The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, January 31, 2010

No good thing will God withhold...

I have to admit it.  I'm the kind of person who tends to believe in signs.  I really do believe the words of our sisters and brothers in the United Church of Christ - "God is still speaking".  Certainly not in some superficial or (I hope not, anyway) some self-serving way.  Certainly not like the televangelist hucksters who boldly proclaim that God spoke to them and told you to send them money.  But I do believe that if we quiet ourselves, we are capable of being more open to the always quiet but always persistent lure of God drawing us into God's will.

In our Advent adult education series in the parish where I serve we did a brief study of different styles of Christian spiritual expression.  We looked at Celtic, Benedictine, and Franciscan spirituality and practices, and we were encouraged to find ourselves in each of these - which ones resonated most clearly with our own understandings of and relationships with God?  With our community's?

My answer to this was that I always find myself drawn to the practices and disciplines of Benedictine spirituality.  There's something about the largely predictable rhythm of being drawn into prayer periodically through the day that helps me.  I don't pray the Offices because I'm strong, or a particularly "good" Christian.  I pray the Offices because I am decidedly weak.  If left to my own devices I would fail miserably in keeping myself open to God's speaking in my day-to-day life.

Today was one of those days when the discipline was a gift more than others.

One of the Psalms appointed for Evening Prayer today was Psalm 84.

It has a way of sneaking up on me.

I know that one of the mantras of Integrity (the LGBT advocacy organization in The Episcopal Church with whom I have worked several times over the past few years) is Psalm 84:11 - "No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity".  But even so, it always seems to surprise me whenever I stumble upon those words in prayer.

The Psalm that was chosen for my ordination as a deacon was Psalm 84.  Even so, I was deeply moved and surprised in the midst of the ordination as I spoke the words of the eleventh verse.  It had slipped my mind that that citation was significant to me in that way.  Despite my failure of memory, I believe that God was quietly moving in that moment and reminding me of a piece of my purpose in ordination.

The same thing happened tonight.

It started two nights ago, actually.  I was enjoying the reception before the dinner at our Diocesan Convention on Friday night - happily wandering through the crowds of friends and colleagues.  I ran into Louie Crew - the founder of Integrity, a giant of the progressive movement of The Episcopal Church, lay leader in my diocese, and my friend.  He quickly stuffed a little box into my hands and said, "Just stick this in your pocket and take a look at it later when you have a chance."

Of course I did as I was told.  I've learned to quickly follow the advice of Dr. Crew whenever I've been fortunate enough to have received it!  But admittedly, my curiosity quickly got the better of me and no more than a few minutes passed before I declared it to be officially "later".

In the box, I found this:


along with this note:
December 12, 2009


May your priesthood bring joy to absolutely everybody!

This cross was given to me at the first Integrity convention, at the Cathedral of St. James in Chicago, 1974.  I rejoice to share a stretch of the gravel on the Way with you.


In case the picture is too blurry, the cross reads: "INTEGRITY / Dr. Louie Crew / First Annual Award 1975".

On the back is inscribed, "Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est" (Where charity and love are, God is there).

I am profoundly humbled and touched by Louie's generosity.

I've always said, there's something that feels a little strange about receiving gifts on the occasion of an ordination.  It's not that I don't appreciate the kindness, but that the ordination feels like such a gift in it's own right that it feels strange to receive other material expressions of the community's shared joy.

In this case - as has been so often the case with gifts from others over the past couple of months - that strangeness is compounded by the fact that Louie's real gift is his friendship.  It has been a source of such joy and honor for me to have had this chance to get to know him and to learn from him over the past few years.  For him to have shared this expression of generosity feels like almost too much to bear.

I was thinking about that for the past couple of days - how to say "thank you" in the face of such kindness and generosity.

But then tonight, that sneaky Psalm peeked in once more: "No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity."

It's true.  I see it in my own life.  Even when I'm feeling down or tired or overwhelmed or lonely.  Even when I feel most distant from God.  Even then, God is calling.  When I dig through the clutter that so easily piles into life and find the quiet center, God is there with a quiet message - a familiar message - made new once again.

"No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity."

I am blessed by the legacy of those saints, like Louie, walking their paths with integrity - a path on which I now endeavor to tread.  Just as the Psalm reminds us that our God is both sun and shield, this mantra is both what calls me home and directs my journey into the unknown.

I am indeed blessed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An interview with Bishop Duracin

An important video interview from the Wall Street Journal with the Right Reverend Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Diocese of Haiti, along with a story about the difficulties in the diocese and the unimaginable damages that they have sustained.

Contribute to The Episcopal Church relief effort in Haiti by contributing to Episcopal Relief and Development: 

Monday, January 18, 2010

We, as a people, will get to the promised land

From our friends who brought us "auto tune the news" - namely Michael Gregory of the Gregory Brothers.

Happy MLK Day!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

May we find and be found

3 January 2010
Christmas 2C
Luke 2:41-52

In the name of God. Amen.

It’s that time of year. It seems to start somewhere around Thanksgiving, and without fail it continues into the new year.

I think it happens to all of us. No matter how progressive or forward-looking any of us claims to be, at about this time every year – even if not for the whole time – there is some part of each of us that yearns to look back. Our time with family and friends brings up memories of the years that have passed, even as another year passes into memory. The year that was – with all of its things done and left undone – fades. We look back: perhaps with fondness, perhaps with regret. But what are we looking for? Do we ever really find it?

Some of you may know I have a fondness for movies. Fondness – it might better be described as addiction! My DVD collection is extensive, and I watch them often. It’s not that I’m a great aficionado of film. I don’t study the art form or sciences of filmmaking. I haven’t seen many of the great films that people are supposed to have seen. But I do love a good movie. Few things are more satisfying to me than crawling into my most comfortable pajamas and curling up on the couch with the lights low and watching a good movie.

During this season of nostalgia and looking back, that’s how I usually meet my needs – with a good movie.

Earlier this week, I didn’t have any big plans for New Year’s Eve. Some of my friends had work obligations or were out of town, so I found myself with an unexpectedly, but welcome quiet evening. I decided to use that as an opportunity to feed my own yearning for seasonal nostalgia.

I turned the lights low and got comfortable on the couch and settled into the last hours of last year to rewatch a comfortable old movie – Forrest Gump.

One of my favorite episodes in this film happens later in Forrest’s life. After his mother has died and after his success in the shrimp business has been established, Forrest is on the edge of embracing his true dream – to be with his beloved Jenny. She has returned to Greenbow, Alabama and is staying with Forrest in his family home.

They live a quiet life together: eating, watching television, dancing. But when Forrest confronts Jenny about his love for her, and proposes marriage, she gets cold feet again and runs away again. After a lifetime of searching, she still seems unsure.

In the next scene Forrest begins a search of his own. Not for Jenny, but for clarity in his own mind. Throughout his life he had found clarity and security and even fame and fortune in running.

As he put it: he ran to the end of the drive way, and when he got there, he thought he might as well run to the end of the street. Once there he decided to run to the end of the town. And then the county. And then the state. Before long he was on an epic journey running back and forth across the country.

People began following him. Though he rarely spoke, and then only few words, they were somehow inspired by him. But he didn’t run to inspire others. He ran because it was his way of searching his soul.

I think that’s what this seasonal nostalgia is for most of us. In our looking back we search our own souls for a way forward.

In the Gospel that we read this morning, we heard of another search – that of parents searching for a “lost” child. Since I’m not a parent, I probably can’t know the terror that must have been in their hearts. But I do know what it is feel lost – to feel separated from my dreams and desires to the degree that I wonder if we’ll ever be reunited. I know what it is to search.

Later this week, as a church, we’ll celebrate the end of another kind of search – the searching of the Magi for a king. These Eastern philosophers, following their charts of the stars, believed that something substantial was waiting out in the world for them, if only they could find it. After twelve days of wandering and searching, they stumbled onto one of the most insignificant corners of one of the most insignificant towns of a fairly insignificant kingdom. There they found their hearts’ desire – a king in the person of a seemingly insignificant child.

From the Jewish refugees wandering in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land to the people of Christ searching for signs of resurrection, the stories of our heritage are the stories of a people searching. One of the central purposes of the people of God is to engage in the search. It might seem preferable to seek out comfort and stability, but God is always calling us out of our comfort zones and back into the search: for deeper ways of engaging the Body of Christ through our relationships, for truer ways of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

What are we searching for?

In this time of economic instability and generally declining church attendance are we searching for the next morsel to get us through the next day, or are we searching for deeper relationships and truer mission?

Are we searching for the grace to share the divine life of the one who humbled himself to share our humanity? Or are we searching for our own comforts, and hoping to stumble upon Christ on the way?

Perhaps the young Jesus said it best, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

When our focus is on ourselves we are lucky, at best, to stumble onto even that. But when we, like Christ, endeavor to go about our Creator’s business, we will invariably find Christ.

In these waning days of Christmas – in this season of nostalgia – what are you searching for?

May we all, who seek God or a deeper knowledge of God, find and be found by God. Amen.