A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
August 17, 2017 Charlottesville, the Eclipse, and our Common Smallness
Charlottesville is a special place to me. I was a student there at the University of Virginia, and this summer I returned with college friends to celebrate our 25th reunion. And so I was sickened by the racism and violence by white supremacists there last week. As we prayed last Sunday in church, my hope is that this ugly incident will lead, by God’s grace, to deeper understanding and genuine racial healing.
We talk often of the diversity of opinion that is respected in our Episcopal tradition, but there are limits, and some beliefs and behaviors are clearly beyond what is acceptable. Meaningful discussion and debate can take place over the role of civic monuments and how we both remember and learn from history. But there can be no tolerance of racism and racial hatred either in our nation, or in churches (many white supremacists claim to be Christians).
As Saint Paul reminds us, our differences are nothing compared to the gift of unity that God gives us: “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
During this week of despair, following the events in Charlottesville, I’ve found comfort and even hope in a coming event. This week, on August 21, a rare occurrence will take place in the skies, as I’m sure you have heard. For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will pass from one coast to the other, from Oregon all the way to South Carolina.
Although we in Arizona are not on the prime path for the total eclipse, we, along with the whole continental United States will experience most of the sun being obscured by the moon. At 10:33am on the 21st, we will see the maximum coverage here, about 66% at its peak.
When you think about a solar eclipse, it is a remarkable cosmic coincidence: because the sun is roughly 400 times the size of the moon, but the moon is roughly 400 times closer to the Earth, the sun and moon appear about the same size when they line up just right. It is no surprise that eclipses have often been significant events that affected history.
On May 28th, 585 B.C. according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Lydians and Medes were in the midst of a great and bloody battle, the culmination of a ten years’ war, when the noonday sky went dark.Both armies took the eclipse as a divine sign, laid down their weapons, and made peace, right then and there.
The August 21 eclipse of 1560 inspired young Tycho Brahe to become an astronomer, one of brightest ever. His work on telescopes and theories of planetary motion paved the way for his assistant Johannes Kepler’s breakthroughs on orbits and planetary laws.
And Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theories of space/time found concrete evidence during the eclipse of May 29, 1919, to the astonishment of the scientific community.
Eclipses have always mesmerized and inspired us. As a priest and not a scientist, part of what I appreciate about the eclipse that is coming, and the attention it is getting, is this theological point: it is good sometimes to be reminded that we are small.
We often live as if we believe ourselves to be the very center of the universe. We can become so focused on ourselves: on what will satisfy us or make us happy, on our ambitions and dreams, on how to be better than others, as if the world revolved around us. And all of that is certainly understandable, to a point.
But events like the eclipse remind us of just how small we are. For all our human accomplishments over tens of thousands of years, we are a blip on the radar screen, mere minute and transient lifeforms amidst the sweep and swirl of the cosmos.
Even our planet itself is but a grain of sand on the beach of the universe. As one of our Eucharistic Prayers puts it: “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
This sense of smallness is good, not because it diminishes us, but because it sparks in us a sense of wonder. It is not that some of us are small, and others large, but that all humans are equally small. As we watch the eclipse, we ought to feel wonder, amazement, and gratitude at this cosmic, divine show taking place before our eyes.
Perhaps that sense of wonder, of our common smallness, can help to bring us together as equals, however briefly, amidst our divisions. We are, all of us, huddled together, as tiny creatures on this terrestrial ball. The universe is too big for us not to look after each other.
August 10, 2017 On Not Majoring in the Minors: Orthodoxy, South Carolina, and Disagreement without Enmity
This week I read an insightful piece by the theologian James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College and Editor of Comment magazine. On his blog
(forsclavigera.blogspot.com), in a post called "On orthodox Christianity: some observations, and a couple of questions" Smith criticized those who use the term “orthodox" in doctrinal disputes, except in matters related to the Nicene or Apostles' Creed.
It has become the habit of some to argue that matters of morality, especially sexual morality, are questions of orthodoxy, of the utmost importance (“orthodoxy" means "right teaching"). Smith clarifies that we can talk about the traditional teachings of the Church, but if we use the term “orthodox," it can really only properly refer to one of two things: the Orthodox Churches (in which case the “O" is capitalized), or essential matters settled by the Creeds (such as the divinity of Christ, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Second Coming etc).
Although Smith is not an Episcopalian, his view is a very Anglican one. One of our strengths in the Anglican tradition and Episcopal Church over the centuries has been our commitment to being solid at the core of our doctrine and flexible at the edges, leaving room for big questions and discussion. And so we continue to hold firm to the Creeds, reciting them every week in worship, while leaving space for respectful disagreement on any number of theological or political areas outside of the center. As Episcopalians, we must always be cautious when anyone, on the left or right, says that any matter not contained in the Creeds is settled and beyond disagreement, questioning, or discussion.
One reason why Smith’s piece caught my attention this week in particular is that, around the same time, the property disputes in South Carolina between The Episcopal Church and a group of Anglicans who left the denomination while attempting to take church properties, reached a major milestone. The State Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church, declaring that the breakaway Anglicans must return most of the properties, worth some $500 million (since by our Church laws, groups of people can leave our denomination, but cannot take buildings with them).
There may yet be another appeal, but after many years and millions of dollars spent, the case seems to be nearing its conclusion. This whole controversy in South Carolina could have been avoided and kept out of the courts had there been a clearer sense that the debates over morality, however important they were, were not core, creedal disputes over orthodoxy, but matters over which reasonable, faithful Christians can and do disagree.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina would be far stronger in members, dollars, and witness to the Gospel today had the schism there not occurred. Of course, the departed Anglicans would say that these matters of morality are major issues of faith, and so would many on the other side, and they may both be right. The situation in South Carolina was complex, with plenty of blame to go around. But it is a shame, for everyone, that those issues could not have been worked out in good faith as brothers and sisters in Christ, respecting the dignity of every human being, without resorting to separation and the courts. No one can really be said to have “won" this bitter battle, given the damage done.
One thing that worries me about our national culture at the moment (and it creeps into the Church sometimes) is the tendency to "major in the minors," that is, to insist that what used to be disagreements (sometimes vehement) among friends are now insurmountable obstacles that make us enemies. We are rapidly losing our ability to disagree, while staying respectful and remaining in relationship with those who differ from us. A recent national poll demonstrated this well as it relates to our politics: over the last several decades, Americans feel about the same about our own political party, but our views of the other party have become far more negative.
I think of a Facebook friend of mine who, during the election, posted that anyone who was considering voting for a particular candidate should alert him, and he would unfriend them. I, for one, aspire to a range of friends with quite different views on all kinds of things, and I treasure a diverse church like ours in which a host of people with varied perspectives and beliefs can worship together, side by side, in the pew. Diversity of viewpoints can be messy, and even painful. But it can also help us grow.
August 3, 2017 Join Us On “The Path"
One of the lessons we learned from the experts at RenewalWorks when they helped us measure and explore our spiritual practices at All Saints’ last year, is that regular engagement with the Bible is a key indicator of spiritual depth and growth. Churches whose members regularly read Scripture in any way beyond simply hearing it in worship have a stronger, more vital faith.
It doesn’t matter how one engages with Scripture: through daily Morning and Evening Prayer, by reading the Sunday lessons in advance on our website, by keeping to an ambitious plan like reading the Bible in a year, or digesting it slowly by reading a page a day – any method will enhance one’s spirituality and help one better apply Scriptural lessons to daily life.
But sometimes we need encouragement. As with exercise or any healthy habit, it can be difficult to take on a new practice on one’s own. And so, for this coming program year at All Saints’, inspired by our RenewalWorks report, we will encourage each other by reading "The Path” together.
“The Path” (available from Forward Movement in paperback in both adult and children’s editions) will take us through the “greatest hits” of the Bible, the most important stories of the Old and New Testaments, using the same translation that we use in worship (the NRSV).
Each story will come with reflection questions to help us apply the passages to our own circumstances. By the end of our program year, the goal is for everyone in our church, of all ages, to have a basic familiarity with the Bible narrative, the story of God’s love for the world, and our place in it.
How can you help? We are asking everyone to buy a copy of “The Path” in either the children’s or adult version. We are conveniently offering them for sale for those who sign up. Feel free to round up or add on dollars, which will enable us to offer copies to those who cannot afford them. And any profits at the end will go to support our Children, Youth, and Family Ministries.
By having your own copy, you will be able individually or as a family to read through the stories at home. And then, on Sundays starting after Labor Day, both children and adults will explore the stories during our education time at 10am for the whole of the coming program year.
It used to be assumed that most people, and certainly almost all Christians, had a basic familiarity with the stories of the Bible. These days, that is no longer true. But rather than lamenting that sad fact, we are going to do our part this year to fix it, by teaching ourselves and our children the most important stories ever told, while having fun doing it. Come join us on “The Path"!
July 27, 2017 Why Do We Pray for the Sick?
Last week there was an outpouring of prayers and positive thoughts for Senator John McCain following the news that he is fighting brain cancer. Not only in Arizona, but across the country, we have (for the most part) been reminded of what is still good in people and even in our politics, as so many across the political spectrum have expressed support for him, and appreciation for his heroism, character, and dedicated service to our nation.
At All Saints’ last Sunday, we prayed for Senator McCain during our Prayers of the People, as I’m sure most churches in Arizona did. I know that many of us, myself included, will continue to pray for him, as he and his family walk this challenging part of his life’s path. But why do we, as Christians, pray for the sick, and what should we expect when we do?
When it comes to praying for the healing of others, the best Biblical examples come from the gospels. On several occasions, people come to Jesus asking him to heal someone close to them. For example, there is the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant. “Say the word, and my servant will be healed,” the centurion asks, and Jesus does so (Matthew 8:5-17).
But does prayer for someone who is sick actually make a difference, in our modern day? I would assert that it does, though not often in straightforward ways. I believe that God hears all our prayers, and I suspect most of us have prayed fervently for the healing of someone close to us. But the impact can be hard to see, except in retrospect, and even then is easier seen through a spiritual rather than a worldly lens.
When I was training to be a priest, I spent a year as a full-time hospital chaplain, and it was there that I learned the difference between curing (which involves the body only) and healing (which is more holistic). As a chaplain, I was often called into terminal medical situations (cancer, heart attack, stroke, car accident, gun shot wound), and only very rarely was there a miraculous “cure.”
But much more often, there was healing of the spirit, or in the family. On a number of occasions, I saw God working amidst a medical crisis to heal a family rift, give someone a new sense of purpose, or bring peace and a holy death, confident of the life to come. Several scientific studies have shown that prayer does positively affect medical outcomes for patients, but much of the benefit of prayer, in my experience, goes beyond the physical.
Part of what I experienced during my chaplaincy is that it is important what we are praying for. If our prayer is narrowly for a bodily cure only amidst a grave diagnosis, then what will it mean for our faith if that person dies? But if we can have the courage to pray not merely for a physical cure but for God’s healing, God’s love and peace, and for God’s will to be done, then we prepare ourselves for a wider range of possibilities.
Our prayer is not going to change God’s mind – that’s not how prayer works. But prayer can change us, can open our hearts. And I do believe that, somehow, prayer unleashes a positive spiritual force that affects things for good, often in mysterious ways.
I sometimes tell the story, from my chaplaincy year, of the man who came into the ER following a major heart attack. We prayed together, with his family. And just then, his brother, from whom he had been estranged for years, was rolled in with a much less serious condition, an injury. Before the first man died from his heart attack, he was able to achieve reconciliation with his brother, and a family wound was healed.
May we always have faith that our prayers for others are heard by God, and are answered, though often in different ways than we might hope or even imagine. To pray is always beneficial, for the recipient of our prayer, and for everyone involved. God brings life out of death and light out of darkness, and there is no situation, however difficult and painful, into which God cannot bring some kind of blessing, for those who have faith in Him.
July 20, 2017 20 Years of Harry Potter
This summer marks twenty years since the publication of J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Since then, Rowling’s Harry Potter universe has exploded, with books, movies, a play, and now more spin-off movies. Rowling has created a cultural phenomenon.
But the relationship of Christianity to the Harry Potter franchise has always been a bit bumpy. Many evangelical Christians have condemned the series from the beginning because of the witchcraft depicted in it, seeing it as promoting the occult.
But some other Christians have seen in the Harry Potter books, if not exactly Christian beliefs, then at least values compatible with the Christian faith. For several
years, a friend of mine who is an Episcopal priest taught a class at Yale Divinity School (my alma mater) on Harry Potter and Christian theology. Still other Christians have been essentially neutral on the matter: seeing no great spiritual benefit but no harm either in Harry Potter, finding the books and movies to be
engaging entertainment, nothing more and nothing less.
I find myself somewhere between the second and third camps. I’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies (I remember the excitement of a new Harry Potter book coming out, and the groggy satisfaction of reading late into the night to finish it). And my children adore them, both as books to read and as audio books, serving as our usual entertainment in the car, at the moment.
I don’t find myself as deeply moved by Harry Potter as I was by Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which was my obsession as a young teen. But there is much that I appreciate about Rowling’s writing, especially her creativity in developing a fully realized imaginary world, rich with detail and subtle humor. Rowling mostly avoids religion, although there are some undeniably Christian themes, especially in the last book of the series. I don’t consider Rowling's depiction of magic to be particularly troubling to my faith, any more than I find the Jedi spirituality of Star Wars to cause me concern. Christians, like everybody else, ought to be
able to appreciate a wide range of entertainment without getting too easily offended.
Indeed, if I dig a bit beneath the surface, there are some aspects of Harry Potter that I find quite relatable to Christian belief and practice. I’ll highlight three in
particular: mystery, friendship, and mentors.
Mystery. Harry Potter is a magical world of spells, charms, and mystery, all invisible to the muggle (non-wizard) eye. As sacramental Christians, we too believe that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. God’s creation is charged with meaning, filled with divine light.
And in the sacraments, we experience ordinary things made sacred by the Holy Spirit. Sacraments aren’t magical, but the ideas aren’t that far apart. One of the most important attributes of sacramental Christianity is the way it re-enchants the world (which is really just helping us see more clearly the wonderful things that God has made and done).
Friendship. One of my favorite aspects of Harry Potter is the importance of the friendship among Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In an isolating culture, we need real friendships more than ever. The Church in general ought to play a larger role in helping this happen, for Christian friendship is one of the most helpful tools in living a holy life in a complex world.
Mentors. In the world of Harry Potter, there are many mentors, who guide young Harry through the dangers of growing up. Although his parents were tragically killed, Harry is surrounded by a host of loving, wise figures: his godfather, teachers, and other adults. At its best, the Church is an environment in which children grow up with lots of inter-generational encouragement, and wise mentors for their faith life.
I, for one, am grateful for the past 20 years of Harry Potter. Christianity grows stronger when it is able to find common cause with aspects of the wider culture that are compatible with our values, even if they are not a perfect match. Since the Harry Potter franchise shows no signs of decline, hopefully we can enjoy and learn from it.
July 13, 2017 Welcoming and Reverent: On Bread, Wine, and Gluten-Free Hosts
About a week ago, the Roman Catholic Church stepped into a hornets' nest when it released an official directive through the Vatican. It wasn’t about one of the usual hot- button topics in Catholicism, but about something different: gluten-free altar bread for the Mass.
In a letter to bishops at the request of Pope Francis, Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments stated that the bread for the Mass cannot be gluten-free, although it can be “low-gluten.” Soon, the headlines were blaring: “Vatican Outlaws Gluten-free Bread for Communion” (BBC), and my personal favorite: “Gluten-free Bread for Holy Communion is Toast, Says Vatican” (The Guardian).
As is so often the case with controversies, this one was largely overblown, stirred up by the media, and (in some instances) by anti-Catholic bias. The reality is that this directive from the Vatican was nothing new, but was merely a confirmation of long-standing rules about the Eucharist. Gluten-free altar bread has never been allowed in Roman Catholic churches.
The Roman Catholic Church is quite specific in its requirements for the bread and wine for sacramental use, namely that the bread be “unleavened, purely of wheat” and the wine “from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances.” It is not surprising, therefore, that they have great specificity on the question of gluten-free altar bread.
While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church is being unwelcoming or unkind to those with Celiac disease and others who require gluten-free food, it is helpful to remember that Roman Catholics have held to their precise rules about the Mass for 2,000 years, and believe that even the smallest details are central to a reverent, valid sacramental rite.
As Episcopalians, not surprisingly, we take a different view on the topic, though not as different as some might think. At All Saints’, we typically use bread and wine that are made specifically for sacramental purposes. Our wine, Mont La Salle Altar Wine, is a pure California port approved for the Eucharist. Our bread, Cavanagh Altar Bread, is made of nothing but pure wheat flour and water (holding to the ancient tradition).
Our bread and wine are just like those used in Roman Catholic churches (and probably are used by some of them). We are extremely reverent with the bread and wine once they have been consecrated, consuming any host that falls on the floor, quickly wiping up any spills, and diligently keeping the consecrated and unconsecrated elements separated (with the reserved sacrament stored with dignity in the church’s aumbry, with a lit candle overhead).
Where we differ from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters on this topic is in our use of gluten-free (not just low-gluten) hosts, which we freely offer to those who request them, using the yellow card in the pews. We also provide a small, separate chalice with wine that has not touched our regular hosts. Our gluten-free hosts are made of rice flour, potato flour, potato starch and palm fruit oil (and so they are also soy and dairy free).
Why do we offer gluten-free bread while Roman Catholics do not? It is not that we are nicer or even necessarily more welcoming (which is a subjective determination), but that we have a slightly different sacramental theology. Ours is a more mystical and less mechanistic theology of the Eucharist.
Like Roman Catholics, we believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ (a doctrine called “the Real Presence”), but we do not require a more exact understanding of how this happens (as in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation).
For Episcopalians, it is enough to say that the elements are transformed into the sacrament, and that it is a divine mystery. As the old joke goes, the parishioner said to the Episcopal priest: “I don’t have trouble believing it is the Body of Christ, but I do have a hard time believing it’s bread."
It makes sense, then, that we take our Eucharistic elements seriously (you’d never find a loaf of raisin bread on the Altar) and hold to the ancient traditions in most
things, while leaving some room for the Holy Spirit to guide us into new, more expansive understandings (like offering gluten-free hosts to those who need them).
This is consistent with our theology in general in the Episcopal Church. We can be flexible in minor matters (as we see them) as long as we are faithful in the major ones, in order fully to welcome all into a life-changing encounter with our crucified and risen Lord.
If you hope you’ve heard the last of debates about the minutiae of the sacramental elements, just wait! The Episcopal Church is in conversation with the Methodists about sharing clergy and churches, which brings up the inevitable question: wine or grape juice? Suffice it to say that at All Saints’, and probably at most if not all Episcopal churches, we will continue with wine. But will the Methodists join us? And does it matter?
There is an underlying principle in all of this that is actually quite important: we are called, as Christians, to be both welcoming and reverent. Sometimes there are
tensions between those two ideals that need to be worked out. But they are both integral to our faith, for they reflect our love for God, and for our neighbor.
July 6, 2017 Saint Paul, Psychology, and the Limits of Will Power
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)
One reason why we know that the Bible is "the Word of the Lord," inspired by God, and not just another book, is that it continues to speak universal wisdom afresh to each generation. Take, for example, the seventh chapter of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (the chapter we are studying this Sunday at 9am, some of which we also have as a reading at two of our weekend services).
I suspect all of us have been in the situation that Paul describes, in which we know the right thing to do, and yet, inexplicably, do the wrong thing. To do the wrong thing when we are not sure it is wrong is much more understandable, but to do something wrong, fully aware of the damage it will cause to ourselves or others, is altogether worse and more confusing.
The selfish actions that we hate but do anyway can take any number of forms: cruel words to one who is vulnerable, sabotaging a co-worker, theft, betrayal, indifference to injustice, or the lesser offenses, like failing to be fully present to those around us, wasting our energies on unimportant things, sloth or gluttony.
This human weakness is present, it would seem, at very early stages of our development (an argument in favor of Saint Augustine’s theory of original sin, though that’s a topic for another day!). Our three year old will look at his mother or me, momentarily processing his decision, before going ahead and punching one of his big brothers. He knows it’s wrong, but I can see him delighting in the transgression, testing the boundaries.
The field of psychology is fascinating on the subject of will power. I am no expert, but I read on this topic whenever I can, because of its intersection with faith. For a time in recent years, much was written on the idea that will power is finite. We have more of it in the morning, and less of it as the day goes on, both because we grow tired, and also because of “decision fatigue.”
The more tired we get (or stressed or hungry), and the more decisions we have to make in a given day, the theory goes, the more likely we are to make poor decisions later, for example losing our temper, or giving in to the plate of cookies at 4pm. We know we ought to eat only one, but our will power is worn down, and we surrender to what we know is not good for us.
Lately, I’ve been reading more about the wisdom of removing temptation from our personal environment. If we don’t fill our pantry with store bought cookies, we are more likely to save our cookie eating for the special occasions when we take time to bake them. There are apps that can be set to keep our tablet or smart phone shut down for periods of time, if we need to be focused on another task or (even better) on our loved ones.
As we talk about in Lent, the more we can replace our spiritually unhealthy habits with healthy ones (internet or video games with reading or prayer, negativity with positive comments, envy with gratitude and generosity, work time with family time etc.) the better able we are to resist temptation and build a Godly life. But our ability to control our environment is limited (we may replace the cookies with apples at home, but what about the plate of them that appears in the break room at work).
The Good News of the Christian faith is that, whenever our will power strategies fail (and they do, from time to time), we can understand our situation spiritually. For Paul, the reason why we do the very thing we hate is sin, which controls us when we least expect it (“if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me”).
We do our best to live meaningful lives, and follow Jesus, focused on God and our neighbor, but when we fall short, we know it is not an individual failing so much as a natural, human one. All of us sin, for selfishness is part of our humanity. It is a consequence of our God-given freedom, and the flip side of our enormous capacity for generous good.
In life, we will exceed our wildest expectations in our good deeds, and we will fall crushingly short, but as Paul teaches us, through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven if we truly repent, freed from sin, and given a fresh chance continually, not as something we earn or deserve, but as our loving God’s free gift of grace.
June 29, 2017 As One Who Serves: Children, Human Dignity, and Service
Jesus said: "I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27).
This week, 39 children and youth, supported by 14 youth mentors, and 16 adult mentors have been serving those in need all around the valley through our annual All Saints’ Kids for the Community program. I’m of the belief that this is one of the most important ministries we offer, both for the tangible help given to others on behalf of All Saints', and for the impact such service has on our young people.
Much has been written in recent years about the damage on children of “helicopter parenting,” the natural tendency to overprotect, spoil, and insulate from failure our offspring. Out of love, it is all too easy as parents to be too involved, slowing our children’s growth into resilient, self-giving people. Parenting that hovers too close and gives too much can lead to young adults who are selfish, fragile, ungrateful, and ill-equipped to learn from disappointment.
Ironically, in the time of Jesus the problem was the opposite. In the Roman empire, children were not spoiled; they were ignored. Children were considered less than human, and were meant to be neither seen nor heard. Wealthy parents (especially men) spent as little time with their children as possible, leaving much of the childrearing to their slaves. Unwanted babies were routinely abandoned outdoors, and physical punishment of children was often abusive.
And so, when Jesus, building on the Jewish tradition, considered children to be of equal value to adults, with inherent human dignity, worthy of love and even admiration, he was stating a radical view (“let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” - Matthew 19:14).
Today, our role as parents and grandparents (and the Church’s role) is meant to find a healthy middle ground that loves and values our children as precious gifts from God, teaching them right from wrong and imparting discipline and character, while giving them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
In our mentoring, one of our most essential responsibilities is to teach them the value of generously serving others, which is at the core of Jesus’ teaching to love God and our neighbor. A young person who learns early on that they are meant to help others and treat them with dignity is more likely to develop a strong sense of gratitude, one of the keys to a fulfilled and meaningful Christian life.
All Saints’ Kids for the Community is just one way for our children to learn about and practice service to others, a key aspect of discipleship. Hopefully we can continue that spirit of loving service in our church and in our families in the year to come, following the example of our servant king.
June 22, 2017 Remembering Otto
Recently I attended my 25th college reunion at the University of Virginia at the start of our annual family trip to see relatives in Virginia. It was a fun and nostalgic reunion, with good friends from my undergraduate days. There were many happy coincidences and blessings during those college years that resulted in a great deal of personal growth, and lifelong friendships. Looking back, I can see the hand of God at work in my life in all kinds of ways.
Just after my college reunion came the news that Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, had finally been released after more than 16 months of brutal captivity in a North Korean prison. And then, this past Monday, days after arriving home in Cincinnati, Otto died from the traumatic brain injury he suffered while imprisoned.
What was Otto’s crime in North Korea? While there as part of a tour group, he apparently stole a propaganda poster as a souvenir. His sentence? Fifteen years of hard labor for committing a “hostile act." Fifteen years that, though shortened, turned into a death sentence.
I didn’t know Otto or his family, but his situation has been on my mind ever since he was detained in January of 2016. He made a foolish mistake, stealing something in a notoriously paranoid and autocratic regime. But when I think back to my 22 year old self, I made plenty of similar mistakes. I’m sure we all did. I just had the good fortune not to suffer any extreme repercussions. It is an astonishing and extreme act of cruelty that a young student’s prank resulted in his torture and death.
Which brings me, of all things, to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we are studying this summer. Part of Paul’s lasting legacy in Christian theology is the bracing truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but that we “are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3). In other words, every single one of us will make mistakes, large and small. We will lack wisdom, and act selfishly, and not think ahead, because we are sinful (that is, imperfect) creatures.
But we have a loving God who, far from expecting that we be perfect, knows that we are not. What God asks of us is not perfection, but repentance, being genuinely sorry for our mistakes, and seeking to learn from them and repair the damage done. In Christ Jesus, God offers us continual forgiveness and love, over and over and over again, with infinite patience.
This week, I am praying for the peace of Otto’s soul, and for his family and friends. And I am grateful for my many blessings, including that of my faith. When we look at North Korea, we see a horrifying inability or unwillingness to forgive Otto Warmbier’s quite trivial act. At the very opposite of the spectrum, we find God, who forgives not only our minor errors, but the major ones as well, out of immeasurable love.
June 8, 2017 The Trinity: God’s Blueprint
This weekend, the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday. Always the week after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday gives us the opportunity to reflect on the sacred mystery that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Holy Trinity is much more than a dry, academic concept; indeed, I believe that the Trinity is God’s blueprint for a healthy, joyful, and purposeful life. The
contemporary Roman Catholic spiritual writer Richard Rohr has written about the Trinity often, and I’ve heard him teach about it twice. One of his points is that we get stuck in adversarial, binary perspectives: us vs them, I get mine or you get yours.
But the Trinity is a model for community, for self-giving, for complexity, and for unity in diversity. Notice how a group dynamic changes any time a pairing grows from two to three: a couple that has or adopts a child, a work team of three, an activity. Often, when two expands to three, a different, more creative, more life giving relationship is begun.
This can also come into play in our decision making. In major life decisions, we frequently get trapped in binary choices, when better third options might be available, with a little creative exploration. For example, do I take this new job or not? It seems like a binary choice, but what about these deeper questions: what is it about the possible new job that interests me? Are there ways to integrate some of those qualities into my current job or my time away from work? The third way is often left unconsidered, but could be the most rewarding path.
I will not venture into our political challenges, except to say that our current winner-take-all, us vs them bitterness might be helped if more people were seeking "third ways” of compromise and innovative thinking about the great challenges of our time.
Individualism and binary thinking can both trap us in selfish, simplistic, negative, sinful, downward spirals. The Holy Trinity offers us an ancient and yet fresh approach: genuine community, complexity, unity in diversity, sharing, and loving for the good of all. It’s what we try to practice as Christians, following the teachings of Jesus, and the world could use more of it.
June 1, 2017 Pentecost, Joy, and Change
This Sunday, we come to the feast of Pentecost, and the end of the fifty day season of Easter. We also conclude our theme of joy, that we have kept throughout Eastertide in a number of ways, including in some of our sermons, Bible studies, and with other spiritual resources.
Pentecost is a day about change: it celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit that manifested itself in a miracle of communication, in what we consider the birthday of the Church. The disciples were changed through the Holy Spirit from a scattered, fearful collection of individuals into a strong, unified, courageous community of faith.
In the long season after Pentecost, we will pay attention particularly to the working of the Holy Spirit, which has so often been the catalyst for healthy change in the Church at large, in churches, and in the lives of disciples through the ages.
There is a connection between change and joy. Not all change is joyful (some change is painful). But much joy involves change (I say this as someone who can’t stand change!). True joy, which is deeper than happiness, often comes with leaving something behind in order to achieve a different state.
Think of what happens when a child is added to a family through birth or adoption. By many metrics, new parents experience change that ought to make them less “happy” (less sleep, less time for themselves, increased financial strain etc). And yet, most new parents experience a sense of profound joy.
Think too of the experience of graduation. Whether one is graduating from middle school, like our All Saints' Episcopal Day School 8th graders did recently, from high school, from college, or from graduate school, to graduate means both the celebration of an achievement, and also moving into a different phase of life. Graduation is a change that comes with leaving some important things behind, and entering into much that is unknown, and yet almost all go through this transition with a sense of joy.
And, of course, the sacrament most associated with change is baptism, when we are born anew and made members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Pentecost is a day that often includes baptisms, and we will joyfully celebrate two on Sunday. As we conclude Eastertide, and enter into the season after Pentecost, may we be open to all of the joyful changes God may be calling us to in our lives, through the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.
May 25, 2017 Facing Uncertainty
Human beings are not good with uncertainty. To know what one is facing, even if it is difficult, is often easier, because we have some time to prepare. As the world was horrified this week by yet another savage terrorist attack, this time in Manchester, with innocent young girls as the targets, it occurred to me that one of terrorism’s most insidious weapons is the uncertainty it disperses.
An attack comes, and in the aftermath we are glued to our screens, seeking new information. Inevitably there are warnings, heightened alerts, rumors of additional acts. As we go about our days in the aftermath, we look around with fear. Ordinary people look suspicious to us.
The uncertainty is part of what the terrorists count on – not only the violence itself, with its awful impact on the victims, their families and friends, but also the
sickening ripples of anxiety that do their own damage in the days and weeks following.
I am not smart enough to know the political, military, economic, and cultural strategies that will defeat a hateful ideology that would target children attending a pop concert. What I do know is that, as Christians, our best cure for uncertainty is always prayer, and not the casual kind, but fervent and constant prayer.
When Jesus ascended into heaven (celebrated on May 25 this year), his disciples faced great uncertainty. He had promised them that God would not leave them orphaned, but would send the Holy Spirit, but they did not know when or how. What did they do? They prayed.
Luke’s gospel tells us that for the ten days between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples prayed continually in the temple in Jerusalem. And even in their anxiety, they gave thanks, “blessing God."
In times of uncertainty in our world and in our lives, the most important thing we can do is pray. Share our worries with God, ask for God’s wisdom, pray not just for ourselves but for others, and even in our concern, give thanks for the many ways that God is faithful and good.
Will you join me in following those first disciples, and praying daily for others (especially for the victims of human violence) between now and Pentecost on June 4? And let us not forget to give thanks to God, who brings new life, healing, and peace out of even the darkest of days.
May 18, 2017 Tune My Heart: The Unique Blessing of Choral Music
Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. (Hymn #686)
Sunday afternoon, we will have the opportunity to enjoy our Senior and Chamber Choirs in their annual concert to end this program year. It is a chance not only to appreciate their artistry before they go on summer break, but also to thank them for a wonderful year of choral singing. No volunteer ministry at All Saints’ requires as much commitment as our choirs, with hours of rehearsal each week, and we can never say too often how much our choirs enhance and inspire our worship of God.
This year’s concert has the special distinction of being the last for Scott Youngs, our remarkable Director of Music, who will retire from his role on October 1. Although we will have many opportunities to thank and recognize Scott in the fall, this concert is, in some respects, the beginning of our season of appreciation for his amazing time among us.
Have you ever thought about why choral music is so important to the Christian faith? It is Biblical. There are nearly one-hundred references to singing in the Bible, many of which speak to the essential role of singing in our praise of God. The psalms in particular, as the hymnal of ancient Israel, repeatedly exhort us to “sing praises to God, sing praises” (psalm 46) and to “sing for joy to God our strength” (psalm 82). Singing is uniquely incarnational: it is the only music that requires only our God-given bodies as the instrument.
In particular, the combination of beautiful words and beautiful music has a multiplying effect. Scientists tell us that singers, when they sing, have a sense of well-being and connection, due to the chemicals released in their brains. As listeners, I suspect we experience something similar. Profound texts paired with exquisite music, praising God, lift our spirits heavenward.
Come Sunday morning to my class, if you are able, as I enhance our enjoyment of the concert by taking us through the poetry of the afternoon’s program. And most importantly, come Sunday afternoon for the concert itself, as our choirs’ hearts are tuned to sing God’s grace.
May 11, 2017 Parenthood and the Example of Mary and Joseph
We all learn by imitation. From our earliest years, we see what others are doing, and seek to do the same. And so it is in our spiritual life. As children, our most
important spiritual role models are our parents.
As we grow older, we seek out other examples. One of the reasons why I love our Episcopal tradition is the role of the saints, whose particular importance here is reflected in the name of our church and school, All Saints’. The saints aren’t super heroes; they are those who selflessly imitated Jesus, often to a sacrificial degree. They show us what it looks like to live a Jesus-shaped life, whatever the cost.
When we think of parenthood, we have two wonderful examples to imitate among the saints. Saint Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was a devoted father figure, providing for his family, protecting them, loving them, and praying for and with them. And in Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have the classic maternal role model. She loved Jesus, cared for him, prayed for him, and stayed with him even in his greatest suffering, on the Cross.
It is not easy to be a parent, as our children grow up in this complex and dangerous world. We can err on the side of being too lax or too hard on our children, too much a friend or not seeking to relate, giving them too much freedom or not enough. We come home exhausted and do not always give our best selves to our most important duty. But sometimes I think we are too hard on ourselves.
Perhaps it is best to start with the example of Joseph and Mary. Above all, they loved. They loved each other, they loved their child, and they loved God. If we can do those three things, we are likely to get far more right than wrong.
May 4, 2017 Father Paul Urbano’s Column “Orthodox” and the Imperfect Wisdom of Weekly Writing
This Sunday, we commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of our first rector, the Reverend Paul Dewitt Urbano (sadly, he died too young, at the age of 61 in 1979).
A first rector has a unique role in the history of a church; like a parent, their spiritual DNA, as it were, is imprinted quite deeply on the religious community they serve. This is particularly the case for Father Urbano because of the length of his tenure: 27 years!
Most new churches, like most new businesses, fail. Not so All Saints’. Thanks to Father Urbano’s leadership, spiritual gifts, and faith, and that of the original lay leaders of our church, and then soon after our day school (founded a decade later), All Saints’ grew tall from its strong roots in what had been a date grove in the then far northern part of Phoenix.
That growth continued under the dynamic leadership of his successor, Father Carl Carlozzi, another long term rector whose lasting imprint continues to bless us to this day in the form of our buildings, and in many other ways.
In my sermon at the 11am service on Sunday, I’ll reflect at some length on the legacy of Father Urbano, including his legendary preaching and teaching. But in this piece, I want to draw attention to another medium he used to great effect: his weekly column called “Orthodox” in the Arizona Republic.
The 1960’s was the high water mark for mainline churches, including The Episcopal Church; they were at the height of attendance, membership, and social influence. And so it was not unusual that Father Urbano, the rector of All Saints’ Church, which was then a little over ten years old, was asked in 1962 to write a column, something he continued until 1970.
Initially written anonymously, after two years the writer of “Orthodox” was revealed. The columns are available to be read in our church library, and they are fascinating. As someone who writes a weekly column (though for a much smaller audience in our enews, not in the Republic!), I appreciate the joys and limitations of the genre.
A weekly column is a kind of provisional reflection, a vehicle of imperfect wisdom. Unlike, say, a poem, which is ideally distilled over months or even years into a pure, timeless gem, a weekly commentary (like a sermon) exists fully in the present. Some columns (like some sermons) have a timeless quality, but most are snapshots capturing a particular moment, written, as it were, with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other (in the immortal words of Karl Barth).
I enjoy writing my weekly pieces in part because I trust that my readers in the parish give me a certain latitude: my thoughts are sometimes a little rough around the edges, having usually gone from conception to birth in a couple of days. But there is benefit in their frequency: don’t like this week’s column, another one will come next week!
To read Father Urbano’s columns is to encounter an intellect both witty and serious. Indeed, I can’t imagine a modern newspaper in our era of digital devices and shrinking attention spans publishing such theologically and socially meaty insights.
Urbano writes often on topics like the erosion of the historic faith among mainline denominations and the challenges of Christian living in an increasingly secular world (imagine what he would make of our times!). But he also reflects on the intersection of faith and culture in substantive but irreverent ways (“Does Space Travel Invalidate Faith?” “God Can Do Little If You’re Jellyfish”).
Above all, Urbano’s columns, as the overall title indicates, defend orthodoxy as he understood it (not the branch of the Church known as Eastern Orthodox, but orthodoxy in the sense of traditional Christian teachings). He clearly believed that the modernization of the Church was not all to the good. The wide latitude and generosity of spirit in The Episcopal Church was a leaky window that was letting in not only the light of much needed reform, but also the moisture of theological rot.
Reading his columns, I don’t find myself agreeing with everything he wrote (he was, like all of us, a creature of his own time and place). But I side with him on his vigorous insistence on not losing the essentials of the faith. The genius of Anglicanism has always been in holding firm to the theological, creedal core, passed down the ages, while keeping flexible and forgiving on the inessentials. Paul Urbano knew that, and taught it energetically, both inside the Church and beyond it.
April 27, 2017 Giving Thanks for Scott Youngs
As you will see from Scott Youngs' letter, he intends to retire from church music on October 1 after thirty years as Director of Music here at All Saints’ (and 44 years total serving as a church musician!).
This will naturally stir up a variety of emotions for all of us. When Scott came to me just before Holy Week to share this news, I felt several things at once. I rejoice for Scott that he will get to spend the next chapter of his musical career focused on music performance, away from the exhausting demands of running a large program such as ours, not to mention giving him more time with Gil as they enjoy their new house in Belize.
At the same time, I am deeply saddened to lose Scott’s immense talent and dedication as the Director of our music ministry, and I will miss him personally in so many ways. One of the reasons I felt called to All Saints’ was the opportunity to work with Scott and with this amazing program that he has built, and these eight years together on the staff have been a wonderful experience of collaboration and joy, as our music has continued to reach new heights.
We have a music ministry at All Saints’ church and school that is of national quality and reputation, to the glory of God. From Sunday morning worship (including our fourth Sunday choral mass settings) to Evensong, from our Chamber Choir and Bell Choir down to our youngest day school choristers, we praise God with our very best.
Our choirs and organ playing by Scott and James Gerber are phenomenal, and we have a sophisticated congregation that embraces not only the great works of our Anglican tradition, but also newer music (such as the stunning works performed on Good Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago).
Where do we go from here? By graciously giving us until October 1, Scott will enable us, God-willing, to complete a search for our next Director of Music and hand over the program in an orderly manner. We will immediately begin a national search for Scott’s successor, and with this outstanding program in place, I anticipate strong interest. I will form a search committee as soon as possible to help me with this important task.
We will also have many opportunities, both individually and collectively, to thank Scott for his 30 years of extraordinary ministry among us.
It has been my honor to serve as the music director of All Saints’ for 30 years now.During that time you have built a music program that is the envy of the Southwest.
Beginning with Choristers at the end of third grade, we educate singers in the joys of the Episcopal repertoire. With the Choral Scholars, Choral Fellows, Senior Fellows, volunteers and staff, you produce choral music that is second to none in the state and beyond. You have also built a gorgeous organ and enhanced the worship space to become our largest musical instrument; a room that supports music and creates a sense of corporate worship.
Your choirs have been honored with performances in eight countries and have had wonderful experiences singing from the high altar at Canterbury Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, at St. Thomas in Leipzig during the Bach Festival, and so many others. They sing with great joy week in and week out and we are all blessed by their hard work and dedication. The entire parish has been transformed over these thirty years, and I am so very grateful to have been a part of that.
You are ready to take another big step forward, and it is time for someone else to take that step with you as music director. I hope that you will continue to support and build the music program with a new and vibrant director at the helm.
As for me, I need to accept some new challenges and opportunities. You have had my undivided attention from the day I walked in the door. Now, I’d like to step back from church music and work on my musical “bucket list.” Between now and October, I will do everything in my power to help ease the transition to a new parish musician. On October 1st I will celebrate my final liturgies with you and hand off my duties to someone new. I know that you will welcome that person and show them the same love, dedication and support that you have bestowed on me. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you, and I give my sincere thanks to you for making my life among you so rewarding and joyful.
April 20, 2017 50 States of Joy
Here at All Saints’, we are going to keep the 50 days of the Easter Season, from now until the feast of Pentecost on June 4, with the theme of “50 States of Joy.” We will explore together in sermons, writings and other ways the many layers and aspects of our Easter joy.
Here is what I had to say about this in my Easter Day sermon (the whole of which can be found in video by clicking here):
We will, I hope, collectively and individually, commit to practice joy in our lives. The verb for this is “rejoice,” a word that appears several hundred times in the Bible.
Unlike happiness, which is usually connected to external circumstances (yay! I got a raise at my job! Yum! That chocolate covered Peep is delicious!), joy is deeper, more internal. Joy and happiness can go together, but sometimes joy can come with suffering (like the pain and joy of childbirth, or the joy of justice achieved after great struggle).
We will attempt to rejoice, these fifty days, finding gratitude and purpose amidst the varied challenges of life. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” as the Scripture says.
Our joy will not be naïve, pretending that these are not anxious times in our lives, our nation, and the world. Wars and threats of wars, political divisions, addiction, and poverty will continue. We will not ignore them, nor will our compassion for others cease. But we will rejoice in the light that shines in the darkness, knowing the darkness cannot overcome it.
We will rejoice in what is good, and lovely, and gracious, and we will rejoice in a God who transforms even the most bitter pain into new life. Since we have been raised with Christ, we will set our minds on the things that are above.
And so, wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of faith and belief today, here is my challenge to you: over these next days, find ways to rejoice. Look for the good, in situations and in people, especially those people whom we dislike or disagree with. Seek it out, even when it is hard to find.
Joy almost always depends on connection; indeed, Thomas Aquinas once wrote that true joy is to be united with what we love. Cultivate joyful experiences with others. Make connections, renew friendships, extend invitations. Be aware of silver linings, and suppress the cynic and the pessimist within.
Look for joy, and try to spread it. Live more lightly, with a joyful spring in your step. Pay attention. Be mindful of the present moment. See the beauty all around us, everyday. Feel wonder at all that is amazing: the desert flowers in bloom, the giggles of children at play, the quiet calm of the evening breeze. Put down the giraffe video, and go see an actual giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo!
Rejoice. For this is one of God’s greatest tools for transforming pain and loss into new life. Whether you join us here at All Saints’ for our 50 States of Joy between now and June 4th, or practice joy at home, in your office, or in your community, commit to it, even for a week, and see what a difference intentional rejoicing can make, for yourself and for others.
50 states, 50 days of joy, in honor of our risen Lord, who died and rose to give us a different kind of life, a fuller life. God doesn’t rewind. God transforms. God transformed Jesus, God can transform us, and God can use us to transform others. That’s the promise of Easter.
April 13, 2017 Holy Week Was Not Tame
In C.S. Lewis’ classic book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” there is a wonderful line about Aslan, the lion who is a Christ figure in the story. Mr. Beaver says, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Jesus was not safe, he was not tame, but he was good. He was not polite, but he was compassionate. If you read the earliest account that we have of the events of Holy Week, Mark chapters 11-15 (which I encourage you to do this week), it is not hard to see why the political powers (and the corrupt religious authorities collaborating with them) felt they had to get rid of Jesus. Jesus told the truth unflinchingly, and challenged an oppressive, greedy system that preyed on the most vulnerable.
The first Holy Week was not tame. It was raw, emotional, heartbreaking, and then liberating. It is difficult for us, these many centuries later, to enter into the story as if for the first time (especially if we have experienced the Holy Week liturgies many times ourselves). But the more we can enter in, through prayer and imagination, andallow God to place us with Jesus that first Holy Week, the more immediate and transformative the journey will be.
And as we keep this Holy Week in Phoenix, we recall that in some parts of the world, there is all too real violence, drama, deep emotion, and fear. The savage terrorist attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt in two different churches on Palm Sunday were horrific reminders that some Christians are even now risking their lives for the faith that they (and we) profess. We remember them in heartfelt prayer, confident that our good Jesus is most especially with those who suffer as he did, and that he is and will be King over all.
April 6, 2017 Holy Week: In Our End is Our Beginning
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, directly beneath Calvary (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion), there is the Chapel of Adam. Legend has it that Adam’s skull was buried there, hence the name Golgotha, which means the Place of the Skull. At the crucifixion’s earthquake, a crack was made in the rock, allowing the blood of Christ to flow down to Adam, who was then redeemed from his fall after all those centuries.
Holy Week is about beginnings and endings. What seems to be Jesus’ end (his death on the Cross) is really his beginning as the resurrected Lord. When he is struck down, he becomes more powerful than either his enemies or friends could imagine (a theme, by the way, that is used to great dramatic effect in both the death of Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” and the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars”).
Jesus, of course, was real. He really died, and really was raised from the dead (if you explore it carefully, no other explanation actually makes sense). And in his end and new beginning, he won not only for Adam but for all who believe in him an end to sin and death, and forgiveness and new life in this world and the next.
Wherever you are on your lifelong journey of faith: whether you believe, whether you are a skeptic, or if you long to believe but are not yet ready to make that leap of faith, the Church invites you to experience Holy Week. I guarantee you: the more time you spend in worship this Holy Week, especially from Thursday to Sunday, the more you will open your heart to God’s life-giving presence at Easter.
If you have never experienced the Holy Triduum (the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday Easter Vigil), which are one long, ancient liturgy in three parts, you are missing what many consider to be the mystical center of Christian worship. Every year, someone comes to the Easter Vigil on Saturday night for the first time, and says to me after that they had no idea how incredible it is.
Come and join us as often as you are able this Holy Week. Come walk with the Church as we walk with Jesus toward his suffering, death, and resurrection, his end and his beginning, and ours.
March 30, 2017 John, the Mystical Gospel, and Preparing for Sunday
You may have noticed that the gospel readings in recent weeks have been very long (certainly our deacons who proclaim the gospel in our liturgies have noticed!). This is because Year A of our lectionary appoints four extended readings from John for the Lenten gospels after week one.
And so, we had the story of Nicodemus for Lent 2, the Samaritan woman at the well in week 3, the man born blind in week 4, and this Sunday we finish the pre-Holy Week portion of Lent with the story of Lazarus. All four of these stories are unique to John’s gospel, and they are of such rich complexity that, like a great tapestry, each cannot be trimmed down without doing damage to the text.
In addition to being long, these John readings are notoriously difficult to digest. They are packed with symbolism, dense with meaning in a way that challenges the short attention span of the modern mind. But they reward the believer who enters diligently into their teaching. John’s writing has been called the “spiritual gospel” and the “mystical gospel,” because it possesses deep insight for the one who patiently plumbs its depths with a focused mind and an open heart.
These stories from John are profound parables about conversion (Nicodemus), forgiveness (the woman at the well), and the cost of discipleship (the man born blind). And this Sunday, we have the foreshadowing of the resurrection in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus is not, strictly speaking, resurrected, for he will die again later in life (resurrection is eternal). But Jesus’ raising him is a potent and provocative reminder that God alone has power over life and death.
Indeed, so provocative is this, the greatest of Jesus’ miracles, that, in John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the last straw for the religious and political authorities, who decide at this point that Jesus must be killed at any cost. The raising of Lazarus propels Jesus inevitably toward the Cross, as it propels us toward Holy Week.
Every Thursday, on the left side of our enews, there is a section called “Prepare for Sunday” (it is also on our website’s homepage under “Tools for Everyday Faith”). To take even 5 minutes to read the lessons anytime in advance of Sunday will enhance our understanding of them in worship, and the impact of the sermon. It’s one of the simplest ways there is to magnify the Sunday worship experience and take it into the following week.
This week, take some time to prepare for Sunday by reading our Sunday lessons in advance, especially the Lazarus story. See what a difference it makes, as we begin to make our turn towards the very center of the Christian year.
March 23, 2017 The Saint John’s Bible and the Benedict Option
A new book, published last week, has stirred up conversation among religious leaders. In “The Benedict Option,” Rod Dreher argues that, as Western culture becomes more secular and even hostile to religion, Christians ought to follow the example of Saint Benedict by making a “strategic withdrawal” from the culture, forming more robust Christian communities.
Dreher, who is a conservative, doesn’t envision that everyone would become monks and nuns (Saint Benedict was one of the founders of monasticism in the 6th century), or even create communities fully independent of the culture (which is impractical if not impossible for most). Rather, he sees the need for Christians to support one another through a more committed and communal religious life.
Wherever one falls on the conservative/liberal spectrum, Dreher brings up some interesting points. At a church like All Saints’, most of us still experience church as a once a week (or less) gathering that sends us out into the world to live our faith largely alone the rest of the time. How can we offer more opportunities to deepen our faith together in community, better preparing us to practice fruitful Christian lives in a wider culture in which Christianity is in decline?
I’ve been encouraged to see strong crowds for our Lenten Thursday evenings, which grow our faith through fellowship, prayer, reflection, and learning. These types of gatherings that use a variety of Christian practices over one evening are effective at strengthening our minds and spirits, and building on our Sunday experience, in the same way that exercising in two somewhat different ways in a week will build our muscles.
I’m also intrigued to reflect on our Saint John’s Bible volumes through the lens of the Benedict Option. Ideally, these amazing books will be tools of discipleship to build the Biblical faith of our members as we use them for study and inspiration. But I hope they will also be tools of mission, drawing the curious from outside our church, and even being taken out (with great care, of course!) into our wider community.
One reason why we have started a Saint John’s Bible Speaker Fund is to be able to host compelling guest speakers who will bring more guests onto our campus (to contribute, make a check to All Saints’, with “SJB Speaker Fund” in the memo line!).
Jesus teaches us that the Gospel, contained in our Saint John’s Bible, is “Good News,” which implies that it is not to be kept, but shared. People need to hear this Good News. We must indeed strengthen our Christian community at All Saints’ by praying, learning, and serving as we connect with one another, with God, and with a hurting world. But we strengthen and nourish ourselves, by God’s grace, so that we might go out to strengthen and nourish others, as Jesus did.
We gather not for spiritual withdrawal or protection, but to resupply for the mission journeys before us.
March 16, 2017 Centering Prayer and the Power of Silence
"Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Many of us suffer from acute silence deprivation, without knowing it. We live in a constant state of noise, and of over-stimulation more generally. Have a free moment? We check our smartphone. Background music and electronic screens are everywhere.
How many hours a day do we spend with no screens and no background noise, other than sleep? How much time do we spend with our undivided attention on another person, on nature, on a book, or simply in thought? Many of us, I suspect, go around in a multitasking daze by day, starved of deep thought and deep connection, and sleeping fitfully by night.
Fortunately, there is an ancient and wonderfully effective spiritual practice to reboot our minds, bodies, and spirits: silence. I have been delighted to see a resurgence lately in contemplative practices, such as meditation and mindfulness, outside of churches. But many people don’t realize that Christianity has its own contemplative practices that are more than a thousand years old.
One such technique is Centering Prayer, a simple to understand but challenging to practice way to rest in God’s presence in silence, while gently freeing our minds of distracting thoughts. At All Saints’, a group of lay leaders has begun a process to establish a practice of Centering Prayer. A preliminary meeting recently drew 17 people, and there is an upcoming training on Saturday, March 25 from 9am to 1pm at All Saints’, led by a teacher from Contemplative Outreach in Phoenix. I encourage you to attend, if you are able.
Centering Prayer can be done in a group or alone anywhere where silence can be found and outside distractions minimized. Its benefits can be experienced in as little as 10 minutes a day (though two 20 minute sessions daily are the ideal). A daily practice, even one that is brief but fully focused, will actually re-route our neural pathways and make us healthier, more focused, more relaxed, and more connected to God.
Do come to the training on March 25, but if you are curious about how Centering Prayer works, here is the classic definition, adapted from Contemplative Outreach:
1. Choose a sacred word (like “God,” “peace,” or “Jesus”) as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts [including body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections], return ever so gently to the sacred word (or to your breath).
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
There is also (and I know this is ironic!) a good Centering Prayer app for smartphone. For me, I find having the phone close by to be too tempting, but it may work for you.
Give silence a try. Be still, and know the presence of God. It might change your life.
March 9, 2017 Head, Heart, and Hands
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Luke 10:27).
Jesus challenges us to love God not only with part of ourselves, but with all our being. We might say we are truly his disciples if we love and follow him with head, heart, and hands. With head, because it is important to understand what it means to follow him. With hands, because to follow Jesus without serving is empty and incomplete. And with heart, because if we do not genuinely love him, we will eventually get distracted, and wander off the path.
At All Saints’, we offer a variety of ways to learn about the faith (loving God with our mind). We offer many ways to serve both inside and outside of church (loving God with our strength). But how do we nurture our heart of faith?
This is one of the goals of our four Thursday night programs in Lent. Each Thursday, we will gather to share a simple meal in community. We will experience Visio Divina (a guided meditation on images from the Saint John’s Bible). We will hear from a speaker. And then we will finish with Compline, the night prayers from our Book of Common Prayer. While there will be some content for the mind, much of this time together will nourish our heart of faith, through food and conversation, use of our spiritual imaginations, and prayer. Come join us!
May this Lent be an intentional time of loving God and following Jesus with our heads, hearts, and hands. Let us not miss this opportunity to connect with God and one another.
March 2, 2017 Why We Need the Prayer of Saint Francis More Than Ever
The start of Lent is meant to be a shock to our system. Reminded on Ash Wednesday of our mortality (“remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”), we enter these 40 days with a sense of urgency, resolved to make the most of this season to return to God, to our neighbors, and to our best, most authentic selves.
If you haven’t identified a Lenten discipline, it’s not too late. Decide on something you can really do for 40 days (weekdays and Saturdays only, Sundays are “days off”), something that will benefit yourself and others. 40 days is enough time to make a new habit, if you desire a permanent change. Even if this is only a temporary measure, over 40 days it will make a real difference in your perspective.
Looking for ideas? Take our 10/10/1 challenge (10 minutes of prayer, 10 minutes of Bible reading, and one act of kindness per day), resolve to attend some of our excellent Lenten programs, fast from something you eat or do too much of, do something for others. Set a simple plan for yourself, better yet with someone else, and do it! You’ll be glad you did when Easter comes, and you have invited God to shape your life through a particular practice.
One of the ways that we mark this major shift in seasons is in our worship. Much changes, from our Eucharistic prayer to our service music, as we set a serious mood of introspection and penitence. You will also notice this Lent the regular use of the Prayer of Saint Francis after the Prayers of the People (which will be written by our Prayer Team for our services most weeks).
One of the recommendations of our RenewalWorks team was to encourage a common prayer for mission at All Saints’, and they recommended specifically the wonderful Prayer of Saint Francis from our Book of Common Prayer. Those familiar with our Day School chapels will know that the students say together the Prayer of Saint Francis at almost every chapel, after the Prayers of the People. And so we are bringing to our church a practice that we keep already at school three times per week.
Why is the Prayer of Saint Francis an effective mission prayer? Because it describes in beautiful detail what we are sent out from our worship to do. Every one of us, wherever we are, will have opportunities to sow love where there is hatred, to bring union into discord, faith into doubt, hope into despair, and light into darkness.
It is in the nature of God to transform what is evil into good, and what is dead into life. Most of the time, God uses people like you and me to do that. The Prayer of Saint Francis describes how. Our world needs that more than ever.
February 23, 2017 10/10/1: Making the Most of Lent’s Path of Grace
March 1 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. And so now is the time to be thinking about how to make the most of those 40 days until Easter. Lent is most beneficial when we are intentional about it, focusing especially on the core Lenten practices: prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, and helping those in need.
Our RenewalWorks team recommended in their final report a 10/10/1 challenge for deepening our spiritual lives, and Lent is the perfect time to begin: 10 minutes of prayer, 10 minutes of Scripture reading, and one act of kindness each day. You could use the full services of "Morning Prayer" (Book of Common Prayer p. 75) and/or "Evening Prayer" (p. 115) or the brief “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” (p. 136) — by the way, the last of these, “At the Close of Day” (p. 140) is a great set of prayers for families at bedtime.
For the 10/10/1 Bible reading, you could follow the Daily Office readings (the Year One readings for the mornings and evenings in Lent begin on BCP p. 952) or just select the shortest of the gospels, Mark, (or one of the others) and read from it. For your one act of kindness, you could do something planned each day, or let God guide you (no day passes without the chance to be kind, if we are paying attention). Share your stories of kindness!
All Saints’ has a bountiful offering of programs in Lent to choose from, as well, as we keep this holy season of preparation together, from our Lenten Thursday evenings with soup and the Saint John’s Bible, to Walking to Jerusalem, to a Women’s Bible Study. Lent is also the most traditional season for individual confession and/or private spiritual conversation with a priest (by appointment).
A final word about fasting. Traditional Lenten fasting disciplines include giving up things we particularly enjoy, for example meat on Fridays, or dessert except on Sundays. Ideally we would take the money we would have spent on those things, and give it to the poor (like buying non-perishable food for our April 9 collection).
But fasting can also be adapted. Do you have unhealthy habits that distract you from loving God and your neighbor? Instead of giving up chocolate, you could fast from Facebook by limiting it to one hour per day, using the time to read or play a game with loved ones. You could limit TV, or gossip, or mean spirited criticism, or judgmental thinking, and fill the time positively. What holds you back from being the person God made you to be?
Lent is a great gift from God: the opportunity to prepare for Easter by training ourselves in holiness, seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins, and turning our attention to God and to others. Let us not miss the start of this path of grace.
February 16, 2017 The Book of Common Prayer and the Power of Holy Habits
If you were to open one of the prayer books in the pews at church, it would likely open to page 355, the Holy Eucharist. For most of us, the prayers in that Holy Communion section are our only encounter with the Book of Common Prayer. That is a shame, because our prayer book contains a rich treasure of interesting and beneficial spiritual resources.
The spiritual life is like diet and exercise: it thrives with a combination of routine and variety. That is why the classical Anglican mode of prayer is three-fold: weekly Eucharist (except for illness), daily morning and evening prayer, and a third private devotion that can vary with the individual (centering prayer, icon prayer, walking prayer, the rosary, mindfulness etc.).
This might seem like a very demanding routine, but a basic form of daily prayer and personal devotion can be done in as little as 30 minutes a day, to support our weekly Sunday gathering of the faithful at the Eucharist. This is something to keep in mind with Lent just around the corner, with its opportunity to develop new holy habits.
As Bishop Burrill and I lead an exploration of the Book of Common Prayer over the next weeks at the Sunday 10am adult education class, part of my hope is that we will gain not only historical and theological insights, but also practical ways to use the book in our life of prayer.
In the end, the goal of all our prayer practice is simple: to be formed, more and more, into people who love God and our neighbor. When our world seems complicated and turbulent, we need the stability of an ordered habit of prayer more than ever.
February 9, 2017 Salt, Light, Friendship, and Socks
Last Sunday, Jesus in our gospel reading called us to be salt and light, bringing good into a world desperate for it (see Pastor Baker’s sermon by clicking here for her excellent take on the topic). Both salt and light don’t require a lot to make a difference: a little salt flavors a dish, and even a single candle can illumine a dark room.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our world needs us (each and every one of us), to be salt and light right now. In this time of remarkable national and political stress and conflict, a number of us at All Saints’ are working on how best to support our members (who hold a variety of political views), and how to offer to others the unique, thoughtful voice of our big tent, diverse, centrist community, amidst the partisan shouting.
But in the meanwhile, as we figure out All Saints’ calling in the midst of this unprecedented time, let us remember to be salt and light, to bring compassionate good with us wherever we go. There is much room for disagreement on what the gospel has to say about particular pieces of legislation and the decisions of our elected leaders. But certain things are gospel imperatives, among them that every human being is a precious child of God, without exception. When we are tempted to look down on another person or worse, ignore them, we would be wise to remember that they are, through Christ, members of our human family.
We are called to be salt and light. What do salt and light look like, these days, at All Saints'?
They look like students and a teacher who made friends with a World War Two veteran: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/karinabland/2017/02/03/world-war-ii-veteran- jim-mende-all-saints-episcopal-day/97419894/
And they look like more than a thousand pairs of new socks, keeping warm the feet of the poor.
How can you be salt and light this week?
February 2, 2017 Life Beyond Life
The Christian faith has a lot to say about what happens after we die. Indeed, one of our core beliefs is that Jesus’ resurrection has prepared the way for our own bodily resurrection when he comes again, following a period of time after our death during which we will rest in God’s loving presence. The Bible doesn’t give us all of the details, but we know the basic plan: in Christ, "all shall be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). In him, we are given new life, in this world and the next. That is our “sure and certain hope” (BCP p. 501), and a great comfort to all of us who have lost a loved one to death.
But the resurrection is not the only way by which we can have life beyond life. We live on in the memories of those who have loved us or been inspired by us. And we live on through the legacies we leave. Some of those legacies are stories or wisdom that we leave behind, or important heirlooms to be cherished down the generations.
One of the ways we can leave a legacy to All Saints’ is to remember the church in our wills and our estate planning. Once we have taken care of our loved ones, we can designate an amount or a percentage of our remaining financial resources to support the mission and ministry of our church. In 2010, our Vestry passed a policy that designates any amount over $10,000 left to All Saints’ in a bequest go to our endowment. This guarantees that our larger bequests, unless otherwise designated by the donor, go into the endowment to fund our ministries forever. They become, in effect, a perpetual pledge from the deceased.
None of us much likes to think about our death, let alone plan for it. But if we can summon the courage to do so, we can leave a legacy gift to our families, and to this church we cherish, so that it can continue to offer God’s love to all that come after. This Sunday, during the education hour, we are offering an informational session on leaving a legacy gift. And a week from this Sunday, on February 12, our Evensong will particularly remember those in our Legacy Circle who have died in the past year. Now is a good time to join the Circle by arranging one’s estate plan to include All Saints’, for the sake of those who will follow us.
January 26, 2017 Be Kind
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
This past Tuesday in Day School chapel, I spoke about kindness, as part of the school’s week taking part in the Kindness Challenge (you can learn more about this important movement at thegreatkindnesschallenge.com). My main point was to draw a distinction between being kind and being nice.
Writers like Marcia Sirota and others have pointed out that kindness and niceness are similar, but not the same. Being nice is good, but is rather limited. Often it means doing what is expected, playing by the rules, and fulfilling our social role as a basically decent person. If I am in front of you when you accidentally drop your book in a puddle, the nice thing for me to do is to help you pick it up (not to do so would be considered rude).
Kindness, on the other hand, is deeper and more selfless. Niceness can be artificial, but kindness is genuinely felt. It is what we do for others when there is no benefit to us, no responsibility as part of the social code, and no penalty if we were to walk away. An act of kindness takes place when we feel sincere compassion for another.
Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with being nice; indeed, a civilized culture depends on good manners, on our being nice to one another. But acts of kindness have potential to make a real difference in someone’s day, and sometimes even beyond. When we help generously, ask a tenderhearted question, when we forgive, we may change the dynamic, breaking a negative cycle (at least momentarily) in another person or situation.
Jesus was always kind, but he wasn’t always nice. He had little patience for social rules, but cared wholeheartedly about people. At times, he acted angrily for the sake of what was right (think of his overturning the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple because they were taking advantage of the poor).
If I am honest, I am really afraid of what is happening In our current political climate of extreme division. I’ve never in my lifetime seen such distrust and even hatred from both sides. Even friends are turning on each other because they disagree politically. Those of us in the middle, with mixed political loyalties and beliefs, are mostly keeping our heads down.
I’m not naïve, but I do believe that genuine, heartfelt acts of kindness can help us through this toxic period. If we begin, each of us, with kindness, perhaps that helps us see the humanity in those who differ from us, and lowers the temperature, making future dialogue and cooperation for the common good just a bit more likely.
Smile more. Ask someone how they are doing. Thank people. Talk with someone different from you. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line. Pray. Bake a cake and share it with a lonely neighbor. Serve the poor and the vulnerable. When you feel like judging someone, take a deep breath. Be aware of those in need wherever you go. Take time to understand issues without leaping to conclusions, and then engage other people in civil conversation.
Let us be kind to others, as God has been kind to us. It’s not the final answer to the large issues facing our nation and our world. But it’s a start.
January 19, 2017 Christian Unity: A Futile Hope?
In the midst of this tumultuous political time in our national life, the Church celebrates the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Begun in 1908 in Garrison, New York, by an Episcopal priest, the Reverend Paul James Francis Wattson, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity lasts from January 18 (the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter) to January 25 (The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul) each year.
Never heard of it? You are not alone. Not many churches and dioceses make much of the week. There are some communities with vibrant ecumenical relationships that use the week to strengthen those ties, but in most places it passes largely unnoticed, despite being in existence for more than a century.
Part of this may be practical: following the large celebrations of Christmas, not many churches have energy to organize complex ecumenical worship and activities just a few weeks later. But I suspect something deeper is at work: as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the Church is, for the most part, quite comfortably settled into its divisions.
At last count, there are more than 10,000 separate denominations worldwide, offering every possible style of worship, teaching, ministry, and doctrine, all under the general heading of “Christianity.” Like every other marketplace, the Church has something for everyone. Indeed, we sometimes even speak of newcomers “church shopping.”
How do we reconcile this division with Christ’s urging that we "all be one” (John 17:21)? Certainly some division is unavoidable and even necessary on this side of Heaven. An Evensong-loving Episcopalian might never be spiritually nourished in a megachurch with rock band, and our theology of God’s love and forgiveness is frankly incompatible with some hateful and intolerant churches.
But there is more, lots more that churches could be doing to seek common ground and common voice, not just one week a year, but all the time on the pressing moral issues of our day. There have been some promising steps towards cooperation in recent years, for example in The Episcopal Church’s closer relationship with the Lutherans in the sharing of clergy, and with the Roman Catholic Church in theological dialogue and works of mercy with the homeless and refugees.
It is God’s nature to reconcile, to bring together, to heal division, and to bring new life and new perspective. Maybe God hasn’t given up on Christian Unity. Perhaps this divisive chapter in our national life will lead to more Christian cooperation, especially in compassion for the most vulnerable in our world. That’s something worth praying for.
January 12, 2017 RenewalWorks, Discipleship, and the Mission of the Church
What is the mission of The Episcopal Church? The Catechism in the back of our Book of Common Prayer defines it this way: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” At All Saints’ more specifically, in recent years we have said that our mission is: “Welcoming all to transformation in Jesus Christ through prayer, learning, service, and connection in the Episcopal tradition,” with the abbreviated version being “Pray. Learn. Serve. Connect” (a concise summary of core Christian practices).
If we search the Bible, we might find any number of possible mission statements, from Micah 6:8 (“what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”) to Ephesians 4:12 (“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”). But no Biblical mission statement would be complete without the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).
Central to Jesus’ teaching was the call to grow more like him as his disciples (or students), and to invite others to do the same.
None of our worship, prayer, learning, or even service is worth much if we are not, through those practices, opening ourselves to God’s transformation of our lives, more and more, into the self-giving likeness of Christ. God changes us, beginning with our baptism, and then uses us to change the world. Indeed, one of the most tragic things there is in the Christian faith is to see someone who has spent a lifetime attending church, without being changed at all.
This past September, we invited our members to take a spiritual survey offered by RenewalWorks. Several hundred of us did, and then a team of volunteers, led by Lowell Adkins, worked over several months, guided by the national leaders of RenewalWorks, to study our data, compare it to other Episcopal churches, learn best practices, and develop some initiatives to challenge our members to grow deeper in faith and discipleship.
This Sunday at 10am, Lowell and I will share some highlights from our RenewalWorks report, and its recommendations. In my annual “State of the Parish” address on Annual Meeting Sunday at the end of this month, I will have more to say about the report, and some exciting ways we plan to use its recommendations in the coming year and years, as we seek to further God’s mission in the world.
January 5, 2017 The Road Goes Ever On and On
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
--The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien)
This past Tuesday would have been the 125th birthday of the great fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and much more. As a boy, I devoured his books, and would still count them among the most influential books in my life.
Tolkien was not only a noted author (something he considered a hobby). He was also a professor of literature and Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, and a devoted Roman Catholic. Indeed, it was his strong faith that influenced his friend C.S. Lewis to convert to Christianity.
As I was thinking about the baptism of Jesus, that we celebrate this weekend, I thought of the quote above from the first book of “The Lord of the Rings,” in which Frodo reflects on his cousin Bilbo’s advice, as he sets out on his epic journey.
Jesus’ baptism is, in some sense, the beginning of his own epic journey. After it, he faces his temptations in the desert, and after that his public ministry starts in earnest. How much did Jesus know about what was to come? We can’t be sure. But he surely knew that his baptism was a first step into dangerous business, onto a road that would sweep him off in all kinds of directions, both joyful and painful.
Isn’t that what all our baptisms are about? We give our lives to God, die to sin and are born again, committing to following Jesus wherever he leads us, not knowing the risks involved. We follow in faith where he has led the way. Like Bilbo and Frodo, many of the great saints of the Church thought they were destined for quiet, ordinary lives. But the wind of the Holy Spirit had other plans.
As we begin a new year, as the newly baptized begin their new lives in Christ, as Holly and Darren prepare to begin their new married life together, we all might benefit from Tolkien’s words of encouragement for the journey in another part of “The Fellowship of the Ring”:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Onward we go, into the adventure the new year will bring.
P.S. For those who know already that 2017 will be a year of life transition, due to a change in health, family circumstances, employment or some other change, I recommend the very helpful Transitions group, beginning January 11th.