Bill, the Loitering Bishop, Blessed Be He

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough,  Eigth Bishop of Alabama

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough, Eigth Bishop of Alabama

One of the gifts of  living past sixty is coming to know 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

Give Me an N!

You may have noticed in the last few days what appears to be an Arabic sign popping up all over the place.  I checked it out and immediately changed my profile picture on Facebook to this sign.  Why?

The sign is the letter N (nun)  in Arabic.  It is the first letter of the word Nazarene, the name by which Christians are known in the Middle East.  This letter has taken on sinister meaning as the forces of IS or ISIS mark people, property or chattel with an N meaning that the property or persons now belong to the ISIS.  Fellow Christians are given the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or die.  Many have taken a fourth option of fleeing for their lives.  The tax of Christians and Jews by Muslims is an ancient practice from the early days of Islam.  Check it out.  I am unaware that this is the practice of modern Islamic states but it has been a  teaching of the religion.

arabic nThis reflects the problem of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any variety have in common a desire to regain the golden age of their faith. For Muslims it is the seventh century for many Christians 1950, but be that as it may such golden ages never existed. These fanatics (check my posting from August 9th – The True Believer) are setting out to remake the Caliphate of the Seventh Century in the Twenty-first.  Pray God they fail. It will require someone stop them as they cannot be reasoned with by honorable men. .

I have learned in my long study of Family Systems Theory that what my teacher, Rabbi Friedman, said about such is painfully true. In systems thinking all living things composed of protoplasm organize themselves in the same ways.  What is true on a cellular level is metaphor for all other levels of living things. They will behave in predictable ways.  Ed Friedman labelled them pathogens.

  • Pathogens do not self-regulate
  • Since they do not self-regulate they ooze into their neighbors space
  • Also, since they do not self-regulate themselves they never learn from their experience
  • They do not have to be hostile in order to be malignant.  Oozing into others space is sufficient.
  • Pathogens achieve their conscious or unconscious effect because those around them allow them to ooze into the others space.  Remember Munich in 1939.

It really does not matter if we are talking about cancer cells,  packs of dogs or ISIS: they all function the same.  Something will have to be done about them for the cancer they represent in the body politic.

I invite you to wear, wave or affix the Arabic Letter N to Facebook, your lapel or the bill board down the street as a mark of solidarity with our fellow Christians.  If someone reading this is not a believer please do so because the weak and innocent should not be murdered, enslaved nor raped and tortured. Call on those who have power and the responsibility for leading nations to stop these fanatics before the region is in flames not only of churches but of everything in their path. For this is a Caliphate of Evil. Muslims who do not welcome them are destroyed as well. What I say is not about the content of their belief as it is a critique of their succumbing to ideology.  Succumbing always leads to trouble (Carl Jung).

The Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents

Please join me all of you of good will in praying for these Christians and othersr, indeed all in danger on account of their faith. I propose the collect for Holy Innocents as a place to begin.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of  ISIS [Bethlehem by King Herod.] Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

God grant us and to his whole world peace and the knowledge of His love for the doing of His will. . JWS

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Keeping Faith — Remaining Passionate

NOTE:  I looked back through old posts today and found this one from 2007 and it speaks to 2014. As we press forward in the RenewalWorks process the discipline of holding the course and choosing passion keeps the fun going. Hang on for the ride.  

Fast Comapanyhttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/53/december-2001

I was going through my collection of periodicals this week and came across this quote in an article in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company a smart business magazine. Seth Godwin in the special issue on leadership after 9/11 said,

“If our faith in our system goes away, our passion disappears- as well.”

That had resonance and my mind immediately applied it to the Church (as my mind does everything) and I realized that if I allow myself to get too caught up in the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’’  – to borrow a phrase – my passion disappears.  Yep, that’s true and if it is true for me I suspect it is true for at least half of the Episcopal Church.  That being said, I refuse to allow myself to be terminally distracted, choosing to continue in faith the way that I have begun.  And so have the people of Saint John’s Parish.

The True Believer

Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life.

The term “True Believer” is a common expression in American speech.  What most people do not reaize is that the turm comes from a book of that titile.  Eric Hoffer published this study of the nature of mass movements in 1951 (the year of my birth).

t b 2Given the rise of increasingly violent groups fueled by pathological ideology, Hoffer tells us that the content of the ideology is less important than the process of fanaticism.  This is a distinction that we really must learn.  It is not really about Islam, though the ideology in this case is Islamic. ISIS’s fighters, having sucumbed to ideology do not fear death. Actually dying is martyrdom for these young men.  Their opponents fight to protect their families.  Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life. Thus in the short run evil has an edge.  In time, God willing, the rest of us will rise up and put an end to this most recent eruption of a chronic infection of a will to power.

Fundamentalism longs for a golden age that in fact never existed. Deep belief in fantasy promotes delusian. Delusion demands not faith, but rather a kind of “sccumbing” that produces fanatics.  I also recommend Carl Jung’s insights in the last chapter of his book,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections, where he lays out the dangers of succumbing to or being addicted to anything.

I highly recomend Eric Hoffer’s classic and  the insights of Carl Jung on fanaticsim.

Shift of Culture

 

“Just what is it you are trying to do here?” A good question, I get it in some variety regularly. What would this shift produce? What would we look like if our culture shifted?
1. The first and most importantly, each person takes maximum responsibility for his or her own soul.
2. The clergy and congregation understand that the clergy are not the paid Christians to go and do the ministry in the name of this community.

What are the consequences of these two shifts? Paradoxically the church would look like is goes now and at the same time be radically different in function, For one thing there would be fewer programs! Hearing this many will wonder if we are too lazy to do our jobs? I will confess that we do many things because they have been done that way in the past. I remember at least five years ago the staff here worked hard, came up with ideas (good ones), crafted programs, arranged dinner and provided offering so that everyone of every age group had a place to go and something to do when they got there.

After Labor Day we launched our creation and in only a matter of weeks we were down to a handful of souls. Guilt and shame rose up among us at staff meeting like a bad odor from the cellar. Finally, we did a non-scientific survey and what we overwhelmingly learned that people were tired and children needed to be home. We pulled the plug. My colleagues (you know the professional Christians) and I felt guilty but we dealt with it privately. We have had no sustained education on Wednesday evening since and largely no one ever mentions it to me.

This is hard. The “professional Christians” – hereafter to known as PC (layers of irony, that) work hard producing programs, classes and groups. Do not misunderstand me – formation is essential. However, formation must be initiated by the laity. When the laity discerns the slow leak in their souls and wants to do something about it, we will not have offer programs, will people to come and nurse your resentment when they do not.

background checks

As hard as it is, the PC’s must lay down the professional sole-practitioner persona and become ordinary priests and deacons fulfilling our proper role (that we were ordained to do). Above all those of the white collars must know that, contrary to the wisdom of this age, they are not MBA’s in dog collars.

As hard as it is, laity must move beyond a sort of “fashionable ignorance” of the scriptures and the faith. At least in the South, Episcopalians live in a closed loop system of anxious, and reactive fundamentalism. Since many of us are converts, refugees from catastrophic certitude; even exposure to garden variety Christianity produces an allergic reaction. Like all allergies, of course, it is an overreaction and with proper soul work recovery is assured.

The last thing that people need is another thing to do at night. Families need to be together. But what about their souls; isn’t the decline of programs bad? If you are living in 1975 it is bad. When people take responsibly for the feeding and caring of their souls most of the education takes place in home, offices and vehicles.

It happens at 5:00am when a man rises an hour early to drink coffee and read his Bible in the Bible challenge. When he has a question he will call me and I will be my best to get him what he needs. That is very different than chasing him down the street begging him to come to class that addresses nothing he needs for his soul at this point and in this time.

Naturally,  this will not necessarily fill the pews.

“It is one thing to believe in the Incarnation as an historical event; it is another to understand, even intellectually what it means, and still another to experience the meaning in terms of everyday life and consciousness.”

                — Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [6]

The Wheat & the Weeds

 an enemy has done this

 The Gospel lessons for last Sunday, today and next Sunday are sequential parables of the Kingdom recorded by Matthew. Last Sunday we looked at the Parable of the Sower. The Word (the seed) has in it the power which brings the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not dependent on us. All we can do is respond. That is our contribution. The greatest yield per acre of soul comes to those who interfere with the word the LEAST! Next Sunday we will look at a grouping of little parables: the mustard seed, yeast hidden in flour, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl merchant and the fish net.

Today we chew on the parable of the Tares/Weeds. A man sowed good seed in his field and while everyone slept an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field. So the wheat and weeds came up together.

wheat vs tares 001What the enemy sowed among the wheat was ziziania weeds, tares — specifically darnel, Lolium te-mu-len-tum, an annual grass that, with it’s long, slender awns, or bristles, looks very much like wheat. The weeds do not effect the wheat. It is clear from the story the weeds will not effect the fruitfulness of the wheat. It is not the danger to the crop, but the inconvenience to the farmer and his servants that is the issue. The servants, who will have to do the work, naturally enough, have the most intense feelings about the inconvenience. They want to immediately rip up the weeds. The farmer, though, is able to see the big scheme and has in mind another strategy: “wait, until harvest.”

taresAs Robert Farrar Capon says, “. . . the parable says that doing nothing is, for the time being, the preferred response to evil. It insists that the mysterious, paradoxical tactic of noninterference is the only one that can be effective in the time frame within which the servants are working. Not matter that they may have plausible proposals for dealing with the menace as they see it; their very proposals, the farmer tells them, are more of a menace than anything else. To be sure, he goes on the assure them that at some later, riper time, he will indeed interfere to a fare-thee-well with his enemy’s plans.”

Jesus then explains the meaning of the parts. In this story of the Kingdom we find what all Christians know: we live in the in-between-time of already and not yet. The Kingdom has begun but the full impact of God’s reign is not yet realized. What do we do with this injunction of let the weeds and wheat grow together?

The truth is:
1. we can not always discern the real difference between good and evil.
2. the real division between good and evil is not between one person and another, but rather in EACH person. Therefore to be rid of evil now will get rid of literally everyone.
So what do we do?

parable of tares Here we encounter a deep truth of Jesus; the sort of truth which runs counter to everything we instinctively believe. It’s like the instinctive response that I had the first time I drove a car on ice and it skidded. “You know, grab the wheel and steer!” That strategy will put you in the ditch in a hurry. You have to learn to go against your first impulse and let go of the wheel. Often the car will right itself. Or in other words, our first instinct is to say, “Don’t just stand there do something!!!” But what might really be called for is what Murray Bowen used to say, “Don’t just do something stand there!!!!”

The same sort of process goes on in the Spiritual life, particularly when it comes to power. I think it was Martin Luther who coined the expression “Left handed VRS Right handed power”. Right handed power is the power of force.

I borrow again from the Parables of the Kingdom, by Robert Farrar Capon. [p. 18]

“Direct, straight-line, intervening power does, of course have many uses. With it, you can lift the spaghetti from the plate to your mouth, wipe the sauce off your slacks, carry to them to the dry cleaners, and perhaps make enough money to ransom them back. Indeed, straight-line power (“use the force you need to get the result you want”) is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works. From removing, the dust with a cloth to removing your enemy with a .45, it achieves its ends in sensible, effective, easily understood ways.

wheatgatheredintobarntaresburntinfireMatthewthirteenthirtyUnfortunately, it has a whopping limitation. If you take the view that one of the chief objects in life is to remain in loving relationships with other people, straight-line power becomes useless. Oh, admittedly you can snatch your baby boy away from the edge of a cliff and not have a broken relationship on your hands. But just try interfering with his plans for the season when he is twenty, and see what happens, especially if his chosen plans play havoc with your own. Suppose he makes unauthorized use of your car, and you use a little straight-line verbal power to scare him out of doing it again. Well and good. But suppose further that he does it again anyway – and again and again and again. What do you do best if you are committed to straight-line power? You raise your voice a little more nastily each time till you can’t shout any louder. And then you beat him (if you are stronger than he is) until you can’t beat any harder. Then you chain him to a radiator till. . . . But you see the point. At some very early crux in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you — who, on any reasonable view, should be allowed to use straight-line power — simply refuse to use it; unless, in other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.

wheat-and-the-tares-2But such a paradoxical exercise of power, please note, is a hundred and eighty degrees away from the straight-line variety. It is, to introduce a phrase from Luther, left-handed power. Unlike the power of the right hand (which, interestingly enough, is governed by the logical, plausibility-loving left hemisphere of the brain), left-handed power is guided by the more intuitive, open and imaginative right side of the brain.

Left-handed power, in other words, is precisely paradoxical power: power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention. More than that, it is guaranteed to stop no determined evildoers whatsoever. It might, of course, touch and soften their hearts. but then again, it might not. It certainly didn’t for Jesus; and if you decide to use it, you should be quite clear that it probably won’t for you either.
The only thing it does insure is that you will not — even after your chin has been bashed in — have make the mistake of closing any interpersonal doors from your side.”

I believe that is why Jesus instructs us “not to resist evil” or in other words to become what we are opposing. I suspect that is why God does not seem to be “intervening” in human affairs. His ways or not our ways.

In the Wheat FieldsI quote from, The Parables of Jesus, Studies in the Synoptic Gospels by Herman Hendrickx (p. 72f.)

“Our natural tendency is to identify with the master’s servants. Do they not wish to be of service to their Lord by offering to weed out the tares? For what they see in the heat is the tares. But they have lost sight of everything else; they are forgetting about the wheat shooting up among the tares. As they see it, the tares are the stronger of the two plants. . . . If they leave them alone, they will get the upper hand and choke the good wheat. The are afraid; they want to act speedily and ruthlessly: weed out those tares. in so doing, they attach less importance to their master than to the enemy. In their eyes, the enemy is stronger; what he has sown will ultimately get the upper hand; perhaps there will be no harvest at all.

Satan Sowing

Satan Sowing

But, unconsciously, they are thus siding with the enemy and acting like him: they are against him in much the same way as he is against their Master; they are attacking the tares, just as the enemy attacked the wheat. . . Therefore they are making themselves dependent on the enemy and going away from the master: ’Do you want us to go off and weed them out?’ At the heart of the parable, Are we advised to let things alone, to be free and easy? Are we dispensed from sturdy action in the world? Of course not. The parable digs deeper: it gets down to the heart of things, to our innermost being whence spring our actions and our involvement: faith or fear? Faith or the desire to be all-powerful? All depends on the way we look at the world, that field where the good wheat and the tares are intermingled. Do we regard it as the property of Another, who sows life and whose servants we are? OR do we consider ourselves to be solely responsible for our history, for History?

There is great anxiety in the culture as we face emerging issues of our day. What do we do? Do we live in faith or fear? As Jesus said, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Relax, we are not ultimately responsible, because we are not God. We become willful and anxious when we begin to think we have to be God. God is all knowing, all powerful, and without limit. We are not all knowing, all powerful, and we are limited. When we become willful we are motivated by anxiety and fear, not faith!!! We are called to be faithful, not willing people to be different than they are and then using a little body English and straight line power on them if they don’t change to suit us.

Some things just can’t be willed.

You can will eating — but not hunger
You can will drinking — but not thirst
You can will closeness — but not intimacy
You can will fear — but not respect.
You can will church attendance — but not worship

angels reap at the end of the ageYou can not will love. It just doesn’t work that way.
You cannot will hate either. That’s what the cross teaches us.

God calls us to grow up and mature. Maturity is the most important issue in life: taking personal responsibility for our own emotional being and destiny. Our part of the in-between-time dance is to love God, and proclaim God’s love to each other and creation. We are not called to weed control. The wheat and the weeds grow together and we can’t tell the difference yet. A weed may turn out to be wheat and what we thought was wheat may not be after all.

We are called to live and love in that tension.  It is a tension of grace!!  Amen.