Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday (St Ignatius Loyola)

  • Customary Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Replied substantively to three emails of a pastoral/administrative nature (a parish in transition, a canonically-mandated appointment I need to make, a personnel matter).
  • Took a walk around the block.
  • Turned my attention to my sermon for the feast of St Mary the Virgin, August 15,, for which I will be guest preacher (while on vacation) at St Timothy's in Salem, OR.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Had a substantive video interview with a priest from outside the diocese regarding an opening that may (or may not) emerge.
  • Took another walk around the block.
  • Returned to the aforementioned sermon, succeeding in turning outlined notes into a rough draft text.
  • Addressed, via email, a matter currently before the committee of the Living Church Foundation board that I chair.
  • Composed an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy) that will go out tomorrow, regarding a Clergy Day scheduled in November. Followed up with a couple of other details regarding that day.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday (William Wilberforce)

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for celebrating and preaching at the midday Mass.
  • Put some substantial meet on the bones of a homily for Proper 15, which I will deliver (while on vacation!) at St Timothy's, Salem, OR, the parish from which I went to seminary 28 years ago.
  • Began the process of clearing and culling a prodigious amount of hard copy materials that have been accumulating on my desk.
  • Met for the better part of an hour with Deb Tucker in her capacity as head of the diocesan Cursillo secretariat. I think we got some important stuff accomplished. I am counting on Cursillo remaining one of the key pillars of our spiritual revitalization.
  • Celebrated and preached at the midday Mass, commemorating the lesser feast of William Wilberforce.
  • Lunch at home; leftovers.
  • From home, participated in a conference call with other members of a committee of board members from the Living Church Foundation. We are in the exploratory phase of a potential capital campaign for the acquisition of an endowment.
  • Returned to the office and resumed the process of processing hard copy--mostly scanning, some filing, some new tasks generated. This is time-consuming, and had let it go too long, which makes it even more time-consuming.
  • Refreshed, revised, and updated (with more contemporary illustrations) the text of a homily for Proper 19 from several years ago (1996, to be exact) that I will share when I visit St Stephen's, Harrisburg on September 7.
  • Took some small but important steps in preparing for a clergy day in November.
  • Took are of some routine end-of-the-month personal organization chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday (Ss Mary & Martha)

  • Weekly task planning at home over tea and breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Nailed down (via email) the recruitment of a new historiographer for the diocese (a canonical position).
  • Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese regarding a financial/administrative matter in his parish.
  • Arranged (via email) a meetup on Saturday with Fr James Muriuki, the new priest-in-charge at Redeemer, Cairo.
  • Attended a two-hour meeting of the Finance Committee of the diocese--an annual event in which we midwife the draft budget for the next calendar year, and push it along to the next stage in its development, which is next week's Diocesan Council meeting.
  • Lunch at home, leftovers.
  • Processed a flurry of emails that had arrived while I was away at lunch, and one that was already on my list (pertaining to this weekend's visit to St James', Marion).
  • Last-minute revisions, formatting for delivery, and printing of this weekend's homily.
  • Attended to a canonical request from a priest for permission to officiate at the wedding of two persons with living former spouses. I have never denied such a request. Those concerned (the couple, the priest) invariably express good intentions and honest expectation that "this time it's different." I do believe in abundant ubiquitous grace and in second chances. But I always do this with a twinge of conscience and regret. Part of me wonders whether it might be better to just encourage folks in that situation to just get civilly married, and, after a decent amount of time (a year? two years?) have the marriage blessed in the church. 
  • Hand-wrote notes to clergy and spouses with August and September birthdays.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sermon for Proper 12

St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel--Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a, I Kings 3:5-12

I still remember the moment—I was not quite 25 years old—when I became sadly aware of what might be called the "road not taken"  syndrome.  To choose . . . is to exclude.  When I decide to do one thing, I necessarily decide to not do something else.  And life is a series of choices, of roads taken and roads not taken.  Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are relatively inconsequential—like whether to wear gray socks or blue socks, or to drink orange juice or grapefruit juice for breakfast.  We normally don't sweat these decisions too much; we just make them. The higher the stakes, though—that is, when there's a lot at risk if we make the wrong decision—the higher our anxiety. 

Sometimes we are confronted with choices that we did not ask for.  They just come as part of life's routine, apparently by chance.  You're in the grocery store, and there's your favorite cut of meat, with the price "reduced for quick sale."  You weren't planning on buying any meat this trip, but there it is, and it's a bargain. You've got a choice to make.  Is the enjoyment you'd get from that piece of meat worth blowing your grocery budget?  Or the phone rings and it's an old college friend in a distant city. He's trying to fill a job—a good job for which you are well qualified—and he's thought of you first.  You weren't looking for a job, and you're happy where you are, but it's appealing. You've got a choice to make.   Are the potential rewards of the new job worth the risk of uprooting and relocating? 

This is the position of the man in Jesus' parable who discovered a treasure buried in a field.  He wasn't looking for it; he just happened to find out it was there in the course of his everyday activities. We're not told just what the treasure is, but the implication is that it's quite valuable. The man has a choice to make. If he were the owner of the field, the buried treasure would be indisputably his property. Will it be worth the price of acquiring the field? 

On other occasions, though, the decisions we are faced with come because we've sought them. Maybe you've devoured consumer information publications for several months as you've shopped for a new car. You've gathered all your facts, weighed all the pros and cons of the various options, and now the moment of truth has come. You can't buy them all. You've got to choose one. Will you make the right decision? 
What if you don't? 

This is like the man in the next parable who searches the world over for fine pearls. He knows a good pearl when he sees one, and he's only interested in the best. But the best is costly, and when he finally tracks down the pearl beyond all pearls, he has a decision to make. How badly does he want that pearl? Is it worth what he's going to have to pay? 

So whether the major decisions we face, the choices we make that have far-reaching consequences, arise as if by chance, or are very much of our own making, they are nonetheless difficult. They are difficult because what they promise is so appealing. They promise to bring us satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, a sense of well-being.  The perfect school, the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect spouse—if we make the right choices and  achieve perfection in enough of these areas, it will all add up to ... the perfect life. 

And that's nothing to take lightly. 

Jesus compares the treasure buried in the field, and the pearl of all pearls, with nothing less than the Kingdom of God.  To have them is like having the access code to the gates of Heaven. It is to know oneself to be a friend of God, to have daily communion with one's creator. What blessing can compare with a deep sense of being on God's side, of moving the way the way God is moving, of being an instrument of his will and a channel of his love?  What can compare with having the void in our hearts, the hunger that we are all born with, filled by the one who alone is capable of satisfying it?  This is exactly what Jesus offers us when he invites us to follow him and be his disciple! 

But true discipleship carries a cost. There's an apparent risk involved, and it calls for a decision, a choice. To be a follower of Jesus is to be willing to risk drastic action. In our Lord's parable, the man who stumbled across the          buried treasure, and the one whose exhaustive search led him at last to the perfect pearl, were both faced with the choice of either giving up on what they had discovered, or taking drastic action to obtain it.  The drastic action they were required to take was to liquidate all their other assets, to sell everything they owned in order to raise the cash they needed. In the Kingdom of God, apparently, there are no leveraged buyouts, no using other people's money. We have to put ourselves—all that we are and all that we have—right on the line. 

For the young king Solomon, the drastic action was to ask God for wisdom—the ability to unfailingly discern right from wrong. God offered to grant him any request. He could have asked for great wealth, or long life. But Solomon counted friendship with God worth the risk of poverty or early death, and he asked for wisdom. (As we know, of course, he got wealth and long life along with the wisdom!) 

What drastic action is required of us if we are to take our place in the Kingdom of Heaven, to move where God is moving?  It may not mean selling all that we own, but it surely involves realizing that we don't, in fact, have anything to sell, because we're stewards—trustees, caretakers—not owners. 

Stewardship is drastic action. I can remember my first job, the summer before my senior    year in high school.  A couple of my co-workers and I were verbally spending our paychecks, and I mentioned—quite casually, as I recall—that 10% of mine, off the top, would go to the Lord's work. They looked at me like I'd just arrived from another planet!  Stewardship is drastic action. 

So is chastity. The message we get from our society is that a person who is physically capable of a sexual relationship, but chooses not to have one, is somehow mentally ill.  Abstinence outside of marriage and faithfulness in marriage ... is drastic action. 

So is trying to love people you're not legally or morally obligated to love. Within the kingdom, we have the strange notion that the water of baptism is thicker than the blood of family ties, and that we are connected to one another in the one body of Christ. Christian community is drastic action. 

These and a thousand other forms of high-risk behavior are some of the drastic actions that Jesus Christ invites us to take for the sake of participating in the Kingdom of God. 

We would not be normal human beings if all this didn't make us pause and just think about the decision we're faced with. There is, after all, a good deal at risk:  material wealth, sexual fulfillment, personal freedom. We're like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—the law closing in from behind, and, ahead of them, a deep ravine with a swiftly-flowing river at the bottom of it.  Jumping into that ravine was, obviously, a risk. But they counted the cost, and decided that the potential reward—in their case, life and freedom—was worth the risk.  The movie ends with them taking, quite literally, a "leap of faith".  I don't know what I would have done in Butch and Sundance's position.  It looked like rather long odds! 

Fortunately, we've got indications of a somewhat surer bet with the leap of faith required to become a disciple of Jesus. Let's face it—just being here on a Sunday morning, when we could be     somewhere else, is in itself drastic action. It's a good start.  It primes the pump for the more personal drastic action each of us needs to take. Whether we've stumbled across the gospel of Christ by chance, as if it were a buried treasure, or found it after a long spiritual pilgrimage, what a pearl it is!

May the Lord open our eyes to see its value, and give us the grace we need to take drastic action. 

Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday (Ss Joachim & Anne)

Indulged in a slow start to the morning ... weights and treadmill ... routine financial chores ... read .... ran out for a printer cartridge ... wrestled with a recalcitrant wireless printer (oh, yes, victory was mine in the end) ... processed a few emails ... packed and hit the road after supper for Effingham, about 60% of the way to Mt Carmel, where my visitation tomorrow is to the Eucharistic Community of St John the Baptist.

Friday, July 25, 2014

St James

Up and away from the greater Nashotah House area by around 8am. KFC lunch in Bloomington. Pulled into the office parking lot right at 1. Brenda drove her own car (left there on Wednesday) home and I stayed. Processed some emails (as always). Took my sermon for Proper 13 (next weekend in Marion) from rough outline to rough draft. Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, with special intention for the Christians of Iraq, and all the baptized faithful who are in harm's way because of their witness to the Risen One. Responded via email in as pastorally sensitive a way as I could to two people in other parts of the world who are eager to serve as clergy in the Diocese of Springfield. I am honored they would think of us, but had to be clearly realistic about the hurdles that lie ahead of any such aspiration. Took care of some routine personal management chores related to the transition from one calendar month to the next. Evening Prayer for the feast day in my office.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday (Thomas a Kempis)

On campus as Nashotah House. Morning Prayer ... breakfast .... time for processing emails and mentally preparing for being "interviewed" on camera as part of a fundraising and general PR video ... consulted with Deacon (soon to be Father) Noah Lawson, Director of Advancement, in his office ... spend an hour in the chapel in front of a video camera, first recording the aforementioned interview, then a piece directly to the Board of Trustees, to which they will al receive a private link very shortly ... lunch ... more email processing ... spoke by phone with Fr Brant Hazelett, rector of St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel, where I am visiting this Sunday' Brant is in the hospital with some cardiopulmonary issues and may or may not be out by the weekend ... scheduled conference with Fr Dave Halt, rector of St Matthew's, Bloomington, who is here this week for DMin coursework), who wears a number of different hats in the diocese ... Evening Prayer ... Solemn Eucharist for the lesser feast of St Thomas a Kempis, during which six new students in non-MDiv programs signed the matriculation register ... community dinner. Hoping to hit the road relatively early in the AM.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday

Spent the morning in the office taking care of the variety of tasks, including sermon preparation, administrative details regarding Cursillo, and correspondence with ecumenical partners. Celebrated and preached the midday cathedral Mass. Then Brenda and I hit the road for the 300 mile drive to Nashotah House. Tonight we attended a dinner in the deanery which was meant to be sort of a soft kick off to a major fundraising effort. Tomorrow I will be doing some video recording in connection with that project. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

St Mary Magdalene

  • Weekly task planning at home.
  • Small admin chore accomplished with the Treasurer.
  • Devotions in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost regarding life at the cathedral.
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Gave my consent to the retirement of the Bishop of Massachusetts.
  • Exchanged emails with the Secretary of the Nashotah House board of trustees, and the chairman of the Dean Search Committee.
  • Initiated via email discussion of two items that require Nashotah trustee approval.
  • Spoke by phone with the chairman of the Commission on Ministry regarding some emerging business.
  • Took a walk around the block.
  • Exchanged emails with Fr Coleman and Deacon Jody regarding a date to come down and bless their new house.
  • Spoke by phone with the Bishop of Eau Claire regarding s clergy deployment situation.
  • Reviewed some last-minute changes I need to make to the script of a video presentation I will record at Nashotah House on Thursday.
  • Attended the cathedral midday Mass for the feast of St Mary Magdalene.
  • Lunch from Chitown's Finest (Italian beef), eaten at home.
  • Implemented the necessary changes in the video script.
  • Took another walk around the block.
  • Tweaked, refined, and printed a working copy of my homily for this Sunday (St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel).
  • Plotted all the sermon preparation tasks for the Sunday between the middle of September and the beginning of Advent. This includes looking at what's available from prior years on the same liturgical occasions and determining whether something can be reworked and freshened up, or I need to start from scratch. I do this about three times a year, and it's quite time-consuming.
  • Evening Prayer in the office, after which it was already last 6pm.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Lord's Day (VI Pentecost)

Still enjoying the dregs of the "summer polar vortex" (or whatever it is)--a gorgeous comfortable morning in southeastern Illinois. The regular Sunday liturgy at St Mary's, Robinson is at 8am. We received an enthusiastic welcome from the 15 folks who gathered with us, including the infectiously vivacious pastor, Mother Ann Tofani. We enjoyed food for the soul in the church and food for the body downstairs in the parish hall afterward. We were homeward bound by 10, and, after a stop in Taylorville for a Chinese lunch, pulled into our driveway a little past 1:30. Got a good nap, watched some Cubs baseball, had leftovers for dinner, and took about a 90 minute stroll through the neighborhood and Washington Park. A blessed day.

Sermon for Proper 11

St Mary's, Robinson--Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Romans 8:1-25, Psalm 86

If you’ve paid attention to the news over the last month or so, you’ve joined me in being horrified at the slowly escalating violence in Israel and Palestine. Making the situation particularly troubling is the fact that young people—teenage boys—were at the symbolic center of the tragedy, initiating the current round of violence in which so many lives have been lost. First, three Israeli youth were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians. Then, in an ill-considered and illegal act of pure revenge, an innocent Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned alive by Israelis.

That a rational human being could plan and carry out such acts, thinking that it benefits a particular cause, stretches the capacity of our imaginations to comprehend. We are keenly aware of evil in the political order, and a voice deep in our hearts says, “This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do         something about it?”
  
But it is not only political disasters that feed our uneasy feelings. This is tornado and hurricane season. We may have dodged a bullet with Hurricane Arthur at the beginning of this month, but just afterward, tornados touched down in rural central New York and killed two people. You don’t need to turn on one of the cable news channels for very long before you hear about some deadly natural disaster somewhere in the world. It wasn’t too long ago when several were killed by a tornado not all that far from here in Harrisburg. We are keenly aware of evil in the natural order, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do something about it?"

But we don't have to travel to the Middle East, or wait for the next earthquake or plane crash to come face to face with our uncomfortable awareness that something is amiss. Right here within the body of Christ, in our various church communities, we have all confronted that reality. We have all, at one time or another, looked for authenticity and experienced hypocrisy. We have all looked for depth and encountered shallowness. We have all looked for love and sincerity and found selfishness and manipulation instead. We are keenly aware of evil in the fellowship of the church, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do something about it?"

The garden of life is full of weeds—everywhere at every level. Why can't God just make them go away? We're like the author of Psalm 86, in whose words we prayed just a few minutes ago:

                        The arrogant rise up against me, O God, and a band of
                        violent men seeks my life ... Show me a sign of your
                        favor, so that those who hate you may see it and be
                        ashamed ...

And we're like the farmhands in today's gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat, who, as soon as they saw the unwelcome intruders sprouting along with the good grain, wanted their master to do something about it, to authorize them to rip the weeds out of the ground right away. We can readily empathize with St Paul when he writes about the “whole creation ... groaning in labor pains” while it “waits with eager longing” for the revelation of God's finished work of redemption. We are annoyed and impatient with living in this interim time between the promise and the fulfillment, between the engagement and the wedding, between the down payment and closing of the deal.

We're impatient precisely because we've had a glimpse of the finished product. Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the crucified and risen Christ fixing breakfast for his friends on the beach. And within the present experience of that same community, the same risen Christ is sacramentally present, fixing breakfast for us at this table. Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended with power on the assembled disciples and enabled them to proclaim the gospel with confidence and authority. And within the present experience of each of us who has been reborn in the sacrament of baptism, the same Holy Spirit is alive and empowering us to carry out the ministry to which we have been called. We have these glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, of “the    glory that will be revealed,” and on the basis of the little bit that we've seen, we want to see it all! We want God to do something, to rip off the veil and reveal the full glory of his kingdom right now!

It is to such holy impatience that the parable of the weeds among the wheat is specifically addressed. The weeds in this case are probably something called darnel, which is a plant that looks very much like wheat during all the stages of growth, until near the     end, when the actual head of grain appears. The field laborers are impatient and focused on the present. They want to attack the darnel as soon as they see it. But the farmer is patient, and takes a longer view. He knows that if he tries to get rid of the darnel right away, a lot of good grain will probably be lost in the process. There will be collateral damage. He’s confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time, and he’s content to have an “ugly” field now in order to maximize his yield in the end.

The farmer reminds us of God's patient disposition toward his work in our world. There are, indeed, weeds in the garden. God knows that. There are weeds in the natural order, weeds in the social and political order, and weeds even in the community of the church. But God also knows that to pull all the weeds right now would put the actual grain crop—which includes us, presumably—at risk. God is patient—a patience, I might add, which may sometimes frustrate us, but which, more often than not, works to our benefit. God's patient forbearance means that we have to live amid floods and earthquakes and wars and everything else that falls short of the glory of his kingdom. But it also means that those of us who sometimes look and act more like darnel than wheat have the space in which to repent and produce the fruit that we know the farmer will be looking for at harvest time. So let us give thanks that God takes a long view, and that he’s confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time.

Those who make wine and beer and cheese will tell us that patience—the ability to resist the temptation to rush the process—is what distinguishes a mediocre result from and excellent one. The quality of what we have glimpsed but which is not yet fully revealed, the glory of things as they shall be, is founded on God's patient forbearance with things as they are.

You and I can respond in one of two ways. We can remain steadfast in our impatience—“if it can’t be perfect now then I don't want it at all.” If we make this choice, we plunge ourselves into a lifetime—indeed, an eternity—of bitterness and disillusionment. Or, we can share God's own outlook. We can adopt his patient and forbearing attitude as our own. In doing so, we can rest in the knowledge that we are who we are, and God is who God is. We will, to be sure, continue to “groan” with the rest of the created order as we await the day of the Lord, the fulfillment of all that has been promised. But in the meantime, we live lives of hope and confidence and joy in the glory which we have glimpsed, the glory that will be revealed.
 Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday (St Macrina)

Up and out of our hotel in Lafayette, IN around 8:30 (EDT), and pointed north and east toward Warsaw, our home from mid-2007 until early 2011. We were there to attend the funeral of a beloved former parishioner, Morrey Hester. It was a joy to reconnect briefly with the people of St Anne's, though we would have wished for different circumstances affording the opportunity. After spending a brief bit of touristy time in Winona Lake, we got back on the road for our long drive to Robinson, the site of tomorrow's visitation to St Mary's Church, We got in around 6 and enjoyed a relaxing dinner at a local BBQ place.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Left a voicemail regarding a pastoral matter.
  • Took care of two small but important administrative chores in consultation with Sue.
  • Conceived, hatched, and grew a skeleton for a homily I will deliver while on vacation--at my "home parish" (from which I went to seminary in 1986) of St Timothy's, Salem, OR, where I will be guest preacher at their celebration of the feast of St Mary the Virgin on August 15. This stage of sermon preparation feels like giving birth (as much as I would know of such). It certainly is "labor." Took a slow walk around the block in the midst of it.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home. 
  • Gave some final thought to, and plotted out planning/prep steps for two future clergy days--one in November and one in June.
  • Wrote what I hope is a winsome email message to the leaders of a ministry here in Springfield that is very much unlike what Episcopalians are likely to be involved in, but very much like what I wish Episcopalians in this diocese were involved in. I hope to establish some sort of dialogue with them. Please hold this in prayer.
  • Took another slow walk around the block.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on Matthew 26:17-25.
  • Left the office around 4pm so I could get home, packed for the weekend, and hit the road. A beloved former parishioner in Warsaw died earlier this week, and the funeral is tomorrow morning. So we're camped out for the night in Lafayette, IN. After the service tomorrow, we'll head for Robinson, about four hours and some change, for Sunday's visitation.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday

  • Regular Thursday weight and treadmill workout before breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of two relatively small but important admin chores, one an HR issue, the other related to an upcoming ordination.
  • Worked on my sermon for Proper 13 (first weekend in August, in Marion). 
  • Met with Jason and Lisa Cerezo, members of Emmanuel in Champaign with whom we contract for website management and publication of our quarterly Springfield Current. We discussed some potential for greater synergy between our communications platforms (website, Facebook, Current) and how some database and branding tweaks might be worked into the mix.
  • Lunch at home (spiced deli chicken with Thai peanut sauce and grated Parmesan on sprouted rye, grilled).
  • Back to work on the sermon. Created enough of a framework on which to hang a rough draft the next time I look at it.
  • Attended to a pastoral/administrative issue pertaining to a former Roman Catholic priest who wants to have his orders received in TEC.
  • Edited the "alternative" lectionary-based Prayers of the People forms that I've adapted from Ormonde Plater, and posted Propers 15-25 of Year A on the website here. Take a look.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday (Our Lady of Mt Carmel)

  • Devotions in the cathedral; MP in my office.
  • Prepped for midday Mass.
  • Left a voicemail with a member of the Nashotah board.
  • Revised, refined, and printed my sermon for this Sunday (St Mary's, Robinson). Hopefully, it will still be in the back seat of my car when I reach for it. Still don't know what happened to last Sunday's.
  • Wrote an email to one of our seminarians, addressing some pertinent questions he had previously inquired about.
  • Got to work drafting a text for a video presentation I will be recording next week at Nashotah House.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday cathedral Mass, marking the extra-canonical lesser feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Continued working on the video text.
  • Connected by phone with the person I had left the voicemail with earlier.
  • Took an incoming phone call from a fellow Nashotah trustee.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon over a draft Letter of Agreement with a priest newly coming into the diocese.
  • For the sake of my health--both physical and mental--got up from my desk as took about a six block walk through the neighborhood east and south of the office.
  • Responded by email to some pastoral/administrative requests made by one of our clergy.
  • In my task software, created a large project aimed at producing a series of short teaching videos on the Seven Habits of Well-Formed Christian Disciples.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Walked down to Subway at 5th & South Grand for some dinner.
  • Walked back up to the cathedral and attended the regular July Chapter meeting. Got home a little before 9pm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Initiated a discussion amongst the Nashotah House Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees regarding the current year's budget. Came back to this discussion in substantive ways several times throughout the day.
  • With the help of the Administrator, chased down an annoying financial/administrative matter.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry ongoing concerns.
  • Responded to a couple of email regarding Nashotah business.
  • Responded to a couple of emails regarding some parochial/administrative matters.
  • Got to work on my Chairman of the Board article for the Advent issue of Nashotah's quarterly magazine, The Missioner. (Yes, the deadlines are that far in advance,) 
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Continued working on the Missioner article, finishing around 4pm, but with several breaks to attend to the ongoing email conversation referenced above.
  • Put some meat on the bones of a sermon outline for Proper 12 (27 July in Mt Carmel).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Lord's Day (Proper 10)

For some years, the Church of the Redeemer in Cairo maintained a cooperative relationship with Immanuel Lutheran Church (ELCA), where in they alternated clergy leadership and buildings on Sundays, but during the warm weather months, worshiped exclusively at Redeemer, seeing as how it continues to have functional air-conditioning. Last year, Immanuel dissolved, and many of its members continued to worship at Redeemer. The four pictures with me below this morning reaffirmed their baptismal vows and received the laying-on of episcopal hands in the historic succession. There were 18 present in the acoustically very-rewarding and beautiful building. I am grateful for the long ministry there of Fr Bob Harmon, making the trip down, first on alternate weeks, then every Sunday, from Mt Vernon, and excited about the imminent arrival of Fr James Muriuki and his family to take up full-time ministry in that very beaten-down community for the first time in decades. After a post-liturgical repast in the parish hall, Brenda and I were on the road northward right at noon, and arrived home at 3:45.


Sermon for Proper 10

Redeemer, Cairo--Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23

For me, yard work is a chore, a necessary evil. I very much dislike it. So I’m lucky that I’m married to someone who kind of enjoys it. As soon as the weather warms up, Brenda begins to devote herself to the flower beds and other areas of our hillside home in Springfield. The people who lived there before us were avid gardeners, so they left us something quite wonderful to work with, though a drought last summer and an unusually cold and icy winter have taken their toll. When we lived in California, I endured what felt like no end of complaining about the quality of the soil in our yard; it was mostly clay, very hard to work with and hard to make anything grow in. But I’ve heard loads of exuberant praise for much of the soil that Brenda is finding in the midwest. Soil quality isn’t the only factor influencing the success of a garden, but it’s certainly a major one.

On our plate today is a very familiar parable about soil. Illinois is an agricultural state—and many who aren’t farmers are gardeners—so I don’t expect most of us will have too much trouble relating to the image of scattering seeds on the ground. Of course, first-century Middle Eastern agricultural practices were a little more low-tech than they are today. Picture a Jewish Johnny Appleseed with a pouch slung over his shoulder broadcasting handfuls of seeds as he walks methodically through the field. It’s not exactly a precision operation, so some of the seeds inevitably fall on the very path where the sower is walking, which is packed down hard, so they become immediate bird food. Others happen to fall on ground that has not been very well worked over by the plow, and there’s just a thick enough layer of soil that they sprout quickly and show great promise. But they have trouble putting down roots; there’s too much gravel and clay for them to get the nutrition they need. So, after an impressive start, they wither and die. Some of the seeds fall into what looks like decent soil, but it also looks attractive to all kinds of weeds, and since it’s near the edge of the field, the farmer may not be too careful about pulling the weeds, so eventually the sprouted seeds lose out in the competition for water and sunshine and soil nutrition. Some of the seeds, though—most of them, one hopes—fall into ground that is well off the beaten path, well worked by the plow, and weed-free. The result is that they yield an abundant harvest, reproducing themselves many times over.

Like many stories Jesus tells, there are multiple layers of potential meaning here. It depends on what element of the story we choose to identify ourselves with. If we identify with the sower, the one who’s tossing the seeds around, then the “moral” of the story, so to speak, is to sow the seeds of the gospel generously and widely. A lot of them are going to land in not such good places, but a lot of them will, and the gigantic size of the harvest is going to outweigh any concern about “wasting” the seeds that get eaten by birds or choked off by weeds. Last month Brenda and I took part in a six mile hike on a footpath in southeastern England between green fields of wheat and barley and beans and canola; it was marvelous being so close to such agricultural abundance.

Now, you may be thinking, there’s only one person in the parable—the sower—so who else is left for us to choose to identify ourselves with? That’s true enough, but with a little imagination, I do think we can find other ways for us to ‘see ourselves’ in this story. In effect, there are at least four other “characters” in the narrative—namely, the four different kinds of soil that Jesus talks about. Are we hard clay? Are we sand? Soft loam? Pebbles? Some combination of the above? How receptive are we to the seeds of good news that God is scattering around and among us, hoping that they will take root?

I doubt that anybody here is truly the packed-down soil along the path on the margins of the field. You wouldn’t be here if you were! But soil changes and moves over time. Maybe you once were, or are moving that direction. How does soil gets hardened? By being walked on, trampled on, packed down until nothing can penetrate the surface. Could that perhaps describe the experience of someone you know? Life certainly has a way of making people feel walked on and packed down! The community of Cairo has certainly been walked on and packed down more than its fair share, has it not? So we develop a protective shell to keep ourselves from being hurt further. Unfortunately, our firewalls and spam filters sometimes delete a legitimate piece of email, and we miss out on something that would be refreshing and life-giving. The seeds of good news that fall on such soil have nowhere to go, so they are carried away.

What about the rocky soil? Over the course of my life, I’ve known several people who hear and receive the proclamation of the gospel of Christ and are immediately turned on, pumped up, and on fire. They remind me of the sausage connoisseur who waxes eloquent about the joys of sausage until he gets a chance to watch a batch get made—then makes a180 degree turn and never wants to look at, much less eat, sausage again. There are people who embrace the gospel with enthusiasm, and expect the Church to consistently live up to the ideals it espouses. Then they discover that the Church is full of sinners and hypocrites. They discover that Christians don’t always practice what they preach. Somebody is not there for them when they feel like they are most in need of companionship, and as a result, they fade—sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually—they fade from participation in the regular life of the church community.

What about the weed patch? What about the soil that lets the gospel take root and flourish for a while, sometimes a good while, but then weeds and thorns grow up beside it and choke it off? Some people embrace Christian faith and practice superficially, but they don’t internalize it at the core of who they are. Membership and service in the church is just one more “notch on the belt” or a “trophy in the case.” They feel like they’re doing something good and making a contribution to society. But they keep their faith compartmentalized. It’s just one more priority to be juggled, and when work or family (to say nothing of adversity)—when the stress of life ramps way up and screams loudly, they inevitably start doing triage, the way an Emergency Room nurse decides what patients get treated now and who has to wait. In most cases, religious practice gets put on ice while other seemingly more pressings concerns are taken care of.

And then there’s the good soil, soil that has been well plowed, well-worked with a shovel and a hoe, soil that is easy for the gardener to do what he or she wants to do with it. This is soil that is open to being penetrated, willing to make room. This is soil that has the capacity and resources to nourish that which has been planted in it. This, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is the kind of soil we want to be. We do not want to allow life to harden us to the gifts that God wants to share with us—as it were, biting our nose to spite our face. We want to have a realistic and patient understanding of what lies ahead on the road of discipleship—which always includes the prospect of disillusionment and disappointment. Our brothers and sisters will let us down. We want to put the practice of our faith not only first among our priorities, but at the center of our lives, letting it order everything else so nothing else takes over. And we want to bear fruit—fruit for the glory of God, fruit for our own salvation, fruit for a broken and hurting world, fruit for the redemption of the cosmos.

Here’s where the parable breaks down, though: You see, actual soil doesn’t get to choose what it’s going to be. But we do. If we show the slightest bit of receptivity, the real Master Gardener knows what soil additives we need to be made fruitful soil, yielding a rich harvest for the Kingdom of God. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday

Up and out of our Carbondale hotel room in time for an omelette at Denny's, then to St Andrew's by around 10:15 to get ready for the institution of the Rev. Kathryn Jeffrey as rector of what the Brits might call the "combined benefice" of St Andrew's Church, Carbondale with St James' Chapel, Marion. Everything went splendidly, there was a fine turnout of both clergy and laity, and the ninth Bishop of Springfield, Donald Hulstrand, delivered himself of a superb and winsome homily for the occasion. 

As tomorrow's visit is to Redeemer, Cairo, we hung around here in "little Egypt," switching hotels from Carbondale to Marion. Grabbed a nice Asian lunch, followed by a nap and a walk, then a movie (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes--no comment) and a light repast at the iconic 17th Street Bar & Grill.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday (St Benedict)

  • Attended via email to a piece of Nashotah business while drinking my tea and eating my breakfast at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made some personal preparations for the 10am meeting of the Standing Committee. 
  • Responded to an email from a priest raising some pastoral and administrative concerns.
  • Attended the meeting of the Standing Committee, wherein most of the two hours we spent together were dedicated to their serving as of Council of Advice. We covered a wide range of issues.
  • Met for a few minutes with Gay Bryant, a vestry member of Alton Parish (and long involved in diocesan affairs) regarding some matters pertaining to the upcoming retirement of Fr David Boase.
  • Lunch from the Chinese place next to TG, the name of which I can never remember, eaten at home.
  • Packed for two nights on the road.
  • Pointed the YFNBmobile south at 2:45, ahead of a 6:30pm dinner in the Carbondale area with the to-be-installed-tomorrow rector of St Andrew's, members of her family, members of the vestry and their spouses, and my predecessor once removed, Bishop Donal Hulstrand, tomorrow's preacher, along with his charming wife Ann. 
  • Now bedding down at the Hampton Inn, Carbondale.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made some technical preparations for a scheduled video conversation in the afternoon.
  • Took care of an urgent pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Attended a meeting of clergy related to the cathedral, convened by the Interim Provost, Fr Tucker.
  • Kept an appointment with an otolaryngologist, occasioned by the fluid that remains behind my eardrums after the mistake of getting on an airplane with a sinus infection.
  • Lunch from Subway, eaten at home.
  • Attended to some Nashotah House business.
  • Spent an hour via video conference (using Google+) with the Director of Institutional Advancement for Nashotah House.
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors regarding a pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Attended to some Mission Strategy business.
  • Departed at 3:45 in a southerly direction, attending a banquet in Belleville as an invitee of Forward in Faith, North America, meeting, as per their annual custom, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
  • Home around 9:30.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wednesday

  • From a pool of 73 potential choices, I selected 18 items to try and accomplish today.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared the missal, the lectionary, and mentally crafted a homily for the midday Mass.
  • Processed a handful of emails that were in the queue (having been converted into tasks).
  • Spent some quality time with a homily draft for Proper 11 (20 July in Robinson).
  • Substantive phone conversation with one of our rectors over a range of issues.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday cathedral Mass.
  • Lunch from LaBamba, eaten at home.
  • Returned to that Proper 11 sermon prep work.
  • Read and responded to the batch of Pentecost Ember Day letters (from people in the ordination process) that have been awaiting my attention.
  • Tended to some synod preparation business.
  • Administrivia re: mission strategy, communications, youth ministry.
  • Composed an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy) that will go out tomorrow.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • 15 out of the 18 tasks checked off.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday

  • Surveyed the 80 possibilities in this week's task queue and selected 12 for possible accomplishment today. Eventually crossed off eight, with four kicked down the road.
  • Brief catch-up with the Archdeacon, after both of us have been absent from the office for a while.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Since so much of my ministry requires automobile travel, the dioceses purchases, owns, and maintains the YBNBmobile. The current iteration, a 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe, has accumulated nearly 80,000 miles on the odometer, so the Treasurer informed me a few weeks ago that it's time to start looking. (He socks away a certain amount each year toward this purpose.) If I had the sort of staff that some of my colleagues in other (larger) dioceses have, I could say to one of my minions, "Please go buy a car for me." But, alas, I have no minions. So I've been doing my research and preliminary shopping and have pretty much decided on what I'd like. I shared the info with the Treasurer, then spend the rest of the morning at a dealership trying to make it come together. With the access to pricing information that consumers have now via the internet, there isn't nearly as much haggling and gamesmanship as there used to be; it's all pretty straightforward price-wise. Availability, on the other hand, is trickier. There wasn't a vehicle with the specifications I need within a three state radius. So we're going to have to either order one from scratch from the factory, or intercept one already on the assembly line destined for another dealer. Tomorrow should tell the tale which way the breaks out, but, in any case, I'll have to wait 2-4 weeks for a new vehicle ... which is no big deal, since I'm pretty content with what I've got. Now, I need to own the fact that the car I'm getting bears a "status" nameplate (BMW). By default, I'm averse to such things, so an explanation to the faithful of the diocese is in order: It's all about safety, reliability, efficiency, and comfort--more or less in that order. Some of the technology that is available now on "luxury" makes (like blind spot detection) could help save my life, so I'm going to say it's worth it. BMW also has excellent ratings for VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions ("new car smell"), to which Mama Askofu Brenda is extremely sensitive, so there's a health concern as well. But I'm still probably going to be slightly embarrassed pulling into church parking lots in that sort of car. 
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Dealt with a couple of administrative/pastoral issues, one pertaining to an upcoming ordination, and other pertaining to a potential aspirant to Holy Orders.
  • Reworked, refurbished, and printed a homily used in a prior year for use this Sunday at Redeemer, Cairo.
  • Took care of some Nashotah-related business.
  • Processed some emails that arrived after I established the task queue. Some elicited an immediate response; others were assigned a place in line.
  • More thorough debriefing with the Archdeacon on some pending matters.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Nice long walk after dinner and before regular financial chores.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Lord's Day (Proper 09)

First we packed--about 98% of the way. Then, after a bite of breakfast, we walked about a mile through downtown Hamilton, and slightly uphill, to Holy Trinity Cathedral for the 10am Eucharist. It's a beautiful place, but not air-conditioned, and it was a warm and very humid day following an early morning thunderstorm. I was glad to be in a loosely fitting short sleeve shirt. After Mass, we grabbed a quick brunch at a nearby pub with Bishop Charles and Louise Jenkins. Then, counting on the good graces of the hotel staff at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, since we were not past the noon checkout time, we hoofed it quickly back. But they were most gracious and said not to rush. So we didn't. But around 1pm we carried our luggage downstairs, settled up with the front desk, and repaired to the bar for some liquid refreshment. Then we boarded one of the ever-present taxis lined up in front of the hotel for a ride to the airport. As is the case with travel to Canada, passengers on U.S.-bound flights from Bermuda clear U.S. border control and customs in the foreign location, which meant that when our flight arrived in Newark, it was as if we were on a domestic arrival, and our bags were checked all the way through to Chicago. The original plan, of course, had been to catch a later evening flight to Springfield, but since we lost the Springfield to Chicago leg of our itinerary last Tuesday due to severe weather in Chicago the night before, and had to drive, we reclaimed the YFNBmobile around 9:15 and headed south. It would have been nice to make it all the way home, but I could tell pretty quickly that it would have been more of a sleep-fighting adventure than I care to take on, so we are bedded down at a Hampton Inn (my home away from home) in Joliet. We'll be able to drive more safely in the morning. Meanwhile, we both have plugged up ears. Already-existing sinus issues combined with imprecise cabin pressurization in two aircraft, and led to what, for me, was the most uncomfortable experience of ascent and descent that I have ever had, actually flirting with "painful." After suffering through our Newark layover, I felt fine again at 36,000 feet on the flight to Chicago, but once we got into our descent, the symptoms were back, and they haven't gone away. We may both be showing up at an urgent care clinic tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday

  • The Pitts birthday gang (about 250) gathered in Hamilton's Holy Trinity Cathedral at 10 for an awards ceremony and a Mass. Citations for the six Pitts Family Foundation honorees (some pretty impressive people) were read, medals and checks presented, and short acceptance remarks given. Some significant money will be "paid forward" to some very worthwhile recipients and causes. Bishop Jenkins then presided and preached at the Eucharist. I was vested and read the gospel.
  • Brenda and I were honored to be included in an elegant luncheon for the award recipients and other participants in the liturgy. I enjoy conversation with people who are leaders in fields I know nothing about.
  • Long nap and a bit of email processing, but it seemed way too soon when we had to get ready for dinner. There was an outdoor cocktail reception at which we were entertained at some length by the Bermuda Regimental Band, then dinner, requisite birthday toasts, remarks by the Birthday Boy, and a magic show. The evening was capped off by a fireworks display over Hamilton Harbor.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

Today was a beach and picnic day. At 10am we boarded a ferry in back of our hotel for a 25 minute ride westward from downtown Hamilton in the direction of the mouth of the harbor. We were deposited at a dock on other bank of the long inlet that forms the harbor, whereupon we boarded buses for the short (two miles?) ride up and over a steep ridge and down to the Fairmont Princess beach at Southampton. We spent the next several hours enjoying a beautiful day and beautiful beach. I know I'm not alone in this, but, for me, there's something utterly renewing about walking along the liminal border between earth and sea, warm waves gently lapping my ankles and shins. It is a mystical place. I feel holistically connected to the mystery of my own life, and that life as it unfolds in the deathless love of the One who created it all.
IMG_2052

After regrouping, and washing sand off our bodies, we we shuttled up the hill on the north side of the harbor this time, right through downtown Hamilton, where a "picnic" awaited us (hamburgers, hot dogs ... and prime rib) on the manicured grounds of Fort Hamilton (now abandoned by Her Majesty's forces, with a few canons left behind as mementos). A talented live band entertained us, and tickled the ears of the predominantly Baby Boomer crowd with a repertoire drawn exclusively from the 60s and 70s. Even I recognized most of the songs.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thursday

Still in Bermuda for a "destination" birthday celebration of an old friend, and among many who are or have been "movers and shakers" in the Episcopal Church (and in the health care administration world, which is David's business). There were two activity options on the docket for today. I elected to attend a "Professional Leadership Symposium," and I am very glad I did. I'm an avid student of my anything pertaining to leadership, and there was plenty of solid food to chew on from a diverse array of presenters. Much of it requires a good bit of "translation" from a business context to a church context, but that very effort is what produces the richest rewards. 

As you might expect, food on an isolated island is quite expensive. But it's been of generally very good quality, and there's nothing that can compete with a lovely dinner overlooking a harbor while being caressed by an island breeze.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday

For the morning and early afternoon, there was planned diversions for the several dozen people gathered in Bermuda for a "destination" birthday celebration. We boarded several vans and were driven about 30 minutes to the northeast section of the fishhook-shaped island, where we toured Crystal Cave. My fifth grade science class on the formation of stalactites and stalagmites was excellent preparation for this excursion, more than 50 years later. We then had a tram tour of historic St George's, established by British colonists in 1612 who got shipwrecked there while on their way to Virginia. (They never made it.) St Peter's Church is the oldest Anglican church building in continuous use outside England. We were then turned loose in the town for a while to find lunch and otherwise poke around. It was raining in the form of a fine mist most of the time we were there, "feeder bands," we were told, from Tropical Storm Arthur as it makes its way up the east coast of the U.S. 

Brenda remained in the hotel for all of this, still laid low by a persistent hacking cough that is getting beyond tiresome.

We had drinks and dinner with Bishop Charles and Louise Jenkins, old friends from our Louisiana days in the late-80s and early 90s.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday

Sometimes events unfold in ways that are difficult to either anticipate or explain. When I was newly ordained, some 25 years ago, there was a parishioner who even at that time was beginning to become prominent on the Episcopal Church stage nationally. Eventually, David Pitts would chair the board of the Church Pension Group, among other accomplishments. David is turning 75 this week, and is throwing a big bash at which his family foundation is honoring some really wonderful people, and to which he invited a long list of greater luminaries and lesser luminaries, among which (in the latter category) are YFNB and Mama Askofu Brenda. When I received the invitation, my first response was to decline in as humble and gracious a way as I know how, primarily because the celebration is five days long .... and it's in Bermuda! The invitation was then rearticulated in such a manner as made it exponentially more difficult to persist in my "regrets" mode. So here we are in Bermuda, having left our home by car this morning (if one can call it that) at 2:30, having learned that our 6am flight to O'Hare from Springfield had been canceled due to weather last night in the Chicago area. Having successfully negotiated a monumental traffic jam created by a flooded roadway into the airport, and having miraculously made a very tight connection in Newark made even tighter by a late departure from Chicago, we touched down on the island at 3pm local time. To call it merely "beautiful" seems an understatement. We look forward to reconnecting with some old friends and probably making some new ones. And, truth to tell, I'll be wearing my Nashotah board chairman hat much of the time in what I hope will be some significant conversations on behalf of the House. Of your charity, please hold Brenda in your prayers, as she is suffering a nasty bout of reactive airway coughing brought on by ... we know not what ... except that it's in its third day now.