Saturday, October 27, 2012


Sunday closest to October 19

The number one sin of my life is my addiction to reading; the second sin being collecting the books to stoke the reading habit.

I call it a sin fully realizing that is simply a misuse and exaggeration. It is something of an addiction, since I find myself acquiring books that I simply cannot explain why, at the time I feel the compulsion to possess the book, I should need this book. Yet, I know that the books are not a substitute for my relationship with The Holy One. In fact, most often the books are vehicles of communion with God as well as saints and sages of past and present.That fact removes sin from the equation of my self-judgment.

Nevertheless, the addiction is real.

This addiction is acutely manifest in the inability to walk past tables of books on sale, and tables, bins and racks of books especially if the receptacle bears a sign "free".

Years ago I snatched up a book by Theologian and Ethicist Stanley Hauerwas, after having read several other works of his for a Christian Ethics course. The book had a title that grabbed me instantly, although, after I brought the book home and attempted to crack the cover the first time around, it simply failed to capture my attention. Like John the revelator with the seal of the scroll in the Book of Revelation, I felt incapable of entering the content. Unworthy or unready; that might be the question. The fact of the matter is, at the time I grabbed the book, I was probably too close to having experienced some significant losses and was simply not at all ready to explore the content being broached at the time.

The book Naming the Silences is one man's attempt to critique the theological category of theodicy. As I have been digging deeper into components of the healing ministry of the Church, this book now becomes very timely. The subtitle is God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering.

Hauerwas tells in the preface that he had, at the time of writing, a desire to write something that could bring consolation, thereby helping people cope with great suffering. Naming Rabbi Harold Kushner as one who has done so, and the psalmists who with poetic ability have been capable of doing so, Hauerwas retreats from that desire, and submits his text to the examination of a more direct approach to the problem of suffering.

Hauerwas contends from the outset that attempts to explain evil such as a parent witnessing the suffering and early death of their child, is a "theological mistake."

The Book of Job is Scripture's inconclusive attempt to explain the dichotomous relationship between the claimed role as Chosen People of God, and their seeming lack of favor, exhibited through the various trials undergone. Even the most righteous person, Job, is not completely shielded from trials, sufferings, loss of property and kinsman; all except his wife.

Hauerwas writes,
"I cannot promise readers consolation, but only as honest an account as I can give of why we cannot afford to give ourselves explanations for evil when what is required is a community capable of absorbing our grief." (xi)
This is hugely important to me. For whosever cares, the reason I engage in ministry no longer has very much to do with any concern for rewards in heaven, when I own body fails me. What I do now is very much more connected with my own understanding that community is absolutely the foundation and gift we experience most fully when we gather week by week in worship, and where we encounter the Holy which sustains us through the trials and tribulations of earth-bounded living.

Community is the place where we can bring our deepest sorrow, disappointments, disillusions, and brokenness. In community we learn of Jesus as the one who suffered, just as completely as we have, and even more so that he could reveal to us himself as God's Son, a companion on the way. Jesus does not take away all the suffering. Instead Jesus suffers with our suffering. Not only that, he asks us to accompany each other through the trials of life since each of us need something more tangible to cling to than the Spirit of God.

We need to grab hold of "clay vessels", and feel the scabs of old scars to know that we are not alone.

We may sing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" hoping to feel a mighty wind within the room, but sometimes the fount that must be encountered is one trapped within us. Sometimes what must flow is the fount of tears; of sorrow, deep and mysteriously arising from within in order to begin to receive the consolation and comfort of God through community.

It is possible to go along through life without a genuine community. But few people go their entire life without needing at some point a place to be known and loved wholly as a beloved child of God, and still flourish.

The Gospel lesson for this week offers us an insight into the community of followers of Jesus. James and john were looking for power and authority to govern a new kingdom. What Jesus offered them was a glimpse into the reality yet to unfold. Jesus does indeed promise them a share in the power, only it will be the power to share in the suffering which all humanity will in one way or another experience. With that suffering they will become more like Jesus, capable of caring for others, as servants to many.

But where and if James and John will receive power to rule...only God knows.

Tough lesson to grab hold of.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In Darkness

Sunday's Scripture

Is nightfall or dawn?

For several weeks now the Lectionary sequential reading from the Hebrew Bible  has been a journey through the Book of Job.

Job is one of the more interesting Hebrew Scriptures in my opinion. Every time I read it, I come away with new meaning, and new places to become awestruck.

Today it struck me how strongly this passage is a direct contrast to the message of Psalm 139. In fact, I would say that Job is in many ways a counterpoint to Psalm 139.

The psalmist writes..

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
While the psalmist wrote with great confidence of always being incapable of escaping from God, Job speaks of his own incapacity to come into the presence of God. Job says,  

"If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

Have you ever felt that sense of being completely unable to encounter the Holy?

Where do you go to regain access to the Divine?

How do you recover your sense of wonder and  appreciation when it seems that no matter how hard or well you work at being right with God, that you are being unjustly punished?

The story of Job is a drama unfolding both in heaven and on earth.

In Job the Divine Prosecuting Attorney is one of God's servants, not a wayward and disobedient nemesis which Christian literature typically portrays Satan to be. Satan points out to God that it is always easy for humans to sing praise to God when things are going in our favor. Satan, essentially tells God, "sure Job praises you. You've given him everything, Would he still praise you if it all were taken away?"

Now that is an excellent question.

I suspect each of us benefit from spending time reflecting on this very question.

What would be the breaking point for you?

God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!"   

How would you find your way through to a place where you could once again claimthe certainty expressed by the psalmist? 

 For many years I have used the early morning to anchor my day, by engaging in a peripatetic prayer. 

Fewer daylight hours forces me much of the time to begin my route enveloped by the deep blue black cloak of dawn, if I am to have the time to engage my practice completely. I step out onto the front porch, gaze up beyond the overhang of the porch, stare at the street lamp, then to the sky. I round the front walk, stop at the top of the driveway and look out to the east and gauge both the light and the wind before venturing any further. I hope for the tinge of pink which promises sunrise will soon remove the doubt of the darkness which presently envelopes me. In that darkness sometimes I remember back to a time when a loss was closer and sharper, cutting into the place of peace and gratitude which existed before the loss. In those days of remembering , now, as a chaplain, I lift up in my heart to God those I know now are dealing with their own calamitous situations. 

Lord God, giver of life and hope, source of all good that is, and was, and will be, 
equip me for the work of walking into the darkness that surrounds your beloved child. Equip me to speak words of hope, encouragement and power to restore, for you are the one true hope of all healing, reconciliation, and life.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Once upon a time the most prized possession of many homes was the Family Bible.

Before the Reformations, and the advent of the moveable type printing press, Scripture was kept tightly in the control of a few learned and privileged people. The Church Fathers protected the manuscripts and guarded the mysteries of God, the Faith, and held the keys to the Kingdom of God.

Or so they hoped to make the people believe.

But today marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale, one of the earliest English translators of the scriptures. Together, Both William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale helped break the captivity of God's Word as they devoted themselves to their work of producing an English Language translation.

You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging here much recently. For the last two and half months I've been preparing materials for a course for equipping and training laity for work in pastoral visitation and the healing ministry of our parish. The volumes of books I had to read in advance just to select out the reading material for the course consumed massive hours. The course is now into its fourth week. I cannot help but think, that if it had not been for the special calling of Tyndale and Coverdale, a martyrs death being the reward to one, my ability to engage in the healing ministry of the church could quite possibly not be a reality.

Today I give thanks to God for our ability to read the psalms in English thanks to the King of England who authorized an English translation of the work produced by Coverdale.

Today I also give thanks for the continuing innovations and progress of technology. While there are many problems and temptations which have come with the development of the Internet, we've also gained an incredibly powerful tool for the access of information. You and I no longer need to have shelves of books, or reams of paper to track who to remember on the this date in history. At our fingertips we have access to a complete calendar of all the saints. We no longer have to pick up a book to read the Morning
or Evening Prayer .

Is it a small thing to be thankful for?

I don't think so. According to the Wycliffe organization, (named after an even earlier scholar and proponent of a vernacular Bible) there remain 350 million people without access to the scriptures in their own language.


Lectionary readings for William Tyndale  and a way to access the Revised Common Lectionary readings used by the Episcopal Church, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of America.