Sooo very glad to be home. The urgent work of the day was to develop, refine, and print the already well-germinated seeds of an All Saints' Day homily for use tomorrow at St Matthew's, Bloomington. This entailed a trip to Staples for an inkjet printer cartridge. Picked up a wi-fi signal booster for home use while I was there, and combined the errand with a haircut and the purchase of Hallowe'en candy. Got the new technology successfully installed at home. I hope the candy is chock full of preservatives, however, as we had a grand total of zero tick-or-treaters and the tentative plan is to hold it over for next year. At 7:45 I set sail in the YFNBmobile for Bloomington, where the early liturgy at St Matthew's is at 7:30.
Many in the Episcopal world are converging on Washington, D.C. for tomorrow's installation of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop. I will, obviously, not be there, for a combination of reasons, mostly owing to a 2015 visitation schedule with no more wiggle room. But he's a good man, and I hold him in my prayers, and wish him every blessing.
Friday, October 30, 2015
A travel day--Houston to home--but one in which I also managed to process a prodigious number of emails and phone calls. What did we do before out "always available" technology? Of course, I know what we did. I was around! And, in many ways, it was better, healthier. But I can say that, this evening, I'm much more at peace having dealt with those issues than I would be if they were still on my plate.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Today's working group consisted of one other bishop, two priests, one layperson (the smartest of the bunch), plus YFNB. All five are associated with TLC in some way, so were already in Houston for the board and/or foundation meeting, so we leveraged that convergence. Today our taskmaster was the Communion Partners group of bishops, whom we seek to resource with theological and strategic legwork, particularly with a hugely important meeting of the Anglican primates set for less than three months from now. We had a productive day. And the Bishop of Springfield is exceedingly eager to be home.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Yesterday was the Living Church Foundation Board of Directors; today the meeting was with the members of the foundation itself. (All the directors are themselves members of the foundation, and are elected by the foundation.) We increased our numbers, electing nine new members, with only two rotating off. In the afternoon, we did some "blue sky" creative dreaming about the kinds of roles TLC can in today's complex and tendentious ecclesial environment. Some great things have already been done, and more is in the wings. After a couple of hours of down time (es, I processed some email), we gathered at the nearby home of St Martin's rector and TLC foundation member Russ Levenson and his wife Laura for a reception with the foundation members, along with some local clergy from nearby parishes and some of their parishioners. This was by way of a "soft" intro to a capital funds campaign that will get fully underway sometime in 2016. Dinner afterward at a nearby Indian restaurant.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Reported to the mammoth St Martin's Church, Houston, about a quarter mile from the hotel, at 9am for Morning Prayer. Then is was down to business with the Living Church board, which I had to chair in the absence of both the President and Vice-President. Lunch at the fully-staffed cafeteria on the church campus. Our business wound up around 3pm, after which I took the time to process emails. Emails are forever. For dinner, the board members gathered with the larger group, the members of the Foundation, for dinner at a nearby restaurant. (The annual Foundation meeting is tomorrow.)
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Still at Nashotah House. Morning Prayer/Mass/breakfast. Morning and afternoon sessions with the Board of Directors, with six of the nine of us present, and several former trustees who are now "members of the corporation" looking on from a makeshift "gallery," with neither seat nor voice. It felt pretty strange, but we will get used to it. By any measure, we were much more efficient in getting through our business than would have been the case with the old way of doing things. We had a small break between the conclusion of our business in the afternoon, and a 5pm Evensong in Adams Hall, during which it was my privilege to confer an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree on the Revd Kevin E. Martin.
Tomorrow, I'll be driving to Minneapolis, picking up Brenda at the airport there mid-afternoon, then spending the weekend with our daughter and her family in St Paul. We drive home Monday, but that evening I am set to catch a plane for Houston, and the regular meeting of the Living Church Foundation and its board. So I'll probably be mute in this venue until Tuesday night.
Tomorrow, I'll be driving to Minneapolis, picking up Brenda at the airport there mid-afternoon, then spending the weekend with our daughter and her family in St Paul. We drive home Monday, but that evening I am set to catch a plane for Houston, and the regular meeting of the Living Church Foundation and its board. So I'll probably be mute in this venue until Tuesday night.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
- Regular Nashotah schedule--8am Morning Prayer and Mass, followed by breakfast.
- The Board of Visitors (all those who were formerly known as Trustees, and now aka "members" of the corporation) gathered at 9:45. Under the new statutes, I do not chair this group, and am ineligible to be elected to do so. Something about balance of power. So the Secretary called the meeting to order and we proceeded directly to electing Fr Andrew Mead to the position of Convenor of the Board of Visitors.
- The new development officer, Diane Platenberg, gave a most informative presentation. We have a real pro at the helm in this department now.
- The Dean gave us the same orientation presentation that he gives to new students, connecting life at Nashotah House with the ancient and venerable Rule of St Benedict.
- Lunch in the refectory.
- Back in harness, we heard a presentation from the Academic Dean, Fr Andrew Grosso, on some issues of curriculum and enrollment.
- We discussed some issues pertaining to our standing with our accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools.
- We discussed the need to increase the number of board members, and the qualities we are looking for.
- Evensong at 4:30. Following some time processing emails, I joined some colleagues for dinner at a restaurant in Delafield.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Attended Morning Prayer and Mass in the Nashotah House chapel. Breakfast in the refectory. Informal conversations with students, faculty, and other trustees. Took advantage of the unscheduled morning to attend to a few tasks. Walked slowly through the cemetery--hallowed ground (Jackson Kemper, James Lloyd Breck, several bishops of Milwaukee and Fond du Lac, several deans and professors of Nashotah House, the priest under whom I was confirmed in 1975, a classmate's wife). Lunch in the refectory. Called the last meeting of the Board of Trustees to order at 2pm. We passed, soon thereafter, a revision of the House's statutes that eliminated the trustees and reconstitutes the former trustees as members of a corporation who are responsible for electing from within their own number a Board of Directors consisting of six to nine individuals. According to a pre-agreed transition plan, the former Executive Committee constitutes the first iteration of the Board of Directors. There will be fresh elections in May. As soon as we adjourned, the statutory changes took effect. Having been appointed to the task while the trustees were still trustees, I called the Board of Directors to order, with the other corporation members still in the room, but without voice or vote, for the purpose of electing officers. I was elected to the Chair, but not without some drama, as there was another nominee for the position, and the process required several ballots. We finished our task just barely in time for Evensong. In the evening, I joined a group of seven others for a nice dinner at the Red Circle Inn in the nearby Village of Nashotah.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Sunday, October 18, 2015
A very humane start to the day, which was welcome, given the pace of my life of late. My visitation was to St Luke's, Springfield, about a ten minute drive from home, and their principal liturgy is at 10:30. Of course, we celebrated their feast of title, and the occasion was wonderfully enhanced by the presence of a cohort of the madrigal singers from Rochester High School. They were outstanding ... as was the post-liturgical repast; they had me at pork empanadas. Nice down time at home in the afternoon. Then we were off to St Paul's Cathedral for a Solemn Evensong, at which the Bishop of Tabora was the preacher. A lovely occasion.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Back at Hamilton's Catering in Jacksonville in time to gavel the 138th annual synod of the Diocese of Springfield back into session at 8:30, We amended the proposed 2016 budget a bit, then passed it. We had a lively discussion of the proposed revisions to the diocesan constitution, and, with some relatively minor amendment, passed it on first reading. My general observation about synods and conventions in general is that I wish people would think twice about making motions that have the potential to be decided by a close vote. A close vote appears to resolve an issue, but it usually creates unanticipated ripple effects that complicate the life of a community. Sometimes it's better to be patient and let the same results be achieved organically. At any rate, we were finished around 11:30, and, after a couple of short impromptu meetings, we headed home (where we had not been since Wednesday morning). At that point, the weary Bishop of Springfield rested.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Left the Hampton Inn in Jacksonville by myself at 9:30 to check out the Synod venue. Kept a 10am appointment with Fr Mark Winward, Commander USN, who serves the chaplain corps from his station in Tampa, but it canonically resident here in the diocese. Kept an 11am appointment with someone discerning a potential vocation to the diaconate. Drove back to the hotel to retrieve Bishop Elias, Lucy, and Brenda. We had lunch together at a nearby Applebee's. The Synod convened at 1:30 and recessed at 4:15. In the meantime, we had a bit more drama over the budget than any of us expected, but I believe all will be well. The Synod Mass a few blocks away at Trinity Church celebrated the lesser feast of the "Oxford Martyrs" (Cranmer, Latimer, & Ridley), and was Rite I, Willian service music, and eastward facing--all a kind of liturgical comfort food for Episcopalians. Bishop Elias preached, for which I was grateful. Niee dinner for all back at Hamilton's afterward.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Met Bishop Elias and Lucy for breakfast at 9:00; gassed up and headed south on I-57 an hour later. At 11:00, we met Fr James and Jane Muriuki at Redeemer, Cairo, and spent a delightful three hours with them looking around the church and the town and having lunch at the inimitable Shemwell's BBQ. They both speak Swahili, so it was a joy to see Lucy light up when she heard a familiar language being spoken. Then it was on to Belleville, by way of Carbondale. We arrived at St George's at 4:45, and had an hour or so to relax there. Then, from 6:00 to 7:30, we pulled off a reprise of last night's event in Mt Vernon. We headed for Jacksonville afterward, arriving at the Hampton Inn just before 10:00. Over 300 miles on the odometer today.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Packed for three nights away. Picked up Bishop Elias and Lucy at the Doubletree at 9:45. Headed east. Stopped at St John's, Decatur and had a good look around while visiting with Fr Swan. Continued our eastward movement and enjoyed wonderful impromptu hospitality at Emmanuel, Champaign. Lunch at the very hip downtown restaurant scene. We drove by the Chapel of St John the Divine, noticed the door ajar and enjoyed a visit inside, but there was nobody around to say hello to. Then it was down I-57, with a shopping stop in Effingham, arriving at Trinity, Mt Vernon at 5:30. Clergy and laity from all over the Eastern and Hale deaneries gathered for a potluck repast, a word from Bishop Elias about his ministry in the Diocese of Tabora, and Evening Prayer in the church. We're bedded down now in Marion, anticipating another long day of auto travel tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
We retrieved Bishop Elias and Lucy at their hotel at 9:30 and walked the several blocks down to the office-cathedral complex. After visiting there for a while, we ambled over the Christ Church and looked around there. Then back to the hotel for them to touch base by phone with the home front. We had lunch across the street at the restaurant that is no longer Bennigan's (for the record, they have awesome beanless Texas-style chili), Then we did the Lincoln Museum, to which we take all of our out-of-town guests, and which never fails to impress. After some late-afternoon downtime for everyone, we took them to dinner at Julia's Kitchen. Tomorrow the road trip begins.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Brenda and I were on the road at 5:35am, headed north to meet Bishop Elias and Lucy as they arrived at 9:15 at O'Hare in Chicago from a weekend in Connecticut, having flown in from Tanzania on Friday. We made it to Bloomington in time for lunch with Fr Dave and Amy Halt, then to Springfield by mid-afternoon. We got the Chakupewas checked in at the downtown Doubletree to enable them to get some rest, and then home for us to do the same. I fetched them later for dinner at our house along with Fr Mark Evans and Sandy, and Archdeacon Denney and Mary Anne.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Out the driveway with Brenda at 6:20am, headed for points south. Arrived at St Andrew's, Edwardsville in good time to preside and preach at their regular 8am Eucharist, then meet with a college student who is discerning a vocation to Holy Orders, then presided, preached, and confirmed at the the 10am liturgy. Tasty potluck luncheon, the home by about 2:30.
St Andrew's, Edwardsville--Mark 10:17-31
There’s a rather inane movie from the early ‘90s called The First Wives Club, that I probably wouldn’t even know about, except for the fact that Diane Keaton was in it, and I’ve had kind of crush on Diane Keaton since the ‘70s. At the end of the film, after they've supposedly got their lives and their relationships with men all straightened out, the three members of the club sing a hit song, from the ‘70s—You Don't Own Me.
They were referring, of course, to their former husbands, who had all behaved rather badly, and in that sense they may have been correct. But these three ladies, whether they realized it or not, were very much still owned. One was owned by an obsession with her own good looks, and went to more than extraordinary lengths to preserve them as her years inexorably advanced. Another was owned by an idealized vision of the perfect mother and perfect wife living with her perfect family in their perfect home. The third was owned precisely by the lack of any vision of who she was as a unique human being. And all three were owned by—possessed by—a desire for all the creature comforts and material perks they could get their hands on.
In that aspiration, they probably represent the majority of us who are gathered here in this church, and the majority of those in our surrounding culture. North Americans and Europeans in the second decade of the third millennium tend to over-focus on the accumulation and preservation of material wealth. When I was in grade school, futurists were predicting that the major social problem my generation would face as adults is what to do with all of our leisure time. Technology was going to make human labor obsolete, nuclear energy too cheap to even run through a meter was going to drive the cost of living down, and everybody would enjoy an abundance of freedom to pursue hobbies and become citizen-philosophers. Instead, the average work week, after bottoming-out sometime around 1970, has crept steadily upward. Yet, average income, adjusted for inflation, has gone down. True, more and more households enjoy that elusive “middle class lifestyle,” but we do it with two full-time paychecks instead of one. And the list of standard equipment for that hypothetical middle-class household keeps growing. Cell phones and personal computers—to say nothing of smart phones and tablets—which were luxuries for the elite when my children were young, are now considered normative, essential. Yet, when Brenda and I were married 43 years ago, cell phones were still the stuff of science fiction (remember Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio?), and the internet, such as it was, was the playground of egghead scientists.
The bar keeps getting raised, as we're working longer hours at less per hour to continue to be able jump over it. Oh, sure, there are “the rich,” the “well-to-do,” the “financially independent.” But do you know what my working definition of “rich” is? Anybody who has a dollar more than I do. And I would suspect that that's the definition for everybody here, although the amount will vary according to how much we have. Most of us have the feeling of being just behind the curve financially. How much would it take to feel like we're ahead of the game? Not much. Just a little bit more than I'm bringing in now.
That would give me some breathing space. Only when we start to make that little bit more, that amount we had in mind, it still not quite enough. How much would it then take to get ahead? Just a little bit more.
You can see how this plays out. Whether we're living on twenty thousand dollars a year or twenty thousand dollars a month, it isn't quite enough. If you're living on that lower figure, you probably find that difficult to believe.
But if your income is in the neighborhood of that higher figure, you're probably thinking to yourself that I've called it correctly. But wherever we are in relation to those two figures—below, above, or, as is most likely the case, somewhere in between, we are probably in a position where we can truthfully say that we don't own our possessions, because our possessions, in fact, own us. We may be able to sing You Don't Own Me to our spouse, or our parents, or our children, but we cannot sing it to our bank account or our 401K or our living room furniture or the clothes hanging in our closet or the books lining our shelves or the paintings adorning our walls or the trees and shrubs and flowers in our yard or the car sitting in our garage. In fact, when we reflect on it, these things do own us, just as surely as if they had recorded a lien on our lives down at the county courthouse.
When Jesus said that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he wasn't talking about Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Warren Buffet. He was talking about us—you and me. The young man who approached Jesus wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life discovered, to his great sadness, the extent to which he was owned by his possessions. Indeed, he was faithful in keeping the commandments, and Jesus commended him for this. But even in his exemplary conduct, the young man was fearful.
Perhaps he was once poor, and didn’t want to ever be poor again. There aren’t many still alive who can remember the Great Depression, but many of have experienced second-hand the effect that the Depression had on our parents and grandparents, and can empathize with the fear of the young man in our gospel story. Perhaps the young man had an insecure ego, an under-developed self-image, and very much enjoyed the social prestige and recognition that came along with his wealth. You and I know people—don’t we?—who fret interminably over what significant social events they get invited to, or don’t get invited to. Someone whose financial star is rising is presumed to be of more personal substance, and one who has fallen upon hard times is presumed to be somehow unusually flawed.
So the rich young man who was so good about keeping the commandments was also afraid of losing the material and social security that his wealth afforded him. And when Jesus paid him the highest possible compliment, and invited the young man to follow him, to become a disciple, he could not accept the invitation. One of the consequences of following Jesus—and in this case Jesus actually spelled it out clearly—is to dis-connect ourselves from anything that might distract us from that one all-important obsession, the obsession with discipleship. In the case of the rich young man, this involved a garage sale of monumental proportions, and he didn’t have the heart, didn’t have the strength, didn’t have the consuming will, to go through with it. He may have wanted to find his security and fulfillment in following Jesus, but he couldn’t make the leap. He couldn’t let go of that which would have become an intolerable weight on the road of discipleship. He could not bring himself to sing to his worldly goods, “You don’t own me.” He did not realize that Jesus was offering him freedom. By saying to Jesus, “You do own me” he would have been empowered to say the opposite to the wealth which hung about his neck like an albatross.
As the scriptures teach us, to be a slave to Christ is to be free from every other form of bondage, which is a pretty good deal, because his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Following Jesus enables us to be a steward of our wealth rather than a slave to it. A steward operates under a different emotional dynamic than either an owner or a slave—in fact, both the owner and the slave have more in common with one another than either has with a steward. A steward knows he doesn’t own the property he manages, therefore it can’t own him. When I write a check from my personal checkbook, I wince a little bit—or a lot sometimes—because there’s some pain involved. When I write a check from the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund, it feels much different. I might have a little anxiety if it’s running low, or over whether I’m making a wise decision about who I'm helping, but I don’t get nearly as emotionally invested as I do with my own bank account, because it’s clear that I’m just a steward of the Discretionary Fund. I don’t own it, so it can’t own me.
Now, the fact is, of course, the exact same thing is true of the checks that say “Daniel H. Martins” across the top as the ones that say “Diocese of Springfield.”
In both cases, I am a steward, not an owner. When I electronically send my pledge payment every month, I am not giving away “my” money. I am exercising the primary duty of my stewardship. And it’s a generous deal: I get to keep the great majority of the assets that are entrusted to me! What other fund manager can get away with a 90% expense ratio without getting audited—and then fired?! When I look at tithing, not as having to give away 10% of my money, but as getting to keep 90% of God’s money, it becomes something else entirely.
Stewardship season is upon us. I’m not sure just where St Andrew’s is in the process, but the pledge cards may already be in the mail—or maybe they’ve already been collected, I don’t know. But this morning’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves whether we are slaves or stewards. Either we are slaves to our wealth because it owns us, or we are stewards of it because we recognize it all belongs to the Lord. Will we succumb to fear as did the virtuous young man who could not bring himself to have that garage sale? Or will we follow the lead of the disciples who left everything to follow Christ? Even they had some anxiety about the whole thing. Peter spoke for them all: “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus responded with a re-assuring promise:
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands…and in the age to come eternal life.”
Being a steward of the Lord’s assets is a well-paying job! He promises to meet our needs—not all our desires, necessarily, but our needs—in this life, and to exceed all that we can ask or imagine in the life to come. So which is it, slave or steward? I will pray that you make the right choice. Please pray for me, that I do the same. Amen.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Up and out of my Denver hotel ... breakfast at a rather hip and trendy restaurant near St John's Cathedral ... participated as a panelist in a discussion of "Catholic implications of same-sex marriage" (I was the designated "conservative" and didn't really say anything I haven't said many times before) ... changed into my traveling attire (I don't usually wear clericals when I fly) and headed to the airport ... returned my rental car ... checked my bag ... had an expensive burger for lunch (is there any other kind at an airport?) ... flew to Chicago ... sat in the bar at the United Club and watched to Cubs lose to the Cardinals, who enjoyed an assist from the home-plate umpire's very liberal interpretation of the strike zone whenever the Cubs were batting ... caught the 9:15 flight to SPI and pulled into my driveway at 10:30.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
The 6am flight out of Springfield now leaves at 5:40. So I was out the door at 4:30. All went smoothly. I made it to Denver by midday, and joined the in-progress conference of the Society of Catholic Priests around 3pm. (The SCP is made up entirely of Episcopal and Anglican Church of Canada clergy, in all three orders. I'm a guest, not a member, as I've been invited to appear on a panel tomorrow on "Catholicity and Same-Sex Marriage." I'm the designated conservative.) I got to hear a presentation by the somewhat notorious Fr Alberto Cutie on hispanic/latino ministry. Then there was Evening Prayer, a social hour, Solemn Mass, and (a fashionably late) dinner.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Seriously, my last day in the office this month! Travel resumes tomorrow. Cranked out hard copy of sermons for next two Sundays, plus my Synod address. Talked with a priest about a potential interim gig. Dealt with some administrative matters pertaining to Synod. Processed several emails as they came in. Morning and Evening Prayer in the usual manner. Enjoyed watching a certain baseball team in the evening.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Duly participated in the regular meeting of the Forward Movement board, until about 1:45pm (eastern). When the meeting adjourned from the convent in Glendale to FM's offices in downtown Cincinnati, I took the opportunity to make an early exit and headed home, arriving right at 6:00. I'm privileged to join in fiduciary oversight of an organization whose logo tagline is "Inspire Disciples. Empower Evangelists."
Monday, October 5, 2015
Rose at a gentle hour in my Shelbyville, IN hotel room, giving myself credit for having eaten a time zone yesterday. After processing a few emails, I hit the road around 10:15 (EDT) for the leafy Cincinnati suburb of Glendale, OH, venue of the fall meeting of the Forward Movement board. I'm proud to be associated with an organization whose motto is Inspire Disciples, Empower Evangelists. We met all afternoon, then, after dinner, enjoyed a trek to Graeter's Ice Cream, by which all Cincinnati denizens loyally swear.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
Because of the 11am service time at All Saints, Morton, it was a rather humane start to the day. On the road at 9:30. Presided and preached. Spent some time with whoever chose to stick around after the post-liturgical potluck in order to field initial questions on what awaits them after Fr Brian and Deacon Laurie retire at the end of the year. Then Fr Brian accompanied me into Peoria to visit Bishop Donald Parsons, who is hospitalized there with pneumonia. That's a pretty serious thing no matter how old you are, but when you're 93, it's whatever is up the ladder from "serious." We were happy to see him sitting up, very lucid, and very conversant. We gave him Holy Communion, after which I dropped Fr Brian off at the rectory in Pekin, and then drove myself home, arriving at 3:30. Some modicum of down time there, but not much, as I was back on the road 90 minutes later, headed to Shelbyville, IN, from whence I write. On the rest of the way to Cincinnati tomorrow for a Forward Movement board meeting.
All Saints, Morton--Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-9
Very often, subjects that we think we’re the most familiar with turn out to be the ones we actually know the least about. I suspect that the subject of marriage is in this category. Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, and the gospel passage from Mark, certainly do not exhaust what the Bible has to say about marriage, but any Christian reflection on marriage has to deal with this material. It is absolutely central to an informed Christian understanding of what marriage is. And, of course, I’m aware that marriage is presently a controversial subject, in both church and society.
I have three main points I want to share with you today on the subject of marriage as it is illuminated by these scripture readings. It will help if you can visualize a garden plant—a sunflower will do very nicely. It has a root system, which is unseen, but which anchors the plant in the soil and without which it couldn’t live. It has a stem, or “shoot,” which is the main body of the plant and which gives the whole organism is height and standing in the world. And on top of it all is what we might call the “fruit” of the sunflower—the flower itself, which contains those wonderful seeds that are good either for roasting, salting, and eating; or—better yet, from a biological point of view—for producing more sunflower plants. The production of this “fruit” is the whole purpose of the sunflower’s existence. Root…shoot…fruit. I want to talk about the root, the shoot, and the fruit of the institution of marriage.
The root of marriage is that it is a gift from God. We learn this from the virtual beginning of the beginning of the Bible, the oldest material in scripture, the book of Genesis, chapter two. The Lord is with the newly-created man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden, and decides that it’s not such a good idea for there to be only one of him. It would be better if he had a partner, someone to share his life with. So God parades all the animals in front of Adam, hoping to find a suitable candidate. Adam thinks they’re all splendid, and he gives them names, but he is not impressed with the potential for any of them to become his partner—not even the dog, apparently, despite what we have since come to say about “man’s best friend.” So the Lord reverts to Plan B, and puts Adam under a general anesthesia, removes one of his ribs, and fashions the woman, Eve. After waking up, Adam takes one look at her and tells God that, this time, He got it right! The author of Genesis then tells us: “For this reason…” —that is, “in order to enter into this sort of relationship”— for this reason, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh.”
Therefore, we can affirm that God invented marriage. It is not merely a human invention, an institution that human societies have developed and adapted, and will continue to develop and adapt however it seems appropriate and desirable to them. Marriage is God’s idea, not ours. The fact that we first encounter it in the book of Genesis, and not in Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament, is extremely significant. This tells us that marriage is part of the order of creation, part of the very fabric of universal human existence. It is not merely part of one of the succession of covenants that God made with humankind. It is more basic than even the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law of Moses. Marriage is from the beginning. Marriage is a gift from God. This is the root of marriage, and when we ignore the roots of something, then we don’t really understand it properly.
So if the root of marriage is that it is a gift from God, then the “shoot” of marriage is that it enables human beings, both those who are married and those who are single, to share in the very life of God, the love that exists within the Blessed and Glorious Trinity. I’ll try not to digress too much into complicated Trinitarian theology, but we need to remind ourselves that, contrary to the way we may often think of Him, God has revealed Himself as a “complex” Being. We might even say that God is a “community” —a community of three “persons”: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as long as we’re careful not to extrapolate from that the idea that there are three Gods. The Church believes that there is one God who subsists in three co-equal “persons” who are in a relationship—an ordered relationship—with one another. There is an essential unity among the Persons of the “Godhead”—they are all equally 100% God. But they are also distinct, and not to be confused with one another. They have their own unique characteristics. Now this is hard to wrap our minds around, I know. It’s a paradox, not really “logical” in the way we think of logic. There is a sort of tension between the “unity” of God and the “community” of God, between the essential sameness of the Persons of the Trinity, and their distinctive differences.
The theological and spiritual significance of marriage is a reflection of this same kind of paradox, this same kind of logical tension. When Adam lays eyes on Eve, he exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” He was rejoicing in the sight of someone who was like him, an equal, a peer. Yet, it was obvious that there was also something mysteriously different about her. She was like him in her essential humanness, but at the same time undeniably and distinctly different. This tension between sameness and difference is reflected in our very language: In the Hebrew of Genesis, the word for a male human being is ish, and the word for a female human being is both the same and different, ishah. We see the same thing in the English words “man” and “woman.” A marriage, then, both for those who are in the marriage and for those who are observing the marriage, those whose lives the marriage touches in some way—a marriage is a living icon of one aspect of the Holy Trinity. In it, we see something of the nature and life of God. This is where marriage “happens,” the daily “living into” the paradox of sameness and otherness. My favorite prayer from the wedding liturgy asks that the marriage which is being blessed will be a “sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” So the “shoot” of marriage, the main body and life of marriage, is to be a sign, a sign that points to a deeper and higher reality.
Root…shoot…now this brings us to the “fruit” of marriage. The fruit of marriage, is the experience of responding to a call out of and beyond ourselves, into the ideal which it represents. Jesus’ blunt words to the Pharisees are still echoed in traditional Christian marriage services: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Marriage is an ideal, and Jesus’ words affirm that ideal. In the meantime, though, we are sinful human beings. All too often, we fall short of our ideals. When that happens in a marriage, the courageous response is to admit failure, make amends, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, repent, and move on. Hopefully, “moving on” means doing so together. God hates divorce. But sometimes the damage is too great and the wounds too deep, and “moving on” means doing so separately. The cowardly response to failure to attain the ideal of marriage is to conform the ideal to what is supposed to be real—in effect, to abandon the ideal. If we can’t jump over the bar, then we just lower it until we can. That way there’s no failure, and no need to repent. This might make us feel better temporarily, but it’s dishonest, and in the end it’s a deal with the devil.
A true ideal, by contrast, invites us to extend ourselves, to stretch, to grow, to risk, to have the gall not to accept the unacceptable. Estrangement is the norm of human experience, but the ideal of marriage calls us to unity. Guilt is the norm of human experience, but the ideal of marriage calls us to forgiveness. Despair seems to lie at the end of human experience, but the ideal of marriage calls us to hope. Marriage is an ideal that is desperately needed by all of us. We need to be reconciled with that mysterious Other who is also like us. In our human experience, we generally recognize the mysterious Other in the opposite sex. But ultimately, even that is a mere shadow of a veiled Reality. Ultimately, the mysterious Other with whom we seek union is God Himself. The purpose of marriage is to prepare us for Joy: consummated union in bliss with the One who is the true object of all desire, the One who is both the same and “other,” and whose very name and life is Love. Amen.
Friday, October 2, 2015
- A "normal" weekday morning, except that I had trouble getting my mind, body, and spirit firing on all cylinders. Maybe I should start drinking coffee late in life. Maybe I've been working too hard and this was a sign that I need to slow down. Who knows?
- Once my engines were revving, around 10am, I conferred with the Archdeacon on my meeting in Jacksonville last night, and attended to a task related to one of our seminarians.
- Took care of a small piece of Nashotah-related business.
- Spent the rest of the morning on taking the broad strokes of my Synod address to "rough draft" status.
- Lunch from Hardee's, eaten at home.
- Returned to my Synod address, eventually completing the task by mid-afternoon.
- Updated the status report on everyone involved in any way with the ordination process. Sent by email to the chair of the Commission on Ministry and the Archdeacon.
- Conceived, hatched, and drafted a homily for St Luke's Day, to be delivered at St Luke's Church (Springfield) on the 18th.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
- Out the door just before 7am for my customary Thursday AM walk.
- Processed some emails and read Morning Prayer at home.
- Substantive consultation with the Archdeacon over a couple of ongoing pastoral/administrative concern.
- Attended to a package of details related to the ordination process.
- Lunch at home--leftovers.
- Finished the post for the Covenant blog that I roughed out last week. Sent it on to my blogmasters.
- Spent quality time with commentaries in preparation for preaching on the feast of Christ the King, to be delivered in Marion County Parish (St John's, Centralia and St Thomas', Salem).
- Processed another small stack of emails.
- Home for a fairly quick dinner, then off to Trinity, Jacksonville, where I met with the vestry for an initial consultation as they prepare for Fr Ashmore's retirement in January.