Thursday, May 28, 2009

Divine intelligence

Barbara Bradley Hagarty, National Public Radio's religion correspondent, has written a book about her research into science and spirituality.

On the local NPR station the other day, a reporter interviewed Hagarty about her findings.

And they're interesting.

Hagarty said she was concerned that her faith in God would dissolve in the face of scientific discoveries about the universe.

But she said her faith was confirmed. "I can believe in an intelligence that strings together the universe...."

When I feel my heart beat, when I see my granddaughters smile, when I watch a sunrise or sunset, I believe that these and other wonders are not the product of coincidence, but the work of a loving Creator, that Super Intelligence "in whom," St. Paul writes, "we live, move, and have our being."

Science doesn't scare me as a person of faith. It fascinates me, showing me that I live in an amazingly complex, mysterious world.

And science confirms what I say in the Nicene Creed at every Eucharist: God is "the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen...."

And if a skeptic says to me, "That's a faith statement," then I will say in response, "Yes, it is."

Isn't it the same for the scientist? He or she has to have faith, too: faith in the scientific method, faith in instruments, and faith in his or her ability to intepret data correctly.

Science, religion--it's all faith.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

God and bad things

I've spent some of these last 24 hours in the emergency room and neuro-intensive care unit of a local hospital, where a young member of my parish is being treated after a biking accident. Tyler is suffering from a broken femur and lower back.

His family, friends, and church--we're all praying for his healing and full recovery.

I believe God is answering our prayers. The surgery to repair his broken leg went well this afternoon. And tomorrow, if he's able, he'll have an operation on his back. He has some sensation in his intact leg, which is encouraging.

In the midst of tragedies and near tragedies, people of faith often ask, "Why God?"

Several years ago, I asked that question myself; my daughter was lying on a bed in the emergency room and later in the intensive care unit of that same hospital. She survived her encounter with death and is healthy now. And I give God thanks continually.

I don't know why Tyler crashed when he was riding his mountain bike. In a broken world, accidents happen, and people break.

I do know, by faith, that God does not send affliction upon His children. He does not punish or curse us with calamity. He is a wholly loving God. He seeks to relieve suffering, not to inflict it.

And I know by experience that God loves us in the midst of bad things, giving us courage, strength, hope. He stands with us, His hands holding us up and keeping us from collapsing under the weight of anguish and fear.

During my daughter's hospital stay, I knew God's presence in the outpouring of love, support, and care by my church, friends, family, and doctors and nurses.

God is loving and upholding Tyler and his family now through others. And God is healing him through their presence and prayers.

God is good, even in times of suffering.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's time to plant

My wife Penny and I planted our garden yesterday. Actually, I only prepared the soil; Penny did the truly dirty work: she put the plants into the ground.

This summer, we'll harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers. I can already taste the delicious salads and grilled vegetables.

Without planting the garden, we'd do no harvesting.

And so it is with the Gospel or Good News, which is that God loves us unconditionally and always in Jesus Christ; and in Christ, God saves us from all our enemies, whatever and whoever they are.

I am a Christian today because my mother (and later, others) shared the Good News of Jesus with me. She brought me into the church, which is the community in which I enjoy fellowship with God for my nourishment, healing, and support.

This Sunday, Pentecost, I'll reaffirm my Baptismal Covenant, including my promise to God to share the Good News in words and deeds with others, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God helps me proclaim the Good News. I do so not on my own, but in partnership with God.

Today, many people are unaffiliated with religious communities--perhaps as many as 40 percent of the U.S. population--but they want to know a power greater than themselves, a power to whom they can connect, a power who will give their lives meaning, purpose, and support through stories, music, and rituals within a worshiping community.

These people are seeking God.

They might eventually find Him and Christ's church on their own, but that discovery is much easier if someone tells them about God (and shows them God by his or her love) and invites them to church.

In your daily prayers, ask God to lead you to someone that day with whom you can share the Good News of Jesus as you have known it--and Him--personally.

And invite that person to church with you this Sunday to celebrate Pentecost and God's gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus' followers, His power and presence with us always.

When we Christians plant the Good News of Jesus, we plant the seeds of His love in others and in the world. And that planting will lead to a delicious harvest, a world that is once again God's garden.

Friday, May 22, 2009


A priest colleague and I were talking the other day, and I made a comment to him, which pleased him. His response was, "Sweet," and then he said, with a slight laugh, "I'm beginning to sound like my 15 year-old."

Perhaps the church needs to sound a lot more like a 15 year-old, a lot less like the 55 year-old that I am.

I am pleased that my church appeals to young people, that they are involved in many ministries, that we are making a connection with them through our youth ministry, a God connection, if you will, which I hope, and pray, will last them throughout their lives in this world and carry them into the world to come.

But there is so much we need to do, not just my church, but also every church. We need to get close to young people, to listen to their experience, to understand their language and aspirations and fears and anxieties, and we need to respond.

In those gaps that we hear in their lives--they are seeking lasting values, a sense of belonging, their identity--we need to bring God and our faith in the God of love. We need to love our young people, most of all, and in loving them, to show them that God is love. Love will draw them closer to God and will keep them in relationship with God.

In future, I want to do a lot more listening to young people and a lot less talking. I want to learn their language, to hear more about their experience of the Divine, and maybe, as they trust me, to share with them my experience with the Living Christ.

Such a relationship between my and the young people of my church and between all young people and the church will be sweet indeed. Most of all, it will be sweet to God, the Father of us all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do you have a fitness plan?

I'm an avid exerciser. Today, Penny and I went to our Pilates class at six this morning and worked out on the Gravity Training System machines for a half hour, guided in this at times gruelingeffort by our coach, Colleen. I can tell that the year or so of Pilates is making a difference. I'm stronger at the core, which is the aim of Pilates.

And I always feel better after working out--be it at Pilates, or following our Tuesday morning spinning class, or after my swim three days a week, or following a vigorous walk/ run at other times.

(Occasionally, I might play a round of golf, but golf, I find, takes too much time, and at 55 years of age, I want to make every minute count; I do not have the luxury of thinking, as I did as a high-school golfter, that I live in a world of infinite time.)

I also feel better after I work out, spiritually, which also builds up my core spiritual strength.

Now, I admit that one thing 12 years of Roman Catholic schooling did for me was turn me into an incredibly--some would say, compulsively--disciplined and organized person. So, my particular spiritual discipline might not be for everyone, and I'm not recommending it to everyone; it's right for me. Only for me.

Here it is:

Daily, I meditate for 20 minutes; listen to NRP's "All Things Considered" report yesterday afternoon on the benefits of meditation: 30 minutes daily will heal the brain, researchers say. I'm working toward adding an additional 20 minutes at the end of the day.

In addition, I read Morning Prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, study one of the lessons and occasionally write in my journal about it. I also write an entry in my journal every day. In the evening, just before Penny and I turn out the lights, we read Compline together or the short devotional form in the Prayer Book for the end of the day.

In my spiritual Pilates program, call it, I also have a coach, called a spiritual director. She is Sister Ann of the Society of St. Margaret, an Episcopal order of women religious of which I have been an associate for nearly 20 years.

As an associate, I follow a rule of life, similar to an exercise plan that my fellow exercise enthusiasts at the local fitness center use as a guide to getting and staying fit physically.

Part of my rule of life is to pray the daily office, one of the Prayer Book prayer servcies. I commit myself to special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I pray daily for my fellow associates. And I support the good works of the Society of St. Margaret with my giving.

To build up one's core strength, one has to have a plan. One has to put in the time and effort. One has to be disciplined and persevere, even when one feels like sleeping in or taking a day off altogether.

But when one does put forth the effort, the results are impressive. Have you ever seen those marathoners or Iron Men and Women competitors at a fitness center? They're serious athletes. You see it in their bodies.

Similarly, to get fit and to stay fit spiritually, we also need to have a plan and follow it. That rule of life is essential. It needs to include time for silence, regular prayer (of whatever kind you can do; God asks us to pray as we can, not as we can't. ), Scripture reading and reflection for deeper and lasting life, regular worship in church with other Christians, service to others, and giving to one's church (among other worthy bodies) for the spread of the Kingdom of God's love.

And we need a spiritual guide, a coach, to help us develop our own rule of life, to keep to our plan, helping us when we're about to give up, to see us through with his or her wisdom on the spiritual life when we encounter difficulties, as we inevitably do.

Remember, our spiritual enemy's aim is to draw us away from God and from the community of believers, to dominate our souls and lives, and ultimately to destroy us. Be careful, I Peter says, the devil prowls around, looking for fresh prey. I am not so sophisticated, so much the rationalist, to believe that the evil one does not exist and seeks mastery over me and other people who love and seek God.

Get fit physically and spiritualy. Stay fit in both ways. And live deeper, more joyfully, and longer, yes, even eternally.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Need a boost?

Today I was leaving a local nursing home after visiting a church member.

I had read a psalm to her, prayed for her, signed the cross on her forehead. This was the first time she opened her eyes to me and attempted to speak; she's recovering from a stroke. I felt as if we'd made a connection today for the first time.

I felt good about the visit.

This experience is what Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist and active Episcopalian, describes as a "human moment," a point of compassionate contact between two humans.

I first read about human moments in an essay of Hallowell's in The Harvard Business Journal and later in his books, Human Moments and Connect.

As I was leaving the nursing home, I spotted a man ahead of me in a wheel chair; he was moving slowly. Right behind him was a nurses' aid in her dull maroon uniform. Her shift over, she was rushing to get by the man and out the door.

She opened the glass door, which nearly slammed in the man's face, and never even looked back.

"Would you like me to get the door?" I asked him.

"If you don't mind?"

I held the door as the man rolled through.

"Are you a minister?" he asked.

I nodded.

"My name is Elmer," he told me, "and I'm the only Elmer here." He smiled.

As he rolled into the sunshine on the front porch, I said goodbye. "Enjoy the sunshine," I said. Again, he smiled.

This was another of the human moments of the day. In my prayers tonight, I'll thank God for them.

For a moment, I was transported from my small world of thoughts, and worries, and things to do into the world of a fellow human, Elmer. We connected for an instant in a few words and smiles.

And it felt good.

For a lift, try a human moment. It's as easy as "hello," a smile, a simple act of kindness, of Christ-like love.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Man is About to Die

Unless Governor Jay Nixon issues a stay, Dennis Skillicorn will be injected with lethal drugs at 12.01 am Wednesday.

I have little sympathy for Skillicorn. Although he says he did not actually pull the trigger on two people who were murdered, he was there. He robbed one of the victims before his accomplice killed the man by firing two bullets into the back of his head.

I understand society's desire to avenge such horrendous crimes. Penny and I lost a family member to murder. When someone you know and love is murdered, you want to strike back. At least I did. You want payment.

And yet the parents of this family member have not asked for the death penalty for their daughter's killer. They know that this man's death won't bring their daughter back, won't ease their grief any, won't really produce any justice. It would bring about another death.

Instead, they have sought to redeem their daughter's death by reaching out to families who have lost loved ones to violent death. They have created a foundation, which seeks to affirm life and the continuation of life after tragedy, as a way of honoring their daughter. They are acting for life, not death.

Why answer two deaths with another death? What good will Dennis Skillicorn's death accomplish? If the governor lets Skillicorn's death proceed, the state will take a stand for death, not for life. And this death will not elevate us, but degrade us.

For the state will say that people who do evil deeds cannot change; they cannot be redeemed. Death is the only outcome for them. And that will be a tragedy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leave rage alone

The Psalmist urges: "leave rage alone." It's a plea, wise counsel, I wish talk radio, some TV, and certainly a lot of letter and opinion writers in my local newspaper would heed, including Christians among them.

(Yes, I know the gospels say Jesus used a whip to chase the money changers from the temple, but Jesus was acting for justice, not ratings and circulation.)

I hear and read a lot of rage, but little reflection on issues of the day, all of which demand a thoughtful, respectful response from people of faith. All faiths.

In promoting rage and ,worse, by engaging in it, we divert ourselves from useful dialogue on the polarizing issues of the day: abortion, stem cell research, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming, health care, and more.

And we avoid resolving our differences on these issues in a consensual, community-strengthening way.

Rage--while arguably satisfying, if only temporarily--only increases the divisions among us. It weakens, even breaks, bonds among us as Christians, as Americans, as global citizens.

We forget poet John Donne's famous line: "No man is an island." We are all interdependent creatures. We ignore founder Benjamin Franklin's comment at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We either hang together or we all hang separately."

We need not less talk and writing, but more talk and writing that reject the easy illogic of arguments ad hominem and unsupported personal opinions, but embrace the hard work of emotional discipline or even suspension, rational, intelligent analysis; civil debate, and earnest problem-solving for the good of all.

My hope is that such an approach, quixotic as it is, will guide Springfield, this nation, and the Episcopal Church, especially as my church meets in General Convention this summer and deals with tormentingly difficult issues, including same-sex blessings.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finding your spiritual home

Many of the people who come to Christ Episcopal Church as visitors find us via our web site, Before they arrive and sometimes after they visit, they write me with questions about the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church. I enjoy responding to their queries, because doing so makes me stop and consider what drew me from the Roman Catholic Church into the Anglican Communion and what keeps me here.

Today, a man emailed me and told me a little about his search for a church home. He had tried other Christian traditions and said he was wondering about mine and what it was about.

In the gospel of John, Jesus says there are many rooms in His Father's house. He's speaking of eternal life, of heaven, of our future as Christians, but I'll borrow His words and apply them to this world and to our search for a room of our own within the Christian home.

My favorite room is our family room, for it's there that I can relax and read the newspaper or a novel or short story, where I can watch a good film or TV show (Masterpiece is my favorite), where I can play with my grandaughter June Elizabeth. It's the place that feels most comfortable to me, but more than that, it's the place where I can be renewed physically, mentally, even spiritually.

Spiritually speaking, the Episcopal Church is my room within the Christian home in this world. I've tried other rooms; I spent my growing up years and adolescence in the Roman Catholic Church, attending both primary and secondary Catholic schools. I spent two years in a Presbyterian seminary and served in a small African-American congregation in downtown Louisville. I preached in Christian Church, Disciples of Christ congregations. My wife and I spent two years as members of an ecumenical house church.

I have a broad, rich experience of some of the other rooms within the Christian home, and I value my time in each of them. That time and the Christians I met in each of those rooms helped form me into the person I am. I am thankful.

But when I found my way into the Episcopal Church, I knew I was home. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at Christ Church Cathedral, Louisville, and after a couple of years of worshiping there, learning there, praying there, getting to know people there, I made my commitment to membership and was received on Trinity Sunday, June 1, 1980.

What appeals to me about this Anglican or Episcopal room? In my email to the man who wrote me with questions about the Episcopal Church, I quoted one of my favorite Anglicans, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who once observed: "Anglicanism is Catholicism with freedom."

In my email to this seeker, I wrote:

For our understanding of God and ourselves and our world, we rely upon the Holy Scriptures, which we interpret with the aid of reason and tradition, or the Church's understanding and teaching throughout the ages. We believe that God speaks His fresh, living word through the Holy Scriptures.

We are incarnational, sacramental, and Trinitarian in our theology; liturgical, reverent, but open in our worship, democratic and non-authoritarian in our church governance (that is, power is shared between the laity and the ordained, with many checks and balances), compassionate and accepting and non-condemnatory in our pastoral care, seeing Christ in the other; Christ-centered and prayer book-guided and enriched in our spirituality.

Although it creates some turmoil at times and generates some scintilating headlines, Episcopalians, generally, seek to relate our faith in Christ to the issues of the day, like the environment, human sexuality, war and peace, poverty, and a range of other ones.

As a church, we embrace wide diversity. We are, if you will, a big tent church, where Republicans and Democrats, gays and straights, rich and poor, black and white, and many others can come together as one worshiping, loving, caring, serving community with God as our Father, Christ at the center, the Holy Spirit our guide into all truth.

I have found my spiritual home here in the famous Anglican via media, the middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This is where I live deeper into Christ through daily prayer and spiritual study, through weekly Eucharistic worship and fellowship, and through loving service to my fellow humans.

And this is the room where I will remain while I am in this world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jesus and the Other

Jesus regards the other not as other, but as brother or sister. All people are the children of God, with Jesus as our brother, and God as our Father.

Jesus, the Son of God, shows the Father's love for all people, no matter who they are. Look how He treats those His society deems as the other: the sick and broken, Gentiles, the demon-possessed, prostitutes, and others sinners. Loving them, He shows them God's favor, welcomes them to His table, often literally, and invites them to receive new life through faith in and fellowship with Him.

Who are those I treat as others, and how is the Living Jesus Christ calling me to reach out to them, showing them the unconditional love of God, which I know for myself in Jesus Christ?

Lord, show me the other and help me to treat that person not as the other, but as my brother or sister, beloved of the Father in Heaven, for I, Lord, am the other, and yet you love me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blogging the spiritual journey

My wife Penny has encouraged me to start a blog. So, here it is. My hope is to share thoughts on important matters--God, faith, questions, doubts. Whatever. I used to write monthly religion/ethics column for a daily paper, but it was cancelled. That's okay. Print newspaper are losing circulation rapidly. So, now as people move from newsprint to online postings, I am moving with them--with you. I hope to have something useful to say about the spiritual journey, which might help you on yours. I'll keep praying and writing, daily if I can--but only if I have something worth putting into the ether and before your eyes. And if whatever I write helps you, encourages you, confuses you, even angers you, let me know.