Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday

My body got me up at a pretty indecent hour, but whatever extra time that may have afforded me got consumed by trying to configure a new iPad I bought yesterday. It was time. Anyway, on the road in time to get to St John's, Decatur by 0930, where it was my privilege to preside at the funeral mass for Fr Bill Toland, who was long retired and infirm by the time I arrived in the diocese. Back in Springfield in time for a lunch of leftovers at home. Then, to the bank to by some euros before, finally, heading to the office. Took care of various odds and ends. Dashed off another lectionary meditation for Forward Day by Day (to appear of November 2019). Drew the drapes and shut the door as a left around 3:30. Tomorrow Brenda and I head to Budapest for a week-long river cruise on the Danube. Then I'm home on "staycation" until 21 August. See you back in this venue then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday (William White)

  • Task planning at home over breakfast.
  • Rough-processed the hard-copy pile on my desk after two weeks away. Listened to voicemail.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Spoke by phone with Fr Swan about the details of Fr Bill Toland's funeral tomorrow.
  • Did some personal prep for the scheduled afternoon meeting of the Finance Department.
  • Spent the rest of the morning working through a long list of tasks that were all generated by incoming emails over the last several days. None of the overly onerous or inordinately time-consuming, and none of urgent importance, but all of them important to the person who sent the email, and with whom I have a responsibility to keep faith.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Book air travel, hotel, and car rental for a conference I'm attending in Dallas in September.
  • Attended and participated in the regular July meeting of the Finance Department. The agenda at this meeting is always to take a first swing at the operating budget for the coming year. Good people trying to do faithful work.
  • Stepped out when the meeting ended around 4:30 for a brief personal errand.
  • Scanned the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Lord's Day (VIII Pentecost)

Still recovering from the trauma of 12 days away at hard labor, we took things a little easy today, and just participated as part of the congregation at the 1030 Mass at the cathedral. It was balm to the soul. After a nice lunch out with Brenda, I spent most of the remainder of the day working on this pastoral letter to the diocese.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday

A day of travel, and getting reacquainted with our home, sweet home. Left the Hampton Inn in downtown Austin at the humane hour of 0830, ahead of a 1041 departure. There was a short hop to Dallas, a short layover, and a longer leg to Springfield that touched down just past 2:30. We got home, got ourselves fed, unpacked, and just lounged around, because ... it's been a while. Monitored Facebook and Twitter for continued General Convention detritus. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday

It's over. And sooner than expected. While I was at lunch with some bishop colleagues, we learned that the House of Deputies had adjourned. When the HOB came back to order at 2:30, we had exactly one substantive resolution to concur with, and then the Committee of Dispatch informed the Presiding Bishop that we had completed our legislative agenda, and we adjourned before 2:45. This is the earliest adjournment I can remember from my six General Conventions.

There's lot that can be and needs to be written about this 78th such event, and I will have more to say over the weekend. For now, I'l simply observe that we try to do way too much, and therefore probably don't do a lot of it very well. As the HOB was flying fast and low this morning, I had about ten seconds to look at a resolution before being asked to vote on it. Yes, I could have done in advance, but ... in the name of all that is real ... when? So much of what we are asked to do is utterly unnecessary to the good order and common life of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. 

We could start by banning all resolutions that have to do with public policy, because nobody cares! We're in an echo chamber pretending that we have the power to actually do anything, when we don't. Then, we could continue by banning all resolutions that merely "encourage" or "suggest" or "call on." Usually, they're about stuff that's already happening. Those who are interested are doing it anyway, and those who aren't are never even going to notice.

More later. But ... so glad this is behind us.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday

We're headin' to the barn, and the horses can small the hay, oats, and sugar cubes.
As always, see here for an issues-oriented perspective.

No more committee work. The legislative session began at 0900. The House of Bishops quickly burned through the handful of resolutions that were on the calendar--at this point mostly requests to concur with actions taken by the Deputies--and then we were just plain out of work, from underemployed to unemployed. Strangest thing I've ever had happen at General Convention. After a bit, at the request of one of the bishops, we went into executive session. This was not to cover up a conflict or anything like that, and it was completely unrelated to any General Convention business. It was a time of personal sharing and prayer. 

We broke for lunch about a half-hour early. I grabbed a quick couple of tacos and then headed up to the JWMarriott for another Communion Partner bishops strategy session. We're working on an "Austin Statement" that will be released sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Back in legislative session at 2:15. There was a trickle of business, but we spent an awful lot of time from then until around 4:45 just standing around in informal conversation groups.
T
he Springfield deputation all had dinner together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday (St Benedict)

See here for a substantive account of the day's goings-on.

Yet another 0730 committee meeting, but we finished all our work for the entire convention at 0830, so there was time for a leisurely breakfast before reporting to the floor of the House of Bishops at 1030 to continue encasing the ground product of legislative sausage-making. This went on until around 12:40.

Brenda was off with some bishops' spouses, so I grabbed a quick burrito bowl in the Exhibit Hall foot court before heading up to the JWMarriott for another strategy session with my Communion Partner bishops colleagues.

At 2:15 we gathered on last time in joint session, this time to hear the budget presentation by the joint committee on Program, Budget, & Finance (PB&F). There was time for a few questions--and there are some real detail wonks among us--before there was a break so the bishops could be kicked out to go to their own room. We continued in legislative session until 5:00. The chief accomplishment was the passage of B012 (see link above).

I skipped both Eucharist and a CP strategy session in order to get a head start on blogging and then enjoy a relaxed and delicious (though not inexpensive) dinner with Brenda. (Spicy margaritas before blackened redfish on crawfish étouffée hit the gastronomical bullseye). 

Back into legislative session at 7:30. We were finished in about 90 minutes. This thing is winding down.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday

  • 0730-1000, committee meeting. See here for an account of a couple of things we did.
  • 1030-1200, joint session for a "conversation" (series of TED-like talks followed by table conversation), this time on the Care of Creation. I found it interesting that one of the speakers, the Archbishop of Capetown, named the male-female binary as "part of creation." This is, of course, an essential piece in the narrative of those who hold the Church's received teaching on marriage, so I don't suspect that the remark was universally appreciated.
  • Longer than usual lunch break (until 2:15), which the Communion Partner bishops took advantage of for a caucusing session.
  • 2:15-5:00, legislative session. See the link above for the details.
  • From 5:15-6:00 I attended another CP caucus, this time with both Bishops and Deputies. We unpacked what the Bishops did on Prayer Book revision and talked a bit about the status of B012, which hasn't hit the HOB agenda yet.
  • 6:30-9:30, Nashotah House dinner at a nearby restaurant. Quite a nice time.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday

Another "day at the office."
  • Committee meeting from 0730-1000. I can't take very much more of getting to work this early. Today was spiced up by a torrential downpour right when we needed to start walking over the the Hilton. So I called an Uber, and arrived in the meeting somewhat drier than many of the committee members.
  • Legislative session 1030--1245, which keeping an eye on Twitter for news of the HOD's consideration of B012. (See here for more of the details.) We plowed through a legislative calendar that was relatively mundane and non-controversial. To my dismay, there was an item on the consent calendar (so, no debate, and several resolutions bundled together) that demanded "full reproductive care" be covered in all employee healthcare plans (read: contraception and abortion). With embarrassment for my church, I voted No.
  • Brenda and I grabbed some Mexican for lunch at Uncle Julio's.
  • Back to legislative session from 2:15-5:00. The last hour or so of that time slot was devoted to the resolution on Prayer Book revision.
  • Back to the room to begin my blogging until stepping out at 9:00 for a Communion Partners caucus, with a break with Brenda for dinner at the Thai restaurant across the street from our hotel.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Lord's Day (VII Pentecost)

The schedule today offered an opportunity to catch up on needed rest and regroup, mentally and emotionally. There were also opportunities to do other important things, but they were not immediately related to the work of convention. So the Springfield deputation gathered at the leisurely hour of 0830 for a simple Eucharist on the veranda of the Hampton Inn. It was actually quite lovely, as we watched and heard the world go on by, and some of it watched and heard us.

Brenda and I took took advantage of the respite from work to have a long walk along the Colorado River on a very warm but beautiful late morning, and lunch at a restaurant that advertises its "world famous" fried chicken. It was good.
The convention business of the day consisted of a legislative session from 3:15-7:00. In the HOB, we got through our calendar early, so I caught the last half-hour or so of debate among the Deputies. See here for my reflections on what they were debating.

Out deputation enjoyed a late dinner at the local Brazilian churrascaria, which has become a bit of a tradition now, since we did it in Indianapolis in 2012 and Salt Lake City in 2015. It's a great group of people.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Saturday

About the only encouraging thing I can say is that, a week from tonight, we'll be unpacking our bags at home! 

Another ungodly start time--7:30 committee meeting, which went 2.5 hours. The big kahuna on our agenda was to get a resolution to the floor on what to do with the liturgical calendar, and we accomplished that. The result is rather minimalist--excising from the Prayer Book all lesser feasts in that category Days of Option Observance, sending them to the SCLM with instructions to formulate a single, non-tiered calendar of commemorations, all with the same ancillary resources (which can be any, none, or all of readings, collects, and biographies) in a proposed 2021 Lesser Feasts & Fasts. This will raise eyebrows. We'll see how it plays. 

Regular legislative session from 10:30-1:00, interrupted several times to welcome various groups of visitors, the most moving of which was the family of a young lady killed in the Ash Wednesday shooting spree in Parkland, Florida. The family are active Episcopalians. 

We broke for lunch between 1:00 and 2:30, which I shared with the Bishops of Western Kansas and West Missouri (our wives were all with one another at a spouses' activity). Still, there was barely enough time, as the restaurant didn't seem adequately staffed to handle a convention of people who are all on the same meal schedule. 

Between 2:30 and 4:00, we were in another joint session, this one on evangelism, Essentially, is was a series of four talks in the TED-talk genre, followed by conversations at tables. 

The daily convention Eucharist was offsite, followed by "Texas Night" and a barbecue, We opted to forego those events, and take the time for some much-needed rest and a nap, followed by a relaxed dinner with the Springfield deputation. Felt slightly guilty, but it was the right decision. Beginning to feel slightly human again.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday

  • Committee meetings 7:30-10:00
  • Joint session on racial reconciliation in HOD chamber from 10:30-12:00.
  • Lunch bowls with Brenda at P.F. Chang's.
  • Committee work from 1:15-3:00. See here for some of what went on.
  • Legislative session from 3:30-5:30. There was a bit of drama, as the Bishop of Honduras rose on a point of personal privilege and berated the convention for its lack of hospitality toward those who don't speak English. He's had a particularly harrowing experience in a committee yesterday when people from Province IX wanted to testify, but there was no translator available. When the only response was to delay consideration of the text that was in front of us (a response to the #MeToo event from a couple of days ago) until it could be translated, Bishop Allen became a pit bull and said, in effect, "No business as usual until we address my concerns." The Presiding Bishop quickly appointed a small committee to step out and come back with a way forward. As it turns out, General Convention long ago adopted policies about translators and interpreters that we're just not following. Resources will  be brought to bear, and things will change.
  • 5:45-7:15: Eucharist, with the Bishop of Texas presiding and the President of the House of Deputies preaching. This was the occasion of the triennial United Thank Offering ingathering. The total was something north of $3 million.
  • Brenda and I then gathered with our Class of 2011 bishops and spouses friends for dinner at the nearby BBQ place, after which some of us enjoyed some ice cream concoctions at the hotel across the street.
  • This experience is mental, emotionally, and physically exhausting.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday

This is really grueling. We've been at this barely 48 hours and I already feel tired at a cellular level. The day began with a legislative session at 0800. Nothing substantive, just organizing formalities. It included a roll call of all living bishops, the majority of whom were not there, being long retired and of advanced age. Still, I found it moving to here their names. It brought to mind an interesting array of memory detritus from my 45 years in the Episcopal Church.
We broke at 0900 for a 0930 Eucharist. In keeping with my established practice, and as a matter of self-care, I absented myself and repaired to my hotel room to process emails and bank out this reflection on one of the big issues at this convention.

At 11:15, until 1:15, it was back to committee rooms. Committee 12 heard testimony on resolutions to ...
  • add "care of creation" to the Baptismal Covenant (my take: bad idea)
  • allow access to and use of liturgical forms authorized  by any province of the Anglican Communion, with the permission of the Ordinary. (my take: maybe, but not for the reasons enunciated by its proponents)
  • adopt an official policy that liturgical forms should be composed in expansive (aka inclusive, aka balanced) language. (my take: see reflection linked above)
There was only an hour for lunch. Brenda and I found a place right in the Hilton, where the committee rooms are.

2:15-4:00, back to committee. Most of this segment was spent in subcommittees. In my group, we made good, though difficult, progress toward a response to the SCLM's draft of a revised Lesser Feasts & Fasts.
After a 30 minute "travel" break, we were back in legislative session. Of course, at the front end of convention, the emphasis is on committee time, because every resolution has to get through committee before going to the floor of either house, and this requires hearings before the committee can deliberate and vote. A week from now, committee meetings will be in the rear view mirror and legislative sessions will be marathons. Today, we actually did pass (and, therefore, send to the Deputies) a handful of pro forma and no-brainer resolutions. But we began our session with a substantial debrief on last night's #MeToo listening session, which is, of course, the sort of thing that could be done at any meeting of the HOB, quite apart from General Convention.

We ran out of stuff to do about 30 minutes of the scheduled 6:30 recess. So there was time for a less rushed dinner. Brenda and I did Mexican again, though in a different place. She complained of "menu fatigue."

But wait, there's more. Committees again from 7:00-9:00. I made a decision to bail on my own committee in order to testify at the hearing on B012, the resolution that would keep Prayer Book revision at bay by requiring bishops like me to allow for same-sex marriage by offering to transfer a parish requesting it to the oversight of another bishop (DEPO). I was allotted my two minutes toward the end of that time frame.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wednesday

The grind has begun, and it's still in the "gentle" phase.

My morning began (and continued ... and ended) with a meeting of Committee 12: Prayer Book, Liturgy, & Music. We heard testimony (mostly on the resolution to include the Dorchester Chaplains in Lesser Feasts & Fasts), talked amongst ourselves in plenary, and worked in subcommittees. I found myself (no surprise) taking a fairly active role in the consideration of what to do with the sanctoral calendar. (See here for more substantive observations.)

After a fairly brief time to grab some lunch (which Brenda and I did in the exhibit hall concession area), the Bishops and Deputies gathered in the House of Deputies chamber to hear homily-like non-homilies from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, followed by actual non-homilies from the Secretary of the General Convention Office, the Bishop of Texas, and the President of the Episcopal Church Women.

We then gathered in our respective chambers for "orientation." This is mostly old information about rules and procedures and the operation of our dedicated iPads that we tedious for everyone, but probably necessary.

At 5:15 there was a quasi-liturgical gathering in the convention worship space focused on stories emanating from the #MeToo movement. A selection of personal narratives had been selected from a batch that had been solicited and submitted, stories of events that no one wants to imagine actually happen in church communities, but yet they do. t was intended as a time of lament and repentance. 

At around 7:00 I grabbed dinner with Brenda at a nearby TexMex place. Afterward, we came back to our room, where I worked on my other blog (see link above). Then I headed over to another hotel to pow-wow with the other Communion Partner bishops. There is precious little strategizing left to do; we have no actual power, and are at the mercy of the convention. The scenarios we contemplate are various degrees of "bad" and "worse." We try not to lose heart.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Lord's Day (VI Pentecost)

With a portion of the 45 souls with whom I celebrated the Holy Mysteries at Redeemer, Cairo this morning. When I came to the diocese 7.5 years ago, Redeemer was down to *one* member, and she was 85! So, yeah, this is a story I like to tell. Three adults confirmations, and three receptions. A very sweet community, which includes the new police chief of Cairo, who is makes progress turning it into a safer place. It was an exhilarating visit.


Sermon for Proper 8

Redeemer, Cairo--Mark 5:22-24, 35b-43

Most of us like to think of ourselves as independent, as self-reliant. But we live in a very complex world, so we’re fooling ourselves, I’d say, if we think so. Every day, we trust ourselves to professionals to do things for us that, in simpler times, people may have done for themselves, or had a family member do it for them—I’m talking about barbers and bankers, mechanics and manicurists, physicians and farmers, attorneys and architects, gardeners and garbage collectors. We depend on them, we trust them to come through for us, to perform the service that they’re supposed to perform.
Sometimes relatively little is at stake—a bad haircut can eventually be fixed, because, you know, hair grows! At other times, a great deal is at stake. I once read about a kidney transplant patient who was all prepped and on the operating table, but when the surgical team opened the container that was supposed to have the donated kidney in it, there was a heart there instead! The man subsequently died waiting for a kidney, and whoever was supposed to get that heart probably died as well. The professionals to whom they had entrusted themselves manifestly did not “come through” for them.

Jairus was a synagogue official in one of the Galilean towns where Jesus was ministering. His young daughter, as St Mark’s gospel tells us the story, was very sick, nearly dead, in fact. Jesus had a reputation for healing the sick, so Jairus, as we might expect, made a beeline for Jesus. He didn’t seem to worry about what others might think. Being a synagogue official, he was kind of a VIP, and here he is asking for help from someone with a pretty sketchy reputation as Jesus. Yes, Jesus had a sketchy reputation. He was known to hang out with the “wrong sort of people.” But Jairus doesn’t care about that. All he wants is for his daughter be healed. He had left her bedside to seek Jesus out and entrust her fate to him. His only anxiety was whether Jesus would “come through” for him.

In his anxiety as he approaches Jesus, Jairus is a pretty good spokesman for each one of us. We all walked into this church today carrying a load of anxieties that we want to turn over to Jesus. We may not have the courage to do so completely, but we want to have the faith to turn everything over to him. And, along with Jairus, we want to know, Will Jesus come through? Will he grant our request? Will he supply our need? We have faith, but at the same time, we want to hedge our bets. Something tells us we should not put quite all our eggs in the “Jesus basket” because, what if he does not come through? What if he’s not everything he’s cracked up to be? What if we picked the wrong horse?

People who invest in the commodities market often protect themselves by purchasing something called an option contract. So, I might have excellent reason to believe—to have faith! — that the market price of corn in September will be much higher than it is today, so I might place an order for a ton of corn to be delivered in September, but at today’s low price, and, of course, since I have no use for a ton of corn, I hope to sell that corn to somebody else to actually take delivery, but at a handsome profit, because the price will have gone up. At the same time, though, I might also spend a small amount of money on an contract that entitles me, if I want to, to sell a ton of corn in September at today’s price, so that if I turn out to be wrong about the corn market, I can cut my losses.
We do exactly that, sometimes, with God. We have genuine faith, but it’s not complete faith. We hedge our bets. What if we’re wrong? So, we reserve an option. We hold back a piece of ourselves—a corner of the heart, a section of the will, a territory within the mind. You know . . . just in case.

When the messengers from Jairus’s home come to tell him that he may as well not trouble Jesus anymore, because the little girl has died, Jesus’ response is to ignore them. He simply tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Do not fear, only believe. Jesus discerns that Jairus may have hedged his bet and is now on the verge of exercising his option, of bailing out on Jesus and cutting his losses by entering into the grieving process for his daughter who has now been declared dead. Will he retreat to that corner of his heart that he had reserved for himself— with a sign that says “No Jesus allowed” tacked onto the door? So Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” The issue is not whether Jairus had confidence in his mind that Jesus’s could heal his daughter; Jesus’s ability to heal had been pretty well established. His healings were both very public and very numerous. No, the issue was not Jairus’s confidence in Jesus’s ability. The issue was Jairus’s confidence in Jesus.

And the issue is quite the same for us. Inadequate faith is much less a matter of the mind and much more a matter of the heart and will. We can be quite certain in our minds that Jesus is the Son of God, but if we do not demonstrate that conviction by giving him the loyalty of our hearts and the obedience of our wills, if we hold ourselves back from total commitment to him, if we hedge our bets by buying options from other “gods,” then we cannot be said to have any meaningful belief, we cannot be said to have faith.

Our relationship with God then becomes one-dimensional. We are forever making requests of God, always asking for something. Our prayer is constant petition, with occasional intercession, but precious little praise, adoration, confession, oblation, or thanksgiving. God, as far as we are concerned, is squeezed into the mold of service provider, one more “professional” on whom we must rely to do for us what we lack the time or know-how to do for ourselves. Our relationship with God is defined primarily by fear, suspicion, and anxiety, rather than faith and trust.

If the management of a company says they trust and respect their employees, but then enforce strict policies of punching time clocks and turning in detailed receipts for expenses and requiring notes from the doctor in order to justify sick time, their actions speak louder than their words. It is a relationship based on fear, not on faith.

Jesus challenges Jairus to walk on higher ground. “Don’t be afraid, only have faith.” Do not merely believe that I can heal your daughter, believe in me. Some work environments are indeed not based on fear, but on faith. They expect and assume that employees will be honest and loyal. They encourage creativity and innovation. They value everyone’s input. This is an environment of trust that is similar in character to the relationship God wants us to have with Him—a relationship defined not by fear but by faith. Faith in Christ means giving ourselves fully over to him in heart, mind, and will; not holding anything back, not restricting him from any corner of our lives, hedging no bets, buying no options.

When people (who by definition have more courage than I have!) learn to descend from a cliff down the vertical face of a mountain by a process known as rappelling, the most challenging part of that process is learning to do something totally counter-intuitive, and that is to hold on to the rope, plant your feet, and lean back away from the solid and comforting nearness of the rock. It feels like the utterly wrong thing to do, but it is in fact the only right thing to do if you want to get down safely off the mountain. When we can exercise that sort of unreserved trust in God, even when it is counterintuitive, when Jesus’s challenge to Jairus becomes his challenge to us, and our relationship with God is defined not by fear but by faith, then we can rest in the confidence that God’s love is larger than anything that might “happen” to us.

Jairus’ daughter, as we know from reading on in Mark’s account, was restored to life and health by Jesus’s touch and words. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed a great many people that way. And in every age of the church since then, Jesus has continued to heal miraculously in response to the prayers of his people. Not every request for healing is granted, and this side of eternity, we will never know the ins and outs of this mystery, but God does heal. Yet, even if Jairus’s daughter had not been raised back to life, it would not therefore be a sign that God loved her or Jairus any less. When faith replaces fear, the details matter less, because God’s love completely overshadows them. Sometimes God loves us out of trouble and adversity; sometimes He loves us in them and through them. As St Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans, words which are echoed in the burial liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, “None of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we live, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” This is the basis for a life of faith, a life free of fear, a life of complete self-offering to a God who already offers Himself completely for us.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Saturday

Household chores and errands, mostly, until 6:00pm, when we pointed the YFNBmobile southward and are now camped out at the Hampton Inn in Marion, ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Redeemer, Cairo. Dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Mt Vernon.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ss Peter & Paul

  • Up and out in time to retrieve the Chakupewas at the Doubletree at 0645, delivering them to the airport in St Louis and taking final leave at around 0900, having stuck with them through bag check and seeing that they cleared security.
  • Home at 1100. Cleared out my email box, organized my tasks, and dealt with the social media reverberations over the fact that The Living Church published an interview with me its most recent edition. There was also some chatter to monitor over a newly-revealed General Convention resolution that is a less drastic alternative to the one intended to force knuckle-dragging bishops like me on the issue of same-sex marriage.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten back at home.
  • To the office then, where I dealt with a handful of substantive emails that have been awaiting my attention, conferred with Paige on an ongoing issue, and hand-wrote notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in July.
  • Lectio divina on tomorrow daily office OT reading.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday (St Iranaeus)

  • Up and out in time to retrieve the Chakupewas at 0800 and drive them to Decatur for a breakfast meeting with a well-connected and influential business and civic leader who has broad experience and deep interest in development across Africa, including several trips to Tanzania. While they talked, I had breakfast about a hundred yards away with Deacon Chris Gregory and Fr Dick Swan.
  • Back to Springfield for futile visits to a CVS and Wal*Mart to receive some funds through MondayGram from a friend of the bishop's in Kentucky. Fraud protection protocols were set so high that it just couldn't happen. So I spoke with the Kentucky donor. He agreed to send me a check in the mail and I cashed a discretionary fund check for the same amount and gave the cash to Bishop Elias.
  • Dropped our guests back at the Double Tree and came home for some lunch. 
  • Headed back over to take them on a small shopping expedition, then to the office while I tried to catch up on a few things, mostly trying to intervene pastorally but firmly in a situation in one of our communities that is just getting slightly out of hand.
  • Toward home at 4:45 in the midst of a quite dramatic thunderstorm to retrieve Brenda, then to the Double Tree to retrieve the bishop and Lucy, and bring all to the cathedral. We had a lovely evensong in his honor, followed by a very nice light supper, where Bishop Elias got to share some about the ministry of the Diocese of Tabora.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday (Our Lady of Perpetual Help)

  • Morning Prayer and some planning at home.
  • Retrieved the Chakupewas from the Doubletree at 0930 and drove them down to the diocesan office. For a few minutes we attended to some logistical details about their visit.
  • The four of us (that is, including Brenda and Lucy) walked over to the Stratton Office Building where we were greeting by two members of the Secretary of State's staff (as arranged by Archdeacon Denney), who took us to meet state Rep. Tim Butler, who officially welcomed Bishop Elias to Illinois. 
  • After being led through an underground tunnel that connects the Stratton Building with the Capitol, we were given a generous tour of the Capitol by a staff member who usually does that sort of thing. Even though it's barely three blocks from my office, I hadn't been in the building since my eighth grade class trip in 1965!
  • Afterward, we walked the two blocks over the Illinois National Bank, where I arranged to wire $1000 from my discretionary fund to Bishop Elias toward the purchase of bicycles for his corp os evangelist/catechists.
  • Back to the office on foot (getting pretty hot by that time), then by car to Obed & Isaac's (right across the street from Christ Church) for lunch.
  • Dropped our guests off at their hotel picked up some books from my office, and drove home for the afternoon, where I spent most of my time doing exegetical research on a passage from Mark 8 on which I will be preaching at St Mary's, Robinson on September 16.
  • Picked up Bishop Elias and Lucy and took them on a small shopping errand before joining Dean Andy Hook and Fr David and Mary Ellen Wells for dinner at Saputo's.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Signed the forms giving my consent to the consecration of bishops-elect in Western Kansas, Rio Granda, and Newark.
  • Printed out the insurance card for the new YFNBmobile and placed it in the glove box.
  • Wrote a promised Discretionary Fund check.
  • Communicated with the chair of our General Convention deputation regarding plans for a deputation dinner.
  • Got to work on my next-due post for the Covenant blog. Once again I laid aside a piece that was already roughed out in favor of something more timely.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Remaining at home, resumed work on the blog post, eventually bringing it to completion and dispatching it to the editor.
  • Cranked out another daily office lectionary meditation for the November 2019 Forward Day by Day.
  • Attended to a small domestic chore.
  • Grabbed Brenda and pointed the YFNBmobile north to Normal. Retrieved Bishop Elias and Lucy after their dinner meeting with some folks at Christ the King. Brought them back to Springfield and got them checked in at the Doubletree downtown.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Lord's Day (V Pentecost)

Up and out of our Mt Vernon hotel room at 0740, headed east. Arrived at St John's, Albion about 20 minutes ahead of the regular 0900 Sunday liturgy. Presided and preached. The congregation at St John's is small but dedicated and lively. Good folks. Then it was once again westward ho, arriving back at Toddhall around 1:30. There were phone calls, texts, and emails to attend to, but I got to do so sitting in a glider swing. #smallblessings  Presided and preached at the Cursillo closing Mass. Visited with some people afterward, informally. Hit the road around 5:00 and got home around 7:00. Put more than 600 miles on the brand-new YFNBmobile on this three day trip. Ready for some down time.

Sermon for Proper 7

St John's, Albion--Mark 4:35-41

Everything was in chaos. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling. Waves were crashing. The small boat was in imminent danger of capsizing. And Jesus . . . Jesus was sleeping. “Master, wake up! We’re all about to die. Don’t you care?” 

As long as human beings have told stories, and searched the world of nature for appropriate metaphors and symbols for our fears and passions and anxieties, the sea—particularly a stormy sea—has represented to us the terror of Chaos—the great abyss that threatens to swallow us up and absorb us in a great ocean of nothingness, devoid of meaning, devoid of hope, devoid of life. So, when we encounter stormy seas in our voyage through life, when we feel ourselves like those terrified disciples in a storm-tossed boat, it is sometimes difficult to sustain belief in God’s active and caring presence with us. When we read about wars and famines and earthquakes and hostage taking and tidal waves and droughts and layoffs and downsizing and unprovoked murders, we wonder whether God might be asleep. When we experience chronic illness and senseless accidents and adulterated marriages and family dysfunction and betrayal of trust, when constant prayer seems to go unanswered, we want to grab a sleeping Jesus by the scruff of the neck and shout at him, “Lord, can’t you see we’re dying over here? Don’t you care?” 

The abyss yawns before us, the monster of Chaos looms over us, and we are anxious about it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, waking and sleeping, aware and unaware. When I was younger, one of the more compelling of my recurring dreams was that of a huge tidal wave, several hundred feet high, obscuring the sky as it crests and begins to break and crash to the earth in utter destruction. Dreams, they say, trade in the currency of symbols, and I suspect this robust oceanic symbol represented my own unconscious anxiety about the imminence of chaotic destruction—an anxiety, as I have said, that we all share. Like that cresting tidal wave in my dream, the sea of chaos threatens to overwhelm us—threatens to overwhelm our health, our relationships, our children, our finances, the society around us, politics, for certain, and even the church.

But the danger is not in these threats themselves. The danger to us lies in our fear of them. Fear and anxiety corrode our spirits into doubt, cynicism, and despair. Picture that long forgotten flashlight battery that you found on a shelf in your garage or your basement—the acid on the inside has eaten through and destroyed the shell itself. When we are spiritually corroded, we turn in on ourselves. We become smaller people, as we try to construct a world that we think we can predict and control, a world with no loose ends or untidy corners. We build fences around ourselves, both figuratively and literally—notice the popularity of gated, and therefore supposedly secure, residential subdivisions. We look for chemicals and/or relationships to provide us with protection from an advancing Chaos. Of course, they are not up to the task, but we can easily end up abusing both chemical substances and relationships in the process. Each of us has seen it happen. It has happened to us.

But there’s good news today, in the midst of all this anxiety. The good news can be summed up very simply: Jesus woke up! He did not remain obliviously asleep in the back of that boat. He responded to the efforts of his devoted, if not entirely faith-ful, followers to rouse him. The scriptural narrative doesn’t say whether he stood up, but I like to imagine that he did—Jesus stood up in the boat and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And they obeyed. The wind died down, and the waters of the Sea of Galilee settled down into a calm. The threat dissipated, security and hope were restored.

Security and hope were restored to the disciples, but they and we are, so to speak, in the same boat! Jesus’s mastery of that storm on the Sea of Galilee is a token of his mastery over the chaos that threatens to overwhelm us. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of the difference between what we see and what God sees. We see chaos—God sees the same chaos, but He also sees order—His order, order flowing from the essence of his own Divine Being, in the midst of that chaos. God’s order is like a guerilla army in the domain of chaos, subverting it one soul at a time, calming the sea one wave at a time, slowing the wind one molecule at a time. Even when we can only see chaos, God sees order.

You know how, when you print out an email—or, at least, when people used to do things like print emails—there’s all the gibberish before and after the actual text of the message? Well, what looks like gibberish to you and me isn’t gibberish to everybody. There are actually people to whom that stuff means something. They see order where we see chaos. Or think of the way a non-musician experiences a page of printed music. It’s just ink on a page. But a trained musician can look at those ink patterns and hear a Beethoven symphony or a Bach chorale. It’s all in what you see. And God sees what we don’t. Jesus calming the storm is a reassuring reminder that God sees order in the chaos of our lives, and that he is ready to stand within our hearts and say, “Peace! Be still!”

From time to time, as we grow in faith, we actually get to experience increasingly larger fragments of this sort of “peace that passes understanding.” And in those moments, we are left in awe-filled wonder at the unspeakable privilege of being in a personal relationship with such a God. This realization, in turn, shifts the balance of our prayers away from petition, asking God to do this or that, and toward adoration, enjoying God simply for who God is, and desiring nothing more than to be in His presence.

This is exactly what happened to the disciples in the boat with Jesus. While the storm raged, their prayer was one of petition, “Lord, save us!” When the wind and the sea were calmed, their “prayer” took on a tone of adoration: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” When we are less mature in our faith, all we see is chaos, all we are aware of is our own neediness, so our prayer tends to be heavily oriented toward petition. But as we grow in the life of grace, we begin to see as God sees, and patterns of order begin to emerge. The gibberish starts to tell a story. The ink blots begin to sing a song. Our prayer shifts to adoration. Who then is this, that even in the overwhelming chaos of the universe, can command my heart to be still, and to know the peace that passes understanding?

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday

Up and out of the Hilton Garden in O'Fallon with Bishop Elias and Lucy in time for a 0930 arrival at Toddhall, where I immediately gave the rollo (talk) on the sacraments to this year's weekend candidates. Had to be concise, as I could have spent that much time yet again without exhausting what I could readily say on the subject in one session. Moved from there immediately to the celebration of a votive Mass "For Vocation in Daily Work," at which i presided and preached. After lunch, it was down to serious emailing with Communion Partner colleagues over General Convention strategy issues, with Bishop Elias as a consultant from time to time. I was able to step back into the main hall to listen to one of the other rollos before Fr Dave Halt arrived to retrieve the Chakupewas and ferry them up to Bloomington, where they will stay until Tuesday evening. In the meantime, Brenda and I headed east to Mt Vernon, where we are camped out at the Hampton Inn in advance of tomorrow's visitation to St John's, Albion. While at dinner at a local BBQ joint, we chanced to run into Fr Bill and Deacon Sylvia Howard, which was a delightful surprise.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday (St Alban)

Wishing to give our Tanzanian guests ample opportunity to recover from jet lag, we did not plan a strenuous day. The principal daytime activity was a visit to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville. Just as we were beginning to enjoy the view from atop the principal mount (100 feet above its surroundings), the skies opened, and, bereft of shelter, we all got quite wet. But we eventually got back to the museum and very much enjoyed the experience. We had a good chunk of down time after a late lunch, which I used to process emails, have a General Convention-related phone conversation, and write another lectionary meditation for Forward Movement (six down now, 23 to go). In the evening, we went to nearby St Michael's, O'Fallon for Evening Prayer, a light supper, and conversation with Bishop Elias and Lucy. They were most gracious hosts and it was a wonderful occasion. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday

  • Long treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, around 0930.
  • Sat with my notes on the readings for Proper 18, when I will preach at my DEPO parish in Mississippi, until they yielded a homiletical message statement. It feels like labor and delivery. (OK, not literally, but ...)
  • There are certain ministries one hopes there is never a need for, but it's good to be prepared, just in case. Exorcism is one of these. I took a balcony-level look at some pastoral-liturgical materials, made some notes, and had a pertinent conversation.
  • Opened a sermon prep file on Proper 19 (16 September in Robinson)--said my prayers, took a pass at the readings, made some preliminary notes.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Packed and got organized for three nights away.
  • Left with Brenda at 2:30 for STL. Retrieved Bishop Elias and Lucy Chakupewa from there arduous journey (four flights, more than 24 hours) from Tabora, Tanzania. Checked us all in at the Hilton Garden, O'Fallon (which feels like my summer home now), got settled, then took them to dinner. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday

  • Up quite a bit on the early side--showered, dressed, and with my morning tea by 0700.
  • Read Morning Prayer in my recliner, and, while waiting for some contracted termite assassins to arrive, got to work on the project that would punctuate my day, but not be completed until mid-evening back at home: plotting my sermon prep for September through November. I do this sort of thing roughly quarterly, and in involves going through old material and figuring out what can be salvaged and repurposed, and what occasions simply demand a fresh homily.
  • Met briefly with the termite assassins and got them going on their work.
  • Took Brenda to a 0900 doctor's appointment.
  • Did some rapid-response grocery and nutritional supplement shopping.
  • Dropped Brenda and the groceries off at home and continued on to the office for an 1100 appointment with a cathedral parishioner who was keen to discuss immigration issues, and what a response of Christian leadership might look like. She has an admirable heart for refugees and immigrants, and has embraced a commendable ministry of advocacy on their behalf. For reasons I've made clear, I'm slow to be officially involved in matters of public policy, but recent crisis involving children at our southern border is not, I believe, something over which Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience will disagree.
  • Substantive phone conversation with a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Back to the office to resume work on the sermon planning project.
  • Worked things out by phone with Green Mazda, who took delivery just today on a vehicle that meets my specs.
  • Met a bit with the Dean and a lay member of the cathedral over some details for this October's annual Synod.
  • Headed down to Green Mazda to do the deal, check in hand. It to forever! One inexplicable delay after another. But it eventually got done, and around 4:30 I drove off the lot in a CX5 with all of 2.8 miles on the odometer.
  • Back at the office, came to a penultimate stopping point on the sermon work.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent the evening finishing the sermon planning endeavor and figuring out how to pair the new vehicle with the garage door opener. You know, priorities.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday

  • While still at home: planned tasks for the week, met with a termite inspector (the news was not good, but expected).
  • Dropped the YFNBmobile off at the dealer for a scheduled maintenance appointment. Hoofed it in the heat down to the office.
  • Made some sense of the detritus on my desk after two weeks away from the office.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed the draft of the summer edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting the working text of my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Albion).
  • With two substantive phone conversations and relatively short email, dealt with a prickly pastoral/administrative situation.
  • Walked back up Second Street to Isringhausen BMW to pick up the vehicle. Since it's four years old and the odometer sits north of 82,000 miles, I took the time to talk with the sales departments about how the numbers shake out for a trade-in and new X3. 
  • Lunch (well on the late side) from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Registered online for a conference in September, in Dallas.
  • Met with Sue to talk about some Synod issues.
  • Dashed off a note to a priest with a June ordination anniversary.
  • Ducked out to keep an appointment with a doctor who explained how I might forestall more kidney stone attacks. Basically, I can choose to be fat and actively diabetic with minimal chance of kidney stones, or less fat and less diabetic, but with increased risk of stones. Party on.
  • Headed down South Sixth to the Mazda dealership to check out the CX5. Got marooned there for a while in a violent thunderstorm, but made substantial progress in evaluating the automotive options. The landscape may change, but it looks prudent to forego a tiny amount of amenities and save the diocese several thousand dollars by going the Mazda route. Maybe I'll see something differently in the morning.
  • Picked up some Chinese from HyVee for dinner and brought it home, close to 7pm.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Lord's Day (IV Pentecost)

On the road from our Mt Vernon hotel at 8:45, headed east. Arrived at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel on schedule at 10:00, ahead of their regular 10:30am Sunday Mass. Presided, preached, and confirmed two adult men. I was particularly impressed with the energetic singing of this congregation. There were only about 30 in the room (which, in that building, is comfortably full-ish), but it sounded like more. After a delicious lunch of pulled pork and fried chicken, we were on the road home at 12:30, and arrived at 4:10. After eight nights and days away, home was sweet indeed.

Sermon for Proper 6

St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel--Mark 4:26-34, Ezekiel 17:22-24

As I look at my Facebook feed, there’s a quote that I see at least once a week, it seems. It’s attributed to St Teresa of Ávila, and it goes like this:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
As I mentioned, it’s a very popular quote, and it’s not difficult to see why. On its face, it just seems to make sense, and it’s quite inspiring; it makes you want to get out into the world and do some good in the Name of Jesus. So it’s with some trepidation that I’m going to take the opportunity this morning to be the skunk at the garden party, the curmudgeon everybody wishes would keep quiet. I’m going to make a case that this quote, whether or not it actually comes from St Teresa, runs smack dab up against the two parables in today’s gospel.

The first of these parables is about a farmer. He does what farmers do: plants seeds, waters them, presumably fertilizes and pulls weeds around them. He also does what all people do—get up in the morning, interact with others, eat and drink, work, and go to bed at night. In the meantime, his crop grows. He doesn’t know precisely how. He certainly does not make it grow. But grow it does, and eventually it’s mature, and he takes out his sickle and harvests it.

That was a simple parable, as parables go, but the second one is even simpler. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is a very, very small seed. Yet, when the mustard plant is mature, it’s a shrub that dominates the garden, large enough that even birds find it attractive to perch on its branches.   

The theological and spiritual takeaway from there two parables is that God gives the growth, God gives the increase. Now, if you’re hyper-attentive to everything about the Diocese of Springfield, you’ll know that this is the historic Latin motto of our diocese: “Deus dat incrementum,” God gives the increase. And we ignore that at our peril. The parable about the farmer does everything it can to downplay and minimize the activity and effort of the farmer—he sows, he waters, he eventually reaps—and to highlight and magnify what God accomplishes—God is responsible for the actual growth of the crop.

When we forget that it is God who gives the growth,  or when we ignore our knowledge that it is God who gives the growth, we assume that it is then all up to us, because, of course, Christ has no body but ours; no hands, no feet on earth but ours. We find ourselves consumed by frenetic activity toward the end of confecting, conjuring, ushering in, what we suppose is God’s plan, or even, as some express it, fulfilling God’s “dream.” When this happens, the Church becomes just another social service agency, not much different than the local food stamp office or the Rotary Club, except that we pray before meals … and even the Rotary Club does that, last I checked.  

Perhaps we miss this point of these parables because we have a tendency to wander off from the company of those to whom Jesus explains his parables. To the public, Mark tells us, Jesus spoke only in parables, but to his closest disciples, he explained them. In other words, those who were closest to Jesus had the benefit of understanding the deeper things of God, the more profound mysteries of God’s presence in the world. Those who kept Jesus at a distance, those who only heard him as he addressed the crowd, did not have that insider’s advantage.

It is our relationship to Jesus that most dramatically influences how we perceive what God is up to in the world, what God is up to in history. But it’s not what we might call the “historical Jesus” that I’m talk about here; that is, the man Jesus of Nazareth who walked among the towns and countryside and villages of Roman Palestine two-thousand years ago. We don’t have access to that Jesus the way those who heard his agricultural parables from his own lips did. The Jesus to whom we have access is the risen and ascended and glorified Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. The Christ to whom we do have access—and here I’m going to ask St Teresa to let me bend her words to my purpose! —the Christ to whom we have access is available in the life and ministry of his holy Church. Christ has no body but the body of the Church. Christ has no hands but the hands of the Church. I said in the context of some confirmations a few weeks ago that these hands of mine are not important because they’re the hands of Daniel Martins, but because they’re the hands of the Bishop of Springfield, and, through them, the touch of the Apostles, which passes along the touch of the historical Jesus, reaches across the centuries, right into our own lives today.

The disciples were privileged to have Jesus explain his parables to them because they were close to him, they were in a vital relationship with him. The way you and I can put ourselves in the way of a similar advantage is by abiding in Christ, remaining in close connection to him through the community of the Church—through the Church’s scriptures, through the Church’s worship, through the Church’s sacraments, and through the Church’s people. We have another botanical image today in our first reading, from Ezekiel, which describes a massive cedar tree, grown from a mere sprig, so large that innumerable birds find a home in its branches. We can understand that tree to be a figure for the Church, which is large enough to offer a home to the variegated diversity of human beings who are called by the risen and glorified Christ to faith and discipleship.   

I see many mottos and mission statements from parishes and dioceses that include the words “change the world,” or something like them. I think I understand the charitable intent behind those words. People who speak and write them really do want to be agents of change for the good, even to do God’s work. But I hope no group of Christians, or any other human community, ever entertains the notion that we are or will, with sustained effort, even over several generations, ever be able to fix the world. And for that matter, speaking internally, we’re not, by our own efforts, ever going to “fix” the Church. Fixing the world, fixing the Church, is up to God. Deus dat incrementum. God gives the growth. The most we can do is do a little bit of planting, a little bit of watering, and, if we’re at the right place at the right time, a little bit of reaping. I, for one, take great comfort from that.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday (Joseph Butler)

Wrapped up the St Michael's Youth Conference with a votive Mass for St Michael & All Angels this morning at 1030. Then Lady Brenda and I enjoyed lunch at Ruby Tuesday in Fairview Heights, followed by a pit stop at Cold Stone in O'Fallon/Shiloh before continuing east on I-64 to the Hampton Inn in Mt Vernon. Checked in, got settled, then took in the latest addition to the Star Wars franchise (Solo) at a nearby cineplex. Dinner at Cracker Barrel (when in the country, do what the country folk do). Off to Mt Carmel in the morning.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday (Evelyn Underhill)

Final full day of the 2018 St Michael's Youth Conference. After Morning Prayer, four instruction sessions, and Mass, our afternoon rec time consisted of a pool party and dinner at the home of a parishioner. The evening was capped off by a rather precious time of sharing around a campfire. This thing were are doing is profoundly touching young lives and forming disciples of Jesus. I could not be more grateful for it. Our closing Mass is tomorrow at 10:30. All are welcome.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday (St Basil)

Fourth full day of the St Michael's Youth Conference in O'Fallon. The theme of this year's conference is "Called, Consecrated, & Commissioned." Threatening weather conditions prevented our planned miniature golf outing this evening, so we called an audible and watched the movie "All Saints." It could not have hit the sweet spot of our theme more solidly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday

Day Three of the 2018 Springfield St Michael's Youth Conference. Same routine: a full round of worship, morning instructional periods, afternoon recreation and community-building. Today the kids helped with the Feed My Lambs service project, assembling lunches to be delivered in low-income neighborhoods. In the evening, they went to a ballgame at Busch Stadium. Brenda and I opted out, because ... you know, not the Cubs, so ... meh.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday

Second full day of St Michael's Conference. It's a great group of kids. They're getting along with one another, attentive in an exemplary way during instruction, and engaged with worship. It's a demanding load, with Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evensong every day, plus four 40-minute teaching sessions. Afternoons and evenings are for recreation and community building. This afternoon they went to a science museum in St Louis. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

St Barnabas

First full day of the fourth annual Diocese of Springfield St Michael's Youth Conference, held, appropriately enough, at St Michael's Church in O'Fallon. It was a full agenda of worship, instruction, meals, fellowship, and fun. We had a Solemn Mass before lunch and Solemn Evensong after a bowling outing to mark the major feast day. I'm really proud and grateful to be part of this important work.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Lord's Day (Proper 5)

Up and out with Brenda at 0715, headed south. Arrived at St Michael's, O'Fallon in time to preside, preach, and confirm at the regular 0930 liturgy. I looked out over a sea of red shirts in the congregation, ostensibly to coordinate with the red vestments used to mark confirmation, but since most of them also featured a bird and a baseball bat, there was the added benefit of taunting the bishop. Is that a venial or a mortal sin? After enjoying a post-liturgical potluck repast, we hung out in the comfort of Fr Wetmore's office for a while, then wandered over to the Hilton Garden to check in. Here for six nights, as part of the team for the St Michael's Youth Conference. We drove back to the church at 5:00 to greet the Michaelites, offer Evening Prayer together, have dinner, and do the usual sort of ice-breaking activities. It's going to be a great week.

Sermon for Proper 5

St Michael's, O'Fallon--Mark 4:20-35, II Corinthians 4:13-18, Genesis 3:1-21

I guess you could say that anyone who wears the sort of funny collar that Fr Ian and I both wear has a professional interest, a built-in curiosity, about how people out in the world think and feel about what we do, about the institutions and the beliefs and practices that our daily working lives are soaked in. We tend to notice when people say things, or put stuff on the internet, that have to do with what we might call questions of “ultimate meaning”—Who am I? Why am I here? How am I supposed to be behaving? What happens when I die? —those sorts of things. We are especially curious when the people making these statements or asking these questions do not share our commitment to Christian faith. I have to tell you, my friends, it’s bleak out there. Just read comments on any online article that has anything to do with anything Christian—not the actual article so much, but the comments. You will see truckloads of bitter faithlessness, a sense of abandonment by God, a testimony of feeling crushed by the weight of human suffering.

What we see when we look at anything, of course, is governed by the “lens” that we look through. Whenever I go to my optometrist, they have me look through lenses that show me a cartoon-like scene with green grass and a road and a house and a picket fence, and they move things around and I’m supposed to let them know when something lines up with something else. If I were to just look at the projection on the wall with the naked eye, I wouldn’t see the things they want me to be seeing. Only the lenses give me that view.  So, without the “lenses” that are provided by active faith and diligent religious practice—faith and religious practice of whatever sort; I’m not necessarily talking just about Christianity here—without faith and religious practice, our perception is governed by what St Paul, as he writes to the Corinthians, calls our “outer nature,” which he says is “wasting away.”

This “wasting away” of our “outer nature” causes us to not see what we’re supposed to be seeing. It’s like trying to read the eye chart without looking through the proper lenses; it doesn’t help the doctor write the correct prescription for us. In fact, you could say that it causes us to slowly go blind. We look, but we don’t see. We suffer from the same sort of blindness that afflicted most of the characters in the passage from the third chapter of St Mark’s gospel that we just heard. Jesus’ blood relatives think he’s a taco short of a combination plate, and they begin to plot an intervention. The Pharisees think he’s demon-possessed, literally in league with the Devil. None of them even begin to understand who Jesus is and what his ministry is about.  

As we read on, then, we see that Jesus proceeds to flip the script. In response to the Pharisees, he uses pure logic: “If I’m in league with the Devil, then why am I casting demons out of people every time I turn around? I’m doing so many exorcisms they’re going to make a movie about me!” And for the benefit of his blood relatives, he points to the crowd, the crowd gathered to be touched by him, healed by him, and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers.” Jesus’ responses here provide us with a path toward flipping that same oppressive script in our own lives. It’s about not just looking, but seeing. The whole of Jesus’ ministry is against anything that oppresses human flourishing, anything that prevents human thriving. That’s the critical lens that the Pharisees, and Jesus’ family, were not looking through.

Another way to speak of this is to talk about exercising the gift of faith, faith being the proper lens through which to view the world, the proper lens by which to make sense of human suffering, faith that understands who Jesus is and what he has accomplished. It is through this lens of faith that Paul can say, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  Such faith is self-replicating; it breeds more of itself. As we grow in faith—that is, as we persist in viewing the world through the proper lens—we eventually begin to see Jesus more clearly, in greater light. Particularly in his acts of compassionate healing, and even more especially when those acts of healing involve liberating people from an oppressing spirit, something that has prevented the joy and the peace that God wants for all of us from invading their lives even in the midst of their afflictions—in these acts of healing we see the working of the Spirit of God. In that, we have better vision than the Pharisees. And we also have an advantage on Jesus’ blood relatives in this scene, because we come to know the disciples of Jesus—that is, the community of the baptized, which is to say, us—we come to see ourselves as the true and enduring and eternal family of God.

Eventually, our growth in faith enables us to see the big picture, the picture that is cosmic in scope, of what God is doing to redeem the entirety of creation. Our first reading today, which is the timeless account in Genesis of the “fall” of humankind, the introduction of sin into the world, concludes with a cryptic promise from God as he addresses the serpent who had successfully tempted the Woman to eat the forbidden fruit: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this one sentence is a compressed version of the entire story of redemption: The Woman’s offspring—Jesus, given human nature through the Virgin Mary—will crush the head of the Evil One, beginning by casting demons out of oppressed human beings one by one, and consummated by his defeat of Death itself by his own death and resurrection. I cannot say it any better than St Paul does to the Corinthians: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday (St Columba)

A day of ministry-related chores and personal chores intertwined. Read and responded to an Ember Day letter. Refined and printed my homily for tomorrow. Dealt by email with some complicated administrative/pastoral issues in three parishes. Did three loads of laundry. Paid June bills. Walked. Packed for seven nights away from home.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday

A day of travel: Caught the 0900 ferry from Mackinac Island to Mackinaw City (a 16=minute voyage in a brisk 55 degrees as we sat on the upper deck), retrieved our luggage and our vehicle, then headed home. But for some frustrating construction and traffic delays that cost us about an hour of travel time, it was smooth, grateful to be home safely.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday

Our final day on Mackinac Island with our Class of 2011 bishops and spouses annual continuing ed meeting. It's about 25 degrees cooler here than in central Illinois, which makes it feel not quite like summer. But it's otherwise beautiful. We had a productive working morning and enjoyed a carriage tour (private motor vehicles not permitted) of the island in the afternoon. During some down time before dinner I managed to whip out another daily office devotional meditation for November 5, 2019 (part of a month-long assignment from Forward Day by Day).

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday

Still on Mackinac Island with our Class of 2011 colleague bishops and spouses. It was a working morning, followed by a non-working afternoon. I played nine holes of golf. It's been about eight or nine years since I was last on the links, and probably four or five years before that. So you get the idea about where my abilities lie. I had both right-handed and left-handed clubs available to me, and my claim to fame for the day was that I play ambidextrously throughout. The strategy that emerged was to swing left-handed for my long game and right-handed for my short game. I putted lefty, but that doesn't really matter--I'm an "OK" putter, no better and no worse, from either side. It was great fun, especially the camaraderie with the Bishop of Western Kansas and the Bishop of West Missouri.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesday (St Boniface)

On Mackinac Island, Michigan with the bishops and spouses of the Class of 2011 (bishops elected during 2010), for our annual voluntary continuing education get-together. I do engage serious work, but it's at a relaxed pace, and we have lots of fun. Pastoral ministry, whether at a parish or diocesan level, is a lonely job. There are few, if any, peer relationships on a day-to-day basis. Time like this week is invaluable for mental and spiritual health.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday

Up and out with Brenda around ten of seven in the morning. Arrived in Mackinaw City, MI about 8.5 hours later. Parked the YFNBmobile and caught the ferry to Mackinac Island. Checked into the Grand Hotel, dressed for dinner (they're old-fashioned that way) and joined our bishops Class of 2011 colleagues and spouses for dinner. The bishops begin our continuing ed time tomorrow. The spouses have other plans.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Lord's Day (II Pentecost)

Up and out of the Hampton Inn in Alton in time to preside and preach at the regular 0815 liturgy at Trinity Chapel. Spent some time with the folks at coffee hour, then headed down the hill to St Paul's and their 1015 Mass, where we baptized a lovely 8-year old named Daytona, confirmed two youth, received three adults, blessed two young boys on the day of their first Holy Communion, and offered prays for a youth about the depart as part of the team going on a medical mission in Nigeria. After a bit of down time at the fast-food seafood restaurant, it was back to St Paul's for their monthly PAWS (Pets Are Welcome Service). There were about 15 dogs and 25 humans in attendance. Here I am with 14-month old Lily. Growing girl. Home around 4:30. The main business of the evening was to pack for four nights on Mackinac Island, MI with the Class 0f 2011 bishops and spouses. It's our annual continuing education gathering, but we work some fun in as well. Leaving early tomorrow morning.

Sermon for Proper 4

Alton Parish--Mark 2:23--3:6, Deuteronomy 5:12-15

I heard a story on the radio a couple of weeks ago about various “what if” thought experiments. What if some particular historical event had not happened? How might that have changed things for us today? Or, what if something that might have happened, but didn’t, had actually happened? The one that caught my interest was, “What if football had remained boring like it was in the 1890s?” Which is to say, what if the forward pass had never been invented and football was 100% a ground game? The guy on the radio speculated that football would have died out, and never become the economic powerhouse and cultural force that the NFL and Division I college football are today. How would that make life different for us? Maybe, he said, we’d have more time for things like … going to church on Sundays. I immediately thought, “Really?!! That’s what you come up with? Football is the reason church attendance has fallen like a lead weight in a deep lake?” Somehow it seems to me that the decline of church attendance in our society has to do with a lot more than the popularity of football. The fact is, for a long list of reasons, to spend your Sunday morning in church is to be a cultural outlier, to stand out from the crowd. Everyone here today is swimming upstream. There is virtually zero cultural guilt cast on not being a churchgoer. An outfit called the Minnesota Ad Project once came up with a print ad that showed a photo of pallbearers carrying a casket up the steps of a church. The caption read, “Will it take six strong men to get you back into church?” That ad was kind of edgy 25 years ago, when my vestry wouldn’t let me use it (!), but, today, hardly anybody would understand it.

I was struck by a comment I saw on Facebook recently that said that Americans are “apostate Puritans.” That is, as a society, we’ve held on to the intellectual habits, the thought patterns, of Puritanism—just look at how quickly and fiercely we turn on men whose bad behavior is outed by the #metoo movement—even as we’ve let go of their moral code and religious practices. Sunday church attendance is one of those religious practices we’ve let go of.  Deep in the Puritan psyche, the Puritan mind, is an obligation to “keep the Sabbath.” The first reading this morning, from Deuteronomy, is from one of the various Old Testament iterations of the Ten Commandments, all of which mention the Sabbath, and the necessity for God’s people to keep if holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work. … You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
To keep the Sabbath is to honor God as the Creator, who brought the universe into being in six days, and rested on the seventh, establishing a pattern, a principle, that human beings created in the image of that God do well to emulate. The Sabbath, though, honors not only God the Creator, but God the Redeemer, who brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land. By the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was an entrenched institution within Judaism, with centuries of interpretive tradition as to what keeps the Sabbath and what breaks the Sabbath layered over the original commandment. But the heart of keeping the Sabbath is simply to stop doing what you normally do, that is, to cease from routine work. There’s also an element of assembly, of coming together, as well as a note of festivity, public rejoicing.

So it’s in this context that we have today’s passage from the second chapter of Mark’s gospel. It beings with Jesus walking through the countryside with his disciples, and apparently also with some Pharisees. It happens to be the Sabbath Day—that is, a Saturday. As they walk along fields of ripe crops, some of the disciples break off heads of grain, presumably to eat them, though the text never says as much. The Pharisees immediately launch into Jesus, “Whoa! Breaking the Sabbath much?” Now, of course, to say this, they would have needed to interpret what the disciples were doing as “harvesting,” and, therefore, agricultural work. But Jesus is right there with a comeback zinger, and trots out an obscure story about King David, everybody’s hero, breaking the Law by raiding the Jewish equivalent of what we would call the Tabernacle or Aumbry, just because he and his men were hungry. And then there’s the takeaway line: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Then we fast forward to later that same day. They get to whatever town they were headed for and head straight for the synagogue. There’s a man there with a paralyzed hand. Jesus decides to give the Pharisees a chance to redeem themselves, and asks them if they think it would be OK for him to do such an obviously good thing as to heal this man, right then and there, even though it’s the Sabbath. When they can’t answer, but just hem and haw, it’s one of the few times the biblical text actually says Jesus is angry. So he turns away from the Pharisees and just heals the man’s hand.

Now, how have Christians appropriated and integrated the Jewish notion of the Sabbath? That’s actually kind of a complicated question. The first Christians, of course, were Jews, so they would have simply continued doing what Jews do. But by the end of the first century, Jewish Christians had pretty much begun to walk apart from institutional Judaism. After some controversy, they had become welcoming of Gentile believers without requiring the males among them to get circumcised, and the Jewish establishment had effectively made the decision to kick them out anyway. And all of this coincided with the development of the practice of observing the first day of the week as “the Lord’s Day,” since it was the day Jesus rose from the dead. The Christian observance of the Lord’s Day—that is, Sunday—imported some of the elements of the Jewish Sabbath; namely, public assembly and celebration. But as for the notion of cessation from routine work, and rest, these continued to be important, but tended to be applied with more flexibility. (There have from time to time been Christian communities that have attempted to adopt a full-on Jewish-style Sabbath, but this has never been the mainstream.)

And as we read this rather dramatic gospel passage in the larger context of what we might call the grand narrative of the gospel, the meaning of our Christian celebration of the Lord’s Day becomes quite clear. It is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. It is not the Sabbath itself, and it’s probably not accurate to call it “the Christian Sabbath.” But it is a day for the Christian community to assemble. I recently read the newsletter of a parish in another diocese in which the rector was discussing the dark side of all the technology that tends to run our lives these days, technology that allows us to interact with one another without actually being in one another’s presence, and he made reference to his parish’s mission statement, which begins with the words “We gather …” We gather. That is a significant part of what the Lord’s Day means for us, and is the primary way we can observe the commandment to honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

We further honor the Sabbath on the Lord’s Day by not only gathering, assembling, coming together, but by gathering for the express purpose of rejoicing. Every Sunday is “little Easter.” Even Lenten Sundays are “in” Lent, not “of” Lent,” because they are all joyful celebrations of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. In our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, we allow ourselves to be taken up into the cosmic reality of reconciliation and redemption that is our destiny as adopted sons and daughters of God.

We have in the Episcopal Church a canon, a church law, entitled “On the Due Observance of Sundays.”  It talks about how every member of this church is expected to be in attendance at corporate worship on the Lord’s Day “unless for good cause prevented” (and, no, to the frustration of generations of parish clergy, the canon never defines “good cause”!). I think there are three possible levels of response to this canon: One can make a weekly decision to obey it, a decision grounded in a sense of duty, of obligation. That’s certainly not all bad. One can make going to church a habit, something that you do just because … it’s what you do. That may be a little better. Or, we can learn to see keeping the Lord’s Day as an irresistible impulse that just carries us along in a stream of enjoyment of God’s presence. I had a friend who said many decades ago, “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from Mass on Sunday.” It’s all a lot more fun, isn’t it, when we allow ourselves to grow into that third category.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.