Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • Took Brenda to yet another healthcare appointment.
  • Sent greetings via email to one of our priests who has to live this year with the cognitive dissonance of having his birthday fall on Good Friday. Of course, in as many years, if falls on Easter, most likely.
  • Spent an hour in prayer and reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of Repose, and in the desolation of the nave and sanctuary of the cathedral.
  • Came home at lunchtime. Habits are hard to break on a fast day. Worked from there the rest of the day.
  • Opened a file on a sermon for Easter VI, April 29 at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. Took a first pass at the readings. Made some notes.
  • Took care of some routine time-of-the-month chores related to my calendar.
  • Responded to some late-arriving emails.
  • Greeted our younger daughter and her family, in for the weekend from the Twin Cities. They arrived hungry, so we took them to Popeye's for some chicken.
  • Headed off with Brenda to the cathedral for the solemn liturgy of Good Friday. I presided this time, while the Dean preached.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday

  • Customary Thursday early AM treadmill workout.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Polished, printed, and scheduled for posting my Easter homily.
  • Met with an individual in the discernment process for holy orders.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to a scheduled healthcare appointment.
  • Spent the balance of the afternoon on a pastoral/administrative matter that is inordinately complex, sensitive, and just plain difficult. Read, consulted, pondered, made notes. The issue is already bathed in prayer.
  • Ran home to retrieve Brenda and grab a quick bite at Tacos Pepe on Chatham (where Smashburger, of blessed memory, used to be).
  • Back to the cathedral to make last minute preparations for the beginning of the Triduum.
  • The Dean presided and I preached at the Proper Liturgy for Maundy Thursday: Washing of Feet. Mass of the Lord's Supper, Stripping of the Altar.

Maundy Thursday Homily

Springfield Cathedral
Human beings are prisoners of time. Speaking theologically, I’m not sure whether to attribute that to God’s intention in creation, or to our fall into sin. Whichever one it is, though, you and I cannot exist without reference to the past, the present, and the future. The mystery of time, this fundamental human experience, is something we can neither fully comprehend nor transcend. We don’t understand time, and we certainly can’t break free of it. Of course, this doesn’t keep us from fantasizing. Any new book that is well-written, any new movie that is well-made, and includes the theme of time-travel, is bound to be popular.

We also process the mystery of time in more subtle ways. This decade is, of course, fifty years after the 1960s. Every week, it seems, there’s some big fiftieth anniversary milestone. Only six days from now is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. In June, it will be the same thing for Bobby Kennedy. 1968 was a hugely significant year, and if you are a member of the Baby Boom generation, as I am, the 60s were when we came of age, when we found our footing in this world … or tried to. Now, if you’re a GenXer, there’s something for you as well: The Breakfast Club is 33 years old this year, twice the age of the kids who had to come to Saturday detention that day. Molly Ringwald turned 50 last month. All of this has the ability to evoke waves of nostalgia and wistful reflection about the mystery of past, present, and future, and our inability to break free of those categories.

We can’t break free, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. The most basic attempt at transcending time is through the mind. With memory, we can revisit the past, and because our memories are not perfect, we can sometimes even clean up annoying details that didn’t come out quite right the first time. And with imagination, we can journey to the future—or, at least, a future—and check out the possibilities. But memories fade, and imaginations fail, so we resort to written records—diaries and journals—as well as audio cassettes and photographs and home videos and the like. We also celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries of all sorts of events, both joyful and sorrowful. Perhaps the most serious attempt at transcending time is demonstrated by those Civil War re-enactments that take place on or near the sites of the original battlefields. I’ve never been to one of these events, but I’ve talked to people who have firsthand knowledge of them, and let me tell you, this is not a game! These people have an ability to stay “in character” even when they’re off the battlefield. It’s actually a little spooky. Only three years ago, Springfield re-enacted the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, and people from this cathedral congregation were involved with that project, although, as far as I know, everybody seems to have returned to their normal persona!

But, try as we might, even when we go to extraordinary lengths such as Civil War re-enactments, there remains a basic barrier that we simply cannot cross. We might be able to fool ourselves pretty convincingly, but we cannot actually transcend, we cannot break free of, the prison of time. We are captive to the moment, and irrevocably alienated from both the past and the future. And that’s why what we’re doing tonight, and tomorrow night, and the next night, is of such critical significance. In these strange activities known as the Paschal Triduum, we are transcending time; we are breaking free of the present and glimpsing Eternity. It might seem like we are merely trying to evoke mental images of certain historical events: the upper room tonight —with the washing of feet and the Last Supper—the Crucifixion tomorrow night, and the Resurrection on Saturday night. With some of what we do—actual feet getting actually wet tonight, kneeling at the foot of an actual cross tomorrow, keeping vigil in a dark and tomb-like silence on Saturday night—we may seem, I suppose, more akin to the Civil War re-enactors. But, in fact, we are doing much more than that. The power—indeed, the very nature—of liturgy and sacrament is to transcend time and space. Liturgy and sacrament set us free from our temporal prison and enable us to benefit from what Jesus did in that upper room just as much as the twelve apostles who were actually gathered there with him. The people who have their feet washed tonight are not being served by Dan Martins, as much as it may appear so; they are being served by Jesus the Son of God. When we celebrate the Eucharistic Banquet, the host will not be Andy Hook, as much as it may appear so; the host will be that same Jesus who took bread and wine and made them the vessels of his own life-giving self-offering.

We are not commemorating or re-enacting historical events; we are participating in a mystery. And the mystery in which we are participating is none other than the redemption of the universe —a universe that, most assuredly, includes each one of us. In word and water and moistened feet, in solemn prayer over broken bread and poured out wine, we are acquiring first-hand experience of the ferocious love of God, a love that will never let go of us. We are allowing ourselves to be conformed to the shape of the cross—being made one with Christ in his sufferings, that we may be made like him in his resurrection. We are sharing in the righting of that which is wrong, the re-membering of that which is dis-membered, the making whole of that which is torn apart.

For me, one of the most moving moments in the film The Passion of the Christ was when Jesus, bearing his heavy cross along the Way of Sorrows, catches sight of his mother. Their eyes meet, and he seems to be momentarily revived by a burst of energy. He says to her, “Look, Mother, I make all things new!” My beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, a movie scene like that can be very powerful, and call to our minds the enormous scale of the work that our Lord accomplished in his Passion. But it’s only a movie, and we can get no closer to it than our seat is from the screen. It is only in the solemn liturgy of the Paschal Triduum that we can walk through that movie screen and into the action and take our place alongside Jesus and Mary, and, indeed, alongside Simon of Cyrene as he participates with Jesus in bearing the cross that represents nothing other than the sum total of the sin of the world and the evil of the universe. Look! Jesus is making all things new. And we are there with him. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday in Holy Week

  • Morning Prayer at home, since I needed to hang around for an electrician to arrive and take care of a list of long-deferred issues.
  • (still from home) Worked on my sermon for Easter III (April 15 at St Thomas', Salem), taking it from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • (in the office now) Dealt by email with a matter pertaining to my membership on the board of the Society of King Charles the Martyr (and also with the fact that I am a bishop and therefore a member of General Convention and a member of the committee that will consider the inclusion of King Charles in the calendar of the Episcopal Church).
  • Stepped out for lunch downtown with my Roman Catholic counterpart, Thomas John Paprocki. It's always good when this sort of thing can happen.
  • Dealt with some technology issues. My email client started suddenly misbehaving. Reached out to tech support. Everything seems to be OK now.
  • Kept up a chain of email volleys with a young man who sought my help last week--out of the blue, I don't recall meeting him--who is struggling with issues of faith and doubt and his relationship with the church. I always feel it a privilege to be let into people's lives like this.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with April birthdays. (No weeding or ordination anniversaries in April, it appears.)
  • Substantive consultation with the Archdeacon regarding an ongoing pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my Maundy Thursday homily (tomorrow evening at the cathedral).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday in Holy Week

  • Weekly/daily task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Did just a little bit of desk-straightening; it's gotten rather out of hand.
  • Reviewed the mockup of the next issue of the Springfield Current. Made a small tweak.
  • Worked via email with the ad editor of The Living Church, coordinating some adjustments to the dioceses "sponor's column" in an upcoming issue.
  • Wrote an email to a lay communicant who had written me a rather detailed letter that I read last week.
  • Got to work on a long-term "archival" scanning project. (Not diocesan archives, per se, but personal papers related to my ministry.)
  • Attended the midday Mass for Tuesday in Holy Week in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at hope.
  • Continued with the scanning project, finishing the chunk I had bitten off.
  • Performed major surgery on the text of an old Maundy Thursday homily. The illustrations from contemporary culture were no longer ... contemporary. Walked across the alley and talked it over with the Dean.
  • Did some reconstructive surgery on the liturgy program for the cathedral Easter Vigil, in view of the fact that we have no baptisms this year, but we do have confirmations and receptions.
  • Massaged a sermon text for Easter from a prior year for use this weekend. It didn't require "surgery," just some relatively minor tweaks.
  • Reviewed and approved a marital judgment petition. It was actually one of the most exemplary of the genre that I have ever seen.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

So begins my customary (and eighth) Holy Week at St Paul's Cathedral. I preached at 8:00 and 10:30, and presided as well at the later celebration. It was all done with elegance and grace, a good start to this most sacred of weeks.

Palm Sunday Homily

Springfield Cathedral--St Mark's Passion

When we read the Passion like this on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, it sometimes feel likes a sermon is superfluous, an anti-climax. Of course, it’s not, really; it’s not superfluous. It’s important that we break open and shine a light on what we’ve just done and set it in the larger context of everything that we’re going to be doing this week. Nonetheless, there is certainly a level at which the narrative of Jesus’ agony in the garden, his arrest, his two trials, his flogging, his crucifixion, and his death just speaks for itself.

About fifteen years ago there was a controversial movie made by Mel Gibson called The Passion of the Christ. Many people found it revolting, because the graphic detail in which Jesus’ suffering was depicted was monstrously gruesome. Many critics asked, “What’s the point? Why subject the viewer to such gore?” One response to that criticism is surely that the film didn’t depict anything that, according to whatever information we have, didn’t actually happen. If we sanitize it so as to make it less monstrous, is that not a dangerous form of denial? Indeed, what the passion narrative tells us, whether we read it in Mark’s gospel, or one of the other gospels, or see it on the big screen as interpreted by Mel Gibson, is that any level of evil that a human being can experience, Jesus experienced. Jesus took it all. Jesus bore it all. He has suffered the “nth degree” of what the human condition is capable of dishing out. Whatever dark territory our lives might lead us into, we will discover that Jesus is already there, waiting for us.

Sometimes our lives lead us into terrifying, paralyzing fear. Jesus has been there. When he’s alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, he is mortally afraid. He is agitated, worked up. The expression “sweating blood” comes from this very incident. He would very much like to find an exit strategy. He would love to hear God the Father’s voice, as he did at his baptism, as he did at his transfiguration—he would love to hear his Father’s voice say, “OK. I think I know another way to do this. Stand by for a change in plans,” and he would say, “Copy that,” and let out a sigh of relief. The only thing that kept Jesus focused and on task was his utter unity with the Father and the irrevocable commitment of God’s love to redeem all of humanity, indeed, all of creation, from being held hostage by the powers of sin and death.

Sometimes our lives lead us into the land of disappointment. People we trust let us down. People in whom we have seen great potential fail to live up to our expectations. This can be a family member, or a friend, a student or an employee, and it can certainly be a politician, a public leader. Well, Jesus knows that territory well. His own closest disciples, those whom he trusted the most—Peter, James, and John—let him down by falling asleep in his hour of greatest need. Only a few days earlier, Jesus had warned them in his long and dramatic discourse about trials and tribulations that lay ahead for his followers: “Stay awake!” And here they were, as it’s all coming to a head, sound asleep.

Sometimes our passionate hopes are dashed, and our most fervent prayers left apparently unanswered. Jesus knows that road as well. His prayer in the Garden is not a case of just going through the motions. It is deadly earnest. He is afraid and wants the Father to find another way, a Plan B, to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. But what does he hear back? Nothing. Crickets.

At times, our lives lead us into the heartbreak of betrayal. Someone to whom we are emotionally connected, someone to whom we have bared our soul, or our body, or both, someone to whom we have revealed our innermost selves, betrays that trust. It is the deepest kind of hurt, the most searing sort of mental and emotional pain that one human being can inflict on another. Jesus is familiar with that pain. First, Judas, one of the twelve who had been with Jesus for nearly his entire ministry, leaves the Last Supper early for the express purpose of making a deal with the Jewish authorities to sell him out, for thirty pieces of silver. Judas greets Jesus was a treacherous kiss when they come out to arrest him. Then, during Jesus’ first trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter, the first among the apostles, denies even knowing Jesus three times, in rapid succession. The only thing more shocking than Peter’s denial itself is the lightning speed at which he got to that place.

The most unfortunate among us—but, still, way too many people—the most unfortunate among us experience the terror of abandonment. Children are abandoned by their parents every day. Lesser known is the pain of parents being abandoned by their children, but it happens. Husbands leave their wives and wives their husbands. It is still an open wound among thousands of Episcopalians and former Episcopalians that people have abandoned their churches, and their churches have abandoned them. Jesus is familiar with the territory of abandonment. After his arrest, Mark’s gospel records what may be the most poignant words in all of holy scripture, indeed, in all of literature: “And they all forsook him and fled.” The only thing more heart-wrenching than those words is Jesus’ own cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus bears witness to being abandoned by God himself.

Again, way too many human beings find themselves faced with excruciating physical pain and humiliation. Injury and death from violence is a ubiquitous experience in many places in our world. Many diseases that eventually kill us subject us to a great deal of pain first. And even if we escape physical pain on our way out of this world, we are still vulnerable to the humiliation that rides on the coattails of our healthcare system. Crucifixion, you know, was engineered to be a method of torture, not mere execution. As a method of execution, it’s grossly inefficient. It’s a slow and painful death. But, for Jesus, there is mental and emotional torture as well. He is crowned with thorns and arrayed in a purple robe, and mocked by the Roman soldiers before they get around to nailing him to the cross. And they also strip him of his clothing, and thereby any shred of dignity. We portray Jesus in our crucifixes with a modest loincloth, but the truth is he was probably deprived of even that.

Then there’s death, the only experience that we all face, and that, when the time comes, we will face alone. Death is the sum of all fears, that from which all forms of sentient life instinctively recoil and will struggle to fend off with every ounce of available energy. And on that cross on which he was nailed, naked to the world and abandoned by God, Jesus breathed his last. He died. His brain was deprived of oxygen. The neurons quit firing. He was stone cold dead as a doornail. It wasn’t an act. Jesus has walked the way of death.

My brothers and sisters, as we venture into this most solemn week of the year, which the Church has observed with great devotion from earliest times, and as we walk through the pain of human experience, we do so in the certain knowledge that, wherever we may go, Jesus is there. He is with us, as a down payment on our redemption, in whatever we go through. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday

The centerpiece of the day was the annual Chrism Mass at the cathedral. The Bishop is by definition the presider at this liturgy, and this year I preached as well. Inclement weather in parts of the diocese prevented some from attending, but it was a good occasion nonetheless. 

Chrism Mass Homily

Springfield Cathedral -- Luke 4:16–21

This gospel passage from Luke, and the Isaiah passage from which it quotes, are among the most familiar words in all of scripture. We hear them nearly every year on this occasion, and they are scattered around at various other spots in the lectionary. In its original context in Isaiah, it describes the prophet’s own sense of vocation, and his endowment toward that calling by God’s own spirit. We can only assume, then, that the purpose of including this material in the Chrism Mass, where the ordained renew the vows they took when they were ordained, is that the lives of deacons, presbyters, and bishops are inherently ordered, configured, to some aspect of the ministry of Christ, that we are indeed anointed, that the Spirit of the Lord is actually upon us. The question naturally arises, then: How should the baptized faithful whom we lead, and, in turn, the world in which the baptized faithful are missionaries—how should those who look to us, directly or indirectly, expect to see us manifest, show forth, incarnate, the ministry of the Jesus who walked into the synagogue in Nazareth that day and took up the scroll to read?

The servant of God is anointed to “proclaim good news to the poor.” We cannot, as ordained leaders, or even as the whole church, solve the systemic causes of poverty, at least not any time soon. And I would remind us that “poverty” is a relative term. Those of you who have traveled to either of our companion dioceses have witnessed poverty of a sort that certainly does exist in our part of the world, but you have to look pretty hard to find it. So, while there’s certainly plenty we can to do to alleviate poverty to some degree, we can’t fix the systemic conditions that produce it. But what we can do is simply talk to people who are poor. We can take poverty out of the realm of the abstract and make it concrete. We can be with poor people. That much in itself is to “proclaim good news.” The good news is this: “We respect you. You have dignity. You have a voice. You matter. You are not a statistic. You are not an inconvenience or an eyesore. You are not invisible to us; we see you. Please allow us to be among you, with you.” We usually can’t pay next month’s rent, but we can respect the dignity of every human being.

The servant of God is anointed to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Now, when I get all poetic and metaphorical here in a moment, don’t think that I mean to degrade the reality of literal physical healing, whether through the efforts of the practice of medicine or through means that medicine cannot explain, something that we might refer to as a “miracle.” Miracles happen, mysterious healing happens, including recovery of sight for those who were blind. Praise God for it! But … what are people around us not seeing? How are those who can read all the letters on an eye exam chart without cheating still blind? What are we blind to, even if our eyes are working just fine?

People are blind to human dignity—first, their own human dignity, and then that of others. I have to say that technology has not been helpful here. Things that people are able to say under the perceived cover and anonymity of the internet nearly reduce me to tears at times, even when they’re not saying them about me! Even Episcopalians, for whom respecting the dignity of every human being is a prominent solemn vow, can be surprisingly and discouragingly blind about this.

People are also blind to manipulative rhetoric, both from political leaders and from critics of those leaders. It’s so easy to be blind to the way a question is carefully framed, so as to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but nowhere near the whole truth, and is thereby hugely deceptive. Only a few days ago I looked at a piece of campaign literature that came in the mail. It was about a race I hadn’t paid much attention to. The campaign that sent it said some things about the candidate’s position that very much resonated with me, and about his opponent that made me go, “Ewww.” Then it occurred to me that I was being sucked in by classic negative advertising. I did some internet research, and ended up voting for the opponent. But I almost didn’t open my eyes. I was almost blind to what was happening. Of course, this happens not only in politics, but in commerce, by those who want to influence our buying decisions. It all tends to enflame our passions and stoke our fears and turn “good” people into human weapons. My sisters and brothers, the spirit of the Lord is upon us to proclaim recovery of sight to those who are blind in these ways.

The servant of God is anointed to proclaim liberty to captives, to let the oppressed go free. What holds people around us in bondage? What oppresses people? Certainly, the mindless and exploitative exercise of privilege rooted in race or gender is a major source of oppression, and Christians are rightly involved in efforts to change cultures in which such things are either unseen, tolerated, or perpetuated. People are also held captive and oppressed by addition: addiction to alcohol and other substances, addiction to gambling, addiction to sex, addiction to work and addiction to success. People are held captive by and addicted to fear: fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of suffering, and fear of death. Most pervasively, perhaps, people are held captive and oppressed by envy and by the anger that invariably accompanies envy. Our society constantly attempts to condition us to be envious of anyone who has a dollar more than we do, or lives in a nicer house, or drives a cooler car, or who has succeeded where we haven’t yet. And this envy gives birth to a slow-burning anger that eats away at us like a spiritual ulcer. Envy and anger hold people captive, and oppress them.

Our mandate to announce a year—a season, an opportune moment—acceptable to the Lord means we can assure those around us that poverty doesn’t have the last word, but that God, who is rich in mercy, has the last word. The acceptable years of the Lord means that we speak words of light and life into the darkness and blindness that surrounds us, that we enable people to recover their sight, and recognize that which wants to deceive them and lead them into falsehood. The acceptable year of the Lord energizes and vindicates our work of liberation—liberation from the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, liberation from addiction and fear, and liberation from envy and anger that corrode the soul.

As we renew our vows, as we connect once again with the anointing of our ordination, may grace abound for us to do these things. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday (St Gregory the Illuminator)

A travel day, long but hitch-free. Breakfast with Fr Shranz and his brother (in from Albuquerque for last night's occasion), then to the airport in Baltimore for an 11:30 departure to Atlanta. Fairly brief layover there before catching another Delta flight to Peoria, where my car was. I pulled into my driveway at home at around 5:30.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday (James DeKoven)

Out the door and on the road just a few minutes before the entirely ungodly hour of 4am. Drove north to Peoria "International" (really?) airport or a 6:20 departure for Minneapolis, and after a short layover, caught the 8:55 to Baltimore, arriving at 12:20. I was picked up by the rector of St Mary's, Abingdon, who was kind enough to take me through the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A before depositing me at the church. I was met there by Don Shranz, who was the reason for my trip. We talked/walked through the choreography of this evening's liturgy, after which he drove me to a nearby Hampton Inn (my home away from home) for some much-needed downtime, a bit of which was spent on the phone with Delta straightening out an itinerary wrinkle. Don retrieved me at 5:00, ahead of the scheduled 5:30 liturgy rehearsal, some refreshments, and a 7:00 service. That was the occasion for formally receiving Don, who was once ordained by the Roman Catholics, as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It was a luminous, joy-filled occasion for a community that is immensely supportive of his ministry. There's no immediate gain for the Diocese of Springfield in this. We processed Don's reception as a favor to the rector of St Mary's, and with the full knowledge and support of the Diocese of Maryland, whose assisting bishop was present tonight. It's great fun to be involved in something like this.

Homily at the Reception of Fr Donald Schranz

St Mary's, Abingdon, MD--Feast of James DeKoven

My friends, I bring you greetings from the clergy and people of the Diocese of Springfield. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am delighted to be here, on what I believe is my fourth visit to the state of Maryland in my more than 66 years on this planet, and I am grateful for the warm hospitality I have already received from St Mary’s Church, and, in advance of the occasion, from Bishops Sutton and Knudsen. It is truly good to be here.

This is a happy occasion. It’s happy because it is a celebration of wholeness. It is certainly a celebration of wholeness for Don. Many years ago, Don answered a call from God, a call to serve as a priest, a priest who serves as a living and walking icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd leading his flock to green pastures and still waters, proclaiming good news in their midst, and breaking the eucharistic bread for them, the gift of God that regularly reconstitutes them as the people of God. That vocation, for a litany of reasons, was interrupted, derailed. Tonight, we are putting it back on the rails. When Don was ordained, an indelible mark, an indelible character, was conferred on him. He had answered God’s call, as Isaiah did—“Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Even though circumstances conspired to derail him from that ministry, Don has never not been a priest since that day. Now that ministry, that character, that mark, is once again visible for all to see. God is taking something that had been cast down and raising it up, as we pray in that luminous collect associated with ordinations that is so connected to the heart of the gospel, and the heart of the Church’s life, that we also hear it on Good Friday and again, a day later, at the Great Vigil of Easter. Yes, something that had been cast down is being raised up; something that had grown old is being made new, and our faith is that, in God’s good plan, it will be a thread in the cosmic tapestry of redemption in which all things are being brought to perfection through him by whom all things were made.

Tonight is also a celebration of wholeness for the Church—formally for the Diocese of Springfield, effectually for the Diocese of Maryland and for this parish. Don’s ministry is a sacrament—a symbol that actually conveys what it symbolizes—a sacrament of holy order. The God whom we serve is a God of order, not of chaos, and even while the Spirit is like the wind that blows where it will, the Church has, from its earliest days, been an ordered community. In the New Testament itself, we find apostles and deacons and bishops and presbyters. Order that is necessary for the people of God to be “built up in every way into Christ,” as St Paul write to the Colossians. As of tonight’s celebration of wholeness, there is now one more shepherd on duty, ordering the Church, tending the flock of Christ, leading the baptized faithful into that which connects the human soul to the One who is both its source and its destiny

Wholeness for Don, wholeness for the Church, and, finally, wholeness for the world. Yes, tonight is also a celebration of wholeness for the world, because the priestly people of God—a “kingdom of priests from every language, tribe, people, and nation,” as St John describes it in the Book of Revelation—the priestly people of God is energized by what we do here tonight to stand in the gap between the needs of the world and the loving justice of God. Father Donald Schranz stands with the other presbyters among whom he serves and leads the baptized faithful in shining God’s light into the world’s darkness, speaking God’s pardon and forgiveness into the world’s guilt, injecting God’s truth into the world’s deception, extending the community of the Holy Trinity into the world’s alienation, and declaring God’s victory over sin and death into the word’s despair.

James De Koven, on whose feast day we are worshiping this evening, was a tireless seeker after wholeness. He contended for what were known in that time, about 150 years ago, as “Catholic privileges” in the Episcopal Church. These are things that we pretty much now take for granted, as if they have never gone away; things like the Eucharist as the main liturgy on Sunday, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, sacramental confession, vestments, incense, candles, and the like. The word “catholic” comes from the Greek expression kata holos, according to the entirety, according to the whole. Don, I can think of no worthier patron under whom to place your reclaimed ministry of priesthood, your reclaimed ministry of making whole, now itself made whole.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday (Thomas Ken)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of some administrative details pertaining to one of our Eucharistic Communities that is presently in a regular relationship with a supply priest.
  • Played with hot wax: Signed and sealed the certificate by which I will, tomorrow evening, receive Donald Schranz into presbyteral orders in the Episcopal Church.
  • Saw to some details regarding Saturday's Chrism Mass--mostly, creating a large-print ceremonial binder for my own use.
  • Substantive visit with Dean Hook on a range of issues.
  • Worked on refining and editing my Palm Sunday homily. (I'll be at the cathedral for all of Holy Week, through Easter morning.)
  • Broke for lunch from McD's eaten at home.
  • Completed the homiletical work I began before lunch.
  • Sat with (and walked with, and wrestled with) my exegetical notes on the gospel for Easter III, on which I will be preaching at St Thomas', Salem, trying to listen for a message statement from which to develop a sermon. Of all the phases of sermon prep, this is the one that is the most like giving birth, I would imagine. It certainly does constitute labor! It took walking several laps around the nave of the cathedral, but a way forward eventually emerged. God is always faithful.
  • Responded by email to some questions from the powers-that-be for Province V about what our priorities and goals are in the diocese, what we're doing to accomplish the same, what's working and not working, and what help we need.
  • Read and responded to an email from a priest of another communion who wishes to start discussions on having his orders received in the Episcopal Church. There's a canonical process for that, which I laid out for him. 
  • Read a long hand-written missive from a lay communicant in the diocese that asked for absolutely nothing. The author was just sharing a witness of lifetime of experience of God's intimate involvement in his life. It was actually quite moving.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday (St Cuthbert)

  • Regular weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Discussed an ongoing administrative situation with the Archdeacon.
  • Did some final edits, formatted, and printed the working text of my homily for Thursday evening, when I will receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church, this taking place at St Mary's in Abingdon, Maryland.
  • Attended a bit to the ongoing task of overseeing travel arrangements for Bishop Elias and Lucy to visit us from Tabora this June.
  • Got to work on my homily for this Saturday's Chrism Mass, taking it from "developed notes" toward "working script," which was a long leap.
  • Broke from this to head home for lunch. Leftovers.
  • Stopped by my polling place to vote. It's barely more than a stone's throw from my home, but in another congressional district!
  • Finished the homiletical work I had begun before lunch.
  • Attended by email to some liturgical details pertaining to the Chrism Mass.
  • Wrote a 500-word article for the next issue of the Springfield Current. It will go live on the website Easter Monday.
  • Did some online research for "best practices" in employee performance reviews. Made some pertinent notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Up and out with Brenda at a humane hour--8:30--in order to be at St Thomas', Glen Carbon in time to preside and preach at their regular 10:30 liturgy. Sunday Mass is virtually always the highlight of my week. After the coffee hour, Kassi Lattina, director of the daycare and preschool operated by St Thomas', took us on a tour of the facility. Under Kassi's leadership, it's gone from serious red ink to serious black ink, with increased enrollment and a great reputation in the community. Since the Diocese of Springfield has financial skin in this game, this is a very welcome development.

Sermon for Lent V

St Thomas', Glen Carbon--Hebrews 5:1-10

One does not need to monitor the news media for very long before hearing about death and destruction on a massive scale: volcanoes erupting now in Indonesia, the season for tornadoes and floods in the midwest shortly upon us, a potential earthquake at any moment in many parts of the world. The succession of violent attacks on groups of innocent people boggle the mind.
Within the living memory of many, some 20 million people perished under the death machine of the Nazis. And if it weren’t for Hitler, the names of Josef Stalin and Pol Pot would by competing for top honors in the genocide category. And all this just within the last seventy years!

But if you’d rather study history than journalism, there’s plenty there as well. Names like Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible and the Vikings come to mind. And, of course, the bubonic plague wiped out fully ten percent of the population of Europe in its successive attacks during the late Middle Ages. The inescapable reality of human experience is that pain and suffering and cruelty are all around us.

And our biggest fear—if we were to stop and take a spiritual inventory of ourselves—our biggest fear is that it will all turn out to be meaningless, that our own suffering and the suffering of everyone else in the world will, in the end, turn out to be arbitrary, random, devoid of any redemptive purpose. Life is just—as it has been said about the Dark Ages—life is just “nasty, brutish, and short.” We suffer until we die, then we’re forgotten, lost in a sea of statistics that future generations of school children will read about—no names, just lots of big numbers.

And so we feel ourselves to be very much alone in this “vale of tears.” Death is the ultimate symbol of alienation and loneliness, because we do it all by ourselves. It is the one trip that we don’t get to have company on. We each have to face it individually, alone. But long before we get to that point, that point of death, there is plenty of opportunity to feel isolated, to feel abandoned. Even when we are surrounded by other people, even in the middle of close family and community relationships, we can easily feel cut off, disconnected, like our own skin is a stone wall that prevents us from truly sharing and participating in the lives of others, that keeps us from knowing and being known, that keeps us from understanding and being understood. How frustrating this barrier is. First it makes us angry and then it makes us crazy. It blocks intimacy and communion between human hearts and human souls.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the densest and most technical parts of the entire Bible. It can be really tough going. But today, it scratches us where we itch. It speaks directly to our pain.
The author is trying to set Jesus up as the supreme example of a high priest, and in order to make his case, he starts by talking about the priesthood of the Old Covenant, the priesthood established by God for the people of Israel at the time of Moses, some twelve to fifteen hundred years before Christ. The job of an Israelite priest was to offer animal sacrifices as an atonement before God for the sins of the people, to shed the blood of the innocent on behalf of the guilty. A priest had to be chosen by God, and the usual sign of being chosen by God was pretty simple—being born in the the tribe of Levi. A priest also had to be one of the people, “chosen from among men,” as the author of Hebrews puts it.

The point, of course, is that Jesus meets both qualifications. He was not a Levite, but he was chosen by God, designated by a voice from Heaven when he came up from the waters of the Jordan River after being baptized: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And he was also one of the people, “chosen from among men,” as is illustrated by his offering up to God “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears,” particularly in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion. Jesus is therefore a model for our journey through the human experience of suffering and loneliness and alienation and, ultimately, death. He is with us in and through our confusion and depression and the temptation to abandon hope. When we lift up our own agonizing prayer before the Father, prayer to be delivered from the distress that we are in, prayer to be allowed to see and grasp what it all means, prayer that the suffering of those who lost loved ones to the plague a thousand years ago, or to a school shooting last month—prayer that their suffering will not be in vain, that it will be redeemed—when we lift up our own agonizing prayer before the Father, Jesus’s own agonizing prayer is joined with it. Our faithful high priest, “who was in every tempted as we are, yet did not sin,” joins his prayers with ours.

Jesus, our High Priest, also gives us an example. He faced temptation and suffering at least as intense as that which you and I face, and he did it with courage and faith and obedience. Of course, we don’t have it within us to copy his example perfectly by the force of sheer willpower, but when we cooperate with the grace Jesus himself supplies—grace made available to us in, among other places, the sacrament of Holy Communion—when we cooperate with grace, we can become more and more like Jesus, and participate in his courage, his faith, and his obedience.

As our high priest, Jesus blazes the trail through the traps and dangers and snares of the human experience. Wherever we go, Jesus has already been there. He has marked the road, straightened out a few curves and smoothed out a few rough spots. He has posted warning signs telling us about dangerous places. And if we do have a wreck, or break down, he’s installed call boxes within convenient walking distance of wherever we might find ourselves in trouble.

But, most of all, Jesus our great High Priest has redeemed our suffering by his own suffering, which has the additional benefit of making our suffering also redemptive for others. When things go wrong—when marriages get stressed, and sometimes get sick and die, when family relationships are strained, whether they be biological families or church families, when we are confronted with unwelcome setbacks to our health or to our finances—when things go wrong, Jesus takes that wrong and unites it with his own pain, with his own “prayers and supplications and loud cries and tears,” and thereby brings it under the covering shadow of his redemptive grace. The things that go wrong might not ever disappear this side of eternity, but in the mystery of redeeming grace, in the mercy of Jesus our great high priest, they can be transoformed into conduits of healing and life.

Let us not take lightly, or turn our back on, so great a salvation. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday

  • Usual weekday AM routine, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Today's task list was long on short items--i.e. a long list of things, most of which involved answering emails about pastoral and administrative matters, responding to requests for appointments, and the like. That's what I got started with.
  • The balance of the morning was devoted to spending quality time with commentaries on St Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on Easter III at St Thomas', Salem.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spoke by phone with a longtime good friend who is now a retired bishop. We are a support to one another.
  • Another stack of email-driven pastoral/administrative/consultative engagements.
  • Made lodging arrangements to attend the meeting of the Nashotah House corporation (of which I remain a member) in May.
  • Canceled my registration (and hotel reservation) to attend the scheduled triennial synod of Province V nest month. #cutbackonunnecessarytravel
  • Processed my physical inbox: scanning, categorizing, tagging.
  • Put on my best pastor's hat to respond by email to a message from a lay communicant in the diocese in which I had to give an answer that I know disappointed the person. Time will tell whether my efforts to maintain cordiality and goodwill while doing so will succeed.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on the OT daily office reading for tomorrow--Moses and the burning bush. 
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday

  • Customary Thursday morning treadmill workout. At the office around 0930.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Fleshed out the rough draft of my next-due post on the Covenant blog. Did some editing and refining. Sent it on by email to the editor (who will no doubt do some more refining!). This took most of the morning.
  • Dealt briefly by email with a smidgen of General Convention business.
  • Read and commented on the draft minutes from the February meeting of Diocesan Council.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Dealt briefly with a small administrative matter.
  • Booked air travel, hotel, and car rental for next month's meeting of the Living Church Foundation board in Oklahoma City. When I was a rookie bishop, this was a seriously time-consuming endeavor. With experience, I'm much savvier about my options, so it's just somewhat time-consuming.
  • Got to work on my Palm Sunday homily, taking it from the "developed notes" to the "rough draft" stage. (I'll be at the cathedral from Palm Sunday through Easter.)
  • It was 4pm, so I headed home to retrieve Brenda, and then drive down to St George's, Belleville for the Lenten soup supper. My two appearances this year have concerned the vows and promises of Holy Baptism, not the much-vaunted "Baptismal Covenant," but the renunciations and affirmations that happen right after the presentation of the candidate(s). The former are coherent only in light of the latter.
  • Home at 9:15, feeling kind of poorly--chills and sweats, cough, headache, lingering nasal congestion, very low-grade fever. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday

  • Task planning at home over breakfast. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted briefly with one of our clergy over an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Left a voicemail message with Bishop Roth, my ELCA counterpart in central and southern Illinois.
  • Added a couple of editorial flourishes to the draft Chrism Mass program.
  • Got to work on fleshing out the rough notes/draft of my sermon next week when I receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church.
  • Stepped out for an appointment with my own psychotherapist. Not too proud to acknowledge that I sometimes need help with the curveballs life throws my way.
  • Back in the office--connected by phone with Bishop Roth. Resumed working on the above-referenced homily.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to a doctor's appointment.
  • Back in the office--resumed work on that sermon yet again, and this time finished the task.
  • Emmanuel, Champaign is having a big celebration of the centennial of the church building on Pentecost. Yesterday the rector sent me a rough draft of the liturgical portion of the festivities for my review and comment. I reviewed and commented. (May it please God to provide us with fine weather that day.)
  • When you call your doctor's office and they say, "Can you come in right now?" the answer has got to be Yes, right? So that's what I did. I've been having some annoyingly increasing nasal congestion that is beginning to seriously interfere with both my sleeping and my waking. It appears to be allergy-driven. So now I have a close relationship with Flonase and a sinus rinse system. Between the office visit and the ensuing pharmacy visit, that shot the rest of my afternoon.
  • Evening Prayer at home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday (James T. Holley)

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting the rough draft of this Sunday's homily (St Thomas', Glen Carbon).
  • Consulted briefly with the Archdeacon on an administrative issue.
  • Took a phone call from a retired bishop seeking deeper insight into something I had posted on my blot about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Attended to some details of a trip I'm taking next week to Maryland to receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church? (Why am I doing this in Maryland? Long and complicated story.)
  • Took an impromptu meeting with the cathedral Altar Guild head, wherein we discussed the Chrism Mass and Holy Week.
  • Attended to making sure a couple of people got paid from my discretionary fund who needed to get pain from my discretionary fund.
  • Took an online survey expressing my opinions about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Connected with the church I'm visiting this Sunday to confirm that they are indeed expecting me. (Seems like *over*abundanc of caution, but one would not want to arrive for a visitation unannounced ... or perhaps one *would.* Hmmm ... )
  • Stopped by China 1 to pick up some lunch. Got it home and discovered they had given me somebody else's order (and, it turned out, him mine). Made the trip back, got the right lunch, but since I was running on fumes, had to stop for gas on the way home.
  • Took Brenda to a dental appointment.
  • Processed a short stack of late-arriving emails.
  • Attended to an administrative issue involving Gnosis, our database software.
  • Moved the ball down the field several years toward the completion of the liturgy program for the Chrism Mass.
  • Stepped over to the next football field and did the same thing with respect to travel arrangements for a June visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Tabora and his wife.
  • Took the rough notes of my Lenten weeknight presentation tomorrow night at St George's Belleville, fleshed them out a good bit, printed them and put them in my car, which I have discovered is a "best practice" in such matters.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon for Lent IV

St Christopher's, Rantoul--John 3:14-21, Numbers 21:4-9

I grew up in a tea-totaling environment, so I was never conditioned to hang out it bars. But when Brenda and I were living in California about 20 years ago and the state banned smoking in all restaurants and bars, we discovered that we often preferred to have dinner in the bar or lounge rather than the main dining area of a restaurant. A cocktail lounge is a very … what shall we say? … a very fluid place, is it not? It can be a place of relaxation and enjoyment and camaraderie with friends. And it can also be a place of mystery and … perhaps, mischief. After spending time in a bar, people often end up saying and doing things they later come to regret. And the consistent thing about such places is that the lights are always dim, sometimes so dim that you can barely see what you’re drinking or eating. I don’t know that we can exactly say why, but I don’t know of anybody, myself included, who would enjoy being in a lounge with the lights turned up to what we would consider normal in, say, an office, or a supermarket, or even a living room.

And I can’t help but be reminded of this whenever I read the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of St John’s gospel: “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” I’m not saying that everything that goes on in a bar is evil, but a lot of evil things go on in bars, and it’s really no wonder at all that we like to keep the lights low in such places, because when the lights are low, we can’t quite see what’s going on, and that inability to see enables us to deceive ourselves about ourselves. Darkness can be downright addicting, because it’s a powerful anesthetic; it relieves the pain of what we might see if we looked at ourselves clearly, in the cold light of day. Unfortunately, addiction is a form of bondage, and our attachment to darkness can also prevent us from seeing and knowing our true selves, and from living the lives to which God called us when he made us.

Jesus addresses this precarious human condition in his well-known dialogue with the Jewish leader Nicodemus as recorded for us in the third chapter of St John’s gospel. Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness to pick his brain about some questions that were really bugging him. Jesus says, “You’ve got to be born again,” and Nicodemus says, “Well, how does that work, exactly?” and Jesus goes on about spirit and flesh and water and such things and finally arrives where we pick it up in this morning’s gospel reading:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The antidote to what ails us as human beings is something Jesus calls Eternal Life.  Eternal Life is what can lead us out of the darkness to which we have become addicted. Eternal Life is what can free us from our fear of seeing ourselves clearly and knowing ourselves truly. Jesus wants to give us Eternal Life, and he tells Nicodemus that we receive Eternal Life by looking at him specifically as he is “lifted up.” And when he says, “lifted up,” he means something very specific.

But before we can go there, we need to make sure we’re up to speed on the Old Testament reference Jesus makes when he says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.”  Our first reading from the Book of Numbers told us the story. The ancient Hebrews had been freed from slavery in Egypt but were wandering in the Sinai desert for a generation under Moses’ leadership. Their camp was infested by poisonous snakes and people were getting bitten and dying. The Lord told Moses to make an image—a statue, in effect—of the sort of snake that was bothering them, and he told Moses to lift this faux-snake up where people could see it. Moses did just that, and, sure enough, when snake-bite victims looked up at it, they were healed.

So what Jesus is telling Nicodemus, in effect, is that all human beings are snake-bit—snake-bit by the power of Sin and Death. This is why we like the lights turned low in bars; this is why we prefer darkness over light; this is why we are afraid to see ourselves and know ourselves as we really are.

And what, then, do we need to do? We need to look up and live. We need to look on Jesus, lifted up for us as Moses’ serpent statue was lifted up for the people in the wilderness. And how is Jesus lifted up for us? He is lifted up on the cross. He is lifted up in his resurrection. He is lifted up in his ascension back to the right hand of the Father. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Unfortunately, one inference many of us make when we encounter passages of scripture such as this is that “eternal life” is a possession that we own and have stashed away so we can forget about it until we need it. We think of Eternal Life the way we think of a coin collection, or a stamp collection, or a baseball card collection. It’s stuck away in a drawer. We know it’s there, and we’re glad it’s there, but we may go several days without thinking about it. We hope that it will increase in value, and that should the day come that we need to cash it in, we’ll be able to do so at a profit. But eternal Life isn’t something we need now, it’s something we’ll need later. We have it now in order to have it later. Someone might ask us, “Are you saved? Do you have Eternal Life?” and we’ll want to say, “Why sure. I ‘looked up’ at Jesus, so I’m saved. I have Eternal Life. I don’t exactly need it yet, but I have it for when I do need it.”  

But I’m here today to tell you something very different than that. I’m here to tell you that looking “up” at Jesus is not simply a one-time move, a mere glance. Rather, it is a matter of gazing at the “lifted up” Jesus and keeping our gaze fixed there until we are completely healed. And what makes this kind of challenging is that when we look up at Jesus, he looks back at us, and his gaze can be quite uncomfortable, because penetrating light emanates from his eyes. We don’t like being looked at by penetrating light. It’s like if somebody all of a sudden kicks up the lights in the cocktail lounge at 11 PM. We might see things we’d prefer not to see. We might feel just a little bit … judged. As Jesus tells Nicodemus,  
…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
You see, as long as we think of Eternal Life as a possession that we acquire and then hide away until we need it—that is, as we tend to think of it, when we die—then we are subject to what I might call photophobia—and I’m not talking about fear of having your picture taken(!) but fear of light. Jesus says, “… everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” But when we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, looking up and persisting in looking up at him “lifted up” for our salvation, then Eternal Life becomes a present reality of our experience, something that we live in and benefit from even now, and not merely a future hope. When we can make this sort of mental move, we then have the resources at our disposal to be able to live fully in the present and fully in freedom: Free from self-deception, free from fear, and free from anxiety.

Somebody get the lights. Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday

Travel: Time at Camp Allen to pack in a leisurely fashion. I was on the 11am shuttle to the airport in Houston. Enjoyed seat conversation with the most recently retired bishop of Maryland, who now assists in Virginia. I was there in plenty of time to enjoy a burger at a sit-down restaurant before boarding the 2:20 to Dallas, where my layover was nearly three hours. It was a little early for dinner, but it was then or never, so I had some barbecue. The 6:30 departure to Springfield put us on the ground right on time at 8:30. Unpacked, set all the clocks in the house ahead one hour, and otherwise got ready for a fairly early departure to my visitation to St Christopher's, Rantoul tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 4

... and another one is in the books. Here I am with my table mates. We've been together since the meeting right here at Camp Allen two years ago, and will remain together through General Convention, after which we will get shuffled and re-dealt.

This meeting is a day shorter than has been the case for several years--four full days instead of five. The compressed schedule is more demanding, to be sure, with less down time for rest or recreation. But, on balance, I prefer it. I am especially grateful not to be here over a Sunday.

The Eucharist this morning (straight Rite II, Prayer C) was celebrated by the Presiding Bishop. The preacher was Jeff Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of Texas. He did a fine job. I always enjoy hearing other bishops preach to bishops. They invariably bring their lives and ministries to the task in ways that their hearers can readily identify with.

The morning's work was a continuation of yesterday's conversation around the proposal to make the President of the House of Deputies a paid position. It seems to be an emotionally fraught subject. Much of our time was spent in executive session (informally, since we weren't technically under Roberts' Rules). There was a lot of parsing the distinction between leadership and governance. Lunch was spent in Province groups, so I was with bishops from the 14 dioceses of Province V, where we talked about ... you guessed it ... the matter of paying the PHOD. I think it's safe to say there are efforts underway to amend the resolution in a manner that will not yield a legislative showdown, with winners and losers, but produce a win-win solution. We'll see what happens in Austin.

The afternoon's activity consisted of our regular "Fireside Chat." This has always happened on an evening, so it was a little weird. There were even images of burning logs projected on the screens. The Fireside Chat, at which the Presiding Bishop ... well, presides ... is just a time for whatever ... this and that ... odds and ends of announcements, publicity schticks, and soapbox speeches (with a ready hook). 

We found ourselves finished early, around 2:30. The next item on the agenda was a liturgy for the Renewal of Ordination Vows, scheduled for 4:00. We made a collective executive decision to just go ahead and do it right then. There was no actual vote taken, but I would have been in the Aye column. Most of our time has been pretty nonstop mentally demanding, and there was a palpable sense of fatigue in the room. We adjourned upstairs to the chapel to renew our vows.

With a chunk of time on my hands, I was resolved to get a stiff dose of exercise. Serendipitously, my good friend the Bishop of Dallas had the same idea, so we walked a full four miles together, solving most of the problems of the church and starting in on those of the world along the way.

After cleaning up, it was time to join the pre-dinner hospitality hour. Dinner on the last night of HOB is always banquet-style, with white table cloths and table wine. The collegiality is always a blessing.




Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 3

We have new stricter social media rules now in the HOB--no photos taken during a session without the permission of those in it. So ... I'm having to be more creative about finding pics for the blog, because I'm not going to take a panoramic group shot and then contact everyone whose balding head shows in the photo!

Once again, the day began with Eucharist. This time, though, I took a pass, and opted for a vigorous walk on a brisk morning. Having looked at the liturgy sheet in advance, there were enough triggers that I knew the net spiritual effect for me would be negative. #selfcare  I will say, however, that HOB worship has gotten incrementally less problematic during the tenure of the current Presiding Bishop, and I give props for that.

When we convened at 10:15, there were the usual announcements, then a whirlwind set of summary reports from bishop members of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. The full reports that they were summarizing, containing substantive and enormously significant resolutions being submitted to General Convention, are enormous--including revision of the Prayer Book, and it wasn't quite fair to anyone that they had to be presented in such a temporally condensed manner. And it was even less fair that our consideration of the material had to occur in less than an hour. This took the form of Indaba groups. We adjourned to breakout rooms in groups of about 20 each. The Indaba process involves each one present speaking his or her heart, in turn, into the center of the group, with no crosstalk or discussion in the conventional sense. We were asked to respond to, "How do you imagine liturgy in the future of the Episcopal Church? What are your hopes? What are your fears?" 

After lunch, we heard from bishop members on the Task Force on the Episcopate. This group was created by the last General Convention to study the ministry of bishops, how they are chosen, and how the ones chosen are formed for their ministry. The driving urge is a sense on the part of some that the House of Bishops should be much more "diverse" in terms of gender, race, and class. The proposals they came up with are fairly minor technical revisions of the current canons on election, consent, and continuing education. Once again, we broke into Indaba groups and responded to questions about how we envision the ministry of bishops in TEC going forward. I'm not supposed to pass on anything I hear in an Indaba group, but if you'd like to speculate that most bishops are in favor of the ministry of bishops, you wouldn't be off the mark.

The last hour of our afternoon before Evensong was given over to a report from the bishop members of yet another task force, this one having to do with "leadership compensation." That sounds innocuously bureaucratic, but it is, in fact, politically charged. There is a strong move afoot to make the President of the House of Deputies a compensated position. Advocates would say that the job has evolved from merely holding the gavel when the HOD is in session every three years to something that is incontrovertibly full time, and therefore deserving of compensation. Opponents argue that the ministry of bishops is distinctive, and cannot be understood as in parallel to what the Deputies do. We cannot create a two-headed monster, where the Presiding Bishop and the PHOD are, in effect, co-primates. We decided to forego Indaba groups on this issue and hash it out in plenary tomorrow morning. Stay tuned. This one will be big before it goes away.

After dinner, I attended a voluntary meeting with members of the Marriage Task Force, along with a handful of others. This was an opportunity to dig more deeply into their convention resolutions, which have the potential to be seismic. They are proposing a "surgical" revision of the Prayer Book that would add to the BCP the rites currently authorized just "in the ether" for same-sex marriage, along with a concomitant change to the catechism that would make marriage gender neutral. If approved this year, that would constitute a "first reading" of Prayer Book revision, a process that would be cemented by subsequent approval in 2021. The kicker here, of course, is that while a diocesan bishop can decline to permit use of a trial rite "in the ether," a bishop cannot proscribe use of material in the Book of Common Prayer. I cannot predict how this will all play out. There is a wide variety of opinion swirling around in the mix, and the legislative process at General Convention is a real sausage machine. But it will be a hot issue. And, to be frank, it deserved a lot more consideration than it is getting at this meeting of the House. If the events following 2003 were an earthquake, approval of anything like the Taskforce on Marriage's proposal would be a catastrophic aftershock. It is borderline dereliction of duty that this issue alone was not the focus of table talk, an Indaba session, and plenary discussion at this last meeting of the HOB before General Convention.




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 2

It's gloriously springtime in the piney woods of east Texas, as this shot of a blooming redbud show. Is it also springtime for evangelism in the Episcopal Church? The House of Bishops spent most of another day examining the subject. 

Once again, we began with a celebration of the Eucharist, at which the Bishop of the Dominican Republic presided (in Spanish) and the Bishop of Indianapolis preached (about "relational courage"). We then spent some time in table groups with another set of starter questions, this time derived from some of the vows bishops take at their consecration, and intended to elicit personal narrative about speaking the gospel into both ordinary and demanding situations. 

The final hour or so was given over to more consideration of the ministry of Renewal Works, with its head, the Revd Jay Sidebotham, leading the discussion. There was a particular emphasis on how Renewal Works attempts to translate the process from the pan-evangelical milieu which is its origin into language and categories that are more comfortable and familiar to Episcopalians. I told a colleague in passing walking out of the session that the discussion felt to me like doing surgery on metastatic cancer (not that I've ever done that, so ... ): the diseased tissue is so finely interwoven with healthy tissue that it's impossible to separate the two. Much of what I heard rang very true. In assessing the spiritual vitality of an Episcopal congregation, questions around the liturgy and the experience of the Eucharist need to be asked. As Catholic Christians, we are more communal and less individualistic in the way we articulate and engage Christian faith and practice. At the same time, I get very jittery when I hear resistance to expressions like "salvation by grace" or "the authority of scripture," or reinterpretations of such expressions so as to rob them of their classic meaning. (See my comments on Day 1 about getting comfortable with evangelism just by redefining it.)

After lunch, there were a number of breakout groups available to us on a range of topics broadly related to evangelism. I will confess--and don't judge me, because I've probably already judged myself more harshly--that I elected to take advantage of the beautiful weather (sunny, 60s, low humidity) for a long and brisk walk through the woods. Considering the attractive unhealthiness of much of the Camp Allen food, exercise was what I needed. I did think about evangelism while walking, however!

At 3:30, we reconvened in plenary session, and after a couple of preliminaries, back into formal business session. (In my time in the HOB, this is the first time the business session has not occurred as the last item on the agenda on the last day of the meeting.) We adopted a statement about #MeToo, with plans for activities looking into that subject at this summer's General Convention. We also re-0pened consideration of the gun violence resolution, agreeing to look at an entirely rewritten substitute for the text we talked about yesterday. Instead of jabbing the NRA directly, it attempts to ride the wave created by the students from Parkland themselves. 

I'm not going to reproduce the text here; you can find it pretty easily using a search engine, I'm sure. It passed unanimously, which means I voted for it. Am I comfortable with every aspect of it? No. I'm highly allergic to any language suggesting that God has a "dream." God is sovereign. He doesn't have dreams; he has plans! And I have no intention of participating in any sort of protest march on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. But politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. So I swallow those bits of discomfort for the sake of the following language, which I moved as an amendment, and which was adopted into the final version of the statement: 
In addition, we pledge ourselves to bring the values of the gospel to bear on a society that increasingly glorifies violence and trivializes the sacredness of every human life.
Legislative action to make military-grade weapons and ammunition less accessible may indeed save some lives in the near term. (In voting for this, have I violated my rubric about taking a stand on an issues about which Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience might legitimately disagree? I'm not sure, but it's difficult for me to imagine a compelling moral argument for bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.) But we would be derelict in taking such action if we do not at the same time try to prevent mass violence that might occur ten and twenty years from now. Popular culture (music, video games, etc.) is one of the toxic ingredients in the stew that leads to tragic events like Parkland.

After Evening Prayer, most of the bishops went off site for "class" dinners. My Class of 2011 (all those elected in 2010) perpetuated our tradition, when we are at Camp Allen, of going to Chuy's, a chain Mexican restaurant in College Station (about a 40 minute drive). I am blessed to be part of an amazing class. We have become really good friends over the years. We had a wonderful time.