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Hey there.  Some of you might remember that I wrote an entry on the self same subject last month.  I did so thinking that I was falling behind in my commitment to talk about the MDGs.  I realized the next day that I was a month ahead, not late.  So…here we go again.

I made a commitment to an online friend the other day that I would blog about the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) today.  Now to figure out what to say!

I’m only half kidding.  If you’re not aware of what the MDGs are here’s a brief overview courtesy of the United Nations which drafted these goals as a way of seeking to eliminate global development problems by attacking them at their roots:

We can be overwhelmed at the enormity of these development challenges if we bite off too big a hunk of them.  Maybe what we can do best is see where these challenges affect our own neighborhoods.  True, it may not be that we have stark examples of poverty, child mortality and all the rest down the street, but we would do well not to take for granted what we do have and be honest about what’s lacking locally.

Environmental sustainability begins in our homes and extends to our neighbors.

Universal primary education is often a sporadic reality for homeless families (Buy your Hope for Housing Grocery Cards at St. Luke’s!!!!)

HIV and malaria, well a mosquito net that will protect a child in a developing country costs about $10 and addresses 2 of the goals.  Think on that and Google a place to donate!

You’ll have loads of ideas if you just spend some time reflecting on what you can do.  If not try this link for the ONE Campaign where you can find out what One person can do to make a difference in the life of another and indeed in the life of the world.

Take some time today to think about what you CAN do, not about what you CAN’T do.  It’s hard work, but it’s really good work.

Peter Gomes really ‘gets’ the whole Colbert premise. I particularly like the line that almost gets lost when Colbert talks about his neighbor. “We all have your neighbor”Amidst all the thrust and parry of their ‘fencing’ are great calls to the nature of what it means to follow the ‘Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”.

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more about “Peter J. Gomes | Monday September 15 …“, posted with vodpod

Colbert interviews Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham. Colbert does some very interesting interviews with folks from the realm of religion. For those who may not know, Colbert is a devout Roman Catholic and teaches CCD in his local congregation. Check out also his interview of Peter Gomes which was aired on June 15, 2008.

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The last ‘official’ week of summer is bearing down upon us.  Next Monday it will be Autumn in New England.  Life’s rhythms change until there is some comfort in them and lo and behold, they change again.  Some days I don’t know whether that’s a source of comfort, frustration or both.

This Autumn, unlike many in my years, promises to be uncomfortable.

The winds of change are blowing over nearly every bit of emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical and material bit of landscape that has become familiar to me.  Typically I look forward to the storms of winter.  There’s a comfort in knowing that I’m going to be safe in the storm that allows me to look toward it as adventure.  Maybe it’s because the implications are more stark for more folks this winter that I’m a bit more cautious in looking forward to colder weather and the first flakes of snow to fall.

Hmmm, maybe there’s something to the saying that journalism is in the business of, “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” (Finley Peter Dunne) that applies to Jesus and the Gospel.  That, by the way, is a good thing.

I’m basically an optimist but I have to admit finding silver linings in the apparently endless procession of change that seems to be pouring down on the Church as the people of God has been tough.

I have found a couple though and I hope they’ll buoy your spirits as much as they have mine.

First of all, in the conversations about attending to God’s call on the life of our community, there has been a deep listening and respect for differing views that I find hopeful.  Let me say a bit more about that.  While we’ve been trying to come to a faithful decision about what to do about heating the church and whether to renovate the classrooms in the education wing, there have been no lack of different perspectives.

At times we’ve seemed to move at a snail’s pace and at others it seems like we’ve been rushing headlong into uncertainty.  On both poles and in the spaces between there has been a patient listening that has been comforting.  This air of Holy Conversation and respectful listening has been part of the deliberations and busyness of many of the groups in our parish as we continue to try and find the will of God in all that we do.  For that we have reason to give plenteous thanks.  Does that mean that everything has been without disagreement or contention?  No. What it means is that the Spirit of God has softened some of our edges and rounded some corners that have allowed consensus to emerge in ways that keeps the value of community as primary in our life together.

Secondly, I have noticed a peace about us in the face of profound uncertainty that is in short supply lately.  God seems to be at work in the lives of us all in ways that is important to recognize and give thanks for.  Our life changes, both individually and collectively, can be unsettling to the point of panic.  I don’t sense much of that in our common life.  When it does crop up, and it does, the community has been good about holding out the prospect of peace and calm in the face of sorrow, transition and uncertainty.  Thanks be to God.

As our nights grow longer I pray that our commitment to God as the center which holds all together (to quote Kierkegaard) will hold.  Should its hold seem to be slipping, be assured that it’s not God’s grip but our trust in it.  Hold on tightly to one another and the God who has called us together and expect Spring to come as certainly as this Autumn has.

Peace on your week!

In today’s lection of Lesser Feasts and Fasts we remember Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).  Hildegard was an highly regarded mystic speaking the truth of the feminine characteristics and images of God in a decidely masculine age.

Hildgard portrayed writing of her Divine Visions

Hildgard portrayed writing of her Divine Visions

As she was given to ecstatic and profound visions of the Divine from an early age, she devoted herself to a life of prayer later becoming Abbess of three different Convent Houses in the Rhine Valley of present day Germany.

After some 35 years, at the age of 43, she began to write of the visions that had filled her consciousness and prayerful vision.  Bernard of Clairvaux recommended the book of these visions, the Liber Scivias to Pope Eusebius III.  Upon reading the wondrously luminous descriptions of God’s presence in the whole of creation, Eusebius authorized Hildegard to embark upon a number of preaching missions across Northern Europe.

For me what Hildegard holds up in her life for everyday modern believers is a model of what can happen should we make the choice to pay attention and to expect to see extraordinary, Divine, things in what we would normally view as ordinary.

Hildegard saw powerful images of God in the world that nearly everyone took to be mundane in the most literal sense of that word.  In the natural, to borrow a phrase from Sam Portaro in Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Hildegard saw ‘not the fantastic, but the supernatural.’ This, in Sam’s analysis, is not that she imagined things that were not there, but rather saw things not as they simply are, but rather as reflective images of the Creator that spoke them all into being.  Each flower, each rock, each animal, each person–in Hildegards cosmology–bore the indelible imprint of the Divine and that all that is required to be blessed with the visions of the Divine in the ordinary is a willingness to pay attention.

In many ways we are an Attention-Deficit culture.  May Hildegard’s life, vision and witness inspire us to slow down and EXPECT to see God in the ordinary, each and everyday.

I spent a good deal of time praying for the havoc wrought by Hurrican Ike across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico this weekend.  I also hear my own voice (ok, so it’s from the Letter of James!) “Faith without works is dead!”

To that end, I’m going to click on the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) website today and give something to accompany my prayers.  I respectfully encourage you to do the same with the charitable organization of your choice. I’m designating my contribution to the island nation of Haiti which is desperately poor and has been lashed by 4 hurricanes this season.

I use ERD because their performance in getting high percentages of donations to where they’re needed quickly is outstanding.

Keep praying and give a little to back up God’s care with your action!

As the extent of damage from Hurricane Ike continues to unfold across the islands of the Caribbean and into Texas, Louisiana, Mexico and other places, it’s easy to ask “Where is God in the midst of this devastation and destruction?”  God is most definitely there and here’s an example of just how.

There’s a midrash of Torah that talks about the conversation between an angel and God as God watches the Exodus of the Israelites at the Red Sea. The basic frame of the story goes something like this:

As the Hebrew people were being pursued by the Egyptians toward the Red Sea, God and an angel watched events unfold.  God responded to the faith of Moses and the people in striking the water by parting it so that the whole company could find there way in safety to the other side.  As the people passed through, God and the angel watched silently.

Soon they turned their gaze upon the Egyptian pursuers.  As the last of the 12 tribes of Israel emerged on the opposite bank they began to gather again and prepare for the next leg of their journey, but still in fear of their pursuers.

As the horses, chariots and warriors of Egypt found their way into the passage through the see, God swallowed hard and sighed.  The waters united again and the cry of sorrow echoed through the air and was suddenly an eerily silenced.  Immediately the cheers and rejoicing commenced on the other side of the sea.

Then the angel of the Lord turned to speak to God and saw that tears rolled down the Lord’s cheeks.

“Why are you crying my Lord?”, asked the angel.

“I weep for my children, the Egyptians,” sighed God. And God shook with sobbing.

As Ike’s destruction is revealed, and as we deal with soothing the tears and sorrow of those here on earth in its aftermath, so does God weep over the suffering of any of his children.  My God’s sorrow inspire us to exercise our muscles of compassion in his name.  First by prayer and then by action in reaching out in whatever way we can to support those who weep, God included.

September 10, 2008

I usually pride myself on at least having a fleeting acquaintance with the folks that we in the Episcopal Church remember in the common of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  These are folks ranging from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to C.S. Lewis and from Julian of Norwich to David Pendleton Oakerhater.

They are folks who have had an impact through their life and witness on the life of the Church and the Mission of God in the world.  Like I said, I thought I had a passing relationship with virtually all of them.

Until this morning…

The Rev'd Alexander Crummell

The Rev'd Alexander Crummell

Today we remembers Alexander Crummell who was a pioneer in the Episcopal Church advocating for the minority voice of African-Americans.  Here’s a link to his full story.

Crummell was an important figure in the best of the prophetic wing of the Church.  If you read his story you’ll soon notice that he was not one to take no as an answer.

He was run out of a prep school in New Hampshire, denied candidacy to Holy Orders on more than one occasion, was not allowed to enroll in the seminary of his choice, denied admittance to the diocesan convention where he was finally ordained, forced to leave Liberia when he ran afoul of the prevailing political elite and opposed by Southern Governors when he tried to establish a platform for the voice of Black Episcopalians in the American Church.  In the face of all this adversity, he never lost his prophetic edge.  He believed that God’s call upon his life was reason enough to challenge the conventions that limited participation by all of God’s people in the Mission of God through the church.  Having said that, what I find most laudable about his life and witness is that he remained commited to and engaged in a flawed institution despite its best efforts to push him to the margin.

This is due in large measure of a deep love for the institution and a firm belief that God was calling it to a more faithful witness and challenging it the wrestle with its angels as well as its demons.  Just as Jacob’s struggle results in his blessing, so to did Crummell’s wrestling with the powers that be in God’s name secure a blessing of our Episcopal Church as a voice crying in the wilderness of marginalization and misunderstanding.

As I remember Crummell and his legacy across three continents in his 50 years of ordained ministry, I thank God that he and people like him, maintain patience with the Church, ‘that wonderful and sacred mystery’ and continue to call us, who after all are the Church, to engage with and express faithfully our better nature as we seek to do the Mission of the Church, ‘reconciling the world to God in Christ’ (BCP p. 855).

Well done Brother Crummell, continue to inspire God’s people, the Church.  Thanks be to God!!!

Transfiguration Icon

Transfiguration Icon

Last spring a member of the parish approached me about starting a contemplative prayer group at St. Luke’s.  Needless to say, I was thrilled that inititiave was bubbling up from the community.  Much of what we’ve done in our first two years together has been structural work that, hopefully, will undergird a deepening of the spiritual life of the community.

I have to admit that I was unaware of how unbalanced my own approach to ‘getting things going’ had become.  I mentioned to the Vestry that I was very excited about the new prayer group starting for a number of reasons.  One, it was lay conceived and lay led.  What a great thing!  God’s people praying for the life of the world and the role of their faith community in it.  Secondly, that I believe the attentive gathering of that group has been foundational for the parish.  Whether we sense it or not, the prayers of God’s people for their community is what holds us together.  I believe that the prayers of that group sustains the activity of the parish in many ways.

Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel about the need and blessing of prayer and that it is, as much as anything else, an exercise in aligning our will with the plan of God for the world.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*

7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.(Matthew 6:5-10)

Our prayers are not news to God. As we seek to be in tune with the mind and heart of God, our reward will be a clearer vision of God’s will and the courage and confidence to work for it.  That’s Kingdom building of the first degree and worthy or our best efforts.

That being said, I believe that remembering to pray for one another, for things big and small, in whatever way makes sense for us is the glue that continues to hold our community and the world itself together.  Prayer is one of the important exercises that allows the work of God to be done in the world.

Say a little prayer for one another today.  It might be the most important work you do all day!

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

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September 2008

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