Friday, March 16, 2018


  • Usual weekday AM routine, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Today's task list was long on short items--i.e. a long list of things, most of which involved answering emails about pastoral and administrative matters, responding to requests for appointments, and the like. That's what I got started with.
  • The balance of the morning was devoted to spending quality time with commentaries on St Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on Easter III at St Thomas', Salem.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spoke by phone with a longtime good friend who is now a retired bishop. We are a support to one another.
  • Another stack of email-driven pastoral/administrative/consultative engagements.
  • Made lodging arrangements to attend the meeting of the Nashotah House corporation (of which I remain a member) in May.
  • Canceled my registration (and hotel reservation) to attend the scheduled triennial synod of Province V nest month. #cutbackonunnecessarytravel
  • Processed my physical inbox: scanning, categorizing, tagging.
  • Put on my best pastor's hat to respond by email to a message from a lay communicant in the diocese in which I had to give an answer that I know disappointed the person. Time will tell whether my efforts to maintain cordiality and goodwill while doing so will succeed.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on the OT daily office reading for tomorrow--Moses and the burning bush. 
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


  • Customary Thursday morning treadmill workout. At the office around 0930.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Fleshed out the rough draft of my next-due post on the Covenant blog. Did some editing and refining. Sent it on by email to the editor (who will no doubt do some more refining!). This took most of the morning.
  • Dealt briefly by email with a smidgen of General Convention business.
  • Read and commented on the draft minutes from the February meeting of Diocesan Council.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Dealt briefly with a small administrative matter.
  • Booked air travel, hotel, and car rental for next month's meeting of the Living Church Foundation board in Oklahoma City. When I was a rookie bishop, this was a seriously time-consuming endeavor. With experience, I'm much savvier about my options, so it's just somewhat time-consuming.
  • Got to work on my Palm Sunday homily, taking it from the "developed notes" to the "rough draft" stage. (I'll be at the cathedral from Palm Sunday through Easter.)
  • It was 4pm, so I headed home to retrieve Brenda, and then drive down to St George's, Belleville for the Lenten soup supper. My two appearances this year have concerned the vows and promises of Holy Baptism, not the much-vaunted "Baptismal Covenant," but the renunciations and affirmations that happen right after the presentation of the candidate(s). The former are coherent only in light of the latter.
  • Home at 9:15, feeling kind of poorly--chills and sweats, cough, headache, lingering nasal congestion, very low-grade fever. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


  • Task planning at home over breakfast. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted briefly with one of our clergy over an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Left a voicemail message with Bishop Roth, my ELCA counterpart in central and southern Illinois.
  • Added a couple of editorial flourishes to the draft Chrism Mass program.
  • Got to work on fleshing out the rough notes/draft of my sermon next week when I receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church.
  • Stepped out for an appointment with my own psychotherapist. Not too proud to acknowledge that I sometimes need help with the curveballs life throws my way.
  • Back in the office--connected by phone with Bishop Roth. Resumed working on the above-referenced homily.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to a doctor's appointment.
  • Back in the office--resumed work on that sermon yet again, and this time finished the task.
  • Emmanuel, Champaign is having a big celebration of the centennial of the church building on Pentecost. Yesterday the rector sent me a rough draft of the liturgical portion of the festivities for my review and comment. I reviewed and commented. (May it please God to provide us with fine weather that day.)
  • When you call your doctor's office and they say, "Can you come in right now?" the answer has got to be Yes, right? So that's what I did. I've been having some annoyingly increasing nasal congestion that is beginning to seriously interfere with both my sleeping and my waking. It appears to be allergy-driven. So now I have a close relationship with Flonase and a sinus rinse system. Between the office visit and the ensuing pharmacy visit, that shot the rest of my afternoon.
  • Evening Prayer at home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday (James T. Holley)

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting the rough draft of this Sunday's homily (St Thomas', Glen Carbon).
  • Consulted briefly with the Archdeacon on an administrative issue.
  • Took a phone call from a retired bishop seeking deeper insight into something I had posted on my blot about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Attended to some details of a trip I'm taking next week to Maryland to receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church? (Why am I doing this in Maryland? Long and complicated story.)
  • Took an impromptu meeting with the cathedral Altar Guild head, wherein we discussed the Chrism Mass and Holy Week.
  • Attended to making sure a couple of people got paid from my discretionary fund who needed to get pain from my discretionary fund.
  • Took an online survey expressing my opinions about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Connected with the church I'm visiting this Sunday to confirm that they are indeed expecting me. (Seems like *over*abundanc of caution, but one would not want to arrive for a visitation unannounced ... or perhaps one *would.* Hmmm ... )
  • Stopped by China 1 to pick up some lunch. Got it home and discovered they had given me somebody else's order (and, it turned out, him mine). Made the trip back, got the right lunch, but since I was running on fumes, had to stop for gas on the way home.
  • Took Brenda to a dental appointment.
  • Processed a short stack of late-arriving emails.
  • Attended to an administrative issue involving Gnosis, our database software.
  • Moved the ball down the field several years toward the completion of the liturgy program for the Chrism Mass.
  • Stepped over to the next football field and did the same thing with respect to travel arrangements for a June visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Tabora and his wife.
  • Took the rough notes of my Lenten weeknight presentation tomorrow night at St George's Belleville, fleshed them out a good bit, printed them and put them in my car, which I have discovered is a "best practice" in such matters.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon for Lent IV

St Christopher's, Rantoul--John 3:14-21, Numbers 21:4-9

I grew up in a tea-totaling environment, so I was never conditioned to hang out it bars. But when Brenda and I were living in California about 20 years ago and the state banned smoking in all restaurants and bars, we discovered that we often preferred to have dinner in the bar or lounge rather than the main dining area of a restaurant. A cocktail lounge is a very … what shall we say? … a very fluid place, is it not? It can be a place of relaxation and enjoyment and camaraderie with friends. And it can also be a place of mystery and … perhaps, mischief. After spending time in a bar, people often end up saying and doing things they later come to regret. And the consistent thing about such places is that the lights are always dim, sometimes so dim that you can barely see what you’re drinking or eating. I don’t know that we can exactly say why, but I don’t know of anybody, myself included, who would enjoy being in a lounge with the lights turned up to what we would consider normal in, say, an office, or a supermarket, or even a living room.

And I can’t help but be reminded of this whenever I read the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of St John’s gospel: “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” I’m not saying that everything that goes on in a bar is evil, but a lot of evil things go on in bars, and it’s really no wonder at all that we like to keep the lights low in such places, because when the lights are low, we can’t quite see what’s going on, and that inability to see enables us to deceive ourselves about ourselves. Darkness can be downright addicting, because it’s a powerful anesthetic; it relieves the pain of what we might see if we looked at ourselves clearly, in the cold light of day. Unfortunately, addiction is a form of bondage, and our attachment to darkness can also prevent us from seeing and knowing our true selves, and from living the lives to which God called us when he made us.

Jesus addresses this precarious human condition in his well-known dialogue with the Jewish leader Nicodemus as recorded for us in the third chapter of St John’s gospel. Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness to pick his brain about some questions that were really bugging him. Jesus says, “You’ve got to be born again,” and Nicodemus says, “Well, how does that work, exactly?” and Jesus goes on about spirit and flesh and water and such things and finally arrives where we pick it up in this morning’s gospel reading:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The antidote to what ails us as human beings is something Jesus calls Eternal Life.  Eternal Life is what can lead us out of the darkness to which we have become addicted. Eternal Life is what can free us from our fear of seeing ourselves clearly and knowing ourselves truly. Jesus wants to give us Eternal Life, and he tells Nicodemus that we receive Eternal Life by looking at him specifically as he is “lifted up.” And when he says, “lifted up,” he means something very specific.

But before we can go there, we need to make sure we’re up to speed on the Old Testament reference Jesus makes when he says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.”  Our first reading from the Book of Numbers told us the story. The ancient Hebrews had been freed from slavery in Egypt but were wandering in the Sinai desert for a generation under Moses’ leadership. Their camp was infested by poisonous snakes and people were getting bitten and dying. The Lord told Moses to make an image—a statue, in effect—of the sort of snake that was bothering them, and he told Moses to lift this faux-snake up where people could see it. Moses did just that, and, sure enough, when snake-bite victims looked up at it, they were healed.

So what Jesus is telling Nicodemus, in effect, is that all human beings are snake-bit—snake-bit by the power of Sin and Death. This is why we like the lights turned low in bars; this is why we prefer darkness over light; this is why we are afraid to see ourselves and know ourselves as we really are.

And what, then, do we need to do? We need to look up and live. We need to look on Jesus, lifted up for us as Moses’ serpent statue was lifted up for the people in the wilderness. And how is Jesus lifted up for us? He is lifted up on the cross. He is lifted up in his resurrection. He is lifted up in his ascension back to the right hand of the Father. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Unfortunately, one inference many of us make when we encounter passages of scripture such as this is that “eternal life” is a possession that we own and have stashed away so we can forget about it until we need it. We think of Eternal Life the way we think of a coin collection, or a stamp collection, or a baseball card collection. It’s stuck away in a drawer. We know it’s there, and we’re glad it’s there, but we may go several days without thinking about it. We hope that it will increase in value, and that should the day come that we need to cash it in, we’ll be able to do so at a profit. But eternal Life isn’t something we need now, it’s something we’ll need later. We have it now in order to have it later. Someone might ask us, “Are you saved? Do you have Eternal Life?” and we’ll want to say, “Why sure. I ‘looked up’ at Jesus, so I’m saved. I have Eternal Life. I don’t exactly need it yet, but I have it for when I do need it.”  

But I’m here today to tell you something very different than that. I’m here to tell you that looking “up” at Jesus is not simply a one-time move, a mere glance. Rather, it is a matter of gazing at the “lifted up” Jesus and keeping our gaze fixed there until we are completely healed. And what makes this kind of challenging is that when we look up at Jesus, he looks back at us, and his gaze can be quite uncomfortable, because penetrating light emanates from his eyes. We don’t like being looked at by penetrating light. It’s like if somebody all of a sudden kicks up the lights in the cocktail lounge at 11 PM. We might see things we’d prefer not to see. We might feel just a little bit … judged. As Jesus tells Nicodemus,  
…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
You see, as long as we think of Eternal Life as a possession that we acquire and then hide away until we need it—that is, as we tend to think of it, when we die—then we are subject to what I might call photophobia—and I’m not talking about fear of having your picture taken(!) but fear of light. Jesus says, “… everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” But when we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, looking up and persisting in looking up at him “lifted up” for our salvation, then Eternal Life becomes a present reality of our experience, something that we live in and benefit from even now, and not merely a future hope. When we can make this sort of mental move, we then have the resources at our disposal to be able to live fully in the present and fully in freedom: Free from self-deception, free from fear, and free from anxiety.

Somebody get the lights. Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Travel: Time at Camp Allen to pack in a leisurely fashion. I was on the 11am shuttle to the airport in Houston. Enjoyed seat conversation with the most recently retired bishop of Maryland, who now assists in Virginia. I was there in plenty of time to enjoy a burger at a sit-down restaurant before boarding the 2:20 to Dallas, where my layover was nearly three hours. It was a little early for dinner, but it was then or never, so I had some barbecue. The 6:30 departure to Springfield put us on the ground right on time at 8:30. Unpacked, set all the clocks in the house ahead one hour, and otherwise got ready for a fairly early departure to my visitation to St Christopher's, Rantoul tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 4

... and another one is in the books. Here I am with my table mates. We've been together since the meeting right here at Camp Allen two years ago, and will remain together through General Convention, after which we will get shuffled and re-dealt.

This meeting is a day shorter than has been the case for several years--four full days instead of five. The compressed schedule is more demanding, to be sure, with less down time for rest or recreation. But, on balance, I prefer it. I am especially grateful not to be here over a Sunday.

The Eucharist this morning (straight Rite II, Prayer C) was celebrated by the Presiding Bishop. The preacher was Jeff Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of Texas. He did a fine job. I always enjoy hearing other bishops preach to bishops. They invariably bring their lives and ministries to the task in ways that their hearers can readily identify with.

The morning's work was a continuation of yesterday's conversation around the proposal to make the President of the House of Deputies a paid position. It seems to be an emotionally fraught subject. Much of our time was spent in executive session (informally, since we weren't technically under Roberts' Rules). There was a lot of parsing the distinction between leadership and governance. Lunch was spent in Province groups, so I was with bishops from the 14 dioceses of Province V, where we talked about ... you guessed it ... the matter of paying the PHOD. I think it's safe to say there are efforts underway to amend the resolution in a manner that will not yield a legislative showdown, with winners and losers, but produce a win-win solution. We'll see what happens in Austin.

The afternoon's activity consisted of our regular "Fireside Chat." This has always happened on an evening, so it was a little weird. There were even images of burning logs projected on the screens. The Fireside Chat, at which the Presiding Bishop ... well, presides ... is just a time for whatever ... this and that ... odds and ends of announcements, publicity schticks, and soapbox speeches (with a ready hook). 

We found ourselves finished early, around 2:30. The next item on the agenda was a liturgy for the Renewal of Ordination Vows, scheduled for 4:00. We made a collective executive decision to just go ahead and do it right then. There was no actual vote taken, but I would have been in the Aye column. Most of our time has been pretty nonstop mentally demanding, and there was a palpable sense of fatigue in the room. We adjourned upstairs to the chapel to renew our vows.

With a chunk of time on my hands, I was resolved to get a stiff dose of exercise. Serendipitously, my good friend the Bishop of Dallas had the same idea, so we walked a full four miles together, solving most of the problems of the church and starting in on those of the world along the way.

After cleaning up, it was time to join the pre-dinner hospitality hour. Dinner on the last night of HOB is always banquet-style, with white table cloths and table wine. The collegiality is always a blessing.