Thursday, December 20, 2007

Red Doors and a Warm Welcome

Hi Everyone,
Well, it was bound to happen. I hit the front page of the Salem News with this fine article. My cousin asked if I was stirring up trouble other cousin said..."not again, but still!"
Peace to all.

Pastor has door painted red to signify welcoming tradition

Tom Dalton

SALEM | The massive double door on St. Peter Church is more than 200 years old but had gone largely unnoticed in recent years. Maybe that's because it was green and blended with the leafy surroundings of historic downtown Salem.
When the Rev. Paul Bresnahan, the church's new priest, arrived earlier this year, he was surprised to see a green door. "My wife said to me, 'What happened to the red door?'"
She asked about the color because Episcopal churches traditionally have red doors. It is the color of the blood of Christ and through history has served as a symbol of safety and sanctuary.
But the color red has even more meaning to Bresnahan. It also represents a welcoming church, a church that opens its arms and doors to everyone regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation.
That's important to the 61-year-old priest, who is married and has three sons.
"I was brought up by a gay uncle," he said, "and two of my kids are gay."
Sexual orientation might not be a big deal in some churches, but the issue has split the Episcopal church wide open. The headlines started in 2003 with the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire -- the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States.
"We have always ordained gay folks," said Bresnahan, who has been a priest for more than 30 years. "We have always ordained gay bishops, but nobody who would be honest about it. Gene Robinson is the first man who's honest."
Several congregations have seceded from the U.S. Episcopal Church over the growing support for gay rights. Just last week, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., voted to leave the church.
There have been Episcopal churches in Massachusetts, including one in Hamilton, that have been torn over the issue, with some members believing that expanding the rights of homosexuals and lesbians within the church is contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
Bresnahan disagrees with that position and, as the father of gay sons, feels so strongly that he wrote a book last year: "Everything You Need to Know About Sex in Order to Get Into Heaven." It is dedicated to his wife and boys.
"Michael, I love you ..." he writes in one dedication, "precisely as you are and whoever you become."
"I have three kids, two of whom happen to be gay," Bresnahan said yesterday, sitting in his office in the old stone church, a photo of his three sons on his desk. "This is no big deal to (me and my wife) ...
"When they came out to me, there was never a question was there room in my heart for the love of them, or in God's heart."
Before coming to Salem, Bresnahan asked the members of St. Peter's to read the book. He wanted them to know about him and his family. It turned out to be no big deal to them either, he said, because St. Peter's is already a welcoming church, which has hosted a gay men's choir.
Although it wasn't his top priority at St. Peter's, Bresnahan said he started discussing the color of the door soon after his arrival. There were some objections, he said, but they had more to do with aesthetics than sex.
Painting the door bright red, he said, was a bow to tradition and the spirit of sanctuary, and also an acknowledgment of where St. Peter's stood at this time of controversy and dissent in the Episcopal church -- where St. Peter's has stood for a long time.
"For me," the new priest said, "it really comes down to the idea of being a house of prayer for all people."

Copyright © 1999-2006 cnhi, inc.


The Rev. Paul Bresnahan stands in front of St. Peter Church in Salem. The red door symbolizes that all are welcome to the church. Staff Photo

Friday, November 23, 2007

Veteran's Day

This year Veteran's Day fell on a Sunday.
It was a good time to think about all those who have served this country and those who still are.
They find themselves, of course, in conflict now in Iraq and many of them are in harm's way.
Hats off to our veterans.
These are difficult times for our Vets. They serve in dangerous and unfriendly places often not knowing who the friendlies and the enemies are. Telling the difference is problematic.
And so they run patrols and find themselves at the mercy of blind fortune when struck by roadside bombs or coming home safe again. The trauma and stress of this kind of service takes its toll.
The Veteran's Administration tells us that upwards of 30% of the homeless in this country are Veterans and that on any given night 195,000 of them may be on the streets any given night.
We're in for a bunch more homeless if that is any indication when the current crop of men and women in uniform head back from home.
There are those who question the patriotism of people like me who raise questions about some recent wars...especially Viet Nam and now this one...the Second Gulf War.
Both were predicated on lies...yes I said lies.
In the case of Viet Nam it was shown many years later that LBJ trumped up the whole Gulf of Tonkin incident to get Congress to ratify his bellicose policy in South East Asia.
Now we have GWB giving us the line about weapons of mass destruction and Hussein's connection to terrorists to justify sending our country's finest young people into battle.
He did not tell us the truth.
Who would think that the President of the United States would deliberately lie about a matter such as this.
To be sure, Clinton's lie about Lewinsky was reprehensible and a ethical lapse of significance, but in that case, nobody had to was a personal matter for a married couple to resolve and a family to deal with. As difficult as that is, they did it.
But in the case of the Iraq war, we had a deliberate lie that has led to the death of more than 3000 young people and hundreds of thousands of deaths of Iraqi people.
And now we'll have thousands of our young people coming home with terrible wounds in body and spirit and many of them will be homeless.
Many of us have built homeless shelters. I did.
It was not an easy thing to do. People did not want homeless shelters in their neighborhoods.
Homeless people often have mental illnesses, some have alcohol and drug problems.
Many many of them are Veterans.
It is not easy to find a place for them to live.
It is even harder to find money to pay for shelters for them.
It is almost impossible to find the money to pay for the services they need to pay for their rehabilitation.
What kind of country is it that treat's its Veterans so?
And some call me unpatriotic for raising questions about this war.
Yes, we needed to go into Afghanistan and find BinLaden. We still haven't done that.
But it was hasty of us to go into Iraq.
We will pay for that blunder for years.
And so we come to Veteran's Day.
May God bless our young people.
May God protect them.
And may God bring us peace with justice in the Middle East.
So far our Government has been less than effective in moving us toward peace.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Lament for the City

A Lament for the City

The Lament is an exquisite literary form that expresses something deep in human experience. There are times when it seems appropriate for a lamentation: such as when we saw the Twin Towers fall in New York. Thousands died. Heroic first responders gave their lives for those that were doomed as well as those who could be saved. The image of those towers gleaming against the clear blue sky and airplanes hurtling toward them will be forever fixed in our collective memory. And so we lament our loss.

So too those who live in Baghdad; they too grieve a grief too deep for words. The city is in ruins. The Great Museum is all but bereft of her treasures. Explosions kill innocents in the marketplace and worse still in the holy shrines. Terrible mistakes are made by the occupation force. A foreign army is misunderstood and resented and its commander in chief seems out of his depth in managing its deployment. And we, desperate to support our young people are so divided over whether we know what we’re doing there. And on and on it goes without an end in sight.

We will remember Pearl Harbor forever, and certainly our parents and grandparents will never forget. Those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are swept away with a blast that humankind had never seen before. London’s fearful nights and the dreadful incendiary attack against Dresden during World War II also elicit a profound lament from the human soul.

Jerusalem has seen it all too often, and the Walls of Jericho, that ancient city, have fallen at least 28 times if the archeologists are right about the way they read the Tell that is there.

And so the lamentations of human kind are all too pervasive in history. Can we find a way to sing the songs of our lamentation to God that can bring us hope or do we only find despair in our human experience?

Jesus tells us all we need is the faith of a mustard seed to make the mountains move. And Jesus goes one step further. He assures us that we already have enough faith to take us all the way to our deepest hopes. The greatest mountain to be moved is the rock that was moved away from the tomb in which Jesus lay.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Thus the Lamentation is written in the human heart and in the heart of God as something to remind us of something larger still. The Lamentation is only one verse in the Song of God. This week let us sing on toward the place where God’s hope and ours meet even when it begins with the sorrow of our common Lamentation.


Imagine if you will what it would be like to be taken “en masse” from our homes and placed in slave labor for an enemy under force of arms. Imagine if you will, our faith taken away from us, and our holy places left in a heap of ruins. Imagine generations and generations of our people thus kept for many, many years. That is exactly what did happen to the children of Israel and thus the book of Lamentations came into existence. The prophets were never trusted after that. They were often anti-war activists and were considered unpatriotic.

One after another, the prophets railed against the corruption of the Kings of Israel. Each king was a little worse that their predecessor, according to the record of the kings and the theological proclamation of the prophets. And to be faithful to God meant to tell the truth, even if it was at the cost of personal freedom and safety. Jeremiah and a host of prophets were thus quite shabbily treated by their own people. It is remarkable that their writings have reached us.

It was in the crucible of this kind of conflict that the Lament was developed as a literary art form. To be able to be so utterly honest with God in our spirituality, ultimately also assists in the discovery of the grace of hope.

The alternate Psalm for the day, Psalm 137 is another articulate lament, but in this case it culminates in a dreadful imprecation on the enemy.

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *
and dashes them against the rock!

Understandable to be sure; it was entirely likely that Israel’s precious little ones were likewise treated. And so the ethic of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was thus proclaimed. But as history’s tiresome repetition shows, such an ethic leads only to a world where everyone is blind and all are toothless, as Gandhi so succinctly pointed out in the wisdom and humor of his understanding of the human heart.

St. Paul urges his people on in his letter to Timothy, with comforting and inspiring words. He is, interestingly enough, quite affirming of the feminine spirituality of Lois and Eunice, which belies his own admiration for those of faith whoever they are. In his better moments, Paul does see that we are one in Christ whether we are slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. Even more astutely Paul encourages us not to succumb to cowardice, but through faith and the laying-on-of-hands to receive a “spirit of power, love and self-discipline.” The abolition of death then ultimately gives us heart…courage if you will to profess the faith and to engage the “powers and principalities” with the sprit we have in Christ.

“We are more than conquerors, through him who first loves us”. All these echoing phrases come to us in a song of God, whatever fear of terror we face. These are good days for us to remember the courage of Christ and his early followers. We live in an age of fear and terror that will require tremendous courage.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that it will take but the tiniest seed of faith to move mountains; he goes on to say that we have that faith already, if we read the Greek phraseology correctly. Faith is a gift. It is absolutely free and with it we have conquered death and sin itself. What a gift! As we look to Jesus and ask for more faith, he looks back at us and tells us it is already there, sewn in our hearts by the free gift of his life.


In the year before the current “Intifada” in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I took a group of young people to the Holy Land. We visited a refugee camp outside Bethlehem that has been much in the news in the years since our pilgrimage. Our Palestinian hosts lamented the conditions they lived with on a daily basis. We saw it with our own eyes. Twenty eight families living with one bathroom, for instance: it made us heartsick. Yet for sixty years the people have been living thus. Our hosts asked “why should we be called on to pay the price for the holocaust?” Our Israeli hosts, on the other hand, spoke of the violence they lived with on a daily basis. Innocent people died in the marketplaces where people did their daily rounds. And in the exchange of insult and misunderstanding, accusation, and recrimination, thousands upon thousands die. The heart of God must break that people of faith must live so, and treat each other so.

The last century and now this new one is witness to far too many instances of genocide. What is occurring in Darfur now, as the world watches far too passively, is excruciatingly painful. And the tears of the people drench the ground as does too much innocent blood.

In our own experience, we have fought in Viet Nam and now twice in the Persian Gulf and very little is resolved or settled. This is not like the Second World War which seemed to call us together in a way that few other national emergencies have. Now we seem divided by political opportunists who use our conflicted experience to win elections. In an earlier time, folk singers, while not quite developing the literature of lament, did produce a host of anti-war songs.

What we have yet to do, is find a way to articulate an honest song to God about the times in which we live. We seem bereft of an honest spirituality. If we could form a lament in our hearts that we could sing with our lips, then perhaps we could find our way to God. If we were to do that we’d also find another song of hope that would lead us to peace with justice for many.

After 911 we did come together for a little while. Our national leaders gathered as one at the National Cathedral and spoke with one voice. It lasted all too briefly. We seem to have lost our way and our resolve has become diffuse. We are not a united nation. And now conservatives blame liberals; liberals blame conservatives and all the talk show hosts vent their spleens at American people who dare to disagree. What will it take to save the nation?


It must grieve the heart of God to see the human family behave so. In so many ways, and at so many times the very Name of God has been put to use to excuse our inhumanity to one another. Somehow a sense of righteous indignation seems to excuse terror and warfare, bigotry and violence.

It must grieve the heart of God to see the human family behave so. God sent the prophets to preach justice and peace. The very word peace, shalom and salaam, gave birth to the name of God’s own holy city Jerusalem. And there the holy city sits on Zion’s hill with Christians, Jews, and Muslim’s claiming her as their very own. Like little children playing “King of the Mountain” we push each other around and shame God’s love with our hatred.

Is it any wonder that the Lament has found its way into sacred literature? To be sure human beings do sing their songs of sorrow, but can you imagine God’s song when the blood of those same children spills into the sands and stones of Galilee. We call each other “enemy” like factious and feuding families. We refuse to speak to one another and posture our stiff necked hatred toward each other. The Lament we sing of our loss is only multiplied as God counts the losses even more exponentially for all the children of the human family are the flesh and blood of God.

Jesus came to give us the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus came to teach us to love our enemies. It is a difficult ministry. It may require the gift of a life. It required the gift of Jesus’ life to purchase the price of forgiveness. We are loath to pay the price, aren’t we? There are far too many willing to take our lives with glee for us to play into the hand of calumny and cruelty.

Perhaps if we were to sing sooner the song of God, we could find a way to Peace. If we could find a way to an honest articulation of Lamentation, then perhaps God could act. Perhaps God could direct our feet in the pathways of peace by showing us how to talk to one another. Better still perhaps God could help us by teaching us first to listen to one another.

Military action, political power, and diplomatic initiative are all part of a seamless piece when placed in the hands of God. Placing these matters in the hands of God is often the last thought of the expert in these disciplines. We ask God to be on our side and seldom honestly ask if we are on God’s side.

It is so easy to blame “the other” through our failure to see the humanity in the flesh and blood of our brothers and sisters. Some may wonder what color God is. Perhaps God is the color of America, or Britain. Others would say that God is the color of Arabia or Judaica. Some say that God is the color of Jesus, Moses or Muhammad. The laws of the universe that God created must find such parochialism too narrow. God is much, much bigger than any box we may seek to put God into.

God created the whole world according to the creation accounts in Genesis. Therefore it stands to reason that the color of God is far more diverse in hue than merely one particular color. As God sees the globe it has no national borders. As God created human beings there is only one flesh and blood, one heart for all, and one hope for all, and only one love to make everything possible.

When we were in the Holy Land an old Arabic woman asked us if we knew the color of God. We shrugged our shoulders. She said that the color of God is the color of water. It stands to reason when you think of it. More than 60% of the human body is water. And it is given life by electrical impulses to make the mind and heart work to the glory or the shame of the Creator.

Thus we come to this moment in time and still we need a savior. Moses taught us obedience through the law. The Prophet Muhammad taught us that God is the All Merciful. Jesus taught us that God is the All Loving.

We are a disobedient, unmerciful, and unloving lot because we refuse to listen to those God sent to us. May God have mercy on us ALL!

Perhaps there is time for us to sing the song of God’s own heart of sorrow as we mourn the terrible losses that we and God have suffered. If we sing that song with any skill we will learn to listen to the hope of God for a new tomorrow. Perhaps we will get a glimpse of the Dream of God to take the human hearts of stone and make it a heart of flesh and blood that beats with love for the whole human family.

We are servants of God as the Gospel points out. It is our duty to sing our song in such a way that serves God’s purposes on the earth. It is our duty. May it be said of us that “We have only done what we ought to have done”.

Thank God that the Lament is part of our sacred literature. May it teach us the way to God’s broken heart so the healing balm of God may help us sing on to other verses where the hope and love and forgiveness of God gives us all a way to Peace and Justice for all.

To Make a Saint; Start with a Sinner

The Only way to make a Saint:

Start with a Sinner

How many of our great leaders have fallen from grace? I remember how crestfallen I was when I learned as a young man that apparently John Fitzgerald Kennedy had some indiscretions with Marilyn Monroe, only to learn some years later, that this was but the tip of the iceberg. Then come to find out, no less a personage than Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself was thought to have had some liaisons with a “lady” or two at the White House. The revelations just seemed to multiply as we entered a period of “debunking” of our heroes. Even Abraham Lincoln did not go unscathed as he was reputed to have had a dalliance or two with a close male associate. That accusation is vehemently denied by many, doggedly insisted to by others.

On and on and on it goes, it seems, in a rather tiresome sequence of unending disappointment. Bill Clinton’s presidency will forever have the cloud of the Lewinsky episode as his legacy. At the same time so many so-called pro-family evangelicals have found themselves sullied by personal indiscretions. Newt Gingrich was busy with his mistress as his wife was dying of cancer at the same time as he vigorously led the charge against Clinton. More recently, Senators Foley and now Craig while seeking a constitutional amendment to deny same sex marriage for others, were themselves compromised by moral disgrace; in the former case with page boys in Congress and in the latter at a men’s room in a Minneapolis airport..

Now come to find out that no less a light than Mother Theresa had nagging doubts about God until the very day of her death. How in the world do we find redemption in a world where sin is so ubiquitous and where doubt is so real? I take some comfort in the notion of the potter in today’s Old Testament lesson. God is not finished with us yet. And too I am reminded of Kierkegaard’s famous quote; “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.

That being the case, there is no better place for God to begin than with you and me!

Today let us consider how being a sinner can lead to sainthood…and if we’re not careful, vice versa.

The Word

The Jeremiah passage about the Potter’s clay is a wonderful resource for a preacher. I also like his turn of phrase “The word of the Lord came to me”. The way he uses the language, we come away with a sense that God speaks to the human heart not to the ear. God gives the sense of what the message is rather than giving a word for word directive. The warning that God is articulating in today’s lesson certainly needs to be given to Israel. But it can be given to any nation. It can be given to any individual, or family. The scripture becomes profoundly symbolic for me as we read it in this way. I hear God speaking then in my heart as God speaks for the poor, the outcast, or as God speaks to me and soberly invites me to honesty. It is a wonderful passage.

So too the psalm: here the psalmist postulates that God’s knowledge of us is so intimate and so close that God ends up knowing us better than we do ourselves. That’s often true. There’s much of ourselves that we often don’t want to face. But God will not let us get away with that. God’s will be done, because God presses in before and behind, and ultimately this knowledge is so wonderful that it becomes my salvation.

The passage from Philemon is a charming piece of redemptive literature too. We don’t know what there was about Onesimus but we do know that he once was utterly useless. Somehow, God found a use for him. Somehow this sinner became one of the saints and no less a light than Paul spoke up for him. He had to press the point. His “indiscretion” or “sin” must have been noteworthy, but ultimately he became another one of the redeemed of God.

The Gospel is difficult today. Taking up the cross to follow Jesus must ultimately rest on an honest appraisal of where we stand on our own with Jesus. No one in the family can stand in for us. We’re on our own. There’s no way to finesse our way to God. There is only the way of the cross. We cannot buy our way there. We cannot earn our way there. The only way to the heart of God and to the kingdom is through the reality of our own hearts and the truth of who we are.

The World

It is very sad, isn’t it? Senator Craig denied it. Foley denied it. Vitter denied it. Gingrich, Clinton, Nixon all denied it. My grandmother used to say “Denial is not a river in Egypt”. Denial is covering up something that needs a dose of truth. If there was one thing that my grandmother couldn’t tolerate, it was a liar. It is as if the lie is itself becomes a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because the lie prohibits grace from doing its wonders. That’s what we find out in the 12 step program. Once we admit that we are powerless over our addictive behaviors; that is the moment of Grace. That is when God can get to work on us and make saints out of the sinners that we are. The sin never goes away, but God can make something beautiful with the sinner who has the courage to be truthful.

Crafting the Sermon

Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, visited the United States often and once I heard him speak at Trinity Institute, one of the finest clergy conferences of the Episcopal Church held annually at Trinity Church, Wall Street. It is the place to be if an Episcopal Priest wants to be at the center of things in that church. The focus of the particular conference I attended was the ordained ministry. Ramsey loved the one liner and he had quite a few in his repertoire. Near the top of the list was the one about the quality of the clergy these days. Even then, in the seventies, there was quite a fuss about the “run of the mill” that ended up ordained. Ramsey flashed his twinkling eyes at the assembled gathering and said; “When people complain to me about the quality of the clergy, I respond rather sharply”, he quipped, “If you want better clergy, give us a better crop to pick from!”

It seems to me that the bishop was right on. When it comes to picking out clergy to lead us, we have no one to pick from but ourselves. The same can be said of politicians, diplomats, corporate leadership, teachers, or any other profession that is held to careful scrutiny these days. If we don’t offer ourselves for leadership, someone else will lead. All that apathy guarantees is that someone other than ourselves will lead. They will often not be up to our standards. But we ourselves often don’t want to get our hands dirty in the grit and grime of leadership.

And so yes we see a spate of revelations about clergy, politicians, corporate heads, teachers, and the list goes on. They all come from the general population. And we’re all tainted with the reality of human foibles. The only doctrine we can prove in the Christian experience is sin. There is ample evidence of it every day in the newspaper and on CNN. All other doctrine we must take on faith.

And so one by one our heroes fall, as their Achilles heels give way under the pressure that each of us brings to our several endeavors. It seems that it is when we cannot be honest about who we are, that sin gains special power over us. It is that so called “secret” sin that gains traction in its ability to corrupt us or to hide behind our own hypocrisy. We pick specks out of other human eyes while we cannot see the log that renders us blind in our own eyesight. (Loose paraphrase of Matthew 7:3) Never did Jesus speak more aptly to the human condition than in that famous “one liner”!

It is thus that several senators have lined up to fight for family values and personal probity, while they themselves were engaged in some decidedly compromising and bad habits. Gingrich and his affair while he chased down Clinton for his indiscretion, Foley and Craig fought for a ban on gay marriage while they themselves were reputed to be involved with pages in the former case, and lewd behavior in an airport in the latter. These are but a few of the kinds of cases we see where “the speck and the log” axiom seems to be at work.

But God does not create junk. And the Potter is busy at the wheel making beautiful things.

There is a case that leads to a better place it seems to me. Mother Theresa, come to find out, had her doubts about God. Her “Dark Night of the Soul” has come to light now on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The article quotes Mother Theresa as follows “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,” she wrote in 1959, “of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.” This exquisite woman of faith opens her heart to us now even in her death. Her heart is like the hearts of so many, bleak not only with doubt, but sometimes even with a form of certitude that there simply is no God.

Part of me is disappointed. She looked so peaceful and serene…although as I think about it, she may have looked more holy, than peaceful or serene. She had so much to come to terms with. How could she work so closely with the utterly destitute and have faith? That really was the question. When the poor are so utterly cast away, how can we believe?

In the NY Times piece that appeared on August 29th, Fr. James Martin, a perceptive Jesuit priest, points to the vital role of Spiritual Director for the child of God who dares to be honest to self and to God. “In time, with the aid of the priest who acted as her spiritual director, Mother Teresa concluded that these painful experiences could help her identify not only with the abandonment that Jesus Christ felt during the crucifixion, but also with the abandonment that the poor faced daily. In this way she hoped to enter, in her words, the “dark holes” of the lives of the people with whom she worked. Paradoxically, then, Mother Teresa’s doubt may have contributed to the efficacy of one of the more notable faith-based initiatives of the last century.”

What is missing for so many of us is the honesty and truth that facing sin can give us. Whether it is addictive behavior around drugs, sex, alcohol, or perhaps greed, or an obsession with power and violence, we cannot even begin to find our way to forgiveness without at first being honest with ourselves and with God. The role of Confessor, and Spiritual Director, valued companion or “heart other” as it is called in spirituality is a well documented resource within the tradition of faith. “Come let us reason together” has been the dictum of faith it seems forever.

The prophet Isaiah gave us a first glimpse at the idea in the first chapter at the 18th verse “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.?”

And thus we come to the thesis of this sermon idea; to make a saint God must begin with a sinner. Kierkegaard said it. I’ll repeat it. It is what Jeremiah had in mind when he wrote of God as being like the potter at his wheel fashioning clay vessels. He works by the hour to make something beautiful. But something goes wrong. He breaks the pot and starts again. So it is with us. We are clay in the hands of God. And so long as we can be honest to God and with ourselves, the hand of God can indeed touch us and make of us something that is pleasing to see, and something pleasing to be. Thus God makes saints out of sinners. There’s no better place to begin than with you. There’s no better place to begin than with me. The pathway toward holiness is not to pretend we have no sin. The pathway to holiness is to be honest to God and to ourselves about who we are. That is what we learn from the saints. They too were sinners each of them just like us. But they found a way to be honest about who they are.

It is interesting to me that when God revealed the divine personality, the verb “to be” is used. Hebrew is tough to translate on a good day, but the mood of the verb used in Exodus to Moses is roughly translated “I AM who I AM”… or “I AM whatever I WILL BE” or just “I AM”. You see, God was honest about the divine nature. No adjectives or adverbs were used, just a very tentative mood of the present tense that can be rendered perhaps a future conditional of some undetermined influence. That is precisely who God is. God will be whoever God will be! If we’re honest about it, the same must be said of ourselves. And at the very least the Bible is honest. The pathway to God’s redemptive power then is through this very kind of honesty.

Another bishop I know was fond of saying; “It is not the mission of the church to make good people better; it is the mission of the church to make bad people holy”. That’s why the first step in the recovery process is overcoming denial. It is to admit that I have no power over the sin that has me in its grip. Once we say that we’re on our way. The truth shall make us free. (John 8:32)

God, make of us what You will but please do make of us, and not as we will but as You will. Take Your hands and we will be clay for You. Mould us to Your purpose so that we can be something beautiful for you as Mother Theresa was something beautiful for you in her time.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Set Your Mind on Things that are Above

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Greed and Idolatry
Seeking the Things That are Above

The Gospel tells us this week to guard against all kinds of greed. If it is true that the love of money is at the root of all evil, then this is very good advice indeed. Life in America makes that ideal difficult, however. For instance, at the same time that the Gospel tells us to be against all kinds of greed, the minimum wage increased also from $5.15 to $5.85 and hour. It is the first increase in the minimum wage in more than 10 years. Some feel the adjustment is long overdue, and many others feel it will have an adverse effect on the economy. And as I write this Joe Naccio the ex-Qwest executive has been convicted of insider trading. In short, that means that while investors in his communications company watched their investments tumble from $60 to $2 a share, he "wisely" traded out his shares at a point that gave him a $52 million profit. Is there any greed in this dynamic?

Whatever the case, let me suggest that we have not altogether freed ourselves from idolatry and the "Golden Calf" mentality of our spiritual ancestors. I grew up in a home where we were taught to believe in "The Almighty Dollar" whether we were children of the working class or of management and the middle class. I am a product of a "mixed marriage". My mom came from a long line of "blue collar" folk and union people. She married into "management" and I remember vividly being snatched out of the coziness of the old neighborhood when they got married. Suddenly I found myself in a new subdivision complete with a privacy fence, an outdoor bar-b-cue and a sense of alienation between ourselves and our neighbors.

There was a cost/benefit ratio for me in the experience. In the old neighborhood schools few of us went on to college. In the new development everyone was "expected" to go to college. We had lots of homework and suddenly there were lots of books around to read, which was not the case in the "old" family. I became the first in my family to go to college, and I considered that then and still do a bit of an achievement.

I was rescued from a life sentence of minimum wage jobs. Most of the attractive union jobs held by my "old" family have gone overseas now. And I have gone on to the comfortable life of a respected clergyman. My family had appealed to me not to go into the church business. I protested. "I like people", I said..."then go into personnel at least" they pleaded.
Whether we were union or management, we all believed in the "bottom line". It was all right to go to church as long as you didn't take that too far. I took it all the way to the priesthood. That was way too far. We were a "born-again" secular family whether union or management and we believed the the power of the "Greenback".

Today's Gospel goes on to say that even when we lay up treasures for ourselves in our vast storehouses, our very lives are vulnerable to the very viccissitudes of life. We live and die. We are healthy and we get sick. We prosper and we loose our resources: just like the marriage service teaches us, in vows we so often take for granted and without a full appreciation of the truth they proclaim: we take each other for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and until we are parted by death.

It seems to be dawning on many that as America grays, and as we horde our wealth, or health, or even life itself, all we manage to do is to tighten our grasp around the tangible. The tighter we grab onto what we have the more likely it will sift through our fingers as sand falls from a clenched fist. Have we forgotten that who we are and what we have is not ours but God's? Have we forgotten the simplest fact about us that we are "dust" and to the "dust" we shall return. This is what the Gospel is trying to remind the rich man in today's proclamation. You may indeed store up for yourself all kinds of grain in your vast storehouses, but if you forget that you belong to God, you risk endangering all that you have and all that you are. That's a risk we all face. We delude ourselves into thinking that what we have is "all mine". It is not. There is a wonderful collect that summarizes the reality in this turn of phrase "help us as we pass through things temporal, that we loose not things that are eternal".

Among those eternal gifts, are the gifts of life, and love and eternal life. Those are the things that matter. Those are the things that shall endure.

Sometimes we even think that if we give God 10% we're even. That could not be further from the truth. Everything we have and all that we are is from God. The 10% some give and some don't is merely the Biblical injunction to proportional giving...and proportional giving cheerfully! My dear friends 100% of it belongs to God. There is a turn of phrase in the Prayer Book Marriage Service that I'm fond of. As the bride and groom give one another rings they make this pledge "I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you." That's the ideal of the intimacy of human love. What a wonderful way to live in partnership with another human being; as a friend for life; as a partner whose very souls touch in the co-mingling of their lives. That image befits our intimacy with God as well. The plain and simple truth in the matter of our spiritual intimacy with God is that everything we have and all that we are is also God's. God is there at every moment knocking at the door, willing to be an open heart to us, eager to respond to our most humble and urgent requests. Yes everything we are and all that we have in life is from God. As we live out our lives we decide moment by moment how much we truly want to belong to God and to God's beloved. Nothing absolutely nothing goes with us, except for the thing that matters most; eternal life!

So while we have this breath to breathe, let us do ourselves the favor of doing it wisely and in the fear of God. As Paul advised rightly let us "seek the things that are above where where Christ is seated at the right hand of God". Let us put off the old self and put on Christ as we would a garment. Let us clothe ourselves carefully as we would any wardrobe to look our best, only let us remember that we are to present ourselves to God in the purity and in the joy of heaven.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Pope Speaks again...ugh!

The Only True Church?

When I was a youngster my best friend told me that he was upset. I asked him why and he said that I was a nice enough guy and a great friend, but that I was not going to heaven. “Why?” said I. My friend told me I wasn’t Catholic, so I couldn’t go. Years later, when I worked in a warehouse in Toronto, a co-worker asked me if I was saved. I just don’t think in those terms so I said, “That’s God’s call, not mine.” I think I failed that exam too. In the meantime, I went on to become a priest in the Episcopal Church.

There are all kinds of ideas “out there” about which is the “true church”; or which television preacher has the “plain and simple truth” about what the bible says. In many cases the plain and simple truth plays out a set of inclusion/exclusion exercises based on the speaker’s understanding of the “plain and simple truth”. For me, too many people I love fall outside the salvation circle in both the former and in the latter pronouncements.

And so Pope Benedict has now entered the dialogue. In the post Vatican II world, many of us had hoped for more overtures to ecumenicity. Instead we now find that many of us are with “defect” and cannot even be called “church” in the most proper sense of the word.

The reader may remember that last year on September 12, 2006 to be exact at the University of Regensburg in Germany the Pope said the following; “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope was referring to a passage that originally appeared in the “Dialogue Held With A Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Anakara of Galatia”, written in 1391. It was an expression of the views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, one of the last Christian rulers before the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire, on such issues as forced conversion, holy war, and the relationship between faith and reason. You may remember that the response from the Islamic world was instant and vigorous. The Vatican was forced to do a bit of backpedalling and no end of “clarification.”

In addition, after a number of impressive and magnanimous overtures to our sisters and brothers in Judaism, the revival of the Latin mass with its unfortunate and somewhat intemperate prayer for the conversion of the Jews, has certainly raised more than a few theological eyebrowse.
Now we have yet another statement that will cause no end of consternation within the Christian world. Pope Benedict has signed off on a statement observing that the Churches of the Reformation are “defective” since they do not have an episcopacy or a priesthood that arises out of the historic apostolic succession. The concluding paragraph is the most damaging part of the new statement: “These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.” That should provide plenty grist for the mill for those charged with the responsibility of cultivating ecumenical relationships around the world. To say that this is a setback from Vatican II would be an understatement indeed.

How then do we respond? Do we get into the game of theological one-upmanship? Is there any sense in which any “one” of us could claim to be the “one”, “true”, “church”. Rome is running very close to that position if it hasn’t already hit the bull’s-eye!
To be sure there are those who claim exclusive right to call themselves the “only” church, or the “true” church. There are certainly those who claim that their understanding of the Bible is the only true interpretation. We seem to be in an age where the need to be “right” trumps the need to be compassionate. And there are now a host of so called “non-denominational” churches, which are just each one yet another denomination of a singular sort…each of which claims a corner on the “Truth” or an issue that makes them “True”.

Is this what we really want? Do we want to be an “issue based” Christianity? If we do, we run the risk of dividing the Body of Christ. If our Christianity is based on our view of a particular issue like abortion, sexual orientation, the death penalty, the ordination of women, liberation theology and the like, we run the risk of alienation among sincere people of faith. All we manage in “issue based” Christianity is divisiveness.

There is another way.

Perhaps if we put our faith in Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, we may very well find a much more satisfying road to unity. Our unity must be based in Christ or we will have no unity at all. Paul makes clear that Jesus is the head of the church in today’s letter to the Colossians. In sublime language Paul reflects the person of Christ to the church: “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created” and again, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”.

The ministry of reconciliation then seems somewhat close to the heart of God. It needs to be near to the heart of God’s church as well. It makes no sense whatever to me to engage in some kind of denominational competition to see who makes muster when it comes to some kind of competition around orthodoxy, catholicity, apostolicity, biblical absolutism or any other kind of standard other than the standard of Jesus himself.

How I wish we could get past that. Jesus is not very likely to check our denominational membership cards when it comes time for us to be presented before the great judgment seat of Christ.

Jesus is more likely to inquire how we treated the least of these; the hungry, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the homeless, the outcast. Jesus is likely to want to know whether our hearts were on fire for the poor, the leprous, the lame, the broken hearted, the widow, the orphan, the refugee from war, plague and pestilence.

Jesus will want to know if we were listening when he spoke to us. There is that part of me that is like Mary and another that is like Martha. Part of me wants to be like Mary and sit at the foot of Jesus and listen to him. That indeed is the better part. There is another part of me that is very busy in this work-a-day world. I never have time to sit at the foot of Jesus. I never seem to have time to listen to the voice of God. I don’t even seem to have time to listen to my own heart and give myself time to catch up with who I am or who I am becoming.

The story of Mary and Martha is not the story of two women one of whom gets to endulge in idle chatter about speculative theology, the other gets to do the grunt work at the kitchen sink. No this story is about us; each of us and whether we will listen to Jesus or whether we will exuse ourselves from our greater responsibilities because we are too busy to listen.

If I did listen to Jesus, then I would hear the voices of my brothers and sisters crying out for love and care in a world torn with grief, warfare and poverty. That is the issue. That is the only issue. The people of Jesus looking for someone to care. When Jesus spoke, that is what he wanted us to hear.

All the other issues of denominational affiliation, doctrinal correction, biblical understanding, as important as they are, pale in comparison to the urgent call to ministry on behalf of those in need.

It is no wonder so many turn away from the church. While we fuss about “in-house issues” of denominational bias or controversy, the rest of the world turns from one dangerous corner to another. We are a world at war. We are a people set on the edge of terror. And while injustice, poverty and disparity stare us in the face, we go on mindlessly busy.

We need to listen to Jesus for the sake of the world. The only true church is the church that listens to the voice of Jesus who is All in All. Jesus is Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, Conservative, Orthodox, and yes, Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Hindu and Bhuddist. Jesus is All in All. And in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell!

St. Peter's Episcopal Church

For all my friends in Salem, Saint Albans, and Toronto and hither and yon, here is where I'm whiling away my time in retirement. A historic edifice with a remarkable story to tell. And if you want to hear me go on and on about it...just ask...I dare you.

Here are some more photos that Jeff Cox, a parishioner took not long ago. Enjoy!
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer thoughts: Oblation, Camping, Disciple/Apostle?

Illustration #1

The Prayer of Oblation
A consumer society tends to pray for its needs, and the needs of others. It will be grateful for all the blessings that have been bestowed. It will ask for forgiveness and praise God for the wonders of God's doings. In prayerful silence this society is even capable of adoration and asking nothing of God other than to be there in the presence of the holy. These are typical of the kinds of prayer we know of in classical Christian thinking. The one kind of prayer we tend to forget though is the prayer Amos also resisted. It is the prayer God requires of us when it is time to do the very thing we're most justifiably afraid of doing. God needed Amos to tell Israel some very sobering truths. But it had to be done. And so finally Amos offered himself as an oblation to God for God's a word that prayer is; "God you can count of me to do whatever you need to have done!". Now that is a rare prayer indeed!

Illustriation #2

Camping season
It is the season of camping. After a long day of swimming and hiking and perhaps some crafts done with the other young people, the children gather around the campfire. There they sing songs, and tell stories, and then it is not unusual for instructions to be given as to the tasks that lie ahead in the day that is to come. Thus the next day, there are more adventures, knees are scraped, more fun and games, more swimming, hiking and crafts and then back to the campfire to charge up and restore the weary campers' spirits. It is a little like the rhythm of our spirituality. Our life gives us an ample number of scrapes, and vigorous adventures and challenges that we live into day in and day out; week in and week out. Then comes the moment when we recognize Christ in our midst. Sunday! We gather at the fireside of God's Holy Spirit with God's holy people. We sing our songs, we listen to God's stories; we'll hear instructions for what is expected of us and thus we're off again to do the work God has given us to do. It is in this cycle of life that the ancient pattern repeats itself from apostolic times until now.

Illustration #3

Disciple to Apostle
I suspect that the lawyer followed Jesus a good long time. In fact following Jesus wasn't all that hard to do. Anyone can follow a great man and watch the signs and wonders that he does. But then when it comes time to put the Man to the test, the tables are turned. Here is where the Great Man tells the lawyer about a Samaritan of all things. A Samaritan! A despised and rejected Samaritan; one well outside the salvation circle of the "chosen ones". But it is this one who becomes a neighbor to the unfortunate victim of a senseless crime. Thus a follower is challenged to be an apostle..."Go and do likewise"! Who do you think won that test?
We too can follow Jesus only so long. Eventually he looks at us as much as to say, you've followed me long enough as my disciple. It is time now for you to be my apostle. Thus Jesus tells each of us as well; "Go and do likewise"!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Everything You Need to Know About Sex...

Everything You Need to Know About Sex
In Order to Get to Heaven
Paul B. Bresnahan

Here is a light hearted, whimsical, satire that is dead serious and downright poignant too. This is a book whose eye catching title suggests that it is time for the church and the culture around it to grow up a bit and recognize the facts for what they are. Gay folks are here to stay and they are right smack dab in the middle of our families, workplaces, and yes, even in our churches. Using his own family and his own church as a microcosm, “Fr. Paul”, as he likes to be called, argues that human sexuality is a sacrament that gives all of us an exquisite way to express our love for one another. It is in the nature of things that our sexuality becomes a God given grace for human love to be expressed. For most of us, we’ll do that in a male/female configuration. But not always! From the beginning, there have been LGBT folk in our midst. They have often faced persecution, violence, vilification and marginalization yet they are still very much with us. One of them is now a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. His life has been threatened too (by Christians, of course). Come on folks, let’s get over this one. Let’s embrace yet another minority with the milk of human kindness and in a “kinder gentler” way. Open the book and discover with a Priest of the Church, how we are becoming “A House of Prayer for ALL People”.

Fr. Paul Bresnahan has been a Priest of the Episcopal Church for 35 years. He serves now at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts, a remarkable congregation that cares very much for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the marginalized. He has served churches in West Virginia, Ohio, and South Carolina, and now Massachusetts. His lifetime struggle against racism, economic disparity, homelessness now culminates in taking up the cudgels for yet another great group of outcasts. He was raised by a gay uncle, and now has two gay sons. He has a lot to say about this controversy. After all there’s a lot at stake. Best of all, he’s still smiling, because he’s convinced that there’s room in God’s heart for the love of EVERYONE!

available at, Barnes and and autographed from the author at

Holy Rage

Holy Rage

Kaj Munk

What is, therefore, our task today? Shall I answer: "Faith, hope and love"? That sounds beautiful. But I would say - courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature...we lack a holy rage - the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth...a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God's earth, and the destruction of God's world. To rage when little children must die of hunger when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God.

Source: Danish pastor killed by the Gestapo in 1944, via The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Monday, June 04, 2007

God's Healing Touch

The Healing Touch of God


Elijah, like Jesus in another encounter with a woman this time one who was gathering sticks, asks for a cup of water. Water is essential to health. We are advised to drink plenty of it to maintain ourselves in our well being. It is said that our bodies are composed of anywhere from 55-60% water. An old Arab saying answers the question of God's race by saying that the color of God is the color of water!
We are created in the image of God. Perhaps the three states of water teach us something about God and ourselves. Water is fluid, like God. It is all in all, it is the Alpha and the Omega of life itself. God is the Creator of life, its Author. Water can be solid, like ice. God can be flesh and blood as God becomes in the person of Jesus. God can touch us, heal us and teach us. God can be our Redeemer even as God suffers dies and rises again on the Cross for my sins. Water can be a gas like steam. In the way that steam can play with wisps of vapors over the slightest currents of the air, so too the Spirit can come from we not not where and continue on in amazing and unpredictable ways. Thus God becomes our Sanctifier, giving us gifts for ministry to make the ordinary holy. If that is the case, then indeed, give me a cup of water too, if you please!


The healing touch is a sensitive but essential component part of Christian healing. We practice the laying-on-of-hands in our church with the anointing of oil of unction to intercede on behalf of the faithful for healing. The Gospels refer to touching at least 30 times. That physical touch between Jesus and the people often becomes the vehicle that becomes the occasion for healing. Be careful how you touch someone! Healing is one thing...abuse is something so utterly different.
How often does a child of God need something as simple and as innocent as a hug, the wiping away of a tear, or a kindly pat on the shoulder to give reassurance in time of need.
Remember that to reclaim our place as "a safe church" will not come easily anymore. We must earn the trust of our people...but it is worth doing so, because at the center of that trust is the power of Christ to heal.


"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advise, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand"
Henri Nouwen (Dutch Christian writer: 1932-1996)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Freedom and Imprisonment

In our Sunday lectionary readings this week we will be in prison with Paul and Silas. While we are there lets take a moment to remember three great figures of our current history, or at least the not too distant past who have lit the way to freedom from the darkness of prison and of human suffering.


Interestingly enough, it is in Letters and Papers from Prison that Dietrich Bonhoeffer seemed most convincingly to be free. Even knowing that his life was likely to be over soon, he found within himself a remarkable power to know the love of God. A sparrow or a ray of sunshine or the gift of time to write was all it took to make a prisoner for Christ resonate with profound joy. But above all, he found freedom in the solidarity he discovered in prison to be with the outcast: "There remains an experience of incomparable value... to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled -- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer... to look with new eyes on matters great and small."


Another man of peace who used prison for the purpose of freedom was Nelson Mandela. From 1962 until 1990 he remained behind iron bars, but his spirit was unbowed and unbroken. In the wake of his release he articulated a dream of freedom for all citizens of South Africa. He became a witness for a historic emancipation for both captor and captive alike. In his own words: "We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity -- a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."


One of the greatest practitioners of love and compassion in our time is the Dalai Lama. The suffering of the people of Tibet has been and continues to be one of the greatest stains in the sorry catalogue of human cruelty. Still, words like the following are possible from this remarkable human spirit who is a guide to freedom for those imprisoned by fear or suffering:

"Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

"Independence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena, from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.

"It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Good Shepherd Confronts Violence

The Good Shepherd Faces Violence
by Paul Bresnahan

As we recoil in horror from the events of the Virginia Tech slayings, we find ourselves glaring into the tempestuous abyss of chaos itself. It is as though we were there the day creation began, when "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for the "formless void" is a word that can be rendered "chaos" of the sort that is active and leads into the abyss.

In the next verse, God spoke and said, "Let there be light."

Thus we come to Good Shepherd Sunday, and a story emerges of a holocaust survivor who put himself between a crazed shooter and his students. Some managed to escape through the windows of a second floor classroom, and the professor gave his life so that others might live.

As much as we try to make sense of what happened on that day in Blacksburg, Virginia, we are left only with a doleful lament over the senseless loss of life of those who had so much life yet to live.Perhaps it is time to turn to the Savior and find safe pasture. I believe with all my heart that as I find that safe pasture, Jesus will not lose even one of all that has been given him. It may require that I give my life for others, as did a devoted college professor just a few short days ago, but I will find eternal life when I do.

Let's explore what it means to "brood over the waters" and hear the Word of God who says, "Let there be light."


In the wake of an experience of the Absurd, such as we confronted just a few days ago in a small town in southwestern Virginia, many wonder how God can "allow" such senseless deeds. Nothing happened -- there was no intervention from above, no savior, not so much as a whimper from heaven. Those who have championed the notion of The God Delusion seem to have more and more evidence to support the notion that there simply is no God.

There are those who would throw up their arms and say indeed that seems to be the case. There are wars, there is genocide, there was the Holocaust, the whole creation groans under the weight of exploitation that seems to be leading it toward an apocalypse of a manmade kind... and God simply isn't doing anything about it.

We stare into the abyss.

We wonder.

And then somebody like Dr. Liviu Librescu kindles a flickering candle of hope. Here is a man who, looking into the abyss, recognized it for what it was, and immediately renounced it. He threw himself into the way of a hopelessly deranged young man and screamed for his students to seek safety in the few moments he was able to give them. Several were able to get to safety by jumping out of the second story windows of that classroom. He gave them what he could. He gave them his life.

Here is an example of the Good Shepherd -- he knew his students by name; he called them by name; he laid down his life for them.

The world is awash with violence these days. There are cities where the murder rate is again climbing alarmingly. On the other hand, there are stories of ministers and pastors who take to the streets to protect their neighborhoods. Thus there is the darkness and the abyss, and on the other hand there are those who light the candles of hope.

When God confronted the abyss in the very beginning, God did what only God could do and said: "Let there be light." For those who say there is no God, there is no hope. It is as though the logic of that proclamation leads only to the abyss and an endless descent into the Absurd. I renounce that.

I would rather embrace the Good Shepherd who first embraced me. I hear his voice with church-bell clarity. I hear him call my name. He gives me eternal life, the kind of life that is worth living and if necessary the kind of life that is worth giving away for others. I am absolutely convinced that nothing can snatch me away from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with me. Absolutely! I claim that faith. It resonates deeply in my soul. Nothing can separate me from Jesus. Thank God Good Shepherd Sunday came when it did this year -- it came just in the nick of time.


The image of the Good Shepherd comes to us particularly in the 10th chapter of John's Gospel. It is a powerful image of warmth and affection that is often enshrined in Christian art and in some of my favorite stained-glass windows. I see a lamb in the arms of Jesus, and something child-like in me feels so safe. Amazingly, Jesus knows every sheep by name, he knows the quirks of my personality, and loves me with all my faults just as I am. For no good reason that I can figure out, and certainly not for anything that I have done to earn it, he gives me eternal life. And then it just goes on and on and gets even better than I can ask or imagine. And to prove it, to demonstrate how much he loves me, and not just me but everyone, he takes the sins of the whole world on himself, he dies on the cross and rises again to his Easter triumph! And that is just a child-like image.

Then in adulthood the imagery transforms itself into something deeper and even more abiding. Everyone knows the words "the Lord is my shepherd" by heart. They are words of such compelling power that priests, pastors, ministers, and parishioners in moments of extremis still find in them comfort of a sort that transcends the most excruciating suffering. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." We find that even in funerals, especially in funerals, hope is kindled like a candle in the face of the Inevitable. "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Even those who have their doubts about this whole enterprise find their eyes filled with tears they cannot explain sometimes when they go to "pay their respects" to a dear old friend. Deep down, those with little or no faith at all have to wonder in moments like this, "maybe there is a God."

Then routine returns to us all and chaos returns. Life surrounds us like a swirling tempest. Senseless decisions, expectations, and conflict again return at work, sometimes in our homes, and often in our churches. And again we wonder. And that is when we open the Book and read those amazing verses: "the breath of God brooded over the waters of the deep." And God said: "Let there be light." As God speaks, do we not also want to speak such words with the actions of our lives? Isn't that what we want to say with God and become partners with God in holding back the abyss? I hope so.


As hard as we might try, we won't make any sense of it. CNN, FOX News, Larry King, and others can run scores of special reports, interviews, and reflections, and we'll still be left with the question "Why?" There will not be a satisfying answer to that question. There may be some frail attempts at explanation, but they will all be little more than frustrating platitudes. We flip on the news and we are left merely to recoil in horror as we often have before: JFK, RFK, MLK, Kent State, Waco, Oklahoma City, September 11, Columbine, and now this! The darkness is winning.

Or is it? Out of the above initials there came the Peace Corps and civil rights struggles, and generations of people saw their lives touched by hope and justice. From these dreadful disasters there came the stories of heroic figures that were the first responders in times of peril. And time and time again we hear of someone who stood between menace and a hapless victim. The Good Shepherd wins again!

I cannot help but think of the Good Shepherd. His whole life was dedicated to folks like the ones many of us have served all our lives. They were fishermen, farmers, homemakers, children, the sick, and the outcast. And he became their shepherd. He defended them. He healed them. He taught them the path to eternal life. He was and still is their companion along the way.

When sin had done its worst and darkness again had its hour, he came to the defense even of those who came to arrest him and said no more violence! He allowed himself to be put through an unfair trial; he was accused and scourged, convicted, and died. He put himself between the madness of oblivion and me. He even forgave the ones who did their wicked deeds and said: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

This Good Shepherd has come to my defense. He blocked the doorway for me so I could live. He died for all my sins and me. The Good Shepherd has faced violence and he became the conqueror. He faced suffering and made it redemptive. The two greatest monuments to our struggle for meaning are met in Jesus. Jesus faced the violence of Rome's might and he became the victor. He faced the horror of the violence of religious fundamentalism and loved his way to the resurrection.

We face nothing new in these days. It may feel new, but the terrorism of military might and religious extremism is not new to the earth. Jesus took it on 2,000 years ago and confronted it with the love of God. By offering his life on the cross he gave it meaning, and now we are invited to take up our cross and follow where Jesus led the way.

What gave the church her power in her early days was that her leaders were willing to give their lives as a ransom for many. They literally took up their crosses and followed Jesus. The Easter victory of Jesus was so vivid to his people that they were willing to say no to violence. They too confronted it with the same courage as Professor Librescu. Jesus and the professor have given us much to ponder. They invite us to live the Easter message of the love of God, which has the courage to face violence and suffering with a commodity that is rare now as it was then.

Thankfully, we do not always have to give of "the last full measure of our devotion." More often, we can face violence by searching for justice. We have a myriad of opportunities to minister to the sick and the dying. Like God brooding over the waters of chaos, we can employ our creative gifts and make "something beautiful for God." We can become "something beautiful for God."

In the Eucharist it is no mere accident that the words "lift up your hearts" are said. In the middle of our worship as we make our gifts to God, we are encouraged to be "lifted up" out of the chronic epidemic of the depression of our times. The word "encourage" literally means to "take heart." Thus we take communion and receive Jesus into our lives as we do in both the Word and in the Sacrament. We have so much to live for. Jesus has gone all the way to the edge of the abyss itself and found joy in making his gift to God. It is as though we stood there the day creation began and God said "Let there be light!"

O God, make my life a candle in this dark world.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palm Sunday in NOLA

David Bresnahan sent me this link to a YouTube video of the Palm Sunday Procession on Canal Street in New Orleans. <>
Looks like fun!
Fr. Paul

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Heavenly Call of God

The Heavenly Call of God
by Paul Bresnahan
Philippians 3:12-14

The heavenly call of God reminds me to lift my eyes unto the hills from when cometh my help (Psalm 121) and to consider the heavens that have been fashioned by the fingers of God (Psalm 8).

As an urban dweller near Boston, I cannot help but notice when I lift up my eyes to heaven the frequent heat inversions we suffer from in the summertime and the mild winters we've had in recent years. This year we've only had a few inches of snow -- and in spite of the fact that we've had a few significant cold snaps, the overall picture seems to be that there really is a warming trend. Enter Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth and I find myself struggling indeed with the "upward call of God."

This is God's world. For good or ill, God gave us dominion over that world. And now many of us are concerned about the account we must someday give of the stewardship of what God has put into our hands. That day is coming sooner rather than later. What can any one of us do -- other than just throwing up our hands and running around like Chicken Little literally alarmed that the sky is falling? We've stared down the darkness before, as empires come and empires go. Now we face an even more daunting task -- the salvation of the very planet we live on.

Let's begin with Paul by recognizing that we must "press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." We've got to be in it for the long haul.


Warnings abound about global warming. This country sidestepped any serious consideration of the Kyoto Protocols in 2000, when other industrialized nations around the world began to bite the bullet over reining in CO2 emissions. It is ironic that the prophets of our own time are scientists and meteorologists, who have documented some disquieting trends that include the disappearance or dissipation of glaciers in the Alps and the Himalayas, the melting of the permafrost in the Canadian Northwest Territories, the breakup of the ice sheets at the poles, and the threat to polar bear habitat. The list goes on.

Without becoming alarmist, many are indeed trying to take a sober look at the realities of this "inconvenient truth." Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie by that title has brought renewed and sustained attention to environmental concerns we share as those given "dominion" over the created order.

Very recently, James Hansen, a NASA scientist of some repute and one of the earliest prophets of global warming, reiterated his concern that funding for climate research has been slashed and that the entire process of research and reporting has been hopelessly politicized (like almost everything else these days). In the New Zealand Herald Mr. Hansen is quoted as saying: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now."

It is a disturbing fact, if it is true. I for one find the evidence disturbing and feel that there is much to be learned from an honest and open evaluation of the truth. That is the missing piece in the ongoing debate, it seems to me.


There is in the readings this week a theme of looking toward what lies ahead rather than what lies behind us. It is a biblical way of saying that there is simply no use in crying over spilled milk. It is not a bad way to live. In our political life, we always seem to be having hearings so that we can assign blame. There is an old axiom that states that "blame is always a cover-up." In other words, as we seek to find someone to blame for our woes we take attention off our responsibility for our own lives.

The scripture seems to ask us to focus on forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to what lies ahead. In our lesson from Isaiah today we read: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing." God seems to be saying that something new is about to happen, and if we have our eyes too firmly fixed on the past we'll miss the miracle of what is yet to spring forth from God's creative and redemptive work.

The Psalmist recognizes God's way with us. Indeed, we doubt and wonder -- but ultimately it is the confidence of faith that opens us up to that which is possible. It is therefore reassuring that we have words like these from today's Psalm, which remind us about God's Grace that is always leading us toward redemption: "Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy."

St. Paul similarly asks us to answer readily "the heavenly call of God." He makes it clear that life when it is lived well recognizes that there is a "long haul" dimension to the struggles we face. The way he puts it is in those familiar and ringing words of scripture: "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." Those stirring words open the human heart to God's urging us on to something new.

Even in the Gospel, Jesus reminds Judas not to prevent Mary's extravagant and devoted loving care for her Lord. When Judas complains about how much could have been provided for the poor our of Mary's extravagance, Jesus reminds all who were gathered, and all who really care about the poor, that efforts to help the poor will always be available to us. And did Judas really care about the poor? Does the political system in which we live really care about the poor? What do you think?

There is always the present moment. There is always what is possible to do right in this living moment. This is the moment where God's Grace is to be found. Now is the moment to respond to the heavenly call of God. Forget what lies behind us. Let's move on to what lies ahead.


Several years ago I went to a lake in northern Ontario where I used to go as a child. Something was terribly wrong up there in the beauty of that pristine lakeside forest -- the forest was denuded of the broadleaf maple trees that used to provide such lovely and abundant shade on a hot summer's day. Now those leaves were just a fraction of the size that I remembered them being. I asked my friends what happened. "Acid rain!" was the answer.

In one short lifetime a dramatic change had taken place in such a noticeable way. Similarly, the effects of global warming seem to have left their mark in so many places. Last fall our church hosted a singing group from St. Petersburg, Russia, and when I asked them about their weather at that time of year, they said that there was a time when snow would be falling by late November -- but no more, not since global warming. Nowadays winter comes later, is less severe, and does not last as long. The evidence is mounting that "this fragile earth, our island home" is suffering from many environmental abuses.

In so many ways, we as an electorate seem to have become much more passive than we used to be. We seem to have abdicated our responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible for those public policies which affect the lives we live. As the old Boston politicians used to say: "The only thing that apathy guarantees is that someone worse than you will govern."

That makes sense, doesn't it? It is not enough just to vote -- it behooves us to get involved, to get our hands right into the thick of things and to hold everyone's feet to the fire, including ourselves.

This planet is the only one we'll ever have. Environmental degradation is simply not acceptable. The Gulf coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita remind us that there is a grinding reality to poverty, neglect, inadequate health care, substandard education and housing for far too many of our own people. The reality is that our response to these storms has been anemic at best, and downright intentionally neglectful at worst. In other words, the connection between environment and public policy toward the poor are related. We are pouring money down the drain of some rather questionable international "diplomatic" policies, while we ignore and pull back from our commitments to our own vital interests domestically and environmentally.

In the very beginning God gave us dominion over the created order. That doesn't mean that we have the right to be irresponsible over what God has given into our care. It means that we are being called to be good stewards of all that has been given to us.

We have received a heavenly call. We may not all agree on how best to respond toward that call, but I suspect that we could strain and press ahead with more vigor and creativity than we have in the recent past. This is not just the responsibility of our elected leaders. It is the responsibility of good and sound citizenship. Many of us could use a course in Civics 101 these days.

No doubt many will be tempted to say: "What can I do against such insurmountable and complex problems?" What we can do is forget what lies behind and press on toward what lies ahead. Watch for it -- God is about to do something new again. True enough, there may be tears of sorrow this night, but joy will come in the morning.

When Jesus comes into our midst we will no doubt want to lavish him with expensive ointment and rejoice that he lives. My dear friends, Jesus is living today in the poor who cry out to us for help from those areas of this world where there are dangerous droughts and famine, where warfare and civil unrest make mere survival precarious. Jesus is living today in the very forests we love, and the glaciers that inspire such awe among us. God's glory is visible in the created order that we have been called to tend to with all the zeal of a mother caring for her child. Jesus is living among the vulnerable in our cities and in the lowlands of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coast. We could lavish Jesus right now with the ointment of the healing touch of human love and generosity.

Many of our denominations are seeking to respond to the multitude of human needs by responding to the Millennium Development Goals as articulated by the United Nations. That in and of itself is a modest but hopeful beginning.

Yes, we have dominion over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the myriads of creatures and the very planet we all share. I am persuaded that there is a way to preserve what we have been given in a sustainable and responsible kind of way. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has made us his own. Therefore we press on toward that upward call of God. The prize for which we strive after is this: the heavenly call of God.

The greatest joy we will ever know is the Joy of sharing abundantly the generous love of God which we know in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. We don't have to look far to see that Person. That person is the multitude of men, women, and children in this world who seek the ointment of our generosity. That person is revealed to us in the beauty of this glorious planet. Now can you hear the Heavenly Call of God?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A word from Gene Robinson

Thankfully the Bishop of New Hampshire can have his say in this Church of ours. The News from the House of Bishops is encouraging. Here is what Gene Robinson has to say about recent developments from Tanzania and the House of Bishops meeting in Tanzania.

A Letter to the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire from your Bishop
March 21, 2007

I write to you on the last day of the week-long meeting of the House of Bishops, in Navasota, Texas. While an official “word to the church” will come from the House as a whole, at the conclusion of our meeting, news of actions taken yesterday at our business session will be appearing today. I want you to have my own reactions to go along with what you will read.

This has been an extraordinary meeting of the Bishops, characterized by respect, thoughtfulness and careful discernment, always done in the context of fervent prayer. There is a calm and peace about our meeting I have not experienced before, due in no small part to the non-anxious, but strong, leadership of our new Presiding Bishop.

As you no doubt know, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, at their recent meeting in Tanzania, issued a number of ultimatums to The Episcopal Church, with the demand that they be responded to by September 30. The Primates have made these demands of the Bishops of The Episcopal Church out of what seems to me to be either an ignorance of our polity (the structural ways by which we govern ourselves) or an unwillingness to accept that polity, which says that the governance of our Church is not undertaken by Bishops alone, but rather by a joint governance by bishops, clergy AND laity.

Part of those demands had to do with asking for an unequivocal moratorium on the consecration of partnered gay or lesbian people as bishops, and a moratorium on the blessing of same sex unions. Dire, although not articulated, consequences are threatened if such action is not taken. A process is being set in motion by our Presiding Bishop for us to talk with all the people of our church over the next several months in preparation for responding to these specific demands.

However, one action taken by the Primates has consumed much (but by no means all) of our time. This action was not asked of us, but rather was already set in motion to be imposed upon us by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates. That action, described as a “Pastoral/Primatial Scheme,” would create a Primatial Vicar, who would oversee those dioceses who feel they cannot function under the authority of our Presiding Bishop, either because they believe her to be “unorthodox” in her views (consenting to my election in 2003, and allowing same sex unions in her former diocese), or in the case of three of those dioceses, because she is a woman, and therefore unfit matter for ordination in the first place.

Our Presiding Bishop would, according to the plan, be “helped” in the appointment of this “Primatial Vicar” and the supervision of his/her work by a “Pastoral Council,” made up of people appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, plus two appointed by our Presiding Bishop. This would be a Council in which our own Presiding Bishop and those appointed by her would not even constitute a majority. This process was already under way before we arrived at our meeting in Texas, with the Archbishop of Canterbury closing the nomination process for this Council prior to our arrival.

I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of our bishops – progressive and conservative alike – see this as an unfair, illegal and wholly unprecedented assault on the polity and internal integrity of The Episcopal Church. Never before has any constituent member of the Anglican Communion been subjected to the authority of such an external body. Fears were expressed by most bishops that this would move us closer to a centralized authority in the Communion, and constituted an unwarranted and un-Anglican arrogation of authority to the Primates, unprecedented in the 500 years of our Anglican tradition and practice. It seemed to most of us that it was important to put a stop to this assault on our polity now, before it went any further.

Three resolutions were passed yesterday, with considerable, and sometimes overwhelming, majorities:

The first resolution called upon the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church (the elected body of laity-clergy-bishops who act for our General Convention, between General Conventions) to decline to participate in such a Pastoral Scheme, and to seek OTHER ways of meeting the pastoral needs of those dioceses who are not happy with the actions of The Episcopal Church. (The Presiding Bishop and Executive Council have numerous options for doing so, without the interference of groups of Bishops/Archbishops external to our Church, and our Presiding Bishop has signaled that she is ready and willing to do so.)

Second, the Bishops in a unanimous vote expressed their common desire to find a way to live together in the Episcopal Church during these contentious times, and called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with our House of Bishops face to face – a request he has steadfastly refused as recently as the Primates Meeting in Tanzania, claiming his calendar is too full to meet with us this year. We have asked him to reconsider, believing that this is not too much to ask of the Archbishop of Canterbury, given the seriousness of the issues which face the Communion, and given his having NEVER met with us since assuming his office.

Third, we offered a message to the Church for study and education, outlining our attempts to meet, in good faith, the requests made of us by the larger Communion, and the consistent rebuffs we have received in response. We re-articulate our profound desire to remain a part of the Communion – a desire that is shared by us all. We go on to enumerate the reasons we cannot and will not participate in the proposed Pastoral Scheme. And finally, we state as clearly as we can, the nature of who we are as a Church and our belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a union in which ALL the children of God – including women and gay and lesbian people – are called to full participation in the life and ministry of our Church.

While we cannot know what the reaction will be to these statements throughout the Communion, we must be who we are – the Church struggling to live out faithfully the ministry God has given us in this place and time. Like many great reformers before us, “Here we must stand. We can do no other.”

I believe these actions are true to our polity and to our identity as a Church. No matter how the media might portray this as a “slap in the face” to the Communion/Primates, it was not! We calmly and thoughtfully have said “no” to this encroachment on our polity and authority as a Church. We have also pledged ourselves to meeting the pastoral needs of the minority within our Church who are upset by the directions we have taken and by the leadership we have elected. We will also take seriously the demands made of us by the Primates – in consultation with the lay and clerical leadership of this Church, as demanded by our polity. That is not a slap in the face, but rather a responsible and respectful response to the inappropriate demands made of us.

I think you would have been proud of us as your Bishops. The manner and tenor of our decision-making was kind, respectful and prayerful. This was not about politics, but about this part of the Body of Christ attempting to exercise its leadership in appropriate and lawful ways. It was about respecting ALL the orders of ministry in our Church. It was about protecting our Church from inappropriate encroachment on internal matters. It was in the best tradition of the Anglican Communion.

Thank you for your prayers during this time. I have felt your support and love throughout. I have appreciated your attention to these Church issues, WITHOUT losing sight of our real mission as a Church – to proclaim the Good News of Christ in our words and in our actions to a world which so desperately needs to hear it. We will continue as a Diocese to commit ourselves to the Millennium Development Goals as a way of expressing our desire to do our part to meet the needs of a hurting world. We will NOT let these issues distract us from God’s mission – to preach Good News to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to release those in captivity, to bring sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. May God bless us richly in that ministry.

Your bishop and brother,


Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire