Friday, December 16, 2011

Eulogizing Christopher Hitchens

I've critiqued atheist Christopher Hitchens in columns and sermons; but when I heard the news on National Public Radio today that Hitchens had died of esophageal cancer at age 62, I was saddened.

I prayed for the repose of his soul. I thought, "Now, Hitch knows the truth about God."

I imagine a "New Yorker" cartoon: Hitchens--standing before God, the Author of Life--is holding a copy of his book, "God is not Great," his attack upon God. The book dangles in his fingertips, ready to fall onto the cloud. Hitchens looks stunned. God looks amused and says, "Surprised to see me?"

Christopher Hitchens's life abounded in accomplishments: Oxford University graduate; columnist for "The Nation" and "Vanity Fair," and many other publications; George Orwell-enthusiast, author of shelves of books, and much more.

As a reporter and aspiring columnist, I used to read Hitchens's columns in "The Nation." Weekly, he skewered the Reagan Administration. Later, he directed his wrath at Democratic administrations.

I think it's unjust, in my view of justice, that someone as intelligent, insightful, and creative as Hitchens should die at such a young age. He had so much more to think about, to talk about, to write about, to debate--about politics, literature, culture, religion.

Putting aside the unanswerable question of justice, I give God thanks that Hitchens enjoyed 62 years of life and contributed mightily during that time to public discourse on things that truly matter.

It's not the quantity of time, but the quality of the time that one has in this world that truly matters.

Hitchens lived fully and fruitfully during his relatively short life. He certainly gave me and many others a lot to ponder.

God be with you, Christopher Hitchens. Now, you see God face to face, as the Psalmist writes.

And God, you're in for some lively conversation. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

God provides

I confess that I was fretting a little about church finances earlier today.

We're doing well, ahead of where we were last year at this time, but I thought we were doing much better than that; people have been responsive to the 2012 Harvest Stewardship Campaign, including people who haven't pledged before.

Still, I was worried, and worry, while human, is not what Jesus wants from me or from any of his followers.

Instead, he wants us to trust him to provide for us. Indeed, in the gospels he counsels, again and again, "Do not fear" or "Do not be anxious about tomorrow," or some variation on that theme of putting one's total trust in his love and care.

As I swam on my lunch hour, I prayed, seeking to let go of the worry. My prayer was simple: "Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner."

And I let my anxiety go, trusting God to provide for Christ Church.

He did, too.

When I got back to the office just a few minutes ago, I opened a letter from a member. He had enclosed a check for $20,000, most of which will go to our capital campaign.

Thank you, member; and thank you, Jesus.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Testimony to the power of prayer

I do a lot of praying, including for people in need.

I confess I don't know how prayer works, but I know it works.

I know it works because of all the prayers God has answered in my own life and because of all the prayers God has answered for others for whom I've prayed.

Recently, I received a card from a friend for whom Penny and I had prayed. She writes,

"When cancer returned...I was so afraid. I must confess that, in the past, I have had doubts about the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. However, I have also seen the Chumbley family 'at work,' as well as friends. I asked perfect strangers to pray for me (check-out people at the grocery store, people in elevators, etc).

"Their faces would light up when I asked and all would say, 'Absolutely. Of course.'

"Now, I have no more doubts!

"This scary time is past; cancer gone, no more discoverable!

"There is no way that I can begin to thank you--for your note, phone calls, visit--your caring.

"And your prayers."

Prayer works. Pray, in faith, and wait for God to answer your prayers according to his will, and God's will is always for our best.

Monday, November 14, 2011

God is good

My email address incorporates this belief: God is good.

I saw that goodness unfold again this morning.

I had come home from my early morning date with The New York Times and a cup or two of bold coffee at Starbucks.

I looked out my front car window.

I saw it.

A big maple tree in the distance, its leaves bright in a brilliant pumpkin orange, standing against a slate-gray backdrop of sky, promising a shower.

It was an exquisite sight.

You'll have to take my word--or my description--for it. I forgot to take a photo.

The effect of this glimpse upon me was joy--joy that God had created such beauty, joy that I was alive to see it, joy.

God is the author of beauty, and beauty gives me joy.

Today, may I suggest, in words my teachers used to speak to me in a firm authoritative voice?

Pay attention.

Pay attention to what God wants to show you--and give you:

Pure joy.

Because God is good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Appreciating what I have

I visited yesterday with a man who had worshiped at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday. He told me he and his wife were seeking a new church home.

I did a lot of listening and found myself moved by his sharing of his spiritual journey. He knew God as a loving, saving God. He was articulate in telling me his story. And authentic.

He had grown up in one particular denomination. It had been his family's tradition for generations. He had given a lot to his church over the years in service. He said he felt guilty thinking about leaving.

I asked him, "Might God be calling you to remain a spiritual leader right where you are?"

No, he said. He thought God was calling him elsewhere. And so he and his wife were visiting other churches on Sundays.

"I thought," he said, 'why not visit the Episcopal Church?'"

He said he was not angry with his former church or pastor or denomination. Rather, he no longer felt a sense of worship at his church and missed it. He needed to experience God's living presence once more, that sense of the holy.

At Christ Church on Sunday, the first thing he experienced was silence in the church before worship began. He saw people kneeling and praying in that silence.

And then he met God in the Holy Scriptures and sermon, in the music, and in the Holy Communion. Everything about the service, including kneeling for prayer and to receive Communion, helped him enter into the "moment" with God.

He left worship feeling filled spiritually. He was better prepared to meet the week ahead in faith, hope, love, and joy.

I sometimes take for granted what I experience here in the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Thursdays, that sense of mystery, wonder, awe--the holy God.

And it takes a visitor to remind me how blessed I am by word and sacrament and this blessed community of faith.

Thank you, God.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday in Joplin and the work is good

I spent most of Saturday in Joplin at St. Philip's Episcopal Church.

St. Philip's hosted our Southern Deanery Meeting, which was preparation for the Diocesan Convention in November.

After the meeting and a delicious luncheon in the parish hall--thanks St. Philip's Altar Guild--clergy and laity alike joined in a mini-mission event.

We were there to get the parish hall ready for a second Free Garage Sale for the people who lost everything in the tornado several months ago. The event will take place this Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm.

In preparation, we unloaded trucks and cars full of donated goods from Kansas City, St. Louis, and Bentonville, Arkansas.

Donations included winter coats and other clothing, blankets, artificial Christmas trees and ornaments, even a bed.

A group from Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, on Friday had delivered two vehicles full of new appliances and other items, which had been purchased by our Outreach Committee and assembled.

We filled the many tables that had been set up in the parish hall, the lounge, and the hallways of the church with the donated items. I wondered how the people of St. Philip's would manage on Sunday.

On Saturday in Joplin, we came together in that mini-mission--not only people from the Southern Deanery, but also youth groups from the Dioceses of Missouri and Arkansas.

We were one Episcopal family--one in our faith in Christ and one in his mission, reaching out in love to a hurting and suffering world.

And it felt good.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Now that's therapeutic touch

The Daily Office gospel for today, Matthew 9. 18-26, tells about a ruler's daughter who has died.

The ruler comes to Jesus and begs for her life to be restored.

Isn't it interesting that this ruler, perhaps not a Jew, shows more faith than people of Jesus' own faith tradition?

He's willing, indeed eager, to rely upon the Lord and Jesus' power of salvation. Reliance is a way of understanding faith.

Do we show that equal level of reliance upon the Lord? Sometimes, I do, but many times I don't. I want to do better.

When Jesus arrives at the ruler's house, the wake has already begun. There's flute music, and I can hear that mournful tune being played, much as the Scottish bag pipes produce that wailing sound, that deep cry of a pierced heart.

He passes through the mourners, telling them them the girl is not dead. He knows what he will do, that in his hands and at his touch, there is no death, but only life. He finds the girl and takes her hand in his.

Her smooth hand is cold, lifeless, until that touch of the love and power of heaven to heal, which is Jesus' by way of his Father.

And she lives.

She rejoins her family and and resumes her life, but in a new way now, for her life has been transformed by Jesus and his touch. She knows that he holds the power of life in his hands, and that she lives because of him.

He is the Lord, even over death. As Welsh poet Dylan Thomas puts it, Death is no more.

As I read this gospel during Morning Prayer today, I found myself asking a question, perhaps one posed by God the Holy Spirit:

Lord Jesus: What in me, what in my relationships, what in this world is dead and is in need of your life-giving touch? I receive your touch now, Lord, and extend your therapeutic touch of love and life to others.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are you unbalanced?

Today at lunch, I saw a church member I hadn't seen at the Sunday Holy Eucharist in a long time. "I've missed you," I said. I say that to a lot of people these days.

She responded: "My life has gotten so out of balance."

She was the second person today who'd said that to me.

Life gets out of balance quickly because of family, work, travel, sports.

With so many commitments and so much stress, we jettison God, prayer, Bible reading, and especially weekly worship.

We say we don't have time. We declare, sometimes sharply: "I need that extra time on Sunday for my family. For myself."

The problem is that without that focus on God in daily prayer, silence, Scripture reading; without the Holy Eucharist or other worship at least once a week, every week, we lose our balance.

We wobble, then fall, and hurt ourselves, like a bicyclist who crashes on the roadside.

God becomes a stranger to us. Our fellow Christians who are in the pews from Sunday to Sunday become strangers to us as well.

Before long, we either forget about God altogether; or if we think about him and the possibility of worshiping him on a Sunday, we hesitate because we feel guilty or otherwise awkward returning to church after a long absence.

Perhaps we think God or the pastor will be angry with us.

But the Good News is that God's is always seeking us, wanting us back, welcoming us into his loving embrace when we re-turn to him.

I'm glad my friend recognized that her life had become unbalanced, that she was spending too much time working, too little time simply being with God.

If you're unbalanced, why not restore the balance right now? Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. And pray: "Come Lord Jesus."

And come, worship Christ this Sunday. He'll be glad you did. You'll be glad you did.

And that feeling you discover in worship will be what you've been missing for a long time now:


Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflecting on September 11, 2001 in Christian community

Yesterday, September 11, was Remembrance Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, MO. We remembered and prayed for the victims of the terrorist attacks ten years ago in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, PA.

And we recommitted ourselves to the work of love, justice, and peace as the followers of Jesus Christ, who met and destroyed evil, sin, and death forever.

Our worship at 11 am included a special piece of music composed by senior choir member Dr. Carlyle Sharpe, who teaches music composition at Drury University.

His offertory piece at the Holy Eucharist was based on Psalm 61 and was beautifully sung by our St. Gregory's Choir and by the Drury Singers, directed by our Director of Music Dr. Allin Sorenson.

Thank you Dr Sharpe, Dr. Sorenson, St. Gregory's Choir, Drury Singers, and Mrs. Barbara Hays, our organist.

Sunday after Sunday, many people comment on the beauty of worship at Christ Church, especially the music. I like to hear those comments. And yesterday, it seemed to me as if everyone who had worshiped at one of our three services felt moved, inspired, upheld in the midst of remembering a national horror. And everyone told me so.

As I reflect on Remembrance Sunday, I realize how important it is for people regularly to come together in prayer, music and hymns, silence, reflection on the Holy Scriptures, and for that Holy Communion with Christ and one another.

This gathering in worship of the living God is especially important on occasions like the anniversary of September 11.

Marriages, births, deaths, and other human experiences are occasions in which people want and need to enter into sacred space. It is our refuge in which to mourn our losses, to celebrate our blessings, to mark passages of all kinds. And it is there that we find deeper meaning, strength, courage, and wisdom for our earthly journeys.

Yesterday, as this country contemplated the terrible events of ten years ago, many of us turned to our communities of faith. There, we remembered the departed. We expressed our solidarity with their families. We listened to God's word and sought God's guidance for how we should live. We tried to find some meaning, however small, to help us carry on in this often frightening and unpredictable world.

In a television interview, one young man who had lost his father in the terrorist attacks said he was thankful he had his father for the first ten years of his life, which he regarded as the most formative one for him as a human being.

As I think about the services yesterday, I realize how much we human beings need one another and need to be together, especially in times of loss and sadness and confusion.

I also realize that these times when we are together with one another are also times when we are together with God. And in God, we people of faith find our fullest meaning and the hope and faith to live amid tragedy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Daily God consciousness

It's easy enough to do: save one's time with God for Sundays, if even then.

And that's too bad, for in doing so, we're missing out on God's second-by-second presence in our lives.

God, of course, is everywhere--not just in a church building's sacred space wherein God makes God's presence known to us in Word, Sacrament, and blessed community. Remember, Jesus says in the gospel--just this past Sunday, in fact--that, "When two or three are gathered together in my name, I am among them."

And the way to discover the everywhere-ness of God, as it were, is to practice mindfulness of God.

Try this for a day: in every task, however ordinary, offer it to God: when you're cutting the lawn, washing the dishes, writing a friend or a blog entry, walking or running or cycling, ask God to be part of that experience.

The monks at my favorite retreat site, the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky, pray as they work, "All for Thee."

In doing so, you'll further your consciousness of God, that second-by-second encounter with God. You'll discover God's presence with you everywhere and always, and not just on Sunday at church.

Indeed, with a consciousness overflowing with God's daily presence, you'll want to be in church and with God all the more.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ahh: life is good, very good

Today, Labor Day, is a gorgeous day, at least here in Springfield, MO. The sun beams from a cloudless blue sky, while cool breezes bring a welcome respite from the blistering triple digit temperatures of much of the summer.

And now, if only we could get some showers. This gorgeous day would then become a perfect one.

As I rode my bike early this morning, I felt joyful, thrilled to be alive. With all the problems in our country--including those caused or aggravated by weather and politicians and economics--I can easily lose sight of my blessings and the goodness of creation.

And so I need times like this morning to make me stop and consider the gifts of being alive.
Among them are: Penny and our 35 years of marriage; our daughter Clare, who is an excellent mother; and of course our grand daughters June Elizabeth and Christa Marie.

Yesterday, the two of them delighted in their own creation at our church picnic at Camp Shawio. (Christ Episcopal Church is another of my great blessings.) While Christa stayed close to her Grammy and played, June and her Poppy played football with the big kids on the lawn. June, who will soon be four years old, ran from one end of the field to the other, kicking and throwing the ball, and, at times, wrestling other youngsters for it.

On days like today, I remember that life is not a problem to be endured until we take our final breaths, but life is a gift to thank God for daily, to be celebrated and enjoyed, and to be lived as fully as possible every minute of every day. Our lives are precious and unrepeatable.

Yes, at times, we struggle, facing many problems and even tragedies. Today may be such a day for you (I'm sorry; please let me know how I can pray for you); but in my experience, the good things in life--like a bike ride on a bright cool morning--far exceed the bad things. In Genesis, God says of all God has made, it is good, very good.

May you know today--and every day--that God speaks the truth. Always.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Michele Bachmann on God's judgment

Whenever a hurricane or earthquake strikes, TV preacher Pat Robertson or someone of his particular theological persuasion will inevitably comment that God is punishing some part of humanity for a supposed transgression.

And today, U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota made just such a comment.

Ms. Bachmann, who draws many of her religious ideas from frightening fringe writers, said today that Hurricane Irene was God's judgement on Washington, D.C., for not being fiscally conservative enough.

She lashes out like a hurricane against Washington for spending too much public money--on the poor and ill and old, on schools, on research, on the unemployed, on food safety, on protecting the environment.

Her politics and religion, as recently reported, are more in line with the atheist proponent of selfishness Ayn Rand than with Jesus Christ. For more on her world view, read Ryan Lizza's profile of her in the New Yorker on August 15.

Ms. Bachmann believes God is destructive, angry, punishing. He uses nature to inflict pain and suffering on people who disobey his will, and his will coincides remarkably with her own.

She has created a god in her own image, which is the biblical definition of idolatry. John Wesley, the Anglican priest of the 18th century, once told a man who believed in such a god: "Sir, your god is the devil."

Unlike Ms. Bachmann's god, the one true God is bringing creation and order out of chaos. Natural disasters like Hurricane Irene are evidence of the disorder of creation. Creation is fallen, as are human beings, but God is raising up a fallen creation in redemption.

Despite what Ms. Bachmann believes, God's final word to humankind is not destruction, but new creation.

And new creation comes in Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior. Jesus brings order out of chaos. He begins this work in his life--remember the stories of his calming of the seas?--in his death on the cross, and in his resurrection. And he continues his saving work through the Holy Spirit until the end when he will come again to bring all things to their perfection.

May Michele Bachmann turn her heart from the proponents of selfishness, division, and hatred to the one true God who is revealed in Jesus, who says he has come not to judge and destroy the world, but to save it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happy birthday, Mother, on your 90th

Penny, Clare, grand daughters June Elizabeth and Christa Marie, and I went to Louisville this past weekend for a family gathering, our first in two years.

The occasion was my mother's 90th birthday. The whole family, together with many friends gathered around tables in my sister Antoinette's lovely home on the outskirts of Cherokee Park. We enjoyed food and drink and told stories.

We looked at pictures, including ancient ones of my grandfather Michael Bodner's garage in South Louisville. Over the weekend, Mother talked about how strong her mother, Katie, was--how she managed a business and reared six children and took care of her husband following his stroke when he was still a relatively young man.

Being away from Louisville now for 25 years, I miss hearing the stories and that sense of family togetherness. I know many families are more distant, and not just geographically, than they are close and know that some families are more for feuding than deep fellowship.

But not ours. Even when my brother Ed and I are arguing politics--we called a cease-fire for this event--we still know we're bound by blood and shared history. He knows I spent a year praying for him to survive his tour of duty as a combat infantryman in Vietnam, where he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

I'm proud of my brother's service. And I'm glad Air Force ROTC at the University of Louisville protected me from the draft and from Vietnam until the risk of draft passed over me like that angel of death who passed over the Israelites in Egypt. I'm content to let Ed be our only war hero. And thankful he's a living one.

Happily, my mother is in great health for a woman of her many years. She still drives and does some occasional work for my sister, who owns a women's clothing business in Louisville. She still attends Mass--if not daily, then at least on Sundays. I'm a person of faith because of my mother's holy example.

How has my mother lived so long? Her faith is the first and immediate answer that comes to my mind.

Her hearty, indomitable Germanic temperament is another. Mother is a hard worker. I used to joke that cleaning was her hobby. As a boy, I hated Saturdays, which were spent cleaning the house and yard. During the fall, Mother ordered me to keep the leaves raked up. I used to think she expected me to stand beneath the maples and oaks and catch the leaves as they fell. Our yard was always perfect. Just as our house was. Her house is immaculate today.

A woman of an indomitable and positive spirit, Mother's a survivor--of two marriages to alcoholic husbands and two divorces, which put her on the outs with the Roman Church for a time. When it was uncommon, she managed being a single mother with sole responsibility for providing for her children. She got work where she could and sacrificed to make sure we had what we needed. We children never had a lot, but always had what we needed. I still remember how food was rationed; I craved more than one slice of brisket at supper.

And she made sure that my siblings and I attended Roman Catholic schools for our religious and intellectual formation. The church was important to her. And still is. It's her foundation, as it was for her Austrian and Swiss forebears. I used to lament my time at the all-boys St. Francis of DeSales High School--I longed for the freedom (and girls) of public schools--but now I'm glad for the education and the self-discipline that those Carmelites imparted to me.

I'm the person I am largely because of my mother. I'm glad she's still with me. I hope that she'll be with me for years to come and that her great grand daughters, June and Christa, will come to know and love her as much as I do.

Happy birthday, Mother.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Which way?

In Terrence Malick's new film, "The Tree of Life," the character of Mrs. O'Brien, played ethereally by Jessica Chastain, says there are two ways of living--the way of nature and the way of grace.

Mrs. O'Brien lives the way of grace--open, free, loving, accepting, even angelic--while her husband, played by Brad Pitt, lives the way of nature.

He is a driven perfectionist, frustrated that he never succeeded as a musician, but instead had to make do managing a plant in Waco, Texas. Mr. O'Brien, at times a brutal disciplinarian, takes out his frustration on his three young sons, especially on first-born Jack.

Malick's film, which earned the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is imaginative, slightly autobiographical, certainly theological, but at times disjointed. It regularly departs from the conventional Hollywood narrative style of beginning, middle, and end--a point that a woman in the theatre noted when she said, "I just want t a story."

Amid stunning images from nature that tell the story of creation and shifts in time and perspective that tell the story of the O'Brien family, "The Tree of Life" raises important ultimate questions, including: Why is there evil? Is there a God? Does God care for creation?

(Malick, a graduate of Harvard, read philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.)

And at the heart of the film is the question: Is this universe governed by something transcendental--the way of grace--or by something more elemental and natural, the human struggle for survival in a hostile world?

His mother's voice echoing in his memory, Jack recalls his mother saying of the way of grace that the only true and lasting happiness is when we love. If only Mr. O'Brien had followed that same way.

For me, the question "The Tree of Life" raises is: Am I living the way of nature or the way of grace? The way of death? Or the way of life.

Frankly, some days I live the way of nature, when I let my fears and troubles dominate me, when I fail to trust Christ with my life. These are miserable days. Happily, they're becoming increasingly fewer.

In contrast, the days when I live the way of grace, as Mrs. O'Brien does, I feel like dancing in the sprinkler in the front yard. I feel like singing and laughing. I feel so light and free that I think I'll take flight and flutter off like a butterfly.

God makes humans for the way of grace, and I seek a life in which the days of grace greatly outnumber the days of nature.

When God and I dance in the sprinkler in the front yard. And neither of us cares who sees us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

God Blog: Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

God Blog: Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

A friend complained that people on social media were saying that God was responsible for the deadly tornadoes in Joplin, MO, and elsewhere. They say God sent the storms as judgment.

Meanwhile, others are saying that the storms present proof that God doesn't exist; if God did, why would he permit the tornadoes?

These are two common responses to tragedy. I suppose it's human to try to make sense of something bad in order to live with it. Some efforts at making sense, however, make no sense: tornadoes as God's judgment?

Moreover, in my observation, when bad things happen, those who feel that they have been wronged by God, the church, religious people regard bad things as yet more evidence for holding onto their grievances against God, the church, believers--be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other.

No, I don't have a satisfactory explanation for why natural disasters take place in a world that I believe is governed by a God of love and mercy. No definitive answer exists to the Why, God? question, although some tentative answers are sounder than others.

And I wonder, if we found the answer, would it really mitigate the loss, grief, suffering? No.

In the face of such tragedy, then--both on the grand scale of Joplin, MO, and on the smaller scale of the person lamenting a diagnosis of cancer or the loss of a job or a divorce--all I can do is defer the Why question for now and ask the most important question at a time like this: the What question.

What can I do to ease the suffering of my neighbors in Joplin and in many more communities across the Midwest and the South?

Here are a few suggestions:

Send a check to Episcopal Relief and Development and write "tornado response" on the memo line. Mail your check to ERD, The Episcopal Church, 815 Second Ave., New York, N.Y.

If you live in Springfield, bring bottled water, diapers, personal hygiene items to Christ Episcopal Church, 601 East Walnut St., Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm. We're gathering items now and will transport them to Joplin.

And if you believe in God, pray for God to help.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in the wonderful new film, "I Am," God has only you.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grief in the light of the resurrection

A friend wrote me today about her profound sadness at the death of her parents in the last several months. My friend is grieving. What is particularly acute is the painful awareness that now the two people who had been with her at the very beginning of her life and through the decades that followed are no longer "on this planet," as she wrote. She is also the oldest of her parents' two surviving children, and she feels she is next in line for death.

I can relate to my friend's grief. My father has departed this life, but my mother, at 89 years of age, is still alert and active and a model for me of aging. As my sister told me today, my mother's doctor told her, "If you stop, you die." Like my mother, I intend to keep moving.

But I know that when my mother finally stops moving, because her body won't carry her any farther, and she joins my father in the life to come, I, too, will likely feel what my friend is feeling today: that keen loss of both my parents and the growing sense of the finality of my own earthly existence. Finality, but not futility.

Death is a staggering and sobering realization--and one few of us take note of, because we keep busy and distracted so much of the time. We don't like to think about final things, and yet final things, the certainty of them, may be just what we need to pay more attention to, for when we do note them in the right way--in faith--we live with a renewed urgency and deepened sense of appreciation for the fragility and fleetingness of this human existence.

As I ask ultimate questions--notably: What happens when my loved ones die? What happens when I die?--I face the heart of my Christian faith. I believe. I believe that when the end comes, I shall not fall into the dark empty nothingness, but shall rise from my grave in the light of God's love and in the power of the resurrection to that eternal bliss.

The end that I face, in faith, gives me the hope and joy I need to live with the tragedies, the suffering, and the losses of this earthly life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Life with that great cloud of witnesses

Early this morning, I was in one of those liminal states, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, when I sensed my father's presence. He didn't speak. I didn't see him. But I'm sure he was there, as if right beside me, and his presence was one of love for me.

My father, Gilbert Hurt Chumbley, Sr., died in November 1994. Although we'd had our struggles over the years, especially because of his alcoholism, we loved one another. After a long absence from one another, we'd kiss one another on the cheek. I thought nothing about it. It seemed right.

Saturdays, when I still lived near him in Louisville we'd spend our mornings together, drinking coffee and talking. Then when I moved away--first to seminary in New York City and then to southern Kentucky and later to upstate New York--we'd talk on Saturdays by phone. We never missed a Saturday.

I knew my father loved me. He told me so. He showed me. He always told me how proud he was of me. I've tried to be that kind of father to my daughter Clare, and now, I'm trying to be that kind of grandfather to June Elizabeth and Christa Marie.

At every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, I remember my dad in the prayers for the departed, my spiritual director telling me a long time ago that doing so would help me stay connected with him spiritually. It works, too.

This morning in that dream state, my dad visited me. He was alive with love for me.

And then this morning at the Holy Eucharist at the sleepy hour of 7, I read the lesson from Hebrews 9.11-15, 24-28 and heard those words outwardly and inwardly.

The writer speaks about the Communion of Saints, that great cloud of witnesses who compasses us about, to quote the Prayer Book, with their loving and strengthening presence.

Today in my dream, the heavenly and earthly communions met, and my dad and I were together again, if only for an instant, and I believe and know that we shall be together again. Only momentarily in this world. But then eternally in the world to come.

Daddy, I love you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Standing with the Islamic community in Springfield, MO

At this week's meeting of our Interfaith Alliance, a member of the Islamic Center reported on the latest hate attack on her faith community. Someone had left an anonymous threatening letter at the center. The writer, she told us, said that Muslims don't belong in Springfield. He called for "death to Islam." And he left behind not only his odious letter, but also three partially burned Korans, the Muslim sacred scriptures. One of our constitutional rights as Americans is freedom of religion. Every person may worship the God of his or her choice or worship no God at all. This right is one for which Americans have fought and died to preserve throughout our history. Indeed, America was first settled by people who fled religious persecution in Europe. These dissenters came here for refuge from religious intolerance and for the freedom to worship as they wanted. And yet today, religious and political extremists, who are ignorant of American history and the Constitution or indifferent to them, are attacking Islam. Infamously, Representative Peter King of New York devoted congressional hearings to promoting the idea that Islam is a threat to America. Other vote-seeking politicians, along with ratings-crazed media stars of the right are using Islam to foster hate, hysteria, and division. The only antidote to fear is fact. We must learn about Islam, including from its faithful adherents. Members of the Springfield Interfaith Alliance are doing just that. We're not only learning from the local Islamic community, but we're also partnering with them in promoting a better community for all people. Hitler's rise to power was facilitated by the silence of many German Christian people. Such growth of rank evil cannot be allowed to take root and grow in our good community here. From pulpits and pews, at lunch tables and across backyard fences, people of faith and good will must speak out and to declare: There is only one God, and all people are brothers and sisters in God's one human family. The purveyors of hate and violence will neither separate us nor drive us into silence and fearfulness. We shall meet evil with love for and solidarity with the persecuted. This is our city, and it's a good community--one that we intend to maintain as a place of hospitality, not hostility.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lamenting the loss of a voice

Bob Herbert, a New York Times' columnist, announced in Saturday's paper that he was ending his column after 18 years. He said he'd be working outside of journalism to help the poor and other struggling people. Ordinarily, I'd take little notice of a columnist laying down his pen, but not this time. Herbert's leaving opinion journalism is a huge loss, especially for people who care about the growing distress of the poor and marginalized in America. In Saturday's column, Herbert opines, as he often did, about the growing chasm between the very rich and the very poor. He writes that, "The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation's wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent" (New York Times, Saturday, March 27). In the same column, he cites one important way that this shifting of wealth takes place. He writes, "Despite profits of $14.2 billion--$5.1 billion from its operations in the United States--General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year." GE managed this feat, according to the Times' report that Herbert quotes, through an "aggressive strategy that mixes lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore." Having been in business, I know corporations do a lot of good. I've seen it. They create products and services that improve and even extend our lives. And companies employ millions of Americans and give billions of dollars to charities. No responsible person would advocate abolishing American companies or expropriating their legitimately earned profits (shareholders expect returns on their investments) or nationalizing them. I'm not advocating such treatment. But Christians and others who care about justice need to be concerned that U.S. tax policy has, within the last decade or more, exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor. We need to be alarmed that deep cuts in spending on social welfare programs and public education have pummeled the poor and other vulnerable members of our society and have put everyone's future at risk. And we need to pay attention to what's happening in North Africa and in the Middle East and right here in America. Everywhere, the poor and even the middle class are demanding justice, mercy, and compassion. Bob Herbert was like one of those Old Testament prophets. They railed against the sins of the powerful in Israel who defied God and trampled upon the poor, the old, the young. And because the powerful ignored the Word of the Lord and failed to repent of their idolatry and injustice, they brought the wrath of God down upon themselves. I hope Herbert will be as successful outside journalism as he was inside it as a passionate, truth-telling advocate for the poor and oppressed. And I hope the people of America , including those who represent us in government, are listening to the voices of the prophets while there is still time to heed their warnings.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life could be a lot harder for Missouri's jobless, thanks to one state senator

Every day, I read the newspapers, and every day, I'm outraged.

If it's not the governor of Wisconsin taking money from billionaires and doing their union-busing bidding, it's a Kansas legislator advocating that illegal immigrants be shot dead from helicopters.

Yes, I'm serious; he really said it.

Here's today's outrage from right here in Missouri. The local paper reports that a Missouri state senator is introducing legislation that would refuse all Federal funds for extending unemployment benefits to the jobless and for supporting public education in the state.

And if he doesn't get his way, he says he'll filibuster all legislation. He'll shut government down.

Why? He claims Missouri voters gave him and like-minded legislators a mandate to cut the Federal deficit. He'll pay any cost to do so.

Of course, the cost of such shortsighted legislation is never paid by the politicians who push it, but it's always paid by the unemployed, the young, and the poor.

I'm waiting for this Missouri senator and his bill's co-sponsors to share in the sacrifice and suffering that they're wanting to impose on some of Missouri's most vulnerable citizens.

They can start by foregoing their tax-payer supported salaries and benefits.

Perhaps then--with foreclosures threatened, their utilities shut off, and their children crying with hunger--they'll feel the pain they're inflicting on others and start acting to relieve the pain of all those Missourians who are hurting.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt is a reminder

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, people are clamoring for justice, freedom, and peace.

In theological terms, theirs is a cry for the coming of the Kingdom of God or Heaven, depending upon which gospel writer you're reading.

We in this country--with our material abundance and our freedoms and our dysfunctional democracy--would do well to pay attention to the protest movements abroad.

People abroad are tired of autocracy. They're tired of oppression. They're tired of slavery under harsh and heartless rulers. They want to know that they will have what they need for good, healthy, and happy lives for themselves and for their children and grandchildren.

It's a worthy desire, even a timeless one, and it's at the heart of the prophetic tradition of biblical religion.

A few Sundays ago, Christians who follow the Sunday lectionary heard the prophet Micah tell God's people, especially those who had forgotten the deepest part of their faith in God and faithfulness to Him as His servant people.

To paraphrase Micah, God requires of all His people--Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of all faiths--that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Would that Mubarak in Egypt had done so for the last 30 years of his rule. Would that the leaders of Yemen, of Jordan, of Algeria, of Iran, of Afghanistan, of Iraq would do so.

I hope all the world's leaders, including those in this country, are paying attention to protests.

Would that every ruler and every political party heed the words of the prophet Micah and all the prophets and realize that their loyalty is not to party, not to ideology, not to rich contributors, but ultimately and fundamentally to the God of justice.

Those in positions of authority are God's servant on earth, and as such, they are also servants of God's beloved children. All of them.

When we see that kind of governance--and perhaps it's beginning abroad--we'll see the Kingdom of God or Heaven emerging on earth, which is God's intent.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading the Bible through many eyes

When we read the Holy Scriptures through our own eyes only, we see only part of what God wants to reveal to us.

But when we read the Scriptures with others, through many eyes, then we more fully see what God wants to show us about Himself, ourselves, our relationships, and the world beyond our doors.

The theme of this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, which I recently attended, was "Reading Scripture through Many Eyes."

This year's lectures and discussions were illuminating. Two lectures in particular were helpful in broadening my understanding of reading and interpreting the Bible.

In the first lecture of the institute, Dr. Walter Bruggemann, a retired professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia Seminary, traced the history of biblical interpretation over the centuries.

He started with the literalist reading and interpreting of the Bible and then moved on to the historical/critical method of the 19th and 20th centuries and concluded with a call for what he described as a post-critical reading and interpretation for today.

This post-critical method employs the best of its predecessors--the spiritual devotion often found among the literalists, the questioning rationalism of the modernists--and unites it with even more perspectives: psychology, sociology, trauma and gender studies, political theory, and more.

In a more rounded, even global view, readers more fully see the living Word of God amid the words of these sacred texts.

During the last lecture of the institute, Dr. Gerald West, a Biblical scholar from South Africa, looked at ways to involve church people in a deep and thorough process of Scripture reading and reflecting.

This approach sounded a lot like the African Bible study method or the Liberation Theology approach of reading and responding to the Bible in Base Communities.

West urged readers to gather around the Scriptures, to respond to the Word through our many and diverse experiences, and then to share with one another what we hear God saying to us--what God is calling us to be and to do, in African Bible study language.

"The Bible," West said, "belongs to the whole community." He urged readers of the Scriptures to listen not just to one another, but also to "people on the margins," including the poor, the homeless, the sick--whoever the marginalized are.

From church history, I know that when the church has been its most vital, it is because it has reconnected with its ancient roots in the Holy Scriptures. Out of that encounter with the living Word, Christians have renewed, even revolutionized the church and society.

Look what happened during the Protestant Reformation. Remember what inspired the Abolitionist Movement in Britian and in this country during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, what if we church people started reading the Bible together, inviting everyone to participate, including the marginalized? Reading the Bible through many eyes, we might get a fuller picture of the living God and His relationship to us and to the world.

We might even say, "We're reading the Bible. Watch out church and world. Change is coming."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let it snow

I'm in my study watching waves of snow blow past my window. Streets are empty. The only sound is that of the wind whoosing through the trees. It's a time when the feverish pace of life, including my own, slows. A time perhaps when God whispers: Be still and know that I am God.

Today, if the snow confines you, or reduces your activities, or at least forces you to pause amid your usual hurry, thank God for the gift of snow. Seek its blessings. Pray for those who are poor and poorly sheltered, that God will minister to them. Remember those must work amid the storm.

And instead of cursing the snow, contemplate this wonder of God's creation.