The Dream of God

A couple of months ago, H. and I finished book 5 in the Harry Potter series – “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Throughout the book the main character, Harry, is having a reoccurring dream. As the novel progresses the dream keeps expanding out bringing with it new images and compulsions for Harry. The dream begins with Harry seeing a long hallway leading to a door. Later his dream envisions a hand (whose hand we don’t know) reaching for the door. Finally, the hand grasps the doorknob only to find it locked. The problem is that Harry doesn’t know if this hallway leading to the locked door is a real place. He senses that it is somehow real, but he’s uncertain. Is it just a dream, all in his imagination? Or is there really a hallway leading to a locked door? He is determined to find out. With the help of his friends he finally discovers that the door and its corridor are actual places attached to a building full of mystery. With courage and a deep sense of longing on his side, Harry and his companions seek out the place discovering what lies behind this peculiar doorway.

Thousands of years ago another hero of sorts, the ancient prophet Isaiah, found himself dreaming. He laid out his dreams in 3 songs, the 3rd of which is the Feast of Epiphany’s first reading:

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Harry Potter not only realized that the hallway attached to the locked door was real, he also discovered that the dream was not his own but someone else’s. His mind was a vessel of sorts where another’s dream could pass through. Likewise, the prophet Isaiah wrote down his 3 dreams only to discover that they were not his 3 dreams, but the 1 expansive dream of God. It was a vivid dream of light and illumination; light that was sparked with God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. The dream expanded out into human consciousness revealing that that spark of light which began in Israel would one day attract other nations to its source:

“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Some 700 years later the dream of Isaiah – which is really the dream of Israel – which is finally the dream of God – would be made manifest. In fact the word, “Epiphany,” which is the season the Church celebrates starting today, literally means “manifestation.” In Matthew’s Gospel we have the Magi representing those nations – all nations and kingdoms – coming to the brightness of God’s Light. Put plainly, the wise men find Jesus; thus revealing the manifestation of God’s dream for all people.

The dream is real. But is it a compelling dream? Are we to be like Harry Potter – not resting until we find out if the story is real? Epiphany is that season where we live into such questions. We might ask ourselves, “How are we participating in the dream of God?” “Where is God being made manifest in our lives?” Throughout the centuries Christians have discovered fingerprints of God’s manifestations. For example where truth, beauty, and goodness are discovered, God is not too far behind. Where there is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control there is that Divine Spark of Light. Epiphany compels us to discover and re-discover these spiritual truths. If you find joy in the faces of your children and grandchildren the joy you feel comes from that spark. In those moments take a minute acknowledging the source of that joy and simply pray, “Thank you.” If you lose your patience, but see that your spouse has it for you take a moment to be grateful for their example. Like guiding stars these spiritual manifestations are everywhere. The season of Epiphany compels us to follow them within the mundane as well as the profane moments of our lives. Isn’t it beautiful to know that the dream of God can also be our dream? Epiphany wakes us from our sleep to discover the Dream. Is. Real.

~Happy Epiphany!

The Holy Name: Poetry in the Midst of Prose

Philippians 2:5-11

Even though St. Paul found himself penning another letter behind the dank walls of a jail cell, he must have been humming when writing, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend…every tongue confess…” Within Chapter 2 of his optimistic letter to the Philippians, Paul stopped his prose and began quoting poetry. It’s a song of praise, a whirring hymn, an ode to Jesus Christ our Lord. Like any meaningful melody, music petitions a response. Aaron, acting as priest, blessed the Israelites with poetry. God, in turn, blessed God’s people (Num 6:22-27). Choirs of angels taught lowly shepherds a song of adoration sending them on their way to Bethlehem where they would welcome Christ the King. Returning to work they found themselves whistling the refrain just learned, hearts expanded (Lk 2:15-21). Not missing a beat the church’s lectionary gifts us with Psalm 8, a righteous hymn revealing the divine majesty of God’s creation. This time the response comes “out of the mouths of infants and children” in the form of cheers and acclamation (Ps 8:2).

By now the Christmas music has ceased. While no longer played in department stores, on radios, or family road trips, within the walls of churches, parishes, and cathedrals it is still unabashedly Christmas. The church finds herself on its eighth day singing carols through Sunday – the twelfth and last day of this short season. Unbeknownst to most, the Christian “New Year” was Advent I (December 1st) so on today’s Feast of the Holy Name the church continues to celebrate. Today, the Christ child has been “given [a name] by the angel before being conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21). Enduring to still sing carols is counter-cultural, offsetting what transpires outside the walls of the church; and yet, like St. Paul we must pause in the middle of prose and quote poetry. Today, the culture is quoting “Auld Lang Syne,” a 18th century poem written by Robert Burns. The opening lines are:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

It’s a poem asking the rhetorical question, “Should we remember the old times?” When asked in the context of New Year’s Day it serves as a reminder to not only remember the old, but to anticipate the coming year with new learnings and recollections, bearing in mind the experience of the past when discernment may be needed in the future. When asking this question in the context of Christianity, the Christian will ultimately point to Christ as her answer. For it is Christ who resolves Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, new and old. In his very body both the living and the dead are made alive as the audacity of hope births unfamiliar imagination. Quoting St. Paul again, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (v.5). Put differently, if Christ is the music, then our minds respond accordingly – Take note, keep awake, and listen. Christ, like music and poetry, has the potential to transform our attitudes and ambitions. Like the shepherds, we walk away from the angelic concert changed. We are sent out on mission wanting to teach anyone and everyone this new way of participating in the Divine mind. When was the last time you stopped in the middle of conversation and quoted lyrics to a poem, song, or hymn? On this octave of Christmas why not give it a go?

 

*This blog was originally posted on the website Modern Metanoia on December, 16 2019. *

Silent Night. Holy Night.

This homily was delivered to St. Julian’s Episcopal Church, Christmas Eve, 2019

Throughout the season of Advent there have been sacred stories followed by whimsical songs, and remembered lessons echoed by familiar carols that anticipated what was to occur on this most holy and silent of nights. Zechariah was silenced by the angel Gabriel, but soon found his voice again raised in melody announcing the birth of his son, John, who would later welcome the adult Jesus into the waters of his baptism. Gabriel then turned to Zechariah’s cousin-in-law, Mary, announcing that she was pregnant with the one prophet’s poeticized. She too responded to this news with music: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…Tonight’s Gospel (the Gospel of Christmas Eve) follows this pattern of musical response with the shepherds joyfully singing alongside the heavenly chorus, “Glory to God in the highest!” At once we celebrate the songs of angels while pondering the mystery of God within our hearts. We remember the dance of those shepherds while finding God’s treasures in the stillness of the night.

We are further reminded that even in our busy lives, God’s message of love is best heard when we are still; when our ruminating minds are silenced and our tepid hearts awakened. It is those moments when we make ourselves ready to hear songs of the divine. So busy was the government administering a census count that God’s music could not be heard. So busy and closed off was the innkeeper to welcoming the holy family one must wonder if he ever heard Mary’s song at all. We may even imagine Joseph being too nice to argue the point of vacancy with him. Instead, he acquiesced; and like animals made the inn’s stable their lodging for the evening. Meanwhile, the shepherds were entertaining a different set of notes. For them, it was a night like all others with the silence being the pregnant one. Then, all of a sudden new birth sounds out with cacophony. A terrifying startle begins the music of the night, and the shepherds are swept away by its melody sending them from the fields of their own flock to a cramped barn full of others. The band has gotten back together, and they didn’t even know it. New riffs are tried while stock music is remembered. Personalities and personas bleed onto the pages of pencil noted sheet music. There is no rest – until there is. The quarter rest arises as realization. Their music has been inspired by something. It had a muse. The muse was discovered as none other than the Divine – all powerful and all knowing – only more intimate. It is yes/no, both/and, alpha/omega. The muse is all powerful God, and poor helpless baby. It is silent night. It is a cacophony of holiness.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”[1] The food was there lying in a manger that night. Livestock consume mangers when they are full of hay. Tonight, Christians world-wide will consume the muse of love playing as bits of bread in the palms of their hands. It is no laughing matter; and yet, we are filled with joy for tonight we are reminded of hope. Tonight we reminisce on the faith of our great-great-grandparents somehow believing the story – (all of it; at least tonight) – is true. “God,” we may say in the morning, “help me with my un-belief.” “Make me remember the songs of angels. Teach me to be still and truly know you – not as all powerful and all knowing – but as a baby whom I can hold even as I believe you are holding me.”

“So this is Christmas, and what have we done.”[2] I’m sorry, Mr. Lennon, but for once this night is not about you/me/us. It’s about the muse and music of the night: The all-powerful. The all-knowing. The helpless, little Savior (of the world).

[1]                The opening line of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” said by the character, Duke Orsino.

[2]                The opening lines of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s song released in 1971, “So This is Christmas”.

Questions From The Wilderness

Christianity has a long tradition where followers of Jesus Christ have been imprisoned for their faith. Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, was condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler, and wrote a meditation on Advent from his prison cell shortly before he was hanged in 1945.[1] When contemplating John the Baptist, or “The One Who Cries in the Wilderness,” Fr. Delp wrote this, “Woe to an age when the voices of those who cry in the wilderness have fallen silent, outshouted by in the intoxication of progress, or growing smothered and fainter for fear and cowardice.”[2] Here was a man lamenting the fact that faith in Jesus Christ was rapidly becoming a private matter reserved only for pious individuals. This safe sentiment sterilizes, leaving the once faithful now impotent unable to mobilize for the cause of Christ.

April 16, 1963, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It’s addressed to his fellow clergyman who were criticizing King’s actions as “unwise and untimely.”[3] Answering these criticisms, he wrote, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”[4] King was not only “cognizant of the interrelatedness of communities and states,” he was also reminding his colleagues of Jesus’ own words from Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40). Put differently, how we treat one another represents how we care and treat Christ.

There are hundreds if not thousands of pages of letters of the faithful written from jail cells throughout Christianity’s history. This tradition goes back to the Bible itself where St. Paul wrote many a letter from prisons while held captive by Roman Empire. In today’s Gospel, a letter was not physically written but a message sent from one. This message was not addressed by a prophet to the household of God, but to God himself; and, surprisingly, God answered. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another,” John asked? This was a condemned man’s question as John would soon be put to death by the authorities of the day. Perhaps it was a dying man’s last request for a blessing, an anointing, or a sign of comfort. Jesus’ response to John was pastoral in this regard. Pastoral in that he quoted scripture. John knew the scriptures well, and could relate to Jesus’ quotation. Instead of answering directly, Jesus allowed John to determine for himself what the answer might be. In other words, Jesus validated John’s question and in doing so remembered his humanity in a dignified way. The Gospel then has Jesus turning to the questions of the crowd which differ in substance when compared with John’s because the crowd cannot articulate a proper question; therefore, Jesus does it for them naming possible answers to help guide the people. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at,” Jesus asked the crowd in referencing John’s ministry? He asked this question three times, “What then did you go out to see?” “Was it to watch a reed blowing in the wind? Was it to find someone wearing soft robes? Was it a prophet?

Finding a reed blowing in the desert wind would not be surprising. Given this line of thinking we may ask ourselves, “When was the last time God surprised you?” When was the last time you came to church not knowing what was going to happen, anxiously anticipating a Word from the Lord? Maybe that Word came at coffee hour instead of in the liturgy? Does that ever happen to you? When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised by joy?

And what about finding someone wearing soft robes out in the desert heat? They don’t belong in the desert do they? “Were you expecting John the Baptist to be like all the other preachers of the day,” Jesus might have asked? In turn, we might ask ourselves, “When was the last time you were headed to church and found church along the way?” Where have you been lately expecting people to play their part, and found God acting like a holy fool for you?

Finally, Jesus asked, “Did you go out to the desert to find a prophet?” Now we’re on the right track, but the answer doesn’t end here. It’s only the beginning. You found a prophet that pointed beyond where you thought you were going. You came out to the desert and found living water. You wanted to plant yourself in some small sentiment, and ended up discovering that the expansive kingdom of God was there, and you didn’t even know it.

Like a good teacher guiding his students into deeper reflection, Jesus was guiding the crowd into the same answer that John intuited. The great irony here is that John was the one in prison while the people were free, but given the ignorance of the people they were the ones imprisoned, held behind by the barred doors of obliviousness. It’s here where Fr. Delp can be helpful again, “Woe to an age when the voices of those who cry in the wilderness have fallen silent, outshouted by in the intoxication of progress, or growing smothered and fainter for fear and cowardice.” Perhaps the prophetic voice has fallen silent because we have covered our ears and numbed our consciousnesses. What the intoxication of progress always forgets is that even if all our means and wellbeing were taken care of there still would be a great longing for God within our shared humanity. It’s here where Dr. King comes alive again, “I,” King wrote, “am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.” Here, King is like John the Baptist from his prison cell. He recognizes and is cognizant of the Messiah. It was the people who did not share this reality. It was the very people who should know but who were blown about like chaff in the wind (Matt 3:12). And yet; what the Messiah also brings (besides himself) is his kingdom. The kingdom interrelates with heaven and earth calling all of us back to creation. The doctrine of creation reminds us all that we were made to be in relationship with God and each other. We’re not here for progress. We’re not here to be fearful. We’re not here to divide ourselves into this or that tribe. We’re here to express God’s love in the world:

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God…
He will come and save you.”
(Isa 35:3-4)

Hope is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith is lived out by participating in his kingdom, and his love grounds it all. This week ask yourself what are some of the questions Jesus may be guiding you to live into? What answers have you come across that you intuit, but are also realizing that you have only scratched the surface? Are you brave enough the ask such questions, and dwell on deep answers in community, or will you keep them to yourself? Christianity has a long tradition where followers of Jesus Christ have been imprisoned for their faith. Don’t let the bars of fear and ignorance keep you from the freedom found in Christ Jesus.

[1]                Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (“The Shaking Reality of Advent,” by Alfred Delp, Plough Publishing House: Walden, 2001), p. 82.

[2]                Ibid., 92.

[3]                The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania. Accessed online on 12/13/19 https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[4]                Ibid.

Christ the (Crucified) King

Luke 23:33-43

As the Church winds down an entire year spent in St. Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded that in Christ’s Kingdom things are not always what they seem. In Christ’s Kingdom what is revealed are the ways in which followers of King Jesus serve and love one another. It’s not a kingdom that finds its meaning in wealth, power, privilege or pleasure. It’s a kingdom that finds reality in Resurrection. It’s Good Friday juxtaposed with Easter Sunday. It’s sorrow coupling with joy. Sacrifice deepening sound relationship with love.

Like the first crucified criminal in today’s Gospel, the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns can be rejected, or it can be revealed and intuited like the second thief’s intercessory prayer, “Remember me.” Jesus, in his very body and being, is able to resolve both rejection and remembering in rhythmic syncopation. For it was he as King who descended into the heart of both convicted criminals who holding tightly to their own crosses of death made very different pronouncements. The first pridefully decided not to part with his cross; thus, binding himself to fear and eternal estrangement. The second intuited not just a kingdom but a person, and ultimately the person-al God in whom there was (and is) no separation. It’s been said that, “The meaninglessness of suffering is subverted by the meaning of the Passion.”[1] Like the redeemed thief intuited meaning in Jesus, we too can call on Christ to remember us through our own sufferings, misgivings, and misfortunes. Jesus will go all the way down with us as well as lift us all the way up resolving double-binds, and ab-solving our missed chances inviting us into the beautiful Forever.

Christ the King Sunday is a liturgical icon revealing not only the end of the Christian year, but also the conclusion of the way things have always been. Life, St. Luke helps us discover, is not about winning but common participation. Participating tangibly in divine and dignified relationship. Life is not about joining an angry mob scoffing and mocking, and finally, rejecting Love. No. Jesus as crucified King of Kings and resurrected Lord of Lords will finally “scatter the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly.” The kingdom of God “fills the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty.” On his cross King Jesus has remembered his promise of mercy having a long memory that stretched all the way back to Father Abraham. All of these promises are set and re-set in metrical motion on Calvary. All of these promises come to their final fulfillment in the emblem of the empty tomb.

Next week the Church acts like a sentinel anxiously anticipating the Lord’s return. Christians have been waiting for over 2,000 years, not because we’re in a hurry and Jesus seems slow to come, but because God is forever patient having impeccable timing. Our ongoing job; therefore, is to watch. “Watch, for you do not know when the King of the castle will come. In the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find us all asleep.”

Christ the King has freed and brought us together under his most gracious rule. It’s a rule of love that leads to a watchful rule of life. It’s spiritual and religious. It’s water and wine. It’s spirit and flesh. Finally, like the second criminal who in his final moments was able to ponder Paradise, this Advent may we repent and remember, forgo and forgive, watch and wait praying, “Come, Lord Jesus. For you are Christ the King.”

[1]           Urban T. Holmes, III, (What is Anglicanism? “Pastoral Care”), Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, 1982, p. 60.

Between the Old and the New – A Meditation on Transitions

Luke 21:5 19

Next week is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, sometimes referred to as Christ the King Sunday. The following Sunday will begin the Christian new year, and the season of Advent. As another liturgical season ends and one begins the church, through her readings, invites us to meditate on endings. How do we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the transition from one way of being to another? Another question might be, “What does Jesus teach his disciples about these end times?” The Bible is full of this “end times” literature called apocalyptic literature, and in today’s Gospel Jesus is teaching in the tradition of that school of thought. Apokaluptikos (from the Greek) means an unveiling or the uncovering of something new. This type of literature calls to mind how different things that are being brought forth, or showing forth, will bring about a newness to our worlds – both subjectively and corporately. Today’s Gospel, coupled with the 1st reading and even with today’s Psalm could be an invitation for us all to reflect on how well (or not so well) we transition from one thing to another. If we can meditate on how we already transition, then this can prepare us for either the ultimate transition from this life to the next, or prepare us for the unveiling of God’s Advent, the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do this, I’ll be using the five aspects of natural ending experiences as taught by William Bridges. Bridges teaches that by naming and understanding these five ways of transitioning can help us practice them. Jesus takes a different way, and asks his followers to trust, obey, and rely on him through specific transitions as he and only he can be named and crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I want to pick apart today’s Gospel by first naming what these 5 ways of transitioning are. According to Bridges, they are as follows:  When we transition, we all have the potential to disengage, dismantle, disidentify, and be disoriented and disenchanted. After we look at the Gospel with a psychological lens, it’s my hope to remember Jesus’ teaching, as well as the Church’s theological response to it.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus and a few of his followers marveling about the sights and sounds of the Temple, the ultimate holy place for Jews in the 1st century. I can imagine them walking around the place like tourists on vacation with Jesus being the tour guide. But I’m not so sure Jesus made a very good one for as soon as the disciples point out the building’s majesty, and ooh and awe over the splendor of its complexity, Jesus (the tour guide) says, “Ya know, all the Temple’s beauty and splendor will one day be no more. One day it will crumble and be destroyed. (Here ends the tour. Don’t forget to tip your guide.”) His prediction certainly took all the air out of the room. It was an alarming and dismantling statement. In shock, the disciples asked, “When will this be?”

When something is dismantled, it is torn down, taken apart, or broken. Often times we can try to pick up the pieces and reassemble them, but like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men tried to reassemble the great egg, Humpty Dumpty, we too finally must surrender to the fact that what once was will never be again. Being dismantled by something is living east of Eden our eyes no longer shut, but wide awake, adjusting themselves to a new light. It’s the difference between the great city of Berlin prior to November 1989, and after. In our own country, old ways of living were gone with the wind after the collapse of the World Trade Center in September of 2001. On the positive end, a dismantling occurs when two persons throw off the single life and put on the vocation of marriage, or when you finally reach the age of retirement. Having built a career, you finally have the chance to say ‘goodbye’ to it.

“When will this be,” the disciples asked? Jesus answered them saying, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

Another form of transition occurs other than a dismantling. With Jesus warning his disciples not to be led astray by false teachers and charlatans, today we might say that Jesus is asking them to remember disidentification. Disidentification has to do with changing one’s identity, and occurs naturally from one transition to another. For example, we all begin as infants and have the potential to be babies, children, young adults all the way to senior adults. We disidentify as students when we graduate. We are no longer unemployed when we have a job. In today’s Eucharistic Prayer we are reminded that “in Jesus” we put on a new identity. At the Lord’s Supper liturgy we pray, “To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy.” Put differently, as Christians we identify with Christ as our Savior and in doing this we are no longer slaves to sin, but freed up to love in Him.

Another way we naturally end something is through the process of disorientation. Listen to the Gospel again:

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then Jesus said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

Being disoriented can be scary. You can have feelings of being lost or anxious. You’re on a boat and haven’t yet discovered your sea legs, or you’ve reached the shore and you feel as if you’re still floating. But Jesus has good news for his listeners. Like the angels that comforted the shepherds with their announcement of Jesus’ birth, he too councils his disciples, “Do not be terrified.” (Easier said than done). Many of you are currently caretakers for your spouse, or an aging parent or loved one. Disorientation occurs almost daily for both caretaker and caregiver as old ways are dismantled and new identities tried on. In my own family, I’ve watched both my wife and her mother agonize over decisions to take away the keys to the car for my father-in-law, who was diagnosed with ALS last year. Piece by piece the fabric of what used to be now unravels as keys are taken away, the loss of mobility, speech, basic communication, dignity. In these situations, disorientation occurs for all parties involved as some days are lived in a dizzying fog somewhere between numbness and exasperation. To top it off, “nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” What does this mean other than a great battle of wills. “Don’t take away my keys,” is really the loved one saying, “Don’t take away my control.” “Don’t take way my abilities,” is really the loved one saying, “Don’t take away my freedom.”

In St. Benedict’s chapter on “The Sick” in his Rule for his monastery, he wrote, “Let the sick on their part bear in mind that they are served out of honor for God, and let them not by their excessive demands distress anyone who serves them.” For those of you who are caregivers, or who have been caregivers this statement may come across as highly ideological on Benedict’s part. Again, easier said than done, but I wonder what it would look like if both caregiver and care receiver took seriously Benedict’s teaching here, and truly honored one another in their ministry to each other? I sometimes advise persons who are terminally ill that it is their job and/or their final act of ministry to show their family and loved ones how to die a holy death. Sometimes they take me up on it. Sometimes not.

The last section of Jesus’ teaching has to do with all the resistance to change and transition that will occur, and what he councils is to not resist the change, but to disengage from the way things have always been. Put differently, there is a solemn disenchantment that must occur.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”

This is the old world starting to pass away, isn’t it? Being arrested implies the law of the land. Kings and governors rule the land with the law, but Jesus is predicting that both law and land will be no more. There will be a new world order, a new song, a new way of being. If one knows this, then one can be at once engaged in the culture as well as disengaged with the way things have always been living into the kingdom of God and its virtues which Jesus is bringing about.

Thinking again about caregiving and care receiving, an illness or diagnosis is not intentional, and oftentimes comes as a surprise. Jesus is calling his disciples to not be surprised, and to start practicing now how to disengage from the ways of the world that constantly seeks out power, privilege, wealth, and pleasure. “Disenchant yourselves from these ways of being; instead, be intimately involved with me,” he might of said.

Jesus ends with this statement, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” By the endurance of living into your vocation for 30 years, by the endurance of being married 40 years, by the endurance of showing the world compassion, grace, and mercy, you will gain your souls. Put theologically, “By your relationship with me as the way, the truth and the life,” says Jesus, “you will gain your souls.” “Well, if he is the life,” Bishop Robert Barron teaches, then “that life which is opposed to him has to give way; and if he’s the truth, then false claimants to truth must cede to him; and if he’s the way, then false ways have to be abandoned.” “So,” the bishop concludes, “as we await the Lord’s second coming, we must give our lives to him and renounce everything that opposes him.”[1]

This, finally, is the good news in today’s reading. Like we pray in The Lord’s supper liturgy, “In him, you [O God] have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

In him. In Jesus. In the Christ…is finally where we live, move, and have our being through old ways and new ways and transitions in between. In him is our invitation to walk in love as Christ loves us, to sing new songs, to rejoice and be glad. So as we say goodbye to this liturgical year, do not be terrified; practice life’s natural transitions; and finally, live fully, so that you may die empty handed letting yourself be held by nothing but his love.

[1]                Daily Gospel Reflections from Bishop Robert Barron. Word on Fire Ministries, accessed on 11/14/19.

The Ministry of a Bishop: Part III – General Guidelines for Bishop Wright’s Visitation

The below guidelines are specific to the people and parish of St. Julian’s. For more of a general overview of a bishop’s visitation in The Episcopal Church, please consider reading my earlier blog posts here and here.

  • We will have only one service on September 22nd. It starts at 10:30 AM. All persons who are involved in the liturgy need to arrive by 10:00 AM and check in with your verger, Earnell Morris.
  • All persons involved in the baptisms need to arrive at 9:15 AM to rehearse your part of the liturgy. This gives us a chance to rehearse, and to meet with the bishop before other parishioners arrive. You will have a chance to take pictures with the bishop after the service.
  • All undesignated offering will go to the bishop’s discretionary fund for support of emergencies and non-budgeted ministries that arise in the course of the year. Please give generously.
  • Please do not say to the bishop, “Welcome to our church.” Why? Because, theologically, it is his church too. A bishop has an interesting role in being both host and guest with his visitations. Bishop Wright will be gracious if this is uttered, but please know that Saint Julian’s is part of the greater Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta where the bishop serves as chief pastor.
  • At the reception in the parish hall, the bishop will do a Q & A with the parish. This is your time to tell him about your own ministries here at Saint Julian’s as well as for him to clue us in on what is happening in the diocese.
  • What is the bishop going to wear?

According to Paul V. Marshall in his book, “The Bishop is Coming,” “The insignia of a bishop are the mitre, staff, cross, and ring.” The mitre is the bishop’s hat, his staff “is not a shepherd’s crook or even a walking stick. It signifies the office of the bishop. In the liturgy “the cross is normally worn over the alb and under the chasuble. When worn with street clothing, it is tucked into the left breast pocket of [his] shirt.” The bishop’s ring is worn at all times (Marshall, 14-15).

  • Finally, be joyful. Remember, each Sunday is a Feast Day of the Lord, and it is not everyday that the chief pastor of the diocese gets to lead us in worship. I am excited because of good preparation, and I am personally going to enjoy the moment as we all celebrate Holy Eucharist together.

See you Sunday,

~Fr. Brandon

The Ministry of a Bishop: Part II of III

On Sunday, September 22nd, Saint Julian’s Parish will have a visitation from Bishop Robert C. Wright. I wanted to take a moment and prepare the congregation for what a bishop’s ministry entails. Below is Part II of III. Part I can be found here.

In Paul V. Marshall’s book, “The Bishop is Coming!” he lays out theologically rich language describing the role of the bishop. A bishop, Marshall writes, is “a wandering minstrel, host, and guest” (3). He goes on,

“[T]he bishop comes as the one who has ultimate pastoral responsibility for the parish, so the weight of the [Eucharistic] event is different: the family table is fuller. Furthermore, because the bishop is by ordination and canon the chief evangelist and pastor of the diocese, the assembly rightly expects an extraordinary word of gospel proclamation and a genuine interest in its own mission” (Ibid).

 What this statement means within the liturgical life of Saint Julian’s Parish is when the bishop arrives on September 22nd, he will be the chief celebrant over the liturgy, and will also preach. His preaching will not only be contextual to the life of the parish, but also of the diocese, and even the current experience of the catholic (i.e. universal) church. Does this mean that I can sit this liturgy out why the bishop does his thing? Not at all. Marshall goes on,

[Within the liturgy] the bishop is joined at the table by the local presbyters who are the bishop’s first-line colleagues. The visitation is a good time to enact ritually the truth that presbyters are not ordained because the bishop cannot be everywhere: presbyters are ordained so that the bishop’s ministry can indeed be everywhere.

This statement has great significance to all ministers of the Church because ultimately all our ministries taken as a whole point to Christ. It’s been said that Christ has no body but ours. In other words, the Body of Christ is the Church, so wherever the Church is, and whenever the Church is being the Church (both formally and informally, individually and corporately) Christ is made known.

Here’s Marshall again,

“… the presence of the bishop means that seldom-seen liturgical rites are celebrated” (Ibid, 4).

What this will mean for us on that day is that there will be baptisms although a bishop may also celebrate confirmations, receptions, and reaffirmation of the faith.

“… the presence of the bishop is meant to connect the parish with the larger community of which it is a part, so the liturgy ought to feel a little different” (Ibid).

This is a good point. Remember the Q&A section (from Part I) that described a bishops’ role: The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church (BCP, 855). At Saint Julian’s we know our own context, but don’t always get to hear the broader context of what is going on in other parishes within our diocese, and even outside our diocese. The bishop, either in the sermon, or at lunch, might clue us into the going-on’s of the greater church if you ask him. One other thing: Many parishes complain about paying financial “dues” to “the diocese.” You might hear someone say, “that money could be best spent here, in this place.” A statement like this is unaware of our larger ecclesiology (i.e. church life). We are not “St. Julian’s” while Atlanta is “the diocese”. Instead, Saint Julian’s is “the diocese.” Bishop Claude Payne brilliantly said that each parish is “a missionary outpost of the diocesan effort to follow Jesus and make him known” (Marshall, 5). Our own presiding bishop, Bishop Michael Curry calls us, “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” This is thrilling to live into the call to be a mission of Christ out here in Douglasville while at the same time knowing that we are connected to something greater than ourselves.

Tomorrow’s post will be some of the practical ways and last minute housekeeping items to prepare for worship with “a full table” with the bishop on Sunday.

The Ministry of a Bishop: Part I of III

On Sunday, September 22nd, Saint Julian’s Parish will have a visitation from Bishop Robert C. Wright. I wanted to take a moment and prepare the congregation for what a bishop’s ministry entails. Below is Part I of III.

Getting started, perhaps, we can start with a brief reminder on who the ministers of the Church might be (Hint: It is all of us). According to the Church’s catechism, and under the heading, “The Ministry,” found on page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), here are a few questions and answers to get you started on the specific responsibilities all ministers have within the life of the Church.

Q.  Who are the ministers of the Church?
A.  The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q.  What is the ministry of the laity?
A.  The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

Q.  What is the ministry of a bishop?
A.  The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.

Q.  What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A.  The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Q.  What is the ministry of a deacon?
A.  The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Q.  What is the duty of all Christians?
A.  The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Did you notice something similar in all the statements? Each sentence, no matter what ministry being described all started with the statement, “The ministry of lay persons/bishop/priest/deacon is to represent Christ and his Church.” It is only after this sentence that the description gets specific to each ministry. Something else pops out: There is no hierarchy other than Christ. In other words, each minister in the Church has very specific functions, and when each minister lives into their ministry, then Christ is revealed. This is very refreshing to me. I once thought that there was some type of ranking system within the Church (i.e. bishop, priest, deacon, lay person), but this is simply not the case, nor is it biblically sound. Instead, each minister serves Christ and his Church in specific ways; thereby, cancelling out any function of the ego in order to point to Christ – instead of self. Think of lay person, bishop, priest, and deacon walking arm and arm, side by side towards Christ – not single file line in some pecking order.

I’ve always said that if someone wants to know the job description of a Christian, they are to read, “The Baptismal Covenant,” (BCP, 304). If they want the job description of other Christians who have taken holy orders, they are to read the ordination vows of a bishop, priest, and deacon found in the prayer book on page 511 through 547.

Now that we have a general idea as to the theology and functions of the various ministries of the Church, my next post (part II of III) will turn to the specific ministry of a bishop.

Praying through Parenting

Our youngest son turned 6 months today. In honor of my time with him on summer paternity leave from work, I’ve written down a few questions and lessons he has taught and continues to teach me.

What if God enjoys rocking us in rocking chairs? This was a reoccurring thought over this past summer’s paternity leave. What if God enjoys rocking us in rocking chairs?” God knows when we’re tired, anxious, fussy, hungry, and upset. Like a compassionate and aware Father, God receives our cries, our wailing, and our screaming as potential prayer. Our Father names and validates these cries for us when we do not have the language nor the where-with-all to pray them properly. Perhaps our Heavenly Father simply rocks us with love showing us we are more than our fear. We are more than our anxiety. God knows this truth; and God knows we are wonderfully made inviting us into the rhythm of the rocking chair. “Let go,” he says. “Sleep soundly.”

What if God holds the baby bottle until we can hold it for ourselves? While thinking out loud, Jesus revealed to his friends that there were many things in which he wanted to teach them, but could not reveal all he knew because (in his words) they couldn’t handle it (Jn. 16:12). The timing was off. They weren’t mature enough. Jesus wasn’t anxious about it. He simply named the truth in love trusting that all shall be well in time. He invited his friends to cast their cares on him, for soon and very soon he would have to convert these cares into responsibilities. Until then, he would be the one holding the baby bottle.

What if the prayer of the parent asks God to sanctify our weaknesses? With the addition of a child or children to a family, worlds are turned upside down. Rules and rituals get a readjustment. Parents quickly find themselves un-knowing the feelings, emotions, and culture they believed they knew. They must relearn what they think they thought. There were so many times when I had to eat a hardy piece of humble pie. I always thought I was a patient person, slow to anger, and empathetic to those in my care. God, with the help of my son, showed me the real mirror of my soul thus shattering the outdated one I always thought so highly of.

When Daddy’s driving the car, why does the baby always have to be screaming in the back seat? How very uncomfortable and overwhelming it must be for a child to not know what is going on, where Mommy and Daddy are, or in what direction they are taking. A child is constantly seeking safety. Safety in that rocking chair. Safety and comfort in the baby bottle. When these things are taken from him – objects that remind him of his parents – feelings of helplessness well up. Perhaps it’s the first lesson on God’s Providence? That is, with time and deeper experiences of trust, what will be revealed is that Jesus has the wheel and knows the destination. Soon and very soon all will arrive together safely. Until this understanding is lived into, however, the screaming and holding on continue.

Why do babies cry when their diapers are being changed? So many times I had to stop and remind myself that an infants are not rational beings – at least not yet. When a parent changes a child’s diaper it is for the child’s own good. For a few moments of discomfort a wealth of well-being lies just beyond the horizon. Why can’t they see this, I would wonder? It reminded me of going to my priest for the sacrament of reconciliation. I’ve confessed to him before. I’ve received forgiveness and a clean slate, so why do I pitch a fit beforehand? Why can’t I envision what lies just beyond forgiveness?

Babies cannot communicate with language, but communicate they do. Parents also find new ways of communication with their children finding out fairly quickly that children have a sixth sense about such matters. For example, if I was stressed, the baby could absorb this negative energy. There were many times when I had to pray The Lord’s Prayer with the intention that God would take away any negativity from our relationship. This was another lesson in prayer for me because I realized that like a good parent God meets me where I am in my own thoughts, words, and deeds. His presence reveals to me who I am now (in my fussiness), but also who I have the potential to be in the future. God, like a parent, sees the potential in his children, and steers them in the best direction in which to live. Theologically speaking, our capacity lives within God’s will: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done is the most powerful of prayers. In The Lord’s Prayer we’re desiring an alignment (and a readjustment) to what God desires for us in life. It’s frustrating and disappointing when our children (of all ages) do not remember the way in which we raised them, or forget a lesson taught. But we should never give up on praying for them in the midst of our pain as well as theirs, having faith that God is somewhere in the mix of it all. Which brings me to the importance of community.

Sister Joan Chittister, a Christian monastic and expert on St. Benedict of Nursia has written, “Benedictine spirituality is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don’t and loving God more than yourself. Benedictine spirituality depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another and here.”[1] The core of Christianity is relationship – relationship with God, self, and neighbor. Within Christianity what you will not find is a mythos of rugged individualism, the proverbial ‘pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.’ What is discovered is that I need you and you need me, and together we all need God. My time with my son was a time by myself; yes, but also with family. Being around my parents, spending more quality time with my wife, as well as letting our two boy’s experience more of their aunts, uncles, and cousins helped me to remember my own roots. I was honestly able to be thankful for the sacrifices my own family has made for me through the years. I couldn’t see this without being a parent myself. What I also discovered was for all the love I have for my parents there comes a time in a person’s life when we all must travel east of Eden leaving the creature comforts of the nest. What we carry with us are the teachings, morals, and ethics our families pass down, as well as the traumas that need to be dropped in order to make the load a bit lighter. We soon find ourselves challenged and bumping up against other ideas of morality and ethics, and if we’re open enough find ourselves listening with holy curiosity to the stranger, neighbor, and others in our midst. We find friends, lovers, and communities of faith that hold us up and hold us accountable. They become proxy families, wanting what’s best for us. I think it is this that I want for both my sons:  I want them to learn from my wife and I. I want to pass down those virtues that were passed down to me understanding that some of my own vices must be separated and discarded along the way. I think what I’m trying to say is that I have discovered (or maybe rediscovered) that life is a gift, and I am blessed. I have also discovered that blessings are not meant to be kept close, but to be given away – always. Some days I’m better at living into this truth than others, and there are certainly days I forget to share who I am as well as whose I am. For these moments I ask forgiveness knowing that God (like a good Father) will give me another chance.

It’s my hope to continue my prayer of rediscovery. A prayer that asks where God shows up in my own life, as well as how life truly is a practice – a practice in caring for the people you live with, loving the people you don’t, and loving God more than yourself.[2]

[1]               Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21stCentury, (New York: Crossroad, 2016), 298.

[2]               Ibid.