Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's National Hot Tea Month!

How do I know this? Well, I was shopping at my local grocery store (The Big Y) the other day and I saw the sign! I was so fascinated by this bit of information that I came home and Googled it. I can't believe I made it all the way through January and did not know this. In fact, I can't believe that January has been designated as "National Hot Tea Month" since 2004, as near as I can tell. (To read more about it, check out:

And there, of course, is the rub. It turns out that when you Google "National Hot Tea Month" all of the websites that come up are to companies who sell tea. I'm sure you all saw that coming, as I did...

But it makes me think about how we mark time. I've long been aware of, and annoyed by, "Hallmark Holidays" that are more about selling greeting cards than marking time. And every year I go a little crazy when I hear about "the twenty-five days of Christmas" - namely December 1 to December 25. My family is tired of hearing me yell back at the television: "That's called Advent! There are TWELVE days of Christmas and they BEGIN on December 25!"

My New Year's Resolution this year was to live more fully into becoming an old curmudgeon. So far, so good. And truth be told, I have nothing against tea. I am a coffee drinker married to a tea drinker and we have made it work for almost twenty-five years, and every now and again I do enjoy a cup of afternoon tea, which just feels more soothing at that time of the day than coffee.

Now here is the really weird thing, though. It's been years since I've made a habit of having a cup of afternoon tea but last week, BEFORE I noticed that it was "national hot tea month" I actually had a cup of tea in the afternoon. Twice in one week! Now did I "see" the advertisement- but not register it consciously? Was my desire for tea a "subliminal" one? Or is this all just a strange coincidence?

We are surrounded by messages that tell us "what time it is" but that really mean to sell us stuff. Some of it is bad for us, some of it is neutral, and some of it may even be good for us. As far as I'm concerned, a hot cup of tea might even fall into the last category. But how do we become more aware of what is "real" and what is slick advertising that tells us what is real? National Hot Tea Month? Are you kidding me?

How can we learn to more faithfully "mark time" not by ad campaigns masquerading as "national holidays" but by the rhythms of the liturgical year? This is not, of course, an either/or proposition. But as a Christian, my life is oriented around two great mysteries; a holy birth, and a holy death. Each of those seasons is preceded by a time of preparation and followed by a time for reflection and action. These two great cycles: Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter/Pentecost are meant to mark, and shape, the lives of Christian people.

Now let me be clear; I see absolutely nothing wrong with a cup of tea to sit and ponder the Mystery of the Incarnation. In fact, I have two or three more days to do just that. But I need to do it fast, before National Chocolate Lovers Month begins!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Capernaum, by the sea...

"When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum, by the sea..." (Matthew 4:12-13a) He moved! Not too far, mind you, only about twenty miles or so. Even so, he left his home town of Nazareth to make a new home in a new place: Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee (which is really a lake.)

Matthew seems to be suggesting that the arrest of John the Baptist was the trigger for this move. Perhaps Jesus was justifiably worried that as someone who had spent a fair amount of time in public with John, he had been put on a government watch list. Or maybe he was just tired of the whispers in all of the Nazareth hair salons that had never let up, not even three decades after his birth, about who his daddy was. Or maybe the rents were cheaper in Capernaum. Whatever his motivation (or motivations)— the narrator tells us about John’s arrest, and that Jesus moved to a place closer to the Lake.

Only with 20/20 hindsight can Matthew say that this was meant to be, that it fulfilled the words of the prophet, Isaiah - about how this place across the Jordan, this land of Zubulun and Naptali, seemed to be the place where the Messiah is supposed to end up all along. As a Jew, writing for Jews, that’s a big deal to Matthew: as he tells the story of Jesus, Scriptures are being fulfilled all over the place. But that kind of theological reflection almost always comes after the fact. Matthew can say this because he knows how the story turns out and because he knows what a turning point this move turned out to be, not only in Jesus’ life but because of the people with whom it brought him into contact: people like Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee boys.

It’s really not that different in our own lives, is it? Often it’s only when we look back that we can see how God was at work. We move, perhaps, because of work or school or maybe because we need to be closer to family (or perhaps further away!) Only later, when we look back upon what unfolded there, can we see how we have been changed. Only then do we dare say things like: “it was meant to be…it was part of God’s plan for me…”

I find platitudes to be of little help if we mean to see how God is at work in our lives. God is in the details: in that particular moment, that encounter, that time when we exclaim “I wonder” or “I love you.” It is in each moment that God offers us infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. But sometimes our willingness to receive that gift of the present moment is increased when we get jarred out of our familiar surroundings and find ourselves in a new place.

Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capher Nahum, near the Sea. That’s what they called it when I went there a year ago and took the photo above of the Lake at sunset, and walked the streets, including the ruins of the synagogue at Capher Nahum, and what is said to have been Peter’s house. Literally, “the village of Nahum.” As I walked into the synagogue ruins there it wasn’t difficult at all to imagine what it might have been like for Jesus to walk in there. Unlike the synagogue in Nazareth, where everyone knew him by name, he had to walk into a place as a stranger — a newcomer. He had to go through that process of making new friends, of finding someone new to cut his hair, a new doctor, a new favorite restaurant.

Moving is always a little scary, even when it is also exciting. I think our personalities shine through when we move: for some everything new — home, school, job, church, synagogue, grocery store — is better. Others will, for quite some time, feel a sense of nostalgia and tend to compare their new experiences unfavorably to what was so comfortable and familiar for so long. "At my old church they did it this way..."

As the story comes to us through Matthew, it seems that this move leads Jesus into a deeper awareness of the ministry to which God is calling him. That may sound funny to some of our ears, especially if we have been taught to think of Jesus only as the Second Person of the Trinity. But the Gospels and the tradition are clear and consistent about Jesus’ full humanity, about his questions and struggles and even doubts. Like us in every way (save sin), Jesus needed to pray and discern God’s will before he could do it. At some point after this move to Capernaum, he got the clarity he needed, and then the chutzpah, to call out one day as he walked along the lake: “hey, you guys—follow me. I’ll make your fish for people.”

The rest is history.


Mother Teresa was once asked what she says to God when she prays. She responded, "I don't say anything, I listen." The interviewer then asked her how God responds, to which she replied, "He listens."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lord, it is night...

I received an email from a parishioner this morning, asking me about a prayer she knew she'd heard at St. Francis at some point or another. It's the kind of prayer that stays with you and I knew immediately what she was looking for. It's a really good prayer, one I use often...the kind of prayer that makes one glad to be part of a liturgical tradition, the kind of prayer that never seems to become rote, but borders on poetry.

Here it is, from A Prayerbook for New Zealand - part of the Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is a part.
Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.

The night is dark; Let our fears of the darkness of the world and our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Be Angry!

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Today's epistle reading from The Daily Office Lectionary is worth pondering a bit, worth ruminating on. I think that whether we have done so consciously or not, many who are familiar with these two verses tend to focus in on the middle clause: " not let the sun go down on your anger..." and leave it at that. And even better (this line of thinking goes) would be not to ever get angry in the first place.

My experience in the Church is that this leads us to far too many passive-aggressive behaviors. We think anger is "un-Christian." Jesus, turning tables over in the Temple, makes us more than a little bit uncomfortable.

But the verse begins with an imperative: be angry! Why is that?

Well, on any given day, there is lots to be angry about. I think we need to learn how to be angry with God even as we learn to praise and thank God. I think we need to learn to be angry with our neighbors and friends, even as we learn to love them. And yes, we need to be angry sometimes with ourselves; but we also need to leave room for the forgiveness and love that heals and brings new life.

Anger is a human emotion. The problem is when we do not name it, and let it go underground. The problem is when it gets misdirected, or buried. Anger itself is not un-Christian and this verse suggests the opposite: we are commanded to be angry!

I think the reason for this is obvious when we pause to reflect on it. When anger is the appropriate response but we fear rocking the boat, fear expressing it directly (for any number of reasons) it still has to go somewhere. So "be angry!" If those words of advice make you nervous or uncomfortable then pay attention to that and reflect on why it is that you feel you are immune from this human emotion.

That said, we don't solve the problem created by quoting only the second clause of this verse by replacing it with only the first half of the first clause. The order here matters and the whole sentence (within the larger context of Ephesians 4)is about living more fully into the new life Christ offers. We will experience anger; that is part of what it means to be human. What we do with that anger is what is supposed to distinguish followers of Jesus from the ways of the world. We can learn to "fight fair." By dealing with anger as it arises we keep it from spilling over into our next encounter. We avoid bullying and/or it's close cousin, passive-aggression. We all know how it can happen that road rage or anger at the boss can lead someone to come home and kick the dog. But this is not the way that Christians are counseled to deal with their anger.

Rather, we are called not to let our anger get the best of us, quite literally. By acknowledging it, naming it, claiming it, and owning it, we avoid all of the sin that can come our way when we just choose to ignore it. By dealing with it as it arises, we refuse to let it work at and take over our unconscious at night. "Don't let the sun go down on your anger!" Even when it takes hard work, work it out so that it doesn't fester.

Why? Because evil is real, and even if anger itself is not an "evil" emotion, unresolved anger issues make room for all kinds of trouble and for the Evil One to move in.

Be angry! Get it out, talk it through, and then let it go so that when you lie down to sleep you can get a full night's rest. Easier said than done, to be sure. But at least we can get it right in our heads what is, and is not, the goal here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflections on MLK Weekend: "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice..."

Early on in my ministry, the Campus Ministry I served had an opportunity to invite the late William Sloane Coffin, Jr. to come and speak to students, faculty, and staff. It was my great privilege to gather with Rev. Coffin and a more intimate group before the public lecture. I remember talking at dinner about something he also spoke about publicly later that night, and I'm sure in many other contexts. (So I am not revealing any confidences here!)

He said that one of the frustrating parts of being so involved in the peace movement was that while it was filled with people who were dedicated, noble, and faithful, there was also a temptation for some to become what he called "good haters." That revealed to me at the time (and even more after years of reflection) an awareness on his part of the insidious nature of human sin: people involved in a good and right cause can still become arrogant, self-righteous, and so certain of their own moral clarity as to polarize and demonize the other.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately in relation to the conversations about finding a more civil discourse. I think that is about more than being "polite" or "politically correct." Nor should it be reduced to a kind of moral relativism; while we are all entitled to our own opinions we are not entitled to our own facts and there are beliefs/positions that are more objectively informed than others. (Just because we believe something, even passionately, doesn't make it so!) And we can't just make stuff up!

I say "can't" but I really mean, we should not; because clearly so much of what passes for news these days (on both the right and the left) is not about searching for the truth, but about propaganda and spin, and ultimately that requires demonizing the other side. We become "good haters" even when we may be right.

I think there are two ways to counter this in our own lives, or I should be more specific: I have found that there are two helpful reminders in my own life to keep me from going too far down that road of being a "good hater" even when I have rather strong political or theological positions.

First, a good dose of authentic humility is essential. To remind ourselves on a daily basis if necessary that we see, at best, through a glass darkly; that what we "know" is shaped by what we assume, and that sometimes we don't know enough to challenge our own most deeply-held assumptions. In the echo chambers in which so many of us find ourselves, those assumptions are less and less likely to ever be challenged and so we tend toward more and more hubris.

The second thing, though, is to trust that God really is in charge and that, as King once put it, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Archbishop Romero once said something along these same lines, when he prayed that we might remember that "sometimes it helps to take the long view." In my experience, that long view leads to hope.

We shall overcome, someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome. Someday. And so yes, there is an urgency to Now; and we must act to the best of our ability to fight injustice and prejudice and hatred. But if we think it all must happen now, on my timetable, on my terms, then we are on the path toward becoming "good haters."

I think what made people like King (and Romero and Coffin, too) so great, is that they inspired hope. They knew it would be hard and therefore that we must take the long-view. I am sure each one felt weary and discouraged time and again, especially when resistance to justice was so strong, so angry, so resolute. But deep in their bones, I do believe, that they believed, that we shall overcome someday. They had faith in a future they could not yet see. They dreamed of a better tomorrow. And that inspired each of them, and by God's grace us, to act today.

We honor Dr. King whenever we work for justice and peace. But I wonder if we honor him even more when we work for justice and peace as people of hope. Not as "good haters," but as people who do believe, deep in our bones, that we shall overcome someday.

A Little MLK, To Get Ready for MLK Weekend

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Do not speak words that can create division and hatred.... Words have the power to create trust and happiness, or they can create misunderstanding and hatred and even lead to murder and war. Please use words with the greatest care. (Thich Nhat Hhan)

I am still reeling from news of the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left six dead. All the facts are not yet known, and may never be. In a twenty-four hour news cycle the temptation to play the blame game is very great. So too, the temptation to try to leap in and say it all; to draw definitive lessons.

For my own part, I am aware of many different and conflicting emotions, including anger and profound sadness. For now, at least, I think it is best to continue to pray for Congresswoman Giffords and her family and for the families who lost loved ones. And we should not forget the family of the shooter(s?) Clearly the young man who is in custody suffers from mental illness and clearly his family must be going through hell right now too. Clearly there were signs along the way; but for whatever reasons he could not or would not get the help he needed.

I do want to at least point toward a potential learning/insight. I realize that anecdotes are not the same as "evidence." But I had an experience, not too long after 9/11, with a mentally ill young man who got in trouble with the law because he believed that some "terrorists" were trying to poison a local reservoir. He tried to beat them up in order to stop them. He was confused of course; they were not terrorists at all. But if you remember the hype and security warnings in those months after 9/11 especially, when we seemed to be always on "red" or "orange" alert, then it is not too difficult to imagine how this social anxiety helped to trigger that response in his own mind. I can't "prove" cause and effect there. But I know he was not a bad person; just a sadly confused one.

Anecdotes are not evidence, and it may be impossible to find a cause and effect relationship for why 22-year-old Jared Loughner acted as he did in trying to take the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. To say that his political philosophy was "confused" seems to be pretty charitable. My experience and intuition suggest to me, however, that it is not a very great leap to see that the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, is onto something and deserves to be heard. Sheriff Dupnik issued a plea for sanity, and warned media pundits that their inflammatory speech is out of control. Here is what he said:
I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people-how they are-how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government—the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capitol. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

I would simply say it this way: our words matter. As a preacher I think about this on a regular basis. Our words can invite reflection or incite violence. Yes, we have a right to "free speech." And yes, we are all entitled to our opinions. But when we falsely yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater and people get killed trampling each other on the way out, our hands are not clean. Words really do matter.

And so it is incumbent upon us to renew our commitment to practice speech that respects political, religious, economic and cultural differences of opinion, even when our disagreements are passionate. There is nothing wrong with honest disagreement. But vilification of the other, outright lies, hostility and demonization and scapegoating have consequences. We cannot throw gasoline on the fires and then feign innocence when people get burned. Perhaps this horrific event can serve as a deadly reminder to all of us to take it down a notch.

Lives depend on it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


A month from now I'll be traveling to western North Carolina to serve my denomination as a reader of General Ordination Exams. Last year when I was in Israel, there was a terrific group of Virginia Theological Seminary students who were with us; many of them just finished taking the GOEs. One of them, Mike, calls them "OWLS for priests." (If you don't get the Harry Potter reference then perhaps one could say that bar exam is to lawyer what GOEs are to Episcopal priests.)

In any event, here are the questions. (I am indebted to Mike for posting them on his blog!) I think they are good, and fair ones, and I look forward to reading the responses.

Set 1: Holy Scripture

Monday, January 3, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Living with “the other” - the one from whom we differ culturally, politically, economically, theologically - has always created challenges for God's people. From biblical times to the present day, living with “the other” has provided occasion for defining the nature of community, for addressing fundamental issues such as purity and holiness, and for determining who is “in” and who is “out.”

In both testaments of the Bible we find lively dialogues among communities with very different perspectives on the question of how to deal with “difference.” This question asks you to enter that conversation exegetically and theologically.

In a three-page essay:

A. Exegete, in no more than one page for each pair, the following pairs of biblical texts, comparing and contrasting their historical and theological characteristics:

Pair 1
Ezra 9:1-4 and Ruth 4:13-17

Pair 2
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and Ephesians 2:14-18

B. Identify a situation in the contemporary world where “difference” presents a challenge, and, using your exegesis of either Pair 1or Pair 2, demonstrate how these texts might help to address this situation in a constructive way.

Set 2: Christian Ethics and Moral Theology

Monday, January 3, 2011, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.


Is it ever permissible for Christians to be involved (directly, as agents of violence, or indirectly/complicitly) in violence?

In a four- or five-page essay, identify and make an argument both in the affirmative and an argument in the negative from the perspectives of Christian ethics and moral theology. For each argument, also make a rebuttal. Your essay will, therefore, have four parts: Argument 1 and rebuttal, and, Argument 2 and rebuttal.

Set 3: Christian Theology and Missiology

Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible, a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer and a printed Hymnal1982

Theological anthropology is the discipline of examining the nature and meaning of being human in the context of relationship with the Triune God. One Christian doctrine of human being, dating from the time of Justin Martyr, is the doctrine of theosis or deification. One of the most famous definitions of theosis comes to us from Irenaeus of Lyons by way of Athanasius, “God became man that man might become God.” (De Incarnatione 54)

In a four-page essay, using this doctrine as the starting point, sketch out the theological implications of theosis for a theology of ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. The quotations below are provided to give you both theological and biblical texts which are the bases of the doctrine or which are theological expressions of the doctrine. The quotations are Biblical, Patristic, Anglican, and Orthodox. You are free to use these texts in whatever way(s) you choose. It is not expected that you say something about all of them.

Key Biblical Texts

Genesis 1:26a, 27a: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness … ” So God created humankind in his image, in the image and likeness of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Psalms 82:6-7: I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

2 Peter 1:4: “Thus he [Jesus] has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.”

New Testament Texts

John 17:20b: As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

John 17:26: I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Patristic Texts

Irenaeus of Lyons: Because of his infinite love he became what we are in order to make us what he himself is. (Against Heresies 5, Preface)

Athanasius: God became man that man might become God. (De Incarnatione 54)

Maximus the Confessor: ” … the power of this reciprocal gift which deifies man for God through the love of God, and makes God man for man through his love for man, making through his noble exchange God to become man for the deification of man, and man to become God for the humanization of God. For the Word of God who is God wills always and in all things to work the mystery of his embodiment.” (from Ambigua 10, cited in Allchin, p. 70)

Anglican Texts

Richard Hooker: “Participation is that mutuall inward hold which Christ hath of us and wee of him, in such sort that ech possesseth other by waie of speciall interest propertie and inherent copulation. For plainer explication whereof we may from that which hath bene before sufficientlie proved assume to our purpose these two principles, that everie originall cause imparteth it selfe unto those things which come of it, and Whatsoever taketh beinge from anie other the same is after a sort in that which giveth beinge. (Lawes. V.56.30) … For wee have [on earth] onlie the beinge of the Sonnes of God, … yeat touching this that all are sonnes they are all equales, some happelie better sonnes that the rest are, but none any more a sonne then another. Thus wee see how the father is in the Sonne and the Sonne in the father, how they both are in all things and all things in them, what communion Christ hath with his Church, how his Church and everie member thereof is in him by originall derivation, and he personallie in them by way of mysticall association wrought through the guift of the holie Ghost, which they that are his receive from him, and together with the same what benefit soever the vitall force of his bodie and blood may yield, yea by steppes and degrees they receave the complete measure of all such divine grace, as doth sanctifie and save throughout, till the daie of their finall exaltation to the state of fellowship in glorie, with him whose pertakers they are now in those things that tend to glorie.”

Lancelot Andrewes: God is “to make us that to God that he was this day [Christmas Day] to man. And this indeed was the chief end of his being ‘With us’; to give us a posse fiery, a capacity, ‘a power to be made the sons of God’, by being born again of water and the Spirit; for Originem quam sunpsit ex utero Virgin’s posuit in fonte Baptismatis, ‘the same original that himself took in the womb of the Virgin to usward the same hath he placed in the fountain of Baptism to Godward’ … So his being conceived and born the Son of man doth conceive and bring forth (filiatio, filiationem) our being born, our being sons of God, his participation of our human, our participation of his divine nature.” (Complete Works. Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology (1841 – 54), vol. I, p. 122.

A. M. Allchin: “Without the doctrine of our deification by grace, the doctrine of the incarnation in the end loses its meaning and finality. For how can God enter into man unless man is made from the beginning to enter into God?” (Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition, p. 6)

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Eucharistic Prayer I, Rite I: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him.”

The Prayer of Humble Access: “Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”

Orthodox Text

Norman Russell: “The fact that theosis encompasses the whole of the economy of salvation means that it is intended for all believers without exception. To live theosis, then, means to lead our life in an eschatological perspective within the ecclesial community, striving through prayer, participation in the Eucharist, and the practice of the moral life to attain the divine likeness, being conformed spiritually and corporeally to the body of Christ until we are brought into Christ’s identity and arrive ultimately at union with the Father.” (Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis, p. 169)

Set 4: Contemporary Society

Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible and a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer

Is it responsible or not to bring children into today’s world? Christians in the United States are divided on this question. Those who feel it is responsible cite reasons such as God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply and hope for the future. Those opposed cite problems such as climate change, economic uncertainty (poverty, illness and lack of healthcare resources, urban violence) and overpopulation.

In a three-page essay, show how a Christian might respond evaluatively and thoughtfully by elucidating both points of view.

Set 5: Church History

Thursday, January 6, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.


Since the Church of England’s establishment in the early 16th century, several internal reform movements have arisen within it. Some of these movements have eventually led to enduring schisms and/or to the formation of distinctive internal wings that have lasted to the present day. These have included Puritanism in the late 16th and the 17th centuries, Methodism in the 18th century, and the Oxford Movement in the 19th century.

In a three-page essay, provide a brief historical background of each of these three movements and explain what issues involving the nature of the church and the Christian life were central to each. Conclude your essay by showing how these movements are manifested today both within and outside The Episcopal Church.

Set 6: Theory and Practice of Ministry

Thursday, January 6, 2011, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.


You are the rector of a pastoral-sized predominately upper-middle-class congregation located in the center of town. The town is split socio-economically: the northern end is predominantly upper middle class and the southern end is predominantly lower middle class.

On a Friday morning a parishioner notifies you that a teenager in the local high school has committed suicide. The teenager was not a member of your congregation, but several members of your church’s youth group were friends of hers, and her math teacher sings in the choir. You discover through conversations with parishioners and through media reports that the suicide is related to severe bullying by several teenagers, all from families in the northern end of town. The young woman lived in the southern end of town.

In a three-page essay, identify the issues raised by this incident, then suggest the appropriate response of the faith community. Explain how you as priest and pastor would enable the congregation to respond.

Set 7: Liturgy and Church Music

Friday, January 7, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer, a printed Hymnal 1982, a printed Wonder Love and Praiseand a printed Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Ritual can be one of the most important ways in which we teach people the Christian faith. In the ritual of The Episcopal Church, various practices have grown up around the celebration of Holy Communion designed to express different theological understandings of the Eucharist. Each of these theologies has an honored place in Anglican history and the life of the church.

A. In a two-page essay, explicate the following four theological understandings of the Eucharist: the real presence of Christ, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the memorial of the Lord’s Last Supper.

B. In a one-page answer in the form of a chart or annotation, use one of the six Eucharistic prayers in the BCP, starting with the Sursum Corda and ending with the Dismissal, to enumerate and explain the liturgical choices you believe would make one of these four theological understandings of the Eucharist in Part A vivid to the congregation. Your choices might or might not include the lavabo, orans position, a blessing, choreography, music, manual acts, incense, etc. Show how what people hear, see, taste, touch, smell or otherwise apprehend helps to make real the theology you have chosen. Be sure to cite BCP page numbers to tie your choices to specific phrases in the Eucharistic rite. If you need a proper preface, use the Preface for Easter.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I am not going to belabor the point too much over the course of these next ten days, but it was one year ago that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land with St. George's College began, and I've been looking over my blog entries from a year ago. We actually arrived in the late afternoon on the 5th, but our first full day of exploring began on Epiphany.

One thing I mentioned on January 6, 2010 was that Rudolf Bultmann never made that trip. Now for those who don't know, Bultmann was a giant in New Testament scholarship. But learning that little fact has stayed with me since returning home. Bultmann taught a generation of seminarians to look for the "existential" meaning in New Testament texts and there is wisdom in this, to be sure. As Brian Wren's great Easter hymn puts it,
Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine,
he comes to claim the here and now, and conquer every place and time

I can say "amen!" to that as I think Bultmann would as well.

Even so.

The deepest truths are not either/or truths, I've discovered, but both/and. It is true that the living, resurrected Christ is not confined to "distant Palestine." Even so, Jesus of Nazareth lived and spoke, was shaped by a particular place and time: "distant Palestine." That is the scandal of the Incarnation. A year ago I entered more deeply into stories I had "known" my whole life because of little things that gave a new context and that new context birthed new meaning. The smells and sounds of the old city; the taste of fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee keep us from thinking that truth is only "existential." It is also here, now, particular, unique.

If we mean to encounter the living Christ we need to learn to pay attention to place, to pay attention to our own journeys, to pay attention to the details in our own lives. It is true that we don't have to go to Israel to find Christ. But we do have to go somewhere! We have to go more deeply into the unique circumstances of our own lives. It is in that very specific moment when we fall in love, or when we say, "I'm sorry I hurt you," or when we cut into a perfectly prepared steak served with a wine that has waited it's entire life to be poured for that meal; it's when we watch our child receive his diploma or stand at the foot of that grave at Green Gates Cemetery that we experience God as alive, here, now, real.

The danger of "existential" faith is that it can hover in mid-air, everywhere at once. The season of Epiphany, I think, is for remembering that God breaks in here, and now, changing the ordinary into the holy, like water into wine.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One Year Down

One year ago today I wrote my first blog post ever, in preparation for a trip to Israel. I wanted to be able to share my pictures and reflections with friends and family back home. On January 4 I flew out of New York and on January 5 arrived in Tel Aviv, and then Jerusalem.

Since that day, 146 posts in 2010; this is #2 in 2011. This blog has changed since I returned; but I still find that I'm trying to find my "blog voice." It's not that different from my everyday voice, I hope; but what I mean is that I am still trying to figure out what and when to post. Sometimes edited sermons, sometimes mid-week commemorations from the communion of saints, sometimes responses to the day's headlines.

A new year begins: not knowing what it may bring, I will try to stay open, to pay attention, to be astonished. And then, try to find words to tell about it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wise Guys

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey...

T. S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi"

The New Testament gives us about two and a half birth narratives. Mark, of course, tells us nothing at all about Jesus’ birth. Luke and Matthew each give us their perspective, with different theological insights. And while John doesn’t technically give us any details about the birth of Jesus, he does focus in his prologue on what it all means: “In the beginning was the Word…” Along the way he gives us that powerful metaphor of the light that continues to shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (That in itself is worth at least a half, I think!)

The fixed point in all of these stories is the Christ-child. He is the one we come to adore over these twelve days of Christmas. Taken together, these two and a half stories get us to something like a script for a pageant play. But clearly Luke dominates: everything else seems to fit in and around his story. In fact most Christmas pageants (including our own) are basically Luke’s story with Matthew’s wise guys tagged on to the end, as latecomers to the party, and a little bit of Johannine theology tossed in for good measure.

But there is also some benefit that comes to us from listening more attentively to each unique voice here. After all, we get four gospel writers, rather than just one, for a reason. Think of it like this: you are gathered around the family dinner table and everybody is talking at once and telling a story that everybody already knows. Each voice chimes in with part of the story: in the case of the Christmas story we hear once more about shepherds and angels and baby Jesus (no crying he makes!) and stars and wise men and donkeys and light in the darkness. It all kind of fits together.

But now imagine, for a moment, in the aftermath of all the big parties that you have a chance to sit and chat with Matthew over a cup of coffee. And imagine he leans toward you and says something like this: “look, Luke is my friend, and I know that’s how he remembers it and everything. But here’s what I heard…”

On this second Sunday of Christmas, we are invited to listen more closely to what Matthew has to say and to see if there isn’t a Word of the Lord here for us as we begin this New Year of 2011 together. Like Luke and John, Matthew doesn’t claim to have been there. He is a second-generation witness; telling a story that somebody else told him.

He begins with a genealogy that ties Jesus to King David and Father Abraham. The family tree goes through Joseph, “the husband of Mary.” Along the way, four important and interesting women get named: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Matthew, the most Jewish of the four gospel writers, assumes that his readers will know the stories of those four interesting women. If you don’t, then sometime when you have a chance, look them up. Just as in our own family trees, each of those people left a mark on Jesus. We may look like our mother or have a mannerism like a great uncle or musical talent like an aunt. Regardless of who Jesus’ biological father is, Matthew wants to situate him in a Jewish family that traces its lineage back to David, and still further back to Abraham—each of whom in some way leaves a mark on him. (As do Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba.)

Right on the heels of that genealogy, Matthew tells us about a dream that Joseph had even before Jesus was born. If you were here two weeks ago, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, you may recall how it went: Joseph had resolved to quietly divorce Mary, but in a dream an angel tells him not to do that; but to go ahead and marry Mary and to give the child his name: Jesus.
Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took Mary as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had born a son, and Joseph named him Jesus.

So that is where we left off with Matthew two weeks ago, before he was "interrupted" by Luke, and then John. Today we picked up the narrative again: “in the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…”

See what I mean? No angelic choirs, no shepherds, no manger, no census. Just these rather strange stargazers from the east who come looking for the child, find him, and then go home by another way. For Matthew they are not latecomers who arrived after those poor humble shepherds. As Matthew tells it, these goyim from the east are the first. The theological point is that they are not Jews. Jesus is revealed to the nations—to the Gentiles. Jesus has come into the world to make a new creation, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: just people in it together.

The entire season of Epiphany (which this year is extra-long because Easter comes very late) is an ongoing reflection on this theme. These wise guys with their highly symbolic gifts underscore a missional point that Matthew will reiterate at the very end of his gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The journey of the magi is about spreading the good news, sometimes with words. It’s about telling the story.

The second point I want to make about these wise guys is to remind you of a metaphor that we sometimes take for granted because it is so common in the Bible. Faith is a journey. Like Abraham and Sarah, these magi go out, leaving behind the familiar. They follow the star to find the Christ. They are astrologers, so in that sense the star shouldn’t be a surprise. The point here is not of a magic star, but that God showed them the way, just as God shows us the way. The star functions as something like “the yellow brick road.” God is the ultimate GPS system, and this story seems to be suggesting that if we, too, trust God, then our own journeys will lead us to Christ.

T. S. Eliot also reflected on this theme in his poem, “Journey of the Magi,” which I commend to you. Our mission statement at St. Francis explores this same theme and makes it explicit as our very first core value: Faith is a life-long journey; it is not certainty, but trust in God. We celebrate the fact that at any given time we are at different places in that journey.

We celebrate. We don’t just tolerate each other, but we celebrate one another. Ours is not a “cookie cutter” faith to which we must all conform before we are accepted. When we say that faith is a journey, we are making explicit what I think is at the core of this journey of the magi and all Biblical faith: we trust that with God’s help we, too, will be lead to Christ. We have journeyed here from east and west, north and south. Some of us were shaped by Roman Catholicism and others by evangelical Christianity. Some of us like “smells and bells” and others prefer a more Quaker-esque simplicity. We recognize that our tastes may change over time, and so too, our beliefs. But what is constant is that we are on a journey and we are glad to have some traveling companions along the Way.

The third and last point that I want to make about Matthew’s Christmas story is that it seems very important to him to make it clear that the magi come “to pay Jesus homage.” That phrase comes up three times: at the beginning, middle, and end of Matthew’s story. In the middle it is Herod, not the magi, who speak these words. He is lying, of course, when he tells the magi that he wants to find the child in order to pay homage to him; in truth he wants to destroy him. (Which is why the magi have to go home by another way.) Even so, there is some irony here. The difference between wise kings and despotic ones seems to be that wise ones know their authority is derivative. They know who is really “king of kings” and “lord of lords.”

Our three kings (whether or not there were three of them and whether or not they were in fact kings is not the point!) come to prostrate themselves before Jesus. They recognize Him for who he really is. Even before they offer him their gifts, the magi pay him homage. So it is that we dare to sing:

As with joyful steps they sped to that lowly manger bed,
there to bend the knee before him whom heaven and earth adore;
so may we, with willing feet, ever seek the mercy seat.

As we begin this New Year together and as 2011 unfolds, we also come to pay him homage. Whatever our work, whatever our calling, whether we are liberals or conservatives: we come here to bow down before Christ. We come to pay him homage. That is where we find our unity: in worship that keeps Christ at the center of our life together.

Luke’s story may be the most familiar and beloved, and easily adapted for “the stage.” And it’s true that you can fit Matthew and John into Luke’s story around the edges and it works just fine. But there is some benefit in allowing Matthew have the floor on this day and to speak in his own voice. He points us forward to the weeks and months that lie ahead, after the song of the angels is stilled and the crèche is put back into the attic and the poinsettias disappear. Matthew’s Christmas story reminds us of at least three things as we begin this New Year together:

1. Christ is born not just for us, but for all the world. Our work is to share that good news at all times, sometimes even with words.
2. Faith is a journey: we don’t need all the answers; just trust in God to lead us to the Christ.
3. When we find the place, Matthew reminds us that the correct response is to fall on our knees and worship this newborn king. Come, let us adore him.