Tag Archives: Christian

Memorials to Remember

Memorial DayTomorrow is Memorial Day, the American holiday that honors all those who died while serving in the nation’s armed forces, defending our borders at home and abroad.

And yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of our Archbishop Morse, a man who died while serving in the Church’s armed forces, defending our borders of life and death, loving us to his last breath.

Today, this Sunday in Trinitytide, connects the two, and my memory remembers these borders of human life, of our nation, our great experiment in democracy, and of our Church, the Body of Christ on earth.

I am editing Bishop Morse’s sermons to be published by the American Church Union. One of the recurring themes is that religious belief begins when we accept our own death. This acknowledgement prompts us to consider the meaning of life, asks us to question who we truly are. What makes us human? Are we any more than a collection of molecules thrown together randomly?

Many have written intriguing answers to these questions. The Christian answer, of course, lies in what we call apologetics, the making a case for belief in a loving God who created each of us with and through love. In fact, as St. John (and my bishop) writes, God is Love. His breath breathed over the waters, created day and night, stars and sun and moon, breathed life into dust to create Adam, en-livening him with Himself. And so the Christian answer is that we are made in God’s image. We will not die, but through union with Christ, God in human form, we will enter eternal glory.

Another theme in Bishop Morse’s sermons is that if you don’t like being in love you won’t like being in Heaven. Falling in love with God is a magnificent journey that never ends.

I’ve been reading a book about this recently, The Romance of Religion, Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beautyby Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Roman Catholic priest. Father Longenecker invites skeptics to view faith from new perspectives, to live dangerously with an open heart and mind. His blog at Patheos.com is called “Standing on My Head,” titled thus to encourage a new way of looking at Christianity, a more adventurous way, a romantic way.

I often feel guilty that many of my extended family, whom I love dearly, are missing out on life’s most beautiful, good, and true journey. They are, quite bluntly, being left behind. They are not living the great romance between man and God, the falling in love on both sides, the enjoyment and pleasure of knowing their Creator who so loves them.

As a writer I particularly appreciate Father Longenecker’s  apologia, for he explains the role of language and how words themselves link the physical world of matter with the spiritual realm of sharing ideas. He explains the historical roles of heroes and quests and storytelling, of fantasy and fiction and fairy tales. All of these core elements of our humanity, our history, define us as human, and for a reason. They tell us we are creatures greater than our material bodies, more than our lifespans. We are meant for something beyond, something glorious.

When we face our own death (the truth we know to be universally acknowledged, at least in the middle of the night), we become more interested in those spiritual realms, in man’s spirit, in that something beyond the present.

As an English Literature major at San Francisco State in the sixties, I was required to read the existential works of Sartre, Camus, and others. I wish I had been required to read more Dante and Shakespeare, but this was not the fashion. As I absorbed existentialism, the belief that all we have is the present and what we can see, I became keenly aware that I would one day die and that would be the end. The awareness threw me into a deep depression. But in 1967 pills to cure sadness weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today.

I asked the question that awaited in the dark corners of those pages: why bother to live if you were going to die? I considered suicide, for life had no meaning. What pulled me out of the depression was love, the love of a friend who encouraged me to read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which provided a logical foundation for belief. Then I crossed the threshold of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in San Mateo where I found the tools needed to build upon that foundation: Scripture and sacraments, prayer and song, actions and words that defined the glorious worship of this loving God. I fell in love with Love, and with its cousins: beauty, truth, and goodness.

The borders of life are not birth and death but something far better. And like those brave men and women who lived and died defending our nation’s borders, our faithful clergy and laity live and die defending our spiritual borders. In America the two kinds of borders are vitally connected, for without freedom to worship and speak, believers will be silenced.

Memorial Day reminds us that borders preserve a way of life, indeed, preserve life itself. Our laws create borders, lines that we citizens must not cross over, lines drawn by all of us, together. As a culture we draw these lines between other behaviors as well, between the civil and the uncivil, between the mannerly and the unmannerly. Such borders are not legalized but they are protected by social sanctions – applauding and lauding, shunning and shaming. These are borders rooted in Judeo-Christian belief and practice, and should we cease to acknowledge America’s vital history, our borders (both national and social) will collapse.

My novel, The Fire Trail, speaks of these things, reminding us to remember who we are, to memorialize the many Memorial Days that honor our nation’s borders and those men and women who defend them throughout the year. For when we honor those who have died for our freedoms, we turn death into life.

Passionate Passiontide

440px-Kruis_san_damianoWe are entering Passiontide, a time when we consider the great sacrificial love of God.

As I watched the passionate protesters at the huge Trump rally at the University of Illinois last week, I was struck by their hatred, not only of Mr. Trump and his supporters but far more importantly their dismissal of his right to free speech. Their own speech was all that mattered to them. They were all that mattered to them. No-one else could speak. Their world was small and dark, turned in upon itself, devouring itself, like cancer or gangrene. Such a world, such a place, Christians call Hell. 

For without God (and Hell is the absence of God), passion is uncontrolled and undirected. It becomes misplaced and dangerous. Whatever our passion might be, if it is not God directed and Christ-filled, it turns inward upon itself. It seeds destruction, including the source of the passion, the individual himself or herself. 

The word passion, as my bishop often said, is the union of the words love and suffering. For God became man to bring us close to him. By taking on our flesh and suffering with us, as we suffer, he redeemed and continues to redeem our suffering, our mortal flesh. We join him on the Cross and we join him in his Resurrection. This is called the atonement, the at-one-ment, for we are pulled into God by his becoming one of us. 

And so today on Passion Sunday the Church pauses and reflects on the Passion of Christ, the last two weeks of Lent – Christ’s painful path to Golgotha, the hill of the skull. All images of Christ in our parish church are hidden behind purple cloths, and we feel a visceral loss of love, to sense in some way what the world would be like without Christ. In the next weeks we will follow Christ on his path to Calvary as best we can, some of us better than others, depending on age and infirmity, time and desire, and most of all, depending on our love, our passion to follow him. 

I have come to believe, in my sixty-eight years, that we cannot experience goodly, Godly, passion without God. And we cannot experience God without the Church, his Body. We are not meant, as creatures created by a loving Father, to be alone, to meet our life’s challenges alone. We are meant to be loved and to love, and we can only do this through Christ and his great gift of himself.

The gift of Christ, the Son of God, was given to us two thousand years ago in Bethlehem and then on the Cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. In those moments, history breathed once again, as the fresh air of God’s love blew upon the world, changing it forever. Mankind turned up another path toward love, learning the meaning of true passion, God-filled love. Those who accept the gift never look back to the dark days of un-love. Those who accept the gift look forward to a lifetime and an eternity of glory and unearned love.

The gift of Christ, the God-Man, the incarnated Son of God, is, as they say, a gift that keeps on giving. With every Eucharist, God the Son is re-membered, made newly present in the Real Presence. With every Eucharist, God the Son mystically enters our bodies and re-members us. As Christ becomes one with our flesh, he dwells within, renewing, inspiring, with his love. His prayer becomes ours, and our prayer becomes his. Every day is an Epiphany, a day of manifestation and seeing. Every day is a day of becoming like the Wise Men at the manger, a day of understanding the manifold works of God. 

For as Christ became at-one with Man, he gave us a means – through his Body the Church – to become at one with him individually. Love is personal, tender, touching. God loves us, each and every one of us, each with our unique personalities. We are precious to him. He loves us personally, tenderly. He reaches out to us and touches us in every Eucharist. 

Only God can order our passions, whatever they may be, to be goodly, to be Godly. And with the ordering of loves, comes the ordering of our sufferings and sacrifices. Nothing is lost. All is offered up to the Cross, and all is returned a thousand fold. 

And so we enter Passiontide, a vigorous ride in and into our life with God. We ride confidently, knowing we are riding high and on to Easter’s resurrection.

Listening in the Stillness of Lent

prayerThere is a great rushing about these days and I, living in the world, rush too, doing and thinking and writing, packing my hours and days and weeks, overscheduling, overpromising. The younger generations twitter not only in tweets, but chitter and chatter like small birds, speaking at such a pace my untrained (elderly) ear cannot absorb the frenzy and I cannot interpret the bites of sound flung so furiously and I often ask for repeats but to no avail, for they too race ahead around another corner and beyond into the future.

When do we rest? When do we pause and reflect? When do we listen in quiet for the still small voice of God?

It has been said that the Christian’s growth is two-fold.  A Christian grows into Christ and at the same time Christ takes residence within the Christian. “He in us and we in Him” we pray in the Mass. We receive Christ in the Eucharist and with each communion we invite Him to take over more of our lives. As He grows within us in this sacramental action and as we pray the prayer he taught us to pray (Our Father…) He begins to pray within us, so that our prayer becomes His, our deepest desire. And so we journey through this passage of time on earth, preparing for eternity.

It is so very good that there are regular times in the Church Year in which we are pulled out of our busy lives. We are called, especially in Lent, to observe a different way of living. Essentially we are called to simplify, to remove habits of misspent time, habits of gluttony, and care-lessness, and dance to a simpler tune, a slower and quieter one, so that our slow steps will ease our hearts. So that we can rest. We are asked to take this gift of found time carved from Lenten discipline and use it to love, to love others in care-taking, to love God in prayer-making.

Sundays are days of rest throughout the year. Our Creator in his infinite wisdom decreed in the beginning that we should rest on the seventh day. For Christians this day moved to Sunday to honor the Resurrection. Sundays became sacred, set apart to worship God in repentance, renewal, and regeneration. They are weekly holy-days for the faithful, healthy-days for body and soul.

Studies have found that religious people in general live longer than others. I believe it must be true, at least for true believers, those who practice their faith, integrate their belief into their lives to become whole, holy. Christians live under a law of love that provides order, an ordering of importance, a prioritizing of concern. Having answers to crucial questions, having a map to follow, decreases our stress. We know that we will not always live up to this law of love. We may ignore the answers to the crucial questions. We may forget we even have a map. We err and we stray like lost sheep, we follow the desires and devices of our own hearts, and there is often no health in us. But we also know that we have a loving Father. We repent, we confess, and we return to His law of love. We recall the answers and we follow the route on the map that has been so clearly laid out for us.

The ability to release to a loving God all of this stress and worry, to let Him bear the burden on His holy wood, is a relief giving birth to joy. And in our joy we return to the cross to happily help Him carry it, walking with Him through Jerusalem and through our own lifetime.

Lent is a time of renewal through re-creation. We retreat and reflect, we repent and are reborn, we render unto God what is God’s. We move out of the fast lane and into the slower one. We prune, cut back, and feed. We watch for new growth, meeting Christ in Sunday worship, praying our Morning and Evening Prayers, calling on the housebound, giving to the poor in need and in spirit, embracing the forgotten and lonely who sit alone in the corner of the room, knowing we are embracing Christ.

All the while, in the silence of Lent, we listen for the still small voice of God. Soon, we know, in the killing and burial of our rushed time we will hear His voice. Soon, we know, we will join our voice with His, and His with ours, to rise once again in glory.

Touching Love

Writing2I have been given the remarkable opportunity to look through boxes containing the sermons of the late Archbishop Morse, to possibly be published by the American Church Union. They were written on loose sheets on lined yellow legal pads. Some were jotted on hotel stationery. Some had their own colorful pocket folders, faded and spotted with time, water, and tea, and some were bunched with others by topic. Many were written in purple ink, his favorite, earlier ones in black ballpoint. There were even some typed from his seminary days, with notes in the margins from homiletics professors.

I hadn’t expected to find such treasures since he usually preached without notes.

I soon sorted them into seasons of the Church Year, but many sermons could have been preached anytime anywhere, and often were, as noted by his wife in the top corners in her neatly penciled script: date, feast date, parish. Some were added to, so that a sermon from 1961 lived on in 2006, having journeyed through half a dozen congregations, each time changed slightly according to hearers and season.

I began to type, words of hope, words of mystery and miracle, words of love. There was always a sense of happy wonder at the works of God among men and in his own heart and life.

At St. Thomas Anglican Church in San Francisco on February 18, 1990, Sexagesima Sunday (today’s Sunday in the Church calendar), he preached something like this: 

“We are in that wonderful three-week period of preparation for Lent, defined in the Prayer Book as the Pre-Lenten Season. These three Sundays are a period of reflection, and expectation for the severity of Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week. They are sort of hinges on the door that swings between the joyful mysteries of the Epiphany and the sorrow and suffering of Lent – the recalling of the passion and the death of Jesus Christ.”

Hinges on the door swinging between seasons. He was a poet. And, it occurs to me as I type his words, and now these words, that we are all poets searching for meaning, reaching for words to describe our human existence, to understand who we are. That is what poetry does, in the end, for it uses intense imagery to evoke sensory perceptions that will help us make sense of life. Christians have found such ways and such words in Sunday worship and so live poetic lives. We pray, and with prayer we use words to meet and touch the infinite, eternity, the source of all love, indeed, Love itself. We pour water in baptism to fill the reborn with God’s Spirit. We consecrate bread and wine to fill us with Christ in the Eucharist. We fill the finite – our own flesh – with the infinite. And we do this through the consecration of matter.

Sacramental Christians do not separate spirit and matter. The union of soul and body is the profound sacrament of Creation. In Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the hand of God touches Adam, filling him with life, the life of His Word, God the Son, the Christ, the Logos. All creation reflects this sacramental action of love.

It is a beautiful day in the Bay Area today, this middle Sunday in Pre-Lent. This creation around us is windswept and cold, the air washed by last week’s rain. Puffy white clouds slip through pale blue skies, winter skies hoping for spring. The green hills reflect the glory of God, for they are indeed his creation, just as we are.

The Church Year reflects the natural year in many ways. The date of Easter follows the vernal (spring) equinox (nearly equal days and nights), for the Jewish Passover was celebrated on the first full moon following the vernal equinox, and it is recorded that the death and resurrection of Christ occurred following Passover. And so our days lengthen, become Lenten, moving toward that date of the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, March 27, 2016, Easter, Resurrection Day.

The door of the season opens to preparation, penance, and hope. We scour our hearts and invite Almighty God in to dwell. We sing and we dance the liturgies of the Church to unite matter and spirit, time and eternity. Soon we hear the song, feel the rhythm, the poetry of words made flesh.

My calloused fingertips have been hard at work, carrying words and throwing them onto the keyboard, words that scurry across the screen and, I understand, rest in a memory chip or megabyte, to be invited one day to re-appear on screen and paper.

And so the bishop’s purple ink on the yellow papers, water marked and parched and smudged, moves from his fingers to mine, from his heart to yours. This seems right, for the recurring theme I have found so far in these joyful sermons is Love. That God is Love. That is why the Christian life is so love-ly, so full of love, so full of joy, of color, of music, of beauty, and of truth.

Christians, if they are faithful, touch Love itself.

A Light in Time

Advent St. JIt is a season of renewal, a time when we review the old year and make resolutions for the new one. We judge our time, our spending of time, our use or abuse of the year 2015. Each year is a gift. It is a unique segment of our lives, a year we cannot retrieve and a year that will never be repeated. We are given only one chance with our lives, only one chance with the time given.

And so we look back and consider what habits to discard and what to keep, what to repent and what to repeat, what to affirm and what to deny. Sometimes confusion reigns even in hindsight, and the better path not obvious even from this vista point, perched as we are on the cliff at the end of the year, getting ready to jump into 2016, a new segment of time granted to us, this new year. 

“She had the time of her life.” We say this to emphasize a moment of great exuberance and joy, a peak time amidst the other valleys. But all time is of our lives. All time is holy.

As I look back on my year, I do indeed see confusion and chaos. A good friend and mentor left our earthly time and entered eternity, leaving us behind. Another friend is getting ready to leave, in hospice care. Her bags are nearly packed and she is peacefully waiting the chariot.

In the past year there have been many risings to occasions and putting best feet forward and keeping stiff upper lips. There have been duties and responsibilities not always heartfelt, actions ordered by God’s law of love. There have been dark times in shadowy valleys where answers could not be seen, where the fork in the road had no signpost, or the sign had been lost, thrown into the bushes.

And yet looking back at 2015 I also see clarity and order. My good friend and mentor in Heaven left me many gifts that live on bridging our separation, gifts of wisdom and love, ways to see and believe, the necessity of humility and its fruit, repentance. My friend waiting for her journey to Heaven continues to gift me in her last days, but I can see clearly now that her friendship itself was given to me to make sense of my own time.

The risings to occasions, the duties and responsibilities not eagerly engaged, rewove my own heart to be of stronger stuff, not so easily thwarted by dismay and danger, informing my soul again with God’s law of love. The dark times through the journey of 2015 led me to the altar of my local church, pushing me to my knees in penitence and prayer, and when I re-entered the world I found myself on the top of a mountain of light with a clear view of the surrounding countryside.

We do indeed live behind the veil of eternity. Some of us glimpse the brilliant color and catch the fragrance and sensory delight on the other side. Some of us hear the music, the choirs of angels and the songs of the saints. Some of us don’t know how to lift the curtain or even believe that it can be lifted or that it is there at all, thinking this world is all there is.

And so as I stepped through the dark days of Advent, those short wintry days, I watched and I prayed and I worshiped God in his Church, calling for Christ’s coming, singing with his people. Slowly, a light shined in the darkness, revealing my place in the world, my place in my moment of time. I observed the rituals and rites of Christmas with their sacramental signs, knowing they would lead me to the light to see again.

I garlanded the evergreen in our bowed window and strung twinkling lights through the branches. Ornaments from the years of my life were resurrected from tissue nests in boxes, where they had lived since last Christmas. The figurines and balls and tassels hanging from bits of wire released memories from the prison of my mind, giving them air, and a stained-glass gathering of family and children and loved ones crowded happily with one another in my heart.

In the days before Christmas – after the parish pageant on Advent IV – I set up our large crèche figures on the hearth and dangled a golden star from the mantel. Fresh white candles found holders in all the rooms so that I would not forget the great light coming soon to the world to banish the dark, the darkness of winter, the darkness of my soul.

So the confusion of life, after all, I learned once again, can be cleared. There is a way to lighten the darkness, as described by St. John whose feast we celebrate today:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

John 1+, Gospel reading for Christmas Day

And in one of John’s letters to an early church:

“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”             I John 1+

And so, as my good friend in Heaven taught me, one must walk in the light – that is, penitently – in order to see in the darkness. He also gave me the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ, that leads me to the light. For only by entering the doors of Christ’s Body can we experience clarity amidst confusion. Only by walking up the aisle to kneel at the altar can we know the love of God and his forgiveness. Only by observing our time, each day, hour, minute, within the seasons of the life of the Church, can we find our way forward into the New Year that awaits each of us.

I look back upon 2015 and see a map of love through time. I want to follow that path that journeys with Love incarnate. I look forward to 2016, every minute, every hour, every step of the way, lit by the light and love of Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.

Inside Story

young-woman-readingPerhaps it is the border between summer and fall, those dangling days at August’s end and September’s beginning, that brings to mind the way we crossover, emigrate into a story as we turn the pages or swipe a screen.

A story invites us to cross a border and enter a magical mystical land, a promising, tantalizing world worthy of exploration and delight. It is a private estate, a personal place, intimate, shared at most with one other voice – the author, maybe also a reader reading aloud. A good story creates what John Gardner called “a vivid and continuous dream.” Novelists are urged by their coaches, instructors, and mentors to avoid at all costs waking the reader, pulling her to the surface of the dream. We want to draw her deeper and deeper into the dream of story, into its heart, to feel its heartbeat.

Those who write stories (authors), those who make those stories available (publishers), and those who promote those stories (critics, media), control our culture. So in the twentieth century, in the postwar euphoria of peace and the explosion of pharmaceuticals, with the resulting sexual revolution and its triumph of narcissism over sacrificial love, stories embraced the worldview of self, filling the vacuum left with the fading of faith and the dilution of belief.

Such despair lived in earlier fiction to be sure, but postwar peace and rising living standards pushed the need for God to the boundaries of our culture, banning religion in art and academia. Somewhere in the sixties and seventies Christians lost the culture, primarily, it appears, because they lost their creative voice in the public square. Christians no longer offered “a vivid and continuous dream,” a hopeful story for the present day. The dream had been replaced by a nightmare or, at the least, sleeplessness haunted by ghouls.

Today memories of that good dream are (almost) only memories. Even so, it is never too late to redeem the time, to recognize story’s power. For in a story, particularly one set in the present, we can create a dream not only vivid and continuous, but one we can breathe life into. And only when Christian story writers – novelists for the most part – return, crossing the border into our culture and bringing with them the culture’s rightful inheritance, its faith-full characters and plots of hope, only then, will our public square sing once again.

And so as I watch Christian faith and practice pushed to the borders of society by an overweening Supreme Court or other misguided fiat, I see a clear and present danger to churches and their related institutions (hospitals and schools) as faith is expelled from the public square. It is a world that countenances the selling of baby parts, that traffics in pornography, that is drugged by violence and sexual deviancy. It is a world that silences speech and poisons academia. It is a world that pushes propaganda.

Let us embrace stories of hope, stories that remind us of the definitions of love, marriage, and family, of our humanity, of who we are as creatures of the Creator. Let’s encourage authors to create heroes who challenge us to be brave and selfless, characters we can emulate, and character we can demand from our leaders. Let us call lies lies and truth true when we see and hear them. In such stories we can live for a time, waking from the dream as better men and women, people with a clearer vision.

As Christian writers, let us infuse the goodness and love of Christ into our culture. Let us rebirth our world, through story’s power. Today, we are nearly aliens in our own land, nearing the borders.  It’s not too late for publishers and promoters to lead us back into our nation’s heart. Authors cannot do this alone. All we can do is create the dream, the vivid and continuous dream of heaven, and invite readers in, one at a time, into the magical mystical land of story to turn the page or swipe the screen, to dwell happily for a time.

Summer Sundays

Sunday SchoolOur children’s Summer Sundays program in our local parish this year, “I Believe,” revolves around the Apostles’ Creed and the Church Year, those “tides” or seasons that teach us the creeds. We sing “Advent Tells Us Christ is Near,” we read a story about the creed, we plant sunflowers in bright pails, we blow big balloons, we color and we craft. We make fridge magnets with the verses of our hymn to take home. 

As we dropped seeds into the dark soil, pushing each one deeper into its loamy home, to one day shoot into the bright light and flower, I thought about belief and faith and the Apostles’ Creed, our statement of belief. Would these children be allowed to practice their beliefs? Would the state intervene and silence them, force them underground? 

american-flag-2a2Some say believers are already underground, for belief in Christianity is not fashionable, even considered radical and strange. We are called bigots, narrow minded, living in a fantasyland, stuck in the past. And yet, for many of us, there is ample historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ and his divinity and the authority of Holy Scripture. We have known the Almighty God through prayer and met him in the Eucharist. We have seen his Holy Spirit working through others, nudging and guiding. We have opened our hearts and experienced the glory of God’s grace. These are no small things. This is good news, worthy to be published and proclaimed and protected, news to give hope to our world, news to tell our children, unafraid, with thanksgiving. This good news, gospel, deserves proclamation – and defense – in the public square. 

And yet such proclamations are increasingly discouraged. To be faithful to traditional marriage and family, clear Scriptural mandates, is considered unfeeling of those who view marriage differently. Rational debate, healthy debate, is pressured into silence.

The recent Supreme Court decision redefining marriage cites the “right to dignity,” a right not found in the Constitution. The judiciary has legislated law, a prerogative of Congress, the people’s representatives. And if we object to this massive assumption of power by five appointed lawyers from elite schools we are branded “bigots” and deemed “intolerant.” And yet, who are the new intolerant? 

The decision itself is based on dubious logic, seemingly seeded in emotion and a desire to restructure society according to personal agenda. Since the argument claims the “right to dignity” of gay and lesbian partners, one must conclude that polygamous unions and incestuous partners also have such a right. Bestiality as well. If the definition of marriage is not limited as it has been since the world began – a committed union of a man and a woman, producers of the next generation, and thus of interest to the state – then any relationship could be deemed marriage as long as it consensual. After all every relationship has “the right to dignity.”

I believe in freedom of religion, and that our nation still believes in this fragile and threatened freedom. We were founded on this principle; it is who we are. I have no desire to impose my beliefs on others, but I have a sincere desire, even a mandate, to live according to those beliefs, and to teach my children those beliefs. Our stars and stripes and our fireworks, our hot dogs and chips and beer, our parades and our picnics every Fourth of July proclaim our diversity of race and religion. Our flags wave proudly reminding us that we are a peaceful people who debate our differences with respect for one another’s beliefs.

And so, this fifth of July I pray for peace within our diverse peoples. I pray that this Supreme Court decision does not give license to the silencing of our conversation. I pray that we may worship in our local churches and temples without fear, that we may keep God’s law, writing it on our hearts and in our deeds. I pray that we will be respected and not slandered for our witness to the truth of God and man and woman.

The Court decision has divided us, not unified us. It has harmed us. It has encouraged a sudden silence across our exceptional land, and lining that silence is fear. 

starThe Bethlehem Star returned last week, not seen since 2-3 A.D. This conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurred within the constellation Leo and its king star, Regulus, creating the Bethlehem Star. What does this mean? Is Christ returning soon to judge the living and the dead? The appearance in the night sky of this “star” is curious and wondrous. We watch and wait, ever vigilant over our own hearts, ready for Christ’s second coming. And as we watch and wait, we sing with the children about the first Star of Bethlehem. The children twirl, raising their arms in praise. They remind me of the joy of being a Christian and living out the Church Year with other faithful: 

Advent tells us Christ is near: Christmas tells us Christ is here./In Epiphany we trace/All the glory of His grace.

Then three Sundays will prepare/For the time of fast and prayer,/That, with hearts made penitent,/We may keep a faithful Lent.

Holy Week and Easter, then,/Tell who died and rose again:/ O that happy Easter day! “Christ is risen indeed,” we say.

Yes, and Christ ascended, too,/ To prepare a place for you;/ So we give him special praise,/ After those great forty days.

Then he sent the Holy Ghost, /On the day of Pentecost,/ With us ever to abide:/Well may we keep Whitsuntide.

Last of all, we humbly sing/ Glory to our God and king,/ Glory to the One in three,/ On the Feast of Trinity.

(Hymn #235, The Hymnal, 1940. Words by Katherine Hankey,1888, for the Sunday School of St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, London)

Next week in Sunday School life will sprout through the dark soil in the bright pails. We will learn about God the Father and how he created the heavens and earth, the trillions of stars he named, how he made you and me, mothers and fathers and children. 

And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Notes from Paris

IMG_0697 SMALLWe have settled into a historic Left Bank hotel not far from the Seine’s Pont Neuf, having traveled from London on the Eurostar train, via the Chunnel. 

As we sped underneath the waters of the English Channel (do they call it the French Channel on this side?) I marveled again at such technology and tried not to think of the seas above us. Security had been increased at the London St. Pancras Station, and as we edged step by step in line with too much luggage to drag and hoist onto the belt and the x-ray machines and then maneuver through passport control, I tried not to think of terrorism in crowded public places. 

Our modern world has paid a price for its modernity. Village or neighborhood risk has expanded to world-wide risk. We read of tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes far away and we mourn the victims. We follow wars and genocides and beheadings as though they were close by. The world has shrunk to our phone or laptop or TV. 

No wonder some are depressed, angered, and grieved. No wonder the suicide rates rise and euthanasia even considered. We feel for the planet, its peoples. Their sufferings are ours. While it seems at times too much for one person to bear, perhaps it is good to know these things happen and can happen; perhaps it is good that we are forced to look and see, to pull our heads out of the proverbial sand. But history attests that disaster is not new, whether natural or manmade; what is new is that we are aware of such horrors, we watch them unfold, sometimes on live media. 

IMG_0688 SMALLBut then, for Christians, we have our annual festival of Pentecost, the breath of the Holy Spirit breathing upon the disciples in Jerusalem. The disciples are given the wondrous power of language, to speak to those of differing tongues about the wonderful works of God. And such language, such speech, was repeated again and again in sermons and holy suppers that first century of the Church. These words, forming at first an oral tradition, were finally written down, first in St. Paul’s letters and St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, and then in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those codices, thought by many to have been the first use of the codex (leafed book) as opposed to scrolls, were again copied and recopied through the centuries down to the present day. 

So not only do we have the horizontal present-day knowledge of events worldwide, but we have vertical timeline knowledge, memory connecting the past to the present, coloring it. This timeline forms a historical highway leading to a crossroads where these two paths of knowledge meet. And of course, the road to the past also travels into the future, and we look ahead to the next minute, hour, day, week, year, and to our final passing into another, better world. We look back to our personal past and forward to our personal future; we look back to humanity’s past and forward to humanity’s future. And all the while we absorb the events of the world in the present day, surrounding us and demanding our constant attention. 

IMG_0685SMALLWe have in a sense eaten of the tree of knowledge, and we suffer for it. I am happy to have modern medicine and hygiene and the comforts of today, central heating and plumbing and running water. But science goes further than basic comforts; it allows us to design babies and kill those left over or unwanted. Such knowledge is godlike and without God’s help, we are lost in a sea of facts, data, with no good way to make sense of the jumble. The tree of knowledge, without God, produces poisonous fruit, deathly fruit. 

And so God gives us that help if we desire it. I love this Pentecost scene in Acts 2, when the disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This breath of God comes upon them as a “rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house… there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire… upon each of them.” They are empowered by God; they have been given the means to express the profound events of the Incarnation and Resurrection that they have witnessed. Until this moment they had hid, timid, afraid, waiting for a promise made at the Ascension. After this moment they knew what to do; they knew what to say; they knew to whom to say it, where to say it, and above all how to say it. And of course, in time they confessed to what they had seen with their lives, as martyrs, with the exception of St. John. 

Pentecost is the union of God and man. It is the filling of man with God. And soon, as the disciples broke bread as Christ instructed them to do, consecrating the bread and wine to become his body and blood, taking and eating, and re-membering (re-forming) him, as they met together for these holy suppers of thanksgiving, eucharists, they became more and more filled with God, through his Spirit and his Son. 

God made sense of the marvelous works he had done on the Cross and in the empty tomb. He had made sense of it all and of all of us and our wars and our disasters. We too can enjoy this making-sense; we too can take and eat and re-member; we too can find answers to the disturbing tumult around us. We need only head for our local church. 

Paris is tumultuous and full of tourists this late in May. But on Sunday mornings it suddenly becomes quiet. The streets are silent, some empty. Families gather for brunch or bask in the parks. Lovers stroll. Cats scrounge for scraps in the open cafes. But the balmy weather is edged with sudden chill and brisk breezes and clouds scuttle over an ever-changing sky. The river rolls under the many bridges, and plane trees, lushly green, are happy with the end of winter. 

IMG_0691SMALLWe stepped through the quiet lanes this morning to say prayers with other faithful at the ancient church of St. Severen (13th C), and we followed the French Messe on the handout as best we could. The church was packed; candles flamed, stained glass glittered over high gothic double ambulatories; children in white capes and headbands with Holy Spirit paper flames, joined the procession. The songs and the singing echoed up and over us, swirling into the vaults. 

At peace with the city, with ourselves, and with God, we made our way to the Bateau-Mouches, the riverboats, to see Paris from the Seine. I thought how, at least for a time, everything made perfect sense, this Pentecote Sunday in Paris.

The Light of Lent

Advent St. JWe are deep into Lent, entering the heart of understanding of who we are, who we are meant to be. We have traveled beyond the ashen cross on our foreheads that marked us as Christ’s own. We have moved into disciplines of reading, prayer, abstinence, and charity. Now, having celebrated the Third Sunday in Lent, we pause and take stock. We judge our hearts and our lives. We re-commend, re-commit, re-create ourselves to travel even deeper into the heart of God.

Being marked with the cross helps us follow the path to Easter and resurrection. We do indeed need this sacramental help. We need to immerse ourselves in the daily office, in the appointed psalms and epistles and gospels read for over two thousand years. We join Christians around the world as they too follow this Lenten path, they too read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God as they write it upon their hearts.

We sacrifice our time (our precious hours allotted, our numbered days) to keep our rules as best we can, which is to say, at least for me, not very well. But God knows our hearts, both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. He knows, and like a good father, leads us along, taking our hand in his, tenderly aware of our frailty.

The Gospel appointed for the Third Sunday in Lent is about Jesus casting out a demon, one that made the man dumb, unable to speak. We too live with this demon inside us, devouring our thoughts (making us truly dumb) and silencing our voices. We see our culture move away from God, yet we do not change our ways. We are mute, we want peace, we want to include everyone, and never offend.

St. Mark in Sunday’s Gospel records Christ saying, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” How true today as it was then, for demons scatter, confuse, and derange. Our culture is scattered, confused, and in many places deranged.

St. Paul in Sunday’s Epistle gathers and lists precepts to form a way of living, defining a moral code as he lists temptations of body and soul. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; proving what is acceptable to the Lord.” Yes, the path is clear, it is one that gathers righteousness and, in the gathering up, must choose.

All choice requires judgment, but our choices and judgments are inevitably influenced by the culture we breathe. God in Christ steps into that culture, in history and today, offering his own sculpting of our souls. He was, after all, the modeler of the clay that formed us, giving us life as he breathed upon us so long ago in Eden. He loves us, his own creation, his treasured created beings who were modeled in his image to reason and create just as he did and does. He wants us to come back to him, to come home. So in his time on earth in that eastern Roman province he showed us our way home, how to choose, how to judge amid the myriad of choices. He showed us what is good and what is bad, what fruits we should eat and what fruits we should not eat, if we want to become who we are meant to be in all eternity.

All creation is about judgment, including and excluding. When I write a sentence I am actively choosing, including, excluding, judging words and tone and sound and syntax, even beauty. Some might disagree with my choices. This is their choice. I might not make the choices that others make, but I must allow them to choose, to create their own lives and grow their own souls. It is this allowance, this respect for others’ choices that the revolutionary and unique Judeo-Christian tradition upholds. This is the freedom God has revealed to each one of us; this is love.

The creation of a poem or painting or symphony have been, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a reflection of the beauty, truth, and goodness of God revealed to us. As belief in our God of Abraham receded in the last century, so too has the beauty, truth, and goodness of our culture faded. As Anglican philosopher Roger Scruton writes, today’s culture is one of “repudiation.” The atonality of music repudiates tonality, creating noisy chaos; deconstructionism in literature repudiates literary forms; artist-signed urinals and soup cans displayed as art repudiate the classic requirements of sculpture; paint thrown on a canvas repudiates the learned skills of figure drawing and observation of nature. Indeed, all these modern forms repudiate the boundaries of the disciplined art form, and in this sense join the cultural repudiation of all authority seen in other areas of society.

In Culture Counts Mr. Scruton writes, “the new curriculum in the humanities, which is relativist in favor of transgression and absolutist against authority… presents an obstacle to cultural renewal… there is such a thing as the critical study of works of art and literature… that transits a legacy of moral knowledge.”

We must judge where we want to go, as individuals, as a nation, as a world. We cannot be all inclusive, for total inclusivity means chaos and anarchy, inviting totalitarian rulers. We must follow the path that has made the Anglosphere great and free. We must applaud those who have made this choice in arts and letters, and not those who choose repudiation and chaos. Particularly those in power, those with influence, and those with talent and intelligence in academia – the elites of our culture – have a grave responsibility to protect us all by supporting that which supports freedom.

In this way we will imbue our culture with Lenten discipline. We will mark an ashen cross upon every work and every endeavor, whether belief is there or not. We will support the ideals of love that Christ and his Church gives us year after year as we wave our palms at the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, partake of the first Eucharist in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, watch and wait at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, and rise with him on Easter morning. These are choices we must make, we want to make, we choose to make to ensure a world that is good, beautiful, and true.

Singing with Saints

SAINTS2I’m afraid I don’t appreciate falling back an hour so that we can spring forward later in order to move an hour of light from evening to morning. It confuses the body’s natural clock, and I’ve yet to find a good reason to practice daylight saving time today. I’m told it has to do with farmers needing earlier morning light, but the advantage only lasts a few weeks.

And yet, just as when I travel across time zones, the change brings to mind the strangeness of time itself, its movement, its speed usually governed by my own attention. Time speeds up when I am thinking; it slows down when I am not focused. But we all know this is an illusion, a fact that makes the whole process even more strange.

Aging speeds time too. We live a certain life-time, a set span as though we inhabit parentheses or brackets or quotation marks. Perhaps birth is a capital letter and death the period; we are the sentence and we hope we have many clauses and interesting verbs and fascinating, colorful nouns. One way or another we travel a road through time from birth to death, like flipping pages in a book, and the traveling seems to speed up as we move along. Those childhood years stretched out, especially those summer months with no school (at least in my childhood) and those long lazy days of reading and riding bikes into dusk and darkness and someone called you in.

And so it seemed appropriate that the Festival of All Saints landed this weekend, All Saints on Saturday with its extra hour (a sweet gift to be taken back later) and All Souls moved to tomorrow, Monday. All Saints and All Souls is a festival of time, I’ve often thought, celebrating the mystery of human life, and God within each of those human lives. We talk about the Communion of Saints, linking those from the past with those in the present with those to come, all in communion with us when we receive our Communion, communing together on a Sunday morning.

As our preacher explained, when we worship God we take part in the glory and worship of those in Heaven – the souls, saints, and angels, as described in the Revelation of St. John, the Epistle for All Saints Day:

I beheld… a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God with sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood around about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 7:2+)

In our earthly hour of liturgical worship, ritual choreographed like a dance incorporating all the earthly senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling), we worship outside of time with those before, those now, those to come. We also worship deep inside time, in its very heart, the kernel of created life, deep within God himself as he enters deep within us. It is a pinpoint moment all pulled together as the Host is placed on the tongue and we sip from the chalice.

Time is telescoped on a Sunday morning in a simple church, so that when we leave the sacred and re-enter the worldly rushing world around us, where time devours seconds on a dial or falls into the abyss of a digital screen, gone – when we re-enter our ordinary comings and goings – we bring that timeless telescopic moment with us. We carry that jeweled moment, and all the jeweled moments of worship, collected in each of us, recreating us to be who we truly are. We become further sculpted and more defined. We have been fed and enriched and changed each time we join this host of witnesses, each time we sing our songs of worship as one voice:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee…..  by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be for ev – er blest,
Al – le – lu – ia,  al – le – lu – ia!
                (#126, 1940 Episcopal Hymnal)
 

Our preacher spoke of the tortures of the early saints, their long, drawn-out martyrdoms as they confessed the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. We look around our world today and see similar Christian martyrdoms, but we feel safe on our own soil. So far. Would we deny our faith? We wonder on days like today, when we recall Tertullian’s “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We are thankful for these saints, for where would we be today without them?

Time would be a dull thing, scattered and meaningless, with no end in sight and too many ends in sight. We would be devoured by the noise and rush of the world or simply our own silent pride. We would be blind to beauty, truth, goodness. We would not see God, and so we would not appreciate the life he has given us; life would be cheap.

And so, in a way, All Saints is a prelude to Thanksgiving for, while every Eucharist is a festival of thanksgiving, today is a day in which we give special thanks for that emerald moment of worship promised, that moment we join with the heavenly host in the worship of God with the great Communion of Saints.