Please Remember

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Parting Aphorisms and Smartass Sayings

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly
  2. Salvation is a gift requiring response
  3. The Christian life is like driving a car on ice. The automatic non-thinking reaction is not the thing to do.
  4. Dissecting a frog is instructive but aft wards it will not hop!
  5.  In matters of faith and nutrition, you are what you eat.
  6.  Ministry is like being pecked to death by a flock of small ducks
  7. Every expression of Christianity has an inner inarticulate essence and a cultural manifestation. – Rev Stephen Parsons
  8.  Don’t collect so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire. – Wendell Berry
  9.  If you want a huge funeral die young and tragically. If you live to old and it rains there will be nobody there.

Every Day is Christ-mass!

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Ethiopian Icon of Epiphany

GIVING BIRTH TO THE DIVINE BEING IN YOURSELF

Unknown author

And when upon their way they came to Bethlehem the day was done, and they must tarry for the night. But Bethlehem was thronged with people going to Jerusalem; the inns and homes were filled with guests, and Joseph and his wife could find no place to rest but in a cave where animals were kept; and there they slept. 
At midnight came a cry, A child is born in yonder cave among the beasts. And lo, the promised son of man was born.

And strangers took the little one and wrapped him in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared and laid him in a trough from which the beasts of burden fed.
Three persons clad in snow-white robes came in and stood before the child and said, All strength, all wisdom and all love be yours, Immanuel.
Now, on the hills of Bethlehem were many flocks of sheep with shepherds guarding them.

The shepherds were devout, were men of prayer, and they were waiting for a strong deliverer to come.
And when the child of promise came, a man in snow-white robe appeared to them, and they fell back in fear. The man stood forth and said, Fear not! behold I bring you joyful news. At midnight in a cave in Bethlehem was born the prophet and the king that you have long been waiting for.
And then the shepherds all were glad; they felt that all the hills were filled with messengers of light.

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In a cave, among the animals, a child was born in the middle of the night. The other-one-within-us has broken loose from his bonds and breathes.

The first delicate signs of a completely new life, deep in the human heart, are immediately surrounded by the unknown forces of the new life, a life to which Mary-within-us had directed herself with unshakable certainty. And the child is “wrapped in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared”, which means that the child is immediately surrounded by light forces that protect him from harmful influences.

Then this newborn is carefully laid down in the manger of the animals; and immediately three men appear in snow-white garments. They bring three gifts: strength, wisdom and love. Those are the three fundamental forces that make everything possible, the invincible forces that require a completely new life. For no human being of this world would be able to endure perfect power, absolute wisdom and all-embracing love.

Opening up the new life within a human being is therefore like an all-encompassing love, like being irradiated by hitherto unknown forces that well up from an unfathomable source in the heart … The light birth, the birth of the light-in-man, has taken place.

Gnostic Christianity considers the birth of Jesus as the birth of the new soul in a person who became like John. John is the one who had the power to purify himself by following a new path. The new soul is the higher vehicle, ‘the new garment’ which will ultimately allow the human being to enter his original world once again.

The paradise myth in the Book of Genesis, at the beginning of the Old Testament, tells the story  of Adam and Eve; a man and a woman who left their birthplace (paradise) and obtained a new residence (outside of Paradise).

With the birth of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament the return journey begins. There we read of a man and a woman, Joseph and Mary, traveling from their home to their place of birth. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She is a virgin in the spiritual sense, pure d untainted, completely oriented towards the higher life.
Joseph is the free builder, he who has purified his thoughts and directs them towards the soul. He symbolizes the aspiring human being who deliberately and perseveringly works and builds while staying focused on the divine. That work brings about a continuous process of purification that is guided by the soul.

A HIGHER OCTAVE

We can describe the Joseph and Mary within ourselves as the new thinking activity and the new way of feeling which are caused by the touch from the domain of the soul. In this sense, Joseph and Mary can be seen as a higher octave of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
After all, Elizabeth symbolizes the longing that is oriented to the good of the world, while Mary represents the orientation toward the higher life. The two are therefore related to each other and both bring forth children with a special task: John, who has the task of adopting the outer life to the new inner life; and Jesus, the child in whom pure Love, the highest possible in this universe, assumes a physical form.

Jesus is born in the greatest darkness of the night in a cave in Bethlehem (meaning ‘bread house’) where ‘beasts of burden’ reside as well. Our inner ‘beasts of burden’ have done their job: the persevering, goal-oriented ox caused us to proceed ever onward and the donkey carried us on the most inaccessible roads of life. They brought us ‘home’. They belong to us and therefore they stay in the cave where the soul-being is born.

And what could this cave be other than our own human heart? The human heart is like a cave system with one special birthing room: the right ventricle. There is the manger where our ‘beasts of burden’, the ox and the donkey, found their food with which we were able to complete our journey so far.

But after all the preparation and purification, the same feeding place became a place where a completely different life-force could descend: Light itself. Food and energy for a whole new journey with which the entire personality will joyfully cooperate.
In many cultures, a cave is an ancient symbol of a shelter, an image of birth and rebirth. Ritual meetings were often held in caves. Caves were also shelters for cattle and refuges for people in times of danger.

THE OX AND THE DONKEY

Where do the legendary ox and donkey come from? In the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 2 and 3, the following is said on behalf of God: I reared children and brought them up, but they havox asse rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. So the cattle know who feeds them and where they belong, but people have forgotten where they come from, who feeds them and who guides them.

In a certain tradition, the ox and the donkey represent the ‘Jews’ and the ‘Gentiles’. The donkey symbolizes the Gentiles, the heathen who are suffering under the burden of sin and idolatry. The ox is then a symbol for the Jews who live under the yoke of the law, like an ox wearing a yoke during ploughing. In this instance, the yoke refers to being fully connected with and guided by the divine. The word yoke is derived from the Latin word ‘iungere’ meaning ‘to connect’ and is still recognizable in the word yoga, for example. Thus, the ox and the donkey stand together at the manger of Jesus, which symbolizes the idea that the inner light birth is not restricted to one single race or country but that it is a calling for all humanity. Every human being is able to celebrate the inner light birth at the appropriate moment in his or her life, in his or her own year zero.

GOD IN MAN

The Light Messengers, the visible and invisible spiritual leaders of humanity, descend into the world of time and space to support and guide humanity at every step on the spiritual path.

The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.

EASTER FOUR

Just what state of being are we baptizing Lucy Barboro Champbliss? Just why are we doing this? Let me begin with our natural state.

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In 1996, Lyall Watson published a fascinating book entitled Dark Nature, A Natural History of Evil, [p. 54ff.]

“THERE ARE SEVERAL GENETIC INSTRUCTIONS WHICH SEEM TO BE COMMON TO ALL LIFE:
• BE NASTY TO OUTSIDERS: We are afraid of strangers. We are afraid even when the newcomer has done us no harm. “Who is your family?” “Who were you before you married?” “You don’t talk like you all are from around these parts!”
• BE NICE TO INSIDERS: We are nice to those who are part of us, even when they are really trouble and difficult. Why? “Because blood is thicker than water.” “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is really hard to get into most human institutions if those already on the inside do not invite us in.
• CHEAT WHENEVER POSSIBLE: This is the basis of everything from card games to tax evasion. (April 15 is our national day of wailing and gnashing of teeth.) It comes naturally. We hear all sorts of reasons for cheating: “Everybody is doing it.” “I didn’t think that it really mattered?” “Do it if you can get away with it.” “It’s a matter of national security.”

As Vladimir Lenin once said, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”

The great Anglican liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “It is the heart and core of ‘the Gospel’ that something drastic has to be done about brokenness and sin, and that what I cannot do God has done.”

In today’s first reading from Acts we find ACTS 2:42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Life among the Believers 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Let me point out that if this is normative for the Community of Faith, there are NO CLERGY. Yes, Apostles but then everyone is supposed to be “fully loaded and ready to move out,” which is the meaning of the Word Apostle. In a sense everyone who witnessed the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus was an Apostle with the Twelve having a special role in terms of message.

We have idealized this period ever since: Our baptismal creeds picks this up. What a wonderful place, wouldn’t you love to have been there? How long do you suppose it was before someone ripped the bloom off the bush? It was just about nine months, just long enough for mischief to be brought to full term.  Acts 6ff [pg. 1266 in Pew bible]

In the first century women and children depended on the income of a man in order to survive. If the husband died, then the family was in desperate straits. This being the case there is a lot widow and orphan talk in scripture. The Greek part of the community felt that their widows were discriminated against. So the dissatisfaction grew and the Greek communicants began to complain loudly, “our widows are being ignored by the Church meals on wheels.” They came and told the Apostles. The Apostles said we can’t do it all and we must be about prayer and serving the word not waiting tables or literally “Keeping Accounts”. Choose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We’ll appoint them.” And they did. They were called Deacons, a name that comes from the word: doulos or servant. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, etc. Prayed, laid hands on them . . . and put them to work. Notice that the names of those chosen to be deacon were Greek names. Apparently that management technique is ancient. Put those who complain in charge of the problem. “You are empowered now go do it.”  These are the first clergy. Bishops in the earliest days were selected from the College of Deacons.

Over the first five hundred years the Church in the Roman Empire developed the model that is still dominant in the West. From the 6th Century on the Western Culture was Christian. That model continues to this day: Building – People – clergy. Clergy were put in place to act as “professional Christians” so nobody else need bother.

  • Lay People get serious about their faith and folk assumed what? Off to Seminary with you. Why, only professional Christians bother with all that.
  • “O John, we hired you to do that.”

This is not working and it is not true. I am here to be your Coach not your surrogate nor your truant officer. I am a player coach. I’m playing because I’m baptized. I’m ordained to Coach. This is my part of the re-inventing process we call SOULWorks.

At Saint John’s we have actively and consciously for the past five years been growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down. We took surveys that told us where we are on the journey to union with Christ. We’ve developed initiatives: Bible Challenge (Bibles in Pews), Ancient Practices, SOULWorks Weekends #7 in September.

We are in transition. Going forward there will be many, many, more lay-people in active ministry than clergy. All Christians are in ministry. You will be in places I’ll not be. You have influence that I lack.

What we are called to and what we are baptizing Lucy into is un-natural in this fallen world. We are called to live above our unconscious animal nature What the Church was dealing with then and has struggled with ever since is the simple fact that being Christian runs against what comes naturally for humanity. Rising above the animal toward the Angels of our better nature is an un-natural act!

France’s Cardinal Suhard, “To be a witness is being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

St Mark Alex

PALM SUNDAY MARTYRDOM IN ALEXANDRIA AT SAINT MARK’S CATHEDERAL
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response. “The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered. Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’” Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

This is the un-natural life of one who is in Christ. This un-natural life of grace is ours in Christ Jesus. I am committed during these last years as your Rector to accept what is mine in Baptism so that you will do the same. What might happen in Memphis if we each become the living mystery that makes no sense without the resurrection? I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to see it, just once. Amen

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“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”

― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

An inalienable right to a good time!

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We were not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.

”A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen” Rolling Stone, 1976

Surviving the Holidays!

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Sometimes I think that the only thing worse than being an orphan is having a family! An orphan thinks, “If I only had a family.”  The rest of us know it is more complicated, especially at holidays.  So Happy Thanksgiving, beloved!

I came across Ed Friedman’s remarks on living with teenagers in my files and this is applicable  for all relationships on this first Thanksgiving since the elections.

Edwin Friedman on Teens

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1. “How are you?”

Stop asking the kid anything about themselves. That shows you are thinking about them. Only give answers up to the limit of their questions and show no more interest or so. It may take six months of non-pursuit for them to turn. [Ed also said that if you stopped thinking about someone they would know it.]

Thinking egg broken

2. Don’t make rules about things you can’t enforce.

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3. Don’t let them be intrusive into your space.

“Get out of the way to let them grow. Don’t let their growth overgrow you. Define yourself constantly. Don’t focus on the kid. Don’t focus on the congregation. They need you more than you need them. Put the responsibility of the relationship on them rather than on us. Consistency is only possible when we focus on ourselves.”

JWS

Oh to have a Mentor

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The mentee, too, serves an essential function for the mentor: By nurturing the younger person, the mentor keeps alive his own values and hopes, which helps him deal with his mortality and allows him to develop more “generative” parts of himself. Indeed, many men find the mentoring relationship at work allows them to heal some of the wounds of parenting; feeling frustrated with their own children, some men turn to their younger colleagues as “surrogate sons.”

Finding Our Fathers: How a Man’s Life Is Shaped by His Relationship with His Father – Samuel Osherson

Practice-Oriented Religion

“I want to suggest that the idea of practice holds the key to thinking about how people

Robert Wuthrow

Robert Wuthrow

with multiphrenic*  selves may be able to participate effectively and in a morally responsible way in the civic and economic arenas.  The critical issue is not whether people change their minds, even if they do so frequently, and it is not whether they draw inspiration from many different sources, rather than one; It is whether or not they take their spirituality and their moral concerns seriously enough to spend time reflecting on them, deliberating over them, and connecting them with their behavior.

Put simply, practice should not be conceived in opposition to theory, but in contrast with flakiness.  Practice is the effort that goes into having good reasons for what one believes and that demonstrates the seriousness of these beliefs by thinking about them and incorporating them into everyday life…”       Robert Wuthnow

How do we make disciples?  Clearly, Jesus did not say:  affirm these facts; do as little harm as you comfortably can;  when harm is unavoidable without change take up denial as method so that ignorance is mistaken as innocence; and having all you could reasonably do,  you will inherit eternal life. What Jesus did say was, “Follow me.” 

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that people are not abandoning the church of their fathers in the face of the demands of Jesus.  They are leaving the Church (all of it) because we are not Christian enough!  As Richard Rohr puts it, “we don’t need more orthodoxy (right belief) but orthopraxy (right practice).  He is right.

That is why at Saint John’s we have taken up the method of Renewal Works.  The recommendation of the Renewal Team from their work with the survey data was that as a congregation we engage the Bible as we are not conversant with the sacred text.  In response to this recommendation we launched the Saint John’s Reads and Bible challenge.  200 adults pledged to read the scripture every day this year; 80 of that number pledged (signed a card even) to read the entire Bible in a year.

Crossed Red and Green Laser BeamsA laser is not different light than your garden variety defused illumination; a laser is light that intensely focused. That focus is geometrically more powerful than dispersed light.  What is happening among us is not something novel and new, the Holy Spirit is moving us with subtle elegant nudges: a quickening here, an ah-ha there, a bit of insight tucked just so  as the view finder is adjusted a slowly, almost imperceptibility the but in real time with real power.  The outward sign and the inward spiritual grace is joy!   JWS

*Having multiple identities pieced together from the multiplicity of mediated messages in our environments.

 

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The ruins of the chapel and main buildings of Mount Grace Priory

Yesterday a friend and I drove about an hour north of York to the ruins of a medieval monastery.  Mount Grace Priory was a house of the Carthusian Order.  I’m borrowing quite a lot from Wikipedia rather than summarize the material.  I have added photos to the text. Then I will share some of my initial thinking about how Mount Grace Priory and its vision of Christian practice.

There are no Carthusian abbeys as they have no abbots, and each charterhouse is headed by a prior and is populated by choir-monks, referred to as hermits, and lay brothers.

The monk's cells formed great square called the great cloister as there was a covered walk around plot.

The monk’s cells formed great square called the great cloister as there was a covered walkway around the green space. Most of the buildings dismantled for the stone.

Each hermit —  that is, a monk who is or who will be a priest  — has his own living space, called a cell, usually consisting of a small dwelling.  The reconstructed cell has three rooms on the first floor: a living room with fireplace, a study and bedroom. The bedroom in addition to the bed has an alter for the hermit monk to say daily Mass.

Bed (curtains to keep warm in - cold out.

Bed (curtains to keep warm in – cold out.

Each cell has a high walled garden, wherein the monk may meditate as well as grow flowers for himself and/or vegetables for the common good of the community, as a form of physical exercise.

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Next to the door of each cell is  a small opening in the wall.  A tray would be pushed to the back and the hermit could then pull the tray into the cell without having to see anyone.

Most meals are provided in this manner, which the hermit then eats in the solitude of his cell. There are two meals provided for much of year, lunch and supper. During seasons or days of fasting, just one meal is provided. The hermit makes his needs known to the lay brother by means of a note, requesting items such as a fresh loaf of bread, which will be kept in the cell for eating with several meals.

The hermit spends most of his day in the cell: he meditates, prays on his own, eats, studies and writes (Carthusian monks have published scholarly and spiritual works), and works in his garden or at some manual trade. Unless required by other duties, the Carthusian hermit leaves his cell daily only for three prayer services in the monastery chapel, including the community Mass, and occasionally for conferences with his superior.

Additionally, once a week, the community members take a long walk in the countryside during which they may speak; on Sundays and feast days a community meal is taken in silence. Twice a year there is a day-long community recreation, and the monk may receive an annual visit from immediate family members.

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The Carthusians do not engage in work of a pastoral or missionary nature. Unlike most monasteries, they do not offer retreats and those who visit for a prolonged period are people who are contemplating entering the monastery. As far as possible, the monks have no contact with the outside world. Their contribution to the world is their life of prayer, which they undertake on behalf of the whole Church and the human race.

Fr. Tim Jones in the great cloister with the chapel in background.

In addition to the choir monks there are lay-brothers, monks under slightly different types of vows who spend less time in prayer and more time in manual labor; they live a slightly more communal life, sharing a common area of the charterhouse.

The lay brothers provide material assistance to the choir monks: cooking meals, doing laundry, undertaking physical repairs, providing the choir monks with books from the library and managing supplies. All of the monks live lives of silence.

A contempory statue of the Virgin Mary offering Jesus to the nations - such is the work of Carthusians

A contemporary statue of the Virgin Mary offering Jesus to the nations – such is the work of Carthusians

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!