Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Power of Prayer

This morning I visited one of my favorite web logs, OC,ICBW... to check on how some of its denizens are doing after asking for prayers. As I read through the many comments on the prayer thread, I was once again very aware of the community that has been forged through the internet, at least on this one blog, a community presided over by the one who calls himself the Mad Priest.

And as I read through the comments I had another awareness: this reading of the Mad One's blog is part of my spiritual practice. Some of the threads are irreverent (thank God! The Church needs to keep its sense of humor.) Some of them are offensive (also, thank God! We, when we are at our best, hone our debating skills and practice articulating our own beliefs while making room for (or not!) the points of view of others). Some of the posts are satire on, frankly, frank (read rude and even salacious) photos. And most days there is at least one post with music cuts (I warn you to never, ever click on the music link when the title of the post is "Where Does He Get them?"!!!!).

All of this is grist for the prayer mill and fodder for the life of spiritual practice. I am stunned to say it. And glad that so many of us have a place, a congregation, of which to be a part regardless of who we are, what we believe, what religion or none, where we are on the sliding scale of sanity.

I read through the comments on the prayer thread, and the comments themselves become my prayers for this morning. I am tempted to put up a link to that thread. I'm sure no one would mind, but somehow I want to retain the integrity of the site, with all its warts as well as its beauty. So I invite you to find your way to the church of misfits, myself included, over at OC,ICBW... and by the way, those initials stand for "Of Course, I Could be Wrong..."!

And remember, this is not "churchy". It is even challenging for many. But it is indeed holy, regardless of what you may think of what you find there.

While you are there, and even if you don't go there, please keep in your prayers: Ellie, David, JimB, Tracie. The Lord be with you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

George Herbert

The Collar

I struck the board, and cry'd, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sign-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav'd and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
And I reply'd, My Lord.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Praise (II)

King of Glorie, King of Peace,
I will love thee:
And that love may never cease,
I will move thee.

Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me:
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spar'd me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.

Though my sinnes against me cried,
Thou didst cleare me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst heare me.

Sev'n whole dayes, not one in seven,
I will praise thee.
In my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.

Thou grew'st soft and moist with tears,
Thou relentedst:
And when Justice call'd for fears,
Thou dissentedst.

Small it is, in this poore sort
To enroll thee:
Ev'n eternitie is too short
To extoll thee.

With thanks to God, on this feast of St. Agnes, Martyr at Rome, on whose feast I was this day, January 21, 1999, made a priest, against all good sense, against all desire to run away, and with God's persistent, loving call in my heart.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Countdown Part 2

Give us grace to readily answer the call of our Savior Jesus Christ… (from the collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany)

It wasn’t only the observations and insistence of people who knew me or experienced my ministry as a lay person which kept me going even when it seemedthat I might never be ordained. There was a dream, a vision that drew me to desire ordination in the first place. It began small and grew and in the end, I called it “Giving away the priesthood”.

Over these few ten years as I have served in parish ministry as a priest, sometimes I have lost sight of the dream because of the nature of parish priestly ministry. But the dream never dies. It is persistent, and insistent. It drives me and leads me, both at the same time.

When I ignore the dream, like Jonah, I suffer. I come close to perishing. When I serve the dream, I feel alive; I thrive. When I forget the dream, I feel like I’m serving death. When I recall the dream, I see life, abundant life for all people.

Part of the dream that applies to the institution which is the Church. It says that the church has everything backwards, inside out, upside down. We are like an orange, with all the good stuff inside and to get to it a person has to tear it open.

But what if the orange were turned inside out? What if we weren’t inside our churches on Sunday morning, catering to those who have come in our doors? What if, instead, we were outside? What if we took our worship to wherever there are people who need to hear and see the love of God, instead of waiting for people to come in here to us?

What if instead of mourning the steady decline of the way church used to be, we opened our eyes to see the community God has given us, right before our very eyes, in our lives and the life of our churches every day of the week? What if, instead of closing ourselves inside our Sunday hour, we walked among the people who use our buildings all the time we are not in them or we looked differently at the people we live and work with every day? What if we found out how we might serve them? What if we joined them, instead of waiting for some of them to join us?

What if we break that orange peel open so no one has to fight their way into the fruit at the center ever again?

Jesus did not call people together 2000 years ago so that they could pray to him and take care of one another. Jesus called people together 2000 years ago so they could learn from his example how to show God’s mercy and compassion, God’s love and identification with them. Jesus called people together to lead them to be healers and teachers and storytellers, like him.

Jesus called together a school for disciples. We have made of his vision an institution.

That’s not going to change any time soon. The institution does good things. It sends money and missionaries and doctors to war torn and disease ridden and poverty ridden places in the world. It helps to rebuild after natural disasters. It opens soup kitchens. It has food pantries for the poor. Maybe without an institution we wouldn’t be able to reach so much of the pain and hurt of the world.

People worship God in church buildings. As a result church people do good things, individually and independent of one another, in their lives. Maybe this would not be the case if we weren’t in this room every Sunday.

At the same time, the change is happening, parallel to the continuance of the institutional church. A new wind is blowing. A new church is emerging. It will renew the old rather than cast it aside. If the old is wise, it will embrace the new and help it flourish.

Inauguration Day

I grew up in Millington and Basking Ridge, New Jersey. I didn't see a "colored" person until I was in fifth grade in Basking Ridge. He was one of the boys in my class who lived at Bonnie Brae Farm for Boys, for which read "just this side of the state reformatory home for boys". Of course, that's what we children thought it was. It may not have been. It may just have been a home for troubled boys from broken homes. I was ten years old. What did I know?

When I was fourteen, my family moved to Lewes Beach, Delaware, now year-round and summer home for some of our most famous bloggers ( ! ). That was 1959. I was in my first year of high school. We lived in a post-Victorian house one block from the "colored section" or ghetto.

When we first moved to Lewes, the children from that "colored section", out of curiosity, came down to meet us. I remember one girl who would visit with me on our porch. That didn't last long. Some kindly neighbor had a little chat with my mother. It was all right if my youngest brother, who wasn't of school age yet, played with "those" children. But school age children were expected to stay clear of the "colored" children. My mother would do well to see to it we children no longer allowed "those" children to socialize with us.

It was 1963, my senior year in high school, before any child of color crossed the color line and entered high school in Lewes. She entered my class and she graduated with my class. I don't remember any of us socializing with her. Her name is Gloria.

Today, Glory be to God, Barak Obama will be inaugurated President of these United States. His inauguration will not end racism. We humans are determined to have some class or classes of people be beneath us, so we can have contempt for them, demean them, and thereby make ourselves feel bigger than we know in our hearts we really are.

If we are no longer allowed legally to enslave, segregate or otherwise make invisible people of color, we'll find someone else to whom it is not illegal to reduce to less-than-human status. While I served as a priest in Delaware, a bill came out of the Delaware House of Representatives which would add the words "perceived sexual orientation" to the list of those for whom basic civil rights of housing, insurance and employment could not be denied. Note the word "perceived".

I testified on behalf of the bill as a priest, wearing full clericals, speaking biblical as well as civil speech. The bill passed the house. It passed the house again the next time it came up. However, the bill never made it even into committee, much less out of committee and to a vote in the Senate in Delaware. The senator in charge of the committee to which the bill was assigned never took it out of his drawer. He had no obligation to take it out of his drawer. There was no way to compel him to take it out of his drawer. Everyone knew he was intentionally not taking the bill out of his drawer. I don't know if that house bill has ever managed to be passed, to this day, in Delaware. But I'm not surprised.

On this historic inauguration day, as I rejoice in the election and inauguration of Barak Obama, I want to remember those days in Delaware. There is still a long way to go before we are truly human. We will not be so until there is no longer in us a need to demean or make base any other fellow human being in order for us to feel big. We will not be human until there is no longer in us a need to pull out holy writ as a warrant for our basest instincts and desires and call it "obeying God". We will not be human until we become that which we were created, the image and likeness of God.

That day is not here yet, but this day we come a little closer to being that image and likeness. God bless, protect and defend Barak Obama, 44th President of the United States.


Some time ago I felt I had no choice but to put this blog on moderated comments. I didn't want to do it but circumstances made it necessary.

I had a comment that I chose not to put up, and at the same time I wanted to keep it, so I just left it without taking any action to post or reject. I thought it would just stay there forever. However, it's gone, which means an untouched comment has a shelf life and I didn't know that.

I don't know how long the shelf life is. I never went back to re-read the offending comment. I assumed that when the moderation page recorded only one comment, it was that comment. Now I know I may have been wrong.

If you have posted comments here and had them never appear, I apologize. I will be more careful in the future.

And now, on to other matters...

Monday, January 19, 2009


Two more days until the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church.

I mean, yeh, the inauguration of Barak Obama as President of the United States is pretty important, even cool. But it's on such a huge scale of importance that it probably won't make a difference in my everyday life, except I'll be able to listen to the voice of my president again, which I haven't been able to do for eight years now. (Apologies to my parishioners who support President George W. Bush.)

On the other hand, my ordination to the priesthood is something that happened to me, in the midst of the life I live, with people I know around me, not on some huge international scale.

So you'll forgive me, gentle readers, if I focus on me for a change. Ten years of ordained ministry, much of which has been very satisfying, and I still wonder sometimes if I'm really cut out for this.

You see, dear readers, I am about to confess to you that what I truly am, and want to be and do, as a priest, is mostly not at all what the people I have served want me to be and do. Never has been. Never is going to be. I've tried to tell them that when I'm interviewed, but then they call me and I come to work with them and I find the people don't remember what I told them about myself and are surprised when I don't do what they expect of me.

So, as a wise priest elsewhere in the nation asked me recently, do I have the energy to continue on the course I set years ago, even before my ordination, to follow a vision of the people of God that drew me into the priesthood in the first place? That is the question I've been asking myself for a few months now.

Perhaps I am unwise in writing this in a public forum. On the other hand, if the movie Doubt has taught us anything, it is that even the most self-assured religious have questions and doubts and it's important that people know we're no different from everyone else or we together will never be able to become the dream of God as Verna Dozier wrote of humankind in her book of the same name.

I would like to share the vision of which I speak above, but I've never been able to write or speak about it to my satisfaction. I've been working on that, and I hope to have something more for you tomorrow.

Meanwhile, light a candle of thanksgiving for me, and pray for me, a fellow sinner.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The Mission Congregation spent some time reflecting on the dichotomies found in Listening Hearts, our culture, and in Scripture. We chose the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-25) to explore further. At the end of our reflection we wrote the following collect:

O God, you are all encompassing and different for each of us; unfailingly gracious; constantly changing and learning; you wish abundant life and health for us; and you give us free will. We pray you will continue to grow in graciousness toward us because we can't live up to what we want to live up to; that we will be open to and willing to follow up on change; that you will be with us in the changing; and that we will live our lives to be more of a blessing to people in the circumstances we find ourselves--a light in the darkness; in order that change happens; that we come together and we come to understand your graciousness; and that we grow in grace ourselves and treat each other with grace. Amen.