During the last three days I have spent the time allotted me in showing the affinity between the Word and the soul. What was the value of all that labor? Surely this: We have learned that every soul-Even sin-burdened, vice-entangled, pleasure-enticed Even though in exile, a prisoner-of-war, incarcerated in body, mud-stuck and mire deep, limb-fastened and care-fixated even though strung-out over business wrangling, fear-knotted and sadness-crushed even though errant in wrong-headed wanderings, in anxious uneasiness, in restless suspicions, even though a foreigner in a foreign land, among enemies, and – as the Prophet says – one polluted by death with the dead and numbered among those going down to hell even so, we have learned, I believe, that every soul (however condemned, however hopeless) can turn around, can turn back and breathe once more not only the hope of mercy, the hope of pardon, but can even breathe aspirations of wedding-nights with the Word.
– Bernard of Clairvaux
Christopher Columbus is the patron saint of everyone who misses the turnoff and winds up in Cleveland.
- I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And is not because the mechanism is working
wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time.
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life’s
mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.”
– D. H. Lawrence
One of the best practices in RenewalWorks is to embed scripture in everything. The vesting room has a sign on the door about robing priests with righteousness, but the true embedding is in the heart. I find passages that I memorized back in Sunday School at The Anderson Baptist Church serve well and it comes back to from the recesses of my mind.
A passage that haunts my mind is the words of our Lord found in the Gospel of John 9:4, “I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Those words give my work a sense of urgency, not anxiety, but a focused energy. A year ago, I rose early to walk in my neighborhood. At four a.m. there are few folk around as I moved through the pools of light cast by the street lamps. I listened to the entire Church History and Martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius, some 35 hours or so. Several sections comprise long lists of Christians martyred via the most hideous tortures. One section lodged in my psyche. The authorities devised unique and awlful punishments for belief in Jesus. For a time Christians suffered one eye gouged out, the foot opposite mangled, and a sentence to the copper mines. Soon a host of Christians was gathered there.
The presence of so many Christians, including several bishops, led to the growth of a Christian community with “houses for church assemblies,” 63 appointing its own bishop, 64 and, because they were denied written scriptures, listening to recitation by a blind Egyptian who knew them by heart. 65 It appears that those who became too old or infirm to work in the mines were allowed to live on, fasting and praying, in a separate settlement near the mines and this evidently became a special focus of the Christian community, led by the Bishop Silvanus and the blind “reader” John. 66 Despite a presumably high mortality rate, the community was periodically reinforced as new batches of Christians were sent there; in 306– 7, most arrivals appear to have been from Palestine and Gaza; in 308– 9 we hear of two groups from Egypt, one comprising 97 men, women, and children,,, —
Mattingly, David J. Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Miriam S. Balmuth Lectures in Ancient History and Archaeology) (p. 189). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
One story, a note in one of the ancient manuscripts has caught in my imagination,
“Many of them were Egyptians. The Greek adds in this place the account of one John, who had learned the Scriptures so thoroughly by heart, that Eusebius states, that when he saw him standing up and repeating portions of the Scripture to the congregation, he supposed he had been reading till he drew near, and discovered that he was quite blind.
Can you see it? A crowd of cripples, surrounding an old man with a ring of snow white hair round his bald head. Listening as if their very life depends on it, (cause it does) the company of the walking wounded hear the depths of the words”Let not your heart be trouble, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms” or “Be not afraid, I have overcome the world.” Blind eyes shut he sees the Good News of God in Christ. Seeing eyes look beyond the damaged present to the world to come.
I join that gathering from time to time in my mind. At the edge I stand, unobesrved, listening to the words of life from one who knows the price of faith. What if he had not embedded the Bible in his soul? What about me? If all I had was my memory how much scripture would I have?
MATTHEW 20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers* for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
These workers are the best in town. Given a level playing field they come in first every time – often with a bonus! He goes and hires more at 9, noon, 3 and just an hour before quiting time.
8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought [HERE COMES THAT BONUS!] they would receive more; So here it comes – but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it,
Rembrandt – Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard
• they grumbled [murmured] against the landowner: Where have we heard that before, it began with Cain, Lot & family, don’t forget the poster children – the children of Israel in the desert for forty years, driving Moses crazy. No wonder he kept asking God to kill him, “Just kill me” – You know that original sin is the only doctrine that is so obvious that no one contradicts us. You have a perfectly lovely baby – Dorothy Biedenharn – only yesterday, handing out with Dad at SOULWorks – just glad to be there – but give it 18 months or so and it’s Katy bar the door. You hear it before you see it, the metal piercing whine that grates on the ear and enrages the heart.
They complained, not just about it amount of money… 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend” or in Southern, “Bless your heart, Bubba , I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
Is your eye evil because I am good?”Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Envy, the green eyed monster, is always accompanied by its buddies: the sneaky, shifty, sly, Slander and Murder, shadowy, tall and terrible, violence – who is known as much reputation as by presence: whether it be a flash mob at Kroger or ISIS. But the ring leader is Envy – the very vermin that Lucifer the beautiful loosed into the world out of malice and spite.
Here we see the two economies:
• Economy of scarcity, lack and fear
• Economy of the Kingdom of Heaven, in contrast is abundant, pressed down & overflowing and bullish on the future.
Them There & Then – Us Here & Now
A story from the Chapel of the Cross years is instructive. Robert Farrar Capon, of blessed memory, lectured at the Chapel of the Cross back in the 1990’s. He was teaching that salvation is Grace plus nothing! No hedging your bets just straightfoward grace. Robert was ruthless about grace! I’m telling you, I have learned more about grace from Robert than anybody.
So Robert reinterates, “It’s Grace plus NOTHING. A lawyer raised his hand and asked, “Why be good?” That’s a fair question of course. Why be good? With a twinkle in his eye, Fr. Capon replied, “BECAUSE IT’S MORE FUN!” So, you’re saying, it doesn’t matter how you live, said the lawyer his voice revealing his tension and barely restrained outrage. “I never said that,” Robert said, “Of course it matters how you live! – But it doesn’t earn you anything”
Well that did it! Robert just ripped the bloom off their bush. The Room divided right down the center. One half of the room were righteously offended, while the other half aroused up in hope. Do I need to say that they righteous didn’t show up the next night?
Well the other half did return and here they cam dragging their friends – the halt and the lame – blind – none physically but of spirit – those abused by the Church of their understanding! So the room was full. I realized that I had just witnessed what happened when Jesus taught.
You see we are called to a life spontaneous, creative and playful . Jesus promised us that we would be absolutely free, fully joyful and always in trouble. Ready at a moment’s notice speak a good word for Jesus, Therefore as Hunter Thompson put it:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside/sideways in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow Jesus ! What a Ride!” HUNTER S. THOMPSON.
September 21, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee
Forgiveness is needed, desired, costly & required. Forgiveness requires honesty, a letting go & grace. Harming another is a sin; however, holding a grudge is sinful as well.
Peter, “How should I forgive, 7 times 7; Jesus, no 70 times 70”. Why 7 & 70? Plucked from the air?
No, back in Genesis 4 we find the hot-head Lamech.
In verse 23 Lamech said to his wives: … I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’
Jesus means to undo the rule of revenge by instituting a rule of forgiveness Now does that mean that we mosey along until we see the magic number 4900 on the moral speedometer & then rise up and smite them asunder? Forgiveness must be unlimited.
Jesus tells a parable about a servant who got upside down in debt. His boss cancelled his delinquent, un-payable debt. The same servant put a fellow in jail for a small sum. The Boss was so angry that he un-cancelled the jerk’s debt & threw him in jail.
Why, because the Master instituted the comprehenive Economy of Forgiveness by cancelling the debt of the first man. The first man didn’t “get it,” the directive here is, “go you therefore and do likewise.” He could have said, “The master has forgiven ALL that I owed him. Therefore, I cancel your debt to me out of gratitude. He could have done that without it costing him much at all. But he did not. I think it just never occurred to him and so he did what he always did, think only of himself. Jesus says in the punchline in the Parable of the Fool, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:16-21
On this Sunday after the anniversary of the (9/11 Attacks) I find my mind going back near half a generation to another time where the world worried about western captives in the Middle East. Those of you of a certain maturity will remember Terry Anderson, now forgotten by most, was an American journalist, held hostage in Lebanon from March 16, 1985 until December 4, 1991. What did he do for 7 years? Read, for one,
“You know, my fundamentalist, radical Shiite Muslim kidnappers went out and bought me a brand new Bible, and I kept it for six and a half years. That was very strange, but I read that, and read that, and read that. And you know, it was kind of like, what do you mean forgive your enemies? Now? How about we wait until they unchain me and stop beating on me, and then I’ll work on it, you know. But it doesn’t work that way. … I am a Christian, and I am required to forgive as a part of the bargain, as a part of the contract.”
It is part of the contract, but it is not an unfunded mandate. What forgiveness costs (& it is very costly at times) is only possible because of grace. The magnitude of God’s saving grace is the proper mode for forgiveness.
Any forgiveness we really give costs us to give and it comes always wrapped in the gift paper of grace. Amen. JWS+
There will come to each of you a time, I trust far away, when the scourge of affliction may fall heavily upon you…wealth, or power, or skill, or even fond affection in the utmost stretch of tenderness, can supply no companion to a soul in its journey through the valley of death.
– Charles Carroll Parsons (via The American Plague)
from a sermon only weeks before the Yellow Fever Epidemic carried off almost half of Memphis, Tennessee (including Fr. Parsons). This plague in the late Summer of 1878 is the worst such epidemic in US history.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone. John 12:24 KJV
THE PART OF US THAT CALLS US – “I” VALUES SAFETY ABOVE ALL THINGS.
As a child it is a shock to learn that things end. For example a pet dies and we learn a couple of things:
• One is that parents are not as omnipotent as we had thought they were AND
• Some things can’t be fixed!
No amount of yelling, weeping, begging, threatening, hoping or screaming at the heavens with our fist shaking with rage phases the smooth impenetrable walk of reality.
Having bounced off that wall, we propose not to let that happen again. You want to know from whence control- freaks come? Right then, right there, reality shall not come nigh me again, thank you very much.
Through careful planning and enough money; you do realize that is really why money is so important. Money will keep many wolves away from the door and keep them at bay for a long long time. But the longer we live and the safer we become — shielded by the investment of the CORPUS (interesting expression that) of our assets we find ourselves strangely alone.How we get out of this solitary confinement of ego safety?
David Richio says that there are five universal truths we must KNOW AND EMBRACE in order to live healthy and productive lives.
1. THINGS CHANGE AND END.
This is not fun. My hair is a victim of change and ending. You may not know it but today is international RedHead Day. My hair was copper red as a child. Do you think anyone will wish me a happy Redhead Day? No, my hair faded and then let go.
You our ego we can retreat into the past, the good ole days of our memory. Of course these days never existed except in our selective memory. Sam Keen calls selective memory, nostalgia. Nostalgia, he calls, “diseased memory.” Our beloved South has been trapped in that flytrap for pushing two centuries and you see what that has gotten us. As native Memphian, Alan Lichtman puts it, “IF YOU GET STUCK IN THE PAST YOU ARE STUCK ALONE.”
2. LIFE IS NOT FAIR
The most unfair that American parents teach their children is that Life IS far! You sign up for soccer and at the registration there is a fee for a trophy! What? You know that children aren’t stupid. When everybody gets a trophy it doesn’t mean anything! Life is not fair.
The Rain falls on the just and the unjust.
3. THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans. Expectations – it has to be just this way.
• Psychosis – 2 +2 = 6
• Neurosis is 2 + 2 = 4 But I won’t have it!
Psychosis will get you medicated
For Neurosis there is no cure.
4. PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU BUT ALSO LET YOU DOWN.
People don’t have to want to let us down – it’s just inevitable – The Church is a laboratory of relationships. Here we learn the discipline of forgiving each other and ourselves. It’s messy but like democracy better than any alternative. This is why people get married, you know. Not, because you won’t get let down, cause you will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Marriage is a container for love.
5. GROWTH COMES THROUGH SUFFERING.
Suffering is the promise life always keeps. If you don’t know that yet you will. No one gets out of this life alive!
Today we celebrate the feast day of Constance and her companions the martyrs of Memphis. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, Constance, the other Episcopal sisters and priests remained in the stricken Tennessee city nursing the sick and burying the dead until one by one they too sickened and died. Charles Carroll Parsons is a good example of what I’m getting at.
- Things Change and End
He was in the West Point Class of 1861 – Those cadets studied together in the Fall Semester and tried to kill each other in the Spring.
- Life is not Fair: He watched friends, comrades die – He almost died himself. Battle of Perryville
- Things do not go according to plan
He left the army and became a priest, He embraced the vocation of peace only to become with the violence of plague.
- People will love you but will also let you down
His wife died.
- Growth comes through Suffering
Yellow Fever in 1878
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Charkes. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringth forth much fruit. John 12:24
We do not die just once, you know, death comes to us many many times before the hour of our personal demise. Every time we bump up against things changing and ending. Whenever we realize yet again that life is not fair; When our plans go awry, when people let us down and when we suffer – When by grace we know and embrace these truths, the words of Jesus describes us “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We get lots of practice laying down our lives IF we will embrace the truth of our Lord’s words.
That sounds like bad news doesn’t it. The good news is that if we embrace our many little deaths a different, new kind of life, sprouts in us. It is a kind of life based not on our merit or achievement. It’s a kind of life that is free of the competition that so rules our ordinary existence. It is a life of grace — where the energy for our being begins at the end of our striving. Our Lord promised us that if we believe in him he will not let us go.
Frederick Buechner said it best, I think, when he wrote, “The worst thing that ever happens to us will not be the last thing that happens to us.”
“Look, there’s a lot of reasons why I hate myself — being Jewish isn’t one of them,” Stewart told the reporter. “So when someone starts throwing that around, or throwing around you’re pro-terrorist, it’s more just disappointing than anything else. I’ve made a living for 16 years criticizing certain policies that I think are not good for America. That doesn’t make me anti-American. And if I do the same with Israel, that doesn’t make me anti-Israel.
You can’t outsmart dogma!
If there is something constructive in what they’re saying, hopefully I’m still open enough … to take it in and let it further inform my position. But I’m pretty impermeable to yelling. As soon as they go to, ‘Your real name is Leibowitz!’ that’s when I change the channel.”
— Josh Marshall (via Talking Points Memo)
This is the overwhelming issue facing any thinking person (mental activity is not proof of thinking). How do you deal with the “dogma” of others without resorting to ideological dogma yourself?” i ask myself that question daily (several times most days). Here my best hope lies in what my teacher Ed Friedman (Rabbi by the way) taught many through Family Systems (Bowen) Theory. The best contribution a thinking person can do is focus on their own their own functioning, working to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of the dogma of chronic anxiety. How to “do” the non-anxious presence gig?
Begin by reading and inwardly digesting Richard Rohr’s teaching on Non-dual thinking. It can be found on his website https://cac.org/ More about non-dual thinking soon.
In hope, in spite of the facts.
One of the gifts of living past sixty is coming to treasure the people who help you along the way; you see Christ in them and remarkably enough, they see Christ in you! Bill Stough was one of the chief stewards of my life, ordaining me, first a deacon and then a priest.
Bill had this way of lottering by the door of this faith we share and lie in wait for the unsuspecting traveler. Even though we may not even have known at the time, we were looking for God, Bill knew. More importantly, Bill knew God was looking for us.
The day I wandered by tugged by the longing of my heart for home. One Sunday at Christ Church, Lexington, Kentucky, I knelt down to say my prayers before the Eucharist began and looking at the altar I suddenly knew this was my place and i wanted what I sensed there.
It was that very longing that drew me the day I made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Alabama. We were seated and Bill, asked what I had come for and I told him. He took me seriously, which the is greatest gift one can give to another. My memory is that he took almost two hours, an unheard of waste of a Bishop’s time. He told me candidly that many people seek ordination, more than he could employ. But he also said, “If you are still interested come back in a year.” I left that day affirmed by the fellow who lottered by the door. I did go back a year later and that story is for another posting.
I learned the most important things from Bill by watching him, especailly when no one was watching. What was he like in the unguarded moments. He was a wise man, kind, direct and terrifying when rightously angry. I came across his blessing a couple of days ago. I share it with you becasue it tells you all you need know about this man, whom I love(d). He said it always, in a small group in the woods or at the altar of his cathedral.
“Let us depart from this place in peace, and as we go on our way, forget not the poor, pray for the sick, make no peace with oppression, and love one another as Jesus has loved us. And the Blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and upon all God’s people this day and forevermore. Amen.”
- The Right Reverend Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama