Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Up and out of the Hilton Garden, Champaign in time to preside and preach at Emmanuel's regular 0800 liturgy, meet with confirmands between services; preside, preach, and confirm at 1000, kibbutz at coffee hour, and enjoy lunch with the rector and her husband. We were back home around 4:00. Still feeling puny, but I managed to power through it all, for which I am grateful, because ... what a joy this ministry is. It energizes and sustains me. But I can't say anything about being productive once we got home. Pretty much vegged with Amazon TV.

Sermon for Lent IV

Emmanuel, Champaign--II Corinthians 5:17-21, Luke 15:11-32

This parable of Jesus that we have just heard is one of the most familiar and beloved passages in all of scripture. It touches us on so many different levels, and is like a bottomless well from which we can draw an endless supply of living water to slake our spiritual thirst. Every time I come to it, I find something new. This time around, my attention was arrested by a detail that is casually passed over as Jesus tells the story in Luke’s gospel. The younger of two sons asks his father for a premature distribution of his share of the father’s estate; in other words, he wants his inheritance while Dad is still 98.6 and vertical, rather than room temperature and pushing up daisies. This is really an outlandish and incredibly selfish request. Not only is it offensive on a mere personal level—talk about breaking a parent’s heart—but it was also a considerable financial imposition. Imagine what it would take for you to come up with half of your net worth in cash. He probably had to sell some livestock and some precious metals and some real estate on terms that were not particularly advantageous.

I bring this up because, later on, when the “prodigal son” returns home penniless and disgraced, we are in awe of the father’s love that welcomes him back without any recriminations or awkward questions. For the son, that homecoming was a wonderful experience of forgiveness and grace. But for the father, it came at a cost. It cost him on both ends of the transaction—first when he liquidated his assets in an untimely manner, and then again when he threw a welcome-home party for his younger son that jeopardized his relationship with his faithful older son.

And, of course, since the obvious point of the parable is that we should transfer our regard for how the loving father treats his flaky son to how our loving God treats us flaky children, it’s also easy for us to overlook the cost factor. It’s easy for us to conclude that our salvation—our redemption, our reconciliation, both “vertically” with God and “horizontally” with our fellow human beings—it’s easy for us to conclude that our salvation doesn’t really cost God anything, that it’s just a matter of God shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Oh, well, people will be people. You gotta love ‘em, though, so I’ll just overlook their screw-ups and wink at their infidelities.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was martyred by the Nazi regime toward the end of World War II, coined the phrase “cheap grace.” Cheap grace doesn’t exist in reality, but it’s often alive and well in our imaginations. We see passages of scripture like “Return to the Lord, for he is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” and the image that pops into our mind is not so much God the Father as God the Grandfather, who thinks we’re cute even when we’re naughty, and who pats us on the head and tells us to try a little harder to be nice as he slips us a piece of candy on the sly.

We continue to have a healthy appetite for “cheap grace,” I think, because we have a generally distorted conception of love. We confuse who we are with what we do, so we think that if someone loves us, they are obligated to approve of everything about us, to overlook our faults, and never confront or challenge our opinions or our behavior. No embarrassing questions about just how we managed to squander our inheritance in, as the King James Version puts it, “riotous living.” No parental advice on how to avoid repeating the disaster that we have brought on ourselves. No judgment, no consequences; just support, encouragement, and acceptance. That’s what love is, right?

Our taste for cheap grace is also nourished by a distorted notion of forgiveness. “It’s OK, think nothing of it.”  “Not a problem—no big deal.” …as if the most serious thing we ever have to forgive is somebody accidentally stepping on our toe. Reinhold Niebuhr, an eminent Protestant theologian from the last century, described the theology of cheap grace as presenting us with "a God without wrath [who] brought [people] without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” No wonder the cross has turned into a talisman, a fashion accessory. You’ve probably heard the story about the shopper who inquired at a department store jewelry counter, “Do you have any crosses?” The sales clerk responded with enthusiasm, “Oh, yes, we have several. Some are earrings, some are pins, and some come on necklaces. Most of them are plain, but some of them have a little man on them.”

A little man. Indeed.

Let’s take an honest look at the sacred scriptures, particularly those appointed for this Fourth Sunday in Lent. What do we see? We see the second of St Paul’s two letters to the Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul reminds the Corinthians, and reminds us, that “for our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin…”. Now this is certainly a strange phrase. It refers, of course, to Jesus, who “knew no sin”—in other words, he was himself sinless; his being and his doing were at all times completely oriented toward the will of his Father. God took his own sinless son and “made him to be sin.” What does this mean? It means that Jesus was a sort of black hole for all of human sin, indeed for universal evil itself. Jesus absorbed into himself every act of genocide and mass murder, every act of tyranny and torture, every hate crime, every act of enslavement and human trafficking, every act of sexual predation, the sum total of social injustice and exploitation of the poor and marginalized, every misuse of our God-given desires and appetites, every act of infidelity and betrayal, every evasion of lawful and just taxation, every white lie, every disregarded traffic signal and every plagiarized term paper. Jesus took all of this into himself, and carried it to the cross. For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin.

This quality of proactive generosity in God’s love is evident in the Prodigal Son parable: Notice how, when the son returns home to see if his father will take him on as a hired hand, he doesn’t have to pound on the door and beg the butler to fetch his father. No, the father sees him from a distance, and runs out to meet him with open arms. The father hasn’t forgotten; he’s been watching and waiting the whole time. My brothers and sisters, God’s grace and forgiveness doesn’t cost us a dime, but it is far from free. Jesus has paid the price, God has paid the price, for our salvation, for our redemption, for our reconciliation.

We’re all familiar with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death. The details are etched into our imaginations. We are—most of us— acutely aware of the details of the agony that Jesus endured on our behalf. The verbal humiliation, the brutal scourging, the cynical crowning with thorns, all before carrying a heavy cross several hundred yards and up a hill while a crowd continues to taunt him, and then being nailed to the cross and lifted up to die. And die he did. There’s nothing cheap about grace. It is enormously costly. We’re way too impoverished to pay the price, so Jesus pays it for us.

To those of us who have experienced the costly grace of God, the cross can never be a mere talisman or fashion accessory. It is a symbol that we venerate and embrace and love, because it stands before us as the sign of the length to which God was willing to go…to save me, to save you, to save anyone who comes to him in faith. The astounding truth of God’s love is that, if you were the only person in the entire world, Jesus would still have died for you. The one who knew no sin became sin for our sake, “…so that in him we might become,” not sin, but “the righteousness of God.” We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, our life, and resurrection. Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2019


I've tried never to brag about hardly ever getting sick, but I must have at some point, because ... well, I've gotten sick. Pretty mild respiratory symptoms, but definitely feeling seriously underpowered. So I didn't force myself into very much productivity today, and no walk. Processed a short stack of emails and did some personal finance chores. At 3pm Brenda and I were packed up and backing out of the garage, then headed south to Champaign. Met with the Mission Leadership Team of Emmanuel for a bit, prayed the Stations of the Cross, then headed around the corner to the home of one of the MLT members, who, in deference to my Brazilian origins, prepared the Brazilian national comfort food, feijoada (and did a darn good job of it). Looking forward to tomorrow's visitation to Emmanuel.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Friday (John Keble)

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • Devoted most of the morning to taking my homily for Lent V (Redeemer, Cairo) from "developed notes" to "rough draft."
  • Lunched on leftover chili (even better the third time around).
  • Stepped out to get a haircut (which, serendipitously, involved riding the 'L' train, something I enjoy doing just for its own sake). Took a call from the president of the Standing Committee while en route. Leveraged the endeavor into most of my 10K step daily goal, so I didn't have to "take a walk."
  • Devoted most of the afternoon to an ongoing project--a substantial pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


  • Usual early AM weekday routine,
  • Dealt via a couple of emails with a situation in our companion diocese of Tabora (Tanzania).
  • Took Brenda to a healthcare appointment.
  • Replied by email to a gracious handwritten note from a former colleague.
  • Performed some routine month-end maintenance on my (electronic) calendar.
  • Took some steps in preparation for the Chrism Mass on April 13.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took a long walk with Brenda on a beautiful spring day.
  • Took a break mid-afternoon to watch the Cubs' season opener. Cleaned a refrigerator between innings.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner, did penance for watching baseball by poring over commentaries on the readings for Easter II in preparation for preaching on that occasion at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wednesday (Charles Henry Brent)

  • Usual weekday early AM routine.
  • Spoke by phone with a psychotherapist over an ongoing pastoral issue (with the permission, of course, of the one for whom I am trying to care).
  • Addressed a substantial stack of deferred email replies. This raises my endorphin level because of the number of individual to-do items I'm able to check off in somewhat rapid succession. But it's still time-consuming.
  • Did some long-delayed scheduled maintenance--cleaning up  my computer desktop. Items that are in play just get parked there, but not always filed somewhere else in a timely fashion. It feels good.
  • Did the finish work (refine, edit, format [14 pt typeface, serifed font, 1.5 spaces, every sentence a hanging indent], print, schedule for posting, put hard copy in my car) on the text of homily for Lent IV (this Sunday at Emmanuel, Champaign). This also involved trouble-shooting a printer issue. It's always something.
  • Grabbed some carry-out lunch from the Chinese place around the corner.
  • Read and responded to a stack of five Ember Day letters from people in various stages of the ordination process.
  • Reached out by email to a layperson who finds herself in a difficult position in her relationship to the church.
  • Took a brisk walk with Brenda on an afternoon that felt decidedly not-winter. How utterly welcome.
  • Worked a brief while collecting documents for my tax-preparer.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


  • Customary weekday working-from-home routine.
  • Participated in a conference call meeting of the diocesan trustees.
  • Attended by email to some details pertaining to the Chrism Mass on April 13.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft service leaflet for this Sunday's visitation to Emmanuel, Champaign.
  • Attended to a pastoral/administrative issue involving one of our clergy and one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Answered a pastoral/administration question from one of our parish priests.
  • Walked down to the Swedish Covenant Hospital complex for a physical therapy appointment.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Did the household grocery shopping for the week, since circumstances conspired against that chore being gotten done yesterday.
  • Dealt (partially successfully) with a vexing tech/software issue (the app that's supposed to keep track of my passwords).
  • Took about a 2.5 mile walk in a mostly easterly direction, and back, with Brenda.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Third Sunday in Lent

A long day. Up and out of my Mt Vernon hotel room around 0820. McD's drive-thru for breakfast, then on up I-57 about 25 minutes to Salem, where I presided and preached at the regular 0930 celebration of the Eucharist at St Thomas'. There was the usual tasty repast following the service. I visited with folks until around 11030, when I headed to Springfield, arriving a couple of hours later. I was pleased that there was time for a walk, so I changed into appropriate attire and walked west on Lawrence to MacArthur, south fo South Grand, and west to Second, and back up. There was just enough time to clean up, get changed, and show up in the cathedral for the liturgy rehearsal at 3:30. It went smoothly, under the guidance of Dean Andy Hook. At 4:30 we reconvened for the ordination of Shane Spellmeyer and Jonathan Totty to the transitional diaconate, It was a splendid occasion, and I'm really happy about the gifts these two young men will bring to ordained ministry. Spend some quality time at the reception next door at the Inn at 835, then loaded up the car and started driving north at around 7:20. Pulled into my garage in Chicago right at 11:00. Did I mention it was a long day?

Homily for the Diaconal Ordination of Shane Spellmeyer and Jonathan Torry

Eve of the Annunciation, Springfield Cathedral

There are a number of metaphors, a number of ways of accounting for what we’re doing this afternoon, what this liturgy, this “work,” is about. The one I’d like to place before you is that of an unveiling ceremony for a work of art, the sort of occasion where family, friends, and other interested parties gather to literally see the wraps taken off a work of art that they’ve known has been in progress for some time, but has not been available for public viewing. This liturgy is the unveiling of a work of divine art that has been “in progress” for a very long time, since before either Jonathan or Shane were born. (Now, for purposes of full disclosure, I should warn you, lest you be disappointed, that, in the case of these two, the artwork will remain partially veiled still, even when we’re finished with what we’re doing. That last bit of veil will come off in about six months when they’re made priests.)  

“A body you have prepared for me”—we heard that phrase twice a few minutes ago, first Psalm 40, then as Psalm 40 is quoted extensively by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Body,” I would suggest, can be read here as a euphemism for “life”—a life you have prepared for me. A life you have prepared for me—both the basic fact of life, the fact that Jonathan and Shane exist, that they inhabit this world, and also the course of life, the particular shape and contour and character that their lives have taken and will take. What’s happening this afternoon is, by any measure, a major—I would venture to say, even, huge—a huge flex point in the course of both of their lives.  

Today begins a period of liminality, a double-hinged period of transition. Shane and Jonathan assume the persona of what used to be called “clerks [clerics, we would say now] in holy orders.” That word “persona,” from which we get, of course, “person,” has some interesting connotations. It’s the Latinization of the Greek work prosopon, which denotes, literally, the mask that a Greek stage actor would wear, something that was readily recognizable to the audience and would immediately indicate what character they were portraying. From now on, Jonathan and Shane wear the mask of “clergy,” even when they don’t feel like it. The old English expression for the parish priest—parson—refers to that same mask, that same unending role to play. If the two of them don’t find that just a little bit sobering, they’re probably not paying attention!

But, just as a marriage service does not create something that didn’t already exist, but recognizes and celebrates something that is already real, an ordination doesn’t confect something from nothing. Rather, it unveils something that has been taking shape for a very long time and is now ready to be seen. The ceremonial questions and answers of this ordination service are the way we mark the moment—the formation of these ordinands has reached the point where we can say, “Behold, clerics! Behold, parsons! Behold, deacons!”—and then ask God through prayer to bless and ratify that recognition. Jonathan and Shane are, each in himself, living sacraments of God provision of holy order for his church. This liturgy is the making public of that ongoing fact, like the voice of God the Father at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The rubrics of the Prayer Book prescribe that I hand each of them a Bible, and inform them that they are now authorized to be listened to; the people of God are, in fact, obligated to listen to them. Again, sobering.

And so, Shane and Jonathan come to the altar of God with the refrain of the Psalmist on their lips: “Behold, I come to do your will, O Lord.” As quoted in Hebrews, this line from the Psalm is a prophetic reference to Jesus, who, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Of course, as we are celebrating the feast of the Annunciation tonight, there’s another level of meaning we can see. We can hear in it an echo of the response of Our Lady to the angel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.” As Jonathan and Shane come under the hands of the Apostles in a few minutes, represented by the hands of the Bishop of Springfield, they will be echoing those words of the Blessed Virgin: “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

In a few moments, Jonathan and Shane will both solemnly testify that they believe it is indeed God’s will that they take this step. This assembly has already voiced its concurrence with that discernment. We will pray. We will lay hands. We will clothe them as deacons. And then we will put them right to work and tell them (I could say “ask,” but the reality is, in their case, I get to tell!) to set the table for the sacred meal we are about to enact. Before we leave the room, one of them will, with diaconal authority, admonish us to “Go in peace,” under their servant leadership, “to love and serve the Lord.” They will have begun the period of passage until, in God’s good time, we remove the veil entirely and show them to be priests.

Shane and Jonathan, please stand.

It has been, and continues to be, my joyful privilege to walk with you through this phase of your journey. I profoundly regret that circumstances have not allowed us to retain one or both of you in the Diocese of Springfield. But the Diocese of Northern Michigan and the Diocese of Dallas are on the same team, and as we “pay it forward” by sending you off to labor in those mission fields, we do so in the confidence that, as we have sown, so shall we reap. The good and gracious God who is using you to take care of his people in those two places will use others, whose names we may not now know, to take care of us. So, go. We send you. Represent us well. Preach the gospel in season and out. Care for the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the elegant and the unwashed, the erudite and the illiterate, the fervent and the faithless, those who “get it,” and those who are manifestly clueless. We plant you. Find good soil and be fruitful.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon for Lent III

St Thomas’, Salem--Luke 13:1-9

“Wait ‘til next year!” That was the perennial rallying cry of Brooklyn Dodgers’ fans
in the 1940s and ‘50s as they watched their team come “Oh so close” many times during those years, but only once come home with a World Series victory. Of course, as the devoted follower of a baseball team that has only even appeared in the World Series once during my lifetime, and that only recently, I have uttered those words a few times myself—Wait ‘til next year!

It’s comforting—is it not?—to think that there will always be a “next year,” that there will still be time for obligations to be met, for hatchets to be buried, for apologies to be made, for long-delayed projects to be completed—and, most of all, time to get on solid ground in our relationship with God. We think and act as though there will always be a “next year,” there will always be “one more chance” to say, “Lord, I’m sorry, please forgive me, this time I’m serious about turning things around.” To think otherwise—to think that, somewhere out there, an actual deadline exists—is distasteful to us, because it confronts us with our own mortality. There is nothing quite so certain for us as the prospect of death.

Yet, we spend most of our lives in functional denial of this inescapable reality. To be sure, as we get older, that denial tends to soften. But it’s always there. Facing death is always difficult. I know of a seminary professor who required his students, during the course of the semester, to read the Prayer Book burial liturgy once a week, and insert their own name in the blank spots in the prayers for the dead. That would probably give most of us the creeps, but it’s no doubt a spiritually worthwhile exercise. To give in to our denial impulse, to live as though there is an infinite number of “next years,” that the game will proceed indefinitely into extra innings, that the show will always go on—this is risky behavior. It’s playing “chicken” with Eternity. It puts us at risk, quite simply, of waiting too long, of putting off the important work of repentance and amendment of life and growth in holiness until it’s too late, and we’re no longer able to do it.

It happens all the time, of course, on a smaller and less consequential scale. People put off getting married, not because they have made a conscious decision to remain single, or can’t find the right person to marry, but just to keep their options open, and avoid the finality of a commitment. Couples put off having children, not because they have consciously decided to remain childless, or lack either the emotional or financial resources to be good parents, but—once again—to assert their right of free choice, to avoid the finality of commitment. Then, one day, they find that they are either too set in their ways, or too old, to get married or have children. Life has passed them by. They held on to their options so long that their options disappeared. They safeguarded their right to choose until there was no longer a choice to make.

Yet, it’s one thing to squander, through procrastination, our shot at marriage and family life. It’s quite another to squander, through procrastination, our opportunity for profound joy and eternal happiness in communion with a God who made us and loves us and became one of us to save us, and who knows our needs before we ask. When it comes to repentance and reconciliation with God, “wait ‘til next year” is not a helpful slogan.

We don’t have to pay attention to the news—however we get our news—for very long without being reminded of the shortness and uncertainly of life. There seems to be a mass shooting every few months, with innocent lives lost, but it doesn’t have to be anything that dramatic. As you know, I do a lot of driving on Illinois highways, and every now and then there’ll be a lighted sign over the road that says how many traffic fatalities there have been so far this year. Each of those was a sudden death, completely unanticipated by somebody who got up in the morning feeling fine and got dressed and had breakfast and went about their day until … in an instant, it was all over.

And it’s not unique to our time and place, either. In St Luke’s gospel, Jesus refers to two tragic events that must have been in the headlines at the time, but which we know nothing more about: the murder of an unspecified number of Galileans by Pontius Pilate, who then further disgraced their memories by mingling their blood with that of the animals offered as sacrifices in the temple; and an equally deadly, though purely accidental, collapse of a tower in the town of Siloam, which killed 18 people.
Sudden loss of innocent human life on an attention-getting scale— this is a mystery, to be sure. We simply don’t have an entirely satisfying explanation as to why God allows such things to happen. But it’s more than just a mystery; it’s also a warning. Jesus’s point in citing these two tragic events is that, if we’re smart, we will see in them a wake-up call, a goad that pushes us out of our complacency and denial, an alarm that invites us to consider whether “next year” might indeed be here already, and that there may not be another.

Jesus goes on to tell a parable about a fig tree that was unproductive, so the grower wanted to cut it down and make room for another tree that might give him a return on his investment. But the caretaker of the orchard doesn’t believe that all is yet lost. He asks the grower for one more year, during which time he will give it special attention—extra manure, expert pruning. Then, if it is still not productive, it will have to be cut down. So, what element in this parable do you think represents us? You’re right—it’s the fig tree. We are unproductive fig trees, but, sooner or later, we need to start bearing fruit. We need to sincerely repent of the things we have done which we ought not to have done, and the things we have left undone which we ought to have done. We need to develop and manifest the fruits of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We need to not only ask, “What would Jesus do?” we need to do what Jesus did!

Now, we serve a loving and generous God, who supplies us with the resources we need to accomplish this work. As we read in the Psalms, “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  This is the season of the Lord’s favor. This is when we have “room” to repent, space in which to make the 180° turn that is the essential movement of repentance. It may not always be so. There is such a thing as “too late.” It’s not that there are limits to God’s love—personally, I don’t know that it’s God who ever defines “too late.” We do it to ourselves. Every time we say, “Wait ‘till next year,” every time we procrastinate in our intent to examine our lives and make a break with those habits of mind, body, and heart that fall short of God’s glorious purpose for us, every time we delay our repentance, the very thing we need to do becomes more difficult. Eventually, as a result of thousands of little decisions made—either overtly or by default—over many years, the very thing that is the most necessary for us becomes the least possible. We are contracted, turned in on ourselves, cut off from our true humanity, and therefore also cut off from the love of God.

But we’re not there yet. None of us is there yet. There is still space to repent, and grace to make it happen. It is not yet too late. If we will only grant our permission, the Caretaker of the garden stands ready to fertilize us and water us and prune us until we bear the kind of fruit which is the fulfillment of our deepest nature. To a large extent, this is what the season of Lent is for—to encourage us to take an honest look at ourselves, calculate where we’re headed if we stay on the same course, and figure out what we need to do to either get on the right course or stay on the right course. As the Lord says through the Psalmist, “Today, if you would hear my voice, harden not your hearts.” This is the day of salvation. This is the season of the Lord’s favor. This is “next year.” There may not be another.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday (St Gregory the Illuminator)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Walked down to Charlie Parker's for breakfast, which is 2.5 miles each way, so I got my daily quota of steps in, and then some.
  • Returned to the office around 1015 and took a bit of down time surfing through Facebook and giving in to the urge to comment on something controversial, which hardly ever ends well.
  • Did the clergy "nodal event" (birthdays, anniversaries of marriage and ordination) for clergy and spouses for April.
  • Packed up, did a bit of personal shopping, grabbed a burger from Wendy's, and headed south toward Salem.
  • Attended a dinner gathering at the home of Fr David and Elizabeth Baumann, during the course of which I interviewed two potential aspirants to the diaconate.
  • Drove down to Mt Vernon and ensconced myself at the Doubletree, ahead of tomorrow's visit to St Thomas' in Salem.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday (James DeKoven)

  • Route early morning for an "office" day--dressed an across the alley for Morning Prayer in the cathedral around 0745, then a fast-food breakfast (chicken biscuit at Hardee's this time).
  • Substantive debrief with the Archdeacon on several issues.
  • Played with hot wax: Signed and sealed the certificates for Sunday's ordination of transitional deacons.
  • G0t to work drafting a paragraph of feedback to each of the Eucharistic Communities that submitted canonical Mission Strategy Reports, based on notes I made with the Department of Mission met and reviewed them last month. The comments are not being vetted with the members of the department before being sent out. 
  • Broke off from this a little before noon to grab some lunch from Chick-Fil-A. While on route, had a serious pastoral conversation by phone with a lay person whose spouse has received a life-threatening diagnosis. Rather heartbreaking.
  • Ran a short personal errand.
  • Back to the MSR responses.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on the OT reading from tomorrow's daily office lectionary.
  • Prayed over, then took a first homiletical drive-by of the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter (St Andrew's, Edwardsville).
  • Met with an individual who is in the process of discernment for Holy Orders.
  • Long walk around the perimeter of downtown Springfield, then a late Evening Prayer in the cathedral (with the window over the high altar ablaze with the setting sun), before heading out to Friday's for some dinner.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Thursday (Thomas Ken)

  • Up at the usual hour. Morning Prayer. Tea.
  • Left on foot at 0810 to keep an 0830 breakfast appointment with Fr Patrick Raymond, rector of Ascension, Chicago, who has become a valued friend.
  • Leveraged the fact that I had walked a mile to breakfast by walking three more, getting my full ration of steps for the day, and then some.
  • Paid more attention to the remedial work I began last night for my Forward Day by Day lectionary reflections (which will appear in November).
  • Responded substantively to an email about a serious pastoral issue in the diocese.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Fleshed out, refined, edited, formatted, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for Sunday afternoons diaconal ordinations.
  • Did some reconstructive surgery on a previously-used sermon text for Lent IV, repurposing it for use this year at Emmanuel, Champaign.
  • Attended to a pastoral/administrative issue with respect to one of our clergy.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • Prepared some leftovers for dinner. Then packed, loaded the YFNBmobile, and headed south at 7:00, arriving at my office campsite in Springfield just before 10:30.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wednesday (St Cuthbert)

  • Usual non-office weekday routine.
  • Responded by email to a couple of substantive requests for pastoral care.
  • Dealt with several logistical details pertaining to Sunday evening's ordination liturgy in Springfield.
  • Got back to work on producing a draft of the liturgy booklet for the ordinations.
  • Broke off for a lunch of leftovers.
  • Back again to working on the liturgy booklet. There was one glitch, but it was relatively minor. Still, it's just a time-consuming process. 
  • Began to deal by email with the news that our Communications Coordinator has accepted another position, and will be leaving the team shortly.
  • Walked Brenda down to a healthcare appointment--relatively minor followup on a semi-surgical procedure she had last week. It's fortunate that we live so close to where much of her "doctoring" takes place.
  • Worked on my homily for Lent V (Redeemer, Cairo), taking it all the way from exegetical notes to a message statement and on to a developed outline.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (St Thomas', Salem).
  • After dinner: did some requested remedial work on a couple of my lectionary reflections for this coming November's Forward Day by Day. I had not realized that, while they want them to be tied to the daily office readings on weekdays, they want the Sunday meditations to be on the Eucharistic lectionary.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

St Joseph

  • Morning Prayer in the waning darkness, grateful to be celebrating the feast of St Joseph, the patron of my episcopate. I was consecrated eight years ago today.
  • Made breakfast, skimmed the news, did the crossword, prioritized ("triaged" might be a better word) my tasks for the day, showered and dressed.
  • Attended to a brief chore related to Brenda's healthcare. 
  • Took care of some concrete details pertaining to this Sunday evening's liturgy for the ordination of two transitional deacons.
  • Began working on conceiving and hatching a homily for the ordination.
  • Broke off from that to go to a physical therapy appointment. Picked up some Chinese carryout for lunch on the way home.
  • Back to the ordination sermon, which eventually yielded something resembling a developed outline.
  • Took a brisk walk with Brenda on a lovely mild and sunny afternoon.
  • Made significant progress (though I didn't finish) toward a draft of the ordination liturgy program.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Second Sunday in Lent

No visitation today. Brenda and I journeyed a few miles north to suburban Highland Park, where we attended the 10am Mass at Trinity Church. The rector there is an old friend of some 40 years. We were in the same parish together when he was a teenager and we were in our twenties. The afternoon was spent napping, walking, processing some emails, and doing household chores.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


It was a smooth day of travel. I left Kanuga for the airport in Asheville at 0830 (eastern) and walked into the door of my Chicago apartment at 1:45 (central). There was time to unpack, rest a bit, have a late lunch, take a phone call from a lay leader, triage emails, get a vigorous walk on a sunny afternoon, visit with extended family, and order barbecue from Grubbhub.

Friday, March 15, 2019


The same morning routine pertained--we gathered for a plenary session, following breakfast and Eucharist, at 1015. After announcements, it was given over entirely to table discussion, with some broadly-framed leading questions that were intended to provoke reflection, synthesis, and resolve with respect to the overarching theme of the meeting, the Way of Love, which is the newest dimension to the Presiding Bishop's leadership initiative. This builds on the Jesus Movement, which dominated the first triennium of his term. (If anything can be said of Michael Curry with certainty, it is that he is relentlessly on message; I've never seen a leader quite so disciplined about that.)

So ... who can argue with anything called the Way of Love, right? But, what is it, exactly? As nearly as I can tell, from the way it was presented to us, it's a set of spiritual practices (see my post from this past Tuesday) that are not at all novel, but pretty classic "rule of life" stuff. I heartily endorse all of it. Just why it's called the Way of Love is less clear to me, but I'm not going to quibble. It's wholesome and needful and I commend it, or something like it. (Someone at my table, while looking at some printed material that was provided to us, remarked that it looked a lot like the format for a Cursillo group reunion, so ... ) If the Way of Love were to be received and practiced, throughout the Episcopal Church, we would be all the better for it. As I have already written, my only reservation is that it might come to be seen, by some, as an instrumental means to "social gospel" ends. In the Episcopal Church's case, this would look a lot like the platform of the Democratic Party, which is not the gospel. (To be clear, neither is the platform of any other political party the gospel.)

In the afternoon, we went, for the only time during this gathering, into formal business session, with motions and seconds and all the Roberts' Rules stuff. After dispensing with the roll call and dispensing with the reading of the minutes from the previous meeting, we passed (unanimously) a resolution offering a "robust pastoral response to allegations of sexual misconduct, no matter how old" (there is apparently a canonical anomaly that might make misbehavior from before 1996 unactionable). We passed (unanimously) a resolution of support for the Way of Love. And we gave consent to a fairly substantial batch of impending resignations (most of which are actually retirements, but we have to use the language of "resignation" in order to preserve the clergy housing allowance tax advantage). 

Then we dismissed representatives of the news media (both of them) and went into executive session. I can't say anything about its content, but, when you read the next paragraph, you can probably guess. Discussion was mostly quite passionate, sometimes very much so.

When we came out of executive session, a draft mind-of-the-house resolution was brought forward on the subject of the Archbishop of Canterbury's non-invitation of same-sex spouses to be registered participants in the Lambeth Conference. The vast majority of the bishops in the room were going to vote for some version of a statement--that much was never in doubt--but there was a quite long and (for me, at least) tedious process of wordsmithing and "perfection."  You can read the final result here. I voted No--one of a handful, though the ENS article singles me out by name, mostly, I think, because my assigned table was at the back of the room, right in front of the press table. I pretty much offered my breakdown of the situation in my post last night, so I won't repeat myself. There are actually some parts of the statement I could have signed on to, but I am nowhere near "aggrieved and distressed" by the Archbishop's decision. I fear that many or most of my colleagues in the House simply lack a very sophisticated understanding of the political currents in play in the Anglican Communion, let alone any capacity to think empathetically about those with whom they disagree. Binary thinking prevails.

There was a handful of other announcement-like items on the agenda, but everyone was pretty spent, mentally and emotionally, We went right to a hospitality hour, and then to dinner--always modestly upscale on the last night, with table linens and wine. I'm ready to go home.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


This was a lower-key day (Day 3 of the 2019 House of Bishops meeting). As per the pattern, we convened at 1015. After announcements, there was a passionate and emotional presentation from Mary Glasspool, assisting bishop in the Diocese of New York. It was a response to the recently-released news that the same-sex spouses of LGBT bishops are not invited to register and participate in the bishop spouse program at the Lambeth Conference in July 2020. (Bishop Glasspool is herself a partnered lesbian.) This prohibition currently affects one bishop and one bishop-elect in the Episcopal Church, and one bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. However, there are episcopal elections in the next few months where some of the candidates are partnered gay or lesbian, so the number could 

We then went into executive session, about which I cannot say anything substantive. I think I can say, however, that there was both table group discussion and plenary conversation, and you can use your imagination as to the subject. 

I can understand the pain and anger evoked by Archbishop Welby's decision about this. It's not particularly fair that the three affected partners should bear the load of a situation that is maddeningly complex and fraught. Politics--and this is, if anything, a profoundly political issue--can be cruel. I don't think anybody is happy that these three people are the most directly-affected, because it's not really about them. They are, as it were, innocent bystanders. 

But I can also understand the logic of the Archbishop's decision. He is committed to all active bishops being invited. He is committed to their spouses being invited. And he is committed to resolution I.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which makes clear that the teaching of the Anglican Communion about marriage is that it is between one man and one woman. So, committed same-sex relationship, whatever category (i.e. marriage) they may fall under in civil law, are not marriage so far as church teaching is concerned, so those in such relationships are not, in fact, spouses. It may be cold, and the optics are arguably un fortunate, but it is logical.

It is also arguably the least severe action Archbishop Welby could have taken toward the Episcopal Church and other provinces that have moved ahead with an expanded definition of marriage despite the yellow flags being dropped on the field all across the communion. There was strong pressure on him to not invite any bishops from the Episcopal Church ... or to not invite the bishops who are in public same-sex relationships (rather than putting the onus on the partners). He resisted these appeals, confident that the interests of the communion will be best served by having a maximum number of voices at the table. The fact is, though, that political practicalities required him to give himself some level of "cover" among those who were clamoring for harsh measures. Three innocent bystanders get to provide that cover. I hope the gambit works, and that we indeed do have a maximum number of voices at the table.

The afternoon was devoted to something tbey called "affinity groups"--four locations, each discussing one of the sub-themes of the "Way of Love." My guess is that a fairly large percentage of bishops decided they have an "affinity" for themselves. I was among them, having a productive afternoon attacking both my swelling to-do list, and attacking the lake loop trail to see those rhododendrons and imagine what they'll look like when they're in bloom in a few weeks. Succumbing to a case of cabin fever, I accepted an invitation from three colleagues to ditch the dining hall and head into Hendersonville for dinner. We went to a fancy French brasserie, where I had ... a hamburger.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday (James Theodore Holley)

Day 2 of the spring 2019 meeting of the House of Bishops. We had two principal speakers today, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,.

The morning speaker was Vashti McKenzie, a bishop for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It wasn't a sermon, strictly speaking, as it wasn't in the context of public worship and wasn't grounded in a scriptural text or set of lections. But it had all the hallmarks of a sermon, particularly a sermon in the great African American tradition of preaching, which can be quite compelling. As rhetorically awesome as it was, however, I found it difficult to discern where she was tried to go with it. Eventually, things coalesced somewhat: She was trying to get us to examine whether, as Episcopalians, we are disposed to be more attached to the church qua institution than to the church's Lord, more devoted to the infrastructure of our ecclesial life than to its mission and purpose. I can certainly give an "Amen" to this. As one who was drawn into the Anglican-Catholic tradition from free-church evangelicalism nearly five decades ago, there's still a part of me that wonders whether people I meet in the church really "know the Lord." On this, Bishop McKenzie and I are singing the same tune. (I must confess some discomfort, though, with her opposition of "churchianity" and "Christ-ianity." If the Church isn the Body of Christ, and Christ is the Head of the Church, there is no avoiding the church; one cannot be connected to the Head without being connected to the Body.)

I was less appreciative, however, of lines like this: "We preach Jesus rather than preaching what Jesus preached."  She said this in criticism. Maybe I'm overly cynical, but where it felt to me that statements like this point is to a "let's-change-the-world" ethical theism rather than a faith grounded in the paschal mystery that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." I'm all for trying to pattern our lives after the teaching of Jesus. But Jesus' teaching is probably the least interesting thing about him. She closed her presentation with what I took to be her summary of the gospel: "You are worthy of neighbor-love. Now take that neighbor-love and share it with someone else." My question is, Where's the cross? Where's the resurrection? Where's the paschal mystery?

The afternoon presenter was Ric Thorp, the Bishop of Islington, which is a suffragan bishopric in the Diocese of London. He has a very unusual remit, with no geographic responsibility. His job is to plant/revitalize churches and then turn them over to a bishop who does have territorial jurisdiction. Bishop Thorp comes from the evangelical stream in the Church of England, and spend a substantial amount of time on the staff of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the evangelism dynamo parish in west London that spawned the Alpha Course. His presentation was concrete, thorough, and too long for his time slot, which required him to shorten it considerably toward the end. But there was an infectious quality to his presentation, one that imparted a sense that evangelism and church revitalization is something that can be done, that it is a learnable skill, that there are proven sets of "best practices." It was very encouraging.

Following Bishop Thorp, there was a panel discussion between him, the Presiding Bishop, and Bishop McKenzie. 

This was an evening devoted a "class" dinners. Mine is the Class 0f 2011, which consists of all the bishops where were elected in 2010, and consecrated either in that year, or in 2011. It is a marvelous group of colleagues, and we have become great friends over the years. One of us, who is now retired, has a home in nearby Hendersonville, where he and his wife hosted the dinner.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday (St Gregory the Great)

Day 1 of the 2019 Spring meeting of the House of Bishops. As always, we began (after breakfast and the Eucharist) with a "check-in" time at our table groups (shuffled and re-dealt for this first meeting after a General Convention). This consumed the remainder of the morning, but it's kind of a necessary exercise in a setting like this where so much of what we do gets processed in table groups. 

It was in the afternoon, following lunch, that we got down to actual meeting content. The Presiding Bishop spoke at some length introducing the theme of the meeting: the Way of Love. He hit on many of the themes that I bring up as I move around the diocese: the fact that Christianity is not only no longer the dominant underlying cultural narrative, but that it is widely and profoundly misunderstood. Surveys show that many people, particularly young adults, associate it with "narrow-mindedness," "bigotry," and a "right-wing political agenda." The Way of Love is a set of spiritual practices that will, he hopes, equip Episcopalians to propagate a counter-narrative--that Christianity is a "movement" shaped by nothing else than the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He noted (and can anyone argue with this?) that the Episcopal Church isn't particularly known for being Christocentric--focused on Jesus. He wondered aloud what we might do to change that fact, to put Jesus back at the center of our life, both communally and personally.  

Bishop Curry went on to recount his own formation in the faith, citing the examples of his Baptist grandmother and his Episcopalian (and priest) father, how, while they may have prayed differently, a consistent discipline of prayer is what enabled them to traverse substantial adversity in their lives with some degree of equanimity and peace.  We then went back to our table groups, followed by a plenary discussion. The potential political implications of the Presiding Bishop's remarks kept calling attention to themselves. While he disclaimed any notion that the "Jesus Movement" or the "Way of Love" is either "red" or "blue" in its alignment, he acknowledged that it may be difficult for some not to conclude that what he's arguing for is not a "baptism" of the stock positions of liberal Democrats--if nothing else, as a corrective to the pervasive identity of Christianity with conservative Republican political views. One bishop pointed to the political polarization in the state where his diocese is located, and wondered how we might avoid communicating any implication that the gospel is either "red" or "blue." When the PB asked, "Is there any wisdom on this?" I found myself at the microphone near my table to give basically a very condensed version of my sermon from last Sunday: the church is neither red nor blue, but simply the church. We have our own vocabulary and symbol system and culture; "Christian" is our identity, and this identity transcends any other which we might claim for ourselves. 

 We will, of course, be getting into this deeper. For now, I'm not sure I yet see a concrete connection between the wholesome spiritual practices that Bishop Curry commends, and which I endorse, and the Way of Love, which is as yet rather amorphous and ephemeral. I am hoping to encounter some substance, some meat. And what I am hoping not to encounter is just another warmed-over version of realized eschatology--the notion that "God has no hands and feet but ours," and it's up to us--enabled and empowered, perhaps, by our wholesome spiritual practices--to "change the world." In other words, I don't want to see wholesome spiritual practices cast as an instrumental means toward the achievement of anyone's list of social or political goals. We'll see. 

 After dinner, I joined my Communion Partner bishop colleagues for some discussion of the issues that face us as we move toward yet another General Convention in 2021.