Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday (John Donne)

  • Morning: sleeping in, lounging around, treadmill workout, laundry
  • Afternoon: Bishop Donald Parsons' 90th birthday celebration in Peoria
  • Evening: Illinois Symphony Orchestra

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday

  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed about a dozen pending emails--some by creating a task, some by responding to on the spot, some by both. It requires some degree of wisdom--more than I have, I fear at times--to strike the right balance between availability, in the form of prompt response to emails, and a healthy boundary against being tyrannized by the urgent.
  • Got my Easter homily to the point where it can be profitably and efficiently refined next week.
  • Began working on my greetings to clergy and spouses who have birthdays and anniversaries in April.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Talked by phone for about 30 minutes with a potential candidate for one of our vacant cures. 
  • Met with the Dean. Verger, Organist, Choir Director, and Office Manager of the cathedral to review liturgical plans for Holy Week and Easter. This took about 90 minutes.
  • Met for a bit with the Dean on some other issues.
  • Finished the cards for April milestone events, while listening to Elgar's musical setting of John Henry Newman's long mystical poem, A Dream of Gerontius.
  • Evening Prayer to the cathedral.
  • Journeyed up to Lincoln in the evening for a teaching event sponsored by the Northern and Northwest deaneries, featuring Fr Ralph McMichael, Executive Director of the Center for the Eucharist.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday (John Keble)

  • Usual morning routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Finished working on the program for next weeks Mass of Chrism and sent the draft next door to the cathedral office for printing.
  • Began drafting my homily for Good Friday.
  • Met briefly with the Board of Examining Chaplains ahead of a conversation with a veteran but now "transitional" deacon. This was by way of assessing where shoring up is needed in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
  • Lunch with the examiners at Dublin Pub, a one block walk from the office-cathedral complex.
  • Met with another transitional deacon in the same situation and for the same purpose.
  • Finished drafting the Good Friday homily.
  • Laid out the broad strokes of a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter (15 April) at St John's, Centralia.
  • Caught up by phone with an old and very dear friend and former colleague who has now become a Roman Catholic via the Ordinariate.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Finished preparing for tonight's final Lenten series presentation in Alton.
  • Worked some on a General Convention resolution that some colleague bishops and I are planning to submit.
  • Usual weekly desk clearing/scanning chores.
  • Explored options and made a key decision about service music for next week's Chrism Mass.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten in the office.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (St Paul's Cathedral).
  • Refined my homily for the Chrism Mass (next Tuesday).
  • Took care of some calendar-related administrivia.
  • Left for Alton, filling the gas tank of my vehicle first, and stopping by home to pick up Brenda.
  • Joined in Stations of the Cross at St Paul's, enjoyed the last of five Lenten soup suppers, and then gave my final teaching presentation on Patterns of Ministry.
  • Home around 10.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday (Charles Henry Brent)

  • Slow start in the morning due to last night's late arrival from my Florida trip. Unpacked, and organized tasks at home. Short form of Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on his trip to Italy, as well as various ongoing administrative issues.
  • Met, along with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer, with representatives of the cathedral parish to discuss matters of mutual concern.
  • Began to process an extraordinarily thick stack of emails. 
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Re-engaged the email processing, which induced me to write this brief blurb on the subject of offering Holy Communion to persons who have not first been baptized. (When I travel, I can almost always keep up with reading emails, but it is usually awkward to give anything but a rudimentary response.
  • Took care of yet more administrivia.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday

Rose in time to have breakfast, repack, check out, and drive about five miles to the venue of the consecration and a 10am meeting of the bishops present to sign and seal the certificate (two, actually--one for the new bishop and one for the archives), then have and hour's worth of plenary conversation about whatever is on anyone's mind. The subject du jour seemed to be the various proposals that are floating around concerning restructuring the governance of the church. At about 11:45 we were served lunch, and the conversation continued informally as we moved on the direction of getting vested for the 1pm start time for the liturgy. The site of the event was the First Baptist Church of Orlando, which occupies a mammoth complex centered around a worship space that seats 5000. (Given that bit of data, I would estimate that there were about 3000 in the room.) The look of the place reminded me a great deal of where I was consecrated a year ago, so I was able to reconnect with that very blessed occasion in my own life. The reception was at All Saints, Winter Park, about a 20 minute drive back through downtown Orlando and north a bit. Now I'm at a different hotel downtown, having met up with my mother and brother, who traveled here from Fort Myers. Tomorrw: Disneyworld with them! (after the early Mass at the cathedral, of course). Monday is a travel day, so this space will go dark until Tuesday night.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday

Another travel day. Hopped a 7am departure from Springfield to Orlando via Dallas-Fort Worth. Picked up my rental car,drove to downtown Orlando, and checked into the Grand Bohemian, the "official" hotel accommodation arranged by the Diocese of Central Florida for those attending the consecration of bishop-elect Greg Brewer tomorrow. Having about an hour to kill, I walked up Orange Street and tried to get a feel for the downtown vibe. Walked a couple of blocks east and took in Eola Lake Park, which actually looked a little familiar from my last visit to Orlando--45 years ago! After freshening up and changing into my "uniform" I met the limousine that had been dispatched to ferry visiting bishops to the Orlando Country Club for dinner with the bishop-elect and diocesan dignitaries. Cocktail hour out on the patio was scenic and lovely. After dinner I joined three bishop colleagues for a drink in the hotel bar.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday (St James DeKoven)

  • Got going just a teeny bit slowly this morning, given my late arrival from a trip last night. Morning Prayer, eventually, in the cathedral, after debriefing with the Diocesan Administrator over an ... administrative situation that has gotten a trifle sticky.
  • Plowed through the stack of snail mail on my desk, and did my usual weekly scanning chores.
  • Took a phone call from one of our clergy over another "sticky" administrative/pastoral situation.
  • Worked on the final session of my Lenten series in Alton, which happens next Wednesday. 
  • Had a phone conversation with yet another parish priest over yet another sticky administrative/pastoral situation. It was one of those days.
  • Lunch from La Bamba ("Burritos as Big As Your Head!"), eaten at home.
  • Got a haircut.
  • Processed an extraordinarily long stack of emails, clearing some on the spot, creating future tasks for others.
  • After dinner, packed for tomorrow's trip to Orlando for the consecration of the next Bishop of Central Florida on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday (Thomas Ken)

I'm always amazed and grateful when a travel day goes smoothly; there's so much that could go wrong. And it was a humane schedule: My shuttle left Camp Allen at 10am, depositing me at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport two hours ahead of my 1:30 scheduled departure, affording an opportunity to visit, over Texas BBQ, with Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina. My flight left on time and landed in St Louis slightly ahead of schedule. The shuttle from the Hilton Garden Inn arrived promptly; my car was right where I left it a week ago, and in good shape. The drive to Alton was uneventful, and Fr Boase was waiting for me curbside at St Paul's. He drove me to his home, where I freshened up and changed clothes. I was in the nave with time enough to actually do some praying before Mass. Visiting with parishioners during the soup supper was a delight, and my presentation (part 4 of 5) went, I think extraordinarily well. The drive home was smooth, I didn't get drowsy, and I arrived just before 10. God is good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday (St Cuthbert)

This was the final day of the House of Bishops meeting. We woke up to lightning, thunder, rain, and cooler temperatures--a marked change from the warm and pleasantly sultry days we have been enjoying.

The meditation after Morning Prayer today was given by Julio Holguin, Bishop of the Dominican Republic. He spoke to us in Spanish, so this time it was the anglophones who had to don headsets and avail themselves of the services of the two-person simultaneous translator team that has been with us since we got here. His subject was the bishop's duty to lead the church in mission. This is, of course, a subject very close to my heart. In our table group discussion, I raised the delicate subject of the divergence of thought in the church over what mission is, exactly. It does no good to exhort one another to mission-mindedness if we're not actually talking about the same thing.

Before lunch, we also heard from Bishop Justin Welby of the Diocese of Durham, who was our invited visiting observer from the Church of England. He spoke very winsomely of the clearer insight into the Episcopal Church that he has gained during his time with us.

In the afternoon, we had our only true business session--the the Presiding Bishop doing precisely that for which her office primarily exists, and following Roberts' Rules. We approved a statement of greeting to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose resignation (effective at the end of the year) was announced late last week. The primary item on the agenda was the "enchanced DEPO" proposal that was introduced yesterday. This presented me with my first opportunity to speak in the HoB in actual debate (I spoke in favor). I was a little nervous (!), so I used my iPad to remind me of some points I had jotted down after lunch. There was a handful of fairly non-substantive amendments that were proposed and approved, and then the motion itself was adopted overwhelmingly on a voice vote. This is a good thing. Not an earth-shatteringly good thing, perhaps, but a good thing, nonetheless.

We had a closing Eucharist before dinner, with the Bishop of Kansas presiding and the Bishop Suffragan of Texas preaching. It has been the custom in the House, apparently, to dress up a bit for the final dinner. I am not given to that sort of thing, nor did I come prepared to do so. I did, however, assure everyone that I do own a navy blazer, since that seemed to be the uniform of the day. I draw the line, though, at bow ties. Not gonna go there.

A word about worship at House of Bishops: I would not want to be in charge (well, actually I would, but still...) because there's no pleasing everybody. The music was led by a frighteningly talented and able musician (Dent Davidson, from Chicago). I would certainly have preferred more music from a place closer to the center of the tradition and less from the margins. I don't mind a little new stuff, but I miss the solid familiar stuff. And the services themselves seem not to have been put together by people who know how to "think liturgically"--or even pay attention to texts and rubrics, for that matter. A gathering of bishops should be able to do better.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Joseph

I'm not by nature a "morning person." But this being St Joseph's Day, and the first anniversary of my consecration, I got up for the 7:30 Eucharist in a side chapel of the chapel (All Saints' Chapel is larger than many cathedrals). I can only be grateful for my first year as a bishop. It has been several degrees happier and more effective than I had anticipated. God is good.

After breakfast, and following Morning Prayer, the retreat meditation was given by the Presiding Bishop on the vows bishops take to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" and to participate in the governance of the whole church. During the reflection/prayer time afterward, I took a long walk through the piney woods (staying on Camp Allen property) and had ample opportunity to think about how I understand "guarding" to begin with acknowledging the given-ness of the Catholic Christian faith. It's not mine to make up; it's mine to hand along. Intact. This is both a responsibility and a relief. Just before lunch we reassembled at our table groups to briefly "process" the PB's meditation and our own reflections.

After lunch, I had a wonderful visit with Justin Welby, the newish Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. We operate, of course, in vastly different contexts, yet we were both amazed at what similar visions we have of the larger missional environment of western culture--a culture that is substantially post-Christian--and of the necessity not to deny or resist the new secular age, but to embrace it, to say "bring it on", and then learn how to be the church in that environment. It was a thoroughly refreshing and encouraging conversation.

The afternoon was free. I processed a bunch of emails, which always takes longer than I expect, and spent some quality time on the treadmill before dinner.

After dinner, we came back together at our tables for two presentations and brief discussions. The first was by Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut, on possible responses to the Anglican Covenant. He and two colleagues have prepared a resolution, which we saw tonight for the first time, that would affirm the spirit of the Covenant and the text of the first three sections, and call for continued study of all the implications that Section 4 would have on the Episcopal Church, including and especially our constitution and canons. There was brief plenary discussion. The intent of this resolution is to not "just say No" to the Covenant, but to not say Yes either, the end being keeping a place for TEC's delegation at the next meeting the Anglican Consultative Council this fall. My sense is that, even so, it will meet heavy resistance.

The other topic was a proposal from a working group of five bishops, chaired by Ed Little of Northern Indiana (and including Rivera of Eastern Oregon, Fitzpatrick of Hawaii, Doyle of Texas, and Smith of North Dakota), to revise the 2004 document adopted by the HoB, "Caring for All the Churches," which institutes Delegated Episcopal Oversight (DEPO), an arrangement by which parishes that consider themselves to be theological minorities in their dioceses to come under the pastoral care of a bishop other than their who whose theological views are more compatible than their own. DEPO has worked well in a number of cases, though they tend to stay quietly under the radar. The proposed revisions are by way of strengthening the document and taking a longer view. It makes provisions for DEPO to extend to the ordination process, such that a "theological minority" candidate who suffers from discrimination in one diocese and  is a member of a DEPO parish, can be "processed" by the diocese of the DEPO bishop. This proposal will be debated and voted on tomorrow. It will be controversial, and I am making no predictions. I will support it, of course. The few theological conservatives left in the Episcopal Church need some sort of good faith signal that we are not being just tolerated for the moment in the hope that we will die off and become a speck in the corporate memory, but that there will be a place for us indefinitely. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Being the Lord's Day, the schedule was appropriately relaxed (in welcome contrast to Sundays in previous meetings). After breakfast, I got a vigorous workout in on one of the treadmills in the exercise room. Eucharist was at 10, with a meditation from Porter Taylor, Bishop of Western North Carolina, taking the place of the homily. His subject was the vow bishops make at their ordination to be faithful pastors to their people. Different in style than either of the two previous meditations, it was nonetheless rich and stimulating. I am feeling spiritually fed by these talks. Today there was no table group unpacking session, so we adjourned to the common area and engaged in informal conversations as we waited for lunch to be served. Such moments of casual exchange are arguably the most valuable aspect of these gatherings.

After lunch, various recreational opportunities were offered. I chose to go on a horseback trail ride with eight others. Interestingly, the last time I rode a horse was six years ago, and it was right here at Camp Allen (where I was reading General Ordination Exams). Following the ride, I had an extended conversation with a retired bishop over some mission-related issues. Then I did some work--processed a bunch of emails and scheduled a bunch of tasks.

After dinner there was an event--a regular one at HoB meetings--styled a "fireside chat." With over a hundred bishops in a large room, sharing one microphone, it was hardly a chat. The Presiding Bishop presides (how appropriate) but the agenda is open, whatever anybody wants to bring up. The subject that dominated the discussion was the need, perceived very strongly, to radically restructure the governance and management of the Episcopal Church. I will not go into any of the details in this venue, since we were not in formal business session and thus incapable of taking any official actions, and even if we were were in session, the sort of actions we might have taken would not be available to us outside a meeting of General Convention. Suffice it to say that everything--absolutely everything, by way of polity and governance--was "on the table" in this discussion.

Saturday (St Patrick)

Do head over to my other blog for a synopsis of Day 2 at the 2012 Spring Meeting of the House of Bishops.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday

This meeting has a more humane pace than the other two I have attended, especially the one a year ago at Kanuga. There was an attempt among the planners to invoke more of a retreat atmosphere. Each morning there is a meditation by one of our colleagues on one of the vows from the liturgy for the consecration of bishops. Today we were heard from Tom Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, on the place of prayer and scripture in the life of a bishop.

In the afternoon, there was a working session, with presentations from committees on two issues. The first was the development of a process--a canon, actually--to govern those relatively rare occasions when a bishop and the others leaders of a diocese come to an impasse in their relationship. There was vigorous discussion, and, I would say, a fair amount of pushback on the draft presented by the committee. I must confess that, while the situation that calls for such a canon does indeed occur, and can be quite vexing, it seems bad policy to make law based on exceptional cases. I could not help also observing that those who are advocating for defining the process of reconciliation/dissolution in minute detail are those who oppose the Anglican Covenant for being too juridical and prescriptive. Ironic.

Item the second was the use of social media at HOB meetings--specifically Twitter. A draft policy is now in circulation. IMHO, it's a little unrealistically restrictive, and fails to take account of the undeniable fact that if some can be done, it will be done. We shall see.

Dinner was too much of a good think, as in too many yummy choices. Blessedly, nothing but social time (with a little NCAA watching) in the evening. I got in a good workout on the treadmill after dinner.

Humorous moment of the day (one that I can repeat, at least): The office hymn at Morning Prayer was "nearer My God to Thee." At moments, it does indeed feel as through we're on the Titanic! (Trust me, I wasn't the only one who made the association.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday

This was a day of travel and re-connecting. On the whole, everything went smoothly. My departure from St Louis was at 10:40, a humane hour, and the relatively short flight to Houston was non-stop, and United did not lose my bag. Blessings abound. Rode in a van with several colleagues to Camp Allen, a conference center owned and operated by the Diocese of Texas. Need I mention that everything here is on an oversize scale? We are, after all, in Texas. There is nothing formal on the agenda until tomorrow morning, so we've had time for what most bishops enjoy most at these occasions--informal conversation, sometimes serious and sometimes something else. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday

  • Usual routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Finished my working notes for next week's Lenten series presentation (the 21st), since I'll be away from home and office between now and then.
  • Took care of several concrete steps toward making the mission vision a reality. Tiny steps, in the larger scheme, but exciting nonetheless. We are broadening the base of those who will be involved in very tangible ways.
  • Shopped for, and purchased, a new, and much lighter, case for my laptop computer. 
  • Lunch from Chipotle Grill, eaten at home.
  • One final long treadmill workout before an intense period of travel.
  • Packed for being away seven days, then headed south to Alton for the third of five Lenten series presentations at St Paul's.
  • Made my way into St Louis, where I am now camped out at the Hilton Garden near the airport (one of those park-sleep-fly arrangements). I catch a plane for Houston in the morning, then on to Camp Allen in Navasota for the regular spring meeting of the House of Bishops.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday

  • Usual routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debrief with the Archdeacon over a couple of pastoral-administrative concerns that remain in play.
  • Finished my working outline for tomorrow nights third installment of my Lenten teaching series in Alton.
  • Met with Deacon Dr Tom Langford, Chair of the Commission on Ministry. to discuss both general and specific issues regarding the work of the body and the formation of ordinands.
  • Lunch at home (Brenda has perfected Cincinnati-style chili and then taken it to yet another level of delicious).
  • Worked on several upcoming sermons, all at various stages of gestation: Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass (aka Liturgy of Collegiality), Good Friday, and Easter.
  • Usual weekly scanning chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent

Woke up in Marion (which is a good thing, because that's where I went to bed!), slightly knicked by the time change, and reported for duty at St Mark's, West Frankfort in time for their 9am Eucharist. Celebrated, preached, confirmed one (the organist!), and had a lively discussion with those who stayed for coffee hour about our diocesan vision for mission and how it might impact St Mark's. It's a joy to see so many children and young families in that Eucharistic Community.

Made one stop on the way home for a pastoral consultation, and again for a late lunch/early dinner in Hillsboro. Pulled into our driveway just past five.

Homily for Lent III


Psalm 19:7-14, Exodus 20:1-17
St Mark’s, West Frankfort 
                                                         
So it looks like I’ve got to say something about the Ten Commandments today. It’s probably not a preacher’s favorite subject—not this preacher, at any rate. We are, after all, more and more a hang loose kind of society. Live and let live. Don’t try to force your moral standards on other people. We all recognize the need for “law and order,” but we’re not too crazy about the concept when we’re on the receiving end. And you don’t get much more “law and order” than the Ten Commandments.

But, hey, it’s Lent. So there they are, right in our faces.

The notion of law seems obvious enough. Every human society has it in one form or another. If we break the law, something bad’s going to happen to us, either now or later. If we keep the law, the presumption is that we will at least stay out of trouble, if not otherwise prosper.

But can it really be all that simple? I suspect we do well to throw out all childish misconceptions about law in general, and God’s law in particular. One of these misconceptions is that, by keeping God’s law faithfully, we can put him in our debt. By obeying God, we have earned our reward, and he’s under a moral obligation to just hand it over.

The fact is, though, every arrow we shoot toward the target of trying to earn God’s favor by keeping his law falls way short of the mark. The New Testament Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, and it literally means “falling short of the mark.” St Paul tells us in the epistle to the Romans that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Sure, some of our arrows get further on down toward the target than others, but they all fall short. So no amount of law keeping can ethically obligate God to even give us the time of day, let alone a heavenly reward.

Another misconception thinks in terms not of results, but of effort. This is certainly a more kindly view. It doesn’t matter that we hit the target, only that we try really hard, and get as close as we can. We think this might make God love us, or at least think we’re cute. We could do worse, I suppose, than to be God’s affectionately smiled-at pets, mascots of the kingdom of Heaven. But are we not selling ourselves horribly short—I mean, we are, after all, made in the very image and likeness of God, to be his friends, not his pets. But more than that, the “A for effort” view of keeping the law
betrays a paltry understanding of the purity of God’s holiness. It isn’t that God is arbitrarily mean or cosmically uptight. But by his very nature, God cannot indefinitely tolerate imperfection. He accepts me, as the song says, “just as I am,” but he does not want me to stay “just as I am”! He wants me to be able to hit the target every time, and not ever fall short. And he will not simply move the target in order to enable me to do so. That would not be fair, either to God or to me.


Now, from a negative perspective, there’s another misimpression of what it means to be law-abiding. The experience of many is that the law is a cruel joke, by which God amuses himself by watching us fail. “Oops! There they go again, those silly humans. Won’t they ever get it right?” Or, in a less cynical and more rational mode, the law is not really “from God” at all, but, rather, a projection onto God of the human need for security, for boundaries we can rely on. The courageous thing to do is to admit that all laws are man-made, and we are not ultimately accountable to any of them. The Ten Commandments are, in effect, ten “guidelines” which are good to check in with before making an ethical decision.

Now, I hope I don’t have to tell you that I believe all of these notions—that we can obligate God by keeping the law, that we can increase the chances of God liking us if we try really hard to keep the law, that the law is a cruel joke for God’s entertainment, and the that law is merely a human invention and projection—all of these notions are based on false suppositions. But there are, I would say, some fragments of truth and goodness in what is otherwise a nasty collection of falsehood and self-deception. The 19th Psalm, which is part of our prayer at this liturgy, expresses in beautiful poetry what I am trying to say through less than adequate prose:

“The law of the Lord is perfect...and revives the soul.” Far from being oppressive or authoritarian, the Psalmist sees God’s law as life-giving, refreshing and reviving to the soul, like water flowing through a desert.

He goes on to say that “the testimony  of the Lord...gives wisdom”—it gives us practical aid in coping with the bewildering complexities of human relationships. “The statutes”—what more legal-sounding word is there than “statutes”?!—the “statutes of the Lord and just and rejoice the heart.” There is something beautiful about justice, just as there is in an elegantly crafted geometric pattern. Both are a joy to behold. And it is only the law that allows us to see the beauty of justice, that allows our hearts to rejoice thereby.

The Psalmist continues, “The commandment of the Lord is clear...and gives light to the eyes.” Eyes tell the story, don’t they? When someone’s heart and soul are whole and integrated, you can tell it in his or her eyes, and vice versa. It is the commandment of the Lord that reveals the integrity of the way we live, a revelation that is visible in our eyes. According to the Psalmist, the law refreshes and nourishes and strengthens. To be nourished and refreshed and strengthened are the fruits of a life lived close to the heart of God.

In fact, “keeping the law” is a practical description of what it looks like when we align ourselves with the flow of God’s loving energy. It’s not that the law is an end of itself. We don’t keep the law just for the sake of keeping the law. In fact, our aim shouldn't be “keeping the law” at all, it should be singing in harmony with God, allowing our energy to flow in the same direction in which his is flowing, letting our hearts assume the shape of God’s heart.

And how do we know how well we are accomplishing these aims? By means of the law. The law, including the Ten Commandments, is a measuring stick by which we can tell how we’re doing in the process of offering ourselves to God for the purpose of being blessed and broken and given for the life of the world. The law of the Lord is perfect and just and clear. It revives the soul and gives wisdom and joy and light.

Most of us have used a computer program. Even if there’s not an appliance in our home that we call a computer, if we drive a car that’s been built in the last 20 years, or use a cell phone, or even a microwave, we are, in fact, using a computer. Now, for everything that we use each of these “computers” for, some programer had to sit down and write what they call “lines of code”—hundreds and thousands of individual commands that tell the computer how to do what we want it to do, breaking down complex tasks into simple “Yes/No” bits of information. Of course, when we use a computer, for instance, to support a graphics program capable of creating beautiful works of visual art, most of us are not thinking about lines of code. But the lines of code—dull and technical as they are—the lines of code are essential to the creation of the poetic and artistic and transcendently beautiful output that eventually shows up on our high-definition screen. “Lines of code” describe, in effect, what it “looks like” to be able to create graphic art.

It’s the same relationship between God’s law and human moral behavior, human integrity. The law describes what it looks like to be attuned to God’s love, God’s ways.We can’t keep it perfectly. Much of the time, we can’t even keep it well. But by the grace of Christ, we can, in time, be transformed into people who keep it naturally,  without even thinking about it, as part of our redeemed nature. Only then will the law, including the Ten Commandments become obsolete. They’ll be obsolete, not because we will no long keep them, but because we will no longer need them. Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday

Customary slow-start Saturday morning. Good long workout on the treadmill. Packed and hit the road at 2:30 for Marion, where we checked in around 6. Then we headed to Harrisburg for the annual Italian dinner, a very well-subscribed fundraiser for outreach, with this year's proceeds, of course, going to disaster relief right there and in nearby communities. Chatted briefly with the Vicar and key lay leaders. Also enjoyed seeing Fr Dick and Marv Swan, who were working the event since they used to serve in the Hale Deanery, and also Mary Ann and Lucas Denney, Lucas being the featured accordionist, a undeniably appropriate post for such an occasion.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday (St Gregory of Nyssa)

Between 10 and 4 I was with three of our long-time deacons who are no "transitional," in that they are on course for ordination to the priesthood. We spent the day talking about liturgy: sacred time, sacred space, and the nuts and bolts and ins and outs of the Eucharist. It was a stimulating experience for me, and I hope it was for them as well. Before 10 and after 4? ... a mountain emails to process. They just kept pouring in. I did manage to steal some time to walk the Stations of the Cross in the cathedral by myself before praying the evening office.

Friday Supplement

Part II of my Lenten teaching series in Alton: Baptism--The Mark of Ministry

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Took care of some "administrivia" related to a time of teaching and learning I am sharing tomorrow with our three transitional deacons on the subject of liturgy, and to my May travel plans.
  • Put some final touches on this Sunday's homily (reducing my text to a few verbal cues on a single folded sheet of paper, so I can preach from the aisle in a small congregation).
  • Joined the Standing Committee for their routine (if not, strictly speaking, regular) meeting.
  • At the encouragement of the Archdeacon, we all then adjourned to Taco Gringo for lunch. Having had their food only yesterday, I broke from my enchilada routine and had a chicken filet sandwich. Very gringo indeed!
  • Met for a very productive two hours with three members of the Department of General Mission Strategy (DGMS), who formed what might be understood as an executive committee of the DGMS. Our goal was to get organized ahead of the next meeting of the full group. I am very pleased with what we accomplished. 
  • Laid out the broad strokes of a homily for Easter II (to be delivered at St John's, Centralia).
  • Took a first pass at preparing an outline for Session Four of my Lenten teaching series in Alton. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday (St Perpetua & Her Companions)

  • Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in my office.
  • Processed several emails (requiring substantive attention).
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon and the Administrator regarding a "situation" in one of our parishes.
  • Met with Fr Gene Stormer regarding two of the "hats" he wears: Canon Pastor (to the clergy) and Chair of Ecumenical Relations.
  • Lunch in the office (from TG).
  • Finished prep for tonight's presentation in Alton.
  • Took a phone call from Ruth Wene, Rector's Warden at St John's Chapel, Champaign regarding some technical details of their search process.
  • Worked on transportation arrangements and registration for the second annual installment of the Living Our Vows program (aka "Baby Bishops School") in May.
  • Began the preparation process for a homily that won't be preached until the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Seems a little OCD, I realize, but not so much when you factor in the amount of traveling I'll be doing between now and that time.
  • Reviewed my April visitation schedule and made a few planning notes.
  • Left the office around 4pm, stopped by the house to pick up Brenda, and drove to St Paul's, Alton for Mass, supper, and the second of five presentations on Patterns of Ministry (tonight: The Mark of Ministry: Baptism). Available soon on YouTube.
  • Home around 10pm

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday

  • Email processing and task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Minor administrative detritus.
  • Prepared for a scheduled meeting about the next iteration of the diocesan website, currently in beta. I wanted to at least be able to ask intelligent questions.
  • Met, from 11:15 until nearly 1:00, with Pete Sherman, chair of our Department of Communication, Betsy Schroeder, editor of the Current, and Sue Spring, Diocesan Administrator, each with an open laptop computer, and the conference table in my office. Major progress was made in getting the new website ready for prime time.
  • Usual Tuesday scanning chores.
  • Refined the draft of my homily for this Sunday (St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Plotted some tasks related to following through on a discussion at the clergy retreat regarding events for clergy and families.
  • Wrote a reply to letter from a priest who is canonically resident but lives elsewhere.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the Chrism Mass (Liturgy of Collegiality) on Tuesday in Holy Week.
  • Produced a draft program for the above-referenced liturgy.
  • Processed some more emails.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent

Rose at an early hour--in time to be in Decatur by 7:10--to preside and preach at both morning liturgies at St John's. Met with the vestry between services, and confirmed one adult at the main celebration. There is a very, very positive spirit in that parish that is a joy to behold.

Homily for Lent II


Mark 8:31-38
St John’s, Decatur
As the presidential election season heats up, we hear a great deal about the religious faith and practice of the various candidates. They seem to be trying to outdo one another in establishing their Christian credentials, which is a little difficult for one of them, who practices a religion that most of the Christian world doesn’t believe is actually … Christian. What I find strange about all this is how few people seem to realize that to be a Christian is not really to be conventional. To be a Christian is actually to be rather an oddball in the world. Christians navigate through the spiritual universe using a different map than the world uses. Christians navigate through the moral universe using a different compass. Simple words like success, health, peace, happiness, shame, embarrassment, and suffering—these each mean one thing in our culture, our society, our day-to-day world. But in the Church, among Christians, within the community of faith—they have very different connotations. To a Christian, what the world counts as “success” is a false god, an idol. To a Christian, much of what the world sees as “happiness” is spiritually destructive. To a Christian, what looks like shame or embarrassment to the world is known to be glory and honor. To a Christian, suffering is not failure, it is the very path to life and joy and victory.

The Christian faith, in fact, makes an audacious claim. It claims to make sense of human experience. It claims to provide a map that orients us and give us a sense of direction within the chaos of the world. It claims to be a lens through which we can look at confusion and see order. It makes the astonishing assertion that victory is found in surrender, healing flows from suffering, strength is located in weakness, leadership is most clearly expressed in service, and life cannot be secured except through death. When Jesus declares, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he is, in effect, saying, “If you’re going to be a Christian, get ready to be ashamed and embarrassed, get ready to feel like an oddball, get ready to be ridiculed.” In the imagination of Jesus’ listeners, “taking up [a] cross” was a potent symbol for embarrassment and shame. Yet, Jesus also indicates that all this is necessary, that it’s all according to plan. St Mark tells us that “Jesus began to teach the disciples that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The Son of man must suffer. Jesus’ death is not an accident, it is necessary.  It’s part of what he came here for. It was the first item on his job description.

Now, the inescapable implication in this is that, if we’re not looking at the world by means of this map, if we’re not seeing our experience through this lens, then we’re not really seeing reality. We are looking at the world from a limited human perspective. We’re like a race horse wearing blinders—our field of view is restricted, there’s important stuff we can’t see. Or, better yet, we’re like the proverbial committee of blind men charged with the task of describing an elephant: One of us lays hold of the tusks, another one grabs the trunk, and others are groping around the feet, belly, and tail. We’re all going to give very concrete descriptions of what an elephant is, and we’re going to be very sure we’re right, but we will, in fact, all be wrong. So we make important decisions about our lives, and the lives of others, based on faulty and incomplete information. Then we wonder why our lives are such a mess. We’re not seeing the way God sees. We’re not thinking the way God thinks.

The good news is, God has made it possible for us to see the way He sees, and think the way He thinks. He has made Himself accessible to us, and He has done so by coming down to our level in order to make it possible for us to be taken up to His level. He does so in the person of Jesus, who is at the same time completely divine and completely human. Through Jesus, God invites us and enables us to participate in, to share in, His very life.

Now, there are many ways by which we might relate to Jesus in the hope of taking God up on this invitation.  During the time he walked this earth, Jesus had what we might today call “groupies.” These were people who followed him around, but at a safe distance, and with no commitment or accountability. Jesus still has groupies. Many of them are warming church pews on any given Sunday all across the world. Interest? Yes. Fascination? Yes. Commitment? No. Responsibility? No.

Another way of relating to Jesus is as an objective scholar, of either a professional or an amateur sort. Scholars analyze and compare various scriptural manuscripts, and examine other literary evidence from the time, and compare it all with archeological research, and come up with learned opinions about what Jesus really said or did or intended, in distinction to what the gospels say Jesus said or did or intended.

And then, of course, there are those who are just plain skeptical, or too self-absorbed to care very much, and they relate to Jesus from a position of indifference or unbelief.

But, if we really want to take God up on the invitation to share his life and sees what He sees and think what He thinks, then the most important thing we can do is to place ourselves in relation to Jesus as disciples to a master. Jesus resorts to some pretty drastic language to make precisely this point to his favorite apostle—Peter. After Jesus tells them all very plainly what lies ahead—that he’s going to be increasingly rejected by the Jewish authorities, and eventually be killed, but rise again after three days—after Jesus makes this announcement, Peter has a fit. At the first opportunity, he pulls Jesus aside and tells him to cut it out with that kind of negative talk, that it’s bad for the group’s morale, and how are they going attract newcomers with Jesus predicting disaster all the time? But Jesus comes right back at him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Get behind me, Satan. It’s the “Satan” part that gets our attention, isn’t it? I mean, to have Jesus liken him to Satan must have really brought Peter up short. Jesus apparently thought that shocking language was called for. The cross was so central to his mission that he could have very little patience with anyone who questioned that destiny, whose behavior might compromise God’s grand plan for the salvation of the world. But let’s not get too distracted by the name calling, because the real meat here is in what comes before it— “Get behind me.”  Jesus wasn’t merely telling Peter to go away with his crazy ideas. He wasn’t just shooing him off. Nor was he, as it might perhaps seem, rejecting Peter, turning his back on Peter. Rather, Jesus was telling Peter to get back where he belonged—behind him, as a disciple, as one who follows.

And Peter’s challenge is also our challenge. In Christ, God offers us life—abundant life, His own life. In Christ, God offers us the truth—an accurate map of the spiritual and moral universe we inhabit, a universe full of pitfalls and alluring deceptions. In Christ, God takes the blinders off our eyes, and allows us to see that too much friendship with the world is enmity with God, that the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. But this gift is not available to us if we relate to Jesus merely as groupies—interested observers who won’t make a commitment. This gift is not available to us if our relationship to Jesus is merely academic—that of a disinterested scholar. Nor is it available to us if we are skeptical, or scornful, or indifferent. The gift of seeing the way God sees and thinking the way God thinks is available to us when we get behind Jesus, in the position of disciples. Seeing reality from God’s point of view is available to us when we are ready to embrace the cross, to know the way of the cross to be the means of life and peace, to take up our cross and fall in behind Jesus, ready to suffer shame, embarrassment, and ridicule from a world that will misunderstand and hate us—ready to absorb that misunderstanding and hate and return nothing but love. It’s not an easy road. It really isn’t. But it’s a road worth traveling. It’s a road that will lead us to our true destination. Amen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday (John & Charles Wesley)

  • Usual Saturday leisurely morning. Morning Prayer in the recliner, there being no episcopal chapel staffed by sacristans, clerks, and choristers for sung mattins.
  • 70 minute workout on the recliner.
  • Caught up on some administrative detritus. (See what the internet makes possible on a Saturday when I'm two miles from the diocesan office?)
  • Drafted an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy) that will go out by email on Monday.
  • Caught up on some household chores.
  • Got properly dressed and drove off with Brenda to Decatur, where we met Fr Dick and Marv Swan for dinner before heading to Millikin University for a concert by the Decatur-Millikin Symphony Orchestra. Lovely program, and there were several St John's parishioners there. We'll be back in the morning for two liturgies in that beautiful church.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday (St Chad)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took a first pass at Session Three of my Lenten teaching series in Alton (probably 75% done, ready to be fleshed out and refined the day before the event). See here for a video of the first session this past Wednesday.
  • Sundry "administrivia" (a word I learned from a Canadian colleague earlier this week, and which is eminently useful).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took a broad look at my Sunday homilies for the Easter season: Looked at appointed readings, considered the venues, looked at old sermons for material that might be reworked or adapted, plotted the appropriate tasks for the appropriate weeks and days.
  • Planned out the day I will spend next week with three transitional deacons, where we will talk about the planning and practice of liturgy.
  • Prepared and sent an email message regarding the ordination process.
  • Plotted and scheduled the various chores I will need to take care of in preparation for the annual Chrism Mass (Liturgy of Collegiality) on Tuesday in Holy Week.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the call of Levi in Mark, and the following dialogue about dining with "tax collectors and sinners."
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner with Brenda at Culver's (yes, I'm a big spender!), followed by Iron Lady at one of the local cinemas. Meryl Streep deserves every ounce of the Oscar she carried home last Sunday night.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday (St David)

  • Task planning and a little bit of reading (while I at breakfast) at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took a phone call from the Bishop of Chicago, inquiring about the situation in Harrisburg, which was struck by a powerful tornado Tuesday night. It's a little early to know what resources we might need to help galvanize, but his concern was much appreciated. Of course, we took the opportunity to discuss other mutual concerns.
  • To my chagrin, the process of assembling documentation for refinancing two real estate loans consumed most of my morning. To good news is, everything I needed was available "in the cloud." But it still took an inordinate amount of time. Yuck.
  • Lunch at home (leftover chili, homemade by Brenda, "Cincinnati style." Yum)
  • Sent out an email blast to the greater diocesan family regarding Harrisburg. Some of "ours" sustained non-catastrophic property damage, but nothing worse than that. Of course, the whole community is on edge; this was a significant trauma. 
  • Processed about a dozen emails, some of which could be dispatched rather quickly, and others of which required substantial time. 
  • Dealt with an administrative-pastoral matter regarding the ordination process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.