A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
June 28, 2018 Free and Responsible Beings, United in Love
At our foundation, we were a society with strong covenantal attachments — to family, community, creed and faith. Then on top of them we built democracy and capitalism that celebrated liberty and individual rights. The deep covenantal institutions gave people the capacity to use their freedom well. (David Brooks “Our Elites Still Don’t Get It”)
In a 2017 New York Times column from which the above quote is taken, David Brooks makes the argument that, at our best, our nation has balanced individual liberty with a strong sense of community. But in recent years, the trend has been towards greater liberty but weaker community, as the major institutions of commitment (like marriage, religion, community organizations, and government) have declined in influence and credibility. Brooks says that often, when alternate forms of community arise to replace those that have been abandoned, the results are unhealthy, with a kind of tribalism (us vs. them politics, racism, internet mobs and so on). Those who find no sense of community at all, healthy or unhealthy, sometimes fall into extreme individualism and isolation, with symptoms like addiction, malaise, video game obsession, or paranoia.
This week before Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the blessing of liberty, which, as Benjamin Franklin said, is “not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” Our constitutionally protected freedoms strengthen our democracy, and serve as a bulwark against tyranny at home, and an inspiration to the rest of the world, even (perhaps especially) in this challenging period in our national life. When we use our liberty to choose freely to bond with others for justice and the common good, that is perhaps the highest expression of our national values and our founders’ intent.
This is one area in which our faith and our national life converge: in both, there is this theme of free people choosing to commit to one another for a purpose greater than themselves. Our collect this weekend has a marvelous image of the Church as community: we are a holy and living temple, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. This temple of God is never coercive, like the great pyramids of Egypt constructed by forced labor. God always gives us the choice, first to be joined with one another and with Christ in baptism, and second, to live out our baptism through a genuine love of God and our neighbor.
We give heartfelt thanks for the liberties we enjoy as Americans, and for the opportunity to gather freely in churches, families, and community organizations to work for the common good. May we fight the temptation either to be too individualistic and isolated, or to affiliate with groups or ideologies (real and virtual) that are hateful, selfish, and intolerant. And we live in hope, for the Bible gives us a vision, at the end of all things, of a perfect balance between liberty and community. As the theologian John Macquarrie so beautifully puts it: “the end, we have seen reason to believe, would be a commonwealth of free, responsible beings united in love.” May it be so, on earth as it is in heaven.
• Summer is a time when we see a lot of guests, both those visiting family and friends from out of town, and those who are looking for a church home. For this reason, it is an excellent time to wear our name tags, as a sign of our hospitality. Really, we ought to wear them every week, all year round, because in a church our size, it is impossible to know everyone by name. But many of us have been getting out of the habit. Church name tags can be left on the metal kiosk after worship, and since they are magnetic, they don’t damage clothes. If you don’t have a name tag, please fill out a form in the narthex, and we will be glad to provide one for you.
• Did you know that 104 members of our church have been involved with our Prison Ministry this year? Many other members of the wider community have been involved, as well. That means that, over the past year, our Prison Ministry has become one of our largest ministries at All Saints’. Well done, and thanks be to God!
June 21, 2018 How to Apply the Bible to Contemporary Issues: Some Basics, and the Crisis on our Border
Since the writing of this reflection, there have been major developments in the story, but many of the essential themes remain relevant.
So anyone who thinks he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them. Saint Augustine (On Christian Teaching)
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Saint Paul (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Applying scriptural lessons to contemporary issues and events ought to be done with a great deal of humility, even caution, for there are relatively few matters on which the Bible is totally clear. Much of the time when the Bible is invoked in the public square, certain verses are cherry picked to support a political position, which does little to clarify things, but usually obscures them, inflaming rather than informing the situation. We ought to remember that the Devil used scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. When Jesus resisted the temptation, he used scripture, too, but did so with a deeper understanding of the spiritual themes and core meaning beneath.
This does not mean that we should give up on trying to see contemporary issues through the lens of faith. Indeed, we are called to do so, and as Saint Paul teaches us in the quote above, the scriptures are meant to be used to shed light on matters individual and communal, personal and political. The scriptures are practical tools; they are “useful,” for “training,” helping us to be “proficient” and “equipped.” But, like many tools, the scriptures are not easy to use, and proficiency with them takes serious commitment and practice.
Still, amidst the complexities of the Bible and our interpretation of it, there are major, underlying themes in its pages. As we seek to navigate choppy waters and foggy skies in these tumultuous times in our national life, the Bible is our map, and our compass is the core of Jesus’ teaching: the love of God and our neighbor. As Saint Augustine said, if our understanding of Scripture does not build up our love of God and our neighbor, we have not truly understood. Put to another test: does our Biblical argument produce the fruits of the spirit in ourselves and others: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? (Galatians 5: 22-23).
There are countless wise teachings in the Bible, and “all scripture is inspired by God,” but not all teachings are of equal urgency. So, for example, the Bible teaches that those "who do not work should not eat,” (2 Thess 3:10), but if someone is about to starve to death, we are called to feed them. A human life is more important than learning a lesson about shared labor. Mercy always takes priority. When we think about the love of our neighbor, the Bible is as clear as it is on anything that we are to start with protecting the most vulnerable. The vulnerable come first, and sorting out the rest comes after.
Therefore, when it comes to any issue, including how to treat children brought by their parents into this country illegally, or seeking asylum, we can assert with confidence, from a Biblical point of view, that we are to treat those vulnerable children with genuine compassion. To me, that clearly means keeping families together as much as is possible, in safe and humane conditions. Care for and welcome of the vulnerable is our most important mandate, for they are our neighbors, made in God’s image. I find it dismaying that not all Christians seem to agree.
At the same time, can we be honest, and admit that most issues that have not yet been solved are incredibly complex, including what to do about our broken immigration system? While less important than the protection of the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger, it is also true that the Bible urges us to obey civil laws and authorities. Well-regulated and secure borders are necessary and keep people safe. We have not yet begun to ask, let alone answer the truly difficult questions on this topic.
Would we prefer to keep these immigrant families of uncertain or transitional status together, but in some kind of government facility? If we release people for later hearing dates, how do we make it likely that they will show up for those hearings? How do we discourage human trafficking and the cruel and unfair manipulation of the system? And, more deeply, what kind of country have we been, and who do we want to be? How do we, as a society, evaluate fairly and with compassion those who come to us seeking greater opportunity and safety, while recognizing reasonable limits on and priorities in immigration? After this immediate humanitarian crisis is resolved, and I pray that happens quickly, I hope some in government and in the media will be willing to explore the genuine complexity of this web of issues, beyond the internet memes and indignant talking points.
What frustrates me most is that there are common sense solutions to the challenges we face in our national life, and I dearly wish there were more people committed to working together and finding them, instead of stoking outrage and sowing division. But until that time when reason prevails, we in the Church ought to focus on the Biblical essentials, especially the well-being and dignity of every human being, with charity for diverse views beyond these Biblical first principles.
• Ever feel like your weekly experience of the Eucharist is unfocused and a bit stale? This Sunday at our summer education time at 9am, I will share some practical tips on how to be more fully present in the Eucharist, allowing it to nourish us more deeply.
• This Monday is the start of our annual version of vacation Bible school, All Saints’ Kids for the Community. Please keep our young people and their mentors in your prayers as they serve those in need in our area, as an expression of their faith.
June 14, 2018 Jesus Never Took a Vacation
“And so we take a holiday, a vacation, to gain release from this bondage for a space, to stand back from the rush of things and breathe again. But a holiday is a respite, not a cure. The more we need holidays, the more certain it is that the disease has conquered us, and not we it. More and more holidays just to get away from it all is a sure sign of a decaying civilization; it was one of the most obvious marks of the breakdown of the Roman empire. It is a symptom that we haven’t learned how to live so as to recreate ourselves in our work instead of being sapped by it.”
--Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)
Evelyn Underhill, the great Anglican spiritual writer whose feast day falls every year on June 15, wrote brilliantly on many topics. Don’t take my word for it - we have several of her books available for check-out from our parish library. Her work on Christian mysticism, for example, is some of the most insightful commentary on that topic (she believed that all of us are mystics at heart, capable of profound experiences of the living God). But I was particularly taken, as I was reading some Underhill thisweek, with her quote above, on the topic of vacation.
So many of us live under such stress and anxiety that, when we find time for vacation, we are like gasping fish, stranded on the shore, that have been plopped by a merciful hand back into life-giving water. Underhill would surely not say, nor would I, that vacations are unnecessary. We all need the sabbath rest and refreshment that comes with time away from our usual responsibilities (even if it is a “staycation” in our own homes). Vacation is a blessing, and I hope all of us are finding some time this summer away from our usual routines (and from the heat!). Don’t forget, if you are out of town on a Sunday, how rewarding it is to worship in another church, whether Episcopal or not (I love to see bulletins from other churches, if you think to bring one back).
Yes, vacation is helpful, enjoyable, and good. But it is perhaps more important to live daily lives that are themselves rewarding, with pockets of renewal within and around them. A week of vacation is no substitute for a well-balanced existence, grounded in healthy relationships with God, our family and friends, co-workers, and ourselves. Does your daily life include “sabbath” times each day and each week, when you can rest, reflect, and reconnect? If you are seeking to add a spiritual time of refreshment, remember that All Saints’ offers many opportunities for prayer outside of our weekend Eucharists, opportunities that continue in the summer, including two Wednesday morning Eucharists, Evening Prayer now Monday through Thursday, Centering Prayer on Saturday mornings, and Rosary Prayer on Sunday mornings. A spiritual practice is one way to seek more balance and reprioritize amidst a hectic life.
Underhill went on to say, on the topic of vacation, that Jesus never took one! Her rather humorous point was that Jesus, who was busier and more stressed than anyone, never seemed overwhelmed. As she writes, Jesus “knew exactly when the moment had come for doing something, and when it had not.” All of us fall short of Jesus’ example, but in this, as in all things, he is an aspirational model for us: are we using our time wisely and healthily, for our good and the good of those around us, or are we controlled and exhausted by our schedule and our task list? Jesus was busy, but never lost sight of the things that were most important. Something for fathers, and for all of us to think about.
• The church staff held our annual staff retreat and planning session this past week. For our retreat day, we met at the Franciscan Renewal Center, and, amidst our
hard work, enjoyed a tour of their new church building, which is beautiful. We are blessed to have such a dedicated and talented staff at All Saints', and the 2018-19 program year that begins in September is going to be remarkable. Stay tuned!
June 7, 2018 The Widow’s Mite 2018
looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more
than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but
she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
Last week, we received a wonderful donation. It wasn’t large - just $15 - but was an act of extraordinary generosity. It came from an inmate at Perryville Prison (I will not use her real name, but will call her “Susan”), issued as an official check from the Arizona State Department of Corrections. Susan wrote a note that was included: “Enclosed is a check for 15 dollars. Thank you for all the cards and prayer throughout the year. Susan. God Bless You.”
Inmates at Perryville make about 20 cents an hour for their work, and, as I understand it, use what they earn to buy from the prison shop the little things that make their environment more humane: gum, snacks and the like. And so $15 represents about 75 hours of work by Susan, a precious resource she chose to donate to All Saints’ in thanksgiving for our ministry there. If ever there was a modern version of the story of the Widow’s Mite, this is it, for Susan gave generously out of her poverty. We prepared a nice thank you letter, with a beautiful image from our Saint John’s Bible, and sent it to her, with our deepest appreciation.
There are a lot of days in ministry that are fairly average, and a few that are discouraging, but there are some that make your heart sing, and the day we received that check was one of those. We are making a difference, a real difference in the lives of the inmates at Perryville: with our card ministry, our Christmas gifts for their children, our recent visits, and the art display by inmates coming to All Saints’ in September. And this past Sunday morning, the backpacks we were preparing for the children of the incarcerated who are going to Chapel Rock for camp this July were snatched up before all the pews were even empty. Something about this ministry at Perryville has touched a chord with All Saints’, and it is joyful to see it. God is blessing us through this ministry every bit as much as God is using us to bless the prisoners there.
The churches that struggle, in my experience, often have watered down faith, low expectations for members, lots of comfort with little that is spiritually challenging, and a constant focus on keeping attendees content. Churches that are strong and healthy are just the opposite: they preach and teach the challenging faith given to us by Jesus, they invite members into deeper faith and involvement, coach the spiritual practices that improve spiritual fitness, and are committed to serving and advocating for the most vulnerable.
When I see the number of our members who have committed to lead Evening Prayer, the terrific group who are showing up on Sunday mornings to learn how to pray the Daily Office on their own, and the passion we have for our ministry with prisoners (who are some of the loneliest and most vulnerable people in our world), it gives me confidence that God will continue to bless All Saints’ for God’s reconciling mission in the world.
May 31, 2018 How Dusty Is Your Prayer Book?
To the seventeenth - or indeed nineteenth-century lay [person] the Prayer Book was not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving. It was a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from the church to kitchen, to parlor, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality. Martin Thornton “The Anglican Spiritual Tradition"
I still have my first Prayer Book, by which I mean the first Book of Common Prayer that actually belonged to me (not just in the pews). I received it, like so many Episcopalians, as a Confirmation gift as a teenager. I dutifully moved it, with my other books, from place to place in my young adult years. But as my inherited, rather tentative childhood faith grew into a committed adult faith, in my mid-twenties, I pulled it off the shelf and began to use it: first, for personal prayer, then the daily prayers of the Church (the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer).
And when, during my training for priesthood, I served a year as a full-time hospital chaplain in Connecticut, that Prayer Book became my constant companion. I realized, that year working in the hospital, that there were times for spontaneous prayers, and there were times when the finely honed, poetically resonant, handed down prayers of the tradition were more comforting for some people. I carried that beaten-up Book of Common Prayer from my Confirmation everywhere I went in the hospital, and came to use it, more and more. It wasn’t just the prayers for the sick and dying that I turned to. I learned, for example, that the night prayers of Compline were just right when keeping vigil with someone in their last hours, or even just the psalms, read simply in succession.
This June, starting this Sunday at 9am, we are offering three classes on how to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from our Prayer Book. I wish our Daily Office were more intuitive (perhaps a future Prayer Book will be). But, in my experience, it takes an hour or two to get really comfortable with it. These will be very practical classes for beginners: not much history, but mostly how to pray the Offices on one’s own. It’s ok if you have to miss one of the classes: come as you are able. Bring a Prayer Book from home, or grab one out of the church (please put it back after class!). Once you know how to pray the full version of the Offices, you can scale it back, as you wish. We’ll also discuss the many electronic versions available.
In a couple of weeks, we will begin our new Evening Prayer schedule, offering it twice as often as before: Monday through Thursday evenings at 5:30 in the chapel, led by teams of volunteers. I hope that the combination of more regular public Offices and regular training for individual Morning and Evening Prayer will lead to a higher percentage of our people making use of this wonderful resource, which is one of the basic practices of Christian discipleship in our Anglican tradition (think of it as the “pushup" of spiritual fitness).
My very first Prayer Book is indeed, as Thornton describes, a “beloved and battered possession, a life-long companion and guide.” In fact, it’s really too worn and tattered now to be used regularly anymore, and was long ago replaced with a handsome, larger one (with ribbon bookmarks!). I hope our renewed emphasis at All Saints’ on actually using the Prayer Book will lead many to pull our dusty books off the shelf, or buy one (churchpublishing.org), and carry it around for prayer on our own and with our families, public worship, and instruction in the faith. Like those in ages past, it can be, for us, the very symbol of a “domestic” (by which Thornton means “everyday” and, above all, practical) spirituality.
May 24, 2018 What Is the Curry Moment About, Anyway?
What a whirlwind week it has been for The Episcopal Church. It was clear in the days before the royal wedding that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon was going to get some media attention. But I doubt anyone suspected that, in the days following the wedding, Bishop Curry would continue to be a national story, appearing on the Today show, Good Morning America, the View, and even being parodied on Saturday Night Live (a sure sign of viral celebrity!). But what will be the lasting effect of Bishop Curry’s brush with fame for The Episcopal Church?
Opinions range from “none at all” to “game changing,” and a lot is being written this week about how best to use this cultural momentum for the growth of the Church (some of which, frankly, has the sense of desperation, as if Curry’s sermon is, like a Hail Mary pass, going to transform our denomination’s fortunes in a glorious instant). At All Saints’, we have boosted our Facebook and website presence in an effort to reach out to and be prepared for any spiritually curious folks who may be inspired to check out a local Episcopal church. As I mentioned on Sunday, I hope all of us will look out for appropriate opportunities to share our enthusiasm for The Episcopal Church and All Saints’ in particular.
My hunch is that we may see a modest uptick of summer visitors, as a result of our denomination’s positive moment in the public eye. We’ll see. Hopefully we are always ready to welcome guests warmly to All Saints’, and hopefully they find in us a community committed to following Jesus by loving God and our neighbor. If more people become curious about what God is doing in and through us, all the better.
To me, though, part of what this “Curry moment” speaks to is the deep hunger for authentic spirituality that I believe lives within every human heart. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” Saint Augustine famously said. Bishop Curry’s preaching style is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no question that, in his joyful and deeply felt preaching, he communicates a genuine and winsome faith. God works in mysterious ways. Some with no religious affiliation who tuned into the wedding ceremony out of casual interest in celebrity culture may have found themselves moved by the Holy Spirit in ways they did not expect.
There is also something powerful specifically about Curry’s theme of love. In a less gifted preacher, it could easily have come across as saccharine and sentimental. But in moving far beyond the love of Harry and Meghan, to the love of God that is the root of all human loves, a love that is expressed in prayer and justice, and most of all in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, Curry was tapping into a deep theological spring that flows through the Bible and through human history by way of the saints. The essence of love, in any healthy form (romantic, friendly, familial, or divine) is our concern for another. It is loving the other as much as we love ourselves. And that kind of sacrificial love is all too absent in our world of hatred, selfishness, greed, deceit, and isolation.
Real love is humble, and it is unfailingly generous. It is indeed powerful, because it is of God. Our loving others begins in our realization that we are profoundly loved, by the One who is Love itself.
May 17, 2018 The Royal Wedding: an Episcopal Opportunity?
Did you hear the big news? For their wedding on Saturday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle invited to be the preacher the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry. No doubt part of the rationale is that Ms. Markle is an American, as is Bishop Curry, but I suspect the invitation is mostly a reflection of Bishop Curry’s well-deserved reputation as a dynamic and joyful preacher.
I have always felt that weddings and funerals in The Episcopal Church are golden opportunities to show our tradition at its best, especially if our clergy, musicians, and volunteers give these pastoral moments our full attention, with genuine Good News enthusiastically preached, played and sung, and hospitality warmly given. It is hard to beat the Book of Common Prayer for elegant solemnity at weddings, and sure and certain comfort at funerals, if we don’t water it down, chop it up, rush through it, or try carelessly to “improve” upon it. I’ve known quite a few people who have joined The Episcopal Church because the Holy Spirit touched them deeply through these prayerful liturgies at important transition times in their lives.
I am delighted that our Presiding Bishop will be preaching at such a high profile event, and, in addition to being a blessing to the happy couple, I hope his sermon will make more people aware of what The Episcopal Church has to offer. Bishop Curry is a uniquely gifted speaker, but his continual focus on Jesus and his joyful demeanor in his enthusiasm for the gospel and for God’s justice are not unique to him, but can be found, expressed in a variety of ways, throughout much of our Church. We are, as Bishop Curry says often, “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement,” and perhaps in the days and weeks after this special wedding, God may inspire the spiritually curious to explore The Episcopal Church online and in person.
We can all help encourage this exploration, by respectfully sharing, when the opportunity presents itself in conversation, that we too, like Bishop Curry, are proud and joyful Episcopalians, and members of the Anglican Communion. We want neither to miss, nor to crassly overplay The Episcopal Church’s moment in the public eye. But in the end, as with all evangelism, the opportunity is not chiefly ours, but God’s. We can share enthusiastically our love for our own branch of the Jesus movement in all its tradition and big-tent, inclusive variety. And we ought to do so. But the movement of the Holy Spirit in the human heart is mysterious and unexpected, as we see in the Pentecost story. It enlightens and connects us to God and each other in the most unlikely of ways. Often, we are merely witnesses to what God is doing. Come, Holy Spirit!
• As our program year comes to a close, I am so grateful for the ministries of all our staff and volunteers, especially our marvelous music staff and many choirs, and our dedicated Christian education teachers and mentors. Thank you, and enjoy some well-earned rest and refreshment this summer!
• I was pleased to hear last Sunday that our Women’s Breakfast group, a relatively new ministry, is growing, with nine women at the most recent meeting. In a big church like ours, finding ways to connect in smaller groups is so important, and many of these ministries “bubble up” from our lay volunteers, rather than from staff.
• Speaking of new ministries taking off, one of the great successes of this year has been our prison ministry. I was honored to preach and celebrate the Eucharist at Perryville Prison this past Saturday, and spent time with women who have been impacted by our ministry there. I’ll be talking about this in my sermon this Sunday at 11am.
May 10, 2018 My Favorite Mother’s Day Poem
This poem, by the 20th century Australian poet Judith Wright, is a wonderful and witty critique of gender roles and expectations in the guise of a Mother’s Day poem.
It’s far from your usual greeting card sentimentality: a mother, seeing her son in mortal danger, but being too far away to help him, chooses, of all things, to capture the scene with art. It’s a surprising decision. We expect her to make some helping gesture, however futile: at least a panicked yell or cry of distress. But, as it turns out, her choice is inspired. For there was nothing she could do, except trust her daughter to save the boy (which she does, with an alpenstock - a long pole with a hook, used by Swiss shepherds to herd wayward sheep). What the mother can do, she does: she sketches the scene, preserving the legendary story for generations to come, including for her great great granddaughter, the poet, a strong-willed artist in her own right.
Thank you, mothers and mother figures, for your maternal love and care. And thank you, also, for your many other God-given gifts that make you unique and precious in God’s eyes and in our own, including your strength to make the best of even the most challenging situations. May God bless you and keep you in all that you do.
Request To A Year (By Judith Wright)
If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great- great- grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,
who having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland
and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice flow,
drift down the current toward a waterfall
that struck rock bottom eighty feet below,
while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).
Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist's isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.
Year, if you have no Mother's day present planned,
Reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.
• We welcome with joy and appreciation Bishop Smith and his wife, Laura, this Sunday. He will be with us one last time before his retirement - he will be here for All Saints’ Sunday, our feast of title, in November. But this is his last confirmation visit. We thank him for his years of faithful service to the diocese of Arizona, and we thank Laura for her own important ministry and presence, as well.
• This Sunday also marks the second performance by our new community choristers, at the 9am service. They have been working hard at their Friday night rehearsals. What a blessing it is to see this program growing, as a new ministry of the church.
May 3, 2018 A Book Recommendation: “Walk in Love"
Not long after I arrived at All Saints’ almost nine years ago, I decided I wanted to teach most of the adult confirmation class myself, something I have continued to do (with help from a wonderful and wise lay person as co-leader, and with one class taught by one of my fellow priests when I was out of town). This week, the most recent cohort, about a dozen in all, finished their eight week process, in anticipation of Bishop Smith’s visit with us on May 13th. I really enjoy teaching the faith, and all the more so to a group that commits their valuable time to learning together and forming a sense of community (most of us shared a simple meal before each class to get to know each other better). Over the years, those adults who have enrolled in the confirmation class (whether to be confirmed or received or renewed) have often become some of our most dedicated volunteers. This year’s marvelous group will, I suspect, follow that trend. Of all of the different things I do as Rector, I believe teaching is one of the most important. For if we do not understand our faith, we will be able neither to practice it, nor to pass it down.
The adult confirmation class this time around has been reading a new book, published in February, which I heartily recommend for anyone. “Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices” (Forward Movement) by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe is a fairly long paperback (over 300 pages), but a relatively quick read. It is the most thorough and yet accessible resource on Episcopal faith and practice that I know of. For our adult confirmands, I felt confident that, if they read the book cover to cover, they would gain a solid understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian. I would strongly endorse the book both for those new to The Episcopal Church, and for those looking for a refresher. Many Episcopalians have a vague feeling that they don’t know as much as they wish they did about our faith tradition. This likely reflects the reality that many of us were confirmed as youth, and have perhaps not prioritized spiritual learning as adults. “Walk in Love” is an excellent way to get caught up on the essentials of The Episcopal Church. While it’s not exactly “beach reading,” I think most people will find it not only informative but enjoyable.
• I am thrilled that 18 people so far have signed up to learn how to pray Evening Prayer and lead it on weekdays at All Saints’. There are only two spots remaining. This is a core spiritual practice that, like a pattern of exercise, is going to transform the spiritual lives of the participants gradually, over time. Look for more news in the weeks to come about our new schedule of Evening Prayer.
April 26, 2018 The Resurrection Only Moves Forward
"If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
It was heartwarming to see, this past week, the outpouring of affection for the Bush family as our nation mourned Barbara Bush. Barbara Bush was admired by many, if not most people across the political spectrum. A devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, she served as First Lady with humor and humility, and was a dedicated volunteer in the communities in which she lived. And she had a particular love for children. One of her most impactful and iconic moments was when she tenderly held a baby with AIDS in 1989, sending a powerful message of compassion at a time when AIDS was greatly feared and poorly understood by the public. A woman of strong and evident faith, Barbara Bush’s funeral was at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. The service showed our Episcopal tradition at its best, and as our liturgy does so well, struck a comforting balance between prayer and remembrance.
As many commentators have noted, some of the depth of our national mourning for Barbara Bush comes from our mourning for a more civil time in our national and political life that many fear is gone forever. We should not be naive: politics was tough in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and divisions deep. But it does feel as if that toughness has hardened in recent years, and the divisions deepened, inflamed by the toxic influence of social media. More and more, we see those with whom we disagree politically as enemies, not as friends and fellow citizens whom we respect but with whom we occasionally differ. Many people ask: can we just go back to the way things were twenty or thirty years ago? Of course, we can’t, and it probably wouldn’t be healthy even if we could. We can’t turn back the clock, and for all the things we lament about our current times, there is much that has improved. Overall, poverty, crime, and disease have decreased over the past decades, our understanding of difference has broadened, and technology (for all its ills) has opened up much new opportunity and progress.
Even when it comes to our political divisions, I find several reasons to be hopeful. First, groups of people tend to swing toward cultural and political tendencies and back like a pendulum. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a political trend, across party lines, towards more technocratic, solutions-oriented, common sense, centrist, and even rather bland leaders and approaches to issues. Second, I have confidence that communities like All Saints’, which foster friendships and conversations across differences, will be sought out by more and more people who seek the common good. And third, but most importantly, I have hope because I am a person of faith. The Easter story of resurrection is about something new being created out of something old: not returning to what was, but transforming into a different and better kind of reality. The resurrection isn’t resuscitation; it doesn’t go back, it only moves forward to what will be. And so, even in times of challenge, we believe that something new and potentially better may arise, by God’s grace.
As I write this on Thursday, many public school teachers are beginning a walkout, as they seek more funding for education in our state, which is ranked near the bottom nationally in this category. I have heard a variety of different perspectives from our All Saints’ membership on this topic, and we should all respond as our conscience and faith guide us, but I suspect most of us can agree on some central, nonpartisan points:
• we want our schools and teachers to have what they need in order to teach our children effectively.
• school funding is important for our economic development, but chiefly important for our children, who are our most precious resource.
• we hope and pray that all sides will come together quickly for a fair and reasonable solution that gets everyone back in school as soon as possible.
• we need to do what we can to support vulnerable children and families while schools are closed. We can do this in several ways. We can help spread the word about the options available for families who are seeking activities and/or care for their children. There are many such resources online, like this one: https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/kids/2018/04/20/teacher-walkout-phoenix-arizona-camps-kids/536418002/. We should also consider tangible efforts to help these families, such as donations to St. Mary’s Food Bank, one of our closest mission partners. They are collecting extra food to help feed families who depend on the school lunch programs: http://www.azfamily.com/story/38024887/st-marys-food-bank-helping-families-during-teacher-walkout.
May a just, reasonable, and sustainable solution come quickly.
April 19, 2018 Finding Our Purpose
You may have heard the old story: two people were laying bricks to build a church. Someone asked them, “what are you doing?” The first said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m building God’s house.” The first had a job; the second had a calling.
Human beings are happier and more productive when we feel a sense of calling, of purpose. When we understand why we are doing something, its deeper meaning, and how our work fits with that of others, we are participating in something greater than ourself, and not just a task. Most of our “ministry” is out in the world, in our families, workplaces, and wherever we may be. We can have purpose - to be God’s light in dark moments - anywhere.
There are also ministries of purpose at and through the Church, which deepen our faith. This is true of our children and youth, as much as for adults. When it comes to Sundays, a child or youth sitting in worship may be bored. Ask them to help in a ministry, like acolyting, reading, or greeting as a family, and they are likely to be more engaged. Explain to them WHY their ministry is so important, and they will often light up with enthusiasm.
And so, I was filled to overflowing with joy at the debut of our young choristers from the community at our 9am service last Sunday. These singers have been practicing hard for weeks on Friday nights, and now they were not only singing, but leading our praise of God in song, alongside our adult singers. Our music leaders, Joseph and Ilona, are to be commended for the remarkable progress from recruiting to training more than 35 young singers. They will sing next on May 13th, and the plan is for the choristers to sing much more often, beginning in the fall. We will continue to hear from our day school choristers, from time to time, as well, on special Sundays throughout the year, such as Day School Sunday.
This Sunday, at our education time at 10:10am, we will hear from some of the young people and adults where were part of our Haiti team this year, another example of purpose in action. They will update us on the latest on our partnership with Saint Paul’s church and school in Haiti, a ministry now more than 8 years old.
Looking for more happiness? Find opportunities to use your gifts with others for something greater than yourself in your world, and in the Church.
• This week, our prayers have been with the Bush family following the death of Barbara Bush, who lived a full life of meaningful purpose in her family, and in her
civic engagement, leadership, and volunteer commitments. She was a wonderful example, and also a faithful Episcopalian. She and her husband, President George H.W. Bush, are members of Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
• Last week, I extended an invitation to join a team of Evening Prayer leaders. I am pleased that we have 9 commitments so far, almost half the goal of 20. Let me know of your interest, or with questions.
April 12, 2018 Daily Prayer: Some History and an Invitation from the Rector
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." --Gustav Mahler.
When Thomas Cranmer composed the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, one of many brilliant things he did was to condense the usual seven services of daily prayer into just two: morning and evening prayer. Cranmer did this to make it possible for lay people (not just monks and clergy) to pray daily in a distinctly Anglican form. He imagined that ordinary people might stop by their parish church on their way to work in fields or shops for brief prayers, and do so again on the way home. Cranmer’s pattern for daily morning and evening prayer (called the Daily Office) was designed to function with great efficiency: it included basic prayers (mostly drawn from the Bible itself), and daily readings that would cover all 150 psalms every month, and the whole Bible in a year.
Even in Cranmer’s day, not everyone attended morning and evening prayer at their church every day. But many did, and have, down the ages, and their spiritual lives have been deepened greatly by this combination of daily prayer and Scripture reading, culminating in Sunday's Holy Communion. Cranmer’s pattern continues in our current Book of Common Prayer. Nearly two-thirds of our prayer book is devoted to the Holy Eucharist (our common Sunday worship), and the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, along with the materials that go along with them, like the lectionary and the psalms. Our Daily Office readings are shorter than Cranmer’s, but we still work through almost all of the Bible in two years (not one), and all of the psalms in a month.
One of the great failures of the modern Church, in my view, is that we have so neglected teaching our members how to pray the Daily Office. We have become a denomination in which most Episcopalians have no form of daily prayer at all, and leave their entire prayer life for Sundays only (if that). It’s the equivalent of working out only one arm at the gym - it’s better than nothing, but far from a healthy discipline. This is mostly the fault of the clergy, for we have not diligently taught our members either the importance of the Daily Office, or how to pray it. Indeed, many clergy don’t even pray it themselves! The Daily Office remains the single best way to keep a practice of daily prayer that includes a comprehensive encounter with the Bible. Along with the Holy Eucharist, it is at the heart of how we pray and worship in our tradition. This does not mean that other forms of prayer are not also helpful, but they fall into the category of what our traditional calls “private devotions,” making up the third part of our Anglican/Episcopal prayer triangle (Eucharist/Daily Office/Private devotions).
Keeping the Daily Office is easier than one might think. Praying the full form, with the full readings, takes about 25 minutes each in the morning and evening, and can be taught in about three classes. And the Daily Office does not have to be prayed publicly - it can be prayed alone or with a prayer partner anywhere, at any time, and it can be simplified, as needed. When we pray it alone, our prayers join with the prayers offered by other Episcopalians and Anglicans across the world. And technology makes it even easier. Forward Movement (http://prayer.forwardmovement.org) has the Daily Office online and an app for smartphones that plug the right readings in automatically. Mission St. Clare (http://www.missionstclare.com/english/) is another good option. For those who prefer a real book, I recommend the Contemporary Office Book (https://www.churchpublishing.org/products/contemporaryofficebook). It’s expensive ($165) but handsome, will last a lifetime, and contains the prayers, psalms, and all of the office readings - everything you need for daily prayer.
None of this is a matter of guilt or of “we should.” Many of us are incredibly busy. It is just a recognition: that we have available to us in our Prayer Book a wonderful way to pray that will, over time, draw us closer to God and to our neighbor. Some days, I find the Daily Office enjoyable, and, quite honestly, other days it feels like work. But I am never sorry that I did it, and I believe it is good for me, not only as a priest but as a human being. I think of the Daily Office as my spiritual multivitamin.
Here is the invitation: I’m looking for 20 volunteers to work with me to establish Evening Prayer at All Saints’ Monday through Friday evenings at 5:30pm, beginning in June. Please email me if you are interested or have questions. We have had Evening Prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays already for some years, led faithfully by Kim Sterling and Grant Washburn, but this would expand to all the weekdays. Each night would have a team of four responsible for their one day each week, and would rotate weekly in the roles (prayer leader, reader one, reader two, set up). A team of four would make it possible to cover on the occasions when one or even two of the team would be unavailable. Each service would last about 25-30 minutes, and I would train everyone, so that the pattern of prayer is the same each night. I hope each team would bond as friends in prayer (perhaps even a beer or coffee afterwards on occasion?) and I imagine some might like to attend on days that are not their “own.” From time to time, beginning in the fall, our young choristers would lead us in a simple, abbreviated Evensong on special feast days, in lieu of spoken Evening Prayer.
In scheduling Evening Prayer as a priority, we will be sending an important message about what we value as All Saints’ Church, adding to our already active schedule of worship and prayer. This is not about how many people attend, but about keeping the flame of prayer burning. Of course, the number of people who can join us for public Evening Prayer at 5:30pm on weekdays is rather limited, though I hope more will make it part of their prayer pattern even a day or two a week. So I will also be offering this year regular trainings on how to pray the Daily Office on one’s own. None of this is exactly “flashy” but it is the sort of spiritual practice that, over time, makes a huge difference in the life and health of ourselves and our church. If we put ourselves in these traditional pathways of grace, we open ourselves up for God’s blessing in unexpected ways.
April 5, 2018 The Season of Hope and God’s Justice
The season of Easter (Eastertide) is fifty days long, extending all the way to Pentecost (May 20th this year). It is a season chiefly characterized by hope. But, one might say, is not Eastertide mainly a season of joy? And so it is. But it is a joy that becomes hope as it is applied and extended to other aspects of the human experience.
For the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is the initial and recurring melody of Eastertide, means that God has the power and the intention to raise us to new life as well. And if, in the risen Christ, who is the first fruit of the resurrection, we are promised our own resurrection of the body at the end of all things when he comes again, then we may boldly believe that the whole of our fallen world will be raised to new life as the “new heavens” and “new earth” described in the Book of Revelation. Resurrection is not just corporeal (of the body) and contained, but corporate (of everything) and comprehensive.
In other words, the resurrection is not just about Jesus, nor even just about the resurrection of our own individual selves, our souls and bodies, but about the new life that God eventually brings to everything that is dead, decayed, or dying. And so, this Easter season especially, we live with joy because of the risen Christ, and with hope in the resurrection to eternal life of ourselves, our loved ones, and everything that is, has been, and will be.
That is why the saints of our tradition, including Martin Luther King Jr. (who died 50 years ago this week) are always buoyant with hope. Whatever their struggles, however hopeless the cause of faith and justice might seem to the saints, they remain hopeful. And that hope is not naive, but grounded in what they believe and know of God’s resurrection life. For nothing that is evil, or selfish, or deadly, or hateful, or corrupted will be able, in the end, to withstand God’s goodness, generosity, new life, love, and renewal. Justice will come, not only fitfully from our human efforts, but finally from God’s.
But a word of caution: let us not be overconfident that we know precisely what justice God intends, though the Scriptures give us indications. Even with signs on the road, it is easy to get lost. We do our best, in the here and now, to discern and work for the priorities of the kingdom of God. We are called to do so, in our baptism, though we will not always agree what those priorities are, or how best to achieve them. Like the risen Christ, God’s eventual justice may be stranger and harder to understand than we imagine. It will not line up perfectly with political ideologies. But it will be real, and permanent, and thoroughly good, when it comes. And we wait in hope for it.
• Allow me to extend, as I did last week, my sincere thanks to our talented and hardworking staff and to all of our many amazing volunteers for your devotion and
dedication during Holy Week and Easter Day. The liturgies and hospitality were extraordinary, and were vehicles for God’s love in so many ways. Happy Easter!
March 28, 2018 Holy Week and Easter Day: A Few Final Thoughts
As we come now to the heart of the Christian year, the great three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil (known as the Triduum), followed by the exuberant joy of Easter day, allow me to share just a few brief thoughts.
• I still remember the first time, some 23 years ago, that I experienced the ancient liturgies of the Triduum. It is not an exaggeration to say that they changed my life. I was blown away by their holy strangeness, and the way I felt as if time and space no longer separated us from Jesus in his last week. These evening liturgies (really one liturgy in three parts) have familiar elements, but also many parts that are unique to Holy Week. I hope to see many of us there.
• Please do spread the word about our choral devotional on Good Friday afternoon at 12:30pm (after Stations of the Cross at noon). Stainer’s “Crucifixion” is a moving and quite accessible piece, and one of the classics of our Anglican tradition. For those we know who are music lovers but are not sure about worship, they should feel free to come at 12:30pm. Admission is free (though a free will offering will be collected).
• On Easter Day, our grandest celebration of the faith, let’s be mindful of our many guests. Studies show that guests decide if they have had a positive experience of a church within the first 10 minutes. Let’s keep our eyes out to be helpful, and our smiles warm. We do this not so much to convince our Easter guests to come back for a “regular” Sunday, but because we never know how God will work through us to touch the lives of those who celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on that day. We do always hope some will return, and we have in our Easter bulletin lots of upcoming opportunities to connect with us, but our warm welcome of our guests is unconditional, for it is grounded in God’s unconditional love for all of us.
• I also want to thank the hundreds of volunteers, who, along with our staff, make these incredible worship experiences possible this week. It is amazing, every year, to see the wonderful devotion of our All Saints’ community to our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and was raised for us.
A blessed rest of Holy Week, and a happy Easter to all of us!
March 22, 2018 Holy Week: Putting One Foot in Front of the Other
In her poem about Palm Sunday, The Poet Thinks About the Donkey, Mary Oliver writes:
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty foot and stepped, as he had to, forward.
As we enter into Holy Week, we may be like the donkey: not especially filled with understanding, or strong in faith, or ready for what is to come. Lent has come and almost gone for each of us, and it was meaningful or not, shaped by spiritual practices or not, kept with devotion or lost in a flood of good intentions and the hectic swirl of life. What’s done is done. And now we enter the holiest week of the Christian year, prepared or unprepared. But it doesn’t matter. Not really. Now, starting this Sunday, we come to the heart of it all, of our faith and our life. We can walk again with Jesus on the sacred path of his suffering, death, and resurrection, if we so choose.
This is not a matter of guilt, of what we “should” do. There is only the gracious invitation: to walk with our savior as much as we are able, through the daily liturgies of Holy Week. There are no guarantees of heavens opened or special insights received. But these holy liturgies, especially the solemn worship in three parts over three nights (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), have often been pathways of grace down the ages for those who seek them out, who put one foot in front of the other, forward.
• In general, in the life of the Church in Holy Week we try to put almost everything aside other than our most important Christian duty: to keep the week with as much intention and devotion as we can. But I don’t want to put off sharing some good news. Since mid-November, we have been blessed by the ministry of the Rev. Emilie Finn as our interim associate priest. In the months since, she has shown herself to be a gifted preacher, prayerful celebrant, kind pastor, dedicated teacher for all ages (including at the day school), and a positive and joyful presence. Having had extensive conversation with staff, lay leaders, and with Emilie herself, especially over the last month, I am pleased to announce that I am removing the “interim” part of her title, and Emilie will continue to serve among us permanently beyond the end of this program year (when her interim position was to conclude). Like all of our three full-time priests, Emilie is a generalist, which means she shares in leading worship, preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. In addition, she has particular oversight for our faith-in-action and our youth ministry, areas she will seek to grow, along with our volunteers, in the coming year. She will also continue to assist on a very part-time basis with the church plant in Surprise called Emmaus, as part of All Saints’ tangible support for evangelism and mission within our diocese. With Emilie’s appointment, our staff is now at full strength, with all our positions filled. I couldn’t be more happy with this splendid team of faithful, talented, and enthusiastic staff, working alongside our wonderful volunteers in the vital ministries to which God calls us.
March 15, 2018 My Favorite Team
This is an important and dramatic season, and I’m not just talking about Lent, with Holy Week right around the corner. I’m also thinking of March Madness, especially because my alma mater, the University of Virginia, is a #1 seed for the men’s bracket of the NCAA tournament.
I am not a fair-weather fan: I’ve rooted for Virginia basketball since I was a kid, through the ups (coach Terry Holland, and players like Jeff Lamp, Ralph Sampson, Ricky Stokes, and Rick Carlisle) and many downs (1990-2009). But I am particularly invested emotionally in this year’s team not only because they are unusually good (30-2, and ACC regular season and tournament champs), but because they win the right way. It all starts with their coach, Tony Bennett (not the singer!). UVA basketball doesn’t generally recruit the blue chip athletes, the high school all-Americans. Coach Bennett recruits mid-level talents with grit, who commit to school for four years and buy into his unique system of defense.
Virginia’s defense, not its offense, wins games. It uses an exhausting, team-oriented defensive scheme (the pack line) that demands that each player cover for their teammates. Very few true freshmen play many minutes for Coach Bennett, because it often takes them a year to learn the defense and play it to his satisfaction. Some have called UVA’s style of play boring, but Virginia’s fans have come to appreciate the slow but effective style of smothering defense and rebounding, combined with a methodical offense of crisp passing, shared scoring, and limited turnovers. This year’s squad is the very epitome of selfless, team play. It may be a little boring, but it works.
But it almost didn’t happen. Tony Bennett was named UVA’s men’s basketball coach in 2009 (ironically, the same year I started as rector here!), and it was a rough start at first. Four of his first six recruits transferred out, frustrated with the slow style of play and emphasis on defense. Bennett won only half of his games in his first two years, and fan and player frustrations were building. But Bennett, a strong Christian, had a vision for the program that he called the Five Pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness. Those Biblical virtues could be the solid foundation for a successful team, if only he could convince his players (and the administration) to accept them. Over time, they did, none more so than this year’s team, which has no real stars, but plays together with those Five Pillars at the heart of their efforts.
Of course, part of the fun and agony of March Madness is that you never know what is going to happen. UVA has just lost one of its best players to a broken wrist this week, and the road to the Final Four is a challenging one (I understand there are a couple of pretty good Arizona teams, as well). But win or lose in the NCAA tournament, Virginia men’s basketball has been a joy to watch this year. Led by their coach, an exceptional and humble leader, they have done things the right way, with high character student-athletes who watch out for each other on the court and off.
In any organization, including business, government, schools, and the Church, there are lessons to be learned from this Virginia team. Find the right people to be leaders: not always the most talented or exciting ones, but those of high character who buy into the vision and shared values. Look out for one another, in good times and bad. Work hard. Do things the right way, even if it takes longer. And it’s difficult to beat those Five Pillars in any organization, and in our family lives: humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness. Lessons, perhaps, for all of us from my favorite team.
March 8, 2018 The Fairest One of All
When I attended an Episcopal school, growing up, we often sang the hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus” (#383). As a child, I used to think the hymn was saying that Jesus was the fairest, in the sense of the most just or equitable. But later I realized that the hymn was using “fairest” in the old sense of the word (it was translated from a German text in the 1870’s) meaning the most beautiful or attractive. In its rather antiquated usage of “fairest," it is similar to the famous quote from Snow White: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”.
The hymn’s theme is that Jesus is more beautiful or compelling than anything else in creation (in fact, in some other traditions, the hymn is known as “Beautiful Savior”). So, for example, the last verse proclaims:
Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling, starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer, than all the angels heaven can boast.
Now, when the hymn is describing Jesus as fair or beautiful, it is not, of course, speaking of his handsomeness, the appeal of his physical appearance. It is speaking of the way the presence of Christ in the Bible and in the Holy Sacrament holds our attention. We are drawn to him, just as his first disciples were, not because of his outer nature, his humanity, but because of the divine light within him. There is nothing more beautiful, more captivating, or more inspiring than the light of God in our savior, shining brighter and purer "than all the angels heaven can boast.”
What, then, are we to make of other forms of beauty that we encounter in our human life? The analogy is to love. God is love, the source of all love, and so all our human loves (romantic, familial, and among friends) at their healthiest and most self-giving are like harmonies of the melody of divine love. So, too, with beauty, all earthly beauty, at its best, is a reflection of the divine beauty that is the light of God. When our senses are drawn to something beautiful (a sublime work of art or piece of music, a sunset on the mountains, a field of spring wildflowers, moonlight, or a person we love deeply), our soul is really being drawn to God, the source of all beauty. So, too, when we encounter beauty, we often experience a range of reactions that are also present when we encounter manifestations of the divine: focused attention, joy, connection, longing, and inspiration.
This Sunday, we are celebrating a particular form of beauty that is near and dear to us: our illuminated Saint John’s Bible (one of only 299 sets in the world). In a rare treat, all seven volumes of this extraordinary Bible will be on display in front of our altar on Sunday to enjoy up close. And we will hear classes in the morning from Sue Kapp of our library team, and at a special time in the early evening (5:30pm) just before Evensong from guest Larry Fraher, a scholar of the Saint John’s Bible. Come experience the marvelous beauty of the Saint John’s Bible, now a permanent part of our life at All Saints’ thanks to generous donors, and share this opportunity with others by inviting them. As we are moved by the beauty of this sacred art, may we be drawn to the source of all beauty, almighty God, and to God’s son, first and fairest of all.
• Last Sunday’s visit by the Very Reverend Tracey Lind was meaningful in numerous ways. I was delighted that so many people came to hear not only her excellent
sermons, but also her informative and moving talk on her experience of dementia. Tracey loved her visit with us, and appreciated our warm welcome.
• Our new music school is up and running, beginning with a community choristers program. It is off to a great start with some 30 young people attending weekly
rehearsals. Congratulations to Joseph and Ilona for the success! Speaking of our musicians, we send Joseph off this weekend to play an organ recital at the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, one of the largest churches in the world. Both Joseph and Ilona are in demand as recitalists, and it reflects well not only on them but on All Saints’ when they represent us in our community and beyond. We are blessed to have such talent on our staff (including Trevor Carolan, who can substitute beautifully when either of our other musicians is away).
• Our reception after Evensong will feature special wine in honor of Saint John’s Bible Sunday. Our wine expert and gracious Evensong reception host, Kim Hartleroad, has ordered bottles from Madonna Estates in the Napa Valley, formerly Mont St. John.
March 1, 2018 Welcoming the Very Reverend Tracey Lind
It is a blessing to welcome the Very Reverend Tracey Lind as our special guest this Sunday. I’ve known Tracey for 5 years - we met as members of a group of rectors and deans of large and complex parishes from around the country. She has been a dynamic and influential leader in The Episcopal Church for decades, most recently for 17 years as Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, one of the largest, most diverse, and most innovative Episcopal churches in the country. In early 2017 she retired, following a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD), a form of early onset dementia. But she has remained as active as ever in retirement, traveling across the world, sharing her personal experience of dementia, and her theological reflections on it.
One of the things I love about The Episcopal Church is the way it brings different people together in friendship. We are, at our best, a wonderful big tent, filled with all kinds of people trying our best to follow Jesus. Tracey and I don’t agree perfectly on everything (she has been one of the most outspoken progressives in the Church, while I’m more of a centrist), but that has never stopped us from being friends, and agreeing on most things. She is a person of deep and genuine faith, committed to social justice, with an engaging warmth of personality, and I have been enormously moved to see how she has turned her medical challenge into a fruitful blessing for so many across the wider Church. One cruel thing about FTD is that it affects the portion of the brain responsible for communication. Tracey, always a gifted communicator, has found, by God’s grace, different but equally powerful tools to share her story as it continues to unfold.
Dementia has touched many of us, in profound ways. In some respects, it is the most devastating of diseases, in that it takes away so much of what makes someone themselves.
And yet, I’ve noticed with my own family members, friends, and parishioners with dementia, that there is something essential, under the surface, that remains. Parishioners even with severe dementia will recite the Lord’s Prayer when we visit with them, or brighten up at hearing a familiar hymn. We are all beloved children of God, and nothing can ever take that away. There is a God-given light within us that never goes out.
Come hear Tracey: priest, outspoken pioneer, and beloved child of God, as she shares her experience, her wisdom, and her faith. To learn more about her, to read her blog, see some of her photographs, or order her book, visit her website: traceylind.com.
February 22, 2018 Be Still
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
There is an interesting paradox in our culture these days: we suffer from loneliness, and also from a lack of silence. As I spoke about in my State of the Parish sermon, there is an unprecedented crisis of isolation, and the Church is called to help people connect with each other and with God. I am convinced that social isolation is at the root of much of the bitterness, addiction, anger, and violence that plague our nation.
But it is also true that many of us live in an almost constant state of noise and activity (though without genuine connection). Our world is cluttered with sound pollution; noise is everywhere, draining us in unexpected ways. The analogy I would make is sleep deprivation: new parents go through many nights of interrupted sleep with a newborn, never sinking into deep, restful sleep. Without true, deep silence, it is impossible to rest fully in God’s presence.
The mystic John of the Cross said that “God’s first language is silence.” And so, if we have no silence in our lives, we are missing out on one of the most important languages God uses to speak to us (and we to God). For this reason, this Lent, as part of our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy, we are encouraging at least 10 minutes of silence each day in whatever way works for you.
Find a consistent time and place, when you will not be interrupted, and sit or walk in silence, with no agenda other than to be open to God’s presence. See what happens. Pay attention to your breathing. Try to put aside your thoughts. To go with this simple practice, we are offering a Thursday evening series on Centering Prayer, an ancient form of Christian meditation that is a practice for maximizing the use of silence. Come join us and bring a friend.
Silence is not a substitute for weekly Eucharist or the daily prayers of the Church from our Prayer Book, but it is a wonderful addition to them. Silence is not a substitute for connecting with others, but it can deepen those connections. Let us be still, then, and know God.
February 15, 2018 Lent: a Practical Guide
On Ash Wednesday, we heard the following words from our Book of Common Prayer (p 265):
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word.
But how, specifically, do we do these things in our Episcopal tradition?
Self-examination and Repentance
Our Prayer Book gives us two forms for this, called “The Reconciliation of a Penitent,” otherwise known as confession (pp. 447-52). To make a confession, get in touch with one of our priests and we will schedule a time and walk you through the process. One helpful way to think about the sins we need to confess is to consider the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). All confessions are strictly confidential and are a wonderful opportunity for spiritual conversation with one of your priests.
If confession isn’t something you wish to do, you could talk candidly with a close friend or partner about those bad habits that prevent you from being the person God calls you to be as yourself and with others. And then we strive to replace those unhelpful habits with more holy and life-giving ones.
We are offering four sessions on how to practice Centering Prayer, a form of silent prayer related to meditation. Come join us on Thursday evenings, and add at least 10 minutes of silence to your day. See what a difference it makes.
More broadly speaking, our Prayer Book is based on the traditional, Anglican 3-fold pattern of prayer: weekly Eucharist on Sundays, daily Morning and Evening Prayer (the Daily Office) in some form, and a third practice of private devotion that is flexible and up to the individual (like centering prayer, the rosary, walking prayer, journaling and so on). Lent is a great time to learn how to pray Morning and Evening Prayer. You might start by attending Evening Prayer on a Tuesday or Thursday to get a sense of how it is done, or finding it online through Forward Movement or on their smartphone app. We also have a daily prayer link on the homepage of our website (allsaintsoncentral.org).
Fasting and Self-Denial
It is a traditional Lenten practice to abstain from meat (other than fish) on Fridays in Lent. You might also consider fasting from something that gets in the way of your relationship with God and other people. This might mean some kinds of food or alcohol. For some people, this might mean a fast from social media, or gossip in our workplace, or grumbling. This is not just a self-improvement exercise; as we deny ourselves, our suffering (however small) reminds us of the suffering of Christ.
Reading and Meditating on God’s Holy Word
Again, our Episcopal system of the Eucharist and Daily Office gives us a disciplined way to read and meditate on Scripture. But if you are not yet ready to add the Daily Office, begin by reading one of the four gospels slowly this Lent, seeing how it speaks to you.
Another important Lenten practice is almsgiving, or works of mercy. When we help those in need, for example by bringing in food for ICM, we are sharing from what we have for the sake of others.
Whatever you decide to do to make the season of Lent a meaningful preparation for Easter, I urge you to write it down, and if possible, to join with someone else in a practice you share. The accountability is useful. And remember that Sundays, as feasts of the resurrection, are days off from any Lenten fast.
February 1, 2018 What is February 2nd?
Probably most of us answered: Groundhog Day. But long before there was Groundhog Day, February 2nd was the Christian feast day called Candlemas, which dates back to at least the fourth century.
Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:22-40). In that story, Jesus is dedicated to God and Mary is purified according to the law of Moses 40 days after the child’s birth. There, in Jerusalem, they encounter Simeon, who had been promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. His achingly beautiful words at this moment of realization are memorialized as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon (BCP p 120), which we say or sing at Evening Prayer and Evensong.
And what is the connection to Groundhog Day? In many parts of Europe, on Candlemas, there were traditions that were meant to discern whether winter would be long or short (it occurs roughly at the half way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox). For example, there was a rhyme that said “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until the May.” The Germans in particular associated this Candlemas tradition with the hedgehog seeing its shadow or not, and when they came to Pennsylvania, the groundhog took the hedgehog's place. And the rest is history.
Groundhog Day is a fun tradition (though it takes on different meaning in Phoenix, where we want our “winter” to last longer, not shorter!). But let’s not forget Candlemas. Its name comes from the tradition of lighting candles, which reminds us of the light of the world, Jesus. May that light shine so brightly in our lives that it illumines the path for others.
• I was thrilled to receive this week the wonderful pictures from parishioner Kate Forbes, through whom the light of Christ shines, especially in her work with the Red Cross for more than 30 years. Congratulations, Kate!
• If you haven’t had a chance to see the video of the State of the Parish, and read the Annual Report, please do so. They give a sense of where we have been in 2017, which was an important year for us, and where we are going in this new year as a church.
January 18, 2017 15 Years of Priesthood
January 18th, 2003, on the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, I was ordained to the priesthood at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver, where I had been serving as a transitional (rather than a permanent) deacon for six months prior. Following the ancient tradition, it was the case then, and still is, that those who are to be ordained as priests are ordained deacons first, ministering in that role for at least half a year.
Why? Among many reasons, because if one is not grounded in the humble, serving, compassionate, and outward-facing ministry of the deacon, one has no business being a priest. For that foundation of servant ministry, of Jesus-shaped ministry, is at the core both of Christian discipleship and of priestly leadership.
I remember thinking at the time, 15 years ago, that my experience of being a deacon, rather than feeling like a cumbersome delay to my “real" vocation as a priest, instead felt too short. But I reminded myself then, and still do, that being ordained a priest does not mean that one is no longer a deacon, or a baptized Christian for that matter. One is all three, with the baptismal identity, not either ordination, as the most important layer, at the heart of it all.
I have been enormously blessed by God in these 15 years of priestly ministry, serving for more than 7 years in three different roles (curate, canon, and sub-dean) at Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver, and now for 8 and half years as the Rector of All Saints’. I couldn’t be more grateful to be doing what I was called to do in this place, with this remarkable group of clergy, staff, and lay people.
Being a priest isn’t quite what I expected. Just before I was called to Denver, I imagined that my ministry might be as a small church vicar, or perhaps a school chaplain and teacher on an idyllic campus somewhere. Little did I know I would end up, much to my surprise, in large parishes. There have been many moments when, like Moses, I’ve said to God: “Are you sure I’m the one you want?”
In a large and complex system like All Saints’, I spend more time in meetings, on email, problem solving, and trying to think strategically than I do writing sermons, making pastoral visits, leading liturgies, and preparing classes. It comes with the job, and I’ve actually come to see the leading and managing as integral parts of the Gospel. The better we function as organization, the more able we are to reach more people with greater effectiveness in all that we do. But I always make some time for the essentials of priestly ministry: the sacraments, teaching, preaching, pastoral care, personal prayer and study.
In my 15 years, I’ve seen the best and worst of people, the sorrows and joys, wonderful surprises and bitter disappointments. We are, all of us, made in God’s image, but sin-sick. But God is always unfailingly faithful, good, merciful, and loving. If we can, like Saint Peter, confess Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and put our whole trust in him, God will be with us to the end.
January 11, 2018 Eli: Not the Parent of Year
Our Old Testament reading this Sunday, from 1 Samuel, tells the story of God calling Samuel while young Samuel is serving under Eli’s supervision at a holy place of worship. In the brief and rather amusing story, Eli seems like a wise mentor, instructing Samuel to ask for God’s guidance when God calls.
Sadly, in other parts of the book, we learn that Eli, while at times a wise role model for Samuel, is not always a good father to his own children. Eli fails to discipline his two wicked sons, who violate God’s law egregiously and prey on the vulnerable. Eventually, the sons lose their lives because of their sins, and Eli does, as well.
Parenting is not easy. It was not easy for Eli, who let his love for sons curdle into permissiveness. It is not easy for those of us who are doing our best to parent effectively today, in our complex world. What helps enormously is to have mature, grounded adults to walk with us, and with our children on the way. It is a cliché, but a true one: it takes a village to raise a child.
One such “village” for which I am grateful is our day school. All Saints’ Episcopal Day School is a fantastic environment not only for encouraging the academic potential of our students, but also for its nurturing of their moral formation through chapel, religion class, service to those in need, and the Episcopal ethos of our school community. The school’s indexed tuition program makes All Saints’ school far more affordable than many parents realize, and I hope more of our church families will consider our school as they make their educational decisions. For more information, visit aseds.org.
A new “village” that is beginning soon is our choir program for children and youth. This will offer wonderful musical education, but will also be a wholesome environment nurturing the character of our participants, whether they are Episcopalians or not. In my own experience, I benefited greatly from the choirs of my childhood and youth. Indeed, it is through choirs that I remained connected to the Church, even when I was unsure about my faith. Please help us spread the word about this exciting new program that will benefit students and their families.
• At long last, our new sound system has arrived. Please bear with us as we adjust its levels and get used to it over the coming weeks. I am grateful to the many donors over many years who made it possible. Our old system dated back to the 1980’s, so this will be an improvement. But it is useful to remember that our church building is designed for glorious music, with lots of warm echo, which makes the clarity of the spoken word a challenge. Hopefully our new system will improve spoken clarity considerably as it gets calibrated.
• In our current lectionary year (B) we have many readings from Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest, most concise, and strangest of the four gospels. My class on Sunday will give an introduction to this fascinating book.
• I commend our Walking the Mourner’s Path group to those who are seeking a faith-based process for moving healthily through grief. It is an excellent program.
January 4, 2018 The New Year and a God of Second Chances
Does God care about our New Year’s resolutions? I imagine God looking down on me as I make mine, every year, and chuckling. For at this time of year, I am usually optimistic beyond reason that I can change this habit or that one, for real this time! I’ve read the articles on how to make a habit stick, and am sure every time that this will be the year!
What I know about myself is that usually my New Year’s resolution falls apart in about three weeks. If it is something spiritual, it often becomes my Lenten goal about a month later. It’s almost like my New Year’s resolutions are a dress rehearsal for my Lenten discipline. Interestingly, I do much better keeping Lenten goals than New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because I see a Lenten practice as part of my faith commitment.
But I imagine God laughing and not shaking God’s head in judgment at my little failures because our God is a God of second chances. In our journey this year through “The Path,” the great stories of the Bible, we have just finished the Old Testament. One of the striking themes to me in reading the Bible this way has been God’s infinite patience and mercy towards humanity.
Over and over and over again, in the Bible stories, the people make mistakes: worshipping other Gods, neglecting the poor and needy, seeking power and money and pleasure, forgetting to worship or give God thanks. And over and over, God sends another prophet with yet another invitation to return to the path of blessing, wholeness, generosity, and right relationship.
As “The Path” moves into the New Testament, we will see God’s ultimate offer of love and a better way in God’s own son, Jesus Christ. This fits perfectly with our liturgical calendar. As we enter the season of Epiphany on January 6, we celebrate how that amazing offer, the light of Christ, was extended to the whole world.
And so, whether or not you have a New Year’s resolution, and however it goes, remember that God loves you just the same. If you do choose to have one, it is perhaps best to keep it modest, and to keep the focus on God’s will for us. This year, one thing I am trying to do is read the Bible slowly, one little bit at a time, in the style of Lectio Divina (this has the added advantage of being harder to fail at!).
In the famous words of the great spiritual writer Thomas Merton, we recall our hopeful belief that God is pleased even with our halting, insufficient, and unsuccessful efforts, if they come from a genuine desire to please God:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.