Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Prayer

From ghoulies and ghosties 

And long-leggedy beasties 

And things that go bump in the night, 

Good Lord, deliver us! 

What we heard at the "Cottage Meetings"

Dear Friends of St. Paul’s,

In the month of October, as many of you are aware, we held a series of "cottage meetings" with members o St. Paul's. The meetings were held in homes, and were small, informal gatherings where we talked about the blessings of our church, the mission, the challenges and our giving for the coming year.

I am writing to report on what we heard at those meetings, and to thank our hosts, the discussion facilitators, and all those who participated. This was a tremendous opportunity for Lori and myself to learn about the opportunities and the challenges at St. Paul’s, and to hear your dreams about our future and the kind of community you believe God is calling us to be.

In all, there were 20 meetings with 211 people participating. I attended all of the meetings, and Lori was able to make all but three. The conversations were rich with observations about St. Paul’s and ideas for the future. I filled a notebook with what I heard.

Patterns emerged throughout the meetings. We heard how you feel close to God in nature and with your families; at our Sunday Eucharist and in the music; and at the Monday noon prayers for peace. Many people said they feel God’s presence in the silence before the start of worship and in the flowers near the Holy Table. And many said they feel blessed in seeing the children in our Sunday morning procession. “It just lifts me up,” said one participant, echoing many.

We heard how St. Paul’s is a supportive community filled with people who care for each other. One participant told us: “I came to Charlottesville at a time of great emotional pain. I picked out St. Paul’s, went to one service, and it all fell into place. This is where I could anchor myself.”

Said another participant: “When I go away and come back, I feel St. Paul’s is home. I never had that feeling in church before.” And said another: “St. Paul’s is a place where I feel safe questioning my faith and my actions.”

There were many who said a major value at St. Paul’s is the inclusion of all kinds of people, young and old, gay and straight, students, working people and retired people.

We also heard how St. Paul’s could do more to welcome new people, and especially to create a congregation that is more racially and economically diverse. “We need to be pushing the boundaries to bring people not like us,” said one participant. “We need to share our blessings.”

We heard many express the need for more opportunities for spiritual enrichment through small groups, like our new Shalom Group for young adults. People would like Bible studies, book circles and other groups, and have them meet at different times and on days other than on Sunday.

Many people applauded the new name tags as a way to build community. Said one participant: “There are lots of people in the church hurting and we don’t necessarily see each other,” said one participant. “The name tags help.”

We also heard the need for more pastoral care by lay people, and the dream of creating sacred spaces on our grounds for prayer and meditation that can center people to go back into the world to do the work they’ve been given to do. Some asked for a greater emphasis on personal salvation while others asked for a greater emphasis on community involvement.

Nearly every group mentioned that we should deepen our ministries with the University of Virginia – students, faculty and staff. There were many questions about our current programs with the university community, and it was clear to me that we need to do a better job of communicating to the wider congregation what we are already doing with the university community.

Nearly every discussion group also expressed the crucial importance to St. Paul’s of being engaged in the community through our outreach efforts for the poor, and with organizations like IMPACT and PACEM, two projects we are involved with for community action and homeless relief.

“We have quite a few missions at St. Paul’s. That’s what draws people to it. They see the need beyond these walls,” said one participant.

Some  viewed both the ministry to the poor in our community and to the university as interrelated. Marsha Trimble, who I quote by permission, put it well when she said: “We need to be across the street and down the street.”

Others agreed, tying the two directions together by saying that we need to “speak truth to power and that means speaking truth to the Rotunda.”

Many brought up the condition of St. Paul’s buildings, and the need for paint outside and renovations inside. There were many expressions of concern that the exterior appearance is off-putting to new people and that meeting room and office space could be used better. The buildings, as many see them, are tools of ministry and a proclamation to the world around us of the vitality of our ministries and the inclusion of all people.

One participant summed it up well: “The essence of the best of the Episcopal Church is at St. Paul’s. We have a jewel and the wider church and world should know what we are doing.”

All I can say to that is “Amen.” These conversations yielded much to consider, and I will have more to say as I think through what we heard. For now, thanks to all who came to these meetings, and thanks to all who have turned in your pledge cards for 2009.

Blessings to all,


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All Saints Sunday - Message from Bishop Katharine

Two years ago, on the weekend of All Saints Day, our friend, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, was installed at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. To say we were thrilled to be there on that day is an major understatement - we have known her since the early 1990s when she was a seminarian at Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento. So it gives Lori and I great pleasure to send our congratulations at this two year anniversary, and say again how blessed we feel by her leadership in this time of strife and turmoil. And, besides, it gives me an excuse to post the photograph I took of Lori and Bishop Katharine on that wonderful day two years ago.

Below is her message to the Church for this All Saints Day:

A message for All Saints 2008

The following is the All Saints 2008 message from the Presiding Bishop.

All Saints 2008

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

What saints will you remember this year on their feast?  It’s an occasion to remember all the faithful, whether we know their names or not.  The Good Shepherd knows them by name, even if we don’t.  This year I’d invite you to celebrate the ones whose names you know and the ones whose names you haven’t yet learned.

In your neighborhood, who is the saint who picks up trash?  Who looks out for school children on their way to and from school?  Who looks after an elderly or frail neighbor, running errands or checking to be sure that person has what is needed? 

In your community, what saints labor on behalf of the voiceless?  I recently read about a prison law program in Michigan, about to be shut down for lack of funds, where one lawyer has worked for decades on behalf of those who have no other helper.  Sandra Girard’s work has helped to free many who were wrongly convicted, and to ease the circumstances of those who will spend most of the rest of their lives in jail.  She points out that, “Most of the people I've helped in prison have also been victims.  Long before they committed a crime themselves, they were victims of violence, poverty or something else.”  I met a member of the clergy in Missouri recently who also told of seeing many victims in prisons, but also that the penal system there is the most highly regarded in the U.S., for its focus on reparative and reconstructive justice.  What saints are visiting the prisoners in your area?  That is one of the ways Jesus urges us to bring good news and care for the least and forgotten among us (Matthew 25:37-40).

The saints are followers of Jesus, and fellow travelers on the journey toward the City of God.  They come in all shapes, ages, colors, and theological stripes.  Some of them, like Jerome and Jeremiah, can be difficult to live with.  The children of the churches of the Convocation in Europe recently compiled a book of saints, complete with short accounts of their lives and illustrations by the children.  Their list had some familiar names, like Joan of Arc and Hildegard, and some unexpected ones, like Anne Frank and Edith Cavell.  Some, like Miss Edith, would not be known beyond the local congregation, but have had even more influence on their young charges’ lives than any saint of an earlier age.

As you gather to celebrate on the feast of All Saints, take with you the name of a saint whose example you have seen in action, and one whose name you don’t know, and give thanks.  The appropriate companion prayer to one of thanks for the witness of other saints is that we, too, might be holy examples to those whom we meet. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tommy Parker 1947-2008

Soon after I arrived at St. Paul's this summer, I met one of the regulars who lives at the church -- Tommy Parker. He was what most of us call "homeless," but his home was on our church steps. When it rained, Tommy slept under the big colonnade, and in the daytime he snoozed on the bench in front of the church. He always greeted me with a smile and wave, and he was endlessly cheerful. He touched the life of everyone who works in this church.

Tommy died in a hotel room a couple of weeks ago.

This morning we held a memorial service for Tommy, and we invited people from the streets, the university and the church. Some 75 souls came to lay Tommy to rest, and they shared many words and many memories. Some people dressed well, others not. Some were sober, some were not. All were full of grace and expressed their respect for each other and for Tommy.

We heard how Tommy helped  university students hand out ice cream to children. "He took so much joy in being able to give something to others," came one memory. "I remember Tommy with a big smile and ice cream streaming down his face."

Jeffrey, who lives on the street, told us, "The best thing about the man was his smile, his laugh. That smile is right here with us."

Eric Kelley, who took the photo of Tommy on this page, told us how Tommy opened a world to him on the streets of Charlottesville, and how he made many friends among the homeless thanks to Tommy.

And Adrian, who sometimes sleeps on our steps, told us "Tommy taught me generosity and hope in the face of adversity. Drunk or sober I felt his love."

We said prayers, we heard Scripture, we sang Amazing Grace. Tommy is smiling upon us, I am certain, and he is in a place where he no longer feels hurt or pain.

And I am honored that my first memorial service at St. Paul's was for Tommy Parker (1947-2008) who slept on our church steps and greeted us with his smile.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Having an IMPACT in Charlottesville

Tonight 27 of us from St. Paul's gathered among 622 people from 30 Charlottesville faith communities -- churches, synagogues and mosques -- convening at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church to discern together a single issue we can work together to solve in our community under the umbrella of IMPACT (and for my California readers, this is the C'ville version of Sacramento ACT).

Tonight's meeting was full of energy, enthusiasm and expressions of faith. We heard three detailed and impassioned presentations about three issues: jobs and wages; youth; and education. Each issue was certainly related to the others, but we needed to pick one for the coming year. We caucused as individual congregations, and then cast our votes. Education - including illiteracy, early childhood education and drop-out rates - was voted as our common issue for the coming year. More IMPACT meetings will follow, including with public officials.

I learned a great deal tonight, and have much to reflect upon. Thanks to John Frazee for organizing our delegation and for all who came. You give me great hope for the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Next Sunday's ofrenda: An invitation

Next Sunday is a major feast day on the Christian calendar -- All Saints Day. The day has its origins in the ancient church when it was celebrated on the Saturday before Easter -- the day now called Holy Saturday when Jesus descends to the dead to free everyone from the grip of death. All Saints and All Souls days merged to become special masses for martyrs and those who had died anonymously. In later centuries, the day shifted into the weeks before Advent, and the day we now call "Halloween" is actually All Hallows Eve, or the even of All Souls Day.

This year I am bringing a tradition to St. Paul's from the part of the world where I come: La Ofrenda, a special table  in the church where we display items representing people we love who have died, maybe a photograph or a poem, or a candle and a paper flower. I wrote about this a week ago on this blog, and so I am doing so again to invite you to bring something for our ofrenda next week.

La Ofrenda comes from the Mexican "Day of the Dead" where people have a party in the cemetery so their dead relatives can join them. I am not recommending parties in any Charlottesville cemeteries, but I do hope you will bring something for our ofrenda at St. Paul's. We will leave the table up through November, and you can retrieve your items on the First Sunday of Advent.

On this blog are more photos from some amazing ofrendas in various churches.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Politics in the pulpit: My view

With the election fast approaching, I am more than ready for the political campaigns to end and the basketball season to begin. But we are not quite there yet.

Last Sunday Associate Rector David McIlhiney preached at St. Paul’s about the tension of living as a citizen in a democracy and as a faithful follower of Jesus. As I read his sermon, David was admonishing all of us to not confuse the candidate we favor with the Messiah. The crux his sermon is here: “We’re very much in the same position as the Pharisee in today’s story. Whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, then, we need to be careful that we don’t become as self-righteous as he was.”

Yet some have raised with me the question about whether political topics are fit for Sunday morning sermons. The question is fair, and percolates in every election. I bring a unique perspective to this question, having been a political writer for nearly a quarter of a century before entering the priesthood, and then later as a staff member of the California State Senate. I have many friends in politics, both Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and moderates. Those I have gotten to know best entered politics out of a deep sense of public service, and they have brought enormous creativity – even genius at times – to their work even when forging public policy has become more complex, and the public has become more scornful and ideologically polarized.

So, I begin first by sharing the concern of many about mixing politics in the pulpit. I do not think it appropriate to be endorsing presidential candidates from the pulpit, and I fully understand that most people come to church for something other than campaign politics. If we want a campaign speech there are better places to get it than in church on Sunday morning.

Second, I have no intention of endorsing anyone for president in this election, and I have a deep concern about those pastors who are endorsing presidential candidates in their churches and who are unleashing their resources in support of those candidates. It should be pointed out that the pastors who have done so have been overwhelmingly in favor of John McCain. Most of the politics-in-the-pulpit that I am aware of is coming from the McCain camp; and, in fact, the St. Paul’s office in recent days has been inundated with “robocalls” soliciting our church’s support for McCain. You should also see the Associated Press story today entitled Christian Right intensifies attack on Obama, about the political work of Focus on the Family among other religious-right groups. The Mormon Church, meanwhile, is one of the leading backers of Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage in California, and is making phone calls to California voters from Utah. 

On the other side, it is long the practice of Democratic candidates to visit African American churches on the Sunday before election day. As a reporter I accompanied many of those candidates, including Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis and a host of lesser candidates on whirlwind tours of black churches (and seeing the stiff-necked, buttoned-up Alan Cranston in a black church was worth giving up a Sunday). I expect we will see Democratic candidates touring African American churches next Sunday.

The larger question is whether political subjects are fit subjects for sermons on Sunday. I generally agree that public policy topics do not easily lend themselves to sermon topics, and certainly not short sermons. But the difficulty with never discussing politics in any form in the pulpit is to detach the Church from the world in which we live, and to never raise any moral issues other than individual moral issues.

To retreat into a religious corner that ignores politics, I would suggest, is to ignore the Old Testament prophets, most of Jesus’ teachings, and the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.  I think David McIlhiney put it well in the closing paragraph of his sermon:

“But we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ every time we recite the prayer Jesus taught us. These are dangerous words—they suggest that our faith isn’t just a private affair, but has implications for our national life. We should be careful in our dealings with Caesar, Jesus says, because we mustn’t give Caesar what we owe to God.” 

We do well to remember that the greatest strides toward human rights in our modern world began with religious people who, at great risk to themselves, called upon the political system for that express purpose. The English slave trade was outlawed in the nineteenth century largely through the efforts of Anglican churchman William Wilberforce (1759-1833), and the abolition of slavery became the central cause of the “Great Awakening” in America in the 1830-1850s. 

In later times, many German Christians paid with their lives for opposing the Nazis, most famously Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who denounced Hitler from his pulpit, and was arrested and executed in a concentration camp. No other example is more tragic, or more political, than his.

Let us also recall that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist preacher and led the civil rights movement from his pulpit and the streets; and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, an Anglican bishop, played a crucial role in ending apartheid in his country without civil war. More recently, the Episcopal Church has endorsed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end global poverty and the One Campaign to devote 1 percent of the world’s GNP to eradicating poverty. We need to be mindful that those goals can only be achieved by the active involvement of governments in the industrialized nations. Individual efforts, though laudatory, will never be enough. Those goals lead inevitably into the political arena.

Yet, we do well to enter the political arena cautiously, deliberately and in the humble knowledge that none of us have a corner on truth. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address (March 4, 1865), was mindful that neither side in the Civil War had a corner on God:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

How and when do we enter the political arena? I would suggest that we do so when it clearly advances the values of the Kingdom of God “to respect the dignity of every human being” (as our baptismal covenant puts it) and the health of our planet, resting upon the foundation of the Hebrew Shema to “love God” and “love our neighbors as ourselves.” 

Let me give one personal example: In the weeks before the Iraq war, I was among a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy who signed a full-page advertisement calling upon the Bush administration to respect the United Nations weapons inspection program rather than act unilaterally by going to war. I believe events have proven our position both moral and pragmatically correct. Yet I am also aware that good, faithful people – many of them friends – were much disturbed by our taking the position we took and believed we got it woefully wrong. They deserve to be respected and their faith not questioned. As Christians, all of us must find a way to come to the same Holy Communion Table, most especially when we disagree, and disagree deeply.

I close this lengthy blog entry by giving you, in full, the statement made last week by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to our church on the eve of this election:

“As Election Day approaches, I want to remind you that our democracy gives us the opportunity to speak urgently about the many issues and challenges confronting our nation and the world. I would encourage every eligible voter to prayerfully consider the choices before us and commit to using the political process to seek solutions to our society’s most intractable problems. As part of our baptismal vows we commit “to strive for justice and peace among all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being.” As you prepare to vote, I urge you to consider how the Reign of God – a just society – particularly as explicated by the Hebrew prophets and by Jesus, can be made real in our own day.

Our baptismal ministry calls us to transform our communities into something that looks more like that Reign of God. That is our part in God’s mission. We are sent and commissioned to build a society where all have adequate access to health care, where the weakest are protected and God’s creation safeguarded, and where each person has access to the blessings of life. That work requires committed engagement in the civic life of our nation if we seek to make God’s dream more effectively real and complete in this world.

As caretakers and stewards of all of God’s creation, each one of us is responsible for the flourishing of the rest of the human family. As in all elections, on 4 November we have the opportunity to continue working to reconcile and heal the world. I urge every citizen to use this opportunity to motivate our government to respond to, and participate in, building the Reign of God. We prepare the ground for the possibility of more abundant life through our part in the ministry of governance.

Voting and political participation are acts of Christian stewardship, in which citizens can engage in a common conversation about the future of our nation and the world. I urge you to exercise your right to vote, and to encourage and help others to do so as well.”

As we approach this Election Day, let us pray for our nation and the world, and cast our votes mindful of all those whose lives are touched by our votes but who have no vote. May we remember with deep gratitude those who have paid the last full measure of devotion to our country, and may we never take for granted our right to vote as a free people living in liberty, under God, ever striving for equal justice for all.

Blessings to all and to the United States of America,


Friday, October 24, 2008

Day of Prayer for Peace - join us on Dec. 6

Peace in the world begins with each of us. In the Advent season of awakening leading us to Christmas, please join me at St. Paul's as we set aside a few hours on Saturday Dec. 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pray for peace in our world, in our community, in our homes and in our lives.

We will begin with Morning Prayer in the Chapel, and then at regular intervals over the next few hours, we will offer prayers for peace from many faith traditions besides our own. Rooms at St. Paul’s will be set aside for writing your own prayers for peace, or creating an art project, or for quiet conversation. The chapel and church sanctuaries will be reserved for quiet meditation and prayer. We will also have a table with information about organizations working for peace and reconciliation in our community and the world.

 Individuals of all ages and families are invited to join us for the entire day or as many hours as you are able throughout the day. Drop-ins welcome.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everything awaits

Here's another gift from our friend, Karen, in Tennessee, who we send many blessings and best wishes to today:

Everything is waiting for you
by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone.  As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions.  To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings.  Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice.  You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.


Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation.  The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last.  All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves.  Everything is waiting for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bringing peace in the world: Support CIVIC

Today I am giving an unabashed plug for CIVIC - the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. CIVIC is celebrating its fifth birthday; the organization, based in Washington DC, advocates for and documents refugees and those caught in the cross fire in the many conflicts of this globe. 

CIVIC has won bipartisan respect in Congress and by the military. CIVIC was founded by Marla Ruzicka, from Lakeport, CA, who on a mission of mercy in Iraq, was killed by a roadside bomb in 2005. She was 28-years-old. 

In five short years, the accomplishments of CIVIC are many:
  • Helped create the first-ever US aid programs for civilians harmed by operations in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • Pressed NATO states to create a common fund for war victims in Afghanistan (which they did);
  • Trained the US military on how to help civilians caught in the crossfire.
  • Taken our mission global and traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Israel, and Lebanon;
  • Placed CIVIC staff on the ground in Afghanistan;
  • Told the stories of war's survivors to the media, the public, and to policy makers.
We talk in the church of bringing peace and reconciliation to the world. Here is an organization that is doing it. Recently CIVIC has received a 2-1 grant from a foundation. For every dollar donated, this foundation will double the match. Lori and I have donated $250, and I invite you to join us by clicking CIVIC Contributions.

Blessings to all,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Exploring Virginia, beginning at the beginning

This past weekend, Lori and I took our first break since the Big Move East. We decided to go explore Virginia, and where better to begin than at the beginning -- Jamestown. We stayed with our friends, Ray and Suzanne, and set forth on a journey into Virginia history.

The first English settlers in America first came to North Carolina, but that settlement failed. The next big push was in 1607 into Virginia, named after Elizabeth I, "the Virgin Queen." The expedition to Virginia was riddled with rivalries from the outset, and the ill-equipped English collided in America with the Powhatan Indians who had extensively settled in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

The English established Jamestown on an swampy island along what became known as the James River. The site was chosen because ocean-going ships could anchor close to shore and it provided a defensible position against invasion by the Spanish from the sea. But as a place to live it proved a disaster; the water was brackish and polluted, and the island was surrounded by mosquito-infested swamp. Many died, and the colony hung on, saved only by food provided by Indians. For these and other details, I am reading A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, by James Horn.

Jamestown is now mostly an open, river sandbar, and some of the original settlement has eroded into the river. The first Anglican church in America is the tallest building still standing at Jamestown (see photo), and is actually the fifth such church on the site (others tended to burn down). Presiding Bishop Katharine re-dedicated the church last year, marking its 400th anniversary. The archaeological museum is absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it. Jamestown is a painful place; many died, and Jamestown marks the beginning of where the interests of the British Empire would overwhelm, and nearly wipe out, the indigenous peoples of America.

Skipping ahead two centuries, We also went to the nearby Yorktown battlefield where American independence was won. We drove around the battlefield, which is well marked and well preserved, and we climbed into Redoubt 9 and 10. Those ramparts were the last line of defense for the British, and once the Americans and French captured it, they could fire at point-blank range into the British lines. The British then capitulated. If there is a single spot where American independence was sealed, it is right there at Redoubt 9 and 10 (see photo). 

Our trip into the American past was fascinating, and provides much to reflect upon and read about in the days ahead. And thanks to the St. Paul's community for giving us a weekend away!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

La Ofrenda

In the part of the world where I come from (California), there is a wonderful tradition that begins on All Souls Day (Nov. 1) - La Ofrenda - a tradition from El Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's "Day of the Dead."

The ofrenda is a special table set up inside the church where we place items that remind us of people we love who have died - small photographs, or a poem, or a candle, or a paper flower. The ofrenda table remains in the church through the month of November and is dismantled on the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 30).  On this posting I've included a few photographs of ofrendas I have seen in various churches over the years, including an ofrenda in San Juan Batista dedicated to soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the ofrendas I have seen are quite amazing in their offerings.

I would like to bring this tradition to St. Paul's this year with a simple ofrenda set up in our sanctuary. The church school and the teen youth group are already preparing items for ofrendas (and we will have one just for the children in the church school wing). Please take this as an invitation to bring something for our ofrenda at St. Paul's, and I pray you will find this a moving experience. For more information and resources for ofrendas, click on La Ofrenda.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Forgiveness any way you can get it

I love this poem, and I hope you will, too. The photo is of the cell door where Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) lived and listened to people pour out their souls and it seems fitting for the tone here (the chambers were destroyed by German bombs in WWII and rebuilt).


by Terence Winch

from Boy Drinkers


Father Cahir kept us holy.

He smoked cigars in the confessional.

He had a distracted air about him,

as though he wasn't sure what

he was supposed to do next.


I don't remember what he taught.

History, probably. It was his

liberal attitude as a confessor

that made him a legend.


No matter what you confessed to,

he always barked out the same penance:

“Three Hail Marys and a Good Act

of Contrition. Next!”

So we tested

this leniency, confessing

to rape, murder, burglary.


Cahir paid no attention.

He knew we were a bunch

of high school punks.

Puffing his cigar,

he'd issue his standard

penance and absolve all sins,

real or imagined,

with godlike aloofness,

his vast indifference to

or total acceptance of the darkness

within the human soul

exactly how I hope the deity

regards us. Take forgiveness

any way you can get it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Feast of saints

You may not have noticed but this week we get a feast of saint days. On Tuesday we celebrated Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906), who may not be a household word, yet his deeds were extraordinary: as the Anglican bishop to Shanghai, China, he translated the Bible into Chinese typing with one finger after physical infirmities rendered him disabled. 

On Wednesday we celebrated the feast day of Teresa of Avila (1449-1556), the Spanish founder of the Carmelite nuns whose mystical writings on the inner spiritual life are still a must-read for anyone seriously exploring Christian spirituality.

And today we celebrate Bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1449-1556), the architects of modern Anglicanism and authors of the Book of Common Prayer (more on them in a bit; the picture here is of Cranmer); tomorrow we celebrate the feast day of Ignatius of Antioch (died 115), the Syrian-born patriarch of the early church whose concepts of Christ's divinity still shape our own. 

And on Saturday we celebrate Saint Luke himself (or herself -- there is a current theory that "Luke" may have been a nom de plume for a woman writer of the gospel). Luke is thought to have been a companion of Saint Paul, and many still consider the gospel to be the most historically accurate of the four.

Why do we bother looking at the lives of the saints? First because when we mention in our eucharistic prayers of being "surrounded by a cloud of witnesses," we are talking of those souls who have shaped our own, living and dead, and who we believe join us in communion  at the Holy Table in our Eucharist -- along with those millions of others whose names are known to God alone. 

We don't claim these people were perfect or that they had magical powers. Yet we do well to pay critical attention to their lives, if only because their accomplishments and failures, and the ideas they promoted,  are still deeply embedded in our DNA as Christians. Ignatius, for example, fought a crucial battle against the Docetists who held that Jesus was not human and did not suffer on the Cross, but was really a spirit-being who was faking his suffering. Ignatius was a principle architect in the theological concept that Jesus is "fully human and fully divine," a theological concept that many still struggle with. Ignatius's theological triumph defined orthodoxy but came at a cost of excluding other ideas rendered as heretical by the early church patriarchs.

We are also the inheritors of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's concept of a church that could live in tension with the theological beliefs of both Catholics and Protestants (and one might argue, a church that is truly catholic in its breadth). His ideas were ahead of his time (and maybe our own) in a Europe awash in heresy trials and inquisition. Cranmer wrote the first Book of Common  Prayer in 1549, and he included not only Catholic and Protestant prayers (and theologies) but Eastern Orthodox as well.

Cranmer and his friends, Latimer and Ridley, paid with their lives for the idea of a broad church; they were burned at the stake in 1556 in Oxford by Queen Mary during her brief but bloody attempt at re-instituting Roman Catholicism in England (hence her name, "Bloody Mary"). When Elizabeth I took the throne, she brought back Cranmer's prayer book, and it has remained foundational to Anglican worship ever since. We do well to remember that in this time of great strife in the Anglican Communion that our forebearers believed it possible to form a church among people who disagree deeply but who do not claim to have the sole monopoly on truth.

All of these lives are worth studying, and I commend to you examining their wisdom and foibles, their doubts and their hopes. If you want to keep track of the saint days in the Episcopal Church, and the readings that go with each day, go to the Lectionary Page. You can also read a brief biography of each saint by consulting a copy of Lesser Feasts and Fasts in the church library.  May we continue to be surrounded by their witness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sacred space on the dashboard of my car

Much news to absorb in the paper today; financial bailouts for banks; the latest in presidential campaign polls; upcoming debate tonight; fires in Los Angeles; court rulings against the Episcopal Church in Virginia; and onward we plunge. So how about a poem for the day? A gift from Karen in Tennessee. The photo was taken somewhere in Utah on our trip east...

The Sacred

by Stephen Dunn


After the teacher asked if anyone had

       a sacred place

and the students fidgeted and shrank


in their chairs, the most serious of them all

      said it was his car,

being in it alone, his tape deck playing


things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth

       had been spoken

and began speaking about their rooms,


their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,

      the car in motion,

music filling it, and sometimes one other person


who understood the bright altar of the dashboard

     and how far way

a car could take him from the need


to speak, or to answer, the key

    in having a key

        and putting it in, and going.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Journalism: Vital to a free people

I have not, heretofore, commented on this blog about the state of journalism, the profession in which I devoted most of my adult life and in which I still have many, many friends. It should be of vital interest to all of us that journalism, and journalists, find a way out of the economic morass that has plagued the profession for several years now. The recession, or depression, hit newspapers several years ago, well before the economic crisis that is plaguing all of us. 

The health of journalism is crucial to all of us: The news we depend upon as a free people comes from courageous journalists who pound the beat in city halls, courthouses, or put themselves in harms way in the many troubled corners of this earth. So far, 135 journalists have died covering the war in Iraq, and another 51 support personnel have been killed working for news organizations. 

Journalists don't always get it right, or perfectly. Sometimes they miss the story or get an important fact wrong. But they pick themselves up every day and get back out on the pavement and do it again. Day after day. Maybe you no longer subscribe to a newspaper, but let me point out that if you are getting news from the internet, a journalist gathered that news, and more than likely a newspaper company put that journalist in the field and provided the resources for news gathering. And if you got your news off television or radio, more than likely that broadcast journalist was chasing a story that ran first in a newspaper.

There is much to criticize about journalism, and even more to criticize about the management of news organizations. There are many blogs devoted to that task, and some of them are even worth following, including the one maintained by my friend Howard Weaver, the vice president for news at the McClatchy Co. His blog is called Etaoin Shrdlu, and you will just have to go there to find out what that means (and be forewarned: journalists comment there, and the language is often salty and they don't pull their punches). 

So today I want to celebrate one positive development: the remake of the website for The Sacramento Bee, where I worked 10 years and Lori worked 20 years. The new is clean and inviting, the photos are spectacular, and the nuggets describing each story are helpful. Newspapers are remaking themselves into multi-media news organizations, and The Bee is getting there and deserves kudos today. Congratulations to one and all at The Bee for your thought and hard work. Oh, and if you haven't gotten a subscription to your local newspaper, go get one.