Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Drove to Chicago with Brenda ahead of healthcare appointments for both of us--hers on Thursday and mine on Friday--before spending the weekend in Minnesota with our daughter and her family, and most of next week at Nashotah House for Board of Directors and commencement. I'm probably just lie low in this part of cyberspace until Friday of next week.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
- Weekly/daily task planning at home.
- Consulted substantively with the Archdeacon on a couple of ongoing administrative matters.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Consulted briefly with the Administrator on a pending matter.
- Reviewed an annotated a credit card statement.
- Handled a short stack of late-breaking emails.
- Did major surgery on a Pentecost sermon text from many years ago, getting it ready for my visitation to Redeemer, Cairo.
- Began to turn a developed outline of a Trinity Sunday homily into a rough draft.
- Lunch at home. Leftover.
- Devoted a large chunk of the afternoon to finishing the aforementioned Trinity Sunday homily (to be delivered, appropriately enough, at Trinity, Mt Vernon).
- Lit votive candles in the rear of the cathedral nave, as is my wont when beginning the process of sermon preparation, so as to "cover" the whole endeavor with prayer--two candles, actually, for the Sunday after Trinity (celebrating Corpus Christi), where I am preaching for the rector's final Sunday at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, SC as he retires, and one for the first Sunday in July, when I am preaching at St Stephen's Cathedral in Tabora, Tanzania, as a guest of their triennial diocesan synod.
- Took a longish walk in a northerly and westerly direction from the office, during which I made extraordinary mental progress in conceiving and hatching the above-mentioned homilies. I finished the walk with a solid sense of direction for both of them, so clear in my mind that was able to quickly commit the thoughts to pixels when I returned to my office.
- Headed out around 5:20 (offering EP in the car) in a southerly direction. Stopped in Litchfield for a drive-through KFC sandwich and arrived at St Andrew's, Edwardsville in time for a 7pm meeting with their Mission Leadership Team. Their priest-in-charge is retiring at the end of the year, so we had important transitional issues to discuss. Home around 10:15.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Another liturgical, musical, and pastoral feast, this time at Emmanuel, Champaign. So grateful to Mother Beth Maynard her fine leadership there. Lunch following liturgy at the inimitable Black Dog BBQ with Beth and her husband Mark Dirksen, along with Fr Gene and Reba Hall. Home around 2:45.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Emmanuel, Champaign--John 14:15-21, Acts 17:22-31, I Peter 3:13-22
Many of you know that I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I found Anglican Christianity and the Episcopal Church about 45 years ago, when I was in my early 20s. I was raised in a free-church evangelical tradition, as I suspect some of you were as well. In that environment, there was a pretty strong emphasis on the necessity of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ. ” So my attention was arrested recently when I saw a meme on Facebook with a quote from a theologian debunking that notion, saying that Christianity is not about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My first visceral response to this was to cringe in horror. I still do have an inner Evangelical, and while this inner Evangelical is duly constrained by my more overt Anglican Catholicism, he is nonetheless capable of raising his voice from time to time.
But, when I clicked on the link itself, I felt much better. It led me to a healthy explanation of the essentially communal nature of Christianity, that the Church is a “we” and an “us,” rather than merely a collection of “I” and “me.” Since this is a Sunday parish congregation and not a seminary class, I won’t use language like “ontological priority” … except, I just did! … and simply say that first there’s the Church, to which individual believers are then joined through baptism, rather than there first being individual believers who come together to form the Church. That might seem like splitting hairs, I suppose, but, when you stop to think about it, it’s really a very counter-cultural assertion, even subversive, perhaps. Modern and post-modern Americans are, if anything, hyper-individualistic. In our culture, everything is, in the end, personal.
This makes living as a traditional Christian challenging, because Christianity is, in essence, a communal affair. Notice the language our Prayer Book uses for the Nicene Creed, even in a Rite One context: “We believe … “ And this sense of communal identity, that believing and living as disciples of Jesus is something we do together, not in individual silos, goes right to the heart of our mission, much of which, as we see in our readings today, is apologetic in nature. Now, that word, “apologetic,” has kind of a peculiar definition in church-speak. It doesn’t mean we think our faith is anything we need to apologize for. Rather, it has to do with making a rational, reasonable, and persuasive defense for what we believe, putting it in a way that an open-minded person would find appealing, intriguing, worth looking into further.
This is exactly what St Peter is doing when he finds himself in Athens, around a bunch of people who are famous for their religious curiosity. He exploits that curiosity by pointing out that they even have a temple dedicated to “the unknown god,” the god they haven’t met yet. He tells them, “That’s the God I’m here to tell you about. I’m here to make the unknown God known!” That ingenious strategy didn’t automatically make them putty in his hands, but it certainly kept their interest enough to maintain the conversation.
Indeed, in his letter to a group of newly-baptized Christians, St Paul tells them to “always be prepared to make a defense” for the hope that lies within them as disciples of Jesus. We are all to be engaged, in one way or another, in the work of Christian apologetics. But it’s certainly not easy, not by any measure. In the language of both the gospel and epistles of St John, we are up against “the world,” which is the expression John uses to denote those who are not disciples of Jesus. And this is precisely where it gets sticky, because the world chooses to “receive” or “not receive” the gospel based on the behavior of those who are proclaiming it. In the eyes of the world—and, I would say, understandably and appropriately so—in the eyes of the world, actions speak more loudly than words. The world is quick to assign guilt by association. The misbehavior of some who profess to be Christians complicates the apologetic task for all.
Plus, there’s also the small matter of persecution in many parts of the world. It hasn’t yet come to overt persecution in our society, but our Christian sisters and brothers in many other countries risk their lives just by coming together for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day, as we are doing at this moment. Persecution can put quite a damper on apologetics.
So we find Jesus in today’s liturgy speaking into our fear and anxiety over our apologetic task. We’re afraid we don’t have the presence of mind to exploit things like the temple to the unknown god the way Paul did in Athens. We’re afraid that we are not, in fact, prepared to give a plausible defense for our faith the way Peter encourages us to in his first epistle. Jesus comes to us today speaking “y’all” language. He’s not addressing his disciples as individuals, one by one, but as a community, gathered in his presence. He talks to them about something called a Paraclete, which is a Greek word that is not particularly easy to efficiently translate into English. If you look at various Bible translations, you’ll find “comforter,” “advocate,” counselor,” and “helper,” and even that probably doesn’t exhaust the possibilities. The most common interpretation of this passage from John’s gospel is that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit, and he probably is. But—if you’ll allow me to make an adjective out of a noun—“parakletic” ministry is not limited to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is himself a paraclete; he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments, and I will send you another paraclete.”
It is “parakletic” ministry, then, whether we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, or one of the other Persons of the Trinity, or just God in general—it is parakletic ministry that resources us in our apologetic endeavors. The advocate, the comforter, the counselor, the helper—this is how our witness as disciples of Jesus to his resurrection, and to his lordship over heaven and earth, is made winsome and attractive and even compelling to those who are searching for deep meaning and purpose in their lives.
But here’s the catch: Everything about the Paraclete depends on our sticking together, being a community rather than just an aggregation of individuals. Jesus says, “keep my commandments.” To most English speakers, that sounds something like, “Obey the rules I lay down for you.” Well, not very many people like rules, particularly those in my Baby Boomer generation. That’s a pretty shaky start to engaging in the task of apologetics. But, according to those who know what they’re talking about with respect to New Testament Greek, “commandment” doesn’t so much mean “rule” as “word” or “words,” and might be best understood as an intense relationship of the community to God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. And sticking together, being in a communal relationship with God in Christ, not just a bunch of personal relationships with God in Christ, this is part of the “keeping” that Jesus has in mind when he says, “keep my commandments.” And this is not just for the sake of the individual Christians who succeed in sticking together; it’s for the sake of their mission, God’s own mission, which is the Church’s mission. In other words, stick together, and in your sticking together, “the world”—you remember the world, not naturally friendly territory for disciples of Jesus—stick together and the world will see God.
It is precisely through life in community that the Church is able to fulfill her mission of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the world. This is why fragmentation among Christians—the various “brand names” under which we operate—is so injurious to our mission, and why ecumenism, efforts toward full visible unity, is so vital. God the Son, whom we know as Jesus, God in human flesh—God the Son in his role as paraclete reveals God the Father to us through the mediation of the “other” paraclete, God the Holy Spirit.
And never are we closer to this nonstop transactional energy than when we are gathered at the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, represented by bread and wine, to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. God returns those gifts to us as God’s own life, the Body and Blood of the Son, made effective for us through the Spirit. And this is something we can only do together, not by our individual selves. Together, we have all we need to bear compelling witness to a broken world. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Up and out in a relatively laid-back fashion, in time to show up at the office for the 10am regular meeting of the Commission on Ministry. I didn't have to be there, strictly speaking, but I nearly always find that there's some small contribution I can make that makes me really glad I came. The agenda was pretty light today, with a candidacy-level interview with someone headed toward being a deacon later this year. Afterward, I took the opportunity to do some check-in/catch-up work with one of the clerical members of the COM. The afternoon featured a good long walk, and some more work with data entry in Gnosis. (We now have most of the church musicians in the diocese in our database.) The evening saw me making the oh-so-familiar drive to Champaign, where I'm hunkered down at the Hilton Garden Inn ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Emmanuel.
Friday, May 19, 2017
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral around 8:45.
- Spent the next hour or so prepared for the 10am Diocesan Council Eucharist as well as the meeting itself. We duly kep the lesser feast of St Dunstan.
- Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Council. Yes, it was pretty mundane, and I realize people drove a long way for a meeting that was over in well under an hour. Yet, there is something salutary about voting to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and hearing a report from the Treasurer on diocesan finances. Those small things are part of the network of transparency and accountability that enable us to trust one another enough to pursue the mission of the church together. Driving to Springfield to vote Yes on accepting the Treasurer's report is, in its own way, an act of faithful discipleship.
- Post-meeting, met briefly an informally with the Chancellor, the Archdeacon, and the Treasurer (in his capacity as Senior Warden at Christ the King, Normal).
- Took some administrative steps in the direction of making the transition to having a Communications Coordinator on board.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Did a major chunk of liturgy planning and prep for the St Michael's Youth Conference.
- Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral.
- Reviewed my notes, organized my thoughts, and established a sense of direction toward the production of a book review that I owe The Living Church.
- Worked on entering names and contact info for parish musicians into Gnosis. I'm getting the hang of it.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Entertained, along with Brenda, a candidate for a clergy vacancy in the diocese and his wife.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
- Extended treadmill workout, which, because of some domestic exigencies, was tardy getting started.
- After breakfast and task planning at home, I was in the office around 10:30. Both iterations of the Daily Office kind of fell through the cracks today.
- Via phone and email, made some progress on hotel arrangements in Tabora, Tanzania. It's rather more complicated that accessing the Hilton Honors system (he said ruefully).
- Made reservations (using said Hilton Honors system) for my personal accommodations during the St Michael's Youth Conference.
- While on a roll, called and made dinner reservations for tomorrow evening, when we are entertaining a candidate for a vacant clergy position.
- Used the phone once again to schedule an appointment with my primary care physician.
- Home for lunch. Leftovers.
- Caught up with some late-breaking emails.
- Attended via email to a small matter pertaining to our relationship with the Diocese of Tabora.
- Produced and posted this theological/pastoral reflection on the significance of the Dismissal in the celebration of the Eucharist. It's destiny involves the next edition of the Springfield Current.
- Developed and presented an offer by email to the finalist in our search for a Communications Coordinator. She accepted and will be starting June 1. Details and formal announcement to follow.
- Wrestled with the Gnosis for Nonprofits database system, in the ongoing attempt to actually put it to use. The effort was complicated by the fact that I use a Mac and need to use Windows-emulated software when accessing Gnosis. User unfamiliarity was the major culprit. Happy to report that significant progress was made.
- Left for home around 5:45.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
- Task planning and Morning Prayer at home (while awaiting the arrival of an electrician for some minor work).
- Personal devotions in the cathedral (Regina Coeli and intercessory prayer).
- Reviewed and lightly tweaked the draft evaluation of the Dean of Nashotah House. Attached it to an email memo to the other members of the Board of Directors, in which I addressed a range of concerns that will be on our radar when we meet the week after next.
- Took about a 25 minute walk in territory northwest of the office.
- Processed a couple of late-arriving fairly urgent emails.
- Set to the task of making hotel reservation in Tabora, Tanzania for the early July visit of a delegation from the diocese. This is not as simple as it sounds, as our host bishop recommends a change from where we stayed before, and it seemed prudent to do some internet sleuthing. Interrupted at various times by urgent emails.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Took a call from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
- Consulted with some interested parties and made a decision re the hotel in Tabora. Left a message on their internet portal. We'll see what happens ... and when.
- Pushed the ball down the field just a bit toward the hiring of a Communicator.
- Attended to a small bit of different administrivia pertaining to the Tabora trip.
- Took a brisk walk in brisk wind, north to Capitol Street, east to Eighth, then down past the Lincoln home to Cass, and back west, with some zigs and zags, to Second.
- Turned my attention for the rest of the afternoon to my homily for Trinity Sunday (to be delivered, appropriately enough, at Trinity Church in Mt Vernon), building out the message statement I articulated last week into a fully-plotted outline.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
- Usual daily and weekly task planning over breakfast.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred briefly with the Archdeacon on a couple of ongoing matters.
- Solidified plans, via email, to have dinner on Friday with a priest (and his family) who is a candidate for a "complex" cure that involves taking care of St Barnabas', Havana and service as mission strategy development consultant to the Eucharistic Communities in the northern half of the diocese.
- Devoted a chunk of time and energy to some planning and prep for next month's St Michael's Youth Conference.
- Drove down to the Walgreen's on South Grand for some Claritin. I've lived in Springfield for six years now, and whatever there is to be allergic to has finally found me. The respite was nice while it lasted.
- Edited, formatted, and printed the working script for my sermon this Sunday (Emmanuel, Champaign). It's now where it belongs, in a file folder in the back seat of the YFNBmobile, where I don't have to worry about it.
- Processed a short stack of emails.
- Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at home.
- More emails. Relatively time-sensitive, or I would have just turned them into tasks.
- Put on my administrator/communicator/nagger-in-chief hat in a series of emails to parish clergy about a particular spiritual renewal process I'm hoping they'll get their Eucharistic Communities involved in.
- Worked on revising and refining liturgical resources for the "Thy Kingdom Come" novena for renewal and evangelism between Ascension and Pentecost. This involved working "under the hood" with the website, which, apart from doing this blog, intimidates me some. Then I created some Facebook links.
- Left the office at 4:00 to go home and retrieve Brenda and then head to Champaign, where we grabbed dinner before settling in at Emmanuel for an outstanding vocal concert featuring the male quartet called New York Polyphony. "Amazing" doesn't begin to cover it. Their unison along was a thing of surpassing beauty. Home around 10:30.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Splendid morning at St George's, Belleville, where we were very generously greeted, given that many in the congregation were headed to Busch Stadium after the liturgy. During the adult forum between services we talked about some awkward and difficult things, but in a respectful and charitable manner.
St George's, Belleville--John 14:1-15
Jesus is taking leave of his closest disciples. It is the eve of his crucifixion, and they will never see and know him again in quite the same way. They’re not yet aware of all the details, but they know enough to be nervous, to be anxious. Jesus recognizes how they’re feeling, and he says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Let not your hearts be troubled. Easy enough for him to say. Back in the ‘80s, a talented musician named Bobby McFerrin made a name for himself with a hit song called, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s a cute song, and maybe even a good idea, but I doubt it had much of an effect on the general level of anxiety in the world. Our hearts are troubled. Our hearts are troubled by fear—fear that we won’t get what we deserve from life, fear that we will get what we deserve from life. Fear of the unknown, and fear of the known. Fear of dying, and fear of not being able to die when life becomes too much to bear. Our hearts are troubled by fear.
Our hearts are also troubled by regret. We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done. The older we get, the deeper our reservoir of regret becomes. We regret words of anger that caused pain, and we regret words of healing and forgiveness that were never spoken. We regret foolish behavior born of stubborn selfishness, and we regret stupid things we have done when we should have known better. We regret decisions we have made that seemed good at the time, but which turned out badly. Our hearts are troubled by regret.
So Jesus says to his disciples, and he says to us,
Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.
This is meant to be reassuring. “Don’t worry … be happy.” Thomas, however, doesn’t get it. You remember “Doubting Thomas,” the one who insisted on seeing the physical evidence before he would believe that Jesus was risen from the dead? Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” So Jesus puts it another way, trying to make himself perfectly clear, and as a result, we get one of the most well-known verses in all of scripture, John 14:6—“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
I am the way. Now, pay close attention here. Jesus does not merely tell us that he will show us the way. Rather, he himself is the way. Jesus does not merely promise that he will tell us the truth—he is the truth. And Jesus does not merely announce that he intends to give us life; he gives us his pledge that he is the life. This is a consistent theme throughout the gospel of John—Jesus offers us a great many gifts, but in the end, what he offers us is himself. Everything else he gives us is summed up in this: Jesus gives us himself. He doesn’t just give us bread; he is the bread of life. He doesn’t just supply us with a shepherd; he is the Good Shepherd. Today, Jesus is present with us as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
But now that Thomas is satisfied, it’s Philip who doesn’t quite get it. “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” So Jesus clarifies yet again: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Here is another central affirmation of St John’s gospel, and of the entire New Testament: Jesus is the human face of God. Jesus is God with us. All that the Father is to us, we see in Jesus. Jesus is central; Jesus is integral. As Christians, we would do well, in my view, to train ourselves to think and speak more specifically of “Jesus” and “the Father,” and less generically of “God.” Many years ago, early in my ordained ministry, I was asked to give the invocation at the regular meeting of a local school board. I was aware that the superintendent, who would chair the meeting, was Jewish, and so I made it clear to the person who called to invite me that I didn’t desire to give offense, but that, as a Christian, the only way I know how to pray is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Anything else would be sub-Christian, and therefore hypocritical on my part. Now, that was nearly thirty years ago, and it was in the Deep South, so it was OK, and I prayed my Christian prayer at the beginning of the school board meeting, and nobody took offense. If I were to receive a similar request today, my agreement would come with a similar condition, but I doubt it would be accepted.
So … it appears that paying attention to our relationship with Jesus is critical. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus shows us the Father. How do we pay attention to our relationship with Jesus? There isn’t time now to give a detailed answer to that question, but let me suggest four broad categories of relationship maintenance:
First, we attend to our relationship with Jesus by reading and marking and learning and inwardly digesting the Word of God transmitted to us in sacred scripture. Second, we attend to our relationship with Jesus by participating in his life through the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Holy Communion. Third, we attend to our relationship with Jesus by saying our prayers—publicly and privately, day in and day out. Finally, we attend to our relationship with Jesus in our involvement with and faithfulness to the community of Christ, the Church. Word, Sacrament, Prayer, and Community—these are the media through which we experience Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Doing so will, in turn, will give us the authority and power to pursue the mission of Jesus. When we live deeply in Jesus, he begins to perform his works through us. After clarifying himself to Thomas and Philip, Jesus tells the disciples, “…he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” Greater works than these—what could Jesus possibly mean? Jesus spent the majority of his ministry doing two things: teaching and healing. But even as God-in-the-flesh, he was limited by his incarnate state. He couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, so the number of people to whom he could minister was limited. But after he was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father in his glorified state, that ministry of teaching and healing—that ministry of relieving anxiety, that ministry of calming troubled hearts—has been extended into time and space and been made available to every person in every place in every time. Our intercessions during the Prayers of the People in this very liturgy are part of those “greater works. The education and outreach programs of St George’s are part of those greater works. The love that we share with one another, and in our homes, and with our friends and neighbors and co-workers—this is also part of the greater works that we do because we have known Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is precisely what we give thanks for at the end of every Mass, when we pray to the Father that the grace we have received in Holy Communion will enable us to “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in,” or to “love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart,” or “to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
This is the context for Jesus assuring his followers, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” It’s not a blank check for our personal gratification; it’s a promise that the Church will prevail in her mission, that the “greater works” we perform in the name of the Son, will bring glory to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. So let us not fail to ask—let us not fail to ask, in Jesus’ name, that our troubled hearts be comforted, and that we become channels of that comfort and peace to a fearful and regretful world. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Light email processing throughout the day, interspersed among a long walk and doing my laundry. At 4:00, Brenda and I loaded up and headed south. Checked in at the Hilton Garden in O'Fallon around 5:30, then, after getting settled, walked across the street to Bella Milano, where we met the Mission Leadership Team and Rector of St George's, Belleville for dinner ahead of tomorrow's visitation. A delightful time.
Friday, May 12, 2017
- Usual morning task planning at home, plus some progress on preparing a draft annual evaluation of the Dean of Nashotah House for consideration by the rest of the Board of Directors.
- Accompanied Brenda on an 8:45am visit to her primary healthcare provider.
- Morning Prayer in the car while en route to the office after dropping Brenda off at home.
- Continued to work on the evaluation (which is a little tedious, involved merging merging separate narratives prepared by the Dean and by me into a single document).
- Interviewed another candidate for the Communications Coordinator position.
- Gassed up the YFNBmobile, grabbed a drive-through lunch, and headed up to Lewistown for the funeral of Fr Jim Fedosuk at St James' Church there. Fr Fedosuk was a priest of the Diocese of Springfield, having served St Barnabas', Havana for many years, but more recently taking care of St James', in the former Diocese of Quincy, now part of Chicago. He was 85.
- Back in the office around 4:30, where I chatted with the Archdeacon on various matters, and then finished the evaluation document mentioned above.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
- Extended treadmill workout. Task planning over breakfast. Short-form Morning Prayer in the car. In the office at around 10:00.
- Reviewed the job description, the financial parameters, and the résumé of the candidate I would be interviewing later in the day for the Communications Coordinator position.
- Attended to some Nashotah House business by email.
- Attended to an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
- Began developing my outline for a homily on Easter VI into a rough draft.
- Spoke on the phone for 45 minutes with the Secretary of the Nashotah House Board of Directors in preparation for our semi-annual face-to-face meeting later this month.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Interviewed an outstanding candidate for the communications position.
- Processed a handful of late-arriving emails that merited swift response.
- Got back to work on the Easter VI sermon. Finished it around 5:00.
- Reviewed and commented on a draft Mission Strategy Report form (now canonically mandated annually for every Eucharistic Community) submitted by the Mission Department.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
- Usual weekday morning routine: task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Sat with (that's the best way I can think of to say it) the lectionary texts for Trinity Sunday, along with my own notes from my first pass at them a couple of weeks ago, and last week's consultation of exegetical commentaries, until a homiletical message statement emerged for me: "It is in the context of mission that we know the Triune God" (based on Matthew 28:19). The plan is that this gets developed into a sermon that the people of Trinity, Mt Vernon will hear on June 11.
- Devoted some time and effort via email to an ongoing discussion among some friends and colleagues around strategic concerns leading up to the next General Convention in July 2018. It takes a long time to assemble the ingredients of a fine legislative sausage.
- Ran across the alley to consult with Dean Hook on a couple of relatively minor concerns.
- Responded to an email from the Bishop of Tabora.
- Took a phone call from one of our rectors on a couple of matters that are not of earth-shattering importance, but neither are they at all trivial.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel.
- Carried on a chat-by-email conversation with one of our clergy concerning mission strategy in a particular area.
- Reported for duty in the cathedral chapel, but there was no congregation. Hence, no Eucharist.
- Dropped some clothes off at Davis Cleaners, and leveraged my proximity to Taco Gringo to pick up some lunch to go.
- Ate at home, then drove Brenda to a doctor's appointment.
- After dropping Brenda off back at home, drove up to Isringhausen Imports to have them look at the malfunctioning cell phone charger in the YFNBmobile. A small thing, but important. Turned out to just be a bad fuse. While waiting, I took part in a scheduled substantive conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House. We're ramping up for the Directors meeting during commencement week later this month.
- Back at the ranch around 4:15, I processed a batch of emails that had accumulated, and then paid attention to some technology issues pertaining to--you guessed it--the database system.
- Routinely scanned and otherwise processed the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
- Usual weekly and daily self-organization and task-planning at home.
- Impromptu and substantive meeting with the chairman of the Commission on Ministry, who was synergizing his passage through Springfield on a pastoral errand by dropping by. It was fruitful.
- Returned a phone call from the rector of Emmanuel, Champaign to discuss some details of my scheduled visitation there the Sunday after next.
- Belated devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Tweaked, formatted, and edited the working script of my homily for Easter V--this Sunday at St George's, Belleville.
- Dashed off an email note to one of our priests who is marking an ordination anniversary.
- Dashed off a quick email reply to one of our priests over a relatively trivial issue.
- Ran home to retrieve Brenda and take her to a noon dental appointment. While waiting, I read and mentally processed some significant emailed material regarding goings-on in our companion diocese of Peru. Grabbed a fast food lunch for both of us afterward. Ate it at home.
- Fiddled with keys and copies of keys in an attempt to create a robust backup plan for those occasions where someone who works in this building is here inadvertently sans keys (usually YFNB). I think we solved it.
- Believe it or not, it's time to start the countdown clock toward the next annual Synod of the diocese in October. So I thought through and plotted the various actions I personally need to take in order to be prepared.
- Briefly followed up by email on one component in the ongoing campaign to make our database system actually start to serve us.
- Added some data to a spreadsheet I'm developing with contact info for the church musicians in the diocese. Still waiting to hear from several Eucharistic Communities.
- Dealt by email with a somewhat thorny and complex issue pertaining to the ordination process.
- Downloaded and filled out my registration form for next month's 24-hour meeting of the Province V bishops in Chicago.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
The liturgy and music at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign hits the sweet spot of the way I'm wired spiritually, so it's always a joy to preach and preside there. We certainly *did* Good Shepherd Sunday, with no fewer than four musical iterations of Psalm 23.
Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign--John 10:1-10
When I was growing up, I used to enjoy occasionally watching a TV show called Wild Kingdom. Many of you probably remember it. Wild Kingdom was a nature show, letting us take a peek at animals as they actually behave in the wild. Of course, nowadays, you can get that sort of thing 24 hours a day, on demand. The style is different now—more fast-paced, and, it seems, more “produced,” almost scripted. But one thing remains the same, and that is the life-or-death contest between predators and their prey. If lions don’t catch wildebeests on the Serengeti, the lions will starve to death. So, virtually their entire attention during their waking hours is devoted to catching and killing and eating wildebeests. It’s their most basic instinct; their survival depends on it, so it’s job number one. If they weren’t consistently successful at that job, there would be no lions for us to watch on television.
However, the wildebeests have a different point of view. They don’t just go quietly into that good night for the sake of the lions. Their senses are fine-tuned to the presence of lions, and they have sophisticated means of detecting and communicating and evading an attack. They run as fast as they can, and when caught, they struggle as long as they can. Their survival depends on it; it’s a matter of life or death. And if most wildebeests were not successful most of the time in evading predatory lions, there would be no wildebeests for us to watch on television. Neither lions nor wildebeests have what you or I would recognize as much of a sense of unique personal identity. They don’t even remember yesterday, let alone the history of their species. They can’t even conceive of tomorrow, let alone the larger questions of the meaning of life. Life is nothing to them except the moment, right now. Yet, every individual lion and every individual wildebeest will scratch and claw and fight to their last breath if that life is threatened. They probably don’t even know what they’re doing; they just do it.
And if this is all true for lions and wildebeests, it is all the more true for human beings. We can remember the past—both our individual past, and the history of humankind before we were born. We can contemplate the future—both the next few minutes and hours and days and years, and the eternal future that lies beyond this mortal life. But what distinguishes us from the animals even more profoundly is that, not only do we want life—our own life, particularly—we want a certain quality of life. When our essential needs are met—breath, safety, water, food, warmth, and shelter—our attention moves right on up the hierarchy of needs without missing a beat. We become concerned about relationships with family and friends, we become interested in recreation and culture—gardening, decorating, art, music, literature. As these needs are met, many people turn their attention beyond themselves, and become involved in service to the community and the world. We wonder what kind of legacy we will leave to those who come after us. How will we be remembered?
Sooner or later, however, we learn that life is fragile and life is elusive—both literal life itself, and quality of life. The search for deep meaning and deep purpose in life leaves most people disappointed, because there is no quick and easy answer. A purpose-filled life, an abundant life, is the fruit of discipline and effort, not to mention struggle and suffering. Several years ago, I developed a pinched nerve in my neck. It not only caused pain in my upper spine, but caused me to lose sensation in the tips of three of my fingers on my right hand. I went to a doctor, who talked ominously about potential surgery, which may or may not be successful, but who then gave me a referral to physical therapy. The physical therapist manipulated the area, and it certainly felt good while she was working on me, but I was disappointed that there was nothing she could do to me to fix my spinal problem. All she could do was show me what I could do for myself, by way of stretching and exercising. It worked—my symptoms eventually went away. But it took discipline and effort on my part. There was no quick fix, no easy answer. Well, if this is true for a pinched nerve, how much more must it be true for living the abundant life?
Living an abundant life—a life filled with peace and purpose—is elusive and fragile also because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s systemic—part of a complex web of related factors, some of which are beyond our control. As long as we are ego-driven—it’s “all about me,” my search for my meaning in my life—we will try to buck the system. But the system is infinitely larger than we are, and we will fail. I am always amazed to hear about labor negotiations or political negotiations in which the various parties make their demands without any attempt to understand the system, to see reality through the eyes of the person sitting across the table from them. Such negotiations are doomed from the outset, as is any attempt to find a meaningful and abundant life independent of the web of life in which we all live.
So when we look for abundant life in a convenient and inexpensive one-shot package, we fail to find it. And when we look for abundant life as a thing in itself, apart from the larger system of which it is a part, we fail to find it. Where we do find abundant life … is in Jesus. That’s why he came to us—in his own words: “I came that [my sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus uses the agrarian imagery of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd to illustrate to us how we find the life that we’re looking for. In those days, raising sheep was generally a small-time operation. The sheepfold was attached to the shepherd’s house—one exterior wall of the house formed one of the four sides of the sheepfold. On one of the other three sides, there was a gate. This gate was the only authorized way in or out of the fold. Anyone or anything that tried to get in some other way was an intruder, with no authorized access.
In developing this metaphor, Jesus first likens himself to that single gate in the sheepfold. The fold itself represents the abundant and eternal life that we seek: “I am the door; those who enter by me will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” It is through Jesus that we have authorized access to the fold. To try and get in some other way would be like me trying to fix my pinched nerve without doing the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist. It would be like trying to crash a party. It would be like going to a marriage counseling session with no intention of listening to what either the counselor or your spouse has to say. Jesus is the gateway to abundant and eternal life. He has the access code—or, to put it more accurately, he is the access code. And that code is available to anyone who asks for it. There’s always room for more sheep in the fold.
Jesus further develops this pastoral metaphor by changing it, and putting himself in the place of the shepherd, the one who watches over the sheep and leads them out to pasture. After providing us with access to the abundant and eternal life that he offers, Jesus nourishes and sustains that life. Once again—to put it more accurately—he is that life. This is a theme that we will find in the liturgy over the next two Sundays as well. The abundant and eternal life that Jesus gives us is none other than his own life. But that life is available for him to give us only because it was first sacrificed, offered, laid down. The Good Shepherd is the one who lays down his life for the sheep. The supreme sign of Jesus “sacrificing” his life, of course, is the cross. But it’s broader than that. It embraces the way he lived his life as well—as a model, and as an example, for us. And it also includes, of course, the reality of his resurrection. In his resurrection, Jesus defeats the enemy of all life, abundant or otherwise. He defeats the power that makes it necessary for lions to hunt wildebeests. He defeats the power that frustrates us in our desire to have life, and have it abundantly.
We celebrate this gift of life in many ways. We certainly celebrate it in this Eucharist, and every other time we come together to take and bless and break and give the gifts of God for the people of God. Celebration and thanksgiving for the gift of abundant and eternal life is at the heart of the eucharistic mystery. So when we leave the altar, we will have been given the grace we need to sustain that life—Christ’s own life—within us, until we return on the next Sunday or holy day. One of the ways that grace will operate in our hearts will be to lead us into a lifestyle, an ingrained habit, of offering our own life as a gift for the extension of the life of Christ into the world that he is redeeming. In John, chapter six, Jesus says that he is the true bread come down from heaven, for the life of the world. We who have been given that gift of life, we in whom that gift is renewed today through the sacrament of Holy Communion, are able to most completely enjoy abundant life precisely by letting ourselves become channels of it. We respond to the gift of life most appropriately by making ourselves available, by sacrificing ourselves “for the life of the world.” We respond to the gift of life by appropriating the gifts of the Spirit and cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, making of ourselves a gift, an oblation, an offering on the altar of the ministry to which God has called each of us. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
A day of household chores and errands, a long walk, and a substantive bit of email processing. After supper Brenda and I boarded the YFNBmobile and pointed it eastward, ending up at the Hampton Inn in Urbana ahead of tomorrow's visitation to the Chapel of St John the Divine.
Friday, May 5, 2017
- Abbreviated (i.e. 45 minutes) treadmill workout to begin the day.
- Task planning over breakfast.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Accompanied Brenda on a visit to one of her healthcare providers.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
- Responded, by way of pastoral care, to an email message from a lay communicant in the diocese.
- Briefly attended to a technical matter relating to the ongoing effort to get teaching videos edited and posted.
- Lunch at China One, eaten at home.
- Spent an inordinate chunk of time getting sucked into a technology black hole. The new database system will be a tremendous asset once we master the learning curve and solve some pesky technical issues and adjust some workflow logistics among the staff. In the meantime, it is a voracious morale-sapper.
- Having failed in my attempt to use the new system to do this, I resorted to old-fashioned email and an Excel spreadsheet to contact all Rectors, Vicars, Priests-in-Charge, and Pastoral Leaders to begin to harvest contact information for the church musicians with whom they work.
- In the midst of all that, I took a long walk while doing a Lectio Divina meditation on tomorrow's daily office reading about my Old Testament namesake's interesting night spent with a community of carnivorous felines. I find that walking while meditating on scripture is working surprisingly well for me. The experience was rich on both counts.
- Evening Prayer, short form, in the car on the way home.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
- Extended treadmill workout to begin the day.
- Short-form MP in the car on the way to the office.
- Attended the 10am semi-annual meeting of the diocesan trustees, who are collectively responsible for overseeing our invested funds. Our investment manager from St Louis made the trip up. This lasted about 90 minutes.
- Conferred briefly with one of the co-chairs of the Mission Department (who happens to also be a trustee).
- Conferred substantively with the diocesan Treasurer.
- Spoke by phone briefly but substantively with a priest of the diocese. This took me right up to noon.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Spent a chunk of quality time with commentaries on Matthew's gospel, specifically the last few verses thereof, in preparation for preaching on Trinity Sunday (at Trinity, Mt Vernon).
- Attended briefly to some details pertaining to the meeting of the Nashotah Board of Directors later this month.
- Performed surgery on the text of an old homily for Easter V in preparation for repurposing it for use this year (St George's, Belleville).
- Attended via email to some administrative details in connection with the ordination process.
- Assessed the ability of my discretionary fund to respond to a particular request. Made appropriate arrangements for such a response.
- Responded by email to a pastoral care request from a priest outside the diocese.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
- Weekly and daily task prep at home. Morning Prayer at home.
- Drove Susan, my visiting sister-in-law, to the airport. In the office just before 10:00.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon over an ongoing pesky administrative/pastoral matter.
- Spent the rest of the morning polishing, formatting, and printing the working script of this Sunday's homily (St John the Divine, Champaign).
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Accompanied Brenda to a healthcare appointment. Back in the office around 2:30.
- Dealt with a request for consent to the election of a diocesan bishop. These things are often a routine rubber-stamp Yes, but in this case I withheld consent (not that it will make any difference). My decision had nothing to do with the individual in question, but because this election is the ongoing fruit of years-ago failure to follow canonical due process in that diocese.
- Conferred with the Administrator over a matter that is ... well, *administrative* in nature. Followed up with a substantive email to a third party.
- Spoke by phone with the Chancellor.
- Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese.
- Put in some time with my developing sermon for Easter VI (Emmanuel, Champaign). Took it from the "amplified message statement" stage to the "developed outline" stage, in preparation for making it a "rough draft" next week.
- Short-form Evening Prayer in the office.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Per the plan, woke up in suburban Cincinnati, worked (pretty intensely) with the Forward Movement board until around 12:15pm (eastern), then got back behind the wheel of the YFNBmobile and pointed it toward home. Had a planned substantive conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House while en route. Arrived home at 4:50pm (central).
Monday, May 1, 2017
Left home around 9:00 and arrived in Cincinnati for the Forward Movement board meeting about 3:30pm EDT, about two hours late, so ... not bad. This is only a 24 hour meeting time frame, so work was compressed. After dinner, we had an evening working session.