Wednesday, 01 March 2017 08:12

March 2017

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross …” is the line of poetry (from Canto LXXXI) probably best remembered from the twentieth century American poet, Ezra Pound (d. 1972).  Pound was a highly controversial figure, a fascist sympathizer accused of treason following his anti-American broadcasts made during WWII in behalf of Mussolini’s regime, and confined for alleged mental illness.  Leaving aside his very problematic political views, however, his worldview exalted modernity but at the same time sought to identify and cling to whatever was of value from prior ages.   In our own age, this fascination with—the idolatry of—what is new, and of technology has progressed to the point where as a species we are very much tempted to believe that we are in charge.  We forget that “eating of the tree” humanity may have gained knowledge, but not wisdom.

Friday, 27 January 2017 12:42

January 2017

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Having a Lectionary—an agreed selection and schedule of lessons for use in prayer and worship throughout the year—is a blessing.  It allows us to focus on God’s message in common with our brothers and sisters throughout the wider Church, it allows us to plan how preaching can develop thematically throughout a season of the Church year, and it keeps the preacher from beginning a sermon with the words “Our text for today is …,” and then just focusing on what he or she might otherwise want to say.  A Lectionary also provides a schedule for us to experience almost all of the Bible in worship.  But no Lectionary is perfect, and one of my quibbles is the omission of Jeremiah 6.16.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 09:09

December 2016

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

 

My IPhone recently downloaded a new operating system.  I noticed that there has been a change in the “send” command in the text messaging program.  The command had been the word “Send”.  It is now an arrow in a circle, two shapes forming a symbol.  This little change brings to mind the problem of communication raised in last month’s newsletter, in which I discussed the challenge of communicating with those who do not use “Church language,” language which bears a connection to the faith and to the practice of religion.  The example of the IPhone highlights another aspect of the challenge of communication.  How do we communicate in ways that do not involve words?

Non-verbal communication may involve a sign (which may be an object, a quality, an event or action, or entity), the presence of which indicates the probable presence of something else.  A sign can be natural (e.g., thunder is a sign of a storm, pain is a sign of injury) or conventional (that which agreed upon, e.g., that a period indicates the end of a sentence).  Communication may involve a symbol (a sign that indicates another idea, belief, action or material entity.  A symbol is a more restricted kind of sign, and always involves convention (e.g., in our culture a red rose may symbolize love).  Communication may also, in fact, involve a non-verbal reality which, through signs and symbols, embodies the message a faith.  When communication embodies faith it becomes an icon.  A religious icon is not a picture; it is not strictly an image, but a sort of window into another reality, a glimpse into the revelation of holiness.

Monday, 31 October 2016 11:07

November 2016

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

 Until recent times a majority of Americans understood a national identity to include the following elements:  (1) A unified American culture embodying a harmony between secular and religious elements in society, with American pluralism making distinctive faith traditions/identities non-threatening.  (2) Faith as a personal and inward phenomenon, with theology focused on the personal/inward elements of belief and  religious identity defined not in systematic theology but by actions.  (3) Religion as pragmatic and oriented ethically, with character, behavior, and social attitudes interdependent.  (4) The social, secular context of life as accepted, with a “promised land” being realizable.

Friday, 02 September 2016 08:52

September 2016

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

 

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 96.9) is a line from Scripture I am wont to quote, and in considering who we are as a parish—and who we are called to be—the guidance we have received from God includes a strong sense of identity in how God reveals Himself in the beauty of holiness, and a strong vocation to continue to seek to do this in worship, in outreach, and in formation.  We will, for example, seek to build on the rich musical heritage in place at Ben Dobey’s departure, and to this end plan to hire a Minister of Music, effective 1 January 2017, whose ministry will include an increase in outreach.  We will also offer formation in the language of faith as found in the language of the visual arts.  (Details may be found in the Christian Education section of this newsletter.)

Monday, 01 August 2016 12:44

August 2016

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

 

Cabinet maker—gardener—iconographer—parent:  These represent a different models of ministry, not in the sense of opposition, but in the sense that a different focus and emphasis is present in each.  What is different in each model is how we are intentional about paying attention to God’s revealed will, and then seeking to enact this will in ministry.

A cabinet maker is focused on a very specific finished product that is built to a detailed plan.  The degree of finish and precision is generally up to the maker, within specified overall dimensions, but what will be made and how it will be made requires precision and attention to detail.  The plan/design matters.  (A more extreme example might involve what a machinist does.)  A gardener may have a very specific plan in mind, or may just be concerned with what he intends to grow, in what quantities, and how to maximize results within a given set of conditions.  Once the gardener plants, she will tend the garden (watering, weeding, protecting from pests) to ensure the best results, but will otherwise allow nature to take its course until the harvest.  The gardener can be less precise and must allow for the earth, the weather, and time to yield a result.

Wednesday, 01 June 2016 14:00

June is Bustin’ Out All Over!

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

 

“June is bustin’ out all over!”—so sings the female lead and the chorus in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s hit musical Carousel; a hit still remembered by many because of the numerous revival productions staged around the country.  The song celebrates new life, a theme common in “June” songs, and one which explains the popularity of June weddings.  It’s easier to focus on new life when it is “bustin’ out all over”.

Which brings us to new life in Christ—new life, abundant life, everlasting life—by and through the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14.6).  By the time this newsletter publishes, I will have spent a week in a CREDO conference with about forty other clerics.  CREDO (Latin for “I believe,” and the root for our word creed) involves working with others in a structured program in which we examine who we are as a person and who we are in ministry, as shaped and empowered by the faith we confess and live.  What we believe—that Jesus is Lord, and that God’s will for us is salvation—is  life-giving.

Friday, 01 April 2016 12:06

April 2016

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Eastertide is, of course, a season of light and new life.  The contrast with Lent, and particularly with the darkness and abandonment of Good Friday, is stark.  Just as when the deacon processes with the new fire in the church nave darkened for the Easter Vigil—intoning “The light of Christ!,” to which we reply “Thanks be to God!”—so, now, in Eastertide we may offer thanksgivings that God loves us so much that He gives His Son that we may experience new light, new life.

Thursday, 31 December 2015 13:19

January 2016

GREETINGS IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD, JESUS CHRIST!

Happy New Year! It is customary at the start of the year to look forward, to aspire, to plan. We ask ourselves and each other what the future may hold for us, and we plan what we seek to accomplish. But, in engaging in self-examination, and in speculating and aspiring, let’s focus first on pronouns. Rather than ask what am “I” or “we” going to do, let’s ask what “He” has planned. When we discern God’s will and do it, then the future is by definition blessed.

Tuesday, 01 December 2015 00:00

Sacrifice–Suffering–Submission?

Within the same week this newsletter is published the parish Vestry will have met to have a second round discussion and deliberation involving tough choices about the budget for 2016, choices occasioned by the fact that pledge giving has decreased about 10%. Whatever decisions are reached, and however they are implemented, the reality is that managing from a cost basis is not a strategy that involves anything except trying to minimize pain. Unless the base of giving can be increased, the trajectory will be one of decision about what we will not do, and every time we decide what we will not do this becomes a decision of who we will not be. Changing what we do changes who we are, and so the real challenge is to discern and then focus upon who we are called to be. Who is God calling Grace Episcopal Church to be? How will we live into this identity and vocation? Let’s not be reactive! Let’s ask God what He wants us to do, and then do it!

Friday, 02 October 2015 00:00

October 2015

GREETINGS IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD, JESUS CHRIST!

Hell is described much more vividly than heaven. Jesus describes paradise only in parables. From biblical times through Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, to our own day, hell is described in vivid imagery, while heaven is left much more to our imagination. Our imagination fails to provide us with images that seem real. Perhaps this is a problem of frame-of-reference. Consider the testimony of Edith P., recorded on video for the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Edith P. (an Auschwitz survivor) describes being in a train, not to Auschwitz, but from it. That’s why she lived; she was transported from the camp on a labor detail. She says:

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 18:00

Happy New Year

“Happy New Year!” How often do you encounter that phrase in September? Since 1582 in the West we have defined 1 January to be the start of the calendar year. Before then the new year began on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation. Since long before 1582 the Church in the West has defined the church year to begin on the First Sunday in Advent. The Church in the East defines the year to begin on Holy Cross Day (1 September on the Eastern calendar, 14 September on ours), but in wishing a Happy New Year I am not trying to follow the East. I am simply recognizing that all church congregations reëngage after the end of Summer. Just as, in our secular lives, we recognize that after a Summer of other activities the start of the school year signals a different routine, in parish programming and activities it is time to refocus on our identity not as hearers of the word only, but as doers. In other words, it’s time to get busy again!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 18:00

Walk Beside Each Other

GREETINGS IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD, JESUS CHRIST!

What should we be teaching in order to allow a refocus on faith? I could go on at length about specific content, but an overarching answer must include: (1) It’s not about self; and (2) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (right living) (Prov. 1.7). Let me elaborate, a little. When we focus on self (this is the sin of pride), we are not focused on God and we are not focused on others. God becomes a “condition” of our lives, and worship and service become just priorities that compete with other priorities which we define with reference to our own wants. If I focus on myself first, my first question will always be “What’s in it for me?” Consider, for a moment, what shape we’d all be in if Jesus had looked into the “cup” in Gethsemane and decided that it looked none-too-good for His immediate human interests. We need to teach again, and again, that we are in all of life to echo our Lord’s words to His Father, “...not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14.36).

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 18:00

Proclamation, Not Argument

At publication date for this newsletter the largest legislative body in the world, General Convention (GC) of The Episcopal Church, is in session. GC meets every three years, and comprises both the legislative and judicial branches of the Church. GC has over 600 delegates (both clergy and lay), and then one must add to this number the bishops (at least one) for over 100 dioceses. All told there are somewhere near 800 delegates.

Regardless of your politics and/or theology, it can be easy to complain about Church governance, but consider the alternatives. Absent a representational body of clergy and lay, decisions could be made without debate or could be made in such a decentralized fashion as to preclude the building of a broader identity. The reality is that most complaints heard about GC and most Church bodies relate to disagreements about competence, i.e. about whether issues of theological doctrine are subject to legislative fiat, or whether an issue is in fact theological, as opposed to political.

Imagine a conversation you might have with a person who is not a follower of Jesus Christ, someone who is not hostile to faith and the Church, but who describes himself as “spiritual but not religious”. We are surrounded by many people like this, and by those who claim to be Christian but are self-described “nones” (as in not belonging to any particular denomination or congregation). We are surrounded, as well, by people who used to claim to be Christians and no longer do so, because they no longer feel any societal pressure to belong to a church.

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