Friday, December 25, 2009

Last night at 6:00 p.m. families entrusted their little ones to special ladies at church who dressed them hastily in a variety of costumes. As I read the story of the first Christmas these cuties were sent or led down the aisle to the altar area, where they variously sat on the step, climbed under the altar rail and ran back down the aisle. I'm not sure anyone heard I word I said.

Afterwards, since wisdom has never been my long suit, I sat down in the middle of the horde and proceeded to try to deliver a children's sermon. I had three presents to open up, and instantly had nine volunteers. The last present got opened by a very eager little girl before I needed its contents. When I finally sent them back down the aisle to the same ladies, who stripped off their costumes and delivered them to their parents I wasn't sure they had heard a word I said.

Afterwards people crowded into the parish hall and talked about how beautiful the mass had been.

Older people gathered in the cold later last evening and a high and solemn mass began at 10:30 p.m. Beautiful music that I could not produce punctuated the hour and a half we were together. The scent of incense hung in the air. Candles lent a reverent glow to the whole church as we left, singing "Silent Night, Holy Night."

Afterwards people gathered in the Narthex and talked about how beautiful the mass had been.

Once again I realized that I'm not the center of this thing called Church, I'm at best a catalyst, someone who seems to cause things to start happening, but in the end has little control over how things end. Humbling, this priestcraft is, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is just to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a delightful day with those you love and something besides coal in your stocking!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elizabeth Scott of a suburb of Dallas, has an autistic child, but you would never know it. Born with Pervasive Development Disorder, little Roman began to show signs of withdrawal and fixation that are so typical of the autism syndrome. After three years of literally bath-time to bed-time intensive behavioral therapy in the loving hands of his mother, the boy no longer tests on the autism spectrum. He and his mother appeared this morning on Good Morning America.

Yet even I could see that the 8-year-old's social interactions, while accurate, were still a little parroted and stilted. It was obvious to me that the boy, while he had learned to overcome the symptoms, is not truly "cured;" whatever neurological disfunction that causes autism has not been rewired correctly, and still remains. It has just been driven into a recessive state. Nonetheless, his mother's herculean interventions probably paved the way for her son to live a relatively normal life with a minimum of assistance.

Amazing as that story is, what is more amazing to me is the way this mother has reflected the work of the Holy Spirit. All of creation is infected with the sin syndrome, and it causes disfunctional behaviors that alienate us from one another, from the rest of creation, and from our Creator. Whereas the guilt of sin is forever granted in Christ's atoning sacrifice on the Cross, yet that great loving act does not rewire our souls, but merely begins another herculean intervention by the Holy Spirit, a process called by some Christians "sanctification," by the early Eastern fathers, "theosis." We learn to overcome the negative symptoms of sin and to live in a way that more and more approximates the ideal for which we were created. We'll never make it in this life, any more than little Roman will be "normal," but we will progress, and every little step of progress will cause our Father more joy and rejoicing than what Elizabeth feels as she watches her son's progress.

The issue that I think is central is that just as the stygma of autism did not put Elizabeth off from working with her son, because of Christ, the stygma of sin does not put the Holy Spirit off, either, but rather rouses her powers to meet the challenge.

The Collect for the third Sunday in Advent (this year it fell on December 12) from the Book of Common Prayer reads:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tiger Woods just got dropped by Accenture, the first and so far only major sponsor to completely cut free from the golf star. They say he is no longer the kind of representative that they need. What changed? Well, the golden boy sullied his crown with allegations of mistresses and marital problems. They all do it, there's not a golden boy who ever lived who died without some shadow to darken the horizon. Did Accenture think he wouldn't?

President Obama is chastising the big bankers for not helping to support his financial recovery plan now that their bail-out money has done its work. He is calling on the big CEO's to not take their insanely fat Christmas bonuses and to free up lending to small companies. But capitalism doesn't work on the basis of altruism, it works on the basis of greed. Banks sit at the top of the capitalist food chain. To ask them to be "nice" is nicely naive.

Think about it, in the Westerns on TV have you ever seen a nice banker? No, our corporate myth ascribes them the role of the greedy tycoon who will do anything to turn a buck. I know a banker who told me when I first arrived in this city nine years ago that people were already giving to the extent they could. I found out subsequently that his monthly contribution to his church was significantly less than mine, and I certainly don't make as much as he. I also found out that people in this town are as generous as anywhere--he wasn't describing the town, he was describing himself. Banking is not "nice," and their bosses are not in it to be nice. Does anyone really think they would?

No, and the point is not that they should do right, or that golden boys should never sully their crowns, but that none of us ever do. All of us have skeletons in our closets, and all of us deal with the realities of life. Honesty about the realities is probably a more solid basis on which to make decisions. There are really only a few stories in the world, relived in each person's life in limitless variations.

Someone wise said that maturity as a person is achieved when one realizes that one's glories and one's horrors are not really any greater or worse than anyone else's.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Amanda Knox got 26 years in jail in Italy for murder. Predictably, the U.S. is in an uproar. How could this innocent young college exchange student who had fallen for one of the local cuties be the black widow she is portrayed to be? Is there a hidden side to Amanda that finally came out, or is there a hidden side to Italian courts that is coming out? Are the Italian courts really the mob in robes, or are we so unable to accept that other cultural systems work on different values than ours that we insist that our people be treated like we would treat them, even when they play in someone else's sandbox? Is this about Amanda or America?

On the same day on Good Morning America the news broke of potentially harmful amounts of the heavy metal antimony in the very popular pet-of-the-day, the Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters. Antimony or acrimony, the watchdog group GoodGuide and the manufacturers of the very lucrative toy were at eachother's throats. But is this about a potentially hazardous material in a toy, a hidden threat to our kids' well-being, or is it about a hidden aspect of our society that is so scared of something scary that we spook at the slightest hint of danger? Is this about the toy or about us?

Today's GMA reported nothing on Amanda. Apparently the appeals process is going on predictably with nothing to report. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a statement that the testing process used by GoodGuide did not conform to industry standards, and GoodGuide has issued an apology.

So now we don't know whether it's about Amanda or America? The Toy or Us? But we do, really. It's always about us. Whatever we do reflects the values and assumptions we hold so deeply that they are no longer obvious to ourselves. One of those assumptions is that children should not be exposed to anything that can be considered a threat. But we hold that value in tension with other things like the need for transportation, so we put our children in cars (in safety seats, yes, but the argument still holds) and transport them at high speed down lines of traffic that have already proven to be infinitely more dangerous than antimony. So what's with the antimony thing?

And we've all seen the TV shows, "Locked Up Abroad," and the horrors foreign prisons can dish out. (Perhaps our prisons wouldn't be so overcrowded if they weren't so cushy!) Legal systems are icons of the value structure of the society that utilizes them. If in Italy functionally someone is guilty until proven innocent, then that's the way it is. That's the world Amanda chose to live in, and she had been there long enough to probably get an inkling of that fact. Ignorance is no excuse--nobody ever tells you all the rules. And it won't get you off in court, obviously. The appeals process is appropriate, and for her sake I hope it works for her. But getting upset over another country's legal system is to forget that all cultures are a mixture of glory and horror, nobody's perfect, and even our legal system's flaws are painfully obvious to outsiders.

Someone's got to figure out a way for Americans to be able to take responsible risks and bear the responsibility themselves. When they do, and if they can really sell it, it will solve the healthcare crisis, overcrowding in the prisons, and put a whole lot of sleazy lawyers out of work.

All that said, I'm glad that in God's eyes we're not guilty until proven innocent, we're guilty because we are and God knows it. But I'm also glad that that's not the end of the story. God forgives as only God can, so in the Kingdom we have the best of all worlds: We're guilty but forgiven, we get help dealing with the consequences, and strength to take responsibility for them!

Now, go sell that to Congress!
Recently the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a partnered lesbian as Suffragan (assistant) bishop. The election now awaits consents from half plus one of the Standing Committees (highest ranking committee in a Diocese) and of the bishops with jurisdiction. It may take as much as 4 months to complete the process. Our bishop, the Rt. Rev. C. Andy Doyle, has told us that he will not give his consent. The actions of the diocese of Los Angeles fly in the face of the Windsor Report that calls for a moratorium on such actions, to which he is committed. I wrote the following response:

I am deeply saddened by this turn of events. I do not believe that the good people of Los Angeles are trying to stick it to us, they have been living with this question for a very long time and came to believe as they do many years ago. Nonetheless, I disagree profoundly with them. Not only does it fly in the face of recently reaffirmed teaching on sexuality and the urgings of the rest of the Anglican Communion, but it is another example of how as Americans we are usually arrogantly unconcerned with the rest of the world's issues. I wish our Episcopal church could rise above that, but obviously this part of it didn't.

On the one hand, it pains me deeply that our church is being such a pin-head about this. It leaves me wondering what the future holds, as I'm sure it does you. I am confident that our Bishops will not consent to this consecration, and I believe our Standing Committee will do the same. What the rest of the church does remains to be seen.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of talk about the option of the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA is theologically conservative, and so am I, but the approach that underlies the movement is profoundly troublesome to me. As soon as we define ourselves primarily theologically we sell out on the unity that Jesus prays for so ardently in John 17 (and we lose touch with one of the genius elements of Anglicanism that roots our unity in worship.) Some of the methodologies used by the ACNA compromise any claim to high moral ground on their part, as well. I cannot espouse that option either.

What will I do? I will continue with the Episcopal Church, and so will St. Christopher's. I do not agree with everything that the church is doing, though there is still much good. Our particular corner of the church is still safe and I do not see that changing in the near future. Besides, none of us fully comprehends the nature of the will of God. We are all seeking to understand what we will never fully plumb. Therefore I am cast back on my conviction that schism is a worse sin than heresy. It is virtually impossible to be schismatic without pride being the driving force behind it, whereas one can be humbly and sincerely wrong. The one is teachable, the other is not. The one is redeemable, the other cuts itself off from part of the community gathered around our Lord Jesus Christ, just because we do not like or agree with them.

I have a body that is 52 years old and is starting to show its age. There are things about my body that I do not like, and sometimes it rebels against what I ask it to do. But for that reason I do not chop off those offending parts, I love them and seek to live with the condition of my body as it is. Likewise, I have no intention of leaving the Episcopal Church. WE are the Episcopal church in Killeen, not the Diocese of Los Angeles. The statement we make in this place is what the Episcopal Church is saying here, not what the Diocese of Los Angeles is saying. They are speaking to their location in the terms that they believe are right. It still stands to be seen what the larger church thinks of it.

As for us, it is precisely at times like this that we need to pull together, focus on what God has given us to do here, do it well, with faith and love, and leave the larger battles to the ones who are fighting them.


If the only prayer you say in your life is "Thank you," that would suffice. --Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


This morning after a brief hearing in court I watched as a previous employee was fingerprinted by the sherriff and escorted off to jail. It largely brings to a close a nightmare we have been living quietly for almost two years. She confessed to having misappropriated fiduciary assets of St. Christopher's in the amount of over $81,000. She will be in prison for a total of six months, then she will be parolled for 10 years. During that time she must make no contact with the Church, pay restitution of all losses, and serve 350 days of community service. Initial payment was made to the church in the amount of $590.

Feelings are certainly mixed. On the one hand, there is relief that this is finally in the final stages. We do not really hope to get much money back, the woman has no real skills and now she has a record. Without authority to garnish wages there is no guarantee we will see much money. It's easy to sweep it under the rug and move on. But there is also the anger and sadness, the sense of betrayal and outrage that linger. This event helps, but in the end the resolution of those feelings has to do with what goes in inside us, not outside.

As Christians we talk about forgiveness. Is it forgiving to be glad when justice is served as it was today? The illustrious and martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer would disagree in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He says we should love our enemies and serve them as a brother or sister. He would have us have the conditions of her parole changed so that we could provide for her the opportunity for the community service hours. He might even say that, claiming a Christian faith like ours, we should never have taken her to law. But we didn't do that, and I feel no remorse for what we did.

No, forgiveness does not forget the past, but requires the best of us. Facing the reality of the past, we refuse to get caught up in the negative emotions of it, we refuse to let the wrong control us, and we decide very deliberately to take appropriate risks again. Risks of what? Reengagement in a way that respects the past and gives opportunity for redemption in the future. We cannot contact her, the law bars us from doing so. But we can simply move on, refusing to drag behind us the intolerable burden of resentment that is so temptingly at hand. In this case she must, with her God, seek reconciliation on the level she can, and to make restitution as is required. In this case we must put in place the controls we have and stick to them, be more realistic about human nature without getting cynical, and focus again on the mission and ministry God has granted us in this time and place.

I don't know what redemption will look like for this situation, but God does. Forgiveness is willing to wait for God to reveal it at the proper time.
This morning's news covered President Obama's pending announcement of 30,000 new troops for Afghanistan. He is expected to work hard to defend the decision to a country a bit war-weary. He has come to this decision through a long and involved process, what seems to me to be more deliberate than perhaps previous commanders-in-chief, but there will be those who immediately decry the decision.

Whether he is right or not to do so is an interesting question to ask. The fact is, we are in the middle of a conflict, we've punched the tar baby and there's no easy way out, that's all there is to it. An increase in troop-force in order to eventually let us leave could make sense. I'm not on the ground there to be able to say. On the other hand, the ultimate question of whether this war is even winnable is on the tongues of increasing numbers of Americans. I've had a number of soldiers in my office in the past three years or so, wondering about the moral defensibility of this war effort. It puts them in an awful spot. They have vowed to uphold the constitution and laws of the United States, and their commanders have put them in harm's way on our behalf. That's all stuff we know and hold dear. On the other hand, they have seen the devil in the details, and have begun to wonder.

It is an interesting dilemma. The concept of a holy war is something only a religious people can address. A religious nation wages holy war, believing that they are defending the truth about God and humanity. On the other hand, a religious nation is the only one who can also declare a war unholy and refuse to participate. Why is it that heaven and hell are both at hand when we talk about them? And why is it, as Barbara Brown Taylor said, we never behave more badly toward one another than when we feel like we have to defend God?

In our increasingly secular culture the question becomes, How does one establish moral authority without invoking divine backing? Claiming that certain rights and principles are unreducible and unailable only makes gods of those rights and principles, and usually reveal, on greater scrutiny that they serve the purposes of the people who hold them in some very utilitarian way. So much for moral authority. It all boils down to "might makes right," and "survival of the fittest." If that is the bottom line then the ultimate good is the integrity of my own skin, I make a god of my own, or my society's continued existence, and create God in my own image. The Kingdom of God has already come, because the world is already a place where goups of people beat up on each other in order to continue their way of life. So much for "no greater love has he than to lay down his life for his friend." (--Jesus.)

What's my answer? Nations wage war for a hundred reasons, almost none of which are the stated ones. Morality in war in that situation is something determined in the policies of each nation, which ultimately becomes one of "might makes right." It is unrealistic to expect the government of a nation to wage or not wage war on its moral defensibility, no matter what your criteria. The question is, can I as a religious person, or can we as a religious community engage in warfare defensibly? Like most theology, we will differ about this one until the coming of the Kingdom. Thank God it doesn't go to the heart of our salvation!

Monday, November 16, 2009

In this morning's news it was revealed that the Fort Hood shooter, Major Hasan, had discipled an 18-year-old boy. The young man is now spouting anti-US military slogans and claiming to be a radical Muslim. The radical imam with whom Hasan had contact has said that what he did is permissible under the teachings of Islam.

Whereas they are dangerous and must be addressed, the radical slogans of the teen can be understood as an alienated young man looking for identity. Of a more serious nature is the statement of the imam.

I have heard it said that Islam is a violent religion.

I have seen Christians on trial and unrepentant for murdering abortion doctors.

So whose religion is the violent one? To say one is more so reduces the discussion to a matter of degree only, and not nature.

So what is the nature of Islam? What is the nature of Christianity? Perhaps if you got 10 Christians in a room and asked them that question you would get 11 answers. Perhaps with Muslims you would, too. It wouldn't be surprising at all. After all, religous groups of the magnitude of Christians and Muslims comprise so many people that there are bound to be varying interpretations of the tenets of the faith, even radically varying interpretations.

I say the abortion doctor killers are radicalized Christians who have betrayed the true tenets of the faith, though there are Christians who will disagree with me. Many spokespersons for Islam have expressed outrage and betrayal over what Hasan did on November 5th at Fort Hood, and there are imams who disagree with them.

The enemy seems more to be radicalization than religion. Let's not get the two confused.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It came out in the news yesterday or the day before that Major Nidal Hasan's lawyer plans to cite Major Hasan's mental health as an issue in his violent outbreak a week ago today. One of the questions that has loomed in our heads since that fateful afternoon is, "How can a mental health professional, a psychiatrist, do something so insane?" Apparently his lawyer agrees that this is at issue.

One answer I heard was easy: "All mental health professionals are just crazies, anyway, crazy people trying to feel better about themselves. None of them are to be trusted."

On the other hand, having a therapist was so common in New York City in the 90's that it became a household joke. You had a lawyer, you had a doctor, and you had a therapist!

So what gives?

I read a book several years back about marriage by a marriage therapist and family counselor. Marriage is in its most basic form a form of insanity. You choose to live with someone who sees the world differently, responds to stimuli differently, is cast in society differently, smells and looks differently...who in their right mind would try to create the world's most intimate relationship with someone so strange? The answer this book gives is, I believe, quite insightful. His studies show that we tend to choose a marriage partner who is most like the parent with whom we had the most a hidden desire for redemption. Maybe we can do it better this time. Maybe with this person we can work out the kinks in the system and get along.

So yes, many mental health professionals go into the field in an attempt to find health themselves. Many people go into the helping professions in order to redeem their own need for help. Many people go into the ministry in order to learn how to pray.

Perhaps it's supposed to be that way. After all, we're driven by what most galvanizes our attention, and a kink in our soul is a primary candidate. Truth is, none of us is perfect, all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and the line between the two is often a very thin one. Perhaps redemption is possible after all, if we just face our fears and discover there our greatest gifts.

So is Major Hasan crazy? Sure he is, just like you and me. Does he deserve to be let off the hook for that? Absolutely not, just like you and me. Should he grow through this to become a more compassionate and wiser person? No question about it, just like you and me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Homily notes from Saturday Evening, November 7th, after the events of November 5th at Fort Hood:

(Please note, the homily was preached extemporaneously, and these are recollections recorded on Tuesday afterwards.)

Behind me stand 13 crosses and 13 candles, representing 13 people who lost their lives last Thursday at the hand of Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Those of you who were here in 1991 remember Luby’s, and the specter of the same experience looms over us all. It looms because it always hangs over this community. We are a community of warriors, and the prospect of sudden death is never far from us. Everyone knows what it means when the government van pulls up to a house and a chaplain steps out. No one wants it to be their house.

And doubly this time, because this kind of action is not supposed to happen here. It’s supposed to happen over there, far away, and our men and women in uniform are supposed to leave to fight these kinds of things, and here it is in our own back yard. We feel undone.

In tonight’s first reading from Ezra the people of God were undone. Ezra was the King of Persia’s cub-bearer, a Hebrew, who was called to take a remnant of the Hebrews in exile back to the promised land. When he got there the city of God, Jerusalem, and the Temple of God in Jerusalem, lay in ruins. We lay in ruins.

In the second lesson from Revelation of John, we read about an almost dreamlike horror, a city known for its immorality, undone in a day. We are undone.

In tonight’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew the disciples are rowing against the wind across the Sea of Galilee. We are rowing against the wind. The chaotic waters represented to them the chaos that lays always just below the surface of life, it’s the chaos that has broken out into our world today.

I read the Gospel lesson in English and Spanish, and of course in both Jesus comes walking across the waters of chaos and says, “Do not fear, it is I.” In the particular version of Spanish a little nugget is revealed that is hidden in English. In the Spanish it reads not “it is I,” but “I am.” (Not, “soy yo,” but, “yo soy.”) “I AM,” where have we heard that before? Moses, standing before the God of his fathers in the burning bush, running from Pharaoh and his past life, hears God appear and give him His name as “I AM.” When Jesus walks across the chaos of life into the boat and the hearts of the disciples He declares that “I AM” has shown up.

And that is our hope this day. In the midst of our chaos God has shown up. He has not abandoned us to the power of evil. He has not skipped out when we needed Him most. He walks with us through these dark days, giving us grace for the moments and peace in the midst of trouble. What is more, He gives us the grace to reach out to others who have not our hope and care for them.

Yes, this is Good Friday, but Sunday is coming. In that hope care for those around you, and let me care for you!


Monday, November 9, 2009

There is a dark side to womanhood!

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Leaving Church, talks about her incurable urge to nurture injured and suffering beings of all kinds. At one point she rescues a small bird, raises it and finally releases it. Somewhere along the lines she discovers it is a starling--an introduced pest that destroys crops and creates health hazards in cities. Nonetheless her maternal instincts drove her to make sure it got a good start in life. Talk about a woman's woman!

On the other hand, Elizabeth Lambert has been suspended from women's college soccer indefinitely for punching an opponent between the shoulder blades, throwing another one on her back by yanking hard on her ponytail, and kicking the ball in an opponent's head from only a couple of feet away, while she was lying on the ground. Though rough play is more expected from men, the commentator on Good Morning America said such violence is not uncommon in women's sports.

They say that Spaniards fight bulls and not cows because a bull will close its eyes when it charges and a cow will keep hers open. An angry cow is much more dangerous. A female bear will take on a male much larger than she to protect her cubs, and often win. When the female of the species attacks is not about pecking order, it's about survival.

And so men know that women don't know how to fight fair. They just don't. When they fight they fight to anihilate, not subdue. There's a dark side to womanhood!

So, guys, when your woman suddenly goes berzerk my advice is to clear out. Let the momma bear do her thing to protect her cubs, and when the dust settles and all is clear, when the maternal sweetness returns to her eyes, when she is repentant of the havoc she has caused, then come back, blow it all off, and make sure you don't do whatever it was you did!

How does this relate to the Christian faith? Christianity today is often a women's experience. Not many men are involved in mainline denominations except in the ordained orders. Partly it's economics, but partly it's because we often portray the faith as nurturing rather than challenging. But nurturing has a dark side, too, and Jesus wasn't always nurturing. The faith has the capacity to challenge the male of the species and nurture the female of the species--and forgive her when her momma bear rises up and tries to knock your block off!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We in the greater Fort Hood area were shocked by the news that emerged from the army instalation today. A military psychiatrist, Major Hasan, opened fire in a room crowded with soldiers processing deployments and other movements, killing 11 and wounding 31. Police gunned him down and we thought he was a 12th casualty, but a later report revealed that he survived and is in stable medical condition.


It made national headline news. One congressman promised that all the questions would be answered, but I'm not sure he can deliver. The media is making all kinds of hay about the fact that he is Muslim. One reporter had a telephone caller who said he shouted anti-American slogans as he shot, but this is unconfirmed. Was that so? If so, is this man afiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, a turncoat in our midst? If so, then how did he go this long undetected? If not, then what was his motive? That, I'm sure, is the biggest question, along with, "How do we prevent this in the future?" There are other questions, here are some of mine:

How could a mental health professional with years of experience do something so insane?

It seems probable that he never expected to survive this incident. Now that he has what does he think? What does he feel? What will he do? What will the Army do?

What about his family? Is his marriage over? One reporter said that his wife spent the afternoon in the Family Readiness Unit counselling family of the wounded. Does that reflect a rift in the marriage?

And then lurking behind the closed doors of all the minds of those who were here in October of 1991: Why does this feel ominously like Luby's?

Answers will be partial and long in coming, patience is hard to exercise. And there are no quick answers that help in a situation like this, tempting as they may seem. One must sit in the anxiety and let it percolate. After all, the ultimate question here is not what happened.

It is how will this form you? What will it contribute to who you are? By the power of the Holy Spirit you can use it to become more wise and compassionate, by yourself you could easily use it to become cinical and cold. The answer is not on the TV. It's within you. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This morning on TelevisiĆ³n there was a story about a singing group in California that broke up due to internal conflicts. The reporter interviewed one of the lead singers who had a lot of bad things to say about the other side of the issue. One question asked was, "If you met them on the street would you greet them?"

"No," came the quick reply. "God forgive me, but I cannot and will never trust them."

Aha! As one who sees himself as a bridge between peoples, the poignancy of this moment and a cultural teaching opportunity is too much to pass up.

What is greeting in the Latin context that it implies trust? Indeed, that is the case. "Saludar" is an extension of not just amiable and polite feelings, but of trust. A greeting is seen as an encounter between souls, not just bodies. For the average Anglo a greeting is a simple sanctioned white lie: "How are you?" "Fine." It is an aknowledgement that you happen to be taking up space close enough to me that I can't politely ignore you. Obviously a greeting is not a greeting is not a greeting. The Hebrew, "Shalom" is a prayer for wellbeing on every level. In the South East Islands a long and involved dance is required when two clans meet as a way of determining the relative strength and intentions of each group. "Greeting" can take up to an hour. Similar practices were common among the Shuar and Achuar, the head-shrinkers of eastern Ecuador and Peru.

So who is right? From the standpoint of a cultural anthropologist it is impossible to say who is "right." What is "right" is what is effective in each cultural setting. That stance works as long as people groups do not intermingle. In today's world that is hardly a workable scenario.

So who is "right?" Well, each of us works out the details in terms of the particular relationships with those of other cultures with whom we happen to be relating. We create a special deal between them and me, a third context which is negotiated between us.

What does that have to do with my Christian faith? Well, greetings are ways of initiating and maintaining relationships over time. God was the initiator in the relationship He seeks with humanity. He has "greeted" us in the wisdom of the prophets, and in the definitive way that He did so in His Son, come in the person of Jesus of Palestine of the first century.

The question is, how shall we return His greeting? Here the wisdom of every culture can probably inform our response, but to borrow from the two that are most common in my area of Texas try the following.

We normally learn to greet God like Anglos do, keeping a little distance. That's OK, God can handle that. In fact, sometimes He is that way with us--keeps a bit of distance, makes us look for Him. That distance creates an ebb and flow that is the lifeblood of every relationship. However, the Hispanic intimacy that infuses moments of interaction with great meaning is also an important way to "greet" God. He certainly does so for us. In the Incarnation He became one of us. In Baptism He adopts us. In the Eucharist He feeds us. Sometimes we find Him in the most meaningful and profound ways that it inspires us to paint, sing, dance, write, do something to somehow cram the depth of our experience into some sort of symbol by which we can try to grab hold of it, share it, and let it form us. Maybe we even do a greeting dance with God by which we assess just who we are in relation to Him. But always, in whatever way we choose, God's greeting of us has as its end our shalom--the deep and multidimensional well-being that is the life abundant that Jesus came to give us. May we bless one another in the same way!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Al Gore was on Good Morning America talking about his new book about the environment. At one point Robin Roberts asked him about an accusation that had been expressed, saying that Gore was one of the first Carbon Billionaires, that his tooting of the environmental horn had made him incredibly wealthy, and by implication, that was why he was so "green." His response was interesting. He said that he was not a billionaire, but that he had investments, and that he has always made it a point to invest in ways that were in keeping with his values and principles, which are pro-environmental stewardship. Most of us think about investing in terms of what will yield the greatest growth at the end of the year, and invest in funds that are so diversified that it would be impossible to judge them in terms of their earth-friendliness unless the fund itself had that kind of commitment.

This is also voting day. A lot of disgruntled Republicans are hoping this election will be a referendum on the Obama administration, and many Democrats are dismissive of such an interpretation. Politically it seems always expedient to attack the people in power if one is not in power, and to protect those in power if you are of that group. That seems to be the values and principles of our political system.

But voting is the key to our system, and voting as a Christian means setting aside our political agendas and our economic ones and, for all the love lost on Al Gore, doing as he purports to do. Vote your conscience--as informed by the Gospel. As a Christian our values do not necessarily lie along any one particular political platform, but integrity is of the issue. Vote your own principles and values, not what will yield the biggest bottom line or position you for power. If you can do that without voting a split ballot you might reconsider where you are getting your values from. Jesus is almost never that clearly aligned with the powers of earth.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This morning Good Morning America reported a story about Jennifer Strange of California who entered a water-drinking contest run by radio station 107.9 "The End." She drank almost two gallons of water over a three hour period and died in her home several hours later of water intoxification. The jury ruled in favor of the family of Jennifer and awarded over $16 million in punitive and other damages. The jury agreed with the plaintiff that Jennifer bore no responsibility since she followed the directions of te contest, in spite of the warnings of callers-in and her own discomfort. The radio station was found to be totally responsible and negligent at not exercising proper concern for the wellbeing of their guests, and because they had not followed company policy to send the idea of the contest by their legal department.

I, too, find the radio station negligent. The disc jockey is reported at having said, "Your body is 98% water, you should be able to drink all the water you want." This is clearly not supported medically, and whereas we are, indeed encouraged to drink more water than we normally do, there is such a thing as too much. Several years ago a soldier died at Fort Benning, Georgia after a hot summer day's exercises. The problem was overconsumption of water. The effect of too much water is he opposite of too little--it dilutes the body's electrolytes rather than concentrates them--but the effect on the body is the same. It can kill.

However, and I meanno disrespect for a family in mourning, but Jennifer was a big girl who could make her own decisions. She joined the contest of her own free will. In the context of the contest she abdicated her own responsibility to listen to her own body and her own reason and to call it when it crossed the line. She placed trust in other fallible human beings rather than retain it where it needed to have been. In theological terms she did not act in total freedom.

In theological terms one has to define what true freedom is. We, as created, dependent beings, are ultimately free only to make one choice--to choose our master. We do not have it within ourselves to find ultimate meaning only within ourselves. We always choose something external to ourselves for which to live. The soldier who sacrifices his own life to save those of his battle buddies is called a hero, and rightly so. He has submitted his own good to the higher good of a greater cause of his own free will. He chose his master: the survival of his friends. The mother who foregoes new clothes each fall in order to afford clothes for her children is acting freely. She chooses her master: the good of her children. The CEO who works 80 hours a week and takes no vacations and earns an obscene salary with over-the-top benefits has acted freely. He has chosen his master: the almighty dollar.

Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The key is choosing the right master. A couple verses further down from the above one (John 8) Jesus says, "if the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed." Some masters are slave-drivers who leave you exhausted and abused. Only one Master is the real Master, and that is your Creator. Choosing this master sets you in the center of the truth, and allows you to take control and make clear and honest decisions. It distances you from the pressures of the context in which you are in so that you can see the truth for what it is and are not taken in by the environment. The great healer, Jesus, would never have us choose that which destroys our own selves. He would require of us the responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we can serve others in His name. Obviously this was not a choice Jennifer made.

So rather than dish out millions for punitive damages and emotional suffering for a woman who did not take basic personal responsibility, the court blamed and charged money. The court blew it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Senator Reid has proposed a new iteration of what is fast becoming an old and divisive issue. Like most divisive issues, the need for action is pressing, but concensus on the path forward is lost in the morass of conflicting interests and agendas. Healthcare Reform that effectively drives down the cost of health care is everybody's goal, but the major stumbling block on any agreement as to the path is, of course, the idea of the public option.

I think Republicans are right in saying that "public option" is in the final analysis a euphemism for government-run health insurance. The fact that a euphemism is felt necessary stems, of course, from the opportunity of Republicans, for whom a party platform board has always been "less government," the opportunity to accuse the other side of the aisle of increasing the size, and therefore, cost, of government. Democrats, on the other hand, are rightly questioning what other entity can adequately call the health insurance industry to accountability but the government, and that perhaps this is, indeed, the government's job.

I guess I'm a pessimist when it comes to this. I don't think the health insurance industry has the capacity to police itself any better than any other successful industry without some sort of external pressure, but neither do I think that the government has ever been very good at running anything. It's job is to make laws, enforce them and enact them, which lacks the intrinsic economic reasons to be efficient that the private sector has.

So what is the solution? I don't know, but it reminds me of a story I heard in a sermon today. A student asked a rabbi why the words of Torah are to be put on the heart rather than in the heart. The wise rabbi responded that we place the words of Torah on top of the heart so that when the heart breaks they fall in. Perhaps we will not find a solution until something breaks. Tragic, I know, and many of us (including me) believe the system is already broken, but apparently it has not yet broken badly enough. I would like to hope that our lawmakers could come up with a workable solution, but my wiser side thinks it will take pressure from some other source to balance out our health-care system. I hope I'm wrong....

The reason I think I'm not wrong is that none of us really "get" redemption until we are broken by forces undeniably bigger than ourselves. God's grace is made perfect in weakness. I still like Leonard Cohen's quatrain, "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm not normally into spook flicks, but last night I watched a delightful piece of fiction on Animal Planet (yes, they do show fiction sometimes) suggesting that werewolves, hounded too closely in Europe, found their way to the New World and set up housekeeping in quiet neighborhoods of the North East, following their gruesome lifestyle hidden in plain sight. It followed the story of a lone wolf in his attempts to take over a pack, quite interesting, really. As Halloween approaches spook flicks are already filling the airways. Apparently we just like to get scared sometimes.

But why do we watch these monster shows? Because we know that deep inside the human psyche is the potential monster. This morning's news told of the efforts the authorities are making to locate and apprehend Somer Thompson's killer. John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" suggested the perpetrator was a calculating and intelligent predator, perhaps one who has come out of retirement after years of quiet and honorable living, or even a wanderer, like the "lone wolf" of the Animal Planet series. Indeed we have monsters in our midst who give expression to the darker, crueler side of human existence, and noble people must stand in their way to protect the innocent.

But we all have monsters in our closets, too, those things that scare us inwardly, our past, our future, our present state, whatever it is. Noble thoughts and actions need to stand against these impulses to protect the innocent side of ourselves.

There is a twist, though. By the time I finished watching the show last night I liked the werewolves. They were in a sense, wolves in human clothing, living out their pack mentality in a human context. The lone wolf's gruesome killings were natural and understandable in the light of his real identity. Perhaps that, too, reflects something within. Whereas I would never advocate that the serial child killer be "understood and liked for who he or she is," within ourselves we must beware of dualism that suggests that the evil within us is merely the counterpart of the good. Evil is always good corrupted. The werewolf was described as the result of a mutant strain of rabies that infected a human after a wolf-bite in the early middle ages. These "wolf people" were actually very sick people, corrupted from what they were intended to be. Likewise, the monsters in your closet are something good corrupted. In your fight with the evil within you do not neglect the good at its heart--it often proves to be your greatest genius.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I've never been very atuned to social niceties, I've just never been very good at them and covered with pious statements about not being concerned with what others thought of me. But when a recent Northwest Airline flight to Minneapolis overshot the city by 15o miles one of the passengers reported that the pilots said the reason was because they were "bickering about Northwest Airlines company policies," and they would be landing shortly.

Now even I know that the word "bickering" indicates a serious case of foot-in-mouth desease. "Distracted" would probably not have been much better. It seems the company spokesperson probably put the best possible spin on it and called it a "heated discussion." Jay Leno thinks they fell asleep. I know polititians who would have called it "searching for better ways to serve you."

So, when is it OK to "spin" the truth? And how far "spun" becomes a flat-out lie? Casuistry has never been my strong suit but I would argue that if your motivation is to save your own skin you may very well err on the deceptive side. If your motivation is to ease another's pain you will probably be better guided, even if it begins with a frank admission to the truth. After all, Jesus did a lot to ease others' pain in this life, and in the end gave His life to ease our eternal pain. That seems to be the more Godlike thing to do. So in the long run, maybe "bickering" wasn't the most politic thing to say, but coupled with a sincere apology, could have been the best.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Near Indianapolis a desperate young man jumped the barrier in a check-cashing store and demanded money at gunpoint from the terrified attendant. In her fear she instinctively began to pray, and as she prayed she began to talk to the young man, and tell him he ought to pray and not throw his life away like this. Over a period of time the man calmed down, and the two (get this!) spent about 30 minutes in prayer and discussion together. In the end the man handed the woman the only bullet in the gun, took $20, and left. He said he needed it to feed his 2-year-old. On the security cameras you see the two, assailant and victim, embrace before he leaves.

George Stephanopoulos reported the story on Good Morning America this morning and called it "grace."

Grace indeed, and whereas perhaps the majority of instances like this end up very differently, the fact that in this case gentleness and faith won out over cruelty and violence shows that grace indeed has the potential of yielding a powerfully transforming experience, something that the standard path of this world cannot muster.

So what are we going to bank on? Choosing the standard path is to put grace up for a vote that fails to entertain eternity. Choosing grace, even though most of the time we'll get hurt is to vote for heaven, and vote for the great reversal at the resolution of all things where finally the last shall be first and the first last.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

President Hamid Karzai has chosen to do something truly historical for Afghanistan. He has agreed to a run-off election between himself and his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah . This is historic because for the last 20 or more years the country has been the battleground between one strong-man against another.

When you are a strong-man any sign of weakness can spell the end of your career, and most likely your life. This could be interpreted as a sign of weakness--to acceed to the requests of the decadent and sinful West. I'm sure he will catch flack for it.

I know that concerns for the sense of legitimacy are part of his consideration, but on the other hand, weakness as a way toward reconciliation and unity is not something native to the strong-man mentality. Perhaps he is blazing new trails for this war-torn country.

Muslim though he is, however, his is also showing us something of Christ. Christ's way forward is by weakness. The greatest of all is the servant of all. Greater love has no man...Only in dying lies the potential of resurrection.

I would sure like to see him win again!
Catalino Tapia is a Mexican fellow who came to California early in life. When he got here he had $6 in his pocket that he called "capital." He got work as a gardener with a lawn-care company. After some years he went on his own. He got married, had a family, and worked to put his kids through school. His crowning moment was when his son graduated from UC Berkley school of law.

It inspired him to gather some of his friends who also had kids in college and do something about the economic difficulties that Hispanic students often face. He set up the Bay Area Gardener's Foundation ( and sought donations. The foundation grew, and last year awarded 21 scholarships of between $1500 and $2500. You do the math.

Why is this story inspiring? Yes, this man has realized the American Dream, but more than that. When ABC interviewed him they showed him in his own back yard--it was not as nice as mine. This man works for kids, not for himself.

Jesus worked for us, not for Himself. In fact, He gave Himself for us. He brought us abundant life, like Catarino does for his scholarship recipients. He gives us hope in the darkness like Catalino does for the poor of th Bay area. This story is inspiring because Catalino gives us a glimpse into the heart of God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This morning at Rotary I met a fine young Iraqi man who is living here seeking to help the U.S. Military correctly identify its targets in Iraq. I thanked him and welcomed him. We need more like him.

I can understand why there are Iraqis who do not want us to be in their country. Since the invasion the U.S. has lost 4349 service men and women according to If you add the rest of the coalition forces it brings the total up to 4667. Add to that the 2993 who died in the attacks on 9/11/01 and you have a total of 7660. A recent report in the Killeen Daily Herald released the figure of 85,694 Iraqis who have died betwen January of 2004 and October of 2008. That does not include those who died in the initial invasion, because there was no functioning Iraqi government to keep records. It does not count the ones who have perished since Halloween last year. Comparing the two figures, our own losses counted to the max compared to this figure which is clearly limited you still have to admit that for every American loss more than 11 Iraqis have perished. We have lost just under 1% of what they have. For us to suffer equally would mean having 900,000 people die, someone from virtually every family in the country.

I can understand why some Iraqis don't want us in their country. Some, undoubtedly, do not want us to interfere with their extremist agendas, but I would guess that is an infintessimally small number. Some so strongly believe in their own sovreignty that, intending no harm at all to us, they still just want to be able to play house by their own rules. I would suspect that most resistance to our presence would fall into that favorite of sinful human exercises of blaming whoever is closest or most obvious for what hurts. The Americans come, masses of people die, it must be their fault.

On that one none of us can claim the higher ground. The headline article in the same issue of the KDH talked about a young man who has been indicted for first degree murder. The details of the case are not public knowledge yet, but I would bet a whole hill of beans on it going something like this: Someone wants something, someone else stands in the way of getting it. Instead of being content without it someone gets violent in order to get it. Life hurts and we don't want it to, so we find someone to blame.

Remember when it used to happen at home? Usually my mother could see through the situation immediately. We always got whatever was coming to us for what we did wrong, but there was always more. She would hold us and let us cry it out. In the end we felt kinda foolish for what we'd done, safe to be that way in the loving care of our mother.

Perhaps what we need along with all the military stuff is a place to "cry it out." Perhaps that place is already available to us...go find your clergy and say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done. In the Bible it's called metanoia, otherwise known as repentance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In almost nine years living in the back yard of Fort Hood, Texas, it has become apparent to me that the business of war is not family friendly. It just isn't, has never been and won't ever be. It serves families by protecting them, but those engaged in the business of war have always struggled to actually have one. The higher up on the ladder you are the easier it is, but if you're one of the "grunts" it's a hard row to hoe.

According to the Killeen Daily Heald, General Cone, current III Corps Commander, is continuing an initiative put in place by his predecessor, General Lynch, called "Family First." It requires that soldiers be home by 6 p.m. on workdays except Thursday when they get off at 3, and no work on weekends. The tension in households around the greater Fort Hood area is tangibly lower with moms and dads home with families...until they deploy. Then the old sense of abandonment sets in again, the haunting feeling among spouses that they live with a partner who has a sanctioned mistress about which they can do very little.

In the article, however, General Cone referenced something very important. I quote the article in today's edition of the paper: "...holistic care of [families] and their soldiers is 'exactly what needs to be done.'" Holistic care will eventually filter up to the philosophy of military action in the life of a nation. How do you take care of people you are training to put their lives on the line for us? We can and ought to do whatever we can to help our soldiers be fit mentally, physically, morally and spiritually, (and I applaud the Family First concept on these grounds) because they tend to come home healthier than when they are distracted, sick and feeling beaten down. But there is ultimately a limit on what care the army is willing to take of families and still do its work as the military, Family First program notwithstanding. Perhaps the most significant initiative is one to decentralize authority. It sounds counter-intuitive for the military to decentralize authority, but soldiers who can make responsible and meaningful decisions at their levels, and who then have the authority to carry those decisions out are, according to numerous studies of effectiveness in the workplace, happier and more motivated to do well than those whose jobs are seen as arbitrary and meaningless. Ironically, according to General Cone (and my own observations from soldiers who have returned) soldiers tend to be given more discretionary authority in theater than at home. He is pushing to change that.

Obviously, Family First is not without its limits, and rightly so. No one should protect our soldiers from every danger or they would not be soldiers. Likewise, the Holy Spirit does not protect us from all temptation, or we would not be believers. Calculated risk is an inherent part of making responsible and meaningful decisions. Developing our moral and intellectual strength to be able to make those decisions well is not only part of psychological development, but spiritual development as well. God made us in God's own image and likeness, and when we use the gifts that God has given us and the mental capacity God has instilled in us to make honest, meaningful and responsible decisions that work for peace and the good of our neighbors then we have been, in a very small way, a little bit like God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the 16th century a Carmelite monk died in relative dishonor shortly after getting out of a monastic prison (yes, there were such things.) He was 49 years old. After his death the popularity of his strikingly profound poetry drew a large following, and most of his body was removed to Segovia where it joined a collection of relics including a sliver from the cross and a charred twig from Moses' burning bush.

Strange as it sounds to our ears, the practice of venerating relics had a logic behind it. The saints from whom these artifacts trace their history were believed to have built up a surplus of merit with God, and those who in true faith venerated the relics could tap into that great storehouse of holiness to help cover some of their own lack.

This Sunday Leslie Hindman Auctioneers of Chicago will sell a bunch of hair purported to have been clipped from the head of Elvis Presley during his time in the military went to auction, along with a host of other elvis paraphenalia. They came from the collection of Elvis' friend and Gary Pepper, who died without heir and left it to his nurse.

The bids will tell whether we do not still believe in relics!
15 years in jail and Richard Miles is out of jail--on the recommendation of the judge that the convicted man's trail was flawed. It leaves me with tremendously conflicting feelings.

On one hand, I am so grateful for the work of groups like Centurion Ministries who watchdog the courts try to free the wrongfully convicted, and for judges humble enough to look back and say out loud that there might have been a mistake.

I'm also horrified at the flawed justice system we have. In the case of Mr. Miles if he is eventually declared innocent the State will reward him hansomely for the time lost, he will be a wealthy man, but at what cost? We put a lot of stake in our justice system, and the legislative and executive controls on it are not commensurate to the control the justice system has on the other two branches of government. But in our flawed and sinful state nothing is perfect.

And perhaps that is precisely the issue. Nothing is perfect. Everything, even my own heart, is a mixture of good and evil. On the one hand, our system makes mistakes, but on the other hand, I would much rather stand before our justice system than the vast majority of other systems on our planet. We do the best we can do, we try to be humble and admit and correct our mistakes, and we ask forgiveness for those things of which we are unaware.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Today is October 12th. In most of Latin America this is "Dia de la Raza," "Day of the Race." It celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus on the shores of a Caribean island and the great encounter of Western European culture with its economy, technology and deseases with two great American cultures with their economies, technology and deseases--first the Aztec of central Mexico and later the Inca in western South America. The encounter was characterized by warfare, looting, romanticism, intermarriage and eventually, the emergence of a race of people who are mixed in blood and culture. That mixture is refered to as "mestizo," or "mixture." People who identify themselves as mestizo comprise the vast majority of people in Latin America. Their first language is usually Spanish or Portuguese. They do not associate with the circles of power or with the indigenous populations, though they may very well speak their languages. They are in the middle of society, culture and race, they are mestizo. Christopher Columbus' arrival, with all the negative consequences, is nonetheless heralded as the seminal moment for the beginning of a people. This is their creation story. October 12 is celebrated universally as a day of great significance.

In the world dominated by those areas conquered by England and Germany, however, the sentiment is very different. The coming of the English and German happened later, and in many ways, in spite of Columbus, as if to capitalize on something belonging to another European Crown without having to pay dues. The English and German took very few local wives, but rather brought their women with them. Through warfare or deseases they replaced rather than mixed with the local peoples. The day is named for the man, not the result of his coming. The focus is on history of the day, not the history since that day. This is not a creation story, it is a stone in the creek across which a people stepped. Many people treated today as a normal work day, even schools and universities met in normal sessions.

An article in today's Killeen Daily Herald indicated that some schools were remembering Columbus and the events of his life. Characteristic of many school classrooms, an "accurate" rereading of history is sought that seeks to debunk the hero status of the man. The ill effects of his coming are discussed as well as the positive. His human errors are highlighted. One school classroom put him on trial, found him guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to life in prison. Obviously, these are Anglo-centric schools.

So who is right? Both and neither. Latin America is only now beginning to rethink its stance toward minorities, and it is calling into question the idealized view of the explorer that has held him in so high esteem for more than 500 years. It is long overdue. But on the other hand, their recognition of his coming as the seed of their race is rightly celebrated. Anglo-Americans are perhaps more objective in their reading of history, but must mitigate against use of this to hide a latent anti-Hispanic sentiment. They cannot disparage mestizos because Columbus wasn't always a saint. After all, most Anglo-Americans, if they took a careful look at their own histories, would find they, too, are mestizo, a melting-pot of races and cultures from many places, and most Hispanics, if they took a hard look at their own histories, would recognize their own indiscriminate elimination of minorities.

In the final analysis, it is only as we listen to one another openly and honestly, without giving up our own identity, that we can learn and grow into a community that honors diversity and celebrates unity. Perhaps that is even Godlike--the Christian God anyway, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one unified Godhead.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pentecost 19, Proper 23 October 11, 2009
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church Rev. Paul Moore

Radical Discipleship

I recently read a book by an 18th century theologian named William Law. When I first got into the book my response was, "This man is a Puritan in Anglican clothing!" He argues for strict adherence to daily prayers at dawn, at 9, at noon, at 3, at nightfall, and just before going to bed. He only lacks one for the 7 monastic hours. And he gives you a theme for each time, arguing the suitability of it for that time of day. He recommends chanting the psalm, because of what it does to your soul. He's very persuasive.

He argues for the godly use of money: Anything over what it takes to live a decent life should be dedicated to caring for the poor. It is God's requirement that we use our resources to care for the needy, for in doing so we care for Him. He argues for the godly use of leisure: Dances, parties and the playhouse are all wastes of our time, they distract the soul, and put into our heads ideas and values that are not godly. The last chapter is, perhaps, the most commanding. He takes on the argument that religion is for the weak of constitution and intelligence. He argues that if you had a benefactor that supplied what you needed, would you not take care to cultivate your relationship with that person? If you had someone who cared for your physical wellbeing, would you not hold that person in high regard? If you had a prince who demanded good from his subjects, would you not obey? How, then, do we not hold our relationship with God, who is our ultimate benefactor, care-giver and King, the highest level of importance in our lives? The name of the book: A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

Jesus is constantly making a serious case for a devout and holy life. A young man comes up to Him just as He is about to leave on a trip. Apparently it didn’t seem like that much of an interruption, all he wanted was a quick and easy answer. We do that to things of secondary importance in our lives. The man asks Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” Quick and easy answer there—we all know the answer to that one, right? "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" Paul says it in Romans 10:13, giving voice to Psalms 38 and 116. But Jesus doesn't give him that answer, because he knows it. What the young man doesn’t understand is that knowledge and action must be connected or it's not really knowledge. In other words, Jesus is setting the pattern picked up by William Law.

So Jesus sets the trap: “Why do you call me ‘good?’ (as if to quickly and easily ascribe to Me something you don't understand?) What do the commandments say?” But the man gets defensive: “I've done all these things since my youth.” The man is obviously either lying through his teeth or he's in serious denial. Jesus gives him the simple answer which is also the hardest one. Go, rid yourself of the one idol that rules in God's place in your heart. Sell your rather substantial estate and give it to the poor, and let Me reign in your heart instead. One of the saddest lines in the Bible follows: The man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The disciples are astounded. In a world where possessions were an indication of God's favor and poverty was evidence of God's curse, to choose poverty as the path toward godliness ran against everything they thought about God's favor. But God is not money, and the lack of money is not the lack of God. The one who is serious about a spiritual walk will always seek to debunk the idol that so quickly steals onto the throne of one's heart. No wonder many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

The serious call to a devout and holy life is the call to the stewardship of one's soul. It recognizes that one cannot separate the outer actions that express our stewardship of life and the effect those actions have on our inner life. In fact, that inner life is the source and foundation of our outer life. If the inner life is not right nothing on the outside will be right. Good works will be done in pride, not faith, they will help the one helped, but not the one who helps. Gifts to the Church will be done selfishly, rather than generously. The church will benefit, but not the giver. Learning will be done in order to lord it over others. The truth will be known, but it will be of no avail. Prayer will be made as an attempt to get God to do what one wants. The time with God will only mitigate against the substance of the prayers made.

Being a steward of one’s soul is to be on a conscious process of integration of the Gospel into one's innermost being. It requires the discipline of awareness, of becoming aware of what one is really doing, and then digging down to the real reason why.

Here are some guiding questions that can help you probe each aspect of your inner life. Consider that you can divide your life into these three categories: Your time, your possessions, and your relationships. About each of these ask yourself these three questions:

1. Why do I spend my _______ as I do?
2. What does that tell me about what is really important to me?
3. How does that square with the demands of Christ?

Stewardship of the soul is not just about prayer, it is about the whole of life, for just as Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34.) So also, out of the abundance of the heart the soul prays, serves and worships. Perhaps William Law has something to say to our day, too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Someone suggested I post my sermon summaries here. Herewith the first one:

Pentecost 18, Proper 22 October 4, 2009
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church Rev. Paul Moore

God and our Pets

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi and a wolf near the village of Gubbio. The wolf began taking the villager's sheep, and then developed a taste for villagers as well. The wolf became so fierce that no defense was possible, for whoever went out against the wolf was sure to be devoured, so the people stayed in the village for fear of the wolf. Then along came St. Francis, who, when he learned of the situation, went out to meet the wolf. The villagers were terrified that this would be the saint's last day on earth, but when St. Francis met the wolf it bowed its head to him and approached him humbly. St. Francis spoke to the wolf, explaining how his behavior was not right. The wolf made signs to indicate that he was contrite and would not harm the villagers. Then the saint took the wolf into the village, he intervened between the villagers and the wolf. A peace pact was created. For two more years the wolf lived in the village, going from door to door, where villagers would feed it. In the end, when the wolf died, the village mourned the passing of a friend.

A bit fanciful, perhaps, but down deep inside there is something in us that wants it, on some level at least, to be true. And that is not wrong--in fact, in light of today's Scripture lessons, it is very, very right. Jesus is always asking us to go deep, to look beneath the surface to discover the eternal truths.

In the Old Testament lesson today we hear about the creation of woman. You know the story: God declares the human condition to be not right when one is alone. We are created for community, the same radical community which is the Trinity, in fact. So for Adam to be alone is not a good thing. Relationship is sought with all the animals, Adam names each of them—naming is a symbol of seeking relationship—but none is found. When Adam is most vulnerable, sound asleep, God takes a rib from his side—from under his arm, close to his heart, and makes community that has the potential of reflecting that community that is the Trinity. Looking deeply we discover the meaning in the story.

The same thing applies to the Gospel lesson: Jesus teaches that marriage is not merely an economic and political contract that can be dropped when inconvenient, it was intended to create a relationship that could approximate the community of the Trinity, its intention was to display something of what God is like in the social structure of humanity. To break that link, then, has rather significant consequences. The Church has taken a softer stance on this issue than the writer of Mark. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she has sought to look deeply, and to create a policy that is faithful to the spirit of Christ in today's world, though it may differ from the reality of first century Palestine.

Jesus turns, then, to children. Once again He asks us to look deeply. Children are not merely the product of the union of a man and a woman. That is how we get them, but that is not what they are. They are icons of the Kingdom, their simplicity and openness teach us closed and complicated adults about Heaven. They are not only precious because of their promise for tomorrow, they are essential to us adults now.

I do not mean to imply that we should read the stories of Jesus like we read the stories of St. Francis, but there is a similarity in that both seek, in their own way, to look beneath the surface of things. Jesus teaches us to look into its depths. Here is where you discover the truth of God.

In the same way, when we look deeply at the created order we see that the fear that often exists between wild animals and humanity is not as it should be. We rightly intuit that this distance, this cosmic estrangement, is part of the fall and the curse, and when the best of us, the saints, overcome it, we rejoice. We want to believe that holiness of person heals the brokenness of the world, even that of the created order. Indeed, there has always been an uncanny connection between the saints and the animals.

St Seraphim of Sarov made friends with a bear and several other animals, as did St Columbanus in Gaul. Similar stories are told of the monastic holy men who evangelized Ethiopia, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Lappland, Georgia, Armenia and Siberia.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony one day while passing through a wood, called a weasel from its lair in order to admire its beauty. The fierce little beast at once trotted out and allowed the saint to caress it, and then retired with his blessing.

St. Roch healed animals as well as people with the healing power in his hands.

St. Martin of Porres, in Lima, Peru, fed the rats and mice in the garden daily and forbade them from entering the house, which they obeyed.

And we find it in our own lives as well. My son, Landon, since he was a small child, has had a way with animals that has often astounded us. Every human population since the beginning of our race has delighted in having pets. If we cannot overcome the estrangement by the sheer force of our holiness, perhaps we can overcome a bit of it by the force of our cleverness, a way, perhaps, for the common Christian to be in relationship with the created order, to name them into relationship like Adam, and to show forth the truth that in the end ALL enmity in the created order will be overcome. So, "Fluffy" the cat is more than just a cat who claws the furniture and howls at night.
She is a sign of the nature of God, and the coming of the Kingdom.

This afternoon we will bring our critters to church. We will hold a little liturgy of blessing out in the grassy place to the east of the parking lot. We will offer thanks to God for the blessing of our pets, and we will recommit ourselves to the stewardship of their lives. We will reaffirm the truth that our relationships with our pets and indeed the whole created order reflect the nature of God, and contribute to the coming of the Kingdom.
OK, so a millenium has gone by since I last posted. Oh, I thought about my blog in the mean time, but like a homework assignment I didn't want to get to, I kept telling myself I didn't have anything to post. But the obvious debunking of that is how busy I have been!

Falconry season has started, and I've got my hawks back into the air. They're not quite as fit as they were at the end of last season, of course, but every day I take them out they get stronger. My friend and one time apprentice in Laredo, Manuel Gonzalez, lent me a long-haired hunting dachsund pup to see if I can get my female, Pellrod, to accept as a hunting partner. At first I was very apprehensive, especially when I watched her around the dog. The pup at 6 months weighs about 7 pounds, so there's just not a lot of canine there. He's dark brown with black accents, a really cute dog, but the last dark-colored small dog I had she so intimidated that I finally gave her away to a friend who flies a bird that isn't so neurotic about small dark-colored dogs. She's turned into a find rabbit dog.

Well, this year the old bird has finally grown up. She hit the dog twice, and bound to him neither time, but just swatted him with her formidable foot to let him know his station in life. Since then she has virtually ignored him, and we've been out on about 4 hunts. So now I'm optimistic, and staring at a rather substantial bill with Manuel--oh, well, he said I could pay over time.

Bhut isn't that about like life? When we're young and foolish we take on the world, thrown into fights we feel strongly about without looking beyond to the longer-term consequences. As we mature we tend to become more acutely aware of the limits of our capacities, and then we learn to pick our battles. Richard Rohr, teacher and author, says he never learned anything from his successes after turning 40. His greatest teachers later in life have been his failures...

I guess I didn't fail at this dog-bird thing yet, but then again, it took a failure to get me to do it right!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jefferts Schori and individual salvation

In her opening address to our General Convention this year our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, took the American church to task for teaching the "heresy" if individual salvation. It raises questions about her theology of salvation. Does she mean to say that one does not have to have a personal relationship with God in order to be saved? What about all the verses in the Gospel of John that make an individual response to grace essential to salvation? Is she just wiring around that Gospel?

The definition of a heretic is not one who believes entirely differently from oneself. A heretic is one who teaches part of the orthodox truth of a religion and part that is not, claiming to be of the faith, yet not really being so. Equally, every heresy is half a truth that hides half a lie. Perhaps this is the issue our Presiding Bishop is addressing. If so, then I agree with her wholeheartedly.

The half a truth is that a personal response to grace is essential. The half a lie is that this is ALL that is necessary. We in our individualistic culture are quick to emphasize the individual response, but slow to recognize the need for community. How many people do you know who claim to have faith in the Christian God, but are unwilling to be part of a Christian community of faith?

Let me illustrate my line of thought. On August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto to the status of "dwarf planet," along with 43 other such bodies known to science. Officially our solar system no longer has nine planets, but eight. That was not the decision of one scientist, but on a multi-year program to establish a usable definition of what constitutes a planet. When the definition passed Pluto no longer qualified. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C. says of this new definition, "I think this will stand the test of time." But you see that the decision was made by an officially recognized community of specialists in the area, not by the whims of one person. Science seems to know what religion has forgotten in our country, that we know what we know about God in community.

In a delightful children's poem about six blind men who go to see the elephant, each one is described as categorizing the whole animal in terms of only the part that they happen to experience. They fall to arguing with one another about the elephant, when each is partly right and all are wrong. The allusion is made to theology, where the God we seek to describe is beyond the comprehension of every one of us, yet known in relationship by all of us. As we humbly share our walks with God we expand our collective knowledge of Him. Individual response to grace is essential for this, but so is community. What is more, the person who exercises their faith only on the individual level finds himself locked in the prison of his own subjectivity, with no correction for errors. In the same Gospel of John that speaks so frequently about individual response to grace, Jesus talks clearly about flocks, not individual sheep. The lone sheep is wolf-bait. The lone theologian will sooner or later become the heretic. To imagine that we can go it alone is to fall into the heresy of our age. If this is what she meant then I agree with the Presiding Bishop.

GeneralConvention, Resolution DO25

General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed Resolution DO25, which describes our church as one for whom the doors to the path to ordination are open to all. It is seen by many as a repeal of BO33, an 11th hour resolution of the last General Convention that called upon the church to exercise restraint in ordaining people whose manner of life would be a hindrance to the wider church. BO33 was passed to comply with the Windsor Report's call for a moratorium on ordination of non-celibate homosexual people, and DO25 affirms that indeed we are ordaining partnered homosexual people. Those who wish our church would open its doors to partnered homosexual people in ordained ministry see it as a victory, those who oppose it generally see it as a defeat.

Our bishop, Andy Doyle, voted against the resolution, and if I had been there I would have as well. Both he and our whole delegation from the Diocese of Texas see the resolution as descriptive rather than prescriptive (see his blog at such that it requires no changes in our policy in the Diocese of Texas. Personally, I can't see the use of a descriptive resolution. Besides, my position on human sexuality agrees with the resolutions of Lambeth 1998, that reaffirm that human sexuality is only approved of in the church in the context of monogomous heterosexual marriage. But I say this in full awareness that others believe differently whose hearts are just as sincere and whose minds are just as informed. I also know that, just as the position of those who disagree stirs pain in me, my position stirs pain in them. It goes without saying that this is the big divisive point in the church, not just the Episcopal church, but all Mainline denominations.

Many are quoting Jesus' commands to unity in John 17. Many people are naming the side of the divide to which they do not ascribe as the one to blame for our divisions, which is, frankly, quite silly. Everyone knows, after all, that there would be no divisions if everyone agreed with me! It does no good to claim that Jesus agrees with me. Everyone claims that. In the long run, what one person believes is the teaching of Jesus is nothing more than what that person believes is the teaching of Jesus. Each person is locked in the prison of their own subjectivity until they enter into dialog with others. The issue is how wide a community to enter dialog with, and there's the rub. The upshot? When church unity is conceived of primarily in theological terms Jesus' idea of unity seems discouragingly elusive.

Many years ago I was read a poem about the centipede. Someone by chance asked the bug how he kept all his legs in order, how he didn't trip up. The question reduced the poor little animal to immobility, "lying in the gutter, wondering how to run!" Perhaps the unity Jesus commands is not something you achieve by trying to create it, but something you discover when you obey His other commands. Like someone learning how to drive cannot stay in the middle of the road by looking at the sides, but rather straight ahead, maybe Jesus' idea of unity is something we find we have when we capitalize on those myriad things we have in common and focus on what He gave us to do,which is to share His love with the world. In the final analysis, if we stand shoulder-to-shoulder serving food at a soup kitchen, or handing out medicines to the sick of Honduras, or pounding nails into a Habitat for Humanity house, our theological differences will be of precious little import.

So I say, let's stop worrying about unity or division. Let's stop talking about it. We've talked it to death and it's got us nowhere. Let's focus instead on showing God's love to one another rather than being shown it, on serving Christ in the world rather than being served, and on learning and sharing rather than teaching and knowing.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two icons of past popular culture have gone to their eternal rewards.

Farrah Fawcett lost her battle with cancer at the age of 62. One of the original Charlie's Angels, she was an icon of physical beauty and charm, known especially for her big hair. She died with her lifetime partner, Ryan O'Neal by her side. Her only son, Redmond, is in jail and could not be with her. So ends a sex-icon of the 70's.

Michael Jackson died unexpectedly of what doctors suspect was cardiac arrest at the age of 50. He started out really looking black, with a typical 70's 'fro do. Over the years we watched his hips transfix young ladies and his skin transform to whiter than my own. The droopy hair, the droopy shoulders. the droopy hips, the droopy reputation with folks older than he, so droops the pop icon of the 80's.

In the last two weeks we at St. Christopher's have laid to rest two of our own. Bernice Kilpatrick died of cardiac arrest--her only similarity to Michael Jackson. She was deeply loved by her husband, her children, and her friends. She had spunk and a light in her eyes that even just shy of her 80th birthday caught one's attention. Her husband of almost 60 years feels lost without her.

Jane Graham lost her battle with cancer, one of her few similarities to Farrah Fawcett. She, too, leaves behind children and friends who treasure her memory. Her indominable spirit drew people from across the community to remember her at her services. Perhaps the one who will miss her as much as the rest of us is her dog, Magic.

Whereas I grieve with the generations for those who died with fame or infamy, I would much rather mourn my own whom I have grown to love and respect.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Our granddaughter has been here for the last two days. She turned one yesterday, and we took her and her parents to the zoo in Waco, TX. Today my parents drove down with my sister from Dallas and we had a bit of a party. Of course, she was more taken with the wrappings than the presents, and she fell asleep in the middle of the meal. These two days have been a delight with her. I've noticed that apparently grand-parent malady that her smile addictive. I will gladly do more and more silly things just to get that little ray of sunshine to brighten our faces.

The thing is, at one year old she's able to respond, and takes delight in doing so. At earlier ages (and we all went through this with our kids, but mostly too anxious and burdened with responsibility to even notice) she was a whole lot more just a loud noise at one end and no responsibility at the other. But as she matures and grows the intensity of life within her takes on the shapes and contours of her own budding personality. It's like watching a butterfly emerge from its crysalis and unfolding its marvelous wings. Sometimes the picture isn't the brightest or the most rewarding, but it's all just marvelous and wonderful and brings joy to a grandparent's heart.

Maybe that's the way the heart of God is. Maybe our ruts have a way of making us spiritually infantile, hiding our true nature beneath layers of carefully laid inattentiveness. Maybe as the vagarities of life strip away the layers of pretense and pride, of insecurity and even presumed nobility we begin to emerge as the beings we truly are. Maybe as the intensity of life within us expresses itself in the shape and contours of our souls that God takes as much pleasure in us as we do in our grandchildren. Maybe.....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I just got back from a CREDO conference in Virginia. It's a week-long clergy development conference hosted by the Church Pension Fund for Episcopal clergy. We had priests there from 22 different dioceses around the nation. I've been in gatherings of clergy before, and generally left with the feeling that we're a bit like manure. Spread us out and we do some good, but pile us up and all we do is raise a stink.

Not so this time. Because the focus of the conference, and hence the purpose of the relationships built, was personal professional and spiritual growth, we took time to listen to one another deeply. My small group became a quiet haven where I could share what was really bugging me, what I really thought about things, and what I think I knew and didn't know. It was especially poignant because we were theologically quite diverse.

The experience confirmed for me something that I have thought for some time. The role of clergy in society is to open the eyes of the general public. This function is shared by education and to a degree, law, but in the matter of religion it takes on a dimension none of the other two can really address. Clergy invite people to look deeply into their experiences of the world around them and the relationships in which they participate, to draw out wisdom, to kindle compassion, and to become more authentic, more real, more holy.

To frame it in a different metaphor, we hold up lenses in front of the eyes of a myopic public bent on rushing from one obligation to another and bid them read the charts. Some lenses work better than others, and each person's prescription ends up a bit different from anyone else's. Christ is not a particular lens so much as the whole set of lenses, inviting us to perceive the truth in the midst of the blurr of living. So ours is to walk more slowly, talk more genuinely, and gently pry your eyelids a bit wider open to see the wonder of God at work in your world.

If there is any hope for transformation, surely it has something to do with this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm at a CREDO week in Roslyn, VA, just outside of Richmond. It's a beautiful setting, and in spite of Texas, it's still Spring here. While running this afternoon I spied a bunch of wild strawberries encroaching on the manicured lawns of this campus.

The week is about reflection--looking deeply into one's life, taking stock and sizing things up. It's an important thing to do, something we don't always take time for. Perhaps, like me, we're afraid of finding negative things. Maybe we're just too busy or haven't ever given it much thought or importance. Maybe we think we can't do it.

My biggest barrier is expecting to find negative things, and usually I do find some, along with positive things. Perhaps in that my biggest mistake is to label things negative or positive. After all, I rate them negative if I perceive that they reveal ways I disappoint myself or others, and positive if I meet or exceed others' expectations. There is always the possibility that some behavior is wise, even though it disappoints, or unwise, even though it is met with approval. Measuring myself by other people is a quick way to disappoint myself in the short run and everyone in the long run--it's a no-win situation.

So, the harder road lies before me--to take the feedback I receive and to evaluate it in terms of who I am and what God is calling me to become. That yardstick can help me measure the relative importance of both "negative" and "positive" aspects of my ministries, and get a feel for what the path ahead might look like. Maybe that approach might help you, too.