Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday (James O.S. Huntington)

  • Usual weekday routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to celebrate and preach the midday Mass.
  • Spent some quality time with the Provost, covering a range of issues.
  • Roughed out the third of my three quiet day meditations at St Stephen's,  Providence (RI) the weekend of III Advent.
  • Processed a short stack of emails.
  • Showed up for the noon Mass, but it failed for lack of a quorum. A quorum is two. Happily, this is not a very frequent occurrence.
  • Grabbed some grub from La Bamba and took it home to eat. Remained home for the afternoon.
  • Worked on my homily for III Advent (in Providence). It's now at the rough draft stage.
  • Researched video-conferencing platforms for an upcoming conference call.
  • Packed for two nights away. Hit the road with Brenda at 4:20 for points north.
  • Stopped in at OSF St Joseph Hospital in Peoria to look in on Fr Brian Kellington. He is much improved, and may already have been moved to a rehab unit (after two weeks on a ventilator) by the time you are reading this. Then, up IL29 along the right bank of the Illinois River to the facility where Bishop Donald Parsons resides. We had a very nice visit with him as well.
  • We moved on then to Bloomington, where we are bedding down for the night ahead of continuing northward to Palatine for Martins family Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


  • Just as I was pulling out of the driveway to head to the office I got a phone call from my optician's office letting me know that my new glasses were ready, so I diverted west instead of east. Then I stopped for gas. When I arrived at the office, I discovered I didn't have my keys, so I drove back home to retrieve them. While returning, I got a phone call from a priest in another diocese seeking pastoral/strategic counsel, which kept me out in the parking lot for several minutes as we concluded our conversation. All this is just to say ... it was fully mid-morning by the time I got in!
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon and emailed the Treasurer about some cash flow technicalities pertaining to wiring some funds to one of our companion dioceses.
  • Fiddled with some new software that a friend online enticed me into downloading (a Mac client for WordPress). No satisfactory outcome from that yet, but I'm hopeful.
  • Spent the rest of the morning refining my homily for this Sunday (Advent I at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel) and printing a working script.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Wrote the first draft of a post due soon for the Covenant blog. It mentions Jesus, Mel Gibson, and the "alpha issue" of ecclesial conflict.
  • Compiled some links to online parish search profiles that I had promised to send to the wardens of St Paul's, Pekin and All Saints, Morton.
  • Worked on my homily for Advent II (Trinity, Mt Vernon), taking it from "developed  notes" to "rough draft."
  • Threw up the broad strokes of two of the three meditations I am scheduled to give in a couple of weeks at an Advent Quiet Day at St Stephen's in Providence, Rhode Island. Taking my cue from the General Thanksgiving, the three will attempt to explicate the Redemption of the World, the Means of Grace, and the Hope of Glory.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King

With the regular liturgy at St John's, Centralia set for 11:30am, it was a relaxed morning. I met Fr David and Elizabeth Baumann at the Cracker Barrel in Mt Vernon for breakfast at 9:00, after which we all headed north and east to St John's. The liturgy there had lots of energy, and it was great fun to visit with folks over good food in the parish hall afterward. I finally got home a bit before 4:00.

Sermon for Christ the King

St Thomas', Salem & St John's, Centralia--John 18:33-37

We probably associate this conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, recorded for us in John’s gospel, with being in church during Holy Week—Good Friday, to be specific. So it’s interesting—at least I find it interesting as a preacher!—to encounter it in a completely different liturgical context, as we come together to celebrate the conclusion of this cycle of the church year, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the feast of Christ the King. But, in the gospels, there really isn’t much to go on by way of material that would help us celebrate the kingship of Christ in an obviously appropriate manner—you know, with crowns and scepters and thrones … that sort of thing. Instead, we’re left with passages like this one, where the words “Jesus” and “king” occur in close proximity to one another, but in an ironic, counter-intuitive sort of way.

Today’s gospel is one of the most familiar in all of literature—not just the Bible, but, really, all of literature. Pilate is trying to figure out what to make of Jesus, and how to navigate through some very politically precarious territory that he has been maneuvered into. He has certain obligations to Caesar as the appointed governor of the Roman province of Judea. But it’s also in his best interests to remain on good terms, to the extent possible, with the leaders of the Jewish people, the population among whom he and his troops are seen as an occupying force. It was a delicate position. So, with the clock ticking, as it were, he has to figure out who this Jesus character really is, and how best to play the difficult hand that he’s been dealt.

Figure out who Jesus is. This is, of course, the question of the ages: Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus for me? Of what relevance is he for my understanding of the world and my place in it? In many ways, it’s not any less delicate for us, as 21st century Americans, to deal with that question than it was for Pontius Pilate. We live in a culture, we swim in an ocean, that idolizes the autonomous individual, the freedom of each person to, in the language of the Declaration of Independence, engage in “the pursuit of happiness,” so long as that pursuit doesn’t impinge on the freedom of anyone else to exercise the same freedom. And, since our economy is generally ordered according to free market principles, when you combine that with our attachment to individual liberty, the result is that we also swim in an ocean of consumerism. We often don’t notice it because it’s just always, literally, all around us. We cannot help but define ourselves as consumers. I remember an ad jingle for a cable TV company from back in the ‘70s, when that industry was still in its infancy: “It’s not just more choice; it’s your choice.” 35 years later, that jingle has finally become a reality for me, as I almost never watch a TV program when it’s actually on, but later, when I’m ready for it, “on demand.” My choice. Of course, the very technology through which I exercise my freedom as a consumer notices and records the choices I make, and is constantly telling me, “You might also like …” this or that.

Now, I’m not generally one of those doomsayers who constantly points out the shortcomings of our culture. But, as I speak to a community of Christians, I cannot avoid making the observation that the hyper-individualistic and consumerist ether in which we live poses some very serious risks, because it encourages us in the notion that we can design God to our personal specifications, that we can have access to God “on demand,” and, significantly, be able to turn off that channel when we’re not in the mood for it. Now, those of you who are my generation or older have some small degree, at least, of immunity to this tendency, because we were raised in an era when there was a widespread belief that objective reality actually exists, and means something. If I say the sky is green and you say it’s red, we can’t both be right. We could both be wrong—the sky might actually be blue!—but we can’t both be right. That sort of rationalist attitude has its own problem with regard to Christian faith, but now we’re in a time when the generations younger than we are—I speak to my fellow Baby Boomers—have a mindset that is described as “post-modern,” in which objective reality isn’t really a thing anymore. It’s all subjective perception; it’s all a matter of whether something “works for me.” If you try and tell someone they’re objectively wrong, you’re just being judgmental, or bigoted. Who is Jesus? Jesus is whoever you want him to be, whoever you need him to be, whatever “works for you.”

One consequence of this post-modern understanding of Jesus—ultimate truth, ultimate reality—is fragmentation. There is no underlying common narrative about what’s really real that people can tap into unconsciously. When it comes to religious truth, each individual is his or her own Pope. A second consequence, following on fragmentation, is frustration. Most of you are probably on Facebook; a handful, maybe, on Twitter. Just look at your feed. Don’t you see constant frustration about the diversity of experiences and opinion? “Why doesn’t everybody else see it my way?” we constantly wonder.

It was hard for Pilate to get Jesus to help him with his political quandary. Jesus wouldn’t give anything that Pilate would recognize as a straight answer. Similarly, it’s hard for us to get past Jesus with our narcissism, our self-absorption. Jesus tells us exactly what he told Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

So, we are in the same boat with Pilate. All we are left to work with is that that Jesus claims to bear the revelation of the God who is, the God who objectively is, the God who is himself Author of reality as it is, whether it works for me, or not, whether it works for you, or not. I don’t have the individual liberty, the personal autonomy, the freedom of choice, to design my own God, to confect my own narrative of Ultimate Reality, my customized account of what makes the world go ‘round, why everything is the way it is, and what it all means. “For this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth,” Jesus says. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” So says Jesus. So says Christ the King.

And then, when we make that move, that surrender of the heart and mind to the Lordship of Christ, that laying-aside of the freedom to define ourselves on our own terms, to define God and the service of God on our own terms, it then becomes suddenly clear that we have all along been blind. It’s like the scales fall off our eyes and we see ourselves for the first time as we really are: a gathering of rebels, an assembly of outlaws who need to bend the knee to our true Sovereign. And as we do so, he leads us out of our self-absorption and syncs our fragmented and frustrated egos with his redemptive purposes. Praised be Jesus Christ. Praised be Christ our King. Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Took the morning very easy. Eventually got in a nice, long session on the treadmill. After flitting around social media for a while, it was time for lunch. I managed to grab a few minutes with the french horn before having to pack and be out the door (solo) around 2:30. By 4:45 I had arrived at St Thomas', Salem, ready to celebrate, preach, confirm, and preside at a baptism. What a joy that was. After the invariably fulsome potluck repast in the parish hall, it was off to the Hampton Inn in Mt Vernon, where I'm bedding down for the night ahead of tomorrow's visit to St John's, Centralia.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday (St Edmund of East Anglia)

  • Morning Prayer in the office. (The church was being cleaned.)
  • Prepared to preside and preach the noonday liturgy.
  • Attended to several details pertaining to the transitions in two of our vacant or about-to-be vacant parishes.
  • Responded to a query from the Church Pension Fund about the clergy of the diocese (generally).
  • Thought through and made some mental notes on an ongoing sacramental/liturgical/pastoral policy concern.
  • Celebrated and preached at the midday Mass, observing the lesser feast of St Edmund of East Anglia.
  • Lunch from Hardee's, eaten at home.
  • Kept a 2pm donation appointment at the blood bank. I was supposed to give red cells but my hemoglobin was too low, so it had to be plain old whole blood. More red meat, I guess!
  • Spent a good part of what was left of the afternoon doing some routine once-in-awhile personal organization maintenance (if you must know, cleaning out the "Bucket" folder in my Evernote account). It's not sexy, but it needs to be done two or three times a year.
  • Friday Prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading from Matthew.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday (St Elizabeth of Hungary)

  • Early morning treadmill workout.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took my homily for Advent I (St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel) from "developed outline" to "rough draft" stage.
  • Various bits of administrivia.
  • Wrote a long email to the Chancellor, who is chairing the continuing ad hoc working group for the revision of our constitution and canons, setting out my own thoughts on necessary canonical changes.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Crowd-sourced an administrative/pastoral/liturgical question to a group of friends on a listserv.
  • Updated my contacts folder--a long-overdue task, since about a dozen of them were dead!
  • Headed north to Peoria to look in on Fr Kellington (much improved, with a long road yet to travel) before keeping a date in Pekin with the combined vestries of St Paul's and All Saints, Morton. They were already looking at a pastoral vacancy in the new year. It's just come a little sooner than expected. Home around 9:30.