Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, cancer, and God

Today on National Public Radio, a reporter described an interview he had had with the late Elizabeth Edwards, who died yesterday of breast cancer. Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate.

The reporter himself had survived cancer, he said, and he and Edwards quickly formed a bond because of their illness. He said he was surprised by her honesty, especially about religion. She told the reporter that she couldn't pray to a God who allowed her 16 year-old son to die in a car crash. She said that if God wouldn't save her son, He certainly wouldn't save her from cancer.

The problem of evil, suffering, and death causes many people to stop believing in God, especially in a beneficent God. For millennia, humans who believe in God have wrestled with what theologians call theodicy, the existence of evil, suffering, and death within a context of belief in a God of love, and we have tried to make sense of the pain of life, while still believing in a God who cares and acts for our welfare.

There is no satisfactory human resolution of the problem, but there is the cross of Jesus Christ, in my view.

As a pastor, I am constantly dealing with tragedy of one kind or another: a sudden and unexplained death; the loss of mental functioning by someone who was once bright and creative; the unceasing suffering of people in Haiti.

And yet I believe. Sunday after Sunday, I confess my faith in God in the words of the Nicene Creed. I say I believe in a God who makes Himself known in love for humankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in a God who does not hold Himself apart from humankind and our struggles, but who engages in them with us and aids us in our distress. I see this active, involved God most fully at work in the life, passion and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the cross, God suffers and dies, and on the third day, God, in Jesus, conquers all the evil, suffering, dying, death, tragedy--every enemy of humankind--in the resurrection.

We're Easter Christians, someone once observed, living in a Good Friday world. We face the harsh realities of life in this brutal, but also wonderful world, believing that God is with us and cares for us, that God identifies with us in our humanity in Jesus, that God is victorious over the Evil One, and that one day God's new creation will come to earth as it already exists in heaven, and then suffering and sighing, as Isaiah says, will be no more.

Now, I believe Elizabeth Edwards, who suffered mightily in many ways, knows life eternally in the Communion of Saints. Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercies of God rest in peace.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The church as the heart of a community

In a seminary course on the history of the Anglican church in America, I became fascinated by the 19th century model of the urban church as a community center.

In Jesus' metaphors from the gospels, the church operated in the cities--especially in the presence of poverty, hunger, illness, lack of education--as: "salt," "light," "leaven"--functioning as an agent of transformation.

The church is the most important agent of transformation in society, I believe, because the church, our members united to Christ and to one another in baptism, carries on Christ's transformational work.

Transformation is healing, rescuing, redeeming, saving--making people and institutions whole again.

Last night, I saw that transformational work happening at Christ Episcopal Church.

We held our annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the community. Donya Ross, our Youth Minister, and her team of youth, parents, and others from the parish organized a huge and hearty meal and invited people from the neighborhoods around the church to the feast.

I don't know the final count of people we served, but it had to be upwards of 150. We would have had many more guests, were it not for cold, driving rain.

Even so, the parish hall was packed with single people, families, and lots of children. Most of our guests were living at or below the poverty level; some of them were homeless, arriving in the parish hall with their backpacks and bedrolls.

We also served some Missouri State University students who were natives of Dubai. They had responded to our invitations to the foreign students at MSU and Drury University. I sat at the table with them, making sure that they knew they were welcome in our church and to America.

I'm proud of our church members--young and old. They welcomed our guests, served their meals, sat and ate with them, cleared away the tables afterwards, and did the mammoth job of clean up afterwards.

Last night, I witnessed the Body of Christ in action.

And I saw our parish hall become a community center, where our needy neighbors knew they were welcome and where they found Christian hospitality, a healthy, substantial meal, and the abundant love of Jesus.

May it always be so.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee. Christ. Compassion.

After Penny's and my workout this morning, I indulged in one of my spiritual disciplines:

I went to my favorite coffee shop to enjoy a bold, black coffee and to read The New York Times.

I was content at my table until a man with a long, tangled beard came in the front door. He went to the merchandise displays, mumbled something to himself, and then sat down near me.

He started thumping the table with his hands and talking to himself. Very loudly.

No, he hadn't had a large coffee with six shots of espresso.

Something else was going on. He started to curse his partner, invisible to me, across the table from him.

By now, my contentment had changed to concern.

I'm sensitive to people with illnesses, especially mental illnesses. The ill should receive the very best care available, but I know that many of them don't because they can't afford it; they don't have insurance for doctor visits or hospital stays or money for medicines.

The man at the coffee shop might be one of these people. Or he might have medical insurance, which paid for treatment in the hospital and as an out-patient and for his medicines, but for some reason, he's stopped taking them; it happens a lot.

I didn't ask him about his situation. Uneasy because of his behavior, I left. I went outside, found a table, and finished my coffee and paper, glancing from time to time through the window to see where the man was and what he was doing.

At one point, I noticed him standing near the counter--a small cup of coffee in his hand, talking with someone. Not the invisible person this time, but one of the staff.

After the man left, I went inside and asked my friend who works there about the man, whether he'd had any trouble with him.

"I gave him a sample," my friend said. "And I talked with him a little. And he left."

"You handled that well," I told him, embarrassed at how I'd reacted to the man.

This morning, I responded to that mentally ill man with fear and suspicion. The next time, I want to respond as my friend did--and as Christ would--with compassion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning from the Chilean miners

With millions of people worldwide, I watched some of the 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days of being trapped deep within the earth. One by one, the miners were hoisted to the surface in a cage-like tube.

The miners survived because they cooperated with one another. They acted as a team. And their survival has something to teach us.

Above the surface, we humans are unable to get along, especially today in America amid one of the most venomous political campaign seasons in history. Whatever the office sought, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, Independents throw themselves against one another like dogs in a pit savaging one another until only one is left alive.

We can do better. We deserve better. And voters must demand better.

What none of the candidates realizes is that whatever our political party, we're all fighting for survival against many threats, including: a persistent recession, massive income inequality, global warming, hatred and"isms" of all kinds, war.

Yes, we have different ideas about overcoming these threats, but differences needn't destroy us. Differences can be discussed, debated, refined into better policies to solve our problems. Moreover, differences shouldn't be exacerbated and exploited by cynical political manipulators for party advantage.

If we continue to attack one another, like pit bulls; if we continue to work against one another, thwarting solutions to national and global problems, then we're doomed. We'll die in the dark.

But if we work together for the common good--not for one party's domination of the others--then we'll survive and even thrive as a nation and people.

What worked underground for those miners will surely work above ground for all of us.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lending a hand

"Hey, can you give me a hand?" A giant man with a hurting knee was asking me to help him up the steps and out of the hot tub at the fitness center.

"Sure, " I said, and I used both hands to help him out.

He said thanks. And I felt good helping a fellow human being, even in this small, simple way.

Jesus is God's hand out to us in all our needs. He's God offering us a hand up and out of all that keeps us from the fullness of life.

And as the followers of Jesus, we're to be His hands outstretched to the world and to human beings in their needs.

That man's need at the fitness center was for help out of the hot tub.

But other needs confront us daily: a hungry person needs food, a lonely person needs a visit, a discouraged person needs a call or note of encouragement.

We might not hear the words, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" with our actual ears, but we certainly will hear those words, that cry for help, with our spiritual ears.

That's Christ in the other person's need, seeking our response.

In taking that man's hands in mine, I was taking Christ's hands in mine, and Christ was taking mine in His, and there was communion in that moment of compassion. And joy.

May you meet Christ, too, in answering His call, "Hey, can you give me a hand?"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is this the best we can do?

I've just read online that the US Senate has approved legislation requiring that the volume on TV commercials be turned down.


I've been waiting for a lifetime for this dramatic, courageous act by one of our two legislative bodies. And now it's happened. I don't know what I'll do--how I'll celebrate.

But I'm cheering for how our 100 senators, Republicans and Democrats, "reached across the aisle," in Washington-speak, and did the nation's business and made this a better country for all people.

Our ears thank you.

And now that they've accomplished this major feat of lawmaking--and with House members ready to drop everything, including their plane tickets home for campaigning and return to their chamber, and with the president, pen in his left hand ready to sign this bill into law--perhaps our leaders will turn to other, less consequential matters.

Here are a few ideas:

How about legislation ensuring a clean planet for us, our children, and grandchildren? How about jobs for millions of unemployed Americans? How about spending as much for relief and recovery efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere as we spend on weapons for them?

And while our senators, representatives, and president are at it, how about showing you care less for your parties--and the Tea Party--and more for this country and all our citizens?

Now that would really be something. Something that would make this voter and a great many other voters proud of our government, because it's working, finally. Something that would really be worth a headline.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Christians? who burn Korans

This Saturday, September 11, a self-described evangelical Christian pastor will lead his Florida congregation in burning copies of the Koran.

The pastor says the Koran is an evil book. He says the book burning will be a fitting memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks on America nine years ago this September 11th.

I understand why Muslims are outraged. As a Christian, I am outraged also.

There is nothing evangelical or Christian about this minister and the people who support him. Their planned desecration of another faith tradition's sacred scriptures is a desecration of the Bible itself and is a sacrilege against Christ himself.

The word evangelical comes from a Greek word that means "good news."

Where is the good news in burning the Koran and adding to the fires of fear and hatred of Islam in America, fires that have been stoked already by other demagogues on radio and TV, in print, in their campaign speeches, and from pulpits?

How can it be good news that burning the Koran, according to the American general commanding allied forces in Afghanistan, will likely imperil his troops, will spread extremist views, and will encourage further violence.

Moreover, the pastor and his flock call themselves Christians, professing to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They don't follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Jesus makes God known to human beings, and God is love. Jesus' every word and deed, especially his offering himself on the cross for the salvation of all, is done in love.

In loving others, Jesus acts for their well being and for the fullness of life in them. Never does he seek to condemn and destroy others, not even the Roman soldiers who crucify him.

We Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, and people of all faiths (and no faith) should speak out against the evil of bigotry, religious intolerance, and violence.

We should work for understanding among people of all faiths (and no faith), mutual respect, tolerance, and a better world for everyone.

(Through the Interfaith Alliance here in Springfield, we people of faith are loving one another and working for the good of this community. Our next meeting is Sunday at the Library Station on the north side at 3.30 pm.)

And we should pray for people who are consumed by evil, that God will save them, leading them from death to the fullness of life.

Such positive, constructive actions--not burning holy books--is a truly fitting memorial to the victims of September 11 and all the 9/lls that have happened since then in the name of religion.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Feeling low

Today, the 142nd Psalm speaks to my heart.

The Psalmist, a struggler with faith, cries out to God, his refuge, from a low point in life. He seeks God's help.

Aren't there times when we share that low place with the psalmist?

We're brought low by the death of a loved one, by an illness or injury that persists despite treatment and prayer, by a disappointment that eats at the edges of our consciousness.

The psalmist looks up from his low place and sees God, His hand outstretched to him. God grasps him and lifts him from the pit to his loving presence, where the psalmist is comforted, strengthened, fortified with renewed hope.

My God, my refuge, lift me up from this low place to your presence where I may be still and know that you are God.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Author leaves the Christian faith

American novelist Ann Rice, a Roman Catholic, is in the news, because she says she's "resigning" from Christianity.

She's disillusioned by Christians who fail to live according to Jesus' teachings and example.

It's a timeless criticism. Today, atheist authors Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are making fortunes pointing out the failures of people of all faiths and arguing from them that God doesn't exist.

Although Ms Rice doesn't make this logical and theological error, she makes another one. I believe she has focused too much attention on Jesus' followers and our failures and too little on our Savior and Lord.

Our faith in Christ doesn't make us perfect; it doesn't immunize us against failures.

Our faith in Christ does, however, give us a model for a fully human life, a life lived in love for God and for one's fellow human beings. We love because he first loved us and goes on loving us, even to the point of dying on the cross and rising again and living within us in the Holy Spirit.

And faith in Christ connects us to his power through the Holy Spirit for living into that life, not perfectly, to be sure, but imperfectly because we remain human beings. We believers constantly seek God's forgiveness for our failures and receive his forgiveness and grace to start again.

And in this lifetime process of discipleship, we Christians grow into full maturity in Christ, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, ultimately becoming grownups in Christ--not in this world, but in the world to come, while doing some good along the way.

While Ann Rice is resigning from the Christian faith, I'm rejoicing that multitudes of Christians are faithful to Christ. We're devoted to his continuing call to work, pray, and give for the spread of God's kingdom of justice, love, and peace on earth.

Yes, we make mistakes. We hurt people along the way. We sometimes make a mess of discipleship and even embarrass our Lord.

But we persevere in our faith in Christ, despite our failures (and those of others). We're like that seed planted in the good soil that Jesus talks about in one of the gospel parables, which roots and grows into fruitfulness.

I'm sorry that Ann Rice has left the faith. If only she had given the seed of Christ within her more time to grow into that harvest of the kingdom.

Monday, July 26, 2010

One of those holy moments

Being a priest, I'm privileged to be with people in times of joy and sorrow and everything in between.

Yesterday, I visited a friend after the Sunday services. I took with me the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.

My friend's fighting a serious illness, which has limited his access to the world. Every time, we talk, I'm impressed by his courage, his positive spirit, and his faith in God.

I'm also moved by the love of his family and friends for him. They were gathered around him in the family living room yesterday. His friends included three college classmates. They'd heard he was ill, and they travelled from long distances to be with him, encouraging him with their presence, their jokes and banter, memories of life in college some thirty years ago.

I began the home Communion service, asking for a few moments of silence in which to remember God's presence and to give God thanks for the gift of friendship--both the friendship of others and the friendship of God for us. Friendships sustain us.

We said the prayers, and then I distributed the consecrated bread and wine--Christ's real presence for every person there.

The blessed bread and wine communicated Christ's grace or favor to each person amid his or her particular needs and struggles. I know my friend's needs, some of them anyway, but not those of the others who were there. But God knows those needs and meets them through the gift of his love in the sacrament.

We joined in a final prayer. I asked God for a miracle of healing for my friend and the destruction of the disease in his body. I prayed earnestly in faith for his full healing and for God's victory in his life.

As I said goodbye, I told my friend that I'd be back to visit. And I shall, for this is what I'm ordained to do--to be the physical and spiritual expression of God's healing presence to others. To be with God's beloved children in times of joy, sorrow, and everything in between.

Perhaps these visits are holy moments for others, even healing ones. They certainly are for me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The real story behind Winter's Bone

When I read the novel, Winter's Bone, a couple years ago, I found its southern realism hard to take.

There was something painful, like the throb of an abscessed tooth, in reading about the fictional lives of the Dolly family. They are a family caught up in poverty, meth cooking and selling, lawlessness, and death in the hollows of the Missouri Ozarks.

And when the film came out, I resisted going. Reading the novel was like pushing a plow through a rocky, stumpy field; and surely, I thought, seeing the film wouldn't be any easier.

But I went to see Winter's Bone the other day. And I'm glad I did.

It's superbly crafted: well-written, directed, acted, and filmed. (Local actress Beth Doman has a role in it.)

The film concentrates novelist Daniel Woodrell's story in a way the novel strings it out, as novels do, and delivers it to the viewer with the force of both barrels of the shotgun that 17 year-old heroine Ree totes to the door when a stranger knocks.

Winter's Bone shows the power of love--Ree's for her mentally impaired mother and her brother and sister. She sacrifices, suffers, and risks her life for the survival of her little family. She's all they have, in the absence of her father, a meth cook and seller who's jumped bail, disappeared into the hills, and imperiled the family home and property.

Ree fears she and her family will be living in the woods. So she goes in search of her father, resolved to produce the man himself to the bail bondsman or the evidence that he's dead.

At first I thought Winter's Bone, which made it to the screen with help from the Missouri Film Commission, didn't do justice to Missouri and the Ozarks, which I love.

But it does. It's not really a film about poverty, drugs, and lawlessness, but about the morality, the courage, the love of family embodied in young Ree Dolly.

It showed the true spirit and soul of the Ozarks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Which way are you facing?

In the film, "Please Give," Rebecca and her boyfriend Eugene take their grandmothers from their Mahnattan homes to the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York to see the changing leaves. By all accounts, the leaves are stunning this season.

After a few hours on the road, they find a spot and pull over. Everyone piles out of the car, including the two hobbling grandmothers, to look at the trees.

Rebecca, Eugene, and his grandmother stand by the roadside, in silence, enraptured by the mountains and the trees--a rainbow of reds, golds, yellows, and greens.

Meanwhile, Rebecca's grandmother is turned in the opposite direction, looking at a patch of trees whose skinny limbs stretch forth empty and gray. It looks like winter, not autumn. But it's all the woman can see.

Or will allow herself to see. Rebecca's grandmother is alone and bitter. Her only child, a daughter, had killed herself when Rebecca and her sister were young, and the gradmother reared the girls herself.

This tragic loss possessed the woman and robbed her of a life of joy, love, and beauty.

Rebecca's grandmother focuses only on death, her daughter's and her own one day soon. It's all she sees.

In the metaphor of the film, she looks on the empty trees, which presage the coming winter, not on the vivid fall colors of an upstate autumn.

In life, we're looking either toward the barren or the beautiful, toward the tragic and painful or the good and redemptive, toward death or life. We're either looking toward Christ, who is life, or away from him.

And the way we're facing makes all the difference in what our lives will be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's time to wash the oil off our hands

President Obama didn't say it in his speech last night, but he should have:

We all have oil on our hands.

All of us who drive vehicles, fly on airplanes, use petroleum-based produces are responsible for the catastrophic oil leak and spread in the Gulf of Mexico, and the consequent environmental and economic damage, because we're all dependent on seemingly unlimited and relatively cheap oil.

Because we're responsible for the devastation of the gulf, if only indirectly, we're also responsible for the prevention of future disasters. We must become more faithful in our stewardship of creation and insist upon greater supervision of and, where warranted, punishment of corporations that act so cavalierly with respect to our environment.

Not all damage can be contained or repaired. Once an oil-feathered pelican dies, it stays dead.

We also must take other action, including: supporting a gas tax, the revenue from which will help fund research into and development of alternative, clean forms of energy; reducing our driving, hopping on bicycles instead of into the front seats of our cars to run those errands; and trading in our monster SUVs for energy-efficient vehicles. Both Penny and I enjoy our hybrid cars, especially the savings on gas and the satisfaction of knowing we're doing a small part to care for creation.

And we must pressure our elected officials, urging them to shift funds from road and highway repair, improvement, and expansion to the laying of light rails for trains (Kansas City, I'm told, is doing just this; St. Louis already has.); expanding bus service, including to outlying areas, and building more bike lanes and trails.

No, the president didn't say it in his 18-minute address to the nation last night, but he should have said it:

We all have oil on our hands, and it's time we wash it off by acting in new, bold ,and even sacrificial ways for the preservation of God's gift of creation.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What if?

Reading Matthew 14.13-21 during Morning Prayer today, I wondered:

What if the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurates is a radically new consciousness and experience?

Jesus' life and ministry reveal this kingdom, which is unlike any of the world's kingdoms.

Today, in the feeding of the multitude, he shows that this new consciousness and experience are not about scarcity, but about plenitude. Jesus takes virtually nothing--just a small bit of food--and turns it into a feast, with ample leftovers.

This feeding miracle reveals a larger and deeper reality, one that is hitherto hidden and which is discovered only by those who live that life that Jesus lives as God's son.

We enter this new kingdom consciousness and experience only by faith; and in doing so, we find what's always been there: the fullness of life, God's gift to us.

By faith alone, what if becomes what is.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A different Memorial Day

At church today, we prayed for those lost in war, this being Memorial Day weekend.

And the Sunday New York Times reports that 1,000 young American men and women have been killed in the war in Afghanistan thus far. Tens of thousands of civilians have also died in that war.

Meanwhile, we're still at war in Iraq.

Despite the administration's setting dates for withdrawals from both wars, I fear that we're locked in endless wars, with more to follow, perhaps the next one being on the Korean Peninsula.
God must surely get weary of my our prayers for those lost in war, whose number rises every year.

And God must surely wonder why we humans disobey his law of love and fail to outlaw war and violence and work together to eliminate the conditions that lead to war; namely, injustice, poverty, oppression.

It's good that we pray for the war dead, hold memorial events to them, decorate their graves.

Best of all, however, would be national and international resolve to say: No more war ever. No more war dead. Ever. And to mean it and act upon it.

Now that would be a fitting memorial to the dead.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

That new thing

It's easy to become discouraged about the daunting challenges we face as the church: scarce resources for ministry, conflict among members, lack of direction sometimes, the obsession with survival.

And yet, I find hope in a fresh movement of God the Holy Spirit, who is renewing the church, Christ's body at work in service to the world.

That movement is called Emergent Christianity, which was the subject of a recent clergy continuing education conference in the Diocese of West Missouri.

Phyllis Tickle, a nationally known writer and speaker, described Emergent Christianity, which has arisen in response to rapid changes in the world and cultures.

In response to dizzying and disorienting change, many people are returning to the ancient traditions and worship of the church. They're deep connections with God, which enable them to live with faith, hope, joy, and purpose in the present.

Emergent Christianity is one of the works of Holy Spirit, who is God at work in the church and the world today.

I want to learn more about Emergent Christianity and how it might inform Christ Church and our proclamation of the Good News of God's love in Christ to young people. Many 18 to 25 year-olds are seeking the Divine, looking for community, and longing for lives of significance.

This summer, I plan to look carefully at Emergent Christianity.

Penny and I will again spend time at the Iona Community, which is located on an island off the west coast of Scotland.

Even before that first sociologist of religion coined the term Emergent Christianity, Iona was such a community.

It was started during the 1930s by Church of Scotland minister and WWI war hero George MacLeod.

MacLeod, who trained in law at Oxford University, had had a profound conversion experience to Christ during WWI. As a renewed Christian (he had been baptised an Anglican), he was deeply influenced by the ancient traditions of monasticism and Orthodoxy.

After and war, he went to theological college and then served traditional Presbyterian congregations in Scotland for a time.

He later went to Iona and, with other ministers and lay people, began to repair the ancient Benedictine abbey. Slowly, they created a new and dynamic Christian community there.

MacLeod was controversial in his day because of his radical vision of the church and stands on social and political issues. During WW II, for instance, he was an ardent pacifist, which brought the wrath of his countrymen.

George MacLeod is now with the saints in heaven.

And here on earth, the Iona Community is still thriving. With communities in Glasgow and elsewhere, Iona is expressing the life of the Spirit in stirring worship, including beautiful music, prayer and study, loving fellowship, youth work, and the vigorous pursuit of social justice locally and globally.

The Spirit is alive in the church, which gives me hope. More and more people are coming to the Lord, finding new life in him, and sharing his life and love in ministry and mission.

Thanks be to God for those fresh expressions of God among us, including Emergent Christianity.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From weeping to rejoicing

Jesus weeps.

Read or listen to the news and the stories about churches that squabble and splinter over their differences.

In our own Episcopal Church, we’ve divided over prayer book revision, over women in ordained ministry, over gay bishops.

Yes, Jesus weeps

And he also prays, as in John’s gospel account of our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer.

He’s facing his passion and death, and he prays with and for his followers that day in Jerusalem, and in all times and places,

He prays that we’ll be one just as he and his father are one in love for one another. Theirs is a relationship of mutual love.

He says that when his followers love one another, we will be united to God the Father and the Son and with one another.

And love—that’s the only important thing—is shown by his suffering, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all, even for those who persecute and crucify him.

Father may they be one as you and I are one.

Sadly, though, too many Christians today, including in our own denomination, are more interested in being right on issues than right in our relationship with God and our fellow Christians through love.

Jesus weeps not because we have differences; we’re human, and we’ll always disagree. But he weeps because we let differences amputate his earthly Body, the church.

Today, we dismember Christ’s body over gay bishops, but tomorrow it will be something else unless we find another way to be the church.

We can. We must. We are at Christ Episcopal Church.

A few Saturdays ago, more than 60 people, mostly Episcopalians, including 15 from Christ Church, spent the day with Dr. Peter Browning of Drury University. Dr. Browning is professor of religion and ethics there.

Dr. Browning led a workshop on homosexuality and the church, and he called it a “collaborative” approach.

We gathered in the parish hall at round tables--people with different views on the subject and different experiences. And we did something different. We didn’t debate or dispute.

No, we listened to Dr. Browning deal thoroughly and objectively with the arguments on homosexuality and the church, pro and con.

He looked at the Biblical passages often cited in the debate, along with scientific data and studies. We heard gay and straight people, in video testimonials, describe their experiences of being Christian.

And we talked—and listened—at our tables. Ours was a conversation. We acknowledged differences, sought understanding, and looked for what unites us—the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—and ways we could work together for his kingdom of love.

We were collaborating.

This workshop was not about changing minds, but changing hearts—not about right and wrong, but about right relationships that were grounded in active, self-giving love for all people.

And for those five hours in the parish hall, we were the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity within his earthly body.

The important thing is not being right in our opinions, or theology, or interpretation of the Bible, but right in our love of God and love for one another.

And when we are right about the right thing, Jesus rejoices.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making the adjustment

"Ahh," said a barista friend of mine at Starbucks as she stretched out her back and got ready for the next order.

She said she'd been hurting, but now was feeling better. She'd been to her chiropractor for an adjustment. Her neck and spine were now aligned properly.

If you've ever hurt yourself and then received treatment from a therapist, you know how good you feel, perhaps even immediately.

Worship is like that. On Sundays, we go to church for a weekly adjustment--not a physical one, but a spiritual one.

Monday through Saturday, we're barraged by voices that call out: Do more. Be more. Acquire more.

We're battered by the stresses of work, school, home, problems of all kinds.

We bend and break before temptations and are burdened by sin and guilt.

Like the medieval Italian poet Dante, writing in his Divine Comedy, we soon find ourselves lost in a dark wood. We're hurting psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It's time for an adjustment, which God provides in corporate worship.

When we worship God, we take a break from the craziness, the emptiness, and the pressures of daily living, and we make time for the praise and adoration of the one true God.

We reject the deadly idols of the world and embrace the One who alone gives us the fullness of life.

In the Holy Eucharist, we turn from the internal and external noise and enter into the silence in which the Spirit speaks to us.

We listen to music and anthems and sing hymns, which uplift us and unite our hearts with God.

We pray in the ancient words of The Book of Common Prayer and in our own words and join ourselves to God.

In the Holy Scriptures and sermon, when we pay attention and eagerly seek him, we hear God address us personally with the Word that is meant for us, and our souls quicken with new life.

And in the Holy Communion, as we kneel before God and reach out to him and for him, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The sacrament is not just bread and wine, but it's also Christ giving himself to us. It's his real presence, which meets our needs and heals our hurts.

When we worship God regularly, we're fully alive. We overflow with hope, joy--and that precious, although scarce reality in these anxious times: Christ's peace that passes all understanding.

Worship is our weekly adjustment, aligning us with God and keeping us healthy in our relationships with him and one another.

It's that "ahh" experience to start our week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Graduation is only the beginning

My nephew Connor is being graduated next weekend from Southern Methodist University, and today I sent him a card with my congratulations.

Among the treasures of avuncular wisdom I shared with him is that he make his education a lifelong enterprise, regarding his bachelor's degree in economics as only the beginning of learning.

In 1976 when I was graduated from university, I thought I knew nearly everything, or at least more than those who hadn't been blessed enough to go to college or university. How wrong I was. I quickly learned that I was ignorant--that I had so much yet to learn, and even when I had learned it, I would have much more to learn. And learn. And learn.

Learning is my passion, or at least one of them, and not just learning about history, literature, economics, and other secular disciplines, but also about the Christian faith.

I have so much to learn about the risen and living Jesus Christ and my life in relationship to him and to my fellow believers and to this world for which Jesus died.

In John's Gospel, Jesus promises his followers that he will send them the Holy Spirit, who will lead them into all truth. I often pray, "Come Holy Spirit." Just that. Nothing more.

And I trust that God the Holy Spirit will lead me into a deeper knowledge and experience of God and myself and others and the kingdom.

When I look back on my graduation from university, I see it was just the beginning of my education, as Connor's graduation from SMU will be just the beginning for his. Or so I hope and pray it wil be.

Baptism and confirmation and ordination--graduations of a kind--were just beginnings for me, for God the Holy Spirit is still teaching me, leading me into the fullness of truth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Confrontation in love

This week, a friend wrote me a caring and confrontive electronic message.

First, some background: for nearly 16 years as rector of Christ Episcopal Church, I've urged people to address me directly when something's troubling them, something that might even be criticial of me.

Some do.

Yes, it's painful to hear directly from people I've angered, offended, or hurt, but the alternative--people withdrawing from me in silence--is more painful. And that withdrawal is damaging to the relationship.

Jesus says that when something is troubling us, we should take it to our brother or sister, presenting it in love and working for reconciliation in the relationship.

When this friend wrote me, she was doing just that.

Here's what troubled her:

During the announcements on Sunday, I had announced that Christ Episcopal Church this Saturday would host Dr. Peter Browning of Drury University for a Hardie Lecture Series on sexual orientation. (Dr. Browning will look at the topic from a sociological, not a theological, perspective.)

I spoke about differences in sexual orientation and the imporance of understanding and caring for people.

My friend was troubled by my emphasis on difference and reminded me that all people are children of God and loved by God.

I sent her a reply, thanking her for expressing herself to me and telling her I was sorry that I had offended her. I pledged greater sensitivity in future.

As a priest and pastor, I seek to be a loving, caring, and compassionate presence to all people, communicating that God loves all of us, and that we're to love all people.

I'm grateful to this friend for her honesty and for reminding me of the nature of Christian community, which is grounded in the love of God made known in Christ Jesus.

As two hymns put it, "We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord." And "In Christ, there is no East or West, no North or South."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Singing our alleluias

In responding to the question, “What interests you most about the spiritual life?” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says, “I find myself coming back again and again to the meaning of ‘alleluia’.” (“The Christian Century,” April 6, 2010)

The Latin, “Alleluia,” via Greek, derives from the Hebrew, “Hallelujah,” which means, “Praise Ye Yahweh” or “Praise God.”

After the penitential season of Lent, we again use alleluia in our liturgy, starting with the Great Alleluia at the Easter Vigil; we then use alleluia all year long in worship until Ash Wednesday and the start of another Lenten season.

Alleluia. Praise God.

We praise God because of who God is: the God of infinite and unconditional love; what God has done: created and saved us from evil, sin, and death in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ; and for what God promises us: to be with us always through Christ in this world and in the world to come.

This Easter Season, then, let us shout out our alleluias, for that simple but soaring word, as the Archbishop of Canterbury hints in his response to the question, sums up the Good News of God's unfailing love of all his children.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. And with him, we are risen. We are his alleluia people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What makes this day Good Friday?

Today, Christians worldwide remember Jesus' passion and death in the Good Friday Liturgy. Our Lord's last day will be a dark and terrible one--one that will move us to tears.

In our churches, God's Spirit will draw us into Jesus' suffering and death through the readings, prayers, somber hymnody and music, and silence. We experience for ourselves--in our heads and hearts--Jesus' journey to the depths of human estrangement from God and his consecrating of that hellish nothingness with God's loving, life-giving presence.

In doing so, Jesus reconciles us in our farthest place from God with him. Now, the devil, sin, suffering, and death itself no longer have power over us--not after Jesus' passion and death. And not after the third day and his resurrection from the grave.

Therefore,Good Friday is good, because God, in Jesus, makes it good with his identification with us, even at our worst and in the worst of our circumstances.

Good Friday reminds us of how great God's love for us is in Jesus Christ, that the Son of God would suffer and die for us to save us from an eternity without the loving companionship of God.

Today in prayer, I will thank Jesus for all he did for me. And I will do something else, inspired by a friend's email to me: I will do something for Jesus in gratitude for what he did for me on the cross. I will appreciate his grace and will express his grace in action.

May God bless this Friday with his goodness.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An invitation

Penny told me about a fellow student who had arrived in the painting studio happy. Why her happiness? Someone had invited her to church. That person, she said, thought enough of her and enough of the church to invite her to Sunday worship.

Sadly, many of us Christians are hesitant about inviting people to our churches. I'm not sure why. Perhaps we don't want to be thought pushy. Or we don't want to be told no. Or --could it be?--we don't want others to think of us as evangelicals, as if that were a bad thing.

Thank God, Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection, was eagerly evangelical, telling the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."

In our hesitancy, we fail in our baptismal call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ--to tell others, in our own words, how our relationship with him helps us overcome fear, stress, suffering and live in confidence, hope, joy.

As a consequence, people who are hungry for Christ and for a connection with him through the church--sometimes without even knowing it--go away unfed, and our churches are poorer for their absence.

No wonder many mainline churches are declining in membership, including the Episcopal Church, while evangelical churches--whose members are excited and articulate about the saving power of Jesus Christ and of his life-changing love--are exploding?

This Holy Week, why not let someone know that you care about him or her and that you care about your church? Invite that person to attend worship with you this Sunday, Easter Sunday, properly called the the Sunday of the Resurrection.

Together, you'll hear the proclamation of the Good News in word, sacrament, and fellowship:
God raises Jesus from the grave, defeats death, and opens up life to us in its fullness now and forever.

That's the Good News that Mary Magdalene shares with the disciples, news that disciples have shared with others for more than two-thousand years, news that Christ calls us--evangelicals, all--to share with others.

And that sharing can begin with a simple invitation to church this Sunday, which says: "I care about Christ. I care about my church. And I care about you."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A friend told me of a recent trip out of town with a companion. All the way up to their destination and all the way back, the companion, mobile phone in hand, texted people.

From what I hear and see--including drivers thumbing the keys on their mobile phones while their cars are in motion--my friend's companion is a typical--and sad--captive in this hyper-connected 21st century.

Increasingly, the I-Phone and the Black Berry are as essential for many people as an oxygen tank and tube are for a person with emphysema.

Many regard the mobile as a lifeline to the larger world, which can be good and necessary. But it can also be a way to ignore others. It can distract the user from life that's happening right now. And some users might even think that it's the one thing keeping them from disappearing into silence and nothingness.

I text; therefore, I am.

I read recently of a rabbi in Brooklyn who knows the dangers of hyper-connectivity and who's doing something about it.

He's calling on the members of his congregation to observe an Unplugged Sabbath, one day a week, Saturday for Jews, to turn off mobile phones (and what about laptops like this one I'm using?) and observe a day of rest and worship of God, the original intention of God's instituting the sabbath, according to Genesis.

God took a break, the Bible says, and so why don't we humans do the same thing? For a day, be it Saturday or Sunday, the Christian sabbath, let's unplug from the satellite network (and that primitive land line). Shut down the home internet. Go silent and still.

And with hands freed from slavery to our mobiles--and weary thumbs relaxed and rested for a full 24 hours--we can them fold them in prayer to God and lift them up in praise of him who gives life, joy, peace.

Ah, yes, peace. Remember it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pub crawls and calls

It's St. Patrick's Day.

In a few hours, downtown Springfield will fill up with green-clad visitors, making their boozy processions from pub to pub to pub....which will be good news for the bars, taverns, and restaurants, and the city's sales tax revenue, but bad news to the revelers tomorrow morning.

Ouch! My aching head.

I wonder what St. Patrick would think about what his feast day has become.

Being zealous in prayer--he writes in his Confessions about how he'd pray a hundred times or more a night as a teenage shepherd/slave--and being passionate about the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ, he'd rise from knee-bent prayer, I imagine, and take to the wet and dreary streets of center city tonight.

As he did on the green, sheep-trodden hills and in the poor villages of Ireland during the 5th century, he'd share with anyone who'd listen not a harangue about demon alcohol (including green beer), but a passionate and compassionate message about the Lord of Love.

He'd tell of the God who loves, forgives, welcomes, and blesses his beloved with eternal, overflowing life--life that foams--up, up, up--until it runs over, like that beer stein under the tap at the local pub.

Blessed Patrick knew God's love personally, thanks to his rich devotional life, and God's love overflowed from inside him in the proclamation of the Good News and in deeds of love of the Irish people.

Patrick is known in church history as "the apostle to the Irish." He spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and converted not only the five great Irish chieftans, but also the whole island. In doing so, as God's representative, he drove out evil, sin, and death, but probably not snakes.

At my Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church as a grade-schooler, I chose Patrick's name as my special confirmation name--I thought the snake legend was cool; and this saint of the church has inspired me ever since.

Patrick has made me want to draw closer and closer to God in prayer and worsip and study and to reach out to others with the Good News of God who loves us all and in whose love we find life in all its richness.

St. Patrick's feast day, for me, doesn't celebrate the pub crawl, but a saint of prayer and proclamation.

And if you're making the pub crawl tonight, enjoy your revelry--but be safe--and how about raising a pint to the saint and answering God's call, telling someone about how you've known the God of love?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A little lectio this Lent

In our Lenten class at church on Wednesday, we continued our discussion of a book called "Longing for God: the Seven Paths of Christian Devotion" by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe.

We looked at the ancient practice of lectio divina, or divine reading, which is also a subject in the book.

This meditative reading of Holy Scripture is an excellent way of receiving God the Holy Spirit's needed direction for one's life. It also allows the Spirit to continue forming our souls in the image of Jesus Christ.

With my lectio--which, alas, is occasional, not daily--I'll take a passage of Scripture from the readings for the Daily Office in "The Book of Common Prayer," read it over carefully a time or two, and then open my journal and start writing.

Often, writing enables me to receive the Word, God's Living Presence, which feeds my soul just as the Holy Eucharist feeds my soul with the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ.

Tuesday, I read Mark 4. 1-20, the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. I thought, "Oh, that one again. Is there really anything here for me?"Yes, there was, as I found in my writing. Here's what I wrote, my lectio:

"I hear the Spirit saying that God sows the seed, which is his word for the life of us, but that seed only takes root, grows, thrives in us when we put our faith in God the Sower. Then, there is growth. Then there is life in us that is unimaginable--beyond expectation.

"And faith is not only that consent of our wills--that, 'Yes, Lord, I believe....'--but it is also that, 'Yes, Lord, Lord I believe and now here is how I'm going to behave as a consequence.' I'm going to sow that seed of your word in what I say and do, that the whole world might burst forth with the abundance of your kingdom, your presence."

With holy reading, let the Spirit move over the words and within you, bringing forth meaning and the life God intends for you.

This Lent, try a little lectio for the good of your soul.

The hope called Yunus

Penny came home from a lecture on Tuesday night full of excitement.

The lecture, before a capacity crowd at Hammons Hall, was delivered by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Dr. Yunus is an economist and university lecturer who pioneered microcredit in his home country of Bangladesh.

Penny said Dr. Yunus was more a storyteller than lecturer. He talked about discovering that poor people in a village close to his university were in debt to local money lenders, with little hope of ever escaping. He learned that the sum total of the villagers' indebtedness was $27. He lent them the money, which they eventually repaid.

And thus began his experience with microcredit. Dr. Yunus went on to set up a microcredit bank, the Grammen Bank, which has opened branches in the developing world and in the United States.

Microlenders make small loans, usually a few hundred dollars, to establish or expand businesses. Microcredit lifts people out of poverty and promotes economic growth and a higher standard of living.

A few years ago, "60 Minutes"profiled Dr. Yunus. It told the story of a man who used a microloan to buy a telephone and install a phone line at his small shop. This phone linked the villagers and their family members scattered around the world. The man provided a service, increased his revenues, and repaid his loan.

In his lecture here, Dr. Yunus also spoke about "social business," whereby a company applies its capital and know-how, creating products that solve social problems and help people, especially the poor.

In one country, he said, poor people were developing foot diseases because they couldn't afford shoes. They had to go without them, which exposed their bare feet to injury and infections.

Dr. Yunus approached Adidas with the problem, and the company responded. It built one plant and then others to manufacture low-cost shoes, making footwear affordable for the poor. Likely,
Adidas made only a small profit on the shoes, but it did earn a huge, social profit: the satisfaction that it had done something to help the poor live better lives.

What excites me about Dr. Yunus is that he's a man of action. He isn't letting despair keep him from solving problems. He's showing that human ingenuity, compassion, and the resolve to push past "No, we can't" to "Yes, we can" are powerful drivers for creating a better world.

Yes, we humans face huge problems of global pollution and climate warming, rampant disease and famine, too few schools and jobs, political corruption and oppression, war and violence, and more. And, yes, some people say these problems are insoluble, that it's better to wait for Jesus to return and take care of everything for us.

And they're right. Partially. Jesus, the Christ, will return and will take care of everything for us--every time we act in faith and hope, letting him work in and through us for that new creation.

Thank God for Dr. Mohammad Yunus and leaders like him. They're showing me the way and inspiring me to act.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

C.S.A. stands for more than the Confederate States of America

Community Supported Agriculture is another meaning of the acronym, C.S.A.

Last Thursday afternoon, I participated online in Trinity Institute's continuing discussion of ways that parishes can help create a more ethical economy.

One way is by supporting local farmers.

My CSA person is Dale Burton. On Saturdays from 8 am until noon, you'll find Dale at the Farmer's Market on the southeast corner of the Battlefield Mall, Springfield. He and his family operate a farm near Billings, MO and raise chickens, wheat, cattle, and more.

Twice a month, Penny and I pick up our order of healthy, economical food items from Dale--a young, hardworking, happy man. It's worth the trip just to go out and chat with him. I like to know the person who is producing my food. And a chat with Dale always lifts my spirits.

For a little more than $40 a month, we get free-range chicken breasts, homemade wheat bread (it makes delicious breakfast toast, spread with butter and local blueberry preserves. Yum.), eggs, and sometimes steaks. It's all pesticide and antibiotic free, and we can tase the difference.

Trinity Institute's presenter last week said that ordinary American consumers could move this country toward a more sustainable and more ethical economy by patronizing local farmers through Community Supported Agriculture.

Watch the films "Food Inc." and "Fresh," and you'll know why that's important.

Last Saturday when I picked up by bi-montly order, I asked Dale whether it would be possible for parishioners from Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, to join his CSA program as a group, picking up our food from him twice a month at church. He said yes, with a smile and lots of enthusiasm. Saturday afternoons would be a possibility for pickups.

Is anyone interested in supporting CSA and being part of the change that America needs: healthier, locally produced agricultural products and a more ethical, even Christian economy? Just let me know. Post your response here or email me at I'll see what we can organize.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No limits to God's love or to ours

Last Saturday, I preached the sermon at the Absalom Jones Celebration Eucharist at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City.

The Racial Reconciliation Committee of St. Andrew's and St. Augustine's Episcopal Churches, Kansas City, invited me to preach.

I was was the first white pastor or priest to be invited to preach at this annual commemoration of the first African-American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

Jones's ordination took place in 18th Century America, when slavery was still firmly entrenched, including in the North. Here is the sermon, "No limits to Love," which is based on John 15.12-15

You’ve probably seen the sportswear imprinted with the slogan, “No Fear.” This is a fit group. Your own cycling or running jerseys might say just that.

Well, as worthy as that slogan is, I’d like to see a very different one printed on shirts, on banners, even on the signs outside our Episcopal Churches.

Instead of “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” our signs should say something weightier:

How about? “No Limits to Love.”

After all, isn’t that how Jesus loves?

In the gospel reading today, God the Son commands his followers to love one another as I love you. He says perfect love is this: that a person is willing to lay down his or her life for friends.

We’re to love as Jesus loves, working actively for the wellbeing of the others, and Jesus loves with no limits.

Look at him:

He never sends anyone to the back of the bus. Never restricts the right to vote. Never segregates schools and lunch counters. Never tells people of color, “You can’t sit in that pew. Sit in that balcony.”

Jesus loves with no limits--even when it means the whip, spit in the eye, a crown of thorns, death on the cross.

Supremely, on the cross Jesus shows us love that has no limits. There, he offers his life for us, while we were yet sinners. And in doing so sets us free from slavery to the Devil, our sins, eternal death.

Jesus’ cross is our Emancipation Proclamation. It is our freedom papers.

The Good News, in Jesus, is that God’s love is not limited to the few, but is lavished on all: people of every color; gays and straights and transgendered persons; rich and poor; Republicans and Democrats; Barak Obama and Sarah Palin.

The saint whose life we celebrate in this Eucharist today, blessed Absalom Jones, an African American slave, who worked for years to buy his and his wife’s freedom-- Absalom Jones knew the gospel and lived it.

And when he saw God’s love limited, he acted.

One Sunday, a white man asked Jones to sit in the balcony of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where whites and blacks had worshiped in the same pews side by side from Sunday to Sunday.

Jones and a fellow Christian, an African-American named Richard Allin, said, “No.”
They left St. George’s, followed by all the other blacks of the congregation.

Richard Allin remembered, “…we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no longer plagued by us” (PBS, “Africans in America, Part 3: Narrative: The Black Church.”).

In 1787, Jones and Allin organized the Free African Society. They built a congregation and, eventually, a church.

And with the support of Bishop White of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, their church was admitted to the diocese as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, Philadelphia.

Jones said, “We are now encouraged through the grace and divine assistance of the friends and (of) God opening the hearts of our white friends and brethren…to arise out of the dust… and throw off that servile fear, (which) the habit of oppression and bondage trained us in” (PBS, “Africans in America”).

Jones, first as a deacon and then as the first black priest of the Episcopal Church, served St Thomas—preaching, teaching, organizing, pastoring his people. And speaking out against slavery and every other limit to God’s love, until his death in 1818.

May we do the same in our own time, as the followers of Jesus who carry on his ministry, actively working for the good of the other, whoever the other is.

And inspired by Absalom Jones, and empowered by the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism, we must act when we see love limited by a narrowness of vision that says, “Care for needy people here, not in Haiti.”

We must act when we see love limited by lack of education, too few jobs, denial of health care; limited by illness or disability; limited by gender, sexual orientation, age or race.
We must act whenever we see a limit to God’s love and God’s children pushed out of the pews and into the balconies of church and society.

We must act and, yes, even suffer taunts and spit in the eye; the club, the fire hose, the snarling dogs; the loneliness of jail; the cruel death of the cross.

After all, that’s the way Jesus lived, the way Absalom Jones lived, the way those Freedom Riders and marchers lived in the American South of the 1960s.

And that’s the way we will live as Jesus’ followers, keeping his great commandment and loving all others and bearing the fruits of love: a world where “No limits to love” is not a slogan but a reality.


Monday, February 15, 2010


Penny and I recently stopped by the Kemper Museum of Modern Art in Kansas City for a visit. I wandered around, noticing two women sitting on a bench in a gallery. They sat silently before a painting, a landscape of farm land in Iowa somewhere. It was a large piece, perhaps 12 feet long and four feet wide, a panorama.

I walked on, peeking into that particular gallery again and again. The women were still there, each time I looked, still staring at the painting. Perhaps they were Iowa expatriates in Kansas City and missed the rural countryside, and this painting was their way of visiting home.

Or perhaps something else was going on between them and that painting.

Perhaps it was adoration. They were sitting still and in silence before beauty and drinking it in with their eyes-- appreciating and delighting in it.

That's what adoration is--adoration also being a form of prayer, according to The Book of Common Prayer. When we adore God in prayer, we simply appreciate God for being God in all of his goodness, beauty, wonder. Adoration is being in the presence of the Holy One; it's a moment of oneness with him.

That oneness can happen while looking at a painting in an art gallery, a sunset over Table Rock Lake, your grandchildren asleep, or the altar at church, adorned with sprays of flowers on the last Sunday before Lent.

In Lent, take time just to sit still before God, wherever you see him revealed. Be quiet. Adore God. And know that God adores you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cage fighting at church?

The New York Times today reports that some evangelical Christian churches are reaching out to young men (and women?) who practice martial arts.

No, that's not news.

But this is news: these churches, the report notes, are offering Christian martial arts practitioners the opportunity to put some punch into their worship, a kick into their relationship with Christ.

They're offering Christian cage fighting as a worship experience.

So, instead of singing "Amazing Grace," worshipers are shouting, "Knock him out. Hit him harder. Kill him." All for Christ's sake.

Jesus heard those shouts of "Kill him" on the cross. He saw people delight in his suffering and death.

And he repudiated violence in his living and teaching. Remember? Jesus preached, "Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the humble. Blessed are the peacemakers."

What would Jesus think of "Christian" and "cage fighting" placed side by side?

Now, I'm all in favor of reaching out with Christ to all people, including martial arts practitioners. But the Christ I know and believe in, the Christ I invite people to trust themselves to is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

He is the God of gentleness and compassion, the God who makes himself known in weakness and humility--not in power. He's the God who dies on the cross for his opponents, not the god who nails his opponents and then struts around in celebration, hands upraised in Rocky-Balboa fashion.

So, Christians, evangelical and otherwise: go on reaching out to non-Christians with praise bands and cappuccino and blue jean worship and hipster clergy, but not with cage fighting, too. Please anything but that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thinking about economics--with the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (pictured with me here), spent three days reflecting on the nature of faith and economics at this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, in New York City.
Father Jonathan and I attended, and both of us met Dr. Williams and chatted with him. The archbishop, a poet, and I talked about poetry, not economics.
This was the 40th national theological conference hosted by Trinity Church. It took place at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street, the center of world finance, in the historic nave of Trinity Church. Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the Republic and father of our banking system, was a member of Trinity and is buried in the church's graveyard.
During the conference, we participants reflected on how our Christian faith could help build an ethical economy.
Dr. Williams, who holds a DPhil.,,in theology and who taught at Oxford and Cambridge, said that faith in God and the values of the gospels, such as compassion and generosity, should contribute to economic decision-making, not just considerations of profit and loss.
He reminded us that the word "economy" comes from the Greek word for "household" and commended the model of a household for economic planning and action. The household " is where life is lived in community," he said. "Good housekeeping seeks common well being, starting with stability (and) balancing the needs of all and maintaining relationships."
Economists, together with people of faith should ask "What is the long-term well being we seek?" What kind of home do we want to build together? Dr. Williams asked, citing a phrase of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.
Theology, Dr.Williams said, contributes two things to ethical economics. It challenges the mystery of economics and proposes a model for human life together. And theology tells us what people are made to be--beings with value and of virtue.
"What makes us human," he said, "are gift and love."
And if you follow economics as closely as I do--I used to be a banker--you know that economists who speak about gift and love are rare, but people of faith, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the people at this year's Trinity Institute, who talk about economics and ethics are becoming more abundant.
And we're actively discussing ways to build an ethical economy in which people are valued primarily because we're created in the image of God, and not because we're simply sources of productivity and profit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Praise for the people of Christ Episcopal Church, among other churches, for their response to Haiti

I realize that I'm writing a lot here about Haiti, because that country and its people are in the news and in my heart.

That's one of the things about going to Haiti--meeting the people, seeing the smiling faces and hearing the laughter of the little ones, worshiping with people of such strong and vital faith in God--you never leave Haiti; Haiti never leaves you. You carry it with you, close to you.

So, I'll go on writing about Haiti and other topics, perhaps even about this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Wall Street, New York City. I'm in the City now, after arriving late last night following a six hour delay at the airport in Chicago.

I'm looking forward to hearing what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has to say about economics and justice.

In a just world, Haiti would not have been in the shape it was before the earthquake: the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

As one of the baptised, I'm working for a just world. Follow the link below and hear my sermon from Sunday on, you guessed it, Haiti.

Bishop Duracin of Haiti writes

People wonder about the situation, especially for our fellow Episcopalians in Haiti. Here is a letter from the Bishop of Haiti. Bishop Duracin writes to Robert W. Radke, President of Episcopal Relief and Development, a ministry of our church. Please keep Bishop Duracin, Father Fritz Valdema (Pere Val), and his wife Carmel in your prayers. They are all doing heroic and faithful work shepherding their flock.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our LordJesus Christ.
I am writing to you from the tent city we have set upbehind the rubble of College Ste. Pierre, our marvelous seniorsecondary school that is no more. As you know, we have gatheredapproximately 3,000 people here alone. Across the land, the Diocese ofHaiti has set up at least 21 refugee camps, caring for more than23,000 people.
In this letter, I wish to make clear to the Diocese ofHaiti, to Episcopal Relief and Development and to all of our partnersthat Episcopal Relief and Development is the official agency of theDiocese of Haiti and that we are partners working hand-in-hand inHaiti’s relief and recovery efforts.
I also am announcing in this letter that I am appointingThe Rev. Lauren R. Stanley, Appointed Missionary of The EpiscopalChurch, to work directly with ERD on my behalf. I am asking allpartners in The Episcopal Church to communicate directly with Rev.Stanley, so as to keep communications with the Diocese of Haiti open.Rev. Stanley is to communicate and work with ERD on my behalf.
In addition, I am asking that all of our partners in thePresbyterian Church USA work directly with ERD, with Rev. Stanley asthe central communications person. PCUSA has worked with us for manyyears, and we are deeply grateful for their compassion and theircommitment to the people of Haiti.
We in the Diocese of Haiti have a vision and a plan forthis relief and recovery effort. We know the situation on the ground,we are directing emergency relief to those who need it most, and wealready are making plans and moving forward to help our people. Sincethe earthquake struck, we have been and will continue to work closelywith your two representatives here, Ms. Katie Mears and Ms. KirstenMuth. I have complete confidence in you and your agency.
Finally, I wish to make it plain: I know that many of ourpartners wish to come to Haiti right now to help. Please tell themthat unless they are certified professionals in relief and recovery,they must wait. We will need them in the months and years to come, but at this point, it is too dangerous and too much of a burden for ourpeople to have mission teams here. Please tell our partners, the people of The Episcopal Church, thepeople of the United States and indeed the people of the world that wein Haiti are immensely grateful for their prayers, their support andtheir generosity. This is a desperate time in Haiti; we have lost so much. But we still have the most important asset, the people of God,and we are working continuously to take care of them.
I hope that this letter will help all of us work together to help God’s beloved people in Haiti. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. If others have questions or concerns, please askthem to contact you or to work directly with Rev. Stanley.
Faithfully,Mgr. Jean Zaché DuracinEvêque d'Haïti

Monday, January 18, 2010

A report on my time in Haiti--miracles accomplished, miracles needed

I saw God working miracles in Haiti during my week there with our mission team, miracles in the people, miracles in me. And now Haiti needs another, a greater miracle, following the earthquake of last Tuesday.

In my sermon from yesterday, which you can listen to by going to the link below, I talk about my week in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and I appeal to people to be part of God's newest and greatest miracle for the people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Here's one way you can help Haiti, in addition to prayer

I have just learned that our Haiti partners in ministry, Father Fritz Valdema, and his wife Carmel and their family are safe. They slept outside last night. They still have little news of church members.

Knowing that Penny and I and our mission team have recently returned from Haiti, people are writing and calling, asking how they can help Haiti following the horrific earthquakes and aftershocks of Tuesday, January 10.

Today, Penny and I sent a check to Episcopal Relief and Development, The Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017.

Dave and Alice Williams, Episcopal Relief and Development coordinators for the Diocese of West Missouri, write:

"Episcopal Relief and Development is well established in Haiti and will respond immediately to the needs of the Haitian people.

"Through our program partner, the Diocese of Haiti, we already have people on the ground, and we already have contacts with local authorities and agencies to quickly provide aid and assistance to the people.

"ERD doesn't have to organize a team or send people into the country or establish aid centers; we're already there!

"Please help by contributing to ERD...; 92 cents of every dollar given through ERD will go directly to the people of Haiti.

"Checks with "Haiti Relief" in the memo field will go directly to the support of the Haitian recovery efforts.

"...We will be having a conference call tomorrow evening with ERD New York and the ERD Network and if anything new or different comes from that, we'll let you know immediately...."

Thank you for your prayers and other expressions of concern for the people of Haiti.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A first reflection on my week in Haiti

I've seen poverty in the United States, but nothing compares to the poverty I saw last week in Haiti.

Penny and I spent January 2 through January 8 there as part of a Christ Episcopal Church mission team. Christ Church teams have served there once or twice a year since 1996.

I had heard that Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And then I saw that reality for myself.

Even in the capital of Port-au-Prince, the majority of Haitians live in shacks made of boards and corrugated metal or, for the better off, in squat houses made of cinder blocks; they have no indoor plumbing or reliable electricity (the power goes off in the late afternoon); little or no clean water for drinking and washing; no trash pickup; little or no access to medical or dental care; and no regular work, the unemployment rate exceeding 50 percent.

For most Haitian, every day is a right for survival.

Blue-helmeted, heavily armed UN troops rumble down the streets in trucks or drive by in jeeps or stand, guarding intersections. This was my first visit to a country whose peace and security are the responsibility of the United Nations's troops and police.

Haiti, our neighbor just to the south of Florida, is a tragedy.

And, yet, I returned from my week there full of hope and joy and with a deepened faith in Christ and a renewed commitment to the work of the church. The church, including our own, is making a profound difference for the good there.

I'll reflect more about my time in Haiti in future columns here.

For now, take a look at the photos that Penny and I took during our mission week. Go to:

And please pray for the people of Haiti.