On Presidents, Promises, and Penitence

Klavan.The Art of Making SenseI am reading Andrew Klavan’s The Art of Making Sense, Writings and Speeches 2019. This is not a book about writing to make sense (which I thought at first and probably need), but a book about personal coherency found in a consistency of character, speech, and action. He is speaking of lives that make sense and heroes that make sense, ways of living that make sense. When they don’t make sense, when one part acts in contradiction to another, there is a brokenness, a fissure or fracture of personality. We might call this hypocrisy, for we sense deeply that there is a grand logic to living, to life.

We are driven to create, mirroring our Creator, and this drive is part of the coherency we struggle to achieve. It is this drive, this love of life—human life and all creation—that has been implanted in each of us, that is an integral part of our DNA, that calls us to make sense of our lives and give order to our days.

I believe this desire to make sense, to live moral lives of meaning, is innate in our very humanity. It is part of who we are as thinking, sentient beings. We are creatures of conscience. And yet none of us make sense entirely. We know we are broken. Still, we long to be mended, to be made whole. We believe we should keep our promises, because we want to be whole, honest, trustworthy.

Christianity recognizes this brokenness and provides an antidote. Scriptures, from the fall of Adam and Eve to Judas’ betrayal of Christ, tell the story of mankind’s falling apart and coming back together. They tell of healing the sick, mending the brokenhearted. Christians, of course, believe Christ alone can truly heal us, can make us whole again, once we confess our failings, practice penitence, admitting we do not make sense. We call those failings sins, those betrayals of our true and better natures, betrayals of our Creator. They are times of not making sense, times when we do not live cogent, coherent lives. With belief in Christ and his promises, our souls are mapped with his commandments, and we are placed on a path to wholeness, to making sense.

AMERICAN FLAGAnd so today, Presidents Day, we celebrate America’s presidents, especially President Washington and President Lincoln, leaders that promised to govern fairly and create a more perfect union. They promised to make sense of our country, to offer a refuge to those from countries betraying that promise.

But being human and fallen, even these heroes of our great nation are not always consistent in their morality, and our nation is not always great. Those who study history understand that our heroes will not live up to our expectations. The only way we can explain this in-coherency of character is to admit mankind’s brokenness.

As a voter and a Christian, this admission is a given. And yet, I do make demands on my public servants, hold them accountable, for they represent me in Sacramento, in Washington, and in the world. The first of these demands is that they be honestly trying to make our world, our nation, and our communities make sense, by having a sense of the moral law.

And so when I look at the lives of our American Presidents, I see broken lives, not fully realized. Yet I also see a true and passionate effort do the best, to be valiant and self-sacrificing, given the times in which they lived.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn witnessed to the barbarities of the Communist Soviet Union. He wrote that to do evil man must believe he is doing good. Man covers his conscience with a veil, smothering the accusing doubts. Man wants to believe he is doing good so he ignores the still small voice.

Andrew Klavan writes how bad ideologies act in this way:

A bad ideology is the vehicle by which the fine idea of corruption can spread over an entire society like a fog. In the impenetrable murk of a bad ideology the corruption becomes all-but-invisible until even the best and the brightest can engage in the most appalling behavior completely unawares. (The Art, 21)

And so entire cultures bury the voice of conscience as they rationalize evil by making it appear good. Hitler saw his cleansing of the “unfit” as creating a utopia. America does the same today. Today’s veil is pulled over the holocaust of abortion (over one million babies lost yearly since 1973), under the veil of the mother’s “right” to kill her child because she owns it (a kind of slavery) and a cleansing of the “unfit” who are defined as the unwanted.

Let us learn from our history, that promises aren’t always kept, penitence not always practiced, but that to make sense of our lives and sense of our nation we must promise to try to practice penitence and to seek truth, living lives of meaning and morality, celebrating all life, born and unborn.

A Reading from Angel Mountain, to be Published in 2020

Christine Sunderland will be reading from her novel, Angel Mountain, at the



3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, California 94549

 SUNDAY, JANUARY 19, 2020, 2-4 p.m.

Angel Mountain, to be published in 2020 by Wipf and Stock Publishers, set on Mount Diablo, is about a holy hermit, a Holocaust survivor, a literary librarian, and a faithful geneticist who meet in a world of earthquake, firestorm, and mob violence.

Free Event—go to Lamorindaarts.org for more info. Six writers will read from their work and visual artists will exhibit their paintings, all from the local area.

From Time to Time

candleFrom time to time I think about time, but especially on New Year’s Day, when regrets are washed with resolutions.

In my novel, Angel Mountain, to be released this year by Wipf and Stock Publishers, a hermit preaches repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. A Holocaust survivor reminds her students to remember the past, to never forget. A geneticist sees God in a genome and all creation, and his life is changed forever. A librarian searches for truth in word and story, searching for herself. All of these characters wrestle with time and memory, with past, present, and future, asking, who are we? Where are we going? What are we meant to be?

Christians following the Church calendar of festivals and seasons are reminded that we are in time, bound by time, heading to a place outside of time. We organize our years around time—the festivals of Christmas and Easter anchoring winter and spring—and we populate the rest of the calendar with saints, penitence, sacraments and scripture, telling and retelling the story of redemption: the unloosing of the chains of time, so that we are free to enter eternity, life everlasting.

When I was young I peered down the long road of my life, my future. I knew that death was at the end of that road, that time would stop, but what did that mean? It seemed far off. I didn’t need to think about death for many years to come. Perhaps middle age would be the time to consider the end of my time. Perhaps old age.

Today, at seventy-two, I see the road I have taken in my time on earth differently. Most of the road has become my past; less will be my future. My time will come to an end in a decade or two, or today or tomorrow. As my time slips away, even as I write this, and my present becomes that future my younger self briefly pondered, the value of time remaining looms large and immensely present.

Every day is a gift of time, of life. Every hour, every minute. Tomorrow, surely, the years will run out, the sand in the hourglass will be gone, forming a soft pile of white in the lower chamber.

New Year’s resolutions mark time as it careens into the future. Our secular culture halts for a brief moment on New Year’s Eve or Day to recognize that a year has passed. Many resolutions are material: better diet, more exercise. A few resolutions are spiritual. I will say my prayers. I will listen more. I will love more. The late Archbishop Robert Morse said that he often confessed, “I have not loved enough.”

We can never love enough, for in this time of our lives, we do not know what love is. We guess it is more than a feeling. We intuit that love means the giving of self, the sacrifice of time for another. For that is the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice, the giving of one’s own time for another. For the gift cannot be retrieved. The time is gone, is past, and lives only in memory.

We divide the time of our lives into units. In times past, the bell-tower tolled morning, noon, and night. Eventually clocks ticked, seconds disappeared, minutes were marked and gone. In time, watch faces bound our wrists to give witness to the time in our lives. Today, bright digits blink on blackened screens. Numbers absorb time, time we cannot save.

Except in memory.

Many have said that dementia is hard to bear. Senility means forgetting, and forgetting buries the self in the past. Our identities have been informed by our past, the good and the bad. So we confess, repent, and are forgiven, so that our slate of time is wiped clean of wrongs done, our bad choices no longer chosen.

As a culture, as a nation, we must remember our story, redeem the bad and celebrate the good of our past to understand our present, and to choose our future.

The Judaic-Christian world is schooled in painful penitence. We are taught to feel guilt and shame. We are taught to look back and assess, to cherish the good and to punish the bad. We are given a measure—the ten commandments, the golden rule—by which we measure our world, ourselves.

And so New Years reminds us to remember, to think back on the year. What was good, what was bad? What should be abandoned, and what should be nurtured? Do I feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt? I try to re-member those memories created in those fifty-two weeks, those 365 days, those 8,760 hours.

We stumble into the bright new season of Epiphany, following the magi following the star, bearing the gifts of time’s terror and history’s memory. Evening darkens our world, and we confess wrongfulness, praying for righteousness. We search for the messiah-king and find him a child in a manger in Bethlehem beneath a bright star.

As evening falls, and earth turns away from the light, we vow to repent daily, not yearly. We resolve to renounce the bad and embrace the good.

Yearly, daily, hourly, we resolve—remember—to love enough, to redeem our past with our memory, to tell the story, our history, to our children, the  amazing story of grace. Like the hermit on Angel Mountain, we tell the story of who we are meant to be, who we are meant to be as a culture and a nation, calling on heaven to re-member us with the light of time and eternity.

An American Thanksgiving

It is a truth once universally acknowledged that feasting on gratitude and fasting from grievance leads to happiness. Gratitude begets grace, and grace births joy, even better than happiness.           

LAND OF HOPEWe count our blessings.

We hope and do not despair.

We give thanks, and in the giving we forget ourselves, a great grace.

And yet, it often seems that our very nature cries out to list our grievances, our hurts, our wrongs done us, without thinking about those we have hurt or wronged.

We are told to forgive those who trespass against us. But first we must confess our own failings, our own trespasses. We must repent and turn in a new direction. For when we examine our hearts with a mind to a good cleaning, we are able to see clearly. We remove the motes. And what do we see once we have confessed and repented? Once we have cleared the timber that obscured our vision?           

We see that others aren’t so bad after all. We see that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. In fact those others whom we accused earlier, in our aggrieved state of anger and betrayal, we now love. We are brothers and sisters.

And so penitence leads to forgiveness. Forgiveness without penitence leads to pride, the root of all sin and we are back where we started, having removed one demon and allowed a legion of demons to come in.

I recently finished Wilfred M. McClay’s excellent history of America, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (New York: Encounter Books, 2019). He says in the Introduction, that “Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity.” As a nation we must know our failures and successes, have a historical consciousness (and conscience.) We must know ourselves. Just as an individual confesses and repents, so a nation confesses and repents.  The individual hopes to see his pathway clearly, and the nation hopes for the same.

To repent, to learn from our mistakes, means to study our history, personal and public, citizen and nation. As Dr. McClay writes, “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.” (xii)

We must tell the story of America. We must learn it and pass it on to our children, or we will be nothing more than beasts, living in the present. Many of our youth have not studied history, at least those attending public schools, and the little they have learned has been thinly veiled propaganda. How will they know what America truly is, the ideals that ground her?

This Thanksgiving we recall our founders. The colonists were idealists, thinking to form a more perfect union. Having come from persecution in a faltering and fragmenting Europe, they wanted to create a better, more hopeful union of peoples in this new land. Their history told them that man was and is deeply flawed, and so in their new land they built new structures based on this knowledge. They wanted to secure freedom and dignity for each person, endowed by their creator, to protect and perfect with the rule of law, to check tyranny with balanced powers, and to ordain governors with the consent of the governed. These were carefully considered ideas formed from their own histories, their own stories.

The colonists were people of hope. But they knew too well that with man’s flawed nature, hope could turn to hopelessness, and disappointment if not despair could take root. They were realists.

I love the hope that grounds us as Americans. I love that we are idealists and we are willing to speak up for what we see as a more perfect union. I love that we are brave, that we inherently risk disappointment and failure, in order to engage in this great work of bettering our nation—not battering—of preserving the good and jettisoning the bad. We are risk-takers, for love risks. Love gives beyond hurting, until it can give no more. Love is happy to do so, for love is sacrificial. We love one another; we want what is best for one another. We love our country and want what is best for America.

When I consider the current divisions and angry discourse that many lament today, I also recognize the passionate idealism these divisions represent. We care enough to speak out. When such speech is threatened, we should worry. When such speech is bullied into silence, we should worry. When we no longer respect one another’s right to speak, we should be deeply concerned.

And when our history—America’s story—is rewritten to become propaganda for one viewpoint and then taught to our children in public institutions of learning, we should be greatly troubled.

My most recent novel, Angel Mountain, is about giving thanks. It is also about choice, freedom, respect, and human dignity. It’s about finding that path to heaven on earth. Those who have emigrated from tyrannical regimes understand the precious gifts that America offers her people. Such immigrants come yearning to breathe free, and they remind us how fortunate we are to live here. We are blessed to have a steady stream of immigrants crossing our borders, for they bring us the hope we may have forgotten. They remind us to remember who we are.

We are also blessed by the rule of law, the agreements we have made with one another that we observe as citizens. These common agreements preserve our dignity as individuals, protect our property, and safeguard our communities. These commonly assented rules decide how we are to live together. They are unique to Western democracies and those so influenced.

Our children must learn about these great blessings. They must learn America’s story—her past and her present—in order to safeguard these graces. We have the duty and obligation to the next generations to redeem the present with knowledge of the past. We have the duty to keep America a land of hope, not despair. Our children must be shown America’s trespasses as well as America’s triumphs, her darkness as well as her light. Only then can we shine that light to light up the darkness. Only then can our nation see clearly the path to be taken.

Dr. McClay has given us a great gift, for he holds a mirror up to our nation, so that we can see ourselves as a union of peoples and cultures with a shared history, with our many hopes and dreams. This reality helps us choose a way forward.

And for this I give thanks this Thanksgiving. I give thanks for all those who speak the truth about our great nation, the good and the bad. Only by knowing both, can we know who we are.

There is no room for grievance, for self-entitlements. There is only room for gratitude for the blessings of this life on this earth in this country we call America, founded on ideals formed from the past that must inform future. There is only gratitude for the freedoms we know and strive to protect.

And with such gratitude, all is grace. All is happiness. All is joy.

All is thanksgiving.

Thoughts on Michaelmas

Today is the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels:

“There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12: 7-10, KJV)             

And so now there is war on earth and within each of us. For each of us is a house divided between spirit and flesh, and a civil war battles within us.

The mystery of man is the mystery and miracle of spirit within flesh. Unlike angels, who are pure spirit, our spirits are entrapped, or perhaps enthroned, in flesh. We are em-bodied, and we think of ourselves as separate in some way from the houses we live in, instinctively sensing that we will travel on when our bodies die.

We are made up of two opposing forces and we yearn for peace. And to add to the battle, the great deceiver enters our hearts and minds, telling tales, tempting and tricking since he was kicked out of heaven.

I have long been fascinated by our dual natures and all of my novels have, to some extent, explored the borderlands of mind and body, heart and soul. We live in an unbelieving age, and yet we long for belief. We long for the union of our disparate parts, a wholeness, an understanding as to who and what we are. We are told by materialists that we are only matter, but we don’t believe them, or at least we don’t act as if we believe them. They are deceiving themselves. We are far more than mere matter, we say; we truly do matter.

Words—in speech or on pages—are one way we have been able to unite mind and body. For the words are seen and interpreted by our flesh, our eyes, our ears, our brains. To write down words, as I do now, I must engage fingers, muscles, eyes as well as heart and mind and soul. I hold a pen or tap a keyboard to give physical reality, flesh, to my thoughts, and not only mere reality, but entire universes mapped with reality.

The miracle of language, that graduate degree in consciousness, with its intricate architecture we call grammar and structure, with its melody of image, metaphor, and symbol, with its rhythm of phrases beating to one’s heart, or breezy as one’s breath, links us, one with another, so that once again, flesh is happily linked by spirit. This happens—remarkably without notice—between speakers side-by-side, face-to-face, through words heard. This happens—again without thought—between readers separated by miles and years, by space and time, through words written. Only through this astounding miracle, this breathtaking mystery of the physical (our bodies) linked to the spiritual (our thoughts ) by means of language, can we know those from the past, can we connect to those who wrote on paper and parchment, who introduced themselves to us through language.

These words I write today, on this mysterious and miraculous Feast of Michaelmas, are not new; the dance has been ongoing, a symphony of sounds that plays in my pages. Archangel Michael, who plays a key role in my current novel, Angel Mountain, reminds me today of these mysterious realities, our human nature, our very creation, life itself.

For we are stunningly beautiful creatures, you and I. We were made and destined for glory and the angels help us to remember this. Other dark deceivers hover in the shadows, twisting and denying, tempting us to belittle, to make little, the glorious. We were made in the image of God, and one day we will go to God, to become fully realized in Heaven.

As a Christian, I have visions of that fullness now, in the Church—in its theology and sacraments, its family of God, its living testimony to historical truth, witnessed and scripted in codices. I am blessed beyond measure by such fullness, such treasure, a wedding feast awaiting my daily presence, if I so choose to accept the invitation.

For I have the freedom to choose the light or not, to choose life and love or not, to choose Heaven and glory or not. I have the freedom to become what I was created to be, and to see the face of God in glory, a creature united in spirit and flesh.

And to see Archangel Michael and all the Heavenly Host.

Happy Birthday, America!


Happy Birthday, America!

AMERICAN FLAGI have been reading Dr. Wilfred McClay’s recent book on the history of America, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter, 2019).

It is so refreshing to read a balanced history, one that shows the founders and other figures in our past as real people, with flaws, just like all of us, but whose passion sought that necessary balance of liberty and law, truth and freedom. And it is the complexity of the historical characters and the civility of the debates (compared to today) that gives me hope as an American. Thank you, Dr. McClay! Our national history is one of flawed men and women rising to greatness, or at least achieving great things in spite of their failings. This is a hopeful record for all of us.

For if one person can indeed make a difference, then each of us must do just that.

As a Christian, I turn to God to help me with this life challenge. Otherwise, the responsibility would be overwhelming. For I know I am flawed, prone to sin, and without confession and absolution, these sins would rule my heart and mind. Without a blazing desire to live my life within the realm of God’s will, I would withdraw into myself. Today, we call that depression and one is medicated.

This July 2019, I realized that I had not posted on these pages for a year—since July 2018. Why so long? I found that when I prayed (again and again like the nagging Psalmist) for God’s will to be done in my life, many challenges suddenly arose, many commitments demanded my time. The first challenge was my current novel-in-progress, Angel Mountain. Determined to finish that first draft, I finished it and sent it off to a few experts (a theologian and a hermit) for feedback. Both have given me enthusiastic and encouraging endorsements for the novel. Angel Mountain is now with my local editor who will help me polish it—add here, explain there, pay off the set-ups, develop the characters, sharpen the plot. We want you, the reader, to keep turning those pages.

Angel Mountain is about the Holocaust, a hermit, happiness, and Heaven. It speaks freely as to definitions of who we are and who we are meant to be as human beings, considering evolutionary theories and genetics. It speaks about the free speech that Americans take for granted—the speech that runs through the sentences and pages of our books that live on the shelves of our libraries, books available to all. It is speech that must freely tell the American story accurately, with balance, with pride, and with love, a story told to unify and not divide. It is speech that is protected by those waving stars and stripes (that some won’t honor), a flag welcoming those silenced by tyranny. Those many words—in my coming novel, on those library shelves, or in devices and on screens—have been given the freedom to be born into our world, to live in readers’ minds or speakers’ speeches. Americans must never take that freedom for granted.

The Bill of Rights—those early amendments to the Constitution—were fought over by the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The debate was a serious one, for Britain’s monarchy loomed large in the memory of the Founders. The Revolutionary War was not ancient history; the suffering was recent. The Constitution, some claimed, while creating our admirable system of checks on authority and balanced governing, needed to be further checked and balanced by rights listed and claimed for every American.

The first amendment was freedom of speech.

Our preacher this morning spoke of those days, those debates. He pointed out that the language Americans lived in and used to express their thoughts, their fears, hopes, and dreams, was the language of the King James Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The colonists lived within this world of faith, faith in the Judeo-Christian God and his law. Virtue was something admired, considered necessary and to be encouraged in a free people. While a theocracy was abhorred (too much centralized power) it was assumed that all Americans desired to be good citizens, to follow the law. Those who broke the law needed to be judged before a court of their peers, not only to protect society from harm, but to set an example.

Today we have a much less cohesive culture. Generations since World War II have been told that the only good, the only virtue, is pleasing oneself. Our children have been raised within the religion of self-esteem. Goodness is not desired. Many look out for only themselves, not their brothers and sisters. They spew hate, as they seek to silence the “haters,” those who disagree with them, triggering their discomfort.

And those who speak out against this major shift in cultural mores are silenced by the mob. Where is free speech? Civil discourse?

Those early years of our republic were fractious as well and not always civil. But most desired what was best for the newly formed union of colonies, this new nation, not just power for a few elite, or what would benefit oneself alone. If they didn’t desire this then they desired to desire this. Their conscience told them that division would hurt the nation, and union would strengthen it. But how to heal the divide?

I believe as Americans we know, deep within our hearts, that union is better than division, when all voices are heard and respected. We know that love is better than hate, that love creates, and that hate destroys. Truth is better than lies. Order is better than anarchy. We know that liberty must be protected by law, and that laws must be made by the people, through their elected representatives, laws made by citizens who love America and her freedoms, by Americans who see their country as a light beckoning to the world. 

I will continue with Dr. McClay’s excellent text and pray that it finds a home with many students and teachers across the land. It may also be a good gift for Christmas and birthdays.

This morning in church, we prayed from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and listened to lessons from the King James Bible. The stars and stripes stood to the left of the sanctuary, near the pulpit, as though protecting that seat of free speech. As the clergy and acolytes recessed down the aisle, we sang with one voice, the organ booming:

God of our fathers, whose almighty hand/Leads forth in beauty all the starry band/Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,/Our grateful songs before thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,/In this free land by thee our lot is cast;/Be thou our ruler guardian, guide, and stay,/Thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.                

 (Hymn #143, Daniel Crane Roberts, 1876)

Happy Birthday, America! You still speak to our hearts and minds. Let your citizens cherish one another, respect one another, listen to one another. Let us tell the truth as we see it, with love, without fear of reprisal. Let us be thankful for this great land of liberty and do all we can (within God’s will) to preserve our nation’s freedoms, every day, every week, and every year.

Angel Mountain and the Edges of Heaven

Mount_Diablo_from_Quarry_Hill_in_Shell_Ridge_Open_Space26,000 words and counting.

My novel-in-progress, Angel Mountain (a.k.a Mount Diablo), involving a hermit, a Holocaust survivor, a librarian, and a geneticist, is growing daily. I’m feeding it with prayer, trust, image, and song. But mostly trust.

Each day the boundaries of the manuscript are moved farther out, stretched like an elastic with hopes they remain until further stretching.

The process of growing my novel, adding faithfully to its meadows and mountains, has been one of not knowing what comes next. There are general parameters of course, but the ending is not yet clear, and so the growth could go in many directions. I have several crises in mind, and must decide which one or all of them. In a way I am daily facing an abyss, the edge of a cliff, looking for a bridge across to another land, another chapter or scene.

The novel itself is about borders, boundaries, edges, Heaven and Earth. There are planetary edges too, horizons, curves that outline the earth or perhaps underline the heavens. Where do they merge? When, in the spectrum of colors we call light, does blue become green? These are moments of infinity, eternity.

Our preacher today spoke of grafting our souls onto Christ. We must tap into the root of the Cross in mortal time to enter immortal time, eternity. We rise to eternal life, promised by Christ, because we have already become part of Him. We cross the borders of this life and enter a new land of color, joy, and song, only because we have been already grafted into Christ Himself.

I have found that the more we graft ourselves and our souls onto Christ in this life, here and now, through Eucharist and faithfulness and love, the more we know joy here and now. In this way, eternity is now. God is now. We can have it all right now.

If we choose to.

And so my novel is about choice and about the place where Heaven meets Earth, where Earth meets Heaven. My hermit knows this and his dreams of color and music and beauty scatter through the pages, hoping to graft the reader into his visions. It is about angels and mountains. It is about faith and science and the perceived edges of each, false peripheries rapidly disappearing with each discovery in genome and cosmos. Faith supports science and science supports faith. They need not be separate realms.

It is also about freedom of speech, the use and abuse of language and rhetoric, the boundaries of civility and respect and honor. Where does civilized speech end and hate speech begin? Must language be ruled by laws or outlaws? Must speech become a weapon used by identity groups and powerful interests to maim and destroy?

I fear I have too many ideas to cram into my little story about the goings-on on Angel Mountain.

The geneticist has met the hermit and the Holocaust survivor, and the librarian will soon meet them all. There is a gigantic book collection and baptisms in a pond. There is an earthquake, a shooting, and a book-burning. There are the usual questions, such as “What is the meaning of life?” and “Who am I?” and “Why believe in God?” There is song and dance and the music of the spheres. There is, most of all, pure joy on these edges of Heaven.

So, we shall see what happens next.

REVIEW: The Legacy, by Melanie Phillips

The LegacyThe Legacy, a first novel by the bold British journalist Melanie Phillips, is a page-turner involving layering mysteries. The mysteries interweave through time to the present day, in a story set in England, America, and Israel.

But The Legacy is more importantly a novel of ideas. My novels, too, are novels of ideas, with characters that care about today’s culture, about moral choice, about faith and family, about the survival of the free world.

There are far too few novelists brave enough today to write novels of ideas and write them well. Such courage means ostracism by the mainstream (read leftist) media, for such novels encourage thoughtful debate. They ask questions and search for answers, which is not appreciated by the left. I applaud Ms. Phillips’ honesty and courage.

In The Legacy, the central idea behind the characters and plot is the question of Jewish identity, not only in the history of persecution and dispersion, but Jewish political positioning in media and politics with regard to Israel and British antisemitism.

The main character, Russell Woolfe, is a TV producer who has absorbed without thinking leftist propaganda. He shuns his Jewish family in his desire to be part of modern culture. We enter his world as he faces the death of his father, and with this death he must face the death of his own history, the legacy of the Jewish people.

I have often wondered why many Jewish liberals are anti-Israel, the only western democracy in the region and a vital ally to our own Judeo-Christian foundations. I am perplexed as to why many of these unliberal liberals discourage and intimidate free speech on college campuses, and why they shun the voice of religion in the public square. It makes little sense that they enforce the tyranny of political correctness in the arts – in publishing, news media, and movies. These are trends that can only hurt the Jewish people, and all of us.

I found some answers in Andrew Klavan’s memoir, The Great Good Thing, in which he recounts his conversion to Christianity. He explains the nature of his Jewish upbringing in America. His immigrant parents desired to become Americans, to merge into the culture, and to lose, in time, their Jewishness, become “secular Jews.” To them, this was the way to succeed and, above all, survive. This was the way to calm the fears of deportation, that knock on the door in the night. And so the next generation denied their religious roots and their roots as a people, a chosen people of God. They wanted to meld into the great American melting pot.

As I read Ms. Phillips’ novel, I could see some of these themes emerge. Russell Woolfe has followed a similar path, separating himself from his family and his legacy. But slowly events unfold (involving a physical legacy) that shock him into the truth of his identity.

What are the roots of antisemitism? One root is envy. History tells us that the Christian bans on “usury” (loans at interest) by the medieval world opened the field of banking and finance to Jews. Through the years, Jews became wealthy and powerful. Wealth and power attract envy and hatred. Antisemitism surges, fueled by avarice. The chosen people of God learned to survive, with God’s help.

In our own time, the West seems to be committing suicide. As the crucible of freedom and individual rights, of equality under the law, of government by the people for the people, the Western world must survive. The hordes, having been stopped at Vienna on September 11, 1683, are once again at the gates of the West, most significantly in their attack on another September 11 (no coincidence). And like a Greek tragedy, hidden in the Trojan horse of liberal blindness, they are within our gates, owning our literature. And so we destroy ourselves with our own self-hatred. Our children have not been taught our legacy of freedom. Our schools malign and shame our history.

Russell Woolfe’s journey through these pages opens his eyes. Is he too late? The left, made up of many talented Jewish writers and producers, must take their blinders off, if democracy, and all that it means, is to survive this onslaught from within and without.

Kudos, Ms. Phillips! You have told the truth in journalism, and now you have told the truth in a novel of ideas. Thank you for your contribution to our legacy of freedom.

The Time of Our Life

IMG_3529 (2)I recently had the blessing of taking part in our annual Anglican synod, a gathering of clergy and laity that meets to discuss and decide many issues relating to this part of the family of God, the Body of Christ.

We see old friends and make new ones. We propose and dispose and encourage the discouraged. We listen to one another and support one another, disciplining urges to gossip or belittle. We guard our tongues and speak in charity. All the while, as we mingle as an ecclesial family of many generations, we listen to the voice of God, his promptings. We pray and worship together in a holy communion, allowing the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn bright, inflaming our love for one another and for God’s holy Church.

These synods are times of unifying the disunity that threatens any society of human beings, be it religious, political, or cultural. We come from small and large parishes, separated by space not spirit, and it is good to see this greater network of traditional Anglicans from all over America. It is good to spend time with our leaders, both clergy and lay, who sacrifice their time on this earth for us. They give themselves freely, all for Christ’s flock, all for love of him and he in us.

Time is a terrible thing, an awe-full thing, an awesome thing. It is God’s gift, falling through the hourglass without thought to person or place. Our lives begin. All too quickly, they end. What are we to do with this precious window, this time of our life? Time passes, ticks, slips by, gone. Irretrievable.

Smell the roses, some say. Notice everything and forget nothing. And yet, with time our bodies age and our minds retreat. And so we look to the young, the next generation. What gifts can we leave for them? What can we bequeath them? What is our legacy, their inheritance, that we joyfully pass on?

At the synod last week, I watched the generations mingle. I could see the young absorbing the gifts of the old. I could see that what we elders did mattered immensely. I could see that I could be a part of this great golden chain linking us all, a rosary of souls redeeming the earth. I could mentor as I had been mentored. I was pleased that the Bishop Morse Youth Camp would be held once again, linking the generations, for Bishop Morse founded and nurtured these gatherings, bringing in young people from far and wide.

One of my mentors was the late Archbishop Morse (1923-2015). He was simple Father Morse of St. Peter’s Oakland when I first met him in 1977; I have spoken of him often in these pages. He carried the cross of Christian sacramental orthodoxy through the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. He bore it as a shepherd bears a lamb, its weight balanced over his shoulders, safe. His vision never wavered, or never appeared to, and I often thought he was listening to the voice of God, a prompting as to where to go and what to say in that time, that moment, given to him. He was ever-present in the present, and people loved his total, undivided attention. They basked in it. He taught me this – the virtue of time, the power of now.

I try and do this today, to listen, listen, listen. Distractions abound and will always dilute our present. So we practice the discipline of listening, paying attention. We are open to change, to pivoting, if required, but always within the orthodoxy of Christ’s Church.

Archbishop Morse’s spirit wove among us in the meetings last week. He was a great blessing to us in some miraculous way. Memory of his mentoring, his shepherding, embraced us. I could see him carrying his cross, his gentle and strong hold on the wooden beam resting lightly on his shoulders. I recalled how he kept his eye focused on the road ahead, a path untraveled by us but well traveled by the saints. It was a path, he knew, rocky with boulders and prickly with thorns. It was a path frequented by hungry lions and venomous snakes. We too, I thought, must do as he did. We must carry this same cross up the road, a bit further into time. We must keep our eye trained on the straight and narrow path, listening for the shepherd’s voice calling us home.

Early Friday morning, we worshiped together in the Synodical Mass at St. Joseph of Arimathea Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley. In this barrel-vaulted space, the red floor tiles shine from decades of kneeling, decades of seminarians praying for discernment of vocation, of choice, of paths forward. The tiles gleam with this devotion; the white stucco walls reflect the clerestory light from high above. On this Friday, as the clergy processed through the doorway on Durant, I was thankful. In the packed space, we sang and celebrated the gifts of Robert Sherwood Morse – this chapel, our faith in Christ, the vision of God that he showed us. The organ boomed. The people sang. Candles flamed before the St. Vladimir icon of Mary and her Son. Candles burned too on the sanctuary altar between white roses, before the simple wooden crucifix on the wall high above. The Paschal candle to the side testified to resurrection, Easter’s and ours, the flame burning not far from Bishop Morse’s episcopal chair, a chair empty since his passing into eternity.

We are all witnesses to love, to the love of God, the love of our good bishops, priests, deacons, and laity, the love of our mentors in time. This is the miracle and mystery of life in the Body of Christ. We carry our crosses along the path of love, singing with all our hearts and souls.

Read Bishop Hansen’s sermon here:  The Power of Place, Synod Sermon St.Joseph’s

See video clips of the Synod Mass at St. Joseph’s: St. Joseph’s Chapel Facebook

A Good Greening

IMG_3395 (6)Northern California had a good drenching these last few weeks. The hills are an incomprehensible shade of green. When the winds blow billowing white clouds across the skies, I understand what God meant when he said, “It is good.”

It is good indeed, and in a time of division and heated words between neighbors, family members, and friends over propaganda spewed by the press, the natural world reminds us of our common roots as humans. The hills and the skies proclaim the glory of God, and we all share this good, earthly home together.

Many things bind us as a human family and it is good to be reminded of this. We all are born (the lucky wanted ones). We live. We die. We arrive at the portal of Heaven, knock on the door that is Christ (as the preacher said this morning), and the door opens. Does Christ know us? Do we know him? The shepherd knows his sheep we are told, and the sheep know the voice of the shepherd.

Christ binds us together. He gathers us, heals us, and teaches us to love one another as he has loved us.

One of the remarkable aspects of the two parishes my husband and I alternately attend – St. Peter’s Oakland and St. Joseph of Arimathea in Berkeley – is the varied ethnicity and  multi-generations that form our congregations. The Anglican churches I have been a part of have always had this colorful cross-section (no pun intended) of worshipers, but it is particularly reflective of our urban churches. I have come to take it for granted that these varied identities unite in worship, that we all become sisters and brothers, a family. When we have our divisions, and we do, we are gathered back together at the altar, hearing the voice of our shepherd calling us in for supper.

And with the Supper of the Lamb, the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune together in a single communion.

Identity politics is washed away; ageism is denied and children precious; gender and race is cause for celebration. We teach our young the way of acceptance and love by singing together, praying together, worshiping God together. We form processions, singing hymns our ancestors sang, and time disappears. We genuflect and we kneel.

When our natural families fragment and reform, we depend on Sunday worship to give us not only identity, but meaning, purpose, and peace. Priests counsel and forgive. The sisters and brothers of our parish family uplift one another in prayer, sometimes with names on lists, names laid at the altar to be spoken. We pray for those who suffer, here and outside our parish. We pray for the unborn who never had a chance, and for the mothers who mourn them. We pray for the students who study, the teachers who teach, the speakers who speak. We pray for peace and freedom. We give thanks. We worship our Creator.

The sufferings of today are no worse than other times, just colored differently by culture, freedom, and choice. We have been, and always will be, selfish creatures, shunning sacrifice, lazy and dishonest in our confession of sin. But one day a week we are redeemed. We are given a chance to start over. And we don’t have to be alone in this re-birthing, for we have the family of God, no small thing.

This morning, as the contralto sang “Ave Maria,” and her voice soared in amber arcs through the russet barrel-vaulted dome over the altar, I returned from my communion, thankful. The notes were like rain on my parched heart, greening me like the hills. Having received the Son of God in the form of bread and wine, I knew my soul was greened too. I was ready for the week to come and all of its challenges.

Our individual identities are many, each one of us so unique, so very different from one another. But our creator calls our names, and having been baptized with water and spirit, we know his voice. When we look to the hills and up to the skies, we find others are looking too, answering his call. They are all around us. We join hands in a dance of joy, this family, this earthly and heavenly host.

And our Creator says, “It is good.”