There ain’t no God — and that’s the glorious truth » Spectator Blogs

There ain’t no God — and that’s the glorious truth. Spectator Blogs
It is sad to say, but this piece would not be published in the US?   That fact makes me long for the old country.  In this great Republic,  I’m sad to say,  there are largely only fundamentalist  atheists who like their Christian counterparts have no sense of humor nor irony.   The story of the man’s watch is funny.  Regardless of your point of view.   Give me a self-deprecating atheist any day over a self-congratulatory Christian.  JWS



June 26, 2005

NOTE; Obviously this is an old sermon.  The themes are exactly the ones I struggle with today.  You can interpret that several ways.  I’m not sure myself.  I feel the same issues but with greater intensity. As our Lord says, “Work while it is day for night is coming when no man can work.” John 9:4



Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Almost ten years ago I was interviewed for the local evening news in Jackson, Mississippi. The young reporter came to ask my opinion about prayer in public schools.

I thought long and hard about how to say what I thought.

For one thing a sound bite format is not kind to Anglican ways of thinking. Most issues are more complicated than that.

Secondly as a minority church in a sea of free-church Protestants, Episcopalians have some inkling of what it is like to have the “majority opinion” forced on us.

I am sympathetic to the concerns that prompt such controversy. But in many ways we have entered a post Christian era in this country. Which is to say that we can no longer assume that Christianity and culture are contiguous. I thought back almost twenty years to an article from the October 1986 issue of Christian Century. Here is an excerpt from an article by William Williman.

Fox Theater Greenville SC“THOUGH I COULD NOT have known it at the time, a momentous event in my faith journey occurred on a Sunday evening in 1963 in Greenville, South Carolina, when, in defiance of the State’s archaic Blue Laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.

Only lately have I come to see how that evening symbolizes a watershed in the history of Christianity in the United States. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina – the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western World – gave in and served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the Church. If Christians were going to be made in Greenville, that the church must do it alone.

There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head-to-head with the church to see who would provide ultimate values for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.

In taking me to Church, my parents were affirming everything that was American. Church was, in a sense, the only show in town. Everybody else was doing it. Church, home, and state formed a vast consortium working together to instill Christian values. People grew up Christian simply by growing up American. All that ended the night that the Fox Theater opened on Sunday.”

Dearly beloved, take nothing for granted!

We can no longer assume that people who come here for the first time on Sunday morning have any idea about what we believe. The truth is that we often are not all that sure ourselves.

• Some come because it is what they have always done.
• Some come because it is good for the children to get values.
• Some come because one can make business contacts at Church.
• And some come because they are hungry for God.

Many come for a bundle of reasons.

Regardless of how it has been in the past, the culture will no longer prop us up. If we are going to be Christians and make Christians we will have to do it the old fashioned way: by depending on God and each other, and that, my fellow Episcopal Christians of Saint John’s is a choice.

Christ and sword

Christ and sword

W. F. Albright translates the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34 this way: “Do not think thatI have come to impose peace on earth, Do not think that I have come to impose peace on earth by force; I have come neither to impose peace, nor yet to make war. I have come to divide . . . a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be members of his own house.” Albright continues, “Jesus does not come to impose peace by FORCE. On the contrary, his coming will involve painful decisions. He will not interfere with human freedom.”

We are free to choose. The culture will not prop us up. It may no longer be good business to be Christian. In point of fact the Gospel is increasingly not the worldview the culture proposes.

And yet the call of Jesus is clear, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The country is anxious. Many want props. But I am not convinced that legislating props will do the job. When we venture beyond the safety of cultural Christianity, (civil religion) we will find that life is changing. Several things become evident.

• We want to see all bad in others and not in ourselves.
• We don’t know the reality of the Gospel all that well ourselves.
• We have majored on minors and minored on majors.
• We despair.
• We see the bad in others and not in ourselves.

This produces self-righteousness and contempt that is alien to the Gospel. A poem from He Sent Leanness, A Book of Prayers for the Natural Man by David Read


“Lord, I am quite convinced that I shall not be at home in heaven. Is this all Thou hast to offer? Thy eternal City as men have described it seems unbearably cosmopolitan. There are some nations (which I will not at present specify), some denominations (which shall be nameless), one political party (Lord, Thou knowest), and many types of musicians (if such a word can be applied to them at all), with whom I could not possibly live. Could I, perhaps, have a quiet detached mansion on my own, with a few specified visitors for short periods?”

Most of us are not that honest! By being “good” and keeping some of the rules we see ourselves as O.K., rather than saved by grace and NOTHING else. [Period]

• We don’t know the reality of the Gospel too well ourselves.

We’d have something more to share than rule and moral codes. We know the form but deny the power there of. We are always prepared for God to do nothing. When he does something we are ill prepared. We do not live as if there is a resurrection. We live as if we hoped there might be something, but we are not sure what it is.

• We have majored on minors and minored on majors.

Christians have been busy fighting about number of issues. Many issues cannot be “solved” or “voted on” and put to rest as much as we might like. We will have to pray and live through most of them. It is messy but throwing stones and being willful will not promote the Kingdom of God.

We have gotten things backwards. We build buildings and then try to figure out what to do with them, rather than preach the Gospel and build buildings to house the community that grows from that Gospel. We are in the process of looking at long range building here. But we are not doing neutron bomb evangelism: kill the people and save the buildings.”

For much of the late 20th Century the Church rearranged the deck chairs on the luxury ship Episcotanic. And when we do venture out beyond the doors of our churches we look around and we despair.

• We despair.

We act as if there is nothing that can be done and that God is finished. Despair is a sin!!! To despair is to say that God cannot act. We have never yet had to face any real difficulty for being a Christian. The most that we have ever suffered is mild embarrassment — and that not for long.

Let me be clear this morning about what I believe. Let me make a brief “I have a dream speech”. I believe that Saint John’s exists for one reason and one reason only: to be a place where souls are transformed in relationship to God! God in Christ Jesus calls us to follow him, and this journey is not one of convenience. It is a cross we pick up not a hammock. The Journey to God begins with you and with me.

There were three friends who were eager workers, and one of them chose to devote himself to making peace between people who were fighting, in accordance with ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. The second chose to visit the sick. The third went off to live in tranquility in the desert. The first toiled away at the quarrels of men, but could not resolve them all, and so, in discouragement, went to the one who was looking after the sick, and he found him flagging too, not succeeding in fulfilling the commandment. So the two of them agreed to go and visit the one who was living in the desert.

They told him their difficulties and asked him to tell them what he had been able to do. He was silent for a time, and then he poured water into a bowl and said to them, ‘Look at the water.’ It was all turbulent. A little later he told them to look at it, and see how the water had settled down. When they looked at it, they saw their own faces as in a mirror. Then he said to them, ‘In the same way a man who is living in the midst of men does not see his own sins because of all the disturbance, but if he becomes tranquil, especially in the desert, then he can see his own shortcomings.”

I long for Saint John’s to be like a desert place where we become still and see ourselves and in that stillness hear the call of God. That is why we are here. Welcome in name of the resurrected Jesus!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Deeper Wells Are Ours

“The unconscious comes to the aid of the conscious ego when it is grappling with a task that is beyond its capacity.”Anthony Stevens from Private Myths

What help could come our way if we were willing to pay attention to our dreams and visions. The resolute determination to avoid a meaningful connection between the inside and outside of our being almost rises to the level of what the Roman Church calls “Invincible ignorance” — the ultimately fatal decision to not accept the truth.

However, in the past year I have been in sustained conversations with men who are working with their dreams and I observe the amazing change in them as them as they take seriously this communication. I have observed one fellow getting “unstuck” in his career as he listened to the coaching of his sleeping dreams. He had never considered such work, but now calls me with reports of his nocturnal adventures.

I am more convinced than ever that soul work is the principal task of priests & deacons in parishes. It requires vigilance not to succumb to the tyranny of the immediate, losing focus of what is essential. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only if that maintenance supports the primary ministry of the Church the cure of souls. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls thrive. As Saint John writes in Third John chapter one verse two, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” King James Bible

What if our life reflected the health of our soul? Would it look like Dorian Gray’s portrait?

Dorian Gray - Moniquil

Dorian Gray – Moniquil

Some of the problems of life do not depend on our personal functioning. Other people’s choices make a difference to the prosperity or famine of one’s life. However much of our dis-ease comes from within and Jesus warned when he said that what defines comes from within not what sort of food that is eaten.



Major Jason Wright


Major Wright is defense counsel for 9/11 mastermind.  He has resigned his commission rather than leave the defense team. We need more people like him in this country.

Major Wright is defense counsel for 9/11 mastermind. He has resigned his commission because he considered it unethical  to leave the defense team of a capital case even though ordered by the army.   We need more people like him in this country.


When you sit in…


When you sit in a nail/hair/etc. business and discuss the failings/sins/mistakes of teens and college age kids in the area – just know that the lady sitting next to you hearing all of your nasty comments/judgements may actually know some of those kids – and may love them – and if you make your living photographing all of the kids sports events, dances, etc. locally – you should really zip it – and probably shouldn’t be wearing your “Young Life” tee shirt either

Facebook Entry


Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

There are practices that appear to cross all religious systems and are near universal means for spiritual formation. Prayer is a human enterprise limited to no one religious tradition. Prayer is universal and even how one prays is widely similar. Now in these days a curious phenomenon has appeared. the secular rationalist and dismissive secular American. has begun to unconsciously fashion faux ancient practices. I got my first cue from Gertrude Muller Nelson in her book, TO DANCE WITH GOD..


1. What is a diet, but a soulless fast? Now, consider the ancient practices with a corresponding secular invention.

2. What is a vacation but a soulless pilgrimage without purpose or focus. It is small wonder that people return home more exhausted than before. A pilgrimage is a journey to the holy, while a vacation is avoidance of the self.

To Dance with God - Gertrud Muller Nelson3. What the Liturgical Year is the practice of faith, Civil Religion is to the culture. In the eyes of the ignorant they are the same, sharing Christian holy days. Think of it this way. Music in the West uses the same notes for all compositions. The notes sound the same even though as they are played in different keys. The culture rather likes the Baby Jesus (so long as he never grows up enough to meddle) and Easter is there but the focus is on bunnies and Spring rites. July 4th and President’s Day pass for saint’s days, and the flag, that civil totem is equated, even in the minds of some Christians, with the Cross. I love my country and I keep the flag as far from the altar as possible.

4. While constant prayer is a posture of faith, the call to continual communion with the Holy, the culture constructed a continual litter of stimulus important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody with red-flagged emails, all caps, demanding instant access.

5. Tithing, the re-gifting of some of the abundance we have received from God is an act of faithful gratitude. April 15th and taxes are the shadow of the economy of heaven. If tithing were not tax-deductible would it long endure?

6. The Sacred Meal of the Eucharist has as its counterpoint Thanksgiving, that yearly Festival of Civil Religion. It is wonderful in its way, has vague Christian trappings but is firmly civil Religion.

7. Sabbath is a time but more an attitude of getting quiet before God has as its opposite: the weekend. I don’t think I need say more. One is holy and the other runs us ragged.

Only when the church discovers it own ancient practices will we have anything to offer the culture.  Until then the culture will go on making up unreasonable facsimiles of soulful practice. JWS


June 8, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1 NRSV

The Day of Pentecost – El Greco

The Great 50 days are ended, the double alleluias are spent, and long months of Sundays stretch out toward Advent. However, the Great 50 days go out, not with a whimper but with a bang.


Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus left town, going out by Bethany, so as to go by one of his favorite places one more time. Jesus left town, not going to Galilee as he did through his life in the flesh, but going home, returning to God the Father. He blessed his disciples and as he did he was separated from them and ascended into heaven.


They stared, slack jawed, gaping at the sky until angels shooed them back to town reminding them that they were to wait until the Comforter came upon them – and for once they did as they were told.

Consciously waiting, hanging on to the promise of Jesus, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

This comforter is come. This comforter will lead us into all truth. This comforter, how shall we describe his work?

The Comforter, this Holy Spirit is

  • Playful,
  • Spontaneous
  • Creative

I quote Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, “The Spirit is present in three open spaces in our lives. In the:

  • unpredictable,
  • place of risk
  • areas over which we have no control.

The Spirit of Truth, this Holy Spirit works behind the scenes, promoting Jesus, pointing to his teaching but doing it behind the scenes. Notice what happens when I place the characteristics of the Holy Spirit into the Open Spaces in our lives?


The unpredictable may prove dangerous, but it may also prove playful. The Holy Spirit is playful. For example check out the Psalm for today – [Pew Bible pg. 547 BCP – pg. 737]

Psalm 104

26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

Whales in Hervery bay

Whales in Hervey bay

God made the whale just for fun.

Fr. Craig Bustrin, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”


Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller

Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible.  The Spirit moves in the risky places.


The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos.  For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous = what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery.  The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.
I want to tell you a story.

I want to speak to you this morning of a man I know.
He has doctorate in Music Composition
He is a single-minded Christian
He is faithful
He smokes too much
He is legally blind

I have known him for the better part of ten years.  At the altar rail, he asked for prayers. He has the charism of servant, he is thoughtful, he is committed, he is prayerful, He walks a lot – He knows the people of these neighbors around Saint John’s. He knows us who are educated and live a reasonable facsimile of what passes for the post-modern American dream. He knows those who live below this level on less. He knows the community of the street, those whose place we pass through on the way to the rest of our lives.

Our way is their place.

Let me tell you what he means to me. He is single minded, A mostly-blind man is teaching me about life beyond my air-conditioned bubble with wheels that takes me through the streets and insulates me from them by isolating me from them and moving me quickly through them.

Let me tell you what I discern he means to this parish. If we went to hell it will because we were too busy to make other arrangements. He prays for the rest of us who do not have enough to pray for ourselves.

Mark has allowed none of his limitations to define him. What I call limitations, I suspect the Holy Spirit calls opportunities. These are the very places he has opened to God. These are the open places where the Holy Spirit is working in him and through him to do the Work of Christ in this place. To do the work of Christ is our task, Doing the work of Christ is Mark’s vocation. Why? Because he is baptized!



Sugar is made up of three molecules – oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Where is the sweetness? The sweetness is in the relationship. It is not a quality in any element of sugar. It is an emergent quality that resides only in the system as a whole. The sweetness is not in any one of us. The sweetness is in the molecular cohesiveness of the Holy Spirit.

The Spontaneous, Creative & Playful nature of the Holy Spirit is busy in the open spaces in Mark’s life and ours to make the sweetness of Grace

The sweetness of this grace is why today I name Mark Bradshaw, Street Missioner from Saint John’s Parish  Amen.