Thoughts for the Fourth of July


Did you know that the Fourth of July is considered in our current Prayer Book as a major feast of the church, with its own collect and Scripture lessons for a celebration on that day?  

This wasn’t always the case.  When the first Book of Common Prayer was set forth in the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the newly-independent United States of America, a proposal for such a celebration was omitted out of deference to those clergy of the church who had remained Loyalists.  The 1928 BCP first established such a feast day as a lesser celebration, and the 1979 BCP made it a major feast.

The collect for the day acknowledges the “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations yet unborn….”

In this appeal to God as inspiration for the founding of the United States, I suppose the framers of this prayer were referring to well-known words from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

What is the church saying by having the Fourth of July as a major feast?  What does this mean about the role of religion in the public square? Currently the question of the relationship of Christianity to the state is a live issue.

I read a news report this week about a prominent clergyman who recently delivered a sermon entitled “America is a Christian Nation.”   I’m close to people in my life who seem to embrace this idea. In support of this idea, proponents cite evidence, for instance, of a few signers of the Declaration of Independence who were traditional Trinitarian Christians, while overlooking the well-established historical evidence that most of our founding fathers were Deists.

Is the United States a Christian nation?  My response to this assertion is to ask “what does that mean?”  What is meant by “Christian?” What is meant by “nation?” Are we talking about the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes, or the Christianity of those who kept human beings as chattel and cited the Bible to support it?  Is this the Christianity which either directly or by silence countenanced the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Trail of Tears? Does this Christianity countenance the separation of children from their parents at our borders and approve the method of proof-texting the Bible to justify the policy?  Does this version of Christianity follow the example of the Pharisee or the publican in Jesus’ famous parable?   Would this “Christian nation” meet the standard for the judgment of nations set forth by Jesus here?

In terms of nation, are we talking about the Jamestown Colony, or some other manifestation in the process toward 1776?  Are we willing to grant that many Muslims were here as slaves in colonial times and that Washington and Jefferson at least showed some respect for their freedom of religion?   Can we acknowledge Washington’s demonstration of support for the religious liberty of Jewish people?  

What was intended by the framers of our present Prayer Book in designating the Fourth of July as a major feast?

A clue lies later in the collect, in which we ask God to “grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.”

I think the framers of the Prayer Book intend for we church members to give thanks for the benefits of freedom which we enjoy, and use that freedom to righteous ends.  Those ends are works of mercy and charity and the pursuit of just laws which demonstrate a love of neighbor, especially the weakest and most vulnerable neighbor. In this pursuit we Christians are to make common cause with “all the people of this land,” many of whom will not be believers, and many of whom will profess other faiths.

Today I listened in on a conversation with two eminent historians of American religion: Stephen Noll and George Marsden.  They are believers, and they are serious scholars.  Their work as historians recognizes the strong role Christianity has played in the life of our nation from the beginning, and they recognize the power for good of Christian religious conviction in the political and cultural life of America.  They warn, however, of the tendency to idealize or sanitize history.  If Christian believers want to make a case in the public square for a Christian perspective on the common good, Noll says they should seek to

“frame arguments that appeal to the broad population that exists in the United States, the pluralistic religious population that exists, and when history is evoked, to get the history right...that would be much better.”

To this Marsden adds:

“To have a voice, you have to treat the other side fairly.  Be willing to be self-critical of your own tradition and say if we have a voice, other people have to have a voice too, and try to treat everyone with equity.”

I’d say that right now Christianity in America is being tested.  What does it mean for us to be Christians? Is ours the Christianity of civil religion, or the path of being a disciple of Jesus?  Is ours the Christianity that looks longingly back on an idealized American past, or the one that looks forward to "the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God?"   (Hebrews 11:10)  Is ours the Christianity the search for a lost Christendom, the feeling of being “on top” of the pile?  Or is ours the Christianity which is willing to follow in humility the Christ of Galilee, the Son of Man whose compassion is over all God’s works?

While we think on that, we can reflect on the Prayer Book’s collect “For the Nation,” which also gives us a Christian vision of citizenship in this country of ours.

17. For the Nation

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the

earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace:

Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the

strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in

accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our

Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one

God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Have a good Fourth of July.




Sabbath: Give it a Rest!

Proper 4 Year B, June 3, 2018

“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you….”                         - Deuteronomy 5:12 (NRSV)

“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so, the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”   -Mark 2:27-28 (NRSV)


Wildflowers seen on hike above Lake Whatcom - author photo

Wildflowers seen on hike above Lake Whatcom - author photo

I take a sabbath day every week if possible.  My sabbath is Friday since Sunday is a work day.  Friday is a day to cease and desist. That’s what sabbath means: it means to cease activity, to desist from daily concerns, to rest.

I need my sabbath days for rest.  So do you. We’re not made for endless striving.  We’re made for relationship with God and one another.  And that relationship with God requires rest.

On my sabbath I don’t look at work email.  I will respond to emergencies, but I will try to leave other work until the sabbath is over.  I’m struggling on my sabbath days not to overindulge on the media, but to rest from it.

We all require rest.  When I walk on a pleasant spring day down to Boulevard Park and see others there; their phones stowed away, walking, watching children play on the playground or tossing stones into the waves; I see rest.  When I see people riding a bicycle, teetering along a slackline, throwing a frisbee, scanning the sky for the volleyball that swiftly comes their way, reading a book on a blanket, or simply sitting and staring out across the bay, I see rest.  And when I see all of that, and see that we all need rest, I feel my kinship with all these people. I recognize that in other contexts in which we meet some of the people I meet might get on my nerves, and I might get on theirs. When I’m resting, I’m more inclined to see the unity that’s right there in front of my face, a unity that is given by God the Creator.

It's a funny thing what you notice when you’re thinking about sabbath.

While looking for something on YouTube to relax a tired mind, I found video from a camera mounted in a railroad train cab showing the sights and sounds of a rail trip through a snowy, forested landscape.  I watched that video for 20 minutes. It was relaxing. And I could see that the video went on for hours. The experience reminded me how much my dad loved trains, and how I loved to ride them with him, staring out the window for hours at the plains of Nebraska on a trip east.

Then, undoubtedly because of some algorithm that Google has, I later found something else in my feed; a story from an American network Sunday show about “Slow TV,” a phenomenon in Norway.  As it turns out, it was Norwegian TV I was watching on that train ride. It’s enormously popular there. At any given time, half of Norway’s population may be watching a cow wander in a field, or 51/2 hours of salmon fishing, or the knitting of a sweater, beginning with the shearing of a sheep.  It’s called “Slow TV.” Its creators took a risk of boring people, and as it turns out, people are willing to be bored on the chance that they might find something interesting during slowing down and noticing.

I then saw the ad for the “Slow Watch,” a Swiss product with only one hand which shows no minutes or seconds, just hours. “With its 24-hour one hand concept it will remind you to stop chasing minutes and live for the moment,” the watchmakers claim.

Then yesterday morning I noticed in my news feed the story about the world’s quietest room and research into the need humans have for silence.

Clearly, human beings have the need for the sabbath that Holy Scripture commands, don’t they?  

Sabbath affords the opportunity for rest, and rest affords the opportunity for perception, for insight, for reflection, for play, for creativity, for fresh approaches to problems, like how to get along with each other.

And I think of what the first creation story in Genesis tells us, which is that when God had completed creation God pronounced a blessing upon the newly-created human couple and said “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed….”  Our NRSV weakly and inadequately translates the Hebrew hinneh as “See,” and I’m convinced by reading Maggie Ross that “Behold” is a superior translation. It communicates so much more strongly the call to contemplation inherent in “Behold”, to call to what the late Jesuit Walter Burghardt calls “the long, loving look at the real.”

I also find moving her insight that the command to behold was the first covenant that God made with humanity, and all the other covenants that follow are given us because we couldn’t keep the first covenant, which was to behold the gift of our being in creation and live gratefully and securely with one another in the beholding.

I think there’s a big clue to the importance of sabbath in our collect for today, in which we pray “O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth.”  Rest and reflection allow us to behold that God is in charge, not us. Rest allows us to behold that God is everywhere, within us, without us, transcending us, giving birth to us constantly.  In the words of St. Paul, in God “we live and move and have our being.” And in this realization, we come inevitably to a deeper respect for every human being.

To behold, through sabbath rest, that God’s never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth” leads us to entreat God to “put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things that are profitable for us.”

Sabbath helps us put away from us those hurtful things: the feverish pursuit of the Almighty Dollar as if that were the only way to gain what is profitable, the many voices of cranky and vituperative people paid enormous sums to broadcast back to us our prejudices and our fears about gender or race or politics, the temptations of the enemy to see in others only evil and to ignore the evil that resides within us, the temptation to divide the world simplistically into the good guys and the bad guys, placing ourselves in the latter camp, the culture of lying and dissembling that we’re seeing today.  All these things, and more, are hurtful.

God wants to give us what is good for us.  In our Gospel story Jesus sets the sabbath in proper context. Jesus is angry in this passage; angry at hard-heartedness.  He declares himself Lord of the sabbath, and defying convention, he heals a man, showing the true meaning of sabbath. The purpose of the sabbath is to prepare us to give and receive love and mercy.

We’re commanded to keep sabbath, because God knows we need it.  We need it to sustain us in that for which we are created, which is love.

And love is hard, but also joyful.  Let’s hear from Dorothy Day about that:

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife, which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, "What else is the world interested in?" What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven.                                    
-Dorothy Day, 1897-1980, The Reckless Way of Love.

Where are you in accepting the commandment to sabbath?  Where are you in accepting this gift?

Let us pray:

O God, in keeping sabbath we behold your never-failing providence setting in order all things both in heaven and earth: Incline us to keep sabbath, so that in it we may find you removing from us hurtful things and giving us those things that are truly profitable for us, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord of the Sabbath.  Amen.

Fr. Kamal Farah to visit St. Paul's: Some Background

St. Paul’s members will soon be privileged to be taught more about the Bible and our faith by Fr. Kamal Farah, an Anglican priest and scholar.

photo from

photo from

Fr. Kamal’s visit comes to us through the efforts of Laurie Parrish, supported by our Adult Formation Committee.  Laurie has traveled in the Holy Land with Fr. Kamal along with Fr. Chuck Whitmore and a group of St. Paul’s parishioners. 

Fr. Kamal was born in Galilee in the village of Kefar Bar’am.  He is a Arab Israeli Anglican Christian.  Ordained to the priesthood in 1967, he served as rector of Anglican churches in North Galilee and Nazareth.  He holds the PhD in Advanced Linguistics from the Catholic University at the Sorbonne in Paris, as well as a second PhD in Church-State laws, also from the Sorbonne. He’s held a number of positions in the Anglican Church diocese headquartered in Jerusalem and served as Course Director at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, an Anglican institution which has hosted many people – including myself in the year 2000 – for studies of the lands and language and peoples of Israel and Palestine.

In May of 2000 I lived and studied at St. George’s College, located within a block or two of the Old City of Jerusalem.  During that time, I was with a group of English-speaking Christians from Europe and Australia, Asia, Great Britain, and the United States traveling throughout Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Sinai learning about the history and culture of the world of the Bible and about the underlying issues that cause such pain and violence and division and continued suffering in the Middle East.

An experience like that changes perspective.  It’s possible to live your whole life as a Christian in America with little to no awareness or understanding of the world of Christians elsewhere. My observation is that many American Christians view the Holy Land and contemporary politics there through the prism of a theology known as “dispensationalism,” which is a system of biblical interpretation with origins in 19thCentury Great Britain, later popularized in United States.  My father graduated from a seminary in Dallas that was founded upon this system of biblical interpretation.  The advocates of this theological system have had great success with the promulgation of its tenets, as evident in the massive success of the “Left Behind” series of novels and related movies, and the association of the idea of “biblical prophecy” with a particular scheme which attempts to map out a timeline for the “rapture of the saints” and the end of the world.  Advocates of this system currently hold great influence over American policy toward Israel, as evidenced by their prominent roles in the recent ceremony dedicating the site of the American embassy in Jerusalem.  This move is seen by many of dispensationalist opinion as a necessary step in the preparation for the return of Jesus.

Dispensationalism's concerns with the so-called "pre-tribulation rapture of the saints" are foreign to the churches of the Middle East: Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Anglican, Lutheran. The concerns of these churches are focused, not on speculation about the “rapture” (not a biblical word) and the end of time, but on daily concerns of followers of Christ in a culture that is already fraught with tribulation.  The concerns of our Anglican sisters and brothers in Israel and the West Bank, for instance, are in worship and teaching, the running of hospitals and schools, in efforts at making peace and learning to live with and find common good with people of other faiths (Muslim and Jewish), and in trusting that Jesus is Lord and that ultimately the reign of Jesus will prevail over hatred and violence.

These sisters and brothers maintain their worship and service in a context in which many Christians are leaving the Middle East for good.  I learned more about this first-hand in 2000, and that lesson was learned again during my recent trip to Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq.  The exodus of Christians from the Middle East is a matter of grave concern, for many reasons.

As Fr. Kamal comes to us, he represents Christianity formed and shaped in the lands of the Bible.  As a student of Scripture in the original languages, and as someone for whom the history and culture and contemporary political issues and the lands and flora and fauna and wildlife and physical geography of Israel and the West Bank are constantly present, Fr. Kamal is in a position to share with us a perspective on Christian believing that will refresh and challenge us and raise new issues for being disciples of Christ.

There’s a saying I’ve heard, and in the midst of a culture in which speculation about heaven-by-and-by is rampant at the expense of Christian discipleship in the here-and-now, it bears repeating.  “Let’s not be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good.”

My hope and expectation is that Fr. Kamal’s presence among us will encourage us to love Jesus, love God and our neighbor, seek justice, stand for love amidst division, and to make no peace with oppression.  My hope and expectation is that Fr. Kamal’s visit will help us to realize that Jesus’ reign is not for some time to come only but for now.

Reclaiming Jesus as Lord: Church Leaders Speak Out

On Ash Wednesday this year, some Christian leaders - including our own Presiding Bishop  Michael Curry - got together in retreat and from that retreat spoke to professing Christians of our country words I believe we need from them.

In their statement, and in the accompanying video, they say this:

Jesus is Lord. That is our foundational confession. It was central for the early church and needs to again become central to us. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar was not—nor any other political ruler since. If Jesus is Lord, no other authority is absolute. Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God he announced, is the Christian’s first loyalty, above all others. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our faith is personal but never private, meant not only for heaven but for this earth.

They then pose the question with which they wrestled:

The question we face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history? We believe it is time to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness. Applying what “Jesus is Lord” means today is the message we commend as elders to our churches.

The statement goes on to affirm six beliefs and expound on the ethical commitments that follow from those beliefs.

Those ethical implications they sum up by citing the Great Commandment, the core commitment to which the confession "Jesus is Lord" calls us:

The best response to our political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries is the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus summarizes the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38). As to loving our neighbors, we would add “no exceptions.”

The statement ends strongly with these words:

Our urgent need, in a time of moral and political crisis, is to recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and then repair. If Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ—to whom be all authority, honor, and glory. It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

To read the entire statement, view a video of these leaders reading the statement, to view the list of the original signatories, and to find resources, follow this link.

I commend this entire statement to all members of St. Paul's for reflection and conversation in your homes and among your friends. 


A Mother's Day Sermon from Marsha Vollkommer

A Sermon for Sunday, May 13, 2018 

 John 17: 6-19  

Marsha Vollkommer.jpg

I am always at a bit of a loss as to how we, in the church, are called to find synergy in the Gospel message and secular, cultural celebrations. I know I am called to the love of all people – which, on a day like today, means remembering a friend who did not go to church on Mothers Day for forty years, because she was a mother for only four months before her baby died. It means remembering those who could not become mothers when they wanted to – and those who did not choose to do so. It means remembering another friend in a grief support group, who only realized after allowing herself to become totally vulnerable, that she was grieving the mother she never had rather than the one she did. It means honoring those who have buried their children, and those who are estranged from their children. It means honoring those who have suffered neglect, and abuse, from their own mothers. It means, for me, weeping at this time every year for the past 16 years with my nieces, whose mother died when they were little girls, yet whose annual tributes to her express both their longing and their gratitude for the brief time she was their mom. 

It was in this frame of mind that I read John’s gospel for this morning…and I have never encountered the words before in such a bittersweet way.  

Jesus has, for the past few weeks in our readings, been spending the end of his time on earth with his disciples. Although our attention has not been drawn to it, the readings take place at the time of the Last Supper. The disciples don’t know this will be their last night with Jesus, but Jesus knows. And he has set about preparing them to continue what he has begun. He didn’t do anything attention getting. He performed no dazzling miracle to remember him by…provided them no riveting metaphor to keep his message in focus…two things he was really good at. The disciples were to continue Jesus’ life – just as we are called to do – when he was no longer physically there. But how? 

Jesus got up from the table, took a basin of water and a towel, and proceeded to wash the feet of the disciples. Peter objected, but Jesus overrode him and continued the washing. Then Jesus began to talk, and he talked a long time. This is the longest conversation of Jesus we have in the New Testament. He tells the story of the Vine and the branches, and invites us all to live in him. He gives a new commandment – to love one another, and make ourselves at home in his love…to put our lives on the line for our friends. 

And then Jesus prays. He prays to his Father, our Father – his Mother, our Mother – in heaven, asking God to fuse his life and work with the life and work of his disciples…with our life and work. And in his words is a poignancy we don’t hear in other passages and other writings…the sadness of a man who is about to leave those he holds so dear…those who have put such trust and faith in him. He prays to God to “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one,” asking God to help them have trust and faith in one another when Jesus is no longer with them. “ “While I was with them,” he prays, “I protected them…I guarded them…I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them.” 

Jesus knows God’s love as parent – just as he has, in his way, parented the motley crew of men and women who have given away all that they had and all that they knew because they recognized in him the love that is from God…whether they could name it or not. And Jesus’ prayer was asking God to wrap God’s love around them as they faced what came next in their lives…to keep them safe, to keep them strong, to keep them in the love they felt for one another and for the one who loved them into being.  

And that’s it – that’s how Jesus chose to spend that last evening with his disciples, preparing for the transition from Jesus present to Jesus absent. He began by washing the feet of his disciples, down on his knees before each of them, getting his hands dirty with the dirt of their feet. He ended by praying to his Father and their Father that what they continued to do would be in harmony with what he had been doing. That God would protect them, and that God’s love would live through them.  

The pattern holds for us, as well: Whatever we do in Jesus’ name, we begin on our knees before our friends and neighbors and, indeed, before all God’s children and conclude looking up to heaven praying to our Father. Washing dirty feet and praying to the Holy Father of us all bookend our lives. 

Lest you think I’ve strayed away from Mothers’ Day…and perhaps landed on Fathers’ Day…I don’t think so. What John’s words in the Gospel tell me of Jesus is that he was many things to, and for, his disciples…and one of those things was parent. None of the twelve were his biological children, and Jesus certainly doesn’t have the gender qualifications to be called Mother. Yet what this passage opens up is the notion that some of us may find ourselves the children of loving mothers, may hope ourselves to be loving mothers to our offspring…and yet all of us have the capacity – and the calling – to be loving in the way God loves to all whom we encounter.  

I had a really awesome mother…but she wasn’t the only mother in my life. She wasn’t the only person I was blessed to meet who taught me what love is, what love looks like, how love feels. Some of the best mothers I’ve encountered are men. And when it comes right down to it, some of the most unconditional love we ever encounter – are ever blessed to receive – comes not from mothers or from fathers but from little children. Jesus shows us in his plea to his father, on behalf of his own “children,” that God’s love fills us all with the capacity to teach and to learn, to guide and to follow, to protect and to be protected by God’s children whether they live on our family tree or not. 

Every year, the author Anne Lamott brings out a column she wrote ten years ago explaining (in her humorous, but on point way) her argument with Mothers Day. In it she admits that there were times she could have literally died of love for her son Sam, and she admits (and I quote) “I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me.” She takes issue with the celebration of a day solely for mothers – at the exclusion of all those I spoke of earlier – because, she says, “it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat…You want to give me chocolate and flowers? (asks Anne) Great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&Ms, and maybe some flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawer. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain.” This, I believe, is what God asks of each of us. 

I used to tell my children that we can never know what pain is in the hearts of those we meet. Because my children are now far wiser than I, they often say the same to me. And I also told them we can never imagine how much love is in the hearts of those we meet. In their own beautiful way, they remind me of that quite often, too. Being mother, father, sibling, child – biological or not – are relationships full of pain and full of love. It is the love of God – something beautifully plain – that holds it all together – that holds us all together – that helps us find our best mothers (male and female) in so many places and helps us be the best mothers (female and male) to so many others in the world. May this Mothers’ Day be yet another reminder – another celebration – that God’s love is alive in the world – it is there for the taking and it is there for the giving away. 


Thoughts upon hearing of the defacement of Judaic texts at Wilson Library

The Bellingham Herald reported recently on the defacement of library materials in the Jewish Studies section of WWU's Wilson Library with anti-semitic symbols on Monday, March 12.

On March 21 one of our parishioners who is an employee of Western Washington University informed me that vandals had one week later defaced materials in this section, and gave me information about what the University is doing in response.

This kind of behavior has a long history.  Unfortunately, the Church encouraged the development of hateful attitudes toward the Jewish people from the earliest days of the church's growth into a separate movement after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Statements from some of our most revered theologians from Augustine to Luther can be cited in evidence.

One of the earliest images of Jews being persecuted in Britain from the 13th century*

One of the earliest images of Jews being persecuted in Britain from the 13th century*

The Church has taken steps to repent of all of this in modern times.  The reminders are still with us, however, in Holy Week, when we read passages from the Gospel According to John which have been used by anti-semites to justify their attitudes.

So it is that I recommend for your reflection as we enter Holy Week the statement about this which Fr. Josh provided for all of us to read and which we have published in the last couple of weeks.  Fr. Josh says the statement is essentially the work of Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University, whose work is helping Christians understand some background to our own sacred texts.  Here it is:


Jesus was a Jew. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism that took time to form and evolve into the institutional Church of today. There were areas of contention and disagreement among the Jews in Jesus’ time, and the leaders of the early Jesus movement did not shy away from hostile rhetoric against their detractors, as evidenced by a number of New Testament passages. The Greek term usually translated here as “the Jews” varies in meaning and application, alternately referring to the most powerful Jewish religious leaders; Jews of the region of Judea specifically; or to those Jews who had reservations about Paul’s mission among Gentiles. In essence, “the Jews” functions in the New Testament as “the other” against which Christianity came to define itself. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion, Christian rhetoric against Jews gained power, and Christian texts inspired anti-Semitism, most notably during the Crusades and the Holocaust. In our modern context, it is important for us to remember that while New Testament writers took issue with Jews who disbelieved in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, these texts do not take issue with anyone’s race or origin. Nor do they prescribe for us, in contradiction with Christ’s central purpose, mistrust or hatred of non-Christians. 

Christians have every reason to celebrate the heritage we've received from the Jewish people through Jesus, a Jew of Palestine.   We need to follow him, and find every way we can to celebrate God's continued faithfulness to the Jewish people, and through them, to us.  With them, we're called to bring reconciliation and healing to a broken world.

As Holy Week approaches, the recent incidents at Western alert us to the need to always be on the alert against anti-Judaic attitudes, which miss the whole point of being a follower of Jesus.

*Image scanned from Four Gothic Kings, Elizabeth Hallam, ed.

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:en. La originala priskribo estas: Marginal Illustration from the Rochester Chronicle (British Library, Cotton Nero D. II.), folio 183v.

A Day of Lament and the March for Our Lives


The clergy of the Diocese got a report from Bishop Rickel this week about the meeting of the House of Bishops in Texas last week, and I want to pass on to you their urging that we keep a focus on gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The Bishops declared March 14 a Day of Lament and Action.  This date is a month to the day after the Parkland shooting.  This is a day to lament.  Come to Eucharist at 6:30 am or 5:30 pm at St. Paul's and take a moment during the Prayers of the People to pray for all those affected by gun violence and for the wisdom and will to take action to prevent such events.

I will be present at 12:15 pm in the nave of St. Paul's tomorrow to lead any who can come in some prayer and scripture meditation to mark this Day of Lament and Action.  Please join me if you can.  This will be about 20 minutes in length.

March 14 is also a day to take action.  This could be contacting your elected officials to express your concern about gun violence.  It could be making your plans to attend the March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24 at 10 am at Bellingham City Hall at 210 Lottie Street.  In preparation you can read the evidence provided by Bishops Against Gun Violence.  You could also see what many General Conventions of the Episcopal Church have had to say on the subject of gun violence.

Here are this websites again:



The Prayers of the People are really y/ours

Bishop Rickel picked the Book of Common Prayer for our focus this Lent.  He always picks a book for our consideration during Lent, and this year it is the book that shares with the Bible a place at the center of our faith and practice.

Page 383 of the  Book of Common Prayer , 1979

Page 383 of the Book of Common Prayer, 1979

In that spirit, today I write to encourage the people of St. Paul’s toward more active and intentional participation in the Prayers of the People.

What do I mean?  I mean that I’m encouraging all to feel free to speak up as appropriate during the Prayers of the People during the Sunday and weekday celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.  I’ll explain further.

As you know, every celebration of the Eucharist has some form of the Prayers of the People.  The idea here is that the people of the church join with Jesus our leader to offer up prayers for ourselves and the world.  We do this because we share Jesus’ concern for the world.  We do this because in baptism we willingly take on the sharing of his priesthood in the world; his way of bringing the world’s concerns to God’s attention and his bringing to the world God’s intention to bless the world.   We pray as he taught us: “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Book of Common Prayer on page 383 gives instructions for the orderly conduct of these Prayers.  The scope of concerns to be covered in the Prayers is outlined there.  There are additional rubrics (that language in italicized text) to give some flexible guidelines for this prayer.  The six forms for Prayers that follow are offered as basic forms for use at any time, but the church is not limited to use of these forms.  They “may” be used.

My point is this: I encourage members of St. Paul’s to speak up during the Prayers of the People at the times appointed within the form of prayer being used.

Here are some examples of what I’m writing about.   In Form I on page 384 there is a provision - a “fill in the blank” - for the immediate concerns of the community to be voiced.   The leader of the intercessions is free to invite individual members of the congregation to say “For _______, let us pray to the Lord,” to which the congregation can respond, “Lord, have mercy.”

In Form II on page 386 the invitation is very specific.  The rubric and the examples read as follows:

Members of the congregation may ask the prayers or the thanksgivings of those present

I ask your prayers for ___________________.

I ask your thanksgiving for _______________.

After Form III and in the midst of Form VI there is a rubric which direct as follows:

The People may add their own petitions.

I encourage readers to check out your Book of Common Prayer and find the places in these forms where it is appropriate for someone other than the person leading the intercessions to speak up.

I encourage those appointed to lead the intercessions to see where these places are in the forms from the Book of Common Prayer or the other form we are using, and to make allowance for the members of the congregation to speak up.  Give some space.

Do you have someone for whom you want us to intercede?  You are welcome and encouraged to speak their name out loud.  A concern for the community or the world to voice?  Give it voice in public.  A thanksgiving you’d like us to share?  Name it out loud.  You never know how the Spirit might use your contribution to enrich the community’s worship that day.

And I encourage us all to bring not only our requests, but our thanksgivings to this time of prayer.  God hears many requests of us, and God welcomes those requests.  We do have much for which to be thankful, and it does us good to give voice to our thanksgivings.

Yes, I know there are good reasons to pray silently for some of the concerns you bring to worship with you.  There are also good reasons for bringing concerns to voice.  Either way, you make the Prayers of the People more fully your own prayers, our own prayers as a congregation.

Thanks for your attention.

"Silence May Be Kept." Words from our Bishop

Bishop Rickel chose the Book of Common Prayer as the book for Lent 2018, and here he reflects on the call for silence as found in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.


He's flagging something very important for our consideration.   I want pass on what he wrote to you.

He writes:

In our Lenten focus, as we take up our closer look at the Book of Common Prayer, I hope to offer several reflections, some of which you might deem "rants", around our use, and misuse (my opinion) of our BCP.

We need silence to be able to touch souls. Mother Teresa

Many of you have heard me say that I believe the most often abused rubric in the Book of Common Prayer is "Silence may be Kept".   I am constantly amazed at how little silence is offered in our parishes where this rubric appears in the Prayer book or in the Prayers of the People.     It is strange how blind we are to this plea, which appears quite often in the book.

Compline, and in the opening confession during Lent, are such places.   In both, right after the Officiant says, "Let us confess our sins to God", we see the rubric, "Silence may be kept." We seem to take far more seriously the "may" then we do the idea that silence might actually be good here.   I often want to blurt out, after an officiant races right over this rubric, designed to give us time to confess, "So, let me confess already!" "Give me time".  

Another good location for the rubric "Silence may be kept" should be, in my humble opinion, after the salutation "The Lord be with you" just before the Collect.   The whole idea of a "collect" is a prayer to COLLECT the prayers of the people.   If this is the case, then we need some silence to offer those.   I like to leave some here.  

In the Ordination services it states at the consecration, "A period of silent prayer follows, the people still standing." This does not seem to me to be permissive, but directive. It says "A period of silent prayer follows".   Here we do not see the word "may".   And yet, so often, this does not happen.

After each reading, in just about any service, including Eucharist, we find the rubric, "Silence may follow."   This is most often not offered.  

Why not?   I always thinks some silence, after each reading, helps it sink in. Let's our minds and hearts go a bit with the imagery we just heard.  Where it is offered I relish it. 

We seem to be in a rush. What is our rush? Maybe the writers of the Prayer Book should have been been more directive. Maybe the rubric should be, "Silence will be kept!"   I am not sure it would help us, but I have to wonder, and I often wish we had the chance to find out.     What is our fear of silence? Maybe we are not sure what might happen to us in it, what we might find there.   But, I am convinced we need it right now, in this world, more than ever.   I know I need it.  

So, as you pay attention to the Book of Common Prayer in this Lenten season, take a closer look at those little italicized words, rubrics, and think about them.   And if you lead worship, contemplate following them.   There is wisdom there. It is clear many do take the time to practice the words,...practice the silence too.   You are our leader for the words, but you are also our leader for the silence. Practice both, lead both.  

In our prayers and worship, It's not just the words, but also the experience that surrounds them.

A plea for Lent.   Silence may be kept.



To which I say, "Amen."  Now, how can we help each other accept silence as appropriate in worship?

Is there anything that we can do about gun violence?

This morning I called my congressman to urge him to take action to repeal the Dickey Amendment.

The reason I did this is that the author of the Dickey Amendment, former US Congressman Jay Dickey, has written that he regrets the effect of his amendment on research into gun violence.

In a 2012 opinion piece co-authored with Mark Rosenberg, Mr. Dickey tells us that his rider "removed $2.6  million from the CDC’s budget, the amount the agency’s injury center had spent on firearms-related research the previous year."  

The authors explain that this amendment, "together with a stipulation that 'None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control,' sent a chilling message."

The chilling message has had the effect of discouraging the CDC from seeking federal dollars to fund research into the causes of gun violence.  Since the passage of the bill in 1996, they explain, the government has spent $240 million per year on traffic safety research, but "there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries."

The authors entitled their opinion piece as follows:  "We won't know the cause of gun violence until we look for it."

I'll let them explain in their own words:

As a consequence, U.S. scientists cannot answer the most basic question: What works to prevent firearm injuries? We don’t know whether having more citizens carry guns would decrease or increase firearm deaths; or whether firearm registration and licensing would make inner-city residents safer or expose them to greater harm. We don’t know whether a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, or limiting access to ammunition, would have saved lives in Aurora or would make it riskier for people to go to a movie. And we don’t know how to effectively restrict access to firearms by those with serious mental illness.

Mr. Dickey and Mr. Rosenberg, a former CDC official, admit that they were on opposite sides sixteen years ago, but now find themselves in agreement that research into gun violence is necessary.  They ended their opinion piece with these words:

Most politicians fear talking about guns almost as much as they would being confronted by one, but these fears are senseless. We must learn what we can do to save lives. It is like the answer to the question “When is the best time to plant a tree?” The best time to start was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.

In 2015 Mr. Dickey sat down for an interview on this topic.  The interviewer summed up what he was hearing from Mr. Dickey in this way:

You're saying there might be some way to not interfere with anybody's right to own a gun but regulate it in such a way that fewer people are killed by guns?

Mr. Dickey replied:

That's correct. I can't tell you what that might be, but I know this. All this time that we have had, we would've found a solution, in my opinion. And I think it's a shame that we haven't.

So today I called my congressman to urge him to support repeal of the Dickey Amendment.

Thoughts on the occasion of Black History Month

Old St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where Absalom Jones and Richard Allen protested being assigned to the balcony by leading a walkout.

Old St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where Absalom Jones and Richard Allen protested being assigned to the balcony by leading a walkout.

Black History Month is here, and I have a few thoughts as an citizen and a would-be follower of Jesus.

Black History month came out of a need to tell more of the stories that shaped our nation, the stories of Black Americans.  Many of these are stories I never heard growing up.

First of all, Black History month is an opportunity to learn from the story of someone like Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church, whose feast day in our calendar is February 13.  On that occasion we remember how in 1787 he and other black parishioners of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia were told one Sunday morning that they had to sit in the balcony.  The white members of the church had met without these brothers and sisters and decided this all on their own.  Absalom Jones and his friend Richard Allen walked out that morning with other black parishioners.  They were received as a group by the Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia, and eventually Absalom was ordained priest and served the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, while Richard Allen eventually started the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Alexander Crummell

Alexander Crummell

Black History month also reminds me of the refusal of the General Theological Seminary (my alma mater) to receive Alexander Crummell (born 1819) as a student.   Why?  He was black.  This learned man went on to graduate from Cambridge University and be ordained, and to found the Union of Black Episcopalians after it was proposed that a separate missionary district be founded for African-American Episcopalians.

There's lots to celebrate in terms of overthrown barriers to fellowship in the Church.  We have an African-American Presiding Bishop, after all.  That couldn't have happened in the earliest days of our church.

So where are we with racism in this country?

I remember a conversation a few years ago at a summertime family picnic when a relative asserted that racism in America was over.  As proof, this family member - a white man - cited personal experience in military service as evidence that equality between the races is here.

In that the military was de-segregated very early on, it's not surprising that my relative would have a perception of equality.

I don't agree that racism is over.  There are plenty of signs it is alive in America. Just today I read about high school students at a basketball game on the East Coast throwing racial slurs at each other.  Students at a Christian high school, no less.  That's the kind of evidence of racism that isn't hard to find these days, sadly.  The lack of leadership at the highest levels of society is encouraging this trend.

Racism isn't simply a matter of these kinds of actions, however.  Racism is not just discrete actions that people do.  Racism is evident in lasting social structures that privilege one part of society over another.  For example: Michelle Alexander's ground-breaking book The New Jim Crow, published in 2010, opened my eyes and the eyes of many others to the issue of mass incarceration in this country, and of the overwhelming degree to which African Americans are represented in the prison population in a way disproportionate to their presence in society.  The tour of history through which she takes us and the way in which she links history to the present-day realities cannot be easily dismissed, and an agenda for reform in our justice system becomes more clearly apparent.

The discussion of racism is really difficult these days.  Some people want to be labeled as racist, and they've been emboldened of late.  Few people, however, actually want to be labeled as racist.  I know that I don't.  Conversations about race easily lead to feelings of defensiveness, because most of us don't think of ourselves as being purposefully offensive.  We probably think of ourselves as personally liberated from racist attitudes.   We don't want to offend.

I believe Christ can help us out here.   He commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  He told us in no uncertain terms that we were not in a position to decide who our neighbor is and isn't.

Love of neighbor entails certain disciplines, like the discipline of humbling oneself to hear what another person has to say.  And I believe that if I'm listening only with a defensive attitude to a story that may not be what I want to hear, I'm not going to be able to hear what's being said.

The Scriptures are frank about structures of oppression, those "evil powers which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God" that our Baptismal rite asks us to renounce.  The Letter to the Ephesians, for example, is frank about the fact that "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."   Slavery and Jim Crow laws are examples of those powers which corrupted and destroyed, and that kind of thing doesn't happen in society without lasting effects to our present day.  The struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Civil Rights movement was the struggle against these principalities and powers as manifest in lynchings and beatings and abuse hurled at our brothers and sisters who only sought recognition of the dignity with which they were endowed by our Creator.  Those principalities and powers were also manifest in practices like real-estate "red-lining" and the other remnants of Jim Crow which persisted so long.

Christians must acknowledge the enduring power of these forces, and are given power by the Holy Spirit to resist these powers.  This - and here I'm speaking to my fellow members of the white majority in this country - means a stance of humility, which allows us to listen to the stories that are emerging, and to be part of the healing.

There is coming a day, after all, in the not-to-distant future, when people of Northern European descent will be in the minority in this country.   That's me and my descendants.  Demographers are showing us a different world ahead than the one many of us considered normative in our youth.

How we face this reality has a lot to do with where we are grounded spiritually.   Are we grounded in God?

Speaking to the Athenians, the Apostle Paul said:

"From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’"   (Acts 17:26-28)

Grounded in the knowledge that we're all God's offspring, and that God is just and merciful and kind and forgiving, we can face our future with hope.

The choice is ours.

Black History Month, Absalom Jones, and HBCU's

The Most Rev. Michael Curry  Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

The Most Rev. Michael Curry

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

February is Black History Month, and in honor of this occasion and of Blessed Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called for an increased understanding and commitment to the Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and University, known as HBCUs. 
The Presiding Bishop invites Episcopalians "to deepen our participation in Christ's ministry of reconciliation by dedicating offerings at observances of the Feast of Absalom Jones to support the two remaining Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCUs): St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, NC, and Voorhees College in Denmark, SC." 
The two institutions of higher education were founded in the later 19th century as an Episcopal Church missionary venture. "These schools bring educational, economic, and social opportunity to often resource-poor communities, and they offer many blessings into the life of the Episcopal Church," he said.  
Donations to the HBCUs will provide much needed help to: offer competitive scholarships and financial aid; attract and retain exceptional faculty; support cutting-edge faculty research; install new and upgraded technology campus-wide; provide state-of-the-art classroom and athletic equipment. 
"The Episcopal Church established and made a life-long covenant with these schools, and they are an essential part of the fabric of our shared life," the Presiding Bishop noted.  HBCUs Once there were 10 HBCUs; however, St. Augustine's and Voorhees are the only two remaining.  
Saint Augustine's University (SAU) was founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.  Located in Raleigh, over 1,000 students pursue Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees at SAU, while adult learners engage in advanced studies in Criminal Justice, Organizational Management, and Religious Studies.  The mission of the university is to sustain a learning community in which students can prepare academically, socially, and spiritually for leadership in complex, diverse, and rapidly changing world.

Voorhees College is a private historically black four-year liberal arts college located in Denmark, SC. Voorhees was founded as the Denmark Industrial School by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, a young black woman, in 1897.  A former student of Booker T. Washington, Miss Wright dreamed the seemingly impossible dream of starting a school for African American youth in rural Bamberg County, SC.  
To donate Donations are accepted here  For more information, contact Tara Elgin Holley, Episcopal Church Director of Development,

Absalom Jones, first African American priest in the Episcopal Church

Absalom Jones, first African American priest in the Episcopal Church

Absalom Jones Absalom Jones is commemorated in the Episcopal Church on February 13. Jones was an African American abolitionist and clergyman and the first African American ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church.  Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop in 1746 in Delaware. Jones moved to Philadelphia after his master sold his plantation along with Absalom's mother and six siblings. Jones bought his wife Mary's freedom and later his master granted Absalom's emancipation in 1784. In 1787, with his friend Richard Allen, they founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid benevolent organization that was the first of its kind organized by and for black people. Bishop William White ordained Jones a deacon in 1795 and a priest on September 21, 1802. Jones faithfully served the people at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, a church which remains a vibrant congregation.  "As we approach February, the remembrance of the Blessed Absalom Jones, the first AfricanAmerican priest in the Episcopal Church, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate his memory and to honor the witness of two schools that continue to form new leaders," Presiding Bishop Curry said. "In honor of Jones' commitment to advancing the education of African Americans and promoting the development of African American leaders in all areas of life, the Episcopal Church is delighted to designate Saint Augustine's University and Voorhees College as the beneficiaries of the 2018 Feast of Absalom Jones offerings."

Pride and Prophets

The Rev. Marsha Vollkommer preached the following message in St. Paul's on the Third Sunday of Advent.  She's given me permission to share it with you in this space. - Jonathan

A Sermon for Sunday, December 17, 2017 

Pride and Prophets 

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 – The Magnificat – John 1:6-8,19-28


There’s a voice in the wilderness crying… 

We heard some mighty voices, speaking mighty words, this morning. Did you listen? Did you hear what they said? 

Did you hear Isaiah say, “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…”? 

Did you hear Mary say, “he has scattered the proud in their conceit, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…he has remembered his promise of mercy…”? 

Did you hear John say, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal…”? 

Three people – three prophets – born of fatherd and mothers, living lives as flawed and humble human beings – who listened to God and answered the call to be part of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth – to bear witness to God’s love for God’s people – a love literally embodied in Jesus. 

And if we listen to them – if we truly hear what they are saying – then we have some serious questions to ask ourselves. 

Every year at this time, we in the church turn our hearts and our minds (and our time and our energy) to the glorious celebration of the birth so very long ago of God made flesh. In the midst of the hustle, the stress, the fatigue imposed by all that is attendant to our secular celebration of Christmas, there is still within us a warmth – an awe – a feeling of gratitude for what the season really means. The greatest prophet – the greatest teacher – the greatest living, breathing embodiment of the love of God was born to humankind. We listen – and we hear – and our belief is so strong we can feel it humming through our bones. 

And while I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on a good and joy-filled thing, the question is: what will we do with this gift? 

Another question – and I’ll make this mine – you can decide for yourself. When Mary talks about God scattering the proud in their conceit, and casting down the mighty, is she talking about me? “Surely not!” I’d like to protest – vehemently – and yet the simple notion that I stop to wonder somehow tells me that I may, indeed, have moments when I’m far too proud – far to “haughty” – placing myself among the mighty and not the lowly. 

Here’s the reason I think this is a particularly important question…and in the telling of the story, I am making my confession that I am, indeed, oftentimes too proud and haughty. Rob and I moved to Bellingham from a very beautiful place that was populated with far too many of the proud and haughty – a place where your house and your garden and the car you drove were important – were idols. We moved to a street in Bellingham that I have come to cherish…but I didn’t at first. It is a street of small, crowded houses – some with five or six or seven cars (in various stages of wholeness) in the street – some with window blinds akimbo, and garages overflowing into the driveways. I am ashamed to say that, at first, I would explain to people that when you got down the street a few blocks, things opened up and there were newer, bigger houses, etc, etc. A few months in, I began to notice the broad and beautiful diversity of the people living on my street – young and old, black and brown and Asian – multigenerational – couples (and families) in every configuration – and animals galore. I started waving at people as I passed…and of course they waved back. I started to see them…really see them…and, although I still don’t know their names, I know the ones who walk to take the bus to work every day, the moms and dads who walk their kids to school, the gaggle of middle-schoolers getting of the bus, the smiling black man (always smiling) walking home in his scrubs after his shift at the hospital. I see them all, now, and I can truly say I love them. And I can truly say that a pretty deplorable pride on my part kept me – at first – from seeing them at all. 

I can only hope, as Thomas Merton so aptly prayed, that God will recognize my (newly found) good intentions.

The reason I think searching our souls for pride is so important – perhaps the reason (or at least part of the reason) that God doesn’t want much to do with the proud and the mighty, is that hanging onto our pride, our “betterness”, keeps us from seeing the lowly, the hungry, the brokenhearted, those who are held captive and imprisoned by so many circumstances over which they have little, if any control. We don’t see them – so they don’t exist – because when pride and striving are at our center, the only place we look is in the direction of the next rung up the ladder of power and influence we have decided to climb. And yet these are the children of God that the Father watches over with special care – the children of God our Father implores us to see, to care for, to love. 

One last question…Who are the prophets whose voices you value – the ones to whom you listen – the ones whose words you take in to shape and form your life? 

We live in a time in the world that is full of voices. It is often said that in our sophisticated, 24/7 world of communication we all suffer from information overload – too much to know – too much to hear – to much to take in. I would suggest, instead, that we live in a world with too many voices. Too many people, for too many reasons, trying to tell us what to think, what to do, what we need, who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to live…and what our full, accomplished, meaningful lives should look like. Too often those voices tell us what we should get, rather than what we should give. Too often those voices tell us what we must do to be more important than someone else. Too often those voices tell us that we (and the tribes to which we belong) are the most important, and we had better hang together or the “others” will overtake us. Too often those voices tell us that we have to stand up for “us” because “they” are out to get us. And they make us nervous, and they make us suspicious, and they plant in us a fear of what might happen, and we give ourselves over to their will. There are many voices that would like us to believe they are prophets because of their power…their power in governance, in wealth, in the marketing of what we buy, and what we consume, and what we value. And the pride of their conceit not only makes them haughty, it makes them feel as though they are the only true prophets any of us need hear. 

But. They. Are. Not. God!!!! 

Isaiah and Mary and John were prophetic witnesses to the love of God! If the stories are to believed, John was actually a bit of a kook…living in the woods, eating nuts and berries, apparently never combing his hair. He didn’t claim to be anything – and even denied being a prophet, calling himself unworthy even to perform a task left to slaves who stooped down to remove a person’s shoes. All he claimed was that he was called to be the voice crying in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord” – open up to the path of God’s love. And yet it was this man – whom we would no doubt choose not to see if we passed him on the street – a man who was challenged by the religious elite – a man who would be beheaded at the hands of the proud and the haughty – John was the one was called to baptize the incarnate Jesus. 

God asks us to listen to and truly hear only one thing – to love God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength…and to love our neighbors. The request – the call – is so simple that we all know it by heart. And yet it turns out to be one of the hardest things we are ever asked to do. To love with one’s heart isn’t so difficult…but to love with one’s mind – to value and dedicate one’s self intellectually to a love that is radical, and counter to the voices we hear all around us requires an overwhelming effort. And to love God with all one’s strength – which surely means God is calling us into action – into living, minute by minute, day by day, year by year, in accordance with that love, is a pledge that is daunting to make. To love one’s neighbor, in the way God asks, means not only loving those with whom we feel comfortable, or with whom we feel aligned, or with whom we prefer to be grouped. No, it means loving every single child of God with the same love God loves us. It means loving those who look and speak and act differently than we do; it means loving the frustrating and the annoying, and even the despicable…because in God’s eyes they are all God’s children…and when it comes down to it, if we believe what we profess to believe about God, we have no room to question who God loves, and why. 

The scriptures are full of powerful words and powerful stories of prophetic witness…and it come as no surprise that the message shared throughout the ages has been the same. God does not value the worldly idols we create, but values the children he created. There are prophetic voices around us, still, if we have ears to hear. My best guess is that the ones worth listening to – the ones in whom we put our confidence and to whom we give our respect – are the ones that talk to us about loving and valuing and respecting and reaching out to what Jesus called “the least of these.” Love and respect and reaching out can build many, many bridges…to the poor and the marginalized…to those we see as enemies…to those we see as other. Following God’s prophets, we will begin to find our connections, rather than our divisions…our commonalities rather than our differences…our sisterhood and brotherhood with Christ as children of a compassionate, forgiving and loving God. Make straight the way of the Lord, John said…open up – build a bridge – clear the path – reach out – share love. God is with us.



Welcome to Advent, the first season of the church year, also known as the liturgical year.

I have some thoughts of others to share with you, and the first sharing is the Advent message for 2017 from bishop, which you can access here.

Advent is from a Latin word meaning "coming", and it is a season of both remembrance and expectation.  The remembrance is of the first coming of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem and of the revelation that unfolded from that humble beginning, a revelation we've been exploring in scripture and liturgy and prayer for the entire church year since the last Advent season: the seasons of which are, in this order: Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost.  In these seasons we've been beholding the life of Jesus the Christ from his Baptism and Temptation through the ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the kingdom of God, and then the events of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and the resurrection and ascension.

In Advent we look forward to receiving Jesus again as an infant, but we also look forward to the final judgment of the world by God; a judgment which will finally make all things right; a judgment we are able to greet "without shame or fear," as the Prayerbook has it.

I want to leave you with these words from Austin Farrer from 1952.  Farrer was a noted Anglican spiritual writer of the 20th Century.  In this passage he describes the journey of our lives in the light of our relationship to Jesus the Christ.

Our journey sets out from God in our creation, and returns to God at the final judgment. As the bird rises from the earth to fly, and must some time return to the earth from which it rose; so God sends us forth to fly, and we must fall back into the hands of God at last.  But God does not wait for the failure of our power and the expiry of our days to drop us back into his lap.  He goes himself to meet us and everywhere confronts us.  Where is the countenance which we must finally look in the eyes, and not be able to turn away our head? It smiles up at Mary from the cradle, it calls Peter from the nets, it looks on him with grief when he has denied his master.  Our judge meets us every step of our way, with forgiveness on his lips and succour in his hands. He offers us these things while there is yet time.  Every day opportunity shortens, our scope for learning our Redeemer's love is narrowed by twenty-four hours, and we come nearer to the end of our journey, when we shall fall into the hands of the living God, and touch the hearts of the devouring fire.

 -from The Crown of the Year. (Dacre Press, 1952). Quoted in A Feast of Anglican          Spirituality. (Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1988), 148.

A Blessed Advent to all of you.

Advent Wreath By SolLuna - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is based on a long tradition of harvest festivals.  We give thanks for harvest because harvest means we may eat, and eating is basic for life.

The first reading for Thanksgiving Day includes this reflection on the sacredness of eating:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NRSV)

2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

I enjoyed reading the following Jewish perspectives on this text.

Elisha Greenbaum writes:

A family friend once told me that she would notice a peculiar quirk whenever her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, would stay at her house.

Every night before retiring to bed, Zeide would wander into the kitchen and unobtrusively check out the contents of her pantry. He could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house If there was bread on the shelf, he’d relax and head off to his bedroom. But if there was none, he would invariably leave the house to buy a loaf.

He never made a big fuss about it, and she does not remember whether he ever explicitly said that he could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house, but that was his custom.

Obviously, his war experience influenced this behavior. We who have never been really hungry cannot possibly fathom the effect of the years of privation that he and his generation suffered in the ghettos and camps. But I can imagine, in an abstract sense, the anxiety of never really knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.

To read more about how Zeide's behavior is understandable, and about how all of this can lead us to reflect on food as a divine gift, read the rest here.

I also pass on to you this reflection on this same Torah portion from a Hasidic rabbi:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

This explains a most puzzling fact of life: how is it that man, the highest form of life, derives vitality and sustenance from the lower tiers of creation -- the animal, vegetable and mineral?
But the true source of nourishment is the "Divine utterance" in every creation, and, as the Kabbalists teach, the "lowlier" the creation, the loftier the divine energy it contains, like a collapsing wall, in which the highest stones fall the farthest.

          (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

As we sit down to eat on Thanksgiving Day, these reflections can draw us closer to God, who generously provides every good thing, and without whose utterances we cannot live.

Remember that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and one of the temptations was to turn stones into bread.  He replied by quoting this text:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

Happy Thanksgiving!



I believe the women

I believe the women.

I feel compelled to say that.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary development in our society.  Women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against powerful men.  It all started snowballing with the exposure of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the list of men named seems to grow by the day.

The list includes men in the public eye: comedians and entertainers and actors; politicians and judges, businessmen.  The list has included a past President of the United States, and it includes the current President of the United States.  The list includes people you thought you liked, who you may have chosen to vote for if you could, or whose movies or shows you've liked.  The list includes people you don't like.

As I write I can't think of a major religious leader who is named in recent weeks, but I have no trouble thinking of the names of major religious leaders who have been named during my lifetime.

What all these powerful men have in common - despite their differences in religion and lifestyle and politics or what-have-you is power.

And power, as Jesus warned us, can be a dangerous thing.  One day he had to deal with a power play among his disciples, and he said this:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant...." (Matthew 20:26a)

In the structures of our society, men have until relatively recently held all reins of political and organizational and economic power, and that's only been changing significantly in my lifetime.  That power easily goes to the head of the one who wields it.  A powerful man can and will often get by with abuse of those around him, leading to a feeling of immunity from accountability.  Powerful men attract those around them who like the association with power, making them unwilling to acknowledge and challenge the behavior of the powerful.

This dynamic, it seems, is being challenged before our very eyes.

There are men who - because of their power - thought they could get by with objectifying and exploiting women around them.   Now, women are encouraging one another to come forward to challenge this dynamic.

And this is a good thing.

In my ministry, I've spoken with and heard from women who were abused by powerful men in the church.  In my ministry, I've listened to one who was abused as a child by a powerful man in the church and assisted that person toward being acknowledged by the church and having their grievance addressed.  I once took part in a disciplinary process in another diocese when a male priest was found guilty of sexual abuse of parishioners.  I took part in conversations in the Episcopal Church that led to our current Safeguarding God's Children and Safeguarding God's People training.  I learned a lot in those conversations, and I think we've made progress, but vigilance is always necessary.

And knowing what I do about the acute suffering of survivors of abuse, I believe them.  That's because I know the pattern so often demonstrated.  Someone makes an allegation, and then they are attacked, their story discounted, their motives questioned.  The more powerful the man, the more resources are at the disposal of that man to shame and blame the victim.  It happens all the time.  There are reasons people suffer in silence for a long time before finally having the courage to speak up.

Yes, there are women who abuse as well.  But in my experience, it's the men who have had the opportunity to do so, and it's men who are being named time after time after time these days.  And their response to being named says a lot to us about who they are.

So I believe the women, and those who come forward to acknowledge being abused as children. They need to be heard, not shamed and silenced.

Can abusers change?  Is redemption possible?  Yes.  God is merciful, and God forgives the penitent, and provides power for amendment of life. But accountability is overdue in our society, and it seems to be coming.  Accountability is the only way many abusers are ever going to have to face their need to change.

God help us all.  Pray for the abused and harassed.  Pray for those who abuse and harass.  And pray for a better day.


First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas

The mass shooting carried out last Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs presents a deep challenge to faith in a God who is good and loving and kind.  The mass shooting also presents a deep challenge to the American public to act toward a world where an atrocity like this is not the norm.

First, the theological challenge.

I've been thinking.  Where was God on that Sunday morning when a small community of believers in Jesus was assaulted by the force of evil embodied in that young man in his black tactical gear brandishing a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible?

That thought took me back to May 21, 1998, which in the calendar of the church is Ascension Day. That day began in a routine fashion in my church office at Church of the Resurrection, Eugene.  That changed suddenly when I heard news of a shooting at Thurston High School in neighboring Springfield.  In short order I received a telephone call from a parishioner in distress.  She was in the teacher's lounge at Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon.

Debbie, a Spanish teacher, reported that her teaching partner, Faith Kinkel, was dead, shot by her own son Kip.  She told me that Kip was the shooter responsible for death and mayhem at neighboring Thurston High, where he was a student.  Debbie wanted me to come to be with her and the other teachers.   I got in my car and drove to be with them.

Of that visit I can remember little of what I said, but I said little.  The teachers were in shock, hugging one another, some numb, some weeping openly.  The grief was just beginning to settle in.  I walked in with my dog collar on, and I did what one can do in those situations. Mostly, I sat quietly in mourning and vigil, offering such signs of condolence as seemed welcome.  I can remember without a lot of specificity one male teacher who stared at me with penetrating eyes, and I cannot be sure, but it may be that he challenged me with these words:  "Where was God when all this was happening?"  If he didn't actually say that, that was the message I received as he saw before him a man wearing a black clergy shirt with a white band around his neck.

I can't honestly remember what I said back to him, if I said anything at all.  But I do remember that this question was resonating in my heart and demanded some kind of response.

As the news unfolded, we all found out the terrible toll of that day.  At the Kinkel home, Bill Kinkel, a Spanish teacher at Thurston and Faith Kinkel, a Spanish teacher at Springfield High, were dead, shot by their own son.   At Thurston High, 16-year-old Ben Walker and 17-year-old Mikeal Nicholauson were dead.  24 students were wounded.  A whole community was seared with psychological and spiritual pain.

Later that afternoon I was to preach at an Ascension Day Eucharist at Eugene's Central Lutheran Church in the company of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy.   You can be sure that I scrapped whatever it was that I had prepared for that day, and went to the pulpit with fear and trembling and a few scratched out notes on paper.

My message was my response to the question that came to me earlier in the day.  "Where was God in all this?"

My message affirmed that God was not in the violence.  God was not in the killing.   God had no part in willing what happened that day.

God was that day in the actions that displayed love, concern, and active help.  God was present in the teachers and school staff who sought to safeguard their students.  God was present in the first-responders who risked themselves as they arrived on the scene.  God was present in all those who wailed and wept and embraced one another and shed tears.

God is love.  God was present wherever love was being shown that day.

Later I would hear of the example set by Kristen Kinkel, Kip's older sister, who would overcome her grief and shock and the unspeakable offense against her perpetrated by her brother to reach out to him in compassion in the midst of his suffering, demonstrate lasting support and love for Kip, who is imprisoned for life.

God does allow a world in which humanity has great freedom for good or ill.  On that day in May of 1998, as on many days in many places throughout time, the evil of which humanity is capable erupted in violence and inflicted unspeakable pain and suffering.

This is a very difficult thing to accept.  Some cannot accept it, and refuse to believe in anything other than blind chance and purely materialistic explanations for life as we know it.  I honestly sympathize with those who cannot trust in God being good and because they find the problem of such evil too great to overcome.

It's easier for me to sympathize with them, after all, than with so-called spiritual authority figures who blithely tell us that God sends hurricanes and other disasters to punish the people they wish they had the power to punish.  I don't need to tell you who these people are; they get press enough from time to time.  May God have mercy on them and turn their hearts from such foolishness.

The revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ is that of one who suffers the violence of crucifixion, after all.  That crucifixion came at the hands of human beings whose hearts were closed to compassion, whose values flew in the face of Jesus' Beatitudes.  God in Christ, to me, is the God who is present in the excruciatingly painful places of life, the lost places.  God in Christ, as the ancient creed says, descended to the dead and preaches liberty to those held captive. 

As Kristin Kinkel would go on to demonstrate, God loves even the worst sinner.  She found a way to love someone whose actions devastated her life, whose actions deeply offended her and a whole community.  She found life in the midst of death and laid hold of it, for the sake of her brother, in whose tortured countenance she could still apparently see the person that God loved.

Where was God that day at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?  God was in those who wept, who embraced, who rescued, who cared, who helped, who offered themselves to the grieving and the wounded.  God is in the faithful remnant who this coming Sunday will meet for worship as First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, defiant against the forces of evil that invaded them.

My hope is in God, present in the pit of hell, having embraced fully the human condition out of compassion for us and having suffered a violent death at our hands.

So much for my theological ruminations.  Now, for my musings on our ethical responsibility before God.

Where is God in us?  Are we to be counted on to be with God in the way God is with us in suffering?  Are we to be counted on to be with the suffering in justifiable anger at their suffering and with insistence that justice be done?  I raise here the question of human moral agency.  We are created by God with the ability to act for a better world.

Can we be counted on to raise our voices against the madness of our times, in which the slaughter of elementary school students at Sandy Hook so clearly demonstrated our national propensity to shrug our shoulders and claim to have no power in the situation?

Can we be counted on to come together in serious deliberation toward actions that stem the tide of violence, which is only growing worse and worse?

Can we be counted on to put our actions behind our voices in asking for commonsense restrictions on the availability of guns?  Can we stand up to those who seek to prevent us from even studying gun violence as a threat to public health?  I grew up in rural Oregon among hunters, and family members own and use guns for hunting.  I'm not against that at all.  But can we not object to the wide availability of guns that are based on military designs intended for rapid killing of human beings?  Must we treat our interpretations of the Second Amendment to the Constitution with seemingly more reverence than we treat the New Testament's Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount?

God is patient.  God is kind.  God is waiting for us to exercise the moral agency God has given us.

Where is God?  Our crucified God is with the outcasts, the sinners, the grieving, the offended-against, the suffering.  Our God in the person of Jesus Christ stepped out into the void where humans put him, and lives to redeem us from our bondage to violence and fear.

Where are we?


From the heart...

Thank you to all of you who, knowing I was experiencing a health challenge, have prayed for me and to those who have sent me messages of encouragement and hope during this last month and upon my return to preach last Sunday, All Saints' Sunday.

I've been diagnosed with a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy.  This means that my heart muscle is weakened and needs support to function well.  I'm presently taking three medications plus a dose of magnesium and wearing a portable defibrillator for the next three months while my cardiologist monitors my progress.  How did this situation come about?  We can't be certain, but the physicians who've treated me and heard my family medical history strongly suspect that I've inherited this situation.

I felt short of breath during the last weekend of September and sought medical attention at a weekend clinic and then at the ER at St. Joseph's on the following Monday.  Since that time I've taken an array of diagnostic tests, been hospitalized for observation and more tests and to begin medication, and been back to work.  As I write this, I'm feeling like I'm back to some semblance of normalcy again in my routine.  Barring a miracle, I will be living with this situation the rest of my life.  The good news is that there is terrific medical treatment to help strengthen me, and we live in a community with a terrific group of cardiologists in practice.

I'm extremely grateful to Dr. Rex Liu and his staff and to the other cardiologists who've had a hand in my care.  I'm grateful to the nursing staff and medical technologists at St. Joseph's Hospital.  I'm grateful to Sharon, my spouse and partner and friend of 37 years, and to my daughters Josie and Olivia, who've been calling their dad to ask how I'm doing.   I'm grateful to the people of St. Paul's and to the terrific clergy and staff members with whom I'm privileged to work, and to the lay leaders who make St. Paul's such a wonderful church community.  I'm grateful to God for the gift of life, and suddenly more aware of the precious gift of life each day.

Some of you have urged me to take good care of myself.  I hear you, and I'm doing that.  I'm taking care for my hydration, nutrition, exercise, and rest.  I'm setting reasonable limits for what I'll do in a day and what I'll worry about.  Thanks, friends, for your caring reminders to keep that up!

As I said on Sunday, I've been with many of you after you've received news you didn't want to hear about your health.  I now have had my own news I didn't want to hear, and I'm adjusting to that, just as I've seen so many of you adjust to new realities with courage, faith, and humor.

In all of this, I'm glad to be involved with St. Paul's.  I sat amid the congregation last Sunday and came up to the pulpit to preach and then took my seat again.  It felt good to be sitting in the congregation experiencing Sunday morning from a different perspective.  If I were visiting St. Paul's, I'd want to stick around!

All we do, for good or ill, affects each other's lives...


As we approach what for some will be a long weekend to celebrate Labor Day, I remind us that Labor Day is an observance in our liturgical calendar, complete with a collect (a prayer) and a set of scripture readings. 

Here's the collect:

25. For Labor Day (BCP p. 261)

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide
us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

A collect begins with an acknowledgement of some truth about God, and in this case that truth is that God "[has] so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."

If we linger on this for a moment we see that this is a restatement of the claim on us of Jesus'  Great Commandment.   The Great Commandment makes clear that there is no private spirituality in the Biblical tradition of Judaism and Christianity.   The Kingdom of God, the Realm of God is by definition a social reality.   Our engagement with Christ needs to be personal and intimate, to be sure, but Christ leads us by his teaching and example to the insight that God "has so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."

The rest of the collect consists of our request for God's guidance as we seek to obey the Great Commandment, specifically in the realm of our work.  

The collect has us asking ourselves: "what is the good my work accomplishes for the sake of the common good?" We ourselves, as well as those around us, experience this question from time to time in the midst of an existential crisis.   Work can bring meaning into a life, but a person can also feel imprisoned by their work, and feel frustrated in their aspirations for meaning.   As pastors and lay people alike, we need to be aware of this dynamic in any congregation and in our community at large.   If you're struggling in this area and could use a listening ear, I'd like to be able to listen. 

In addressing the issue of compensation for work the collect expresses the tension between our own personal aspirations and the rightful aspirations of others for compensation.    Reflecting Jesus' teachings which put so much emphasis on the dangers of greed and of the worship of wealth, the collect gives cold comfort to proponents of the "Prosperity Gospel", who would have us measure our closeness to God in terms of our wealth.   At the same time, the collect places before us - whether we be employers or the employed - the rights and responsibilities that occur to those who bear in mind that "all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."   As rector of a church which employs staff and is in a dynamic process of change and aspiration, I feel personally this challenge, and I'm grateful for lay leaders who help me address this challenge in a constructive way.   If the church isn't a good place to work, that's a real problem.

The collect also leads us to concern for those who are out of work.   Meaningful work for which one is reasonably compensated is such a key factor for well-being, as I've come to know personally during a time when I experienced being laid off.    The psychological stress of this is considerable.   There may even be a tendency for a person who is unemployed to withdraw from community of the church at the very time when the need for companionship and encouragement is most present.   Our concern can be to assure unemployed persons of their inherent value as God's creatures and to offer any assistance we can as they take steps toward gainful employment.    As a pastor, I invite anyone in this situation to speak with me.

My clergy colleague Armand Larive has written a masterful book entitled "After Sunday: A Theology of Work."*  His intent is to address the topic of work in a way corrective of the impression that the church is only concerned with what happens on Sunday morning, and not with the lives we live Monday through Saturday.  This false impression is lampooned in a quote he offers from layperson Mark Gibbs to the effect that all the church is concerned with is "turn up, sit up, pay up."

Fr. Larive's book celebrates the way in which humans are called in Christ to engage with God the Creator as co-creators.  His work celebrates the possibility that we can undergo the transformation that allows us to see our workplaces as places of divine activity working through us.   He's grounded deeply in our sacramental approach to life, which teaches us that God is present in and through and with all material things and in and through all situations.

Fr. Larive quotes a vivid passage from the great Dorothy Sayers, and I want to leave it with you:

In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation.  She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world's intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.  But is it astonishing?  How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have on concern with ninetenths of his life?  The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk or disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes on him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly--but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?*

"All we do, affects, for good or ill, all other lives."   That doing includes your workplace.  May God bless you in finding meaning in your work, or finding work with meaning, and may God lead us to embrace in our work the common good, and may God help us church leaders to know how to support this holy quest you have.


*After Sunday: A Theology of Work.  (New York, Continuum, 2004).  This book is available in our parish library.

*Quoted in Fr. Larive's book.  The original work is Sayers' Creed or Chaos? (London, Methuen, 1947), 58-59.

Christmas Menorahs met hate with love in Billings

Saying she was inspired by a recent sermon, St. Paul's Children's Librarian Linda Tiffany recently passed along to me from our St. Paul's Children's Library a copy of The Christmas Menorah: How a Town Fought Hate.

This book, authored by Janice Cohn with illustrations by Bill Farnsworth, tells a story based on the facts as to how the citizenry of Billings, Montana rose up as a community during December of 1993  to withstand and counter acts of hatred; specifically an act of hatred directed at a Jewish family.

The Billings Gazette wrote up the story this way.

As I read it I was inspired again to see the example of people acting on the conviction that there is nobody who is not our neighbor.

This is a good read for parents with their children.  I've returned the book to the collection, so it's there.

The human condition is such that hatred and fear are ever-present.  But the words of one character in the story, as told to a young boy, are memorable:

"You know, honey, hate can make a lot of noise.  Love and courage are usually quieter.  But in the end, they're the strongest."

I'll let you read the story to see how it all played out.

As I read it, I wonder:  "Do we have to wait until someone is attacked before we do something united together?"

That's something to think about, and pray about, that God will show us how the occasion when we can act in the spirit of those Billings citizens in 1993.