Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

If you read my last post, you know why I've been absent from this space for a few days--moving. Our worldly possessions--many more than we actually need, apparently--are now shoehorned into a 1500 square food Chicago apartment. Cardboard boxes and wrapping paper are strewn everywhere. The bedroom and the master bath are essentially in working order, and the living room is habitable. The kitchen is far from such a state. But all will be well. In the meantime, real life goes on. Yesterday evening, just a few hours after the last item was unloaded from the truck, Brenda and I drove down to Effingham for the night, then on to St Mary's, Robinson for a scheduled visitation. They are a small community, but immensely devoted to the Lord and to one another. It was a joy to celebrate the Eucharist with them. We headed back north after the coffee hour, and arrived in our north side neighborhood right around 3:00 pm. This will take some getting used to.

Sermon for Proper 19

St Mary's, Robinson--Mark 8:27-38

Many, perhaps most, people in the world spend most of their time trying to get their immediate physical and emotional needs met—water, food, shelter, somebody to love and be loved by. A lot of us, though, have the luxury of turning our attention to what might be called the “big questions”—Why am I here? Why is the world the way it is? Why is there so much suffering? What does it all mean? What am I supposed to be doing or not doing? And when this life comes to an end, what, if anything, happens next?

Now, I’m going to assume that virtually all of us who are in this room this morning, and virtually everybody in the churches I visit from one Sunday to the next, do pretty much have their immediate physical and emotional needs satisfied. Sure, all of us do suffer, if not right now, then in the past and in the future. But precisely because our immediate physical and emotional needs are usually met, we assume that, in our quest for answers to the “big questions” of life, we start from our present relatively comfortable position, and then move onward and upward from there. We don’t think in terms of having to give up any ground in our comfort and security in order to chase down the meaning of life. When a football team is on offense, and it’s fourth down, and they’re out of field goal range, they’ll surrender possession and punt the ball in order to not have to play defense with a dangerous field position. Nobody wants to lose ground.

This is how the apostle Peter, and his colleagues, his “teammates,” thought about what they were up to as disciples of Jesus. They were a small band, but Jesus had lots of followers. If it were all happening today, he would have maxed out on Facebook friends and become a “public figure.” He would have so many followers on Twitter and Instagram that he would be considered an “influencer,” and all sorts of companies would be trying to get him to wear their gear when he takes a selfie.  He was getting more and more famous, and soon he would also be getting more and more powerful, and the promised Messiah would reign over Israel, expelling the Roman occupiers, and the present small band would have prestigious positions in the new administration, and when the TV series about the “successful” Jesus comes out, there’ll be flashback scenes from the humble beginnings of the original “Jesus movement.”

Then Jesus spoils it all. He shatters the dream. He rains on the parade, big time. Right after inducing his disciples, with Peter in the lead, to clearly state their faith that he is the Messiah, and they have visions of their future elite status dancing in their heads, Jesus delivers a gut punch:
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
Talk about sucking all the air out of a room. Of course, Peter can’t stand the idea, and begins to act like a campaign manager whose candidate has suddenly wandered seriously off message, and it’s his duty to rein his man back in. Jesus is having none of it, though, and smacks Peter down like a boss: “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter had crossed a line. He was not a senior campaign official, or a chief of staff. He was a disciple, and disciples belong behind the one whom they are following. The “Satan” part was just to make his point crystal clear.

For Peter and the other disciples, there would be no glorious ascent from comfortable obscurity there in Caesarea Philippi to glory in Jerusalem. You see, the cross was blocking the way to that happy ending, first for Jesus, then for the disciples as well—some of them, including Peter, literally. And so for us, finding the answers to the “big questions,” learning the meaning of life, figuring out suffering, “finding your bliss,” seeing the face of God … it doesn’t just build on the material comfort and security we’ve already got and then keep moving in the same upward direction until we achieve the goal. We don’t get to punt; we don’t get to keep our field position. What we get to do is let go of everything we’ve got. What we get to do is embrace loss. What we get to do is make friends with becoming a nobody and having nothing. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”

On Fridays at Morning Prayer, and on Monday in Holy Week at the Eucharist, we encounter this magnificent collect: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

The way of the cross, the way of life and peace. This is a way that entails total surrender of everything that we might hold dear. It means giving up some things that are, in fact, inherently destructive: vices that enslave our bodies, the satisfaction of exploiting other people’s weaknesses just because we can, the ego gratification of always acting in our own self-interest with no regard for the common good, the impulse to resort to violence, whether physical or emotional, in order to assert our desires, and the need to control, both people and situations. All that is difficult enough. But the way of the cross also demands that we lay aside, at times, things that may in themselves actually be good, but are not the greatest good. We’re talking here about professional and career success, material wealth, social esteem, family reputation, anything that may stroke our ego and lure us into the sin of pride. To put it bluntly, following Jesus, which cannot be anything other than following him in the way of the cross, means writing God a blank check, giving God permission to break into our lives and rob us blind.

So the question on the floor, my friends, is this: How much do we want “life and peace?” How badly do we really want answers to the big questions of life? Because getting to that goal probably means allowing ourselves to be sacked by the opposing team’s defensive line. Our invitation today is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The late New Testament scholar Reginald Fuller explains this image of taking up our cross as allowing ourselves to be “branded” by Jesus, the way cattle in a herd are marked by the brand of the rancher to whom they belong. The words “marked as Christ’s own forever” from our baptismal liturgy come to mind here, and in that context they are words of comfort and hope. But in the context of today’s liturgy, that have a more sober connotation. Taking up our cross, living under the brand of Jesus, requires us to surrender all autonomy and all self-assertion, in exchange for the lasting joy of being truly human, of knowing ourselves fully, of seeing God and not turning to dust. Like the song says, “The world behind me, the cross before me. No turning back, no turning back.” Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday

It's time to share some personal news. Brenda and I are in the process of moving ,,, this very week, in fact. We are going to make a home in an apartment in the three-flat building that we bought with two of our children earlier this year. The reason has to do with some health and family issues that I will not give the details on in this platform. Suffice it to say that it is a prudent and well thought-through decision, and I have the sympathetic concurrence of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Springfield in making it. The plan is that I will "telecommute" most weekdays, consolidate appointments and meetings on Fridays and Saturdays, when I will be in the office in Springfield, make my Sunday parish visitation, and return to Chicago on Sunday afternoons. It will be a challenge, but I am expected it to work. 

So, our household is in full-on moving mode, which affects my daily activities in a major way. Nonetheless, I did spend some time in the office today, polishing up this Sunday's homily (St Mary's, Robinson), working a bit on the November clergy retreat, and fleshing out an article for the Covenant blog. I also presided and preached at the midday cathedral Mass, a votive "For the Nation," appropriately enough, given today's date.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Lord's Day (XVI Pentecost)

Back now from another luminous visitation to my DEPO parish--Trinity in Yazoo City, MS. What an utterly gracious group of people and an engaged Christian community. They truly "own" their position on the edge of the Mississippi delta, with all the suffering and dysfunction that has plagued that region. They are *in the neighborhood.* I am blessed to be their delegated pastor. Preached and presided in the church between breakfast and lunch in the parish hall. After Mass, we hit the road and braved I-55 all the way home, arriving at 9:30.

Sermon for Proper 18

Trinity, Yazoo City, MS--Mark 7:31-27

Most of you are familiar, I suspect, with a text from St Matthew’s gospel that has come to be known as the Great Commission. Jesus has gathered his followers on a mountaintop in Galilee some days after his resurrection, and he tells them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” These were the marching orders of the infant church, and they continue to be our marching orders two thousand years later.

We talk a lot about evangelism these days in the Episcopal Church, which is a good thing, because, not too long ago, we didn’t even like talking about it. That’s a baby step in the right direction. But we’re still not very good about actually doing it. And it’s more difficult at this moment in time, in our culture, than it has ever been since Jesus gave the Great Commission. When many of us were young, you could at least count on most people having some default disposition in favor of Christianity. Not everybody went to church, but most everybody had a particular church that they didn’t go to! Now, our society is getting more secular by the minute, and the kind of claims that Christians tend to make—in fulfillment of the Great Commission, actually—much what we say as Christians is understood by some of our neighbors literally as hate speech.

What keeps us going in this challenging environment—what should keep us going, at any rate—is the notion that we, as the Church, are stewards of good news. Something very precious has been entrusted to us, something that can be a game-changer, a life-changer, for women and men and children who have an ache in the pit of their stomach, wondering who they are, why this world is the way it is, how they’re supposed to be behaving, and what, if anything, comes next. What we have to share is the knowledge that every human being is created in the image of a God who loves them to the edge of the universe and back, that God has intervened in this broken world and is about the project of making new things that have grown old, of restoring all people to unity with himself and with one another in Christ, that the Spirit of this God gives those who follow him the grace to be able to cooperate with this redemptive effort that God is pursuing, and that what we have to look forward to is an eternity of joy in God’s unfiltered presence. If this is all not good news, then I don’t know what is.

The Great Commission tells us that Jesus wants us to hear and know this good news, to understand and internalize this good news, and to speak and share and explain this good news to anyone who has an interest and will listen.

But, like the man in today’s gospel, we are “deaf and dumb”—I know one is supposed to say “mute” nowadays because “dumb” has developed other connotations, but—what can I say?—I like the alliteration of “deaf and dumb,” so that’s what I’m going to say. Besides, sometimes, when it comes to our ability to communicate the good news, “dumb” may actually be pretty appropriate! We are like this deaf mute we meet in Mark’s gospel, because we are unable to hear completely the good news of who Jesus is, and because we are unable to hear it, we are unable to effectively speak that same good news. And, probably also like the man in this story, we find this inability to hear and speak the gospel a source of shame and embarrassment.

Up to this point in Mark’s narrative, the disciples are also “deaf and dumb.” They simply do not “get” Jesus. We can understand the man in the story as a symbol of Jesus’ followers at that point in the evolution of their discipleship. They were attracted to Jesus. They were curious about Jesus, and had a sense that the best was yet to come. They were hugely impressed by Jesus as a worker of miracles, both in healing people of disease and exercising authority over the forces of nature. And they were, to a significant extent, loyal to Jesus. But all of this rested on the assumption that Jesus was going to get more and more famous, and work increasingly spectacular miracles, and ultimately become a political savior for the Jewish people, kicking out the Roman occupiers and setting himself up on David’s throne. The disciples figured they were in line for some important staff positions in the new administration.

And the deaf-mute is also symbolic of us as well. There’s a program called Renewal Works that surveys Episcopalians about their experience of spiritual growth. When a parish goes through Renewal Works, the leadership gets a report that sorts the members—not by name, just by percentage—sorts the members of the parish into four categories: those who are exploring life in Christ, those who are growing in their life in Christ, those who are deepening their life in Christ, and those who are centered on their life in Christ. As you might imagine, the great majority of parishioners, usually to the dismay of their clergy, fall into the first two categories—exploring and growing—and very few in the other two—deepening and centered. Usually only someone who is centered in Christ is going to answer the call of the Great Commission and become an effective evangelist.

As we know, then, Jesus heals the man who is deaf and dumb. Interestingly, he doesn’t do so quickly and with apparent ease, as is the case with many of his miracles. This one seems to require some serious focus and effort; Mark tells us that Jesus sighed as he restored the man’s hearing and his ability to speak.

Soon after this incident, in Caesarea Philippi, the disciples, with Peter as their spokesman, finally confess truly who Jesus is—the Messiah, the Son of the living God. They have apparently heard the gospel with clarity, and now they make the first baby step toward being able to speak the gospel with clarity. This is a turning point that sets them on a path toward Jerusalem and the cross, and then, following the resurrection, to professing him with the bold confidence—the enviable bold confidence that we read about in the book of Acts.

So, how can we join Peter and the other disciples on that journey? How can we draft in the wake of the deaf and dumb man whom Jesus enables to hear and speak clearly, and find a way to follow the Great Commission with joy and effectiveness?

I read an article recently that compared contemporary educational methods with what used to be the norm before around 75 years ago. Some of you who are old enough may remember at least hearing about school kids having to “recite” their lessons. They would be called on to stand at their desks and answer questions put to them by the teacher, or literally recite a memorized text. This has long since not been the case. But the article I read suggested that because kids no longer have to do this, there is an epidemic of college and graduate students who are not being able to read books and listen to lectures and then synthesize that material, make it their own, express it in their own words. They have literally not “learned their lesson.”

This offers us a clue about how we might become better hearers of the word of God and more effective speakers of the word of God. It’s a matter of “learning our lines.” Another expression we don’t hear as much anymore is “say your prayers.” Doesn’t that suggest a child’s bedtime ritual, in which the prayers are pretty much the same night after night? Even devout Christian parents tend not to teach such things anymore. But may I recommend something that I think has a track record of getting the job done here? I’m talking about the Daily Office, the forms for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer as we have them in the Prayer Books that sit in the pew racks in front of you right now. I can give you personal testimony that making a habit of the Daily Office is a “tried and true” method of “reciting our lessons” and “learning our lines” toward the end of becoming able to hear the good news so we can faithfully speak the good news. The Daily Office soaks, washes us, immerses us in the language of scripture and puts prayers on our lips that get to the heart of matters concerning our relationship with God that we could never come up with on our own. It enables to “pray together” with the Christian community across time and space.

If we are faithful in “saying our prayers” over the course of a lifetime, we will find that Jesus is faithful to us, opening our ears and loosening our tongues for the work of mission and ministry in a world that very much needs to hear good news. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Saturday (Nativity of the BVM)

Spent most of the day with Fr George Woodliff, rector of Trinity, Yazoo City, and his wife, Jill. They drove us down to Jackson to take in the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which is ... powerful. Seeing an actual KKK robe in a display case was chilling, making me feel like I was seeing Evil itself on display. The evening was spent having dinner and conversation with Trinity's vestry.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Friday

Breakfast with the Jenkins in picturesque St Francisville, LA. Then on the road (U.S. 61) north to Yazoo City. We stopped for lunch in historic Vicksburg, and then took part of a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area. One of the stops was Christ Church, which, the sign said, held services every day during the siege by federal forces during the Civil War. Eventually, we arrived and got settled in at the Hampton Inn in Yazoo. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thursday

A day of travel, driving (sometimes through intense rainstorms, courtesy of tropical storm Gordon) from Memphis, TN to St Francisville, LA. Enjoying some life-giving reconnecting with old friends Bishop Charles and Louise Jenkins. Tomorrow, back north a bit to Yazoo City, MS.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday

Writing tonight from a hotel room in Memphis, to which Brenda and I drove today, Our eventual destination is Yazoo City, MS, where I have a DEPO visitation at Trinity Church this weekend. But we're expanding the trip to swing down to St Francisville, LA and spend a night with our old friends Bishop Charles and Louise Jenkins. Bishop Jenkins was the rector to called me to be his curate at St Luke's, Baton Rouge in 1989 when I was first ordained.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Did just a smidgen of work on my next-due post for the Covenant blog.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Yazoo City, MS).
  • Dealt with an administrative issue pertaining to one of our closed parishes, the building of which we yet need to deconsecrate.
  • Attended to some liturgy prep for next month's annual diocesan synod.
  • Moved the ball down the field on prep for the November clergy conference.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Devoted a substantial chunk of time, thought, conversation, and prayer to a particularly vexing issues in one of our Eucharistic Communities. This concluded with a sent email that may or may not have contributed to a resolution.
  • Another session of synod liturgy prep.
  • Another session of clergy conference prep.
  • Worked on my homily for October 21 (celebrating St Luke's Day at St Luke's, Springfield), reviewing my exegetical notes and formulating a homiletical message statement.
  • Took care of a couple of quick administrative chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

The Lord's Day (XV Pentecost)

Up and out of our hotel room in Litchfield in time to arrive at St Andrew’s, Edwardsville at 0830, ahead of their regular 0900 Sunday liturgy (summer schedule). Preached and presided at the Holy Mysteries with these fine folks. They are holding up well during a pastoral hiatus that looks like it may be winding down.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sermon for Proper 17

St Andrew's, Edwardsville--Deuteronomy 4:1-9, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Our common story as the Christian people is, of course, rooted in the story of our spiritual forebears, the Jews, the people of Israel. Our first reading this morning, from Deuteronomy, has Israel on the east bank of the Jordan River, getting ready to make the crossing into the land that God had promised to them. Their leader, Moses, knows he is about to die, and will not be making the crossing with them. What we heard this morning is a section of what was possibly the most important speech, the most critical pep-talk, of his entire life. Up until that point, the Hebrew people had been a nation without a land, a people without a piece of real estate that they could call their own. For more than an entire generation, they had been nomads, living in tents, always on the move. Before that, they were slaves. Now everything was about to change. They were going in to take possession of the Promised Land. They needed to learn a different way to live. Moses, in his final act of leadership, wanted to help them create a clear national and ethnic identity. During their wilderness sojourn, the people of Israel had indeed come to know God—Yahweh, the LORD—as a living reality, one who guided and directed, and with whom communion and fellowship is something to be desired and sought. But that was in the desert, where they literally needed to be guided day by day. Now they were going to live in settled towns and villages, tending crops rather than gathering manna every morning, pasturing their herds and flocks in the same general area rather than being constantly on the move. They needed to learn a new way to live, and Moses was right there with the prescription—which was the Torah, the Law of Moses.

Moses saw the Torah as God’s gift by which to accomplish the goal of creating a new national identity for Israel, a means of constantly reminding the people who they are and to whom they belong. The Torah consists of outward public and private observances—613 individual statues, to be precise. They govern a wide array of concerns, ranging from corporate worship to healthcare to criminal justice to family relations to social and civil relations to economic order to sexual behavior and even personal diet and hygiene. Each of the 613 individual laws was intended to help shape and form the people into a community that “walks with the Lord,” that continues to rely on the Lord for provision and guidance and direction, just as they had done during the forty years in the wilderness. Far from being an oppressive yoke around their necks, the people were encouraged to see the Law of Moses as a veritable gift of life, straight from the hand of a gracious God. Listen to Moses’ words to the people:
And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them...Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' …make them known to your children and your children's children.
Well, as you know, the people of Israel settled the Promised Land. Years and decades and centuries passed. The Law of Moses was successively “forgotten” and “rediscovered” several times. Some of the leaders of Israel were faithful to the Lord and led the people in His ways. More, however, were unfaithful, and led the people astray. There were periods of peace and prosperity, but longer periods of great political and social and military turmoil. Eventually, about 500 years or so after they had crossed the Jordan, Israel was once again largely a landless nation, as they found themselves in exile, only to have a remnant return a couple of generations later and re-establish the capital city of Jerusalem. During the rising and falling of their national fortunes, the people of Israel—the Jews—engaged in an ongoing struggle over how, or how not, to adapt the Torah to the changing circumstances of their existence. In the process, their understanding of the Torah tended to become rather brittle, rather mechanical, exceedingly legalistic. Layer after layer of “expert” opinion on the interpretation of the Law of Moses piled themselves on top of one another. In time, this collection of interpretation and explanation began to weigh more than the actual law itself. People got caught up in these secondary matters of interpretation and lost their focus on the laws themselves and the intent behind the laws. This gave rise to various classes of professional Torah scholars and teachers—such as priests and scribes—as well as “parties” within Judaism. These scholars and teachers and parties all offered conflicting viewpoints, and the Torah came to be seen as an end in itself, rather than a means to a holy end. Keeping the Law correctly in every detail became more important than knowing God and pleasing God and having fellowship with God, which was the whole reason for the Law in the first place.

Then, some 1200 years or so after the giving of the Law of Moses, Jesus appears on the scene. In one incident, he engages the dry, brittle, legalistic handling of the Torah that had become so prevalent in Judaism. Some scribes—members of a professional class of Torah teachers—notice Jesus’ disciples failing to observe one of the secondary interpretations of the Torah that had become standard ritual practice, and they take Jesus to task for it. Jesus wastes no time in condemning their hyper-technical approach to the Law:
There is nothing outside a person which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a person are what defile him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. 
Now, as Christians, we need to be very careful not to read this passage in isolation from the rest of scripture. Yes, Jesus excoriates the scribes and their allies. He calls them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs”—some pretty strong language. But he does not condemn religious practice itself. On the contrary, Jesus faithfully observed it. He was circumcised on the eighth day and presented in the temple on the fortieth day of his life. He accompanied his parents on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for religious festivals. He participated in synagogue worship while living and working in Galilee. Indeed, the Last Supper, at which he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, was a Jewish ritual meal. Jesus was an observant, religiously practicing Jew during his entire life.

You know, the word “religion” has a bad name in some Christian circles these days, but I would contend that this is undeserved. I think we can safely say that Christian religious practice is an effective means to the end of fellowship with God. The particular things we do that would come under the category of the practice of religion are intended to help us know God better, to walk with Him and follow Him. They are channels of light and life. We make it a priority to come together for corporate worship on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, because the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our hope. We keep the seasons of the liturgical year—the feasts, the fasts, and the ordinary times—because doing so constantly drills us on the essentials of our faith. We say our daily prayers at regular times because we know that God is present in and works through the mystery of time. We fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, and we keep the other Fridays of the year as days of special devotion, because we know that in fasting and prayer God speaks to us and leads us. We examine our consciences and confess our sins regularly because only by receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness can we grow closer to Him. Just as the Law of Moses formed the people of Israel and gave them a sense of national identity, so the practice of Christian religion forms us as the Church and gives us a sense of Christian “ethnic” identity.

Can these good things be abused by latter-day “scribes” and “Pharisees”? Yes, and they can be and have been and continue to be. I once had a newly confirmed adult—a college professor, no less, a smart guy—ask me on the very day of his confirmation: “OK, now what are the rules?” Clearly, he thought of the practice of religion not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. But, as we know, just because something can be misused doesn’t mean we should throw it out. Rather, we should discipline ourselves to use it properly, and teach others to do the same. Christian religious practices can be misused. But they are also the very means of grace, and we embrace them with joy and expectation that they will facilitate an encounter with the Holy, that they will escort us into the courts of the most high God. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Saturday (David Pendleton Oakerhater)

Caught up on a short stack of ministry-related emails during part of the afternoon, but the day was mostly devoted to household errands and projects, plus a long walk. Culled closets and took a sizeable load of seldom or never worn clothing to Goodwill. Then, after dinner, packed for an overnight and headed south as far as Litchfield. This puts us about halfway to tomorrow’s destination of St Andrew’s, Edwardsville.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday (St Aidan)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Got to work on my homily for Proper 19 (September 16 at St Mary's, Robinson), taking it from "developed outline" to "rough draft."
  • Left a voicemail with the rector of a parish I am visiting soon.
  • Took a brief walk around the half-block.
  • Attended to a bit of prep for the November clergy conference.
  • Investigated a new platform from international fund transfer, which our companion diocese relationships require us to do from time to time.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the passage from John 6 appointed for today in the daily office lectionary.
  • Drafted my regular "column" for the next edition of the Springfield Current. How this works is that I post what I write on the diocesan website, and Paige harvests it for the print product at the appropriate time.
  • Did some internet sleuthing on a piece of liturgical minutia, but toward a worthy end.
  • Cranked out #13 (of an eventual 30) in the set of lectionary meditations I'm doing for Forward Day by Day.
  • Evening Prayer (short form) at home, to which I was summoned a bit earlier than planned for some emergent personal business.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thursday (Charles Chapman Grafton)

  • Customary Thursday treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Morning Prayer in the car while driving to the office.
  • Conferred with the Communications Coordinator over an ongoing issue.
  • Attended to a couple of requests for aid from the Bishop's Discretionary Fund.
  • Responded by email to some pastoral/liturgical/administrative questions (yes, all three of those things can kind of run together) from a presbyter of the diocese.
  • Three more emails to three more people over three most pastoral-administrative concerns.
  • Got to work taking my Proper 18 homily from "developed outline" to "rough draft." This is for September 9 at Trinity, Yazoo City, MS, my DEPO parish.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Continued work on the sermon text and brought it to its desired state.
  • Attended for a while to the Christian formation project I made reference to yesterday.
  • Did a whole bunch of scanning, cataloguing, and tagging of hard copy items.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon on some things.
  • Evening Prayer in the car on the way home.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday (Beheading of St John the Baptist)

  • Usual weekday AM routine, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon on several things. (We hadn't seen each other since Saturday).
  • Conceived, hatched, and delivered another lectionary reflection for Forward Day by Day (appearing in November 2019), the twelfth of thirty.
  • Began to read through the collection of Mission Strategy Reports submitted by our parishes in June.
  • Met with a priest of the diocese, covering a range of issues from vocational discernment to diocesan program.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Kept an appointment with my dental hygienist.
  • Devoted the rest of the day to finishing the mission strategy reports. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday (St Augustine of Hippo)

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the regular 1215 liturgy in the cathedral chapel.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and scheduled for posting the working text of my homily for this Sunday (St Andrew's, Edwardsville).
  • Drafted and sent an Ad Clerum letter to the clergy of the diocese.
  • Celebrated the midday Eucharist with a congregation of eight, keeping the lesser feast of St Augustine of Hippo.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with September birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Ran home briefly for a quick bit of personal business.
  • Worked on a major "Quadrant II" (something is not not urgent, but yet important) project having to do with seeing Christian formation, at every level, in a different way.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Lord's Day (XIV Pentecost)

It was kind of a leisurely start to the day at the Hampton Inn, Carbondale, as the liturgy at St Andrew's wasn't until 1000. Brenda and I enjoyed breakfast at the IHOP and then had to just hang out in the church parking lot for a bit waiting for folks to arrive. It was, as nearly always, a splendid time of worship. There are a lot of good things happening at St Andrew's, even in the midst of Carbondale and SIU being in a season of angst. We confirmed a remarkable young man, an SIU freshman, son of a faculty member. Brenda and I were back on the road northbound at 12:50, and arrived home around 4:00, having stopped for lunch in Nashville.

Sermon for Proper 16

St Andrew's, Carbondale--John 6:56-69, Ephesians 6:10-20, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

(Usually I preach from a full manuscript. Occasionally I don't. Today was one of those occasions, so what you see here is my own working outline.)
  • After the long wilderness discourse … “breadapalooza” of the last three Sundays (3 different preachers in 3 different churches mentioned the marathon), now in the synagogue in Capernaum … Jesus names himself as the revelation of God (“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me … will live because of me.”)
  • “This is a hard saying,” the disciples (the “crowd,” actually) complain … colors too far outside the lines of Jewish orthodoxy … many withdraw … approval ratings tank, audience share crashes.
  • Jesus to the 12: “Do you also wish to go away?”
  • Peter to Jesus: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” In effect, Where else would we go. You are the revelation of God.
  • Foreshadowed in the Sinai wilderness (Israel poised to follow Joshua into the Promised Land). Joshua’s “pep talk” challenge, “Choose this day whom you will serve” parallels ‘Are you going to ditch me too?’; and the response, ‘We will serve the Lord, for he is our God’ parallels Peter’s response, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
  • Active & faithful Christians in our culture are seen more and more as coloring outside the lines … not only no longer the definition of mainstream, but not even a neutral or harmless; rather the proclamation of the gospel in word or deed is seen increasingly as offense, as “hate speech,” and threatening to the social order.
  • Society says, “I have a right to be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want to do. I feel, therefore I am. I own my body and am sovereign over it.” The gospel says, “I am marked as Christ’s own forever. I belong to him as my Savior and Lord—body, soul, and spirit. I have been bought with a price. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Society says, “You only live once. So get what you can while you can. Seize the day!” The gospel says, “Serve others. Love others, even your enemy.”
  • So, many, as we know, are leaving the church behind! (which is, of course, to leave Jesus behind) How then shall we live? We’re caught in a vise between the expectations of the world around us, and our identity and commitment as followers of Jesus.
  • The good news today is that Jesus ensures that we are well-equipped to meet the challenge of choosing him (Paul to the Ephesians: the whole armor of God).
  • It’s not just “flesh and blood” that we’re up against, but “spiritual forces of wickedness” (that rebel against God) -- they’re real, though usually disguised quite cleverly)
  • Picture the soldier on the Roman Meal bread package (if you can remember it!):
  • Belt of truth—notice, not the sword or club of truth; it holds us together (keeps us centered, focused), not a weapon
  • Breastplate of righteousness—not self-righteousness, not a license to be judgmental or feel superior to others who are unrighteous or less righteous; rather, an invitation to self-forgetfulness
  • Shoes of the gospel of peace—reconciliation is our business, not conflict. Our objective is not to conquer anyone or “win” anything. (N.B. catechism on the mission of the Church)
  • Shield of faith—active (disciplined, well-fed) faith protects us against those “spiritual forces”
  • Helmet of salvation—wholeness, health (salus)
  • Sword of the Spirit—yes, a weapon, but one we do not wield!
  • And so we keep on keeping on, faithful to our duty as disciples of Jesus—even in challenging times—as he is faithful to us.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday (St Louis)

  • Up and out of the house at a usual weekday hour. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for the Diocesan Council Mass at 1000. Greeted Council members as they arrived.
  • Presided and preached at the celebration of the Mass commemorating the lesser feast of St Louis IX, King of France.
  • Presided over the regular August meeting of the Diocesan Council. The big accomplishment was the approval of a draft 2019 operating budget to be presented to synod.
  • Held a couple of impromptu post-meeting consultations.
  • Home for a lunch of leftovers, and some personal business to attend to.
  • Hit the road southbound with Brenda at 3pm. 168 miles and 2:45 later we were at the home of some parishioners of St Andrew’s, Carbondale for a regular social event of the parish. My visitation tomorrow is there.

Friday, August 24, 2018

St Bartholomew

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made a first prayerful pass at the readings for October 23. Normally, this would have been the ones for Proper 24. But I will be at St Luke's, Springfield on that day, the Sunday following St Luke's Day. So we will be observing their feast of title.
  • Inspected the inside of the diocesan garage. (Did you know we have a diocesan garage?) It's been on my to-do list for a while, so I finally did it. There certainly is an abundance of redundant and derelict yard care equipment there. It needs to be culled. I made some plans.
  • Met with the Dean over the proverbial "range of issues." And it was quite a range.
  • Read a letter that was waiting for me when I got back from vacation. It was not exactly a piece of fan mail. It's a good thing I have pretty thick skin, and decades of experience in ministry wherein people misunderstand me, project onto me all sorts of things I don't actually think and feel, and generally disabuse me of any illusion that I am universally liked and admired. I responded, trying to defer to the emotional parameters of my relationship with my correspondent and also speak authentically and truthfully. It was a balancing act, in which I may or may not have succeeded.
  • Attended Mass for the feast day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Found myself in the unenviable situation of trying to change two existing airline reservations. Under the current dispensation, they don't make it easy, and the gouge. Because they can. There's no use even getting angry about it. In the end, the job got done, but there were agonizing decisions to make, and it consumed an inordinate amount of time.
  • Communicated by email with a person in the ordination process about necessary educational plans.
  • Spent time with my homily for Proper 19 (September 16 at St Mary's, Robinson), taking it from "message statement" to the "developed outline" stage.
  • Prayer the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thursday

  • Task planning and blog perusing over breakfast.
  • At 0830, still at home, joined a scheduled conference call meeting of the board of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. Such meetings are a great opportunity for multi-tasking. While attending to the meeting with my ears and voice, my eyes and fingers processed a draft agreement between one of our Eucharistic Communities that will be sharing worship, ministry, and mission (and a pastor) with an ELCA congregation that has sold its building. Also emailed my regrets about a meeting of Province V bishops that I will not be able to attend.
  • Headed to the office around 1000, but waylaid in the parking lot by an extended phone conversation with a priest of the diocese.
  • Checked in briefly with the Archdeacon and the Administrator.
  • Drafted an initial publicity flyer for the November diocesan clergy conference.
  • Began a task related to prepping for said conference.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Attended to a piece of personal business at home, and ran a short errand, before returning to the office.
  • Finished the clergy conference task I had begun before lunch,
  • Sat with my notes for Proper 19 (September 16 at St Mary's, Robinson) until they yielded a homiletical message statement for the occasion.
  • Composed and sent an email, in Spanish, to the Bishop of Peru.
  • Wrote the twelfth of an eventual thirty 220-word lectionary meditations that will appear in Forward Day by Day in November of next year.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday

  • Task planning and blog reading over breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some business pertaining to my membership on the diocesan Board of Trustees, which oversees the invested funds of the diocese.
  • Sent an email aimed toward re-homing an electronic organ from one of our closed churches that has been sitting in my home not getting used. Hoping to prevent it ending up in the landfill.
  • Substantive pastoral phone conversation with one of our clergy who is undergoing a quite serious personal crisis. 
  • Took care of some administrative issues pertaining to one of our seminarians and arranged for funds from my discretionary account to assist some of our clergy in attending a conference.
  • Worked on my homily for Proper 18, to be delivered on September 9 at my DEPO parish in Yazoo City, MS. Brought it from the "message statement" stage to a "developed outline."
  • Lunch from Wing Stop (a recent discovery), eaten at home.
  • Had an appointment with my psychotherapist. Healthy mind, integrated feelings ... you know the drill.
  • Met with the Communications Coordinator, inching toward a replacement for Gnosis, our cumbersome database system. More than "inching," actually. There's been some good progress.
  • Attended to an ongoing and somewhat vexatious pastoral-administrative quagmire (that's how I experience it, at any rate) in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Worked on my homily for Proper 17 (September 2 at St Andrew's, Edwardsville), reworking a text from the same occasion several years ago for redeployment this year. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.
  • Read and filed an unsolicited résumé from an ordinand in another diocese.
  • Responded by email to a letter from a couple of communcants in the diocese taking me to task for something I wrote. I hope they found my reply conciliatory. That's how I meant it.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tuesday

Back in the saddle. My vacation was, by any measure, a "success," in that I got sufficient mental and emotional distance from my ordinary work that I can return to it with energy and clarity, and a good bit of eagerness. The first day back, of course, was spent mostly catching up--catching up with the various hard-copy items that had accumulated on my desk, catching up on a stack of emails that had frown as a wasn't monitoring my diocesan account, and catching up with the Archdeacon on the usual "range of issues." I did also manage to refine and print the working text for my homily this Sunday, at St Andrew's, Carbondale. Morning and Evening Prayer in the cathedral, lunch at home. Three cheers for "normal."

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.