- Weekly task planning at home. (65 candidates on this week's list--some large, some small.)
- Short confabs with the Archdeacon and the Administrator.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Registered online for meals and lodging for the Nashotah board meeting and academic convocation about three weeks hence.
- Spoke by phone was a fellow Nashotah trustee, who happens to chair our search committee for a new dean and president.
- Spoke by phone with the rector of Emmanuel, Champaign, whose new ministry we are celebrating on St Luke's Day (18 October), and where my annual visitation is scheduled the next day. Arrangements are now all in order.
- Dashed off a couple of quick email: one Nashotah-related, the other regarding youth ministry.
- Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Paul's, Carlinville).
- Read an article, the link to which one of our clergy had sent me, regarding the practice of intinction at Holy Communion. I continue to want to discourage the practice of communicants dipping the consecrated host in the chalice themselves, rather than allow the chalice-bearer to do the dipping and place it on their outstretched tongue. The article gives me some welcome ammunition, which I will deploy prudently in due course.
- Lunch at home, from materials on hand.
- Processed, mostly via scanning, the items in my physical inbox. This particular instance was somewhat less time-consuming than usual, as I had not allowed as much time to elapse as has been my wont of late.
- Took a semi-brisk walk around the neighborhood. Savoring the good weather while it lasts.
- More email processing.
- Refined and printed my homily for the Mass at synod (October 10).
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- 45 tasks remaining at the end of the day; not a bad net gain.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Since my usual "work" for the weekend took place yesterday, I got to live like the heathen today. Slept in, took a long walk in the morning. Watched a little baseball. Took care of some personal chores. Spent about three hours in the evening working on this blog post, addressing the heady subject of Anglican eschatology.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Slow morning ... weights workout followed by long walk (usual four miles) ... departed with Brenda at 2pm for the regular Evensong & Vigil Mass at St John's Centralia. Joyful visit with this small congregation enjoying the expert pastoral care of Fr David Baumann. Delicious dinner and conversation. Hope around 9:30.
St John's, Centralia--Matthew 22:28-32, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
There's a story—whether it's literally true or not, I don't know—about a rector and his vestry who were working through a period of turbulence in their relationship, something that happens from time to time between rectors and vestries. The priest let out a deep sigh and told them, "If you would just listen to me, you'd know I love you!" To which the senior warden promptly replied, "If we knew you loved us, then we'd listen to you!"
Words and deeds. The rector was saying, "Believe the words I tell you." The vestry was saying, "Tell us by what you do, not by what you say." We might think the vestry to be wiser or more profound in this exchange, but is it? Which of us who are parents have never said to our children, "Do as I say, not as I do?” And on those occasions, don't we find ourselves in the position of the rector in this story?
Words and deeds. When we were baptized, and/or confirmed, and/or present and participating at a baptism or confirmation, we have all said "Yes" to the question, "Will you proclaim by word and example [that is, by deed] the good news of God in Christ?" So which one is more important, proclaiming by word, or proclaiming by deed? Is it a matter of one being a cart and the other and the other a horse, and therefore quite easy to tell which one goes first? Or is it that one is a chicken and the other one an egg, in which case it's a mystery that cannot be explained and done away with quickly and simply? I would vote for the second of these two alternatives, and suggest to you that in telling us the parable of the vineyard owner and his two sons, Jesus is inviting us to explore the mystery of the relationship between our words and our deeds.
The owner of a vineyard, a farmer, approached one of his sons one morning with a request—we have to assume, a fairly routine request, not something that would have caught the young man by surprise. "Son, there's something I need you to do for me today ...”, and he proceeded to describe what he wanted done. The young man complained about the request, and actually said he wasn't going to do it. The father was no doubt disappointed and quite probably angry. But at least he knew where he stood with respect to the job that he needed done, and perhaps even made other plans for its accomplishment. But in reality, the son went ahead anyway and did the job that he'd told his father he wasn't going to do. In his words, son #1 said "No" in his words, but in his actions, he said "Yes."
To the original readers of Matthew's gospel, son #1 was a recognizable symbol. He stood for those who, because of the way they made their living—through tax collection or prostitution—were the lowest of the low in social status. Simply by occupying that status, they were presumed to be cut off from the promises of Israel's covenant with God. They were presumed to have said "No" to God, and in a large measure, this presumption was accurate. But when the harbinger of the Messiah appeared—John the Baptist—with his call for repentance and baptism, these folks were the first ones into the water. They may have originally said "No" to God with their lips, but in stepping into the Jordan river, they said "Yes" by their deed.
In our own setting, the first son stands for those who experience radical or dramatic conversion of life as a result of their encounter with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A recent Archbishop of Paris once gave a sermon in Notre Dame cathedral, in which he told of a young man who, having been dared by his friends, entered a confessional booth in that same cathedral and made a fabricated confession. The priest on the other side of the screen was wise enough to discern what was going on, so he said to the young man after he pronounced absolution, "My son, as your penance, I want you to go and kneel right in front of the crucifix on the high altar and say one sentence, 'All this you did for me, and I don't give a damn.'" If there was ever a case of saying "No" with one's lips, this was certainly it! But, still on a dare, the youth mounted the steps leading to the altar, knelt, looked up at the figure of a dying Jesus on the cross, and, with some difficulty, forced the words from his lips. "All this you did for me, and I don't give a damn." At that point, though, he broke down in tears, and his life was never the same again. The archbishop then revealed to his congregation that he was that young man. As a result of his encounter with Jesus the Messiah, present in the sacrament of reconciliation, he did a flip-flop, a 180-degree turnaround. With his lips, he had very clearly said "No", but in his deeds forever after, he said "Yes."
The owner of the vineyard also had something he wanted his other son to do. The son readily agreed, "Sure, dad, no problem; consider it done." But, for one reason or another, which is not revealed to us, he never got around to it, and the job was left undone. In his words, son #2 said "Yes", but in his deeds he said "No."
To the original readers of Matthew's gospel, son #2 was also a readily recognizable symbol. He stood for the established leadership of the Jewish nation. After being rescued from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel had said "Yes" to an everlasting covenant with God, mediated by Moses on Mt Sinai. That covenant was renewed six or seven hundred years later, after the Lord brought the Israelites back to their homeland after being exiled in Babylon. But when John the Baptist came to announce the immanent arrival of the Messiah, the anointed-one of God, he was spurned by the nation's leaders. They refused John's call to be baptized as a sign of repentance in preparation for the Messiah. In rejecting John's ministry, the leaders of Israel were saying "No" by their deeds to a covenant their ancestors had said "Yes" to with their lips.
In our own setting, the second son of the vineyard owner stands for "token" Christians, those who outwardly profess faith in Christ—they say the creed every Sunday without crossing their fingers—but who then proceed to keep him in a file drawer labeled "religion." They let him out at certain times—Sunday mornings, perhaps —and at special times of the year, and, of course, at times of personal or family crisis. But, otherwise, they keep him securely filed away where he won't have a serious effect on the rest of their lives. With their lips, they say "Yes" to Jesus, but with their deeds they say "No." This is the very definition of hypocrisy, and hypocrisy, we know, is spiritually dangerous for everyone concerned, those on the giving end and those on the receiving end.
Isn't it fair to say that we tend to look with disapproval on the second son, who said he would work in the vineyard, but failed to keep his word, and with approval on the first son, who told his father "No" but ended up working anyway? Indeed, Jesus himself appears to hold him up as the more positive example. But, think about it! How would we feel toward someone who persistently refuses our requests, and then ends up fulfilling them anyway? The first couple of times, we would be surprised and grateful. But after that it would become confusing, and then downright irritating. We would think there is something awfully wrong with the mental health of such an individual.
So our approval of son #1 assumes something very important. It assumes that, somewhere along the route between saying "No" and doing "Yes", he changed his mind. Nobody dragged him against his will to the vineyard and forced him at gunpoint to perform the task his father had asked of him. He chose to do it. By the time he picked up a spade and started turning over dirt, the "No" on his lips had turned into a "Yes", at least to himself, if not to his father. In the end, there was consistency between his words and his deeds. The failure of the second son, then, was not that he didn't do the job his father asked him to do. Son #1, after all, got away with telling dad "No", and there's no reason to think son #2 couldn't have done the same thing. No, his failure was in the lack of consistency between his words and his deeds. It was in saying one thing and doing another. Son #1 was initially guilty of the same offense, but, as we have seen, his flip-flop in deed demands that we assume he also flip-flopped in word.
The ideal that Jesus places before us today is not that of saying Yes to him. Nor is it that of simply doing his will, regardless of what we've said. The ideal that Jesus holds before us is one of consistency between what we say and what we do. It's not a matter of word or deed. It's a matter of word and deed. Of course, this means that we can say "No" under both categories, and this is certainly not what God wants for us, but it may be closer to the ideal than we think! In any case, the good news for us is that Jesus's invitation to work in the vineyard is a continuous one. If we have once refused him, or twice refused him, or any number of times refused his request for us to go work in the vineyard, it is still not too late! It's not too late to both say Yes and do Yes. We have not yet cast our future in stone by what we've said or by what we've done in the past. When we rise from our seats a moment from now to recite the Nicene Creed, we will be saying "Yes" with our lips. Then, when we leave this place, refreshed and empowered by the body and blood of Christ, we have the opportunity yet again to, even if for the first time, say "Yes" in our deeds as well.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Up and out of the Hilton Garden in Champaign for an 8:30ish arrival at Emmanuel and the annual assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches. It was good to see Deacon Chris Hopkins and Mother Beth Maynard there demonstrating great hospitality to folks as they were arriving. We had a worship service in the church (the sort of pan-mainline Protestant liturgy that sets my teeth on edge, but I survived). Now I have actually had the experience of singing a hymn that includes the phrase "greed and high prices." What's not to like about that? Our featured speaker for the day was Dr John Armstrong of Act3 Network, a ministry committed to "missional ecumenism." His general subject was the pursuit of ecumenism among evangelicals, who are generally absent from the table, for various reasons. It was a rich and stimulating presentation that was thoroughly glad I attended. After a brief business meeting, we were finished right at 3pm, and I was home by 4:30.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
- Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill workout.
- Morning Prayer (memorized short form) in the car on the way in to the office.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon at some length over administrative issues.
- Drove up to St John's Hospital to look in on a parishioner from St George's, Belleville who just had aortic valve replacement surgery. I welcomed her to the club.
- Met with a locally retired priest with extensive interim ministry experience about a parish that will soon be in transition.
- Lunch from McD's (still no hot mustard!), eaten at home.
- Left a voicemail with a member of the Nashotah House board.
- Developed my rough notes for a homily on the occasion of the institution of the new rector of Emmanuel, Champaign on 18 October into a developed outline.
- Assessed the need for an confirmed the availability of AV resources for synod.
- Composed and sent a memo to the Nashotah House trustees. We're ramping up for next month's meeting.
- Posted some news from our companion Diocese of Tabora on our diocesan Facebook page. (Bishop Chakupewa's wife, son, and one of his priests were involved in a serious auto accident, but without serious injury to anyone. They were shake up and the vehicle is not in good shape.)
- Composed and sent an email to a potential conductor of our pre-Lenten clergy retreat.
- Wrote out notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with October birthdays and anniversaries.
- Left at 5:00 eastbound for Champaign. Evening Prayer in the car (again, memorized short form).
- Dinner with five other "judicatories" (United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, UCC, and Roman Catholic) in advance of tomorrow's annual assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
- Task planning for the (rest of) the week at home. Only two days in the office, so some of the 39 currently active action items will get deferred.
- Consulted briefly with the Archdeacon over a real estate matter (the listing for the now-closed St Laurence, Effingham).
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass (my usual Wednesday gig). The interwebs failed me in the search for appointed readings for the lesser feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. Laid out those of the Visitation as a plausible surrogate.
- Refined and printed a working script for this weekend's homily (Saturday night at St John's, Centralia).
- Took my homily for the following Sunday, Proper 22 at St Paul's in Carlinville, from an outline to a rough draft.
- Reported for duty at the cathedral chapel, but no takers. This happens sometimes.
- Lunch from Dynasty (Chinese), eaten at home.
- Read and responded to Ember Day letters from three of our postulants/seminarians.
- Responded by email to messages from two of our clergy regarding pastoral/administrative matters.
- Responded to an inquiry from the Presiding Bishop's office regarding General Convention committee assignment preferences.
- Participated in a long conference call with other members of a special working group carved out of the Living Church Foundation board.
- Took my synod Mass homily from the stage of "developed outline" to "rough draft."
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Last night I drove up to Joliet, and then this morning the rest of the way to the campus of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington ... for a meeting with about thirty other Episcopalians! There is a program called Renewal Works that is for Episcopal congregations, but grew out of a process that was originally designed for Willow Creek. It's under the auspices of Forward Movement, on whose board I serve, and which is dedicated to the reinvigoration of the life of the church through discipleship. Renewal Works is first an assessment tool and then an action tool for bringing about spiritual growth in the lives of our parishioners. I'm very excited about it, all the more after today. The day included two hours with Bill Hybels, the founding and continuing pastor of Willow Creek, which was a real gift. We broke up at 5, and I rolled into Leland Grove a little past 9. Traffic.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Up and out the door (alone this time) in time for a 10am targeted arrival at Trinity, Mt Vernon and their regular 10:30am Eucharist. All went according to plan; actually, I got there about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Trinity has suffered the relatively unexpected death of two of their pillars in the past few weeks, and I was reminded how grateful I am that Springfield is a quite small diocese, which affords me the opportunity to develop a pastoral relationship not only with the clergy, but with the baptized faithful of the diocese, that is more than just theoretical or pro forma. It was good to be able to plausibly express my solidarity with their sense of loss. Fr Ben Hankinson is doing a superb job in his new cure.
After a delightful lunch of Mexican cuisine, and a chance to chill out a bit, the regular pre-synod meeting of the Eastern Deanery convened at 2pm, without some 18 people in the room, representing all the Eucharistic Communities of the deanery. The main focus of attention, of course, was the proposed 2015 budget, with the proposed addition of a staff position at the diocesan level, a Canon for Mission Development. Discussion was thoughtful, sincere, and honest. The Eastern Deanery includes some of our smallest congregations, but they seem ready to pull their weight in this endeavor.
Trinity, Mt Vernon--Matthew 20:1-16, Jonah 3:10-4:11
The scenario is pretty familiar from books, movies, and television. The last surviving member of the oldest generation in a family passes on. After the funeral, the surviving children and grown grandchildren gather—perhaps in a lawyer’s office, perhaps around the dining room table of the old homestead. There are hugs and smiles and tears and expressions of goodwill all around. But in the back of everybody’s mind are some very material, very practical questions: Who’s going to get what? How soon? Am I going to be shortchanged? Will anybody cause trouble? It’s a matter of simple logic. If cousin Jane gets the antique armoire, then that means I can’t have it. If I get the silver tea service, then my sister can’t have it. There’s only so much to go around; the supply of goodies is not unlimited. Whatever anyone else gets, there’s that much less available for me.
Now, this way of thinking is bad enough within family relationships. But when we start projecting it on to our relationship with God—which I think we often do—we’ve got a serious problem. It’s pretty easy for us to get the feeling that if God seems to pour out His blessings on my neighbor, then those same blessings are no longer available to me, and I might end up deprived. We’re used to hearing about limited resources—limited natural resources, limited human resources, limited financial resources. Everything seems like a zero-sum game. For every winner, there has to be a corresponding loser. For every victory, there has to be a commensurate defeat. So we get anxious. We get jealous. We don’t want to be left out, to be left holding the bag.
Look at this Old Testament reading from the Book of Jonah that we hear today. To us, Jonah looks pretty pathetic and petty. But if we try to imagine ourselves in his situation—well, it might be less implausible than we think. Jonah had been minding his own business when he was recruited by God for a special mission: Go tell the people of Nineveh that they had been really wicked, and God is very angry, and they’re about to really get it.
Well, Jonah didn’t want any part of such a job, for understandable reasons. So he ran the other way, and as we recall from our Sunday School days, he ended up in the belly of a fish for three days before he agreed to accept God’s job offer. So he goes to Nineveh: He does his job, he wanders around the city breaking the news, and then camps out on the outskirts to watch the show. Will it be a single lightning bolt? A ball of fire? Legions of marauding angels? How is God going to do it? For all his work, at least there would be the satisfaction of seeing the words that God spoke through him come to pass. At least he would know that God was in his corner, and maybe there would be a reward for his efforts, a little extra something in the payroll envelope.
But it didn’t happen that way. It didn’t happen that way at all. The people of Nineveh actually listened to Jonah’s message. They repented. They put on sackcloth and ashes and told God how sorry they were for the way they had behaved and begged Him for another chance. And God listened. His heart was moved, and He changed His mind. There would be no light show, no fireworks, nothing for Jonah to watch and take satisfaction in.
The Lord was, in fact, pouring out His blessings on the people of Nineveh, turning Jonah into a liar and making him feel like an absolute fool. Tens of thousands of lives are saved, and people are reconciled with God, but what does Jonah do? He pouts. He curls up and sulks. Poor me—what do I get out of this? I do what God tells me, and do I get a blessing? No! Who gets the blessing? Those evil Ninevites. What’s fair about this? Where’s my blessing?
A similar attitude is expressed by some of the casual day laborers described in our Lord’s parable from St Matthew’s gospel. A farmer needs help tending to his crop, so he goes to the town square early in the morning and hires several workers at the standard rate for a day’s work. Mid-morning, he realized he needs even more help, so he goes back and hires more workers. The same thing happens at noon, at three PM, and even at five o’clock, just an hour or so before quitting time.
Then, when all the field hands line up to be paid, the ones who started work the latest get paid first, and they are paid just as if they had worked a full day. Those who had indeed worked a full day saw this, and were starting to do the math in their heads, anticipating a great windfall. But when their turn comes, they are given the exact same amount as the other workers, which was, in fact, the same amount they had contracted for at the beginning of the day. They are furious, and raise a big stink. They haven’t been cheated; yet, somehow, it doesn’t seem fair. It’s almost as if the farmer, who clearly represents God in this parable, was running out of resources, running low on the raw material that a blessing is made of. So they grouse and complain, and are pretty ugly about it, and we don’t feel too terribly sorry for them.
Yet, as unattractively infantile as they sound, and as pathetic as Jonah sounds, I’m not sure they’re all that different from you and me. They make the same leap that’s so easy for us to make, and that is the leap into thinking that God’s supply of generosity is limited, finite, that there’s only so much to go around, and whatever somebody else gets represents that much less for us. But in doing so, we get it wrong. We get it exactly wrong, because God’s supply of generosity, God’s capacity for bestowing blessing on all of His creatures, is, in fact, infinite, without limit. It never runs out.
It was the late arrivals in Jesus’ parable who found this out. They assumed that since they only worked an hour, or three hours, or whatever it was, that they would only be paid for the hours they worked. It would have been completely fair, and exactly what they were expecting. After all, the farmer’s resources are limited. He can’t stay in business if he pays for a bunch of work that doesn’t get done. But he does. He does. He is generous to an extreme, and in that generosity, we see that God’s capacity to bless extravagantly is abundant, beyond our most outlandish dreams. No matter how much He blesses others, there’s more than enough for us. In God’s family, all the children have first pick of the family heirlooms! The blessings we receive do not come at the expense of anyone else. No one’s wealth comes at the cost of another’s poverty. No one’s joy need be at the cost of another’s sorrow. No one’s victory is paid for by another’s defeat.
So we don’t have to be jealous at anyone else’s good fortune, fearing that we may be somehow deprived as a result. We won’t be. With the God we serve, there’s plenty for everybody, and then some. We do not serve a God of limited resources, but a God of overflowing, bursting-at-the-seams capacity, a God who wants to bless us with more than we can probably stand. With our American Puritan work ethic, you and I probably naturally want to identify with the workers hired at dawn, and who understandably feel a little bit cheated. But in truth, this parable calls us to identify with the workers who started just an hour before quitting time. That’s who we really are. We’re the ones who benefit from God’s overflowing generosity. And knowing this, we are then freed to be generous ourselves. We need not live in fear of scarcity.
Of course, at some, point, there's a cross involved, so please don't confuse me with Joel Osteen! But II believe this truth applies in our personal lives—and I might add, I think we probably only learn it when we start to tithe, when we start to take ten percent of our income and allow the kingdom of God to prosper through the ministry of the local church. But this realization applies most thoroughly in our life together as the local church. What God calls us to, He will provide the resources for—whether those resources be human, material, or financial. We dare not let fear of scarcity cripple our ministry and mission. Keeping a large nest egg for a rainy day is not much of a virtue for a church. That’s not how the economy of the kingdom of God operates.
A few years ago, there was a designer label that was popular among young people in our society. It was called “No Fear.” That should in fact be our slogan in the church, and in our personal and family lives. Our God is a big God. We need have no fear. He wants to let the river of blessing flow our way. But we are not to build a reservoir. If we try to dam up the river, the inflow will stop. God’s abundant generosity gives us the courage to let it flow. Let it flow.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Slow morning ... weights, then a long walk ... did some personal and household chores in the afternoon, took care of a couple of ministry-related dangling tasks ... cooked dinner for Brenda and me (Chinese stir fry) ... spend the evening on this blog post.
Friday, September 19, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Between me trading some emails and the Archdeacon making a phone call, we seem to have lined up Sunday supply coverage in Alton Parish for October. (Ft Boase doesn't officially retire until the end of October, but he'll be on, as they say in the military, "terminal leave" from the beginning of the month.
- Processed a couple of marginally important emails that have just been in the chute for too long.
- Took care of a small bit of Living Church-related business.
- Finally got to something that has been on my list for several months, but always eclipsed by something more urgent: Cleaning out the various piles of paper and books that have been growing on top of my rather large desk. I hope I may be more disciplined in the future about not letting it get to such a state. But don't bet on it.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Took to time to read, digest, and respond to a non-urgent but substantive email from an out-of-state acquaintance.
- Got back into wrestling with iMovie, which is a great app that I know I'll be in love with once I get over the steep part of the learning curve. I have lots of videos that are not yet edited and posted, due to a combination of technical issues and lack of time, and I have designs on creating many more.
- Friday prayer: Discursive meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day (John 12:36b-43). I was struck as never before by the line, "After Jesus had said this, he departed and his from them." Did I read that right? Jesus hid? Those who bear the peculiar mark of Christ the Good Shepherd in ordination, which would include me and the clergy of this diocese whom I attempt to lead and care for, need to be reminded that we are not above the need to hide out from time to time when the activity of ministry engenders pushback, or even hostility from time to time. If it was good enough for Jesus ...
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
- Customary Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout.
- Prayed the morning office in my car on the way in to the diocesan center.
- Left a voicemail message (and eventually connected with) a priest concerning a possible interim ministry assignment.
- Discussed some administrative (real estate) issues with the Archdeacon.
- Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House--mostly a routine check-in between board chairman and dean.
- Registered for the annual meeting of bishops of small dioceses, to be held in November in Salt Lake City.
- Brain stormed about who I might invite to conduct the annual clergy pre-Lenten retreat next February. Dashed off an email to my first choice. I let this one slide too long.
- Briefly discussed synod agenda issues with the Administrator.
- Lunch at home; leftovers.
- Began the process of turning the outline of my synod address into an actual draft.
- Took part in a scheduled conference call with the senior administrative team at Nashotah House. We're mostly focused on fundraising these days.
- Took a longish walk to recover my equilibrium after the conference call, which was mentally and emotionally demanding.
- Worked a bit more on the synod address.
- Answered (substantively) four emails that had been in the queue for a while, touching on a variety of subjects, all on diocesan business.
- Looked at a promo video from the School of Theology at Sewanee. Need to keep up on the competition. Plus, I have a student there!
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Spent most of the evening at home after dinner finishing the draft of my synod address. Yes, this was a bit of workaholism, but it feels good to have it behind me.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Check-in conversation with the interim provost, Fr Gene Tucker.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
- Spoke by phone with the rector of one of our parishes on a couple of diverse and unrelated issues.
- Followed through on some Putnam Trust-related administrivia.
- Communicated by email with two clergy over some (unrelated) emerging pastoral concerns.
- Put meat on the bones of my homily for Proper 21 (St John's, Centralia).
- Celebrated and preached the midday Mass, commemorating the lesser feast of St Hildegard of Bingen. Even played some of her music on my iPhone during the homily.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- (working from home now) Fleshed out some of the plans for the November clergy day.
- Attended to two smallish tasks, one for Forward Movement and one for Nashotah House.
- Returned a phone call from one our rectors.
- Did some troubleshooting on the the diocesan camcorder, which I use in the production of catechetical videos, which I would like to be doing more of, but seem always beset with technical issues. This involved a trip to the vendor, Creve Couer Camera. I'm happy to say they were most gracious and eager to help me solve my problem, which I am optimistic they actually did.
- Hit the road at 5:30 for points south. En route to Alton, spoke by phone with Cameron Nations, one of our seminarians, a senior at Sewanee.
- Met with the vestry of Alton Parish, charting a course for the coming months in the wake of the upcoming retirement of their esteemed rector, Fr David Boase. Home around 1opm.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
- Weekly/daily task planning at home.
- Consulted a but with the Archdeacon regarding the material detritus of the now-closed St Laurence, Effingham.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Began work on refining this Sunday's homily (Trinity, Mt Vernon).
- Participated in a scheduled conference call in connection with my duties as co-trustee of the Putnam Trust, which benefits two of our parishes; the call was with representatives of the Bank of America, which is the other co-trustee, through its investment arm, U.S. Trust. Have the OK on some recommended asset re-allocation.
- Completed the word I had begun earlier on this Sunday's homily; put the manuscript in my car (yes, I'm that paranoid).
- Walked (at the behest of the pedometer in my pocket) to Illinois National Bank's downtown location to arrange for a wire transfer from my discretionary fund to Fr Ernest Nadeem, a priest/evangelist/teacher in Pakistan who visited the diocese last winter, and who has a pressing need.
- Lunch at home; leftovers.
- Developed the raw ideas for my synod homily that I jotted down (electronically, of course) last week, ending up with a workable sketch that will allow my to create an actual draft next week. Baby steps.
- Participated in a scheduled telephone appointment with a senior administrator at Nashotah House.
- Scanned and otherwise processed the bulging pile of paper in my physical inbox (it's been a while). Feels good to look at it and see it empty.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Christ is risen ... and there are still times of sadness en route to the realized fruition of that fact. Today was one of those times, as we celebrated the final Eucharist at the Church of St Laurence in Effingham. There were tears. After Mass, we loaded up the most valuable hardware, along with the parish records for the archives, into the YFNBmobile. There will be another trip in due course to deconsecrate the building, which is listed for sale. Eventually, we will replant in Effingham, but with wholly new ecclesial DNA.
Brenda and I arrived home around noon. After an hour's rest, I headed to the office to allow my vehicle to disgorge its contents from the morning, then continued east to Decatur for the Northwest Deanery pre-synod meeting. I delivered myself of what I hope was an effective apologia for the proposed addition to the diocesan staff (Canon for Mission Development), and was back on the road toward home at 3:45.
St Laurence's, Effingham--Romans 14:1-12
I of course cannot talk about anything except the elephant in the room, right? The decision that all of you have reached together, and which was my sad duty to agree to, is that this is the final service for St Laurence, and that the church will be closed permanently when we leave here this morning. A situation like this brings up all sorts of complex emotions. Just a few weeks ago I spoke with a woman who was a member here at one time, and later became my parishioner in Warsaw, Indiana; her name is Nanette Newland. She was quite sad, though not shocked, when I told her that this day was coming.
Among these feelings, I hope gratitude is in the mix, because there is indeed much to be grateful for. Blessings have been given and blessings have been received in the life of this community. We have loved and been loved here. We have known God here.
There is also, no doubt, some measure of relief. It takes work just to keep the minimal infrastructure of an organized mission up and running, and … well … you’ve worn yourselves out trying to do that, because there just haven’t been enough of you to go around. You deserve a break, and, as sad as I am about what’s happening today, I’m glad you’re getting one.
But the most dominant feeling in this church today, I suspect, is regret. This is not something any of us wanted to have happen. What did we—any of us, at any time—do wrong?
But our gospel hope discourages us from taking this opportunity to cast blame. Paul addressed a community (Romans 14) that was divided and prone to judgmentalism (over ceremonial food issues, no less). He waves them off: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.”
Are there things for us to learn here? Yes, I believe there are, and, at a diocesan level, we will attempt to understand the history of our work in Effingham, so we don’t repeat any mistakes, here or elsewhere. But for those who have been “on the ground” here, today is just a time to given thanks for what has been, stand relieved, and move on.
As St Paul says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
For each of us personally, and for the Church collectively in every place, God is, in the power that raised Jesus from the dead, reweaving the torn fabric of creation—restoring, redeeming, renewing. “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Christ is the Lord of the Church and Christ is the Lord of Effingham. We will all one day give an account of our faithfulness in the work God has placed before us. Not for the results of that work, but for our faithfulness. In the meantime, God continues to work his purposes out, given whatever raw material he can find. So we place ourselves—including this church and all that has happened here—in his merciful hands, knowing that he is already doing more for us than we can ask or imagine. “Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lords.”
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Good weight workout and long walk after a "soft" morning. Spent most of the afternoon working on household finances. Ugh. Hit the road with Brenda at 6:00 for Effingham, where we enjoyed dinner at her favorite casual dining chain that doesn't have a Springfield location--Ruby Tuesday. Soaking in the ambience at the Hampton Inn, where we just learned via text message that our five-year old granddaughter broke her arm (both radius and ulna) in a playground accident. Please hold Charlotte in your prayers.
Friday, September 12, 2014
- Morning Prayer in my office (since the pavement between the Roundhouse and the cathedral entrance was coned off for sealing ... though that project was left uncompleted because of the incipient rain).
- Took a phone call from a lay leader in one of our parishes, with the news she has been diagnosed with ALS. Sobering beyond words. She and those who love her are about to walk the way of the cross. I pray they indeed find it to be the way of life and peace.
- Took care of some Nashotah-related administrative detritus (which will be ramping up as we head toward an October board meeting). Began to review some documents produced by one of the board committees.
- Spoke by phone with a colleague bishop regarding some Living Church Foundation business.
- Took a call from one of our clergy wanting to unpack further on the meeting we had yesterday.
- Spent a (scheduled) hour on the phone with a consultant to the Nashotah House board and administration. His particular area of expertise is what will keep our accrediting agency happy about what we're doing, and his help is invaluable.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- With the help of some information compiled by Fr Evans, I prepared a brief "talking point" narrative about the need for and the budget implications of hiring a Canon for Mission Development as a new diocesan staff position. Sent this out to the Rural Deans.
- Reviewed and commented on a second draft of the synod liturgy booklet.
- Finished reviewing and offered email feedback on the Nashotah trustee committee documents I began looking at in the morning.
- Conceived a homily for the institution of Mother Beth Maynard as rector of Emmanuel, Champaign on 18 October. Now it needs to gestate and grow.
- Brief two square block walk outside.
- Drafted and sent a memo to all the committee chairs of the Nashotah trustees. Traded several emails with the Secretary of the trustees and the Dean's personal secretary over board meeting logistics.
- Took care of some dangling items of administrivia.
- Friday prayer: Spent about 30 minutes sitting back and listening via YouTube to anthems and hymns from the choir of King's College, Cambridge.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- The 88 tasks I mentioned on Tuesday morning are now down to 33. Most of them will get carried over to next week, It could have been worse.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
- Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill.
- Morning Prayer at home, after which I dealt expeditiously with a couple of newly-arrived emails.
- Prepared the common area of the Roundhouse for an 11am gathering.
- Began initial work on my homily at the synod Mass next month, but then got distracted trying to chase down some anomalies in the electronic versions of the liturgy booklet that are circulating.
- Between 11:00am and 1:30ish I hosted and participated in a meeting of diocesan clergy who lead pastoral or program-size parishes, all in a continuing effort to vet and carefully weigh both the missional and the financial implications of the nascent plan to add a Canon for Mission Development position to the diocesan staff. The conversation got a little visceral at points, as anything involving money is bound to get. But even difficult conversation is necessary conversation ... probably all the more so precisely because it is difficult.
- Met briefly with Fr Wetmore, the host rector, and Fr Hankinson, the MC, about some details of the synod liturgy.
- Took a substantive phone call from a priest outside the diocese who had an important matter to bring to my attention.
- Attended to some more late-arriving email.
- Debriefed a short bit with the Archdeacon regarding the clergy meeting.
- Participated in a conference call for members of a special working group of the Living Church Foundation board.
- Returned a phone call from Fr Evans, our Finance Department chair, over still more issues flowing from the clergy meeting.
- Took a short walk around a roughly one block radius of the office.
- Got back to my synod homily, and arrived at a basic sense of direction, which was my goal at this point.
- Turned my attention to my state-of-the-diocese address at synod, and moved a broad sketch to becoming a rough outline.
- Put some meat on the bones of a rough outline of a sermon for Proper 20 (September 21 at Trinity, Mt Vernon).
- Blew through three or four action items on my list that turned out to be simpler than I had anticipated.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- This was an intense day.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
- Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared to be celebrant and preacher at the midday cathedral chapel liturgy.
- Regular monthly meeting with clergy associated with the cathedral. Usually not anything too substantive, but good to develop collegiality.
- Closed the loop that I opened yesterday with a bishop in whose diocese I have a DEPO parish. All is well, given the anomalous circumstances.
- First meeting with a potential aspirant for Holy Orders.
- Celebrated and preached the noon Mass (celebrating the lesser feast of Alexander Crummell).
- Lunch at home (leftovers).
- Half-hour phone conversation with one of our rectors.
- Took care of three or four recently-arrived emails, in violation of my rule that anything requiring more than two minutes of my time gets turned into a task and placed in the queue. I just wanted these things off my screen, so I broke my own rule. I guess I get to do that.
- Finished cranking out a homily for this Sunday. It's a special occasion, though not a happy one--the final service at St Laurence's, Effingham. The time has come to close that mission, which we will do following this Sunday's Eucharist.
- Addressed some issues related to the Cursillo movement in this diocese.
- Took care of about a half dozen small items of administrivia (lay ministry licenses, updating contacts, reviewing draft minutes, and the like).
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
- Task planning for the week at home. 88 potential action items for this week. Ambitious.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Got reacquainted with my desk by sorting, culling, and otherwise processing the stack of hard-copy items (correspondence, solicitations, newsletter, etc.) that had accumulated there during my absence. In response to something in that pile, initiated a round of telephone tag with the bishop of a diocese in which I have a DEPO parish. Also discovered that there's something wrong with our phone system and I can't access my voicemails for the time being.
- Examined, consulted with the Archdeacon over, and signed a Letter of Agreement between the parish and a priest that had been negotiated while I was away. Grateful that substantive and positive things can still happen even when I'm not around.
- Reviewed and approved a Marital Judgment request.
- Dashed off an email to the Rector's Warden of a parish in transition, asking for a phone conversation.
- Wrote a note of condolence (via email) to a priest and his wife who have recently suffered a very sad death in their family.
- Consulted with the Administrator regarding lunch arrangements for a meeting we are hosting in the office later this week.
- Reviewed the revised weekday Mass rota for the cathedral chapel. Wednesday is generally my day.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Had that phone conversation with the Rector's Warden whom I had emailed earlier.
- Responded to a scheduling query from a rector whose parish I will be visiting next month.
- Attended to a small piece of Nashotah House business via email.
- Attended to two relatively small pieces of diocesan synod business via email.
- Did some last minute recruiting for the chairmanship of one of our canonical commissions.
- Responded (affirmatively) to a last-minute invitation to an event in the Chicago area week after next that will delve more deeply into Renewal Works, which I believe has the potential to play a significant role in forming our people as disciples so they can then embrace apostolic ministry.
- Took care of some routine personal organization tasks related to the transition from one calendar month to the next.
- Attended to some chores related to setting the agenda for next month's meeting of the Nashotah House board of trustees.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
I emerged from Vacationland late yesterday afternoon as I pointed the YFNBmobile south toward Marion in advance of today's obligations in Harrisburg. Up and out this morning in time to arrive at St Stephen's around 9:30. Very distressed to learn that Fr Tim Goodman, their priest-in-charge, has been suffering (and continues to suffer) from a nasty case of shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia therefrom, to be specific). With my blessing, he elected to sit in the congregation with Carol. It was nonetheless a lively and stimulating visit with the people of that Eucharistic Community. There is a young Guatemalan woman and her toddler daughter who have been attending the last three Sundays. She speaks very little English, and apparently I speak better Spanish than anyone else there, so I was tasked with making conversation with her after the liturgy! Arrived home around 4pm. Spent a good chunk of the evening writing a blog apologia for my non-attendance at this month's meeting of the House of Bishops. Taking tomorrow as my regular day off, but I'll be hitting the ground running when I show up at the office on Tuesday. Vacation was good. We spent some time with family and friends in Oregon and California, then a couple of weeks of "staycation," which I very much enjoy. I got daily vigorous exercise, read a lot, took care of some household projects, and slept in regularly. What's not to like?
St Stephen's, Harrisburg--Matthew 18:15-20, Ezekiel 33:1-11
Well, have you committed any sins lately?
I know I have, and I would bet you have too!
Have you been approached lately by a member of St Stephen’s who claimed to have been wronged by you, and asked to make amends? Perhaps. But that would be a relatively unusual occurrence, would it not?
Have you been ganged up on lately by two or three fellow parishioners who have attempted to persuade you of some wrongdoing on your part, and that you should change your ways? Again, not outside the realm of possibility, but I myself would be shocked to hear of such an incident.
One more question. Have you recently considered committing a particular sin, and been stopped in your tracks by the thought of receiving a phone call from Fr Tim asking you to appear before the next meeting of the Bishop’s Committee and explain your behavior? Here, I believe, we truly cross the line between conceivable reality and the Twilight Zone!
Have you ever—I know I said only one more question, but ... I lied—have you ever heard of anyone having his or her name removed from the parish list, and being physically prevented from entering the church on Sunday morning?
As far out as these possibilities sound, they are precisely what Jesus the Christ, as recorded in St Matthew's gospel, envisions as routine disciplinary procedures for his church! And at the root of these procedures is the hard reality that Christians, despite being Christians, continue to be sinners. We are, by grace through faith, in the process of being recreated into the image of Christ, but the emphasis here is on "in the process." For most of us, it's a process that is still a long way from completion. The fact of our sinfulness is of no small consequence. Sinful behavior, no matter how minor the particular act, is destructive behavior. Any sin is potentially a deadly sin for the individual who commits it, because it inhibits the free flow of God's love and grace in that person's life. Sin is the disease and Christ is the cure, but he does not force himself on anyone. Left unchecked, sin is spiritually fatal. It leads to the permanent separation of a soul from its Creator, which is the very definition of hell itself.
But any sin is also potentially a deadly sin for the larger Christian community, the family of the Church, because it inhibits the Church's mission and witness in the world. For better or for worse, the world out there judges the church in here much more for what we do than for what we say. In the eyes of those to whom our mission and witness is directed, the church's credibility is no stronger than the personal integrity of her individual members. They look for us to walk what we talk, practice what we preach. Men and women for whom Christ died have rejected his gospel because they have perceived his followers to be hypocrites.
I once ran across an online bulletin board for atheists and agnostics. I did some snooping around and was dismayed to find that a majority of self-professed atheists and agnostics who posted messages on that board were at one time or another deeply wounded by the Church or by an individual Christian. They have rejected the gospel—rejected God himself—because of that wound. Indeed, our sins are of no small consequence.
Yet, as destructive as our sinful behavior is, both personally and corporately, we tend to bend over backwards not to confront one another about it. One reason we don't confront one another about our destructive sinful behavior is our regard for a slightly modified version of the Golden Rule: "Don't do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." We're afraid of being made to face our own sin, so we have gentleman's agreement to simply not bring up the subject, except in very general terms and from very safe places—like sermons! If we venture to violate the agreement of "mind your own business," we do so at some degree of personal risk. It will undoubtedly rock the boat, and make it very awkward to polish candlesticks or hand out bulletins with that person next weekend.
Then there's the understandable fear of becoming, or being victimized by, a genuine busybody—one who takes a compulsive and inappropriate interest in others' affairs.
There's also the fear of making a mistake, of completely misjudging a situation, and being made a fool of. What it amounts to is that we generally don't trust one another enough to risk confronting one another with our wrongdoing, even when we're the victim of it, and much less when the wrongdoing could be construed as someone else's private business.
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone,” Jesus says. There is something about the nature of our life that makes it exceedingly difficult to successfully put into practice this simple directive from our Lord. Jesus continues, "If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you ... and if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church ... and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector"—which is to say, kick him out and bolt the door.
What can I say? This is so far removed from our normal experience of church life that it's almost impossible to even connect with it. If Fr Tim, or the Bishop’s Committee, or some other committee, even talked about systematically implementing the sequence of disciplinary events outlined in today's gospel—well, I can hear the laughter already. It would be, quite literally, incredible, unbelievable. Our habits of thought and feeling, our instincts, our assumptions—everything about our social fabric—is not set up to gracefully and effectively receive such a proposal. (And please don't think I'm singling out St Stephen's here—this applies equally to most any parish in any diocese or denomination.) Somehow we've adopted the notion that the be-all-and-end-all of our relationships within the Church is that we're nice to each other.
Now I'm not trying to demean good manners, but "being nice" is not the ultimate Christian value. Those of us who have the professional responsibility of providing pastoral care are among the worst offenders here: in tending the flock of Christ, we're so afraid that a sheep might jump to another fold that we avoid ever using the business end of our shepherd's crook.
The bottom line is this: For whatever reason, the internal discipline of the Church is lax, if not non-existent. And the consequences of this lack of discipline are that people who are precious to God are allowed to slowly commit spiritual suicide, and the witness of the Church in and to the world loses its power and credibility.
But hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel, which are addressed to us today as surely as they were to the Jewish exiles in Babylon 2,500 years ago:
If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
These are sobering words. God indeed does not hold us responsible for the actions and decisions of others. But he does hold us responsible for speaking a word of warning to a brother or sister in Christ who is about to fall off a spiritual cliff, or is doing something that undermines the mission of the Church to which we are all committed. Together, we have an obligation to somehow find a way of taking seriously the fact that we are all spiritually interdependent on one another. We've got to deal with our destructive sinful behavior in a way that is credible and effective, in a way that enables us to either give it or receive it, in faith, in hope, and in charity, by the grace of God. Believe me, no one is more aware than I am as I stand before you at this moment, that I'm talking about something that is much more easily said than done. In fact—I'll make a confession—I don't even have a clear vision of what it would look like if what I'm talking about actually came to pass!
I do believe, however, that change in perception is usually a pre-requisite to change in behavior. And in this case, I believe we need to change our perception in one fundamentally important area. We need to change our perception of one word that, in all four gospels, occurs only in Matthew, and within Matthew's gospel, is found only in this passage and the one we read two weeks ago.
"If he refuses to listen ... Tell it to the Church."
Tell it to the Church. We tend to think of the Church as an institution, and “institution” is a rich image. It contains everything from hierarchies and chains-of-command, to constitutions and by-laws, to standard operating procedures, to membership requirements and initiations, to warm fuzzy feelings of comradeship and togetherness. The Church, indeed, includes institutional aspects, and these institutional aspects of the church are necessary and important, even good. But I would suggest to you that the institution is perhaps the least helpful single image of the church one could choose, because it also carries with it the idea of being a voluntary association. We join the Rotary Club, or the Junior League, or the country club, or whatever, if we perceive that membership would be advantageous or desirable. And when we no longer find it advantageous or desirable, we can resign or renounce or revoke, or do whatever we need to do to end our association with the institution. The institution can even end its relationship with itself if it sees fit, by disbanding. But one thing an institution cannot do is interfere in our personal lives. The country club may require white shoes on the tennis court, but it cannot tell its members what to wear at the grocery store. So if we perceive of the Church as an institution, it's no wonder that we hesitate to either give or receive discipline through her.
The church is not, in its essence, an institution. The church is not merely an aggregation of individuals who perceive that they share similar opinions or experiences about God and want to get together for worship or fellowship or service or whatever. The Church is a tribe, a clan, a family. The prototype for the Church was the ancient Hebrew nation, the twelve tribes of Israel. They were related by blood. We are related by water, the water of baptism. And in this case, water is thicker than blood! One does not choose to become a member of a tribe—one is born into it. One does not apply for admission to a family—one is born or adopted into it. We are adopted into the family of the Church, the Christian tribe, at our baptism. And, most importantly, we can't resign from our family. We can abandon or betray it, but we can't ever stop being a member of it. At the font, we were marked as Christ's own forever, and nothing can erase that mark.
If we can alter our perception from Church-as-institution to Church-as-tribe, if we change the way we think about the Church from being a voluntary association to being a family, an extended family which can never disown us, we are moving in the direction of experiencing the bonds of trust, of mutual confidence. And although a functioning family is never perfect, it does create the environment in which discipline, even if not always or ever successful, is at least credible. It creates the environment in which it is natural for members to express concern about one another, in which it is expected that a warning about impending danger is not considered an unwarranted intrusion into personal affairs, but as evidence of love, the love of one family member for another.
As long as we choose to relate to the Church as an institution, we will always recoil at the thought of church discipline. But if we see the Church as an extended family into which we have been born, we have a chance, at least, of developing the trust necessary to submit to her discipline. And if we are able to do that, we will ensure that our sins never become deadly sins, either for ourselves, or for those who may depend on us as mediators of the word of the Lord and the gospel of his Christ. Amen.