Outside heaven is a can with a sign – discard all tickets here

stough-rt-rev-furmanThe Late Bill Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama, used to say that outside the gates of Heaven there are huge trash cans with big signs beside them saying “DISCARD ALL TICKETS HERE!” Because you can’t get into heaven with a ticket. There are no tickets good enough to get us in. That’s not how you get in. In fact those tickets which we have spent our lives getting punched WILL KEEP US OUT IF WE INSIST ON PALMING THEM EARN OUR WAY IN! The tickets we have spent our very lives trying to get are as useless as lottery tickets the day after the winning ticket is drawn.

Of course,  all humanity has won the lottery of God’s love. It’s rigged that way.  All one need do it accept the gift of the already.  I appreciate God’s folk who have given me taken my had, inviting me into the Household of God.  Men like, Bill, who loitered by the door of the Kingdom to invite the unexpected wanderers into God’s house.  He ordained me over 36 years ago setting me onto the way of a servant of God’s people.  Having come to the end of that 2nd Act, I press on the ACT3!

JWS+

Bill, the Loitering Bishop, Blessed Be He

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

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

One of the gifts of living past sixty is coming to treasure the people who help you along the way; you see Christ in them, and remarkably enough, they see Christ in you!   Bill Stough was one of the chief stewards of my life, ordaining me, first a deacon and then a priest.

Bill had this way of loitering by the door of this faith we share, lying in wait for the unsuspecting traveler.  Even though we may not even have known at the time, we were looking for God, Bill knew. More importantly, Bill knew God was looking for us.

The day I wandered by tugged by the longing of my heart for home. One Sunday at Christ Church, Lexington, Kentucky,  I knelt down to say my prayers before the Eucharist began and looking at the altar I suddenly knew this was my place and I wanted what I sensed there.

It was that very longing that drew me the day I made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Alabama.  We were seated and Bill, asked what I had come for, and I told him.  He took me seriously, which the is the greatest gift one can give to another. My memory is that His Grace gave me the gift of two hours, an unheard of waste of a Bishop’s time.  He told me candidly that many people seek ordination, more than he could employ.  But he also said,  “If you are still interested to come back in a year.”  I left that day affirmed by the fellow who loitered by the door.  I did go back a year later, and that story is for another posting.

I learned the most important things from Bill by watching him, especially when no one was looking at him. What was he like in the unguarded moments?  He was a wise man, kind, direct and terrifying when righteously angry.  I came across his blessing a couple of days ago.  I share it with you because it tells you all you need to know about this man, whom I love(d).  He said it always, in a small group in the woods or at the altar of his cathedral.

“Let us depart from this place in peace, and as we go on our way, forget not the poor, pray for the sick, make no peace with oppression, and love one another as Jesus has loved us. And the Blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and upon all God’s people this day and forevermore. Amen.”

– The Right Reverend Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama

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It’s Brief, It’s Broken, And It’s Precious

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Life is complicated and at times a burden but life is also a glorious adventure!  And life is brief — the wishes of childhood that time would pass so that we could commence with “it” comes true in spades because it rushes by. From early adulthood on we are fighting a rearguard action  against time who is no longer our ally.

Learning to linger and savor as we go is an important virtue! In the Jewish tradition, there is a notion that the good things one denied ones-self on earth will be denied in heaven. My beloved Bill Stough, the late bishop of Alabama, used to say that he believed that when you got to heaven God would ask, “Did you have a good time?”

That re-frames things for me. This a struggle and yes bad things happen and it’s brief but it is a laboratory of faith and maturity.  Can we improve and can we not recover more quickly next time?  Above all can we not have a good time doing it?  We can choose to enjoy challenge!