The water had settled down — and they saw their own reflections in the still water as if they were looking in a mirror.

“In the constant motion of our own lives lived among others, we do not see our own sins and tribulations; but if we embrace the tranquility found in the stillness of prayer, we begin to realize our own shortcomings.”
It is a reminder that we all need times of tranquility, a time of prayer, to settle the waters and to see ourselves clearly, considering who we are and whose we are (that is God’s creation) if we to fully live out our faith.

Our discipleship is rooted in the practice of prayer and worship. 20 minutes a day of prayer; 1 hour of worship a week. And from that time, just as Jesus did, to go out again, and to live that faith inside us, to go out in service in what we do. 5 hours of service a month. These three practices (pray, worship, serve), as we grow into them, will help us live more fully, deeply and faithfully.
But how this is lived out, may change in our lives over time. I think of the life of Dieter Zander. He was a rising star among pastors in America in the 1980’s, pioneering ministry among Generation X. He was a much sought after pastor and musician, working in mega-churches. There was a time when it seemed like everyone wanted to listen to him perform and to hear what he had to say.

On February 4, 2008, Dieter suffered a major stroke, and was in a coma for 6 days. When he awoke, he was as a different man. No longer could he play the piano, his right hand was crippled from the stroke; the aphasia took away his speech and his ability to preach or even talk coherently.

Dieter began to live a simpler life. His creative side was fulfilled with a new interest in photography and he works at Trader Joe’s as a janitor. From an outside perspective, it seems so horrible what has happened to him but he hasn’t stopped living, he continues to help creation be born again through his work. In his words:
“If I’m the king of all I survey, then I am the king of cardboard and spoils.

My kingdom is a noisy, windowless room in the back of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Here are the haphazard stacks of empty cardboard boxes. Here is the giant box baler. Here are the shopping carts marked “Spoils,” their wire frames brimming with still-good fruit, meat and flowers.

In Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, he defines kingdom as “a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.”

My kingdom used to be a stage. A microphone. A piano, and an audience of thousands. My kingdom was a performance. A show. A sham. Then came the stroke.

Now, five days a week, I arrive at Trader Joe’s in the early dark, hours before the sun cracks the horizon…The store is quiet, empty. There is one audience in this kingdom. But that’s ok, because I’m not performing… I’m just me. Just Dieter. The guy who mops the floor, who bales the empty cardboard boxes for recycling, who delivers the spoils to the Salvation Army. There’s something beautiful about this simple, menial work, though…

I used to be packaged as perfect. Back in the heyday of my church career, I was a shiny, unblemished apple. At least that’s the image I polished up and displayed to the pubic. But now, stripped of my talent, my stage and my six-figure salary, I relish the imperfection. I revel in the spoils. I come home after work and I think, “It’s good today.”

It’s not a sermon. It’s not a performance. It’s not perfection. But the cardboard is recycled. The spoils are feeding the hungry. And today I am thinking life is good. It’s very good.” (from a poem on Dieter’s story written by LaDonna Witmer)
Dieter’s story for me is a humbling reminder that no matter who we are, where we work, we are called to live out the fruits of our discipleship, even if life drastically changes for us, from the stage to the backroom. “It’s the way we love the person near us when nobody is looking,” is how one author sees Dieter’s transformed life.

Which reminds me of a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was finally recognized a martyr for the church this past week, when he spoke of this calling at our baptism, our sharing in Christ’s priesthood:
“How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work--that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his work-bench, and that each metal-worker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand is performing a priestly office! How many cabdrivers I know are listening to this message there in their cabs... You are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God - bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.” (20 Nov. 1977)
"Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe." For no matter what your work is, preacher, police officer, nurse, teacher, painter, salesman, home maker, cab driver, photographer or janitor, we all can help make the dream of God a reality once again, that all of creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment in our own kingdoms of cardboard and spoils. Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Verna Dozier and 'The Dream of God'

God has a dream, Verna Dozier believes, and we are the realization of that dream.

"The dream of God is that all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God is that the good creation that God created -- what the refrain says, 'and God saw that it was good' -- be restored," Dozier said.

The 75-year-old Washington, D.C., laywoman speaks with love and excitement about The Dream of God, which is also the title of her new book (published by Cowley Press). She also speaks with a prophet's concern and passion about what the institutional church has done to God's dream.

"The role of the church, I think, is to be the people who work with God to bring that dream about," Dozier said. "I think the people of God is the church. That can be very hard for the institution to comprehend. When the institution gets to be more important than the idea it embodies, then things have gone wrong and it loses something.

"We give our attention to the details of our structure as if the details of the structure were the important thing. There are people who really believe that if women are ordained we'd be offending God.... When we exalt those minutiae of our life to the absolute place of God, I think we are fallen.

"The essential worth of our Prayer Book, for example, is that we have a common form of worship so that wherever Anglicans go around the world, they will feel at home. That's the point of having that Prayer Book-not the particular wording of it, but that we have a common way in which we worship, and we can feel comfortable. And we should hold that as a treasure but hold it very loosely. Our faith is not dependent on that."

The gentle, almost frail figure of Verna Dozier belies the dynamic, charismatic speaker and teacher who is in great demand as a preacher, retreat director, and conference leader. After 32 years of teaching high school students English literature, Dozier began a new career at the age of 57, teaching adults about the God of Scripture. Her first experience was the result of an invitation from a group of women in Indianapolis.

'We are all theologians'
"[Their convener] said to me, 'I'm tired of baking cookies and that sort of thing. Would you be interested in coming out and doing a weekend with the women of the Diocese of Indianapolis?' And I said, Well, yes, I would. I was thinking of retiring from school, and this sounded like a good way to start. So I went. It was just wonderful. We had a marvelous time. Some of my best friends in the church came out of that group."

As a result of that weekend, Dozier was later invited to speak at the 1973 triennial meeting of Episcopal Church Women (ECW) in Louisville. The reflections and talks she gave led to many invitations to do Bible studies around the country and her second career as a theologian -- a title she readily accepts because, she says, it belongs to every Christian.

"I think we are all theologians. Any time you make any statement about God, you are a theologian. Some of us don't claim that status because we reserve it for people who have great tomes in libraries. This is a great mistake, I think."

Dozier speaks with the deliberation and clarity of a skilled teacher and the enthusiasm and excitement of a committed country preacher. The transition from high school English teacher to teacher of Scripture was easy for her, she remembers. "If you teach English literature, which I did, you are always teaching about people's thoughts about God and the meaning of life. It was also an easy transition because when my sister and I learned to read, there were two books in our little poor library: one of them was Mother Goose, and the other was a book called Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us. And so my whole life has been directed in this manner.

Journey of faith
Dozier's own faith journey began in the Baptist Church and continued in the Unitarian and Quaker traditions. Today she is a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.

"I didn't decide to join the Episcopal Church. I was invited by a young priest who was really turning a fairly old, established, dying Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill on its ear, changing everything they had ever known and ever done and was intensely disliked. And one of the radical things he decided was that it was time for the Episcopal Church to have a black member. I did not know that that's what he had decided."

Dozier was a member of the Church of the Savior, a unique interdenominational gathering of Christians in Washington, D.C., who commit themselves to live New Testament Christianity through a commitment to prayer, study, and charitable outreach.

"The Church of the Savior wanted to see if its model could be reproduced in the traditional church. So the call went out for people to return to the denominational structure and live out what we learned at the Church of the Savior. Well, there were about five people who answered that call, and I was one of them.... At that time, too, I thought Episcopalians were writing the most exciting things in theology and liturgy. And it was also a time of great racial tension, and the Episcopalians at that time were really in the forefront of liberal social action.

Scripture: 'A book of wrestlings'
Verna Dozier's love and respect for the Bible is evident to all who hear her; but she is not afraid to probe its revelation and ask questions. She brings to her lectures and presentations the special ability to go beyond the words of Scripture and into the meaning and human dynamics taking place in a given passage. She approaches the Bible as a "book of wrestlings" that is anything but incontrovertible or conclusive.

"I think what we have in the Bible is a story of a people and the questions they asked about the meaning of the vicissitudes of their life. And what we have in the Bible are the answers that they came up with at that particular time. And the answers change.

"In the Exodus account, there are all kinds of reasons you could give for how the Red Sea parted. But the Israelites said, 'The Lord has delivered us.' That was the meaning they gave to it. And in that response, they went on to change their lives. And that response always is under the judgment that it's a limited response, it's how I see it, and, as new experiences come to me, I might see other responses.

"That's one of my arguments with the creationists. I think they spend so much time with the mechanics of creation, rather than the meaning of creation. That's what Genesis is talking about -- the meaning. [Scripture scholar] Walter Brueggemann says the most significant thing to keep in mind about the Genesis story is that it was written during a time of great devastation for the Hebrew people. And that what they were saying in that magnificent poem is that the world is dependable, created by a dependable God. That's the faith statement.

Institutionalizing God's 'dream'
In The Dream of God, Dozier writes about what she calls the "three falls of humankind" when "humankind rejected to live in a trusting, faith relationship with God." The first "fall" was the sin of Adam recounted in Genesis; the second was Israel's abandonment of its wilderness faith in favor of its political and nationalistic objectives; and the third "fall" was the Christian church accepting the role of establishment church under Constantine's Roman Empire.

"That just didn't happen when Constantine came on. The church had been concerned about power, status, and organization for a long time." That development, Dozier believes, was the beginning of the "institutionalization" and consequent loss of the dream of God.

While Dozier is often critical of the institution, her love for the church as the people of God is unmistakable. While the church can either be a place "where prophets can flourish" or a place "where the spiritual life can flourish," she contends that the church cannot be both at the same time because "it has to be the church of all the people."

"We forget that complexity of differences in the New Testament church. We like to say it's unified, yet we're always romanticizing about the day when the church will speak with one voice. The church has never spoken with one voice, not since time immemorial."

The church, Dozier believes, must be a place where everyone can come and live the "risk" of faith.

"Faith is a risk because I believe with all my heart and mind and soul in something I can't prove. And I have no need to prove it....

"We can move logically from creation to creator. But we can't move logically from a creator to a creator who is for us [and loves us]. That's faith."

Originally Published - May 13, 1992
Episcopal News Service
Jay Cormier , Diocese of Massachusetts

Friday, February 6, 2015

Kingdom of Cardboard & Spoils

What does discipleship look like?  What does it look like after a stroke?  Watch and see!
If I’m the king of all I survey, then I am the king of cardboard and spoils.

My kingdom is a noisy, windowless room in the back of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Here are the haphazard stacks of empty cardboard boxes. Here is the giant box baler. Here are the shopping carts marked “Spoils,” their wire frames brimming with still-good fruit, meat and flowers.

In Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, he defines kingdom as “a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.”

My kingdom used to be a stage. A microphone. A piano, and an audience of thousands. My kingdom was a performance. A show. A sham.

Then came the stroke.

Now, five days a week, I arrive at Trader Joe’s in the early dark, hours before the sun cracks the horizon.

I push my mop up and down aisles, sweep my broom into corners to collect the debris from the day before. The store is quiet, empty. There is one audience in this kingdom.

But that’s ok, because I’m not performing. There is no Stage Dieter here. No superman seeking to wow the masses with feats of spiritual strength.

I’m just me. Just Dieter. The guy who mops the floor, who bales the empty cardboard boxes for recycling, who delivers the spoils to the Salvation Army.

There’s something beautiful about this simple, menial work, though.

Take the food marked as “spoils,” for example. It’s all still good. The fruit is good, the meat is good, the flowers are good. But they’re not perfect. Anything that has an expiration date of today cannot be put out in the store for sale. And if a pear so much as rolls off the smooth green pyramid of fellow pears, it gets put in the spoils pile. It’s not perfect anymore.

So the Trader Joe’s employees fill shiny carts with all the perfectly edible imperfection and wheel the load back to my kingdom. My last task of the day is to load the van with spoils and deliver it to the local Salvation Army, where it will feed the hungry, who won’t care at all that their apple is lopsided, that their hamburger is in the waning stage of freshness. They don’t care how it looks. They just want to eat.

To me, this, here in the back room, this is what is real. Not the bright aisles of suburban shoppers making their menu selections from stacks of perfection.

I understand the spoils. I can relate. Because I, too, am spoils. Over, and over, and over again.

I used to be packaged as perfect. Back in the heyday of my church career, I was a shiny, unblemished apple. At least that’s the image I polished up and displayed to the pubic.

But now, stripped of my talent, my stage and my six-figure salary, I relish the imperfection. I revel in the spoils.

As I break down these empty squares of cardboard, abandoned boxes that once held and protected good more valuable than themselves, I survey my kingdom and I am pleased.

I feed cardboard piles into the giant maw of the baler and chuckle to myself as I think, “I am recycled Dieter.”

I am emptied and crumpled and stained and ready to be used again in a new way, in a new life.

Work was hard today. I am tired. The knuckles of my twisted right hand are scraped raw—the hand is numb now, so I don’t feel it when I bash it against something harder than skin.

But you know what? It’s ok. I come home after work and I think, “It’s good today.”

It’s not a sermon. It’s not a performance. It’s not perfection.

But the cardboard is recycled. The spoils are feeding the hungry. And today I am thinking life is good. It’s very good.

(This poem about Dieter Zander’s story, A Kingdom of Cardboard and Spoils, was written by LaDonna Witmer on 3-18-2011.)
You can find more here and here

Shoemaker & What we Can Learn from AA

Bill Wilson credited the Rev. Sam Shoemaker as a key source of the ideas underpinning Alcoholics Anonymous:
"It was from Sam Shoemaker that we absorbed most of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps that express the heart of AA's way of life. Dr. Silkworth gave us the needed knowledge of our illness, but Sam Shoemaker had given us the concrete knowledge of what we could do about it, he passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated. The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."
So what can we, the Church, the Body of Christ, learn from AA?  Here is what Sam thought (in c. 1955):
Now perhaps the time has come for the Church to be re-awakened and re-vitalized by those insights and practices found in AA.

The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere till he recognizes a clearly-defined need. These people do not come to AA to get made a little better. They do not come because the best people are doing it. They come because they are desperate. They are not ladies and gentlemen looking for a religion, they are utterly desperate men and women in search of redemption. Without what AA gives, death stares them in the face. With what AA gives them, there is life and hope. There are not a dozen ways, there are not two ways, there is one way; and they find it, or perish. AA's each and all have a definite, desperate need. They have the need, and they are ready to tell somebody what it is if they see the least chance that it can be met.

The second thing the Church needs to learn from AA is that men are redeemed in a life-changing fellowship. AA does not expect to let anybody who comes in stay as he is. They know he is in need and must have help. They live for nothing else but to extend and keep extending that help. Like the Church, they did not begin in glorious Gothic structures, but in houses or caves in the earth,--wherever they could get a foot-hold, meet people, and gather. It never occurs to an AA that it is enough for him to sit down and polish his spiritual nails all by himself, or dust off his soul all by himself, or spend a couple of minutes praying each day all by himself. His soul gets kept in order by trying to help other people get their souls in order, with the help of God. At once a new person takes his place in this redeeming, life-changing fellowship. He may be changed today, and out working tomorrow--no long, senseless delays about giving away what he has got. He's ready to give the little he has the moment it comes to him. The fellowship that redeemed him will wither and die unless he and others like him get in and keep that fellowship moving and growing by reaching others. Recently I heard an AA say that he could stay away from his Veteran's meeting, his Legion, or his Church, and nobody would notice it. But if he stayed away from his AA meeting, his telephone would begin to ring the next day!

The third thing the Church needs to learn from AA is the necessity for definite personal dealing with people. A.A.'s know all the stock excuses--- they've used them themselves and heard them a hundred times. All the blame put on someone else --my temperament; is different-- I've tried it and it doesn't work for me--I'm not really so bad, I just slip a little sometimes. They've heard them all, and know them for the rationalized pack of lies they are. They constitute, taken together, the .Gospel of Hell and Failure. I've heard them laboring with one another, .now patient as a mother, now savage as a prize-fighter, now careful in explanation, now pounding m a heavy personal challenge, but always knowing the desperate need and the sure answer.

The fourth thing the Church needs to learn from A. A. is the necessity for a real change of heart, a true conversion. As we come Sunday after Sunday, year after year, we are supposed to be in a process of transformation. Are we? The AA's are. At each meeting there are people seeking and in conscious need. Everybody m pulling for the people who speak, and looking for more insight and help. They are pushed by their need. They are pulled by the inspiration of others who are growing. They are a society of the "before and after" with a clear line between the old life and the new. This is not the difference between sinfulness and perfection, it is the difference between accepted wrong- doing and the genuine beginning of a new way of life.

One of the greatest things the Church should learn from AA is the need people have for an exposure to living Christian experience. In thousands of places, alcoholics (and others) can go and hear recovered alcoholics speak about their experiences and watch the process of new life and take place before their eyes. There you have it, the need and the answer to the need, right before your eyes. They say that their public relations are based, not on promotion, but on attraction. This attraction begins when you see people with problems like your own, hear them speaking freely of the answers they are finding, and realize that such honesty and such change is exactly what you need yourself.

Let us ask God to forgive our blindness and laziness and complacency, and through these re-made people to learn our need for honesty, for conversion, for fellowship and for honest witness!
Read the whole sermon/article here or here.

The 12 Steps & The Episcopal Church & Wholeness

In light of the recent developments in Maryland, we need to remember to focus on wholeness and health in our lives. The Bishop's of CT have written on just this topic:

A small excerpt:
And yet the recent events in Maryland remind us that the illness of substance abuse and addiction can sometimes overwhelm our lives. Addictions affect all in a community; and as friends/colleagues/families of those struggling with addiction we sometimes sense something is wrong yet do not know how to intervene. It is then that we need help from others to recover health and wholeness for ourselves and for those we love. It is then that we need to put our trust in the truth that in the Resurrection of Jesus God continually offers us new life and new possibility.

As I think about such wholeness, I think of AA (and the role of the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker) had in its development to help alcholics regain such wholness in their lives. At the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous was the Rev. Sam Shoemaker.

You can read about him here and here.

The prayer on the day we remember him (Jan.. 31):

Holy God, we thank you for the vision of Samuel Shoemaker, priest and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; and we pray that we may follow his example to help others find salvation through knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And here is a sermon (article) by the Rev. Shoemaker on

A prayer from the BCP:

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to
those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Holy Dying

"It is a great art to die well, and to be learnt by men in health..."- Jeremy Taylor

I thought of those words from the dedication of his book on Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor, written in 1651, as I read Dying Shouldn’t Be So Brutal by Ira Byock in the NY Times:
Our health care system is well honed to fight disease, but poorly designed to meet the basic safety needs of seriously ill patients and their families. We can do both. We must.

People who are approaching the end of life deserve the security of confident, skillful attention to their physical comfort, emotional well-being and sense of personal dignity. Their families deserve respect, communication and support. Exemplary health systems and healthy communities deliver all of this today. But they are few and far between.
He is talking about Holy Dying.
Less than 45 percent of dying Americans receive hospice care at home, and nearly half of those are referred to hospice within just two weeks of death. Hospice was designed to provide end-of-life care, but this is brink-of-death care.

DYING is not easy, but it needn’t be this hard.

Most Americans don’t want to think about dying. There’s an assumption that dramatically improving how we die would be too complicated or costly. Thankfully, the opposite is true. Over the past two decades the fields of geriatrics, hospice and palliative medicine have demonstrated that much better care is both feasible and affordable.
We should be willing to talk about death and dying, because if we don't, we will never get to that holy dying and our needs will not be served well.
As the end of life approaches, whether death is welcomed or feared, there is a lot we can do to make the process of dying safer.

Read his whole opinion.  It is well worth your time and maybe, just maybe we will get mad enough to change how the end of life goes for all of us.

O eternal and most gracious Father, I humbly throw myself down at the foot of thy mercy-seat upon the confidence of thy essential mercy, and thy commandment that we should come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may find mercy in time of need. O my God, hear the prayers and cries of a sinner who calls earnestly for mercy. Lord, my needs are greater than all the degrees of my desire can be; unless thou hast pity upon me, I perish infinitely and intolerably; and then there will be one voice fewer in the choir of singers who shall recite thy praises to eternal ages. But, O Lord, in mercy deliver my soul. O save me for thy mercy's sake. For in the second death there is no remembrance of thee: in that grave, who shall give thee thanks? ‘O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen.' ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.' Amen. (Jeremy Taylor)