- Usual morning routine. MP in the cathedral.
- Completed the UTO grant application on behalf of the Diocese of Tabora, for them to be able to build a girl's dorm at their secondary school (St Peter's). This is much more intimidating than it sounds. The application is complex, repetitive, and not always clear. But an email later in the day assuring me that it was complete was gratifying.
- Met with a potential nominee for Holy Orders, along with his rector.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Took care of piece of administrivia related to my co-trusteeship of the Putnam Trust.
- Made air travel arrangements for my DEPO visit to Trinity, Yazoo City, MS on the first weekend of April. I'm getting better at this, but it always takes longer than I'd like.
- Dealt with small bits of ongoing debris from the Nashotah brouhaha.
- Took care of some routine end-of-month personal organization maintenance (organizing my April calendar).
- Dashed off an email to my Communion Partner bishop colleagues.
- Responded to a request for biographical info from the rector of an out-of-the-diocese at which I will be a guest preacher for Ascension.
- Spoke by phone with a lay leader in one of our parishes, in response to a letter she had sent me.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
- Weight and treadmill workout.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Personal devotions in the cathedral (intercessions in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Angelus).
- Spent a good chunk of the morning cleaning up administrative detritus from the clergy retreat and tying down loose ends related to the Canterbury pilgrimage.
- Engaged the ongoing Nashotah House brouhaha via email with various parties, comments on social media, and this excellent article, which articulates why we can be faithful even in the midst of ideological non-purity.
- Got a good jump on completing the UTO grant application on behalf of the Diocese of Tabora, which involved an email exchange with Bishop Elias.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Worked a but more on the UTO grant.
- Refined and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily at St John's, Decatur.
- Met for a substantive conversation with a potential discerner for Holy Orders;
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
- Concluded the clergy retreat with Morning Prayer, breakfast (along with the breaking of silence), our customary Wednesday morning forum (wherein we discussed Cursillo, mission strategy, and sundry other items), and a Mass anticipating by a day the commemoration of George Herbert (and a homily by our conductor, Fr Mark Clavier).
- Enjoyed lunch with the diminished group that remained, packed up, and headed north, arriving home around 3.
- Re-engaged the real world, including getting back into the "interesting times" that continue to surround Nashotah House, and processing a backlog of emails. Got it down from 47 to zero! Organized tasks for the two working days left in the week.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Sunday, February 23, 2014
I was originally scheduled to go to Havana today, but the folks at St Barnabas' had a good reason to kick me down the road to December, so I had an unexpectedly free Sunday. But then I kept hearing reports of news and wonderful things happening at Trinity, Mattoon, and along came an invitation from Fr Jeff Kozuszek, their supply priest, to "come and see" at my earliest convenience. So I paid a supplementary visit to Trinity, enjoyed the assistance of Fr Jeff and Deacon Anne Flynn, worshipped the Lord in the beauty of holiness, and spent some quality time with the Bishop's Committee taking counsel together for the future of that Eucharistic Community--i.e. how to leverage the "bounce" they've recently enjoyed in attendance and giving. Back home around 3, spending most of the rest of the afternoon and evening on details of this week's clergy pre-Lenten retreat.
Trinity, Mattoon--Matthew 5:38-48, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
It will come as no shock to you when I remind us all of what is all too obvious: that conflict is all around us. You could make a case that conflict is the single most distinctive feature of human experience, from a dictator deploying weapons of mass destruction to organized crime and gang violence to a minor quarrel between an old married couple.
All that is bad enough, of course, but it gets worse. There is conflict among Christians. It has ever been so. We read today from a letter St Paul wrote to a Christian community that was deeply divided on multiple levels. Some of the Corinthians acknowledged Paul’s pastoral authority; others would only acknowledge the authority of somebody else, called Apollos. Over the next four centuries, there would be bitter struggles over the fine points of how Jesus is both human and divine, and over the mystery of the God whom we know as the Holy Trinity, for whom this church is named. About 600 years after that was mostly settled, there was a rupture between the eastern and western sections of the Church, a rupture that has still not been healed, despite good faith efforts on both sides. Five centuries later, within the western church, there was another cataclysmic division, only this time the glass didn’t just break, it shattered and re-shattered into thousands of pieces, some larger and some quite tiny. This accounts for why you can drive around an area of a just a few square blocks in downtown Springfield, among hundreds of other cities and towns, and find a dozen or so old and established Christian congregations that are on polite and friendly terms with one another but who are not able to gather around the same table together to share in the sacred mysteries of the Body and Blood of their common Lord, whose name they profess as the source of unity among all who put their faith in him.
But it gets even worse still. Within particular Christian communions that bear the same brand-name label—Anglican, for instance, just to take one example—there are cracks and crevices, turning into canyons and ravines, that are getting larger by the hour. Many of us have watched in horror as our own Episcopal Church has been torn apart by conflict that is superficially about human sexuality but, underneath, is about the nature of scriptural authority, the Church, and the human person. And if we didn’t have that battle to consume our attention, within local congregations—parishes—there is garden variety conflict over music and other details of worship, control and influence in various programs, and who can capture the ear and attention of the priest.
So, why is it especially tragic when Christians are divided by conflict? Because conflict shines a bright light on our failure. It undermines the central message that is our job to announce to the world: that God wants all people to be reconciled to him and to one another in Christ. So, in our disunity, we’re a scandalously poor advertisement for what we’re trying to sell. How can people in the world take us seriously when we announce to them the “good news” of unity in Christ when we can’t even point to ourselves as an example of such unity? This is kind of a big deal, right?
We’re in Matthew’s gospel today, specifically, in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is inviting and challenging his listeners to go deeper, to take what they think they know about how God wants them to behave in the world—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”—and to let go of that for the sake of something even more profound, more life-giving: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Give more than you are asked for; walk the extra mile. “Turn the other cheek … walk the extra mile”—these sayings have embedded themselves as clichés that even still have some currency in the vocabulary of our culture. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These are not usually listed among the “hard sayings” of Jesus. In the abstract, Jesus’ advice sounds very noble, even uplifting. But when we try to apply them to our particular enemies—people whose names and faces we know and whose behavior has left us wounded in some way, woundedness from which we may even still be bleeding—when we set out to apply Jesus’ counsel to these persons, his very words sear our hearts like a branding iron. We would much rather invoke some of the cursing Psalms—“Oh Lord, in your goodness, crush my enemies!”—we would rather pray a Psalm like that against those who have inflicted such pain on us than we would pray for them.
[Now, if this were a published essay instead of an orally-delivered sermon, I would have the luxury of inserting an important footnote. But, since I can’t actually do that, here’s what the footnote would say: I’m not talking here about situations of domestic abuse—physical, sexual, or emotional—and Jesus isn’t either. There’s no turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile for an abuser. What we are talking about are relationships within the Christian community and relationships in civil society that might include the non-violent abuse of power by persons in authority. End of footnote.]
My friends, discipleship is the way of the cross, and the way of the cross may ultimately be the way of life and peace, as our Prayer Book puts it, but nobody ever said it was easy. It is, in fact, really hard. You may know that I chair the board of trustees of the seminary that produced me—Nashotah House. It is my great honor and joy to do so. Just this past week, a difficult challenge has arisen for that seminary community and its extended family of stakeholders scattered throughout the church. It would not be appropriate for me to describe the situation in detail here, but let it suffice to say that Nashotah House is a living laboratory for the experience of division and the vocation of reconciliation, because the community of students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni include both those who, in the outworking of the conflicts of the last decade or so, have found it necessary to separate from the Episcopal Church, and those who have found it necessary to remain connected to the Episcopal Church. For those who live and work on campus, this means worshiping, eating, teaching, learning, and simply interacting in the mundane details of life together with someone whose bishop may be involved in a civil lawsuit with your bishop. Whenever lawyers get involved, things can become really sticky.
But in the midst of such a potential pressure cooker, something really quite wonderful has emerged that has been given the name ‘Pax Nashotah—the Nashotah peace. There is an agreement—informal, unwritten, but, I would say, very much the work of the Holy Spirit—that all ecclesiastical conflict gets left outside the gates of the seminary. On campus, it’s one community, one community in Christ. Just as Paul counseled the Corinthians to lay aside identity labels—“I am of Paul” / “I am of Apollos” in favor of “I am of Christ”—so the Nashotah community is precariously, but doggedly, laying aside “I am of the Episcopal Church” and “I am of the ANCA” in favor of “I am of Christ.” This latest difficulty might turn out to be a significant challenge to the Pax Nashotah, but I am personally confident that we will weather the storm, and actually come out stronger on the other side.
And so I take heart from this, and I share it with you that you may take heart from it as well. What makes the Pax Nashotah work is the development of a culture where all are expected to set aside their personal agendas for the sake of the greater good, and for the sake of the gospel and of the Kingdom of God. This is difficult, because we all think our personal agendas are for the greater good, right? But in that culture, counter-intuitive behaviors like humility, forbearance, mutual deference, patience, and willingness to be vulnerable in listening and sharing—these behaviors are rewarded. As a result, God gets worshiped, the faith is taught and learned, and relationships are formed that are stronger than the forces that divide us. It’s as if they’re living out that old cliché from the 60s, What if they gave a war and nobody came?
My friends, I’m fairly certain that places like Nashotah House face more powerful divisive forces than we face in the Eucharistic Communities of the Diocese of Springfield. So I lay this invitation before you this morning: People of Trinity Church in Mattoon—be unified! Love one another. Be an example of this to the rest of your diocesan family. Give me a reason to brag on you when I visit the other churches, even as I’ve bragged on Nashotah House as I’ve been with you. Develop a culture that rewards the behavior of leaving conflict—petty or grand, personal or principled—leaving conflict out on the street when you walk through these doors, and enjoy the fruits of God being worshipped, the faith being taught and learned, and relationships being formed that can withstand any of the stresses that we cannot even yet anticipate. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Spent the two hours between 10am and noon in a very productive and positive meeting with the Strategy Resource Team, a group tasked with developing a "nuts and bolts" methodology for the implementation of our mission strategy. Back at home, the afternoon was devoted to various tasks and projects: the Canterbury pilgrimage, a sermon for next Sunday (March 2 in Decatur), general email processing, and, of course, continuing to deal with the fallout from this week's angst in the Nashotah House environment.
Friday, February 21, 2014
- Still dealing with a barrage of emails and social media material regarding the Nashotah House situation. I'm experiencing the special agony of leadership, which lies not in the necessity of opposing one's enemies, but in the inevitability of disappointing one's friends.
- Both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were victims of the angst today. As soon as I arrived at the office-cathedral complex, I got busy preparing for the 10am Mass ahead of the quarterly meeting of Diocesan Council. Managed to also look at a few emails before it was time to go get vested.
- Presided and preached a votive Mass "For the Mission of the Church (1)".
- Presided at a productive and healthy meeting of Diocesan Council.
- Attended a fairly brief meeting of the Standing Committee.
- Attended a joint meeting of the Standing Committee and the Commission on Ministry for the purposed of interviewing middler seminarian Cameron Nations (and his wife Carly), who was applying to be advanced from postulancy to candidacy.
- As the two bodies deliberated separately, I visited with Cameron and Carly in my office. But the deliberations did not take long, and I was able to give him the good news that he is now a candidate.
- But this time it was 2pm. My introversion was thoroughly taxed and I hadn't had lunch yet. Drove to KFC by way of Illinois National Bank downtown to make a deposit. Lunch at home.
- Back in the office around 3. Spent the better part of the next three hours, when I wasn't dealing with emails, working on a written response to several Nashotah board members regarding a difficult and sensitive issue.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Well, this was "a day." Among my many extra-curricular hats, I chair the board of Nashotah House, my seminary alma mater. A tempest has arisen from the news that the seminary has extended an invitation to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to visit the House and preach at the Eucharist for the feasts of Ss Philip & James on May 1, and she has accepted. So I was on the phone and responding to emails most of the day. In the midst of it all, I did manage to finish laying out the liturgy leaflets for next week's clergy retreat.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
- Spoke by phone while still at home with my colleague, the Vice-Chair of the Nashotah House board of trustees, about an emergent matter that affects the House.
- In the interest of efficiency, when I got to the office, I first identified and printed out readings for today's Mass, and prepared Prayers of the People.
- Took a call from another member of the Nashotah board concerning the same matter.
- Then I went over to the cathedral for Morning Prayer, and set up the chapel for the 12:15 liturgy.
- Spoke by phone with a third member of the Nashotah board, and left a voice mail with a fourth.
- Reviewed and tweaked the service program for my visit to St John's, Decatur the Sunday after next.
- Drafted a wordsmithed a longish email to the full Nashotah board, but did not send it yet.
- Processed a small batch of emails.
- Presided and preached at the Mass for ferial Wednesday in the week of Epiphany VI.
- Lunch from Chitown's Finest (Italian beef), eaten at home.
- Spent the next 3.5 hours crafting a sermon for this Sunday. I didn't have the luxury of my customary segmented several-week incubation period. I just had to bang it out from start to finish without much finesse. I trust the Holy Spirit to still be faithful, even under such unusual circumstances.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Tweaked and sent the email to the Nashotah board that I had drafted earlier.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
- Up and dressed at the usual time, but restrained by the fact that there was still a considerable amount of ice on our sloping driveway.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Processed a stack of emails on a range of subjects: youth pilgrimage, Nashotah House, clergy pastoral care, etc.
- At around 10, it seemed that there had been sufficient thawing to proceed into the office, and I did so without incident.
- Met with the Treasurer briefly over a finance concern.
- Worked on beginning to pulling together a sermon on short notice for this Sunday, which had been free on my calendar, but is not populated with an impromptu visit to Trinity, Mattoon.
- Worked on producing liturgy sheets for the two celebrations of the Eucharist at next week's clergy retreat.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- At 1:30, proceed north, via a gas station with an attached car wash, to a location that required a bit of a drive in order to meet with two priests of the diocese on a sensitive matter. When I'm cryptic like this, it's for reasons of pastoral confidentiality. While en route there, spoke by phone with a candidate for one of our clergy vacancies. On the way home, pastoral check-in by phone with the spouse of a cleric with some health issues.
- Home around 6.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Continuing my strategy of scheduling closer-in parish visits for the winter months, today's trip was to nearby Jacksonville. (Nearby, yet across the 90th longitudinal parallel from Springfield, which means that Jacksonville is closer to the International Dateline while Springfield is closer to Greenwich Mean. Amazing, huh?) It was a joy to worship and interact with the clergy and faithful at Trinity Church. Because of a frozen drain pipe, their parish hall and office area was severely flooded last Thursday. Happily, their Sunday School area (built in the 50s, when Sunday Schools were burgeoning) was able to accommodate a transferred coffee hour. I saw more children and young parents than I had mentally associated with this parish, which seems to be a (happy) trend in many places I go these days.
Matthew 5:21-24, 27-30, 33-37, I Corinthians 2:1-9, Ecclesiasticus 15:11-20
Just a few short weeks ago, New Years resolutions were in the forefront of our consciousness, but now, barely six weeks into the new year, most of them are long forgotten. Two-and-a-half weeks from now, Lent will begin, another occasion that invites us to make a resolution, to change our behavior in some way. And by the time Easter arrives, about the same length of time from Ash Wednesday as we are now from the beginning of the year, a good many of those resolutions will have fallen by the wayside as well. We’re talking about habits here, trying to make the practice of a virtue or the avoidance of a vice something we do automatically, without thinking about it each time.
It’s hard to do. Bad habits are exceedingly difficult to break and good habits are exceedingly difficult to form. For some time it has been part of my spiritual rule of life to make my confession before Christmas and Easter each year. The event itself is always liberating and uplifting, but preparing for it can be depressing, because the content of my confession doesn’t generally change much from one time to the next. The list of things I have done that I ought not to have done, and things I have left undone that I ought to have done, stays pretty much the same. For instance, I don’t know if there’s a week that has gone by that I have not said or done something out of anger. Angry feelings are not sinful, but angry behavior is. You may sometimes catch a glimpse of that anger, but probably not, because I reserve most of it for those in this world whom I love most dearly and spend the most time with, principally my dear wife. Of course, by the grace of God, my expression of anger has its limits; I don’t, for example, get physically violent. Others are not as controlled as I am. There are in this world, as you know, men who beat their wives and teenagers who join gangs and take part in drive-by shootings and revenge killings. These things we have laws against and try to control, because society has a stake in the safety of its members. But they are, at the root, expressions of anger.
Now I am not laying one of my besetting sins before you in an attempt to be lurid or to call attention to myself, because I’m not at all unique. You also have your besetting sins. They may not be the same as mine, but you have them. Most of you are old enough to remember 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran for president the first time, and gave a bit of publicity to the sin of lust, when he confessed to an interviewer that he sometimes had lust in his heart for women other than his wife. He was ridiculed to a great degree for that admission, but only by hypocrites, because he spoke for millions of others who do, in fact, entertain and nourish lust in their hearts, a good percentage of whom allow those lustful thoughts to become lustful actions. The latest statistics, I guess, indicate that Americans commit adultery, actually, a little less frequently than had been supposed, but even those who are “technically” faithful do smaller things that injure marriages and harm families, and we have the divorce statistics to prove it. In our enlightened age, of course, most states no longer have actual laws against adultery. But we certainly have a mountain of books and seminars and videos and counseling hours devoted to preventing or healing the damage that we inflict on marriages by the things we say and do.
Anger, lust … as long as we’re making a list, let’s not forget plain old dishonesty. There is a group that actually conducted tests in various cities by leaving wallets and purses and luggage unattended, but secretly observed, in public places. A good percentage of the items were returned intact, and that was considered good news! Still, however, more of the items were stolen than were returned, which does not say much, I’m afraid, for the moral values of our society. We really do not trust each other, and for good reason: we’re not generally trustworthy. In order to have any kind of functioning society, we have to have lawyers and contracts and audits and the right to sue and, of course, police departments.
Laws against murder and robbery and theft and spousal abuse and fraud and forgery and false advertising, not to mention books and videos and seminars aimed at strengthening human relationships, are good and necessary things. They protect the innocent by sheltering them from some of the consequences of anger and lust and dishonesty. But do they really address the problem? Do they really address the problem, or do they merely treat symptoms? If I have a headache, I can take a strong pain reliever to make me feel better. But if my headache is caused by a brain tumor, what have I accomplished? If a see that a wall in my house has a crack in it, I can plaster and paint over the crack, but if the crack is caused by a foundation that is settling, what have I accomplished? Treating symptoms while ignoring the cause of the symptoms is bad medicine and bad home maintenance, and, as it turns out, bad spiritual practice. Jesus warns us today against getting into that kind of bad habit.
On the surface, what he has to say seems unduly exaggerated. Jesus suggests that if I call one of my fellow members of the church a “fool”, I am violating the spirit of the commandment against murder as surely as if I stab him through the heart. It does seem a little far-fetched to us. We reason that the act of making a sarcastic retort to a colleague at work has a much different consequence than the act of walking into the office with an automatic rifle and shooting everybody. But what Jesus is saying is that both of those acts, although they bear very different fruit, spring from the same root. They are symptomatically very different, but they are signs of the same disease.
Jesus also suggests that entertaining lust in one’s heart is tantamount to violating the commandment against adultery. Again, that strikes us as a little bit over-dramatic. But Jesus’s point, I believe, is that when we take that moment of appreciation of another person’s attractiveness, and savor it and nurture it and allow it to turn into lustful contemplation, we are indulging the same sin that also expresses itself in full, though inappropriate, sexual union. Different fruit—but the same root. Different symptom—same disease.
Jesus also tells us that a casual deceit,—I’m not, after all, “under oath”, I haven’t “sworn by” anything—a “little white lie” is as morally significant as felony securities fraud that bilks thousands of retired people out of their life savings. Once again, it seems exaggerated, but Jesus is trying to get us to see that the two acts are branches of the same tree. One is, to be sure, a mere twig, and the other a massive limb, but the difference is one of degree, not of kind. Different branches—same tree. Different fruit—same root. Different symptoms—same disease.
Laws and contracts and marriage seminars treat symptoms, but they don’t reach the underlying disease. My main problem as a human being who wants to be in a right relationship with my Maker and Judge, is not located in the things I do. Sins, in the plural, are among the things I do. I have said things in anger, I have entertained lust in my heart, I have told lies. But this is not where my problem lies. The things I do, the sins I commit, are the symptom, not the disease. My problem lies not in what I do, but in who I am.
Who I am is: a sinner. That’s my disease. I am not a sinner because I commit sins; I commit sins because I’m a sinner. It is not inconceivable to me that, over the course of my lifetime, I could make restitution and atonement for some of the particular sins I have committed in my 62 years. I can take care of the symptoms. But I could never, in a million lifetimes, do anything about the disease, about the fact that I am a sinner. And unless the disease is treated, I’ll just keep on sinning, long after the batteries in the Eveready bunny have run out of energy.
I am helpless to treat the disease. For that, I need the Great Physician. I need Jesus. The whole of the Christian life is about facing this fact and taking the cure. That’s what the sacraments are about. That’s what Bible study is about. That’s what preaching is about. That’s what our ministry to one another is about. That’s what weddings and funerals are about. It’s all about saying, “Lord God, I am a sinner and I am powerless to do anything about it. In your mercy, come and save me. Show me those things in my life, even those good things in my life, that are separating me from you, and give me the courage to seek you above all else. If it is something as close to me as my right eye or my right arm, give me the strength to pluck it out or chop it off. Let nothing come between my soul and your love.”
When we can pray this prayer, consciously or sub-consciously, every day, we are giving our consent for the treatment of the disease. Those of you who’ve ever had surgery know that before they wheel you into the operating room and put you under, you have to sign a whole bunch of consent forms. Jesus, the great physician, requires our ongoing consent for him to continue treating the disease of Sin. That constant movement of consent-giving is what constitutes growth toward spiritual maturity.
As we heard in today’s epistle reading, St Paul had to take the Corinthian church to task for their complacency in this department, for their lack of spiritual maturity. You should be a the point where I’m giving you solid food, he tells them, but I have to treat you like small children and give you milk instead. I’m afraid that St Paul, were he addressing the “Jacksonvillians” or the “Springfieldians” rather than the Corinthians, might, nevertheless, have the same message. My friends, we—as a diocesan community of communities, as a national church, as a communion of churches—have got to shake out of our lethargy. Most of the churches in this diocese feel good when 50% of our active members show up for Sunday worship, but that’s horrible! It should be 150%.
But Sunday attendance is itself only a minimum. Real spiritual maturity, authentic consent for the treatment of the disease rather than just the symptoms, includes regular “continuing education” in the things of the Lord. The days of Christian education being over when one is confirmed are long gone. You need to be in a class or a study group or some other form of regular disciplined instruction until your mortal body assumes room temperature. You also need to be engaged in daily, disciplined, personal prayer. You also need to be involved, as your talents and abilities indicate, in ministries of service within the church and in the world. Sunday worship, study, personal prayer, and ministry—this is the diet that the Great Physician prescribes for what ails us. Anything less is merely treating symptoms.
I can’t think of a better note on which to conclude than the bracing, straight-talking words of “Yeshua ben Sirach”, the Greek-speaking Jew who wrote the apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus, from which we heard today: “[God] has placed before you fire and water: stretch our your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. “ To merely treat the symptoms is to choose death. Jesus invites us to treat the disease, and choose life.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Enjoyed both a leisurely morning and m customary Saturday weight and treadmill workout before setting off at 10:45 for Centralia (about 2.25 hours SSE of Springfield). At 1:30 I met with the assembled Cursillo secretariat of the diocese along with team members of the upcoming (June) Cursillo weekend. My goal was to talk with them about both freshening the "practice" of Cursillo rather simply letting it run on autopilot, and also give them a keener sense of where Cursillo fits in the larger scheme of making and forming disciples who can then be entrusted with apostolic missionary responsibility. It was a lively and vital exchange that lasted the better part of two hours. I got back home just past 5:30.
Friday, February 14, 2014
- Morning Prayer at home.
- En route to the office, and for a while in the parking lot, scheduled phone conversation with the Vice-Chairman of the Nashotah board of trustees, Bishop Ackerman.
- Attended to a matter related to next week's quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Council.
- Followed up on a potential opportunity to help one of our companion dioceses obtain a much-needed grant.
- Searched for (with some creativity), found, and began reviewing my notes from the fifth and final session of last Lent's teaching series at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Due to technical difficulties, that one didn't get recorded, and I need to redo it.
- Lunch at home--leftovers. Having checked the weather radar and determined that the snowstorm was essentially over, I fired up the snowblower and cleared the driveway before heading back to the office.
- Continued review and preparation for recording a re-do of session five of Reading the Bible for Dummies.
- Set the stage and did the deed. Had to do it in two takes, as the recorder simply quit about 18 minutes in. I'm lucky I got that much accomplished because the camcorder is wonky, and I still haven't been able to download the file to my computer for editing. Glad we bought the extra warranty.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
- Early morning weight and treadmill workout--a Thursday routine.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Responded to two emails: one on Living Church business, the other from a national church staffer who has been assigned as a liaison to the diocese and wants to come for a visit.
- Investigated options and made hotel reservations for a meeting of Class of 2011 bishops in Albuquerque in Easter Week. (No, not Holy Week. Easter Week.)
- Forwarded an email from the Dean of Nashotah House to the other members of the Board of Trustees, in my capacity as Chairman.
- Spent some time with the latest proposal from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music regarding revisions to our calendar of saints. Left some feedback on their blog, per their request. You can see it here.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- Spent the rest of the afternoon organizing and planning worship for the clergy retreat the week after next. This involved readings, prayers, and music for two instances each of Morning Prayer and Evensong, and two celebrations of the Eucharist. Ready now to produce service sheets next week.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared readings, Prayers of the People, and a homily (mentally) for the noon Mass in the cathedral chapel.
- Responded to an email request from an 815 staff person designated as a liaison to the Diocese of Springfield to schedule a time for him to pay us a visit.
- Responded by email to an ongoing exchange with one of our clergy over emerging developments in the parish he serves. (Good developments.)
- Dealt with a raft of emerging details regarding the youth Canterbury pilgrimage.
- Took a phone call from a priest, on both personal and parish issues, that turned out to be a substantive conversation.
- Took a phone call from the rector of the parish I'm visiting this Sunday to nail down some of the details of the liturgy.
- Presided and preached at the 12:15 Mass (ferial Wednesday in week of Epiphany V).
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- More pilgrimage detritus.
- Walked (upper 20s felt balmy!) to Illinois National Bank to effect a wire transfer to Fr Nadeem im Pakistan. I had promised to help him with some of his travel expenses.
- Hammered out a 700+ word article for the Pentecost issue of the Missioner, the award-winning quarterly magazine of Nashotah House.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
- Normal Tuesday and normal morning routine. MP in the cathedral.
- Met with the Finance Committee of the diocese. The main work was to tweak the 2014 operating budget approved by Synod in light of actual pledges from our Eucharistic Communities, not mere educated estimates. This is an annual ritual necessitated by the fact that the minimum 15% of net disposable income from Parish X for Year Y is based on actual receipts for Year Y-1. There's no lag year, as is the case in many dioceses. There are pros and cons to this system, but it does require the sort of minor corrective action that we will ask Council to take later this month.
- I went straight from the finance meeting to a scheduled telephone conference call, a regular review of the Putnam Trust investment portfolio with my effective co-trustee and the investment management people at U.S. Trust (Bank of America).
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Throughout the afternoon, in bits and pieces, attended to issues related to the youth pilgrimage to Canterbury.
- Refined and printed a working script of my homily for this Sunday at Trinity, Jacksonville.
- Processed a slough of emails that had accumulated over the weekend, yesterday, and during the day to day.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Out the door at 6:30am to Trinity, Lincoln with Brenda and our houseguest. Presided and preached at the 7:30 liturgy. Listened to a compelling presentation from Earnest Nadeem to the adult class between services. Presided, preached, and confirmed at the later Eucharist. Enjoyed a splendid catered lunch, with some of the tenderest roast beef I have ever had. Nicely done. Good long and hard afternoon nap. At around 4 we headed to the cathedral, engaged in some logistical preparations, then witnessed another excellent presentation by Fr Nadeem to an SRO crowd in the Cafe. We wrapped it up in time to get him on the 7:32 train to Chicago and the first leg of his journey home.
Trinity, Lincoln--Matthew 5:13-20
On more than one occasion, I have had an adult candidate for baptism or confirmation or reception into the Anglican communion ask me, "Well, what are the rules?"
What are the rules?
Depending on the background of the person doing the asking, this question can be loaded in a variety of ways. In my own northern Baptist upbringing, it was quite clear that using tobacco or alcohol or engaging in social dancing were very much against the rules. In my early childhood, playing cards and going to movies were also on the list, but those rules were relaxed as we moved into the '60s. In my mother's Southern Baptist upbringing, it was not at all uncommon for men, at least, to light up a cigarette once outside the door of the church, but the very idea that boys and girls, or men and women, could swim in the same pool at the same time was too scandalous to even mention.
Baptists, of course, have never had a monopoly on rules. Those of you whose background is in Roman Catholicism could no doubt cite several examples, ranging in application from the kitchen to the bedroom. So when somebody asks me, "What are the rules?", I'm always a little bit uncomfortable, because I feel myself on the horns of a dilemma. On one hand, I want to avoid defining Christian faith and practice in terms of rules, as if Christian maturity were simply a matter of mastering a list of "thou shalts” and "thou shalt nots.” I, for one, and I don't think I'm alone, have an intuitive negative reaction to the notion of being bound by rules or laws.
But on the other hand, I certainly don't want to imply that rules and laws don't matter and that it's not important to measure one's life against the standard of scripture and church teaching. When I was ordained—all three times—I solemnly promised to uphold, by word and example, a whole bunch of rules. And every time we renew our baptismal vows, we all commit ourselves to certain ways of believing and acting.
I would bet that most of you have similarly mixed feelings about rules and laws.
We don't want to treat them as meaningless, matters of indifference. But neither do we want to define our lives of faith in terms of keeping rules. The Protestant strain in our Anglican heritage makes us prefer the language of grace and freedom to the language of law and discipline. Such being the case, what Jesus has to say today about the law—the Torah, contained in the first five books of the Old Testament—makes me a little bit squirmy!
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or
the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to
fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth
pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter,
will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
This certainly throws a bucket of cold water on those who would ignore or attempt to undermine "the rules", doesn't it? There is apparently no room for anarchy or libertarianism in the religion of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus doesn't just stop there. He goes on to impose an even stricter standard:
[U]nless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes
and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of
The Pharisees, as we know, were zealously scrupulous about observing every fine point of the law—every letter and every stroke of a letter. But Jesus suggests that even they miss the mark, even they fall short of the standard which governs the kingdom of heaven. It seems to be a completely unattainable goal, not realistic, not taking into account the weakness of human nature. So what hope is there for us?
What is there to stop us from throwing in the towel and saying, "I've had it, I quit, there's no way I can keep all these rules, no way I can meet God's standard so I'm not even going to try"? What hope, indeed, is there for us?
An experienced bow hunter knows that you can't aim at a moving animal—a running deer or a flying pheasant— the same way you would aim at the bull’s-eye of a stationary target. You have to compensate for the direction and speed of the wind, and the direction and speed of the target. If you're aiming directly at the spot where the animal is when you release the arrow, there will be nothing but thin air there to greet its arrival. In the same way, when rocket scientists want to send a spaceship to Mars, they don't just find Mars in the night sky, aim, and fire. By the time the rocket gets to the position they were aiming at, Mars will have been long gone. They have to factor in the orbit and the rotation of earth, and the orbit and rotation of Mars, and the speed at which the rocket travels, and then aim at the spot where Mars is going to be several months into the future. In the same way again, if a pitcher who knows he's got a mean curve ball wants to make a pitch that will come in low and inside to the batter, he's got to aim high and away.
Well, it works the same way when it comes to abiding by the rules, exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. If we make that our aim, we'll only be disappointed. If we succeed in our effort, we will swell up with pride and an attitude of superiority, which will, in the end, be our spiritual downfall. And if, as is more likely, we fail in our efforts, we're in for another round of despair and self-loathing.
But what if we don't aim at keeping the rules? What if, instead, we aim at God?
What if we focus our energy and attention on simply adoring God, on enjoying him for who he is? What if we allow our hearts to overflow with gratitude at the wonder and beauty of the created universe, and the marvel of being ourselves made in the image and likeness of God, at the depth of such divine love as would become one of us in order to save us from the power of evil and death? What might happen if we simply aimed at God?
What would happen, I believe, is that we would suddenly find ourselves observing the law, keeping the rules, without really being aware of when or how we started.
We would find ourselves living out righteousness— justice, truthfulness, compassion, integrity. We would find ourselves faithful in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We would find ourselves seeking and serving Christ in every person, respecting the dignity and freedom of every human being. We would find ourselves, in short, like Jesus, with our own wills perfectly attuned to the will of the Father. We would find ourselves obeying the law, but not because it's the law.
So does any of this abrogate the law? Does it make rules unnecessary? Should we simply abolish them? By no means! But it should alter our perception of rules and regulations and disciplines. They are no longer ends in themselves. The only end in itself is fellowship with God. Rather, the law is a test, an indicator, of the quality of that fellowship. When a physician wants to know whether we are infected with a particular virus, he or she orders the laboratory to examine a blood sample and look, not for the virus itself, but for the presence of antibodies that our immune system has produced to fight the virus. The presence, or absence, of antibodies is a test of one aspect of our health.
In the same way, keeping the rules, or not keeping them, is important not for its own sake, but because it's a test of our spiritual health, our relationship with God. It is God who is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, the one from whom we come and to whom we return. As we make him our aim, the good works which result will shine before others like a city on a hill, and people will see these good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Amen.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Beyond my morning workout and some quality time with the driveway spreading sand and salt, most of the day was spent getting ready for company tonight--some clergy and families from the Springfield parishes, and Earnest Nadeem, our houseguest. We chose labor-intensive fare (Louisiana cuisine), but it all came together very nicely.
Friday, February 7, 2014
- Up and into the polar vortex cold at the usual hour, this time with our houseguest, Fr Nadeem, in tow. Morning Prayer with him in the cathedral.
- Processed my physical inbox--mostly scanning, sometimes leading to secondary tasks.
- Listened to my voicemail and returned a call.
- Took Fr Nadeem to Walgreen's in search of some over-the-counter remedies for his cold symptoms.
- Attacked the learning curve of the diocesan video camera, which is acting wonky, in an effort to make sure I have clean memory cards and charged batteries for Fr Nadeem's Sunday evening presentation at the cathedral. Concurrently with this, while waiting for various electronic processes to play out, I began to organize in my mind a pastoral word about baptism for the website.
- Lunch with Fr Nadeem at Gateway to India. There are enough similarities between Pakistani and Indian cuisine that it was veritable "comfort food" for him, and he was noticeably energized!
- Continued with both projects begun in the morning. See the word on baptism and drowning here.
- Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, and the evening office, in the cathedral.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
- Customary Thursday weight and treadmill workout.
- Morning Prayer (short version) in the car en route to the office.
- Consulted with the cathedral Provost over several matters, principally arrangements for the care and feeding of the Rev. Earnest Nadeem, a Pakistani priest and seminary professor, who is visiting through the weekend.
- Back in the office, followed up on some of the items discussed with the Provost.
- Dashed off a note to one of our priests who has experienced a death in his family.
- Processed a handful of emails.
- Began filling in the blanks making assignments for various liturgical tasks at the clergy retreat.
- Met with the rector of one of our parishes over some personal concerns.
- Lunch at home (more leftover enchiladas).
- Re-engaged and completed the clergy retreat assignment task.
- Processed some more emails.
- Took care of some Nashotah House administrative chores.
- At 3pm, left for Bloomington airport. At 4:30, met Fr Nadeem as his flight from Minneapolis arrived. Drove home, got him settled in our guest room, then took him out to dinner, where we were joined by Archdeacon Shawn and Mary Anne Denney.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
- Before heading into the shower, I bundled up and fired up the snowblower and cleared the driveway, after which I judiciously scattered some salt and sand to forestall future problems. The snow had stopped, but the frigid temperatures had not yet arrived.
- Worked a bit on the "aspirational" liturgical customary. Time for the final touches.
- Read Morning Prayer at home.
- As things turned out, I arrived at the Roundhouse about the time I would normally be finishing Morning Prayer--no harm done by the snowstorm. But I encountered an unplowed lot devoid of vehicles. Upon entering the building, I encountered our clerical support staffer Molly Henderson, who had arrived by taxi from her home about a mile away. So I improvised a sign canceling the noon Mass at the cathedral (at which I was scheduled to celebrate and preach), drove Molly home, then went home myself.
- Took care of some Nashotah House administrivia.
- Knocked off some administrative chores related to the June youth pilgrimage to Canterbury.
- Returned to the liturgical customary.
- Broke for lunch--leftover enchiladas from last night.
- Back to the customary. Went through it with one last fine-tooth comb, made several emendations, and finally saved it as a PDF, attached it to an email to the Administrator for e-delivery to the clergy tomorrow or Friday, and posted it to the website.
- Fleshed out and tied together various fragments that will form a sermon for Epiphany VI (Trinity, Jacksonville on the 16th).
- Evening Prayer at home.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
- Organized tasks for the week at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon over an ongoing administrative quagmire we're in with the Church Pension Fund.
- Took care of some administrivia related to the Putnam Trust.
- Attended to a small chore related to my service on the Living Church Foundation board.
- Responded to an invitation to attend a small informal conference next month related to the ongoing evolution (devolution?) of the Anglican Communion.
- Worked on refining travel arrangements for a visitor from Pakistan--priest and seminary professor--who is spending time in the diocese this weekend.
- Touched base by phone with Fr Mark Evans regarding my visit to his parish this Sunday.
- Met with a banker from Illinois National Bank and signed refi documents for the loan against the property at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
- Lunch with Fr Dave Halt at Dynasty--Asian place next to Taco Gringo.
- Spoke by phone with a representative of a company that offers database management service to church organizations, including several Episcopal dioceses. We need to bring our database management into the 21st century.
- Refined and printed my working copy of this Sunday's homily.
- Since it was snowing steadily, with more predicted, the Archdeacon and I left the building, the last to do so, just before 3:30.
- I have designs on continuing my productivity at home, but I had to focus my attention on getting Brenda's car, which was stranded streetside, up the driveway and into the garage. This required a trip to Ace Hardware to purchase more sand and salt. The job got done, but it consumed me until about 6. I was ready for a cocktail.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Our original plan to depart Charleston was early enough--6:52am flight to Chicago. The alarms were set appropriately. But during the night, text messages and emails arrived with the information that our flight was canceled because the incoming flight last night was canceled due to fog in Charleston. A series of phone calls got us booked on another airline for a 5:27 departure. Alas, after making this arrangement, we could not pack and get our rental car returned and into the terminal in time, and we missed the flight. So we had to cool our heels at the airport until the next flight on our new carrier that they had room on--an 11am departure to Charlotte. I can now testify--the Charleston airport departure lounge is not friendly to sleeping. All else moved along happily, and we were in Chicago around 3:15, and home by 8:30 (after stopping in Joliet to eat at one of our favorite places--Al's Beef). Now bring on the winter storm warning.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Worked hard and rejoiced harder. In Charleston, SC for my DEPO visit to the Church of the Holy Communion. Preached at the 8am Mass, led the adult class (50-60 in the room). Presided, preached, baptized, and confirmed at the 10:30am Solemn High Mass. Hung out at a food-laden coffee hour talking to people. This is an iconic parish that has been through a very difficult time amid all the fissiparousness within Anglicanism of late, but they are coming through it with a wonderful vibrancy that is a joy to see. Lots and lots of young people flocking to what is, by any measure, an ultra-conservative Anglo-Catholic liturgical ethos. It's an honor to be associated with them.
After trying and failing to lower the top on our rented convertible (the day was certainly nice to enough to generate the temptation), we drove back to the hotel, rested a bit, then took a long walk over to the waterfront area, then down East Bay Street as far as Queen, stopping for a libation and appetizer at a brewery/barbecue joint. We walked up King Street back to our hotel, rested some more, then walked back down to Queen Street (taking Meeting this time to vary the scenery) for our 7pm dinner reservation at 82 Queen. We counted this an early celebration of Brenda's birthday. If it sounds like we've been doing a lot of eating while in Charleston, it's because ... that's what one does when one comes to Charleston! The place is crawling with superb restaurants.
Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, SC--Luke 2:22-40
There’s a venerable hymn that doesn’t get sung very often, though it is in the Hymnal 1982, with the first line, God is working his purpose out. Indeed, it’s a critical part of Christian theology and spirituality that God is working his purpose out, that God is active in the world and not just passively distant, that God is doing something about those things that we renounce when we make or renew our baptismal vows: the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. God is active in the world, and it is the vocation, the calling, of all Christian disciples to discern where and how that is happening, to be where God already is and to ride the wave of God’s sovereign action.
Two elderly people named Simeon and Anna, whom we encounter in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel, were privileged to have a moment of exceptionally clear insight into that very thing. They met the Holy Family entering the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the expectations of Jewish custom when a newborn child was forty days old, the offering of a small animal sacrifice. They both recognized the infant Jesus as the long-expected Messiah, the “consolation of Israel,” as Luke puts it. Simeon offered both an oracle of hope—“a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel”—and a darker oracle directed at Mary: "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul also." Anna didn’t have an oracle, but simply went around bearing witness to Jesus: she “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” But all this wasn’t just some lucky coincidence. Simeon and Anna didn’t just show up at the Temple one day and catch a glimpse of an ordinary-looking family of three and suddenly get a revelatory flash. They were able to see what they saw only as a result of finely-honed spiritual insight.
So, the question that leaps out at us—at least to me, and I hope to you!—the question before us is, How might we put ourselves in the position of Simeon and Anna? How did they get the finely-honed spiritual insight that enabled them to recognize the consolation of Israel in the Temple with them, and is there any way we can replicate what they did? Well, I want to suggest to you the possibility that spiritual insight comes from spiritual practice. Practice, that is, things we do to cooperate with Holy Spirit in the formation of Christlike character in us. Things we do. This may strike you as odd, I suspect, because we tend to think of “spirituality” as a gift, something that just happens—or doesn’t happen. Certain people just have the gift—the gift of religious fervor, or the gift of moral virtue, or the gift of being able to see and understand how God is working his purpose out. And if one doesn’t have the gift, one simply doesn’t have the gift.
But, in fact, I want you to know that spirituality is something that can be cultivated. Spirituality is something that can be “practiced,” a skill that can be learned. We all have the capacity. It looks and feels different in different people, but we all have the capacity. In our Catholic and Anglican tradition, there are certain classic elements, certain essential building blocks, in the development of our capacity for spiritual insight. These are—pretty much in order of importance, though they are all important—these are: Mass on Sundays and certain other Holy Days, some version of the Daily Office, private prayer on a daily basis, service to the church and to the world in concert with the community of the church, and faithful Christian stewardship of the resources which God has entrusted to us. Mass, Office, private prayer, service, and stewardship. I don’t mean to just mention these in passing, but that’s the subject of a whole other sermon or teaching event, or series of teaching events. My point is simply that there are things each of us can do, intentionally and proactively, to put us in the way of seeing what God is up to, and get in on the action, just as Simeon and Anna did. It’s not magical. It’s not mysterious. It’s concrete, something any of us can do.
Simeon’s oracle, as I have already mentioned, did have a dark side. He articulated his insight in a way that describes the consequences of not attending to and cooperating with what God is doing, of finding ourselves in the way of what God is doing, not as cooperators, but as obstacles. Simeon’s dark oracle is Luke’s counterpart, perhaps, to Matthew’s account of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, Herod’s cowardly and desperate attempt to exterminate the one whom he rightly considered a rival, one who would be hailed as King of kings and Lord of lords. The process of redemption, God’s grand project, the purpose that is being worked out and which we can see if we have the eyes to see it, indeed does have a dark side. Christian discipleship brings with it a sword of grief that will inevitably pierce those who endeavor to follow Jesus, an intention that we are all going to make or renew during this very liturgy. Yet, the wounds to which we make ourselves vulnerable as we walk the road of discipleship will in due course be healed in such a way that the restoration will be more glorious than the original creation. That’s just the way God rolls!
Sustained faithfulness in spiritual practice enables us to see what God is doing. This has never been more important than in the moment in which we live, as the leadership of the Christian world passes from Europe and North America to Africa and Asia, and we face a winter of judgment, a “dark ages,” in our post-Christian western culture. Only doubling down on spiritual practice will give us the eyes of Simeon and Anna in this our moment, our time of trial. Only doubling down on spiritual practice will enable us to see not only what God is doing, but to see also the lay of the land in which he’s doing it. In that way, we will be able to maintain a faithful witness, and join in Simeon’s song of release: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Amen.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
- Met for two hours with about fifteen people at Holy Communion, Charleston--all of whom are either getting baptized, presenting someone for baptism, getting confirmed, or being received (and some in more than one category) at tomorrow's 10am Mass. It was an energetic time of sharing and teaching.
- Had lunch with Charlie von Rosenberg, bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Delicious shrimp and grits.
- Re-united with Brenda back at the hotel. Enjoyed a glass of wine while she lunched at 39 Rue Jean. Then we walked down King Street, stopping first to buy a couple of cheap umbrellas, which pretty much guarantees that it will not rain during the rest of our time here. Money well spent. We poked our heads in various stores as far south as Queen Street, then headed back to the hotel.
- Rested, napped, and caught up on email processing.
- Enjoyed dinner with Fr Dow and Fiona Sanderson at a splendid restaurant called Muse.