- Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill workout.
- Some residual technical issues with my car (getting to it play nice with my iPhone) delayed my departure. Morning Prayer fells through the cracks today.
- Met with a couple of lay people from one of our Eucharistic Communities over an emerging administrative and pastoral issue.
- Ran (well, I drove, actually) up to Isringhausen to inquire re my technical issues. As invariably happens, when their tech savant did the very same things I had tried, they worked for him. At least it got done.
- Took a substantial phone call from a lay member of one of our communities bringing me up to speed on an urgent pastoral concern.
- Got to work on fleshing out, editing, and printing a homily for tomorrow night's ordination of David Wells to the transitional diaconate.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Completed the sermon work I had begun before lunch.
- Took a substantial phone call regarding some Nashotah business.
- Attended to some details pertaining to Fr Muriuki's institution in Cairo in a couple of weeks.
- Responded to a couple of emails that have been in the queue for a while.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conceived and hatched the broad strokes of a sermon for Fr Muriuki's institution.
- After dinner, at home, I put this finishing touches on this blog post about my recent trip to Cuba.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral (Brenda having driven me in, since I was still carless).
- Refined and printed my homily for Easter IV (this Sunday at St George's, Belleville).
- Responded to three disparate situations, relatively briefly, via email.
- Allowed myself to get sucked into an exchange on the venerable General Convention listserv that I've been a member of since 2002. My efforts were probably ineffective.
- Walked up to Isringhausen to retrieve my car. Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- Spoke by phone (at my request) with a fellow trustee, and committee chair, of Nashotah House.
- Refined and printed my homily for Easter VI (May 9 & 10 in Marion and Carbondale).
- Took a close look at the latest draft of revised charter and bylaws for Nashotah House. Made a few notes.
- Retrofitted and repurposed some homiletical material from many years ago for use as a sermon when I visit Redeemer, Cairo for Easter VII (May 17).
- Attended to some minor General Convention-related chores.
- Perused a rather well-put together report from the Episcopal Church's chief statistician. His work is one of the few instances in which something that the "national church" does is actually worth the money,
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Met with a postulant who is in the beginning of his formation stage as a vocational deacon.
- Spoke by phone substantively and at some length with the rector of one of our parishes.
- Home, rather tired, around 6:30.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
- Task planning for the week at home. (Way more in the queue than I can possibly accomplish. Must triage.)
- Made a bank deposit on the way in, then dropped the YFNBmobile off at the dealership for a scheduled appointment. The "brain" that controls the display through which I access the navigation system, radio, and all bluetooth connections (including my phone) has a tendency to crash and reboot, so they're replacing the part. Walked the few blocks back down to the office.
- Ran into the Provost, Fr Hook, and did a quick check-in on how things are going for him.
- Devotions in the cathedral; Morning Prayer in the office.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on some emerging issues.
- Conceived and hatched a homily for this Friday's ordination of David Wells to the transitional diaconate.
- Got to work producing a draft of the liturgy program for the institution of Fr Muriuki at Redeemer, Cairo on May 16. They're taking care of virtually all the details except this one; it's the one thing they are not equipped for. Everything went relatively smoothly, but in nonetheless consumed most of the rest of the day.
- For lunch I walked down to Subway on South Grand.
- In the afternoon, I did break away from my major project for phone conversations with the Dean of Nashotah House, the Secretary of the Board, and a priest of the diocese.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Late in the afternoon, I got a call from the dealer saying my care wouldn't be ready until mid-morning tomorrow. Apparently it takes a very long time to program a new whatever it is they're putting in. So I walked home. For the record, it takes 44 minutes.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Packed and out of the Hampton Inn in Yazoo City, MS by 9am. Down to Trinity Church for 9:15 prayers with the rector, a visiting priest, and a lay leader. Then I led an adult education session that covered mostly the same ground as my recent post on Covenant. It was then my joy to preside, preach, baptize (1), and confirm (3). Following the liturgy, there was a festive potluck lunch. What gracious hospitality we received. At 1pm straight up, we hit the road, thinking there would be no need to spend another away from home. We were correct, as we pulled into our driveway about nine and a half hours later, and that included a dinner stop at Ruby Tuesday (Brenda's favorite) in Collinsville. The temperature dropped about 40 degrees en route!
Trinity Church, Yazoo City, MS--John 10:11-18
Life is uncertain and unpredictable. No surprise there, right? The longer we live in this world, the more concretely we know that reality. So, as a way of coping, we instinctively learn to hedge our bets, to keep our options open for as long as we can. A big part of the economic crisis that we endured for several years beginning in the fall of 2008 came from people trying to do just that: hedge their bets and reserve their options. That’s where the expression “hedge fund” comes from, and it’s the principle that lies underneath those incomprehensible financial instruments known as “derivatives” that were the culprits in that financial crisis that led to an economic crisis. And it’s not at all hard to understand what makes people do this sort of thing. There is a cacophony of competing voices out there giving us advice, presuming to give us the straight facts on this or that, trying to make us trust them. If you have a Facebook account, you know exactly what I’m talking about, right? It’s intimidating. I don’t know what the competitive landscape for telephone land line and broadband internet and television services is like in this part of Mississippi, but if it’s anything like central Illinois, it seems like a hopeless mess. I’ll bet most of you have tried to figure out what the best deal is for you, and ended up just keeping what you have, hanging on to the status quo, because at least you think you understand it. When we do that, we are reserving our options, hedging our bets. We do this when we can’t see clearly why we should listen to one particular voice above all others in the cacophony of voices.
Today we have one more voice inviting us to pay attention. It’s the voice of Jesus, the voice of him who calls himself the Good Shepherd. Jesus is calling us—that is, the Good Shepherd is calling his sheep—and saying “Follow me. I’ll protect you. I know where the green grass and the cool waters are. You can eat and drink all you need. I’ll watch your back.” Unfortunately, his voice is just one sound among many in our cacophonous environment. Some of us have responsibilities of work—and sometimes the literal voice of a boss—to pay attention to. Most of us have family members who are telling us things or asking us things or otherwise demanding our attention. Many of us have a difficult time tearing ourselves away from Facebook or Yahoo News or our favorite blogs and websites. And if all we do is watch TV or listen to the radio or drive around town we are still assaulted by various forms of advertising that says, “Buy this. Do that. Think this way.”
It is in such an environment that the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. It’s confusing. It’s intimidating. So we hedge our bets; we reserve our options. We hold back on the strength of our commitment to him. We don’t ignore the Good Shepherd. We don’t abandon Jesus. We continue to follow him. But we do so at a safe distance. Like a savvy airline traveler, we know how far we are from the nearest exit row. In the back of our minds, we’ve planned our escape route, just in case we need to get away, to get away from it all, including the competing—indeed, the persistently competing—voice of the Good Shepherd. Our Christian faith, our Christian identity, our involvement with the church—these all make up one part of our lives, one part among many other parts, one good thing among a great many good things that we are involved in and weigh against one another.
But, what if we stop? What if we stop just for a moment? What if we stop and just listen, listen to Jesus? When we do so, we discover that there’s something just a little different about Jesus the Good Shepherd, something that distinguishes his voice from all the other competing voices, something that makes it stand out from all the rest, something that begins to make us feel safer and more secure about not hedging our bets with him, not needing to pay such close attention to keeping our options open. We discover one very important fact about the Good Shepherd, and it’s this: The Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. In fact, the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep.
That’s it. I can’t make it any plainer. And it makes all the difference in the world. No politician is willing to lay down his or her life for the people they call to follow them. Most of us have been around long enough to see many corporations whose names were household words go out of business—PanAm, TWA, Circuit City, Borders Books, Virgin Records, just to name a few—but I can promise you than none of them laid down their lives willingly. Only the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And in so doing, he demonstrates the extent of his love for us.
And in demonstrating that love, Jesus the Good Shepherd earns our trust. We see in his wild, untamed, unqualified, unrestricted, self-giving love the authentication of his credentials as the only One worthy of being followed with abandon. When an out-of-uniform law enforcement officer tries to interact with us officially, the first thing we want to see is his or her badge. The badge authenticates their position, and is the basis for their asking us to do something that any stranger off the street would not legitimately ask of us. The nail marks in the hands of the risen Christ constitute his badge. They constitute the basis on which he makes requests of us that are quite extraordinary, quite unlike anything anyone else could ask and get away with it. The willingness of the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep provides us with the assurance we need to follow him completely—no reservation, no hesitation, no hedging of bets, no quick scan for the exit row. It’s not that Jesus is simply more important to us than anything or anyone else. It’s that he becomes the lens through which we look at anything and everything else. His voice isn’t simply the loudest among many; it’s the one for which we tune out all others, listening to him first, and then hearing the others in the light of what we have heard from him.
In the words of the old Victorian hymn: “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s tempestuous sea. Day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, ‘Christian, follow me’.”
Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
We had the morning to ourselves (which I used for a combination of relaxation and email processing), and were picked up for lunch by Fr George and Jill Woodliff. After lunch, Brenda went shopping (lots of quaint curios in a town like Yazoo City) and I worked a bit on my Cuba travelogue. Between 2:30 and 4:00 I met with Fr Woodliff on a range of concerns, then met for an hour or so with tomorrow's three confirmands and the parents/godparents of the little girl being baptized. After yet another brief period of downtime at the hotel, we were picked up for dinner at the home of a parishioner who is also a talented chef and restaurant owner, so the fried catfish was delectable, and the company of vestry members and spouses delightful. Looking forward to worshiping with them tomorrow.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Completely a travel day. We were packed and out the door right at 10am, and covered most of the length of I-55 in a southerly direction. Now ensconced at the Hampton Inn in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where we look forward to spending some quality time with the good people of Trinity Church here. By the leave of the Bishop of Mississippi, I look after Trinity under the HOB's Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) protocols.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
- Task planning at home for my one day in the office this week.
- Dropped my car off at the dealer for service; walked the six blocks or so down Second Street to the office.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon over some emerging pastoral/administrative issues in a couple of parishes.
- Stopped by the cathedral office to welcome Fr Andy Hook, just taking up his duties as Provost.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Talked with the rector of one of our parishes over an emerging pastoral issue.
- Talked with Fr James Muriuki, Priest-in-Charge of Redeemer, Cairo over some of the details of his upcoming installation.
- Refined and printed a working text for my homily this Sunday.
- Walked back up to Isringhausen Imports, but my car wasn't quite ready, so I cooled my jets there for about 40 minutes.
- Picked up an Italian beef sandwich from Chi-Town's Finest and took it home to eat.
- Went for my semi-annual teeth cleaning and dental checkup.
- Took care of a small bit of the large task of General Convention preparation.
- Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 5 (June 7 at Trinity, Jacksonville).
- Responded via email to a couple of additional pastoral and administrative concerns.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Brenda and I then took Fr Hook out to dinner.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
A day of travel, and a frustrating one at that. Everything went smoothly on the front end. I left my hotel just before 8am, drove uneventfully to DFW, fueled and turned in my rental car, checked in and boarded my flight to Chicago, all on time and without incident. I deplaned at O'Hare on schedule, grabbed some lunch, bought a pair of shoes (a planned expedition at Johnston & Murphy), and headed to the United Club for what I thought would be about 2.5 hours. There I processed several emails (always an available task) and got some reading done. After a while, however, the messages started to trickle in about delays to my flight to Springfield, beginning with 45 minutes, due to a delay of our aircraft getting in from it's previous trip (Traverse City, MI). By the time everything played out, that 45 minutes had stretched into 3.5 hours, and it was after 9:00 before I was in my car and headed home. United Airlines did not make me a happy customer today.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Arrived at the Church of the Incarnation for 7:30 Morning Prayer, then on to the semi-annual meeting of the Living Church Foundation board of directors. We finished mid-afternoon, whereupon I repaired to my hotel for a much-needed nap, after which I processed a batch of emails and then joined a couple of my colleagues for an haute cuisine Mexican diner. Making my way home tomorrow.
Monday, April 20, 2015
I am happy to announce that I expect the second half of 2015 to involve considerably less travel than the first half has. And with that hopeful prognostication ... I am writing this from a hotel room in Dallas, where I am attending a semi-annual meeting of the board of directors of the Living Church Foundation. I flew in this afternoon. We gathered at a restaurant for dinner tonight and will convene for our working session tomorrow at the Church of the Incarnation. The Living Church, in its range of ministry, is one of the real points of light in the Episcopal Church (and beyond) today.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Here's a group shot from this morning's luminous liturgy at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. Pictured with YFNB are those who were baptized, confirmed, and received--along with some parents and spouses, and, of course, Fr Sean Ferrell, the very able priest and pastor of that community. The chapel was comfortably full, the music was (as always) awesome, and it was wonderful to be in a parish with such a low average age. It was worth hitting the road right at 6am in order to get there for their early liturgy. Home around 3:00, after a lunch stop in Decatur.
Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign--Luke 24:36b-48, Acts 3:12-19, I John 3:1-7
Episcopalians are accustomed to throwing around in-house jargon like “high church” and “low church” and “broad church” and the like, and that’s a sport that I have myself participated in many times. Usually, what we’re referring to with these terms is liturgical style, and, by that standard, the Chapel of St John the Divine certainly stands in the “high church” lineage. Incense, chanting, icons, holy water, a music program in the English cathedral tradition—it all adds up.
But this morning I’d like to offer you a different take on “high church,” one that doesn’t have anything to do with the accouterments of worship. Let me begin to unfold this for you by posing a simple question: Where did you first learn about Jesus? Now, maybe it was literally “in church”—it would surprise me if that were not the case for some among us here this morning. But, if it wasn’t precisely in a church building and in the context of worship, I would bet all the money in my wallet at present that, for the great majority of us, it was at least within the community of those who regularly gather for worship in the same building. Now, I suppose there might be some who would say something like, “I learned about Jesus at home, at my grandmother’s knee”—and I might respond, “How absolutely blessed you are for that.” But then I would go on to ask, “Where do you suppose she learn about Jesus?” And the answer would probably be, “In church, of course.”
So we have all these outward signs of “high church”—candles, vestments, liturgy. We even have bishops who, if you ply them with the right beverages, will talk about their “lines of succession,” which is just fancy language for “ecclesiastical pedigree.” But these things don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a purpose. They are ultimately about something, and that something is that the Church is not just an aggregation of individual believers who decide to hang out together. It’s not like the Rotary Club, or one of the Greek houses on campus here. It’s not a voluntary organization, a society or club for those who share certain beliefs or principles or tastes, which we can join when it suits our purposes and leave when it no longer does. Rather, the Church is an organism. That word has biological connotations, doesn’t it?—and rightly so, because the Church is all about life, the life of God that you and I share in by virtue of our common baptism. The Church is an organism also because it reproduces; it gives birth to new Christians in the baptismal font. As we prayed in one of the Easter Vigil collects, “multiply, by the grace of the Paschal sacrament, the number of your children…”.
We encounter Jesus—the Messiah, the Savior—in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles today, where he is referred to as the “Holy and Righteous One.” We also meet Jesus, the risen Jesus, in Luke, where he comes among us and shares a meal with us. We encounter him in and through the community of the Church, and, to be ruthlessly honest, nowhere else—at least, not in his fullness. And, in that context, then, in the context of the community of the Church, we are moved toward repentance. We repent for not having seen Jesus, or for having rejected Jesus, in times past, like the people of Israel addressed by Peter as recorded for us in Acts. We repent for our lack of faith, for the laxity of our discipleship. It is the community of the Church that provides us with a framework, a context, the right kind of boundaries, that make it possible for us to repent fruitfully.
Then, as a result of our repentance, and our incorporation and participation in the people of God, the Body of Christ, the community of the Church, we receive “power from on high,” which is what Jesus told his followers to remain in Jerusalem and wait for as he took his leave of them according to Luke’s gospel. Of course, in this Paschal season, and on a day when we are administering Baptism and Confirmation, we would naturally be inclined to identify “power from on high” with the Holy Spirit, and we would not be wrong in doing so. This, in turn, this power from on high that we receive from the Holy Spirit—and, I will hasten to add, in the context of the community of the Church—the Holy Spirit enables us to see things and know things and do things in extraordinary ways, virtually as God himself sees and knows and does. And why? Because part of the package of our vocation as baptized disciples of the risen Christ is to be heralds of his kingdom and collaborators with him in the mysterious and wonderful ministry of reconciliation and redemption.
But none of this is an accident—something Luke is very keen on us understanding today, both in Volume I of his magnum opus, which we know as the gospel that bears his name, and in Volume II, which we know as the book of Acts. Luke wants us to see clearly that it’s all part of God’s plan. The coming of the Messiah—the Savior, the Holy and Righteous One—was long planned by God and foretold in scripture. It has been available to us all along, though we may not have seen it yet, just as it was with the disciples in the upper room when Jesus came and ate broiled fish and, as Luke tells us, “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” One of the key ministries of each local Christian community is to be a place where the people of God come together to have their minds opened to understand the scriptures, to mine the treasures that are there, to drink from the living waters that communicate to us the very life of God. Anyone can pick up a Bible in a hotel room and read it randomly, and, by the mercy of God, sometimes perhaps get something true and positive out of it. But only within the community of the Church is the Holy Spirit present to open our eyes to see what God wants us to see when we crack open a Bible. The Bible is not a free agent; it’s the Church’s book. The Holy Spirit is, of course, at liberty to show up in other contexts, but the only guarantee we have that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to understand the scriptures is when we’re reading them shoulder to shoulder with other members of the community of the Church, both those who are presently 98.6 and those who have gone before us under the sign of the cross.
Jesus tells the disciples in the upper room that they will be his witnesses “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Then, in Acts, we see Peter being exactly that—a witness—and eventually, according to tradition, fully so, because the Greek word that gives us “witness” in English is the same one that gives us “martyr.” A witness is a martyr is a witness is a martyr … you get the idea.
The Eucharistic Community of St John the Divine on the campus of the University of Illinois is a group of baptized disciples of the risen Jesus who stand among the company of witnesses, the throng of martyrs, in succession to Peter and the other apostles, the company of those who bear testimony to the One long foretold in scripture, the Holy and Righteous One, the community whose mission it is to announce and prepare the way for God’s own mission of making all things new, of bringing light out of darkness, truth out of error, health out of sickness, and life out of death.
As disciples of this risen Jesus, and part of the company of witnesses, our very lives become a living testimony put at God’s disposal for the redemption of a broken world and torn universe. And this is all because we are, yes, “high church,” which probably means a lot more than you thought it did!
Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
This was a first in my experience--the agenda for the Provincial Synod had us convening a business session at 8:30 and breaking .... for brunch, no less ... between 10:30 and 11:30. It worked fairly well, but, I have to confess, my stomach was rumbling about an hour before the meal, so I slipped out and got a granola bar. The subject matter covered a report on the Congregational Development Institute, revisions to the bylaws of the province, and the election of new officers. After brunch, the Presiding Bishop made an appearance, spoke for about thirty minutes, and then entertained questions. Her remarks are always well-prepared and carefully crafted, but the content often contains a zinger. Today's zinger (well, one of about four, actually, but the only one I'll write about here) was a clear and unambiguous--one might even say, passionate--call for the revision of the Book of Common Prayer. As one who is quite fond of the present Prayer Book, and who came into the Episcopal Church while it was just in the process of being born, I find the prospect of going through all that trauma again to be more than a little bit horrifying. Anyway, I immediately thereafter found a ride (in lieu of the hotel shuttle) to the airport, where I boarded the CTA blue line and rode it all the way downtown, where I arrived at Union Station precisely 3.5 hours before my 5:15 train to Springfield.. I was happy to pass some of that time with a couple of business partners from New Mexico who were traveling home after a meeting with the Department of Energy in Washington about some renewable energy technology they have developed. I'm excited for them. But it was a long day, a condition not helped by several delays en route to Springfield. Returning home is always sweet.
Friday, April 17, 2015
It was a leisurely start to the morning at the Sheraton Chicago O'Hare, since many of the attendees at the provincial synod I'm here for were just driving in from various quarters today. I was a joy to have breakfast with my friend the Bishop of Northern Indiana and two of my clergy colleagues from my time in that diocese. The synod was called to order at 10:00, and, after some opening remarks by our (outgoing) president, the rest of the morning was devoted to table groups (we were assigned to tables, and not allowed to cluster with others from the our own diocese). We each took turns talking about our respective dioceses--what's going on that's exciting and encouraging, and what's going on that's concerning and challenging. We were then allowed to proceed to more free-ranging discussion about whatever organically came up--mission, ministry, liturgy, whatever. I had made the decision during breakfast to absent myself from the afternoon session (racism and diversity), since the Cubs are playing at home and their premium prospect was making his debut, and I was able to score a ticket online. So when there was a break in the action at 11:45, I slipped out, changed clothes, and caught a taxi to the Rosemont CTA station, then the Addison Street bus to Wrigley Field. For the sake of my mental health, it was the right decision. I arrived back at the hotel just in time for (an already-paid-for) dinner, and then an evening session devoted to theological education, at which the deans of Bexley-Seabury and Nashotah House (the two seminaries located within Province V) spoke. Dean Peay did a fine job representing the House. Afterward, he and I had drinks while we talked through some issues related to next month's trustees meeting.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Up and out in time to catch the 6:32am Lincoln Service Amtrak train north to Chicago. While en route I took advantage of the wi-fi to get some work done, plotting sermon preparation tasks for Sundays in June, July, and August. This involves looking over old material and discerning whether something can be recycled or whether I need to start from scratch. It broke about 50/50 this go-round. Between 10:30 and 1:00 I was an Northwestern Memorial Hospital for a routine follow-up visit since the hardware they put in my chest two years ago is part of a clinical trial. Two train rides later I was in Logan Square having a late lunch with my son. Believe it or not, we went to a Cuban place? Back on the CTA Blue Line train for the airport-adjacent suburb of Rosemont, where I am ensconced at the Sheraton. Tonight was a working dinner for Province V bishops. Tomorrow and Saturday are consumed by the triennial provincial synod. However, the Cubs are playing at home both days, so let's see how I actually decide to spend my time.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
- Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Did a quick bit of pastoral care by email.
- Did some planning and made a phone call to advance the cause of a short clergy conference in November (3-4, if that affects you).
- Spent the rest of the morning taking my Easter IV homily (St George's, Belleville) from the stage of notes-toward-a-message to rough draft of text.
- Dropped a load off at the cleaners, grabbed some TG to go, and brought it home to eat.
- Attended to a task (drafting a letter) that I volunteered for when the Communion Partner bishops were together in late February.
- Took a couple of more small steps forward toward planning a visit to our companion diocese of Peru in July.
- Tackled the learning curve of WordPress in order to post the videos of this year's Lenten teaching series presentations at St Michael's, O'Fallon. See it here.
- Did another bit of pastoral care by email.
- Took a head-clearing walk west to Spring Street, south to South Grand, west to Second, and back up to the office.
- Began to rework a sermon for Easter VI from several years ago for use this year at St James, Marion and St Andrew's, Carbondale.
- Attended to chores pertaining to a some people in the ordination process.
- Took care of a bit of administrivia related to one of our mission congregations.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
- From the long list of way more things to do than I will have time for this week, I chose 15. By day's end, ten were done.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed a bit with the Archdeacon and the Administrator on my trip to Cuba.
- Refined, edited, and submitted my next post for the Covenant blog. Look for it to appear a couple of weeks from now.
- Prepared a draft agenda for the regular spring meeting of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees next month. Submitted it to the Secretary for his input.
- Attended to some administrative issues pertaining to setting the stage of our transitional deacon to the priesthood in a timely manner.
- Tweaked, refined, and printed my homily for this Sunday (St John the Divine, Champaign).
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Headed to the Prairie Heart Institute for a scheduled stress test. (I could have told them there's plenty of stress in my life, right?!) Somehow I didn't get the message that the procedure (actually, a complex of procedures) would require three hours of my time. That information, of course, increased my stress level.
- Left around 4:30 and headed back to the office, stopping by the bank on my way to make a deposit.
- Tied up the loose ends on this Sunday's homily--making the necessary moves for the text to appear in cyberspace at the scheduled start time of the last liturgy at which it will be delivered (standard procedure).
- Took care of a small tidbit of Nashotah business via email.
- Contemporized the illustrations and otherwise revised a homily for Easter IV delivered some years ago, now repurposed for use at Trinity, Yazoo City, MS, one of my DEPO parishes.
- Left the office around 6:00, praying the evening office (short memorized form) in my car on the way home.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Up and out to be back at St Paul's just past 7:30. After a few minutes of panic because someone had, with good intentions, "straightened up" my sermon manuscript from the pulpit last night, all ended well, and both the 8am and 10:30am liturgies went smoothly, with YFNB presiding and preaching. Between services, there was an Easter egg hunt for children, which was very well subscribed. We passed a very pleasant afternoon at the home of some parishioners, then home to watch the MLB season opener between the Cubs and the Cardinals.
I'm going to be dark in this space for the next week. Tomorrow evening I fly to Miami. Then, on Tuesday morning, accompanied by ten of my Class of 2011 colleague bishops, I will catch a charter flight to Havana, Cuba. This is our annual week of collective continuing education, abetted by the fact that the Bishop of Cuba is an honorary member of our class, having gone through the Living Our Vows ("baby bishops school") training with us 2011-2013. Our cell phones won't work there, and internet access in general is very spotty, so I'm resigned to being essentially incommunicado. Maybe a handful of Facebook posts if things work out right. We return to Florida next Sunday, and I'll fly home the next day, the 13
Forty-some odd days ago, on Ash Wednesday, Father Tucker solemnly invited you all, those who were here, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent. Well, our Lenten observance in now ended. Time has passed. Maybe quickly, maybe slowly, but it has passed. Lent has passed, and Easter is here.
Lent has passed. Words like "pass" and "passing" and "passage" are rich with meaning, because they refer to things that we do all the time. They talk about movement, progress (or regress, as the case may be), growth (or decay, as the case may be), but in any case, change.
"Teacher, can i have a hall pass to go to the bathroom?"
"Psst! Kevin has cooties; pass in on."
"Do you think you'll pass the test next week?"
"Hello? I'd like to book passage on your next Caribbean cruise."
"Thank-you for offering, but I think I'll pass."
"I was so excited I almost passed out!"
"Aunt Susie passed away last week."
And then there are those events that we refer to as "rites of passage", events that may not be terribly important in and of themselves, but which nonetheless signify turning points, movement from one stage or state of life to another—first pair of shoes, first haircut, first day of school, that first party sometime during late elementary school when both boys and girls are invited, the first date, getting a driver's license, graduating from high school, the first full-time job, turning thirty, turning forty, retirement, and several others in between. Each of these events is in some way bittersweet: they look forward to a somehow changed future; but the future is, by definition, unknown, and therefore threatening. Such moments also mean that you can't ever go back to the way things were. Once you're forty, you can't ever be thirty-nine again! And so times like these, while promising, are also anxiety-producing. And this is precisely the reason that we tend to mark them, to celebrate them in some special way, formal or informal. By clothing these watershed moments in special rites and ceremonies, even if it's just putting on funny hats and singing silly songs, we intend to conduct that person safely through the threatening event, to provide him or her with safe passage from the known into the unknown.
This past Lent—this Lent that has now passed—has been a time of passage for this parish community of St Paul’s. You have said goodbye to yet another priest—something that’s been happening with too much frequency lately—and are even now preparing to welcome another one later this month. And some members of this congregation have experienced various sorts of "passages" during this transitional time. There have been new jobs, new relationships, new illnesses, new hopes and new fears. Some, indeed, have "passed on", "passed away."
This particular passage certainly towers in significance over all the other watershed moments in our lives. Death is the ultimate movement into the unknown, the mother of all human anxiety, the source of all fear. We may ignore it, we may delay it, but we cannot, in the end, avoid or defeat it. Death catches up with all of us. But even though death is a universal constant of human experience, we still fear it, because it remains a mystery. It remains the great unknown. We read stories about near-death experiences, with tunnels and warm, inviting lights, and gently beckoning voices and faces. These are fascinating, and reassuring in their own way. But this is not the same as being stone cold dead, with the molecules in the brain that are the electrochemical data banks of personhood, identity, and a lifetime of memories, disintegrated into chaos. You don't go flat line on an EEG for 36 hours and then come back to tell your story to the National Inquirer.
That is, unless your name is Jesus.
Here it is folks! Here's the scandalous good news: Jesus was lowered into the very jaws of death, and by suffering death, caused death to choke on itself. Death has never been the same since, and neither has human life. Jesus has become our safe passage into and through the jaws of death.
During the era of wagon train migration into the American west, the most indispensable member of the group was the guide, the one who knew the territory, who had passed that way before, and come back to tell about it. The guide knew where and how to cross the rivers, where the navigational landmarks were, and how to stay out of the way of indigenous peoples who might be hostile to the immigrants. The guide provided the wagon train with safe passage through the unknown of the frontier, until it reached its destination.
This is the same job that Moses, following the guiding hand of the Lord himself, performed for the company of Israel on their passage out of slavery in Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea and the dangers of the wilderness, and eventually to the destination of the Promised Land.
Jesus the Christ is our safe passage through the Red Sea of life and the wilderness of death.
He knows the territory. He's been there before, and, more importantly, come back to tell about it.
In the course of time, the events surrounding Israel's departure from Egypt were celebrated with a commemorative "rite of passage"—the Passover. Since the first Easter, Christians have interpreted this original Passover as the prefigurement, the foreshadowing, of Jesus's passover—his safe passage—from death to life. And not only Jesus', but ours as well.
When we were touched by the waters of the baptismal font, whenever that might have been, we were united with him in his death, and united with him in his resurrection. His death became ours, and ours his. His life became ours and ours his. Death is swallowed up in victory.
This is the simple but astonishing fact of Easter: Jesus went where we all have to go, but came back to provide us with safe passage through it.
Alleluia, Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, alleluia!
Christ is risen.
Saturday, April 4, 2015
Up and out early for a Saturday, arriving at the office/cathedral complex around 8:30. By 9:00, most of the members of the Altar Guild and Flower Guild had arrived, and we were ready to start the morning's work. But first we gathered in the choir for the brief but arresting Proper Liturgy for Holy Saturday, with an ancient anonymous homily about the harrowing of hell in the place of the sermon. This is one of my very favorite things to do. I managed to putter, either in the church or in the office, until a little past noon, at which time I came home for lunch after ordering online from Smashburger. Back to the cathedral (via Walgreens to pick up some flashlights and batteries for tonight) in time for a 2pm appointment to prepare a very bright nine-year old girl for her first Holy Communion, then a 3pm rehearsal for the participants in the Easter Vigil liturgy. Around 4:15, I was able to come home, where I napped, watched a little TV, ate dinner and then headed back with Brenda for her 7pm call time with the choir. We got through the Vigil in fine form, but had to do a little improvising when it came time for the baptisms and nobody had remembered to put the requisite pitcher of water by the fond. I'll just say that I am now aware of an added advantage to having holy water stoups installed near the doors of churches. What a joy to initiate two young women in their teens into the Body of Christ. Home before 11. Back at it tomorrow.
Friday, April 3, 2015
- At the cathedral/office complex at the usual hour, but I was alone among the usual denizens of the office today. We were officially "closed."
- Initial puttering in the cathedral nave and sacristy. Connie Lynn arrived shortly thereafter to begin preparations for tonight, so we did some consulting.
- Morning Prayer in my office.
- Aside from occasional trips to check on sacristy goings-on, I spent the rest of the morning, and part of the afternoon, working on a post for the covenant blog that is due soon.
- I observed the prescribed fast today, so there was no lunch. But it still somehow seems right to go home and sip on a bottle of sparkling water while watching one of my recorded TV shows. Rituals are strong.
- Responded to a stack of emails that had built up over the last couple of days.
- Spent some time with my exegetical notes on the propers for the Fifth Sunday of Easter and charted a course toward a message and an outline of what will eventually become a homily at St George's, Belleville.
- Spent some devotional time in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose.
- Finished hand-writing notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in April. (I had begun this last Saturday.)
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Got home around 5pm to rest a bit and change clothes. Then back with Brenda for our respective rehearsals.
- Presided and preached at the Good Friday liturgy. Once again, attendance significantly up from last year. It all worked out quite well.
St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield
Some years ago there was a word that—as they might say these days in social media—“trended” for a while. It was formerly heard only among ivory tower academics, but for a while there, anyone who wanted to sound profound while making small talk at a social gathering would try to work in the word is "paradigm", usually connected with the word "shift" to form the temporarily ubiquitous expression, "paradigm shift."
A paradigm, is a set of "givens", a body of assumptions that are considered too obvious to mention. For instance, in the physical paradigm that we live in, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the days get longer until about the fourth week in June, then they start getting shorter until about the fourth week in December, wood floats, iron sinks, and when you drop a ball it falls to the ground. There are also social and moral and religious paradigms. From these come obvious assumptions that seem unquestionable, such as: the stronger will be victorious over the weaker, a wise person knows more than a fool, the rich have plenty to eat and the poor go hungry, those who have power use that power to their own advantage, while nice guys finish last.
The classic works of Lewis Carroll—Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are so enduringly appealing precisely because they tantalize us with the refreshing possibility that there is such a thing as "outside" the paradigm. They tempt us with the notion that a universe exists where a word can mean whatever we say it means, that two plus two does not have to equal four, and the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line.
Good Friday—the cross of Christ—serves notice to us, and to all the spiritual powers of the universe, that God exists completely outside anyone else's paradigm. God is not bound by anyone else's notion of reality or fantasy, up or down, right or wrong. God does not play by the rules. The cross tells us that what is foolishness for us is wisdom for God. The cross tells us that an instrument of shameful death is the way of life and peace. The cross tells us that strength is found in weakness, that victory is found in surrender. The cross tells us that possessing is found in letting go, that healing is found in suffering. The cross tells us that life is found in death. The cross tells us that the sinful children of sinful Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, are heirs of the kingdom of heaven and sons and daughters of the most high God.
And in so telling us of all these infractions of the rules, all these instances of God acting completely outside our paradigm, the cross becomes the royal banner that shines mystically in our darkness, proclaiming the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of redemption through a suffering servant. The cross becomes that one and only noble tree whose foliage and blossom and fruit are without peer, a tree whose wooden limbs and iron leaves gently tend the king of heavenly beauty, a tree which becomes a throne, a throne from which he who is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, reigns in suffering majesty. The earth quakes, the veil of the temple is torn, sunset turns to sunrise—the paradigm is shifted—and the universe re-created.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
- Customary Thursday weights and treadmill workout.
- Devotions in the cathedral; Morning Prayer in the office.
- Got right to work on the Easter Vigil and Easter Day bulletins, with several trips across the alley to confer with Bonnie regarding editing, formatting, and printing issues. And when I wasn't in the cathedral office, I was in the sacristy working with Connie Lynn, who virtually *is* the Altar Guild, though she was ably assisted this morning by Warren Swaar. This is the sort of "puttering" into which I am easily drawn.
- Made some lodging arrangements in connection with a drive to Cincinnati next month for a Forward Movement board meeting.
- Communicated by email with the senior warden of one of our congregations.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- More work on the Easter Vigil bulletin, eventually arriving at a printing solution.
- Took my homily for the Third Sunday of Easter (St John's Chapel, Champaign) from the stage of developed notes to a rough draft.
- Attended to some final preparatory details for tonight's liturgy.
- Drove home for a quick visit: changed clothes, read Evening Prayer, grabbed a bite to eat, and took Brenda with me back to the cathedral--she for choir rehearsal, me for liturgy rehearsal with the altar party.
- Presided and preached at the Maundy Thursday liturgy. The good news: Attendance was more than 40% higher than last year. The bad news: It was still too low, owing to the absence of a permanent priest in residence to light the fire. The best news: The liturgy was celebrated with joyful solemnity, elegance, care, grace, and attention to detail without fussiness. So we were all blessed. And I got to wear a humeral veil, which is always a bonus.
St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield
For me, one of the saddest, but also one of the most curiously fascinating, of human predicaments is that of amnesia. To find myself devoid of any memory of my personal past, even to the point of not even knowing who I am, yet, at the same time, completely able to speak and write and drive and shop for groceries and things like that, is an incredible prospect.
Some time ago I watched a story on one of those tabloid television shows about a young woman with amnesia who was able to piece together enough clues to discover her actual identity. She travelled to what she had learned was her home town, and made contact with people she had gone to school with and others she had known, hoping to somehow jog her memory. In time, some memories began to return, not in waves, but in trickles. The story concluded with her expression of hope, even in the face of very limited progress.
Part of the message of the gospel is that we all have amnesia—you and I and everyone else born of human stock. As a race, we have forgotten who we are, and from whence we came. We continually speak of human life as a journey. We are en route from somewhere to somewhere, but we've forgotten just what or where "somewhere" is. To say that we are "forgetful" is one way of expressing our collective amnesia, our inability to remember.
Another, more direct, manner of expression is to say that we are dis-membered. "Dismemberment" speaks to the human condition of alienation and estrangement. We are cut off from one another—by race, by sex, by language, by culture, and by economic and educational status. All this is why the gospel is good news: God wants to give us our memories back! God wants us to remember who we are: that we are his, created in his very image. And God wants us to remember that this world is not our home, that we are, as the song says, "just apassin' through", that the heavenly Jerusalem is our home town—not “heaven” in the generic way people in our culture think of it as a “place” we “go” when we die, but a recreated universe, the new world that God has promised to bring into being at the end of time as we know it. In the meantime, God supplies what the New Testament, and Christian theologians, call grace in order to enable us to recover our memories of home and identity.
Grace is delivered by a number of different means, but tonight by two in particular. In a few minutes, several members of this congregation will have their feet washed by one who represents, in a particular and focused way, the ministry of Christ to this community. It will be an enacted parable. Not a parable in the form of a story, but a parable expressed in an observable act. In those moments, and afterward, we will "re-member" such values as humility, service, gratitude, graceful acceptance of charity, patient waiting, and subordination of prideful ego. These are some of the values of "home", and tonight, as feet are washed, we will recover a little bit of our memory.
We will also, tonight, take bread and wine, symbols of our common life. We will offer them to God, and offer ourselves in them. We will break the bread and pour out the wine in remembrance—ah, there's that word!—in remembrance that Christ died for us, and we will feed on those gifts, now returned to us as Jesus’ own body and blood, the food and drink of new and unending life in him. We read tonight from Exodus about the institution of the first Passover celebration. The Eucharist—this action of taking and blessing and breaking and giving—is our Christian Passover. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a recollection, a remembrance, of Jesus’ words and actions in the upper room, but in the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, the connection is particularly powerful and clear. The sacrament that we receive, and the liturgy that surrounds it, is memory therapy.
A physical therapist works with a patient to make the body "remember" movements and patterns which illness or injury have caused it to forget. I have known of neurologists making brain-damaged adults crawl on the floor like babies as a way of establishing new patterns and pathways for neural messages to travel on. The actions of Maundy Thursday—the foot washing, and the commemoration of the first Eucharist—serve the same purpose. They are memory therapy for spiritual amnesiacs. What we do tonight is meant to re-mind us of our identity, to enable us to re-collect where "home" is, and what it's like there, so that when we finally arrive there, it will not seem disturbingly foreign, but indeed like the home that has been ours all along.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared for the celebration of the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel.
- Took a rough draft of the Good Friday service bulletin to perfected form and sent it to the cathedral office for printing.
- Developed, refined, and printed my homily for Maundy Thursday. Stored the hard copy safely (I hope) in the cathedral sacristy.
- Presided and preached at the midday Mass.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Visited the Illinois National Bank branch on the west side that I was told has Canadian currency in its inventory. I already had some, but needed a bit more. This is for my trip to Cuba next week, where they're not so fond of greenbacks, but can play nicely with Canadian money. My U.S. credit cards will be useless there, I am told.
- While en route back to the office, had a substantive phone conversation with one of our rectors over some emerging matters.
- Took care of a small administrative details with, appropriately enough, the omni-competent Diocesan Administrator.
- Performed the same tasks on my Good Friday sermon that I had already done with Thursday's.
- Saw administratively to a small pastoral task with respect to the cathedral.
- Spoke briefly by phone with the Nashotah House dean. Took care via email of an ongoing question related to that conversation.
- Ditto above re sermon prep, this time with my Easter homily.
- Met for about 90 minutes with two young women in their teens, along with their step-mom, who are now officially scheduled to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. (They are already in a confirmation prep group at the cathedral, but have slipped through various cracks with respect to baptism.) I'm really excited for them ... and for us, as a baptism makes the Easter Vigil a lot more fun.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.