Saturday, February 28, 2009

Journey to Jerusalem: Join us on the walk this Lent

Lori came across this the other day: a website with a 40-day walk through the Holy Land that leads to Jerusalem and the Cross, sponsored by the U.K. organization Christian Aid. For those unfamiliar with the organization, it describes its purpose:
We have a long history of working in this region. With an outspoken resolve we work with Israeli and Palestinian organisations to protect human rights, secure access to services and resources, and build peace based on justice and security for all.

In the last decade, Palestinian poverty levels have trebled and violence on both sides has escalated - there is still much to do.
Each day Christian Aid is taking us to a different place along the road to Jerusalem, to places you would expect to see, but places that will startle you nonetheless. This walk to the Cross is not sugar-coated. Yesterday, on the walk, we went to Bethlehem, and we had to get through a check-point at the massive wall separating Palestinians from Israelis. Each day has a description and photos and sometimes a video.

This is a tough walk to Jerusalem, even if the closest you get to the Holy Land is the computer screen in front of you. I commend this journey this Lent, and Lori and we will take it with you each day. Click Journey to Jerusalem to begin your journey (and you can go back a few days to catch up, it won't take long). Also, I am putting the Christian Aid logo on the left side of this blog, and you can click it each day to return to the journey.

May you have many blessings this Lent,

Jim+

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Passion Narrative through the eyes of Mark: A special Lenten course at St. Paul's

St. Paul’s has many remarkable and generous people including my very good friends, The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry, and his wife Joy. Charles is the retired Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, and also the retired president and dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, which as it happens, is my seminary.

This Lent, Dean Perry brings us a very special course on The Passion Narrative through the eyes of the Gospel of Mark. On Passion Sunday, also known as Palm Sunday, we dramatically read Mark’s passion narrative, the earliest written of the four gospels. The story of Our Lord’s passion and death is at the heart of our walk through Lent, and so is worth spending the time unfolding its meaning and message.

On the four Lenten Sundays in March, leading to Passion Sunday, our Adult Education Ministry Team is offering this very special study of Mark’s Passion Narrative in detail. Dean Perry will make a presentation each Sunday after our worship service and lead a discussion. As an aid to study and meditation, Dean Perry has prepared a short pamphlet with his notes that will be available to participants. The course will be begin immediately following the 10 am worship on March 8, 15, 22 and 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 pm in the Chapel.

I hope you can join us for this remarkable offering by Dean Perry this Lenten season.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Come tonight to the IMPACT meeting

If you can, please come to the community-wide rally tonight for IMPACT at 6:30 pm at the Church of the Incarnation (1465 Incarnation Drive, Charlottesville; for directions click HERE).

IMPACT, which stands for Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together, is a grassroots coalition of 30 churches, synagogues, and the Islamic Society in Charlottesville coming together to work for fairness and justice for the most disadvantaged in our community. This year we agreed to work on education issues in Charlottesville, and tonight's meeting is an opportunity to get an update of where we stand. I am very grateful to John Frazee for getting us organized at St. Paul's and I hope you can attend.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday and those who live in the ashes

Two items for you this Ash Wednesday: the first in Virginia and the second in Sacramento. I hope these are of interest to friends on both coasts, for we are all connected in this shrinking world.

The first was brought to my attention by Joan Burchell earlier this week: a report by the Commonwealth and Voices of Virginia Children that predicts how the recession will hit the poor in Virginia:
Forecasting for the first time the impact of the current recession’s rising unemployment on the number of Virginians forced into poverty, a new report by The Commonwealth Institute and Voices for Virginia’s Children estimates that an additional 122,000 to 218,000 people will be living in poverty by year’s end. Among the hardest hit will be Virginia’s children with an additional 44,000 to 73,000 children living in poverty.
“Increases in unemployment lead to increases in poverty,” said , executive director of The Commonwealth Institute. “This new information provides us a look around the corner to see what lies ahead for Virginia as the economy worsens.”
You can read the full report HERE.

Next, please watch Oprah today at 4pm if you get a chance. My very close friends at Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento are featured today, and the program takes a walk with Sister Libby Fernandez into the tent towns on the rivers and the gruesome poverty of Sacramento. This is from an email earlier this week from Joan Burke at L&F:
The Oprah Winfrey Show asked Loaves & Fishes if they could interview one of the homeless mothers at Maryhouse. Favor Whitesides [in the middle in the photo above with her family], a very devoted mother of three bright and beautiful children, agreed to share her story. Oprah Correspondent Lisa Ling (Carmichael native), Sister Libby and I also visited the large tent city in Sacramento with over 100 tents spread out over several acres as far as the eye can see. Over 200 people live there in a scene straight out of the Great Depression. When I asked the film crew if they had seen anything like it anywhere else, the sound man replied, “Only in a war zone.”
Our friends at L&F provided this link to the program if you want to know more: OPRAH.

On this Ash Wednesday, and throughout Lent, I hope all of us will think and pray about the role we can play in lifting people out of the ashes. While Ash Wednesday and Lent are intensely personal, part of our introspection should take us outside of ourselves to ask how we can become servants to those in poverty all around us. Tomorrow, Feb. 26, IMPACT will be holding a large gathering to talk about our involvement in the community, and if you can make it, please do. To learn more about IMPACT and St. Paul's role, please check out the IMPACT blog set up by John Frazee HERE.

I pray you have a blessed Ash Wednesday and a holy Lent.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The stance on gay marriage is changing

I have a few items to bring you today. First, from our U.K. friends at Ekkelesia, a story published today about how the stance is shifting in favor of gay relationships among some evangelicals. 

That shift appears to be generational. The New York Times this weekend took note that a PBS poll last fall found that 58 percent of white evangelicals under the age of 30 favor some form of legal status for same-sex unions. Ekkelsia in a story this morning noted:

Four Evangelical groups who believe the churches need a positive change of heart and mind on homosexuality have said condemning hate groups is not enough. They want Christian acceptance of gay people.

They have called on churches and Christian organisations condemning an American anti-gay hate group to face up to their own discriminatory policies and behaviour - and to embrace conversion.
To read the full story, click HERE.

As mentioned above, The New York Times this weekend noted the cultural landscape on LGBT issues is changing. The Times ran two op-ed pieces that are worth your time and discussion. In the first, jointly written by David Blankenhorn (a conservative) and Jonathan Rauch (a liberal), is titled A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage, and suggests a way of compromise. The second piece, by William Saletan, a writer for Slate, is titled This is the Way the Culture Wars End. Both pieces are food for thought and discussion, and may point a way forward. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Photos from the Vestry retreat

Here are a few photos from the Vestry retreat, taken by Dudley Rochester (thanks!). Enjoy:





The Vestry and exploring our spiritual gifts

I am back from the Vestry retreat, and we spent a lot of time getting to know each other better, praying together, laughing, sharing, building trust and talking about how to be a discerning community of faithful leaders for St. Paul's Memorial Church. Everyone was invited to share what they believe are the spiritual gifts they bring to the Vestry, and we talked about Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 12: 4-13 about the "varieties of gifts" given by the Spirit that knit us into "one body." Those gifts come from outside us, and those gifts are what we bring to our circle of faith so we can serve the people of St. Paul's with faith and integrity.

As it happens, Martha Loach Webber shared with me last week a video from TED of a talk given by writer Elizabeth Gilbert about how genius comes from outside ourselves. Ms. Gilbert doesn't say "spiritual gifts" but she is talking the language of spiritual gifts. You will need 18 minutes to watch but it is worth your time:


Friday, February 20, 2009

The Vestry retreat and wisdom for the ages

I will be away the next few days on the Vestry retreat. I am not entirely sure where we are going; Dudley Rochester is driving, all I need to do is put my gear in his trunk. We will be led by Karen Salter, who conducted two Vestry retreats for St. Paul's during the transition and the calling of a new rector.

For those who have not been on a Vestry retreat, they are NOT long business meetings. In fact, the only order of business will be electing new wardens, a register and a treasurer. Our time together will be spent in prayer and getting to know each other better, brainstorming a bit, and building trust as a circle of faith so that we can make decisions in the year ahead on a foundation of faith. Please keep us in your prayers. 

I will not be posting for a few days. So I leave you with this, and photo is of Orion's Belt from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (very cool website).

Selections: Hua Hu Ching 
Lao Tzu (Chinese) b.570

Do you imagine the universe is agitated?
Go into the desert at night and look out at the stars.
This practice should answer the question.

~

Unless the mind, body and spirit are equally
developed and fully integrated, no [wisdom] can be sustained
This is why extremist religions and ideologies do not
bear fruit.

~

The highest truth cannot be put into words.
Therefore the greatest teacher has nothing to say.
He simply gives himself in service, and never worries.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Change: Did You Know?

This past Sunday I preached about change and practicing change so that we might find a healthier way to approach all of the change in our lives and the world around us, not to mention in the church. Friends in Sacramento brought this video below to Lori's attention, and it is worth the five minutes it takes to watch. This is from a presentation in Rome to the Sony Corp. Change is unavoidable. How will we adapt and grow with it? And look for the question at the end: Can we in the Church answer? 

Credit: Created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod; Globalization & The Information Age. Adapted by Sony BMG at an executive meeting they held in Rome this year. Credits are also given to Scott McLeod, Jeff Brenman.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ginger Greene: Sunday in the park with Palma

You may not know that St. Paul's currently has a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, our own Ginger Greene. She is teaching school in Rustenburg, and is due back in Charlottesville in about a month. She has been sending delightful accounts of her experience, and below, with her permission, I am posting her last "adventure" from this past weekend. The photos are hers, and by the way, the rhinos next to her are made of plaster and is in a shop. The rhinos outside the passenger door are  real. Enjoy:

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH PALMA

Palma picks me up after church in Rustenburg. I've just gone to the Anglican Church and she to the Afrikaan Protestant Church, and we're both ready for an adventure.

Which park shall it be this time? There's very little debate, because we both like Pilanesburg best, but there are others that we occasionally go to. Today, though, we agree on the Pilanesburg Game Preserve. It's about an hour's drive from Rustenburg.

It's a little cloudy—we're in the rainy season, and it can really pour down sometimes—but it's not going to rain for a while. It's pleasantly cool.
We get to the gate, a handsome thatched open-air building surrounded by craftspersons selling carved animals, masks, things like that. I would love to buy some but I know they will all break in my overstuffed suitcase when I go home, especially their little legs. So I look the other way. One of us checks out the map posted outside the ticket office; there are coloured pins (different colours for different animals) showing the latest reported elephant, lion etc. sightings; but we don't pay much attention because the animals are usually moving around and unlikely to be found in the same place twice.

Off we go, down a potholed but paved road that rapidly degenerates into a heavily potholed, dirt road with lots of gullies and big rocks. Palma nonchalantly steers her car, a big Mercedes, through and around the obstacles. She has been coming to this place for many many years and probably knows it better than most of the rangers. She has her favorite places for looking for hippos; she knows where the baboons lurk; she knows where the buffalo are supposed to be, although they seldom are—she's seen lots of buffalo, but for some reason never any in this park, so we're always on the lookout.

I should say SHE is on the lookout. Palma has eyes that are considerably sharper than the average eagle's. She can steer casually along the road, weaving around the potholes, all the time watching closely for animals on both sides; by contrast, I am squinting out of my window, trying to decide which little black shape is a bush and which is an impala. She always tells me to say "stop!" if I think I see something; I often do, but most of the time it turns out to be a shrub just pretending to be a gnu, or something like that. By contrast, she can spot anything four-legged about a half mile away, and decide instantly whether it's a roibok, a kudu, or one of the other many antelope-type animals here, or perhaps an elephant. And she's seldom wrong. I almost never recognize anything before she's already got it in sight.

"There! Look over there!" I will hear, as she brakes and pulls over, and I obediently squint out of her side of the car. Nothing but a lot of bushes and trees. "It's two elands! Just to the left of that clump of rocks!" I'm usually looking in the wrong direction and can't even find the clump of rocks, let alone the brownish-black shapes or the big horns of the elands. But Palma is very patient, and has had a lot of practice in giving directions. She points out a tree close to the road; look to the right of that tree for a dead tree; look straight between the two, there, over near the river…….Eventually I see them. Usually with my binoculars, once I can get them focused and pointed between the two trees. But Palma's patience is measureless, and she waits until I have had a good look. Then we drive on.

This scenario is repeated over and over. Sometimes the critter is right by the road, sometimes 100 meters away, sometimes much further. But I almost always end up getting a good look, and frequently a good picture too. (I can usually see the ones right next to the road all by myself.) Elephants, being pretty good-sized, should be fairly easy to spot; but they blend in with the background so well that I can't always pick them out unless they're waving their ears. 
One happy day, though, we were slowed down by traffic driving very slowly in front of us; and, looking ahead, we could see an elephant moving briskly down the road, heading past all the cars and coming in our direction. There was a lot of fast backing up; everybody wanted to get out of its way—elephants can do a lot of damage even if they're not in a bad mood, and when they get annoyed (as by people blowing the horn or throwing things) they can be extremely destructive. So we all scattered, as best we could, to get out of the way. Eventually it turned off into the bush and started across a field, and we all breathed a sigh of relief and got back on the road. I probably should have been worried but I thought it was rather entertaining.

On another memorable day we were again alerted by slow driving ahead of us. When the road curved we could see two male lions, strolling down the middle of the road in the same direction that we were going. They made me think of two elderly gentlemen walking home from church, in no hurry at all. Once again, everyone was very respectful, no horn blowing or driving past them, and soon they too turned off into a field and we continued on.

Sometimes we get really lucky and find ourselves moving through a really big herd of zebras, often with a lot of wildebeests mixed in. Zebras stay closer to the road than most animals, or maybe it's just that there are lots more of them; we have often driven along, seeing zebras on each side close enough to touch. Probably hundreds of them. They're not at all afraid of cars but I notice that, obedient to the rules, nobody ever gets out of the car to offer one of them a carrot. (I would like to but Palma won't let me.)

Giraffes are another treat. I can sometimes actually spot them on my own; those heads, weaving far above most of the bushes, are fairly easy to see. They often stalk nonchalantly across the road right in front of us, not even turning their heads to stare. One day recently we saw about a dozen of them, all slowly traveling together through the bush. Did you know that the collective noun for giraffes is "tower"? Very appropriate.

On one of our first trips we had been driving for 15 or 20 minutes when Palma braked and said Look! Right there by the road! And, omigod, there were two rhinos, grazing peacefully in the field to our left and almost close enough to touch. It was fascinating, but scary. I knew they were big, but up close (and with no fence to protect us) they are HUGE. But they didn't even look up, just kept on grazing. Fortunately these were the white variety, which are quite placid; the park also has some black ones, which are very dangerous on account of being both near-sighted and evil-tempered. They will charge at anything they see moving, and they don't bother to ask questions. (Those colours have nothing to do with their actual colour—all rhinos are a sort of medium gray. I'm not sure what those designators refer to.)

After a while the need to rest, and find a bathroom, becomes necessary. There are several "hides" in the park: little open-sided, thatchroofed huts with the necessary plumbing, benches inside to sit on, and fences that discourage most of the beasts from getting too close. Palma has as usual brought a well-stocked picnic basket, and we settle down to coffee, fruit (I had my first lichi fruit with her), and whispered conversation so as not to scare off any animals. The walls often have helpful posters showing birds and animals. Her (and now my) favourite hide is on a little lake where there are usually a few submerged hippos waiting to be admired. We always watch for a crocodile there but I have yet to see one. We notice a good many assorted birds around the lake as well—egrets, for example, and last week we saw two very large storks and a little one. It makes for a pleasant break.

Back on the road. This time we see several bunches of impala and springbok. They're so much fun to watch, bouncing gracefully over the ditches and speeding away. Often we have seen herds of 50 or more. An occasional elephant looms up in the distance. We rarely see elephants up close—at least, not during any of my trips—except for one memorable day when we saw a youngster chasing a group of impala, shaking his head and flapping his ears at them. Soon another, larger elephant came up to him and they had a head-to-head conversation. Apparently the bigger one, very likely a matriarch, was telling the boy that it's bad manners to frighten the impala, they haven't done anything to him. He stood there with his head down, suitably chastened.

We're getting near the gate now—the road has improved. And we're about ready for lunch. So we drive back into Rustenburg, and I edit my pictures in the camera over a glass of wine with Palma. It's been another memorable Sunday In The Park With Palma.

love to all,
Ginger

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Too alone, not alone enough

One of the delights in my time, so far, at St. Paul's is leading a class, Journey of Faith, something of a Christianity 101 course for adults preparing for confirmation, reception or reaffirmation. We began in December and concluded with the bishop's visitation in February. Our class was wonderfully fun and the discussion grew more lively every week. 

One of our participants, Maggie Simon Fyfe, introduced us to the poetry of Prague-born Austrian poet Ranier Maria Rilke (he went by "R.M. Rilke"), 1875-1926. Here is one of the poems Maggie read for us, and I share it with you today:
I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough
To make every minute holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
Just to lie before you like a thing,
Shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be my will,
As it goes toward action,
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times
When something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
And I never want to be blind, or to be too old
To hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
Because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
And I want my grasp of things
True before you. I want to describe myself
Like a painting that I looked at
Closely for a long time,
Like a saying that I finally understood,
Like the pitcher I use every day,
Like the face of my mother
Like a ship
That took me safely
Through the wildest storm of all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Global Warming: Where's the Beef?

A dividend for you this morning: Lori's blog reports a disturbing scientific study about beef production. It costs more in carbon output to produce beef than any other meat product. And those who think they are being kind to the environment by consuming grass-fed beef need to have another look: grass-fed beef is the biggest carbon offender of all. 

To read the full story go to Lori K's Cafe.

Presidents Day: The Four Freedoms

On this Presidents Day, I am offering a remembrance of a president who served in one of the most trying moments of our history. There are a precious few such presidents who met such challenges, and they are especially worthy of our remembrance this day. And allow me to present a speech he gave that changed the world, and some of you are old enough to remember it.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his State of Union Address of 1941 by noting that he was speaking “at a moment unprecedented in the history of the union.” The photo here shows FDR giving that speech in the House of Representatives. 

The President went on to outline the threats to the United States, and in particular the fascist military dictators in Germany, Italy and Japan. The United States was not yet at war, but within the year would be. 

FDR’s speech on Jan. 6. 1941 came with the dire backdrop of worldwide economic depression, an unprecedented economic calamity that reached every corner of the globe. He addressed a nation mired in isolationism, the na├»ve idea that the oceans would protect us and that the horrific threats to people abroad had nothing to do with us. Roosevelt told the Congress and the nation: “I find it unhappily necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders.”

Roosevelt sketched a practical response to tyranny, and then he went a step further. It was the end of his address that set his words apart as one of the most notable speeches in the history of the American presidency. Roosevelt outlined the principles that became known as “the Four Freedoms.” Here, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, are the Four Freedoms:

The State of the Union
To the 77th Congress
January 6, 1941
Franklin D. Roosevelt


. . . In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception – the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Practicing change

I promise, dear readers, to not make this a habit - posting sermons. But here is today's sermon. You can also hear the audio version (with ad libs) on the main St. Paul's website.

I am posting this because it is about the topic of change, and this cannot help but be the topic of conversation at St. Paul's and everywhere we go in the next year. Here you are...



Practicing Change
By the Rev. James Richardson
6 Epiphany - Feb. 15, 2009


Sometimes simplicity can get complicated.

Take Naaman, who we meet in the Old Testament lesson today. Naaman is a soldier who is very sick. The prophet Elisha tells him to go wash in the Jordan seven times. But Naaman goes away angry. Surely it must be more complicated than this. Things are not as he expects them. When, thanks to a lowly servant, Naaman finally catches on and changes his attitude, he washes and is healed.

It was as simple as Elisha said.

Or take the nameless leper who is healed by Jesus. Things are not as he expects. Jesus heals the leper and tells him to go to the Temple to be washed, and not talk about what he has seen. Of course, the healed man goes out and blabs to everyone, and soon large crowds descend upon Jesus.

Simple change is rarely simple.

These biblical stories, and others like it, are at their core meant to push us off kilter so we can see God’s blessing more clearly than we have seen before. These stories are designed to change our conventional thinking, and sometimes conventional thinking is more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes we need a jolt out of our comfort zone so that we can see God more clearly and love more dearly.

The apostle Paul is driving at the same point in his letter today, but coming at it from a different direction. This idea of running the race is not about being the fastest or the first past the finish line.

Rather, Paul is talking about how we run the race of life. He implores us to buck up, and learn how to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s like the old joke: How do you get to Carnagie Hall? Practice, practice, practice, just like an athlete practices. It is about growing up by practicing change so that change will not overwhelm us.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change and why it is so difficult. We live in a world undergoing tremendous upheaval and change. The economy around the globe and here at home is changing in ways none of us yet comprehend. Life around us is full of change and much of it can be overwhelming.

I know many of you are undergoing big changes and challenges in your life and work or in school, or in your family, or with your health.

In my own life, I have undergone a great deal of change in the last year: changing jobs, and moving across the country to answer your call to be your rector. Lori and I are very much on a steep learning curve in this, our new community. Change is fatiguing and not always the adventure it is cracked up to be.

It is tempting to come to church looking for a refuge where nothing changes. Indeed, the Church is often characterized as the “rock,” suggesting it just sits there as a lifeless stone.

We do need to hold to that which is good and right in the midst of the changes and chances of life, and there is much that is good right here in this church worth holding and celebrating.

Yet, we should not see the Church as an inert clump of stone. The church is alive, it is an organism, and the church is changing, both here and everywhere.

In our own Anglican Communion and its American branch, the Episcopal Church, there is much conflict over change. The conflicts are sometimes playing out in with ugly arguments, name calling, throwing Bibles at each other, and in lawsuits over property. It also comes out as arguments over who should be ordained, or whether we should create rites for same-sex marriage, and a raft of other issues.

Our parish is not immune to those disagreements. We are a large parish and we have people who disagree and disagree deeply on all manner of issues, large and small. How we disagree is as important as what we disagree about.

We can see those disagreement as a cause for alarm, or, we can see it as a reason to celebrate because we are learning to thrive by living in the tension of our differences. We are practicing change together, and that is one reason we are a healthy parish, full of people committed to caring for each other and for the world around us.

I believe there is a holy spark here at St. Paul’s that can show others how to model healthy change in the rest of the church and the world. It is why we have been invited by Bishop Lee to be among a handful of parishes in this diocese that will be part of the “Windsor Listening Process” to develop a model of dialogue for the the diocese and the Church at large.

To practice change requires walking lightly through change, and not taking ourselves so seriously all the time. That is not always easy. It requires not worrying when something doesn’t work and moving on. And that requires practice, just as Paul suggests an athlete must practice to a run race.

And here’s the good news: We don’t have to do this alone. We can find strength together, as a community of faith, and discover together how new growth and resurrection will come to each of us, day by day.

When we do, we cannot help but spread healing and hope into the world beyond, and we have no greater mission than that.
One more thing: You don’t have to agree with a word I say or a thing I do. No matter our differences, we all come together each and every Sunday to share in the bread and wine of our Holy Communion, and it is that unity of sharing in the presence of the Holy that we are made a Holy people.

And it really can be that simple.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Unfold your own myth

Our friend Karen from Tennessee lately has been celebrating the life and wisdom of Jalalud'din Rumi, a Muslim poet of 13th century Afghanistan whose work is still popular throughout the world. He celebrates story, love and the mystical center in each of us:  “A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself. That’s how I hold your voice.”

Here is Karen's biographical sketch of Rumi, followed by a short poem by rumi. Have a good Saturday:

Jalalud'din Rumi is one of the world’s most revered mystical poets. During his lifetime he produced a prolific range of inspiring and devotional poetry which encapsulates the Sufi's experience of union with the divine. These timeless classics have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, as Rumi has become one of our most popular poets. Although Rumi was a Sufi and a great scholar of the Qu’ran his appeal reaches across religious and social divisions. Even during his lifetime he was noted for his cosmopolitan outlook. His funeral, which lasted 40 days, was attended by Muslims, Jews, Persians, Christians and Greeks.

Rumi was born in 1207, in what is now know as Afghanistan . It was a period of remarkable social and political turbulence. The 13th Century was the era of the crusades, and the area where Rumi lived was under constant threat of Mongol invasion. The great upheavals Rumi faced during his life is said to have influenced much of his poetry.

The most important turning point in Rumi’s life was when he met the wandering dervish Sham al- Din. This meeting and their close mystical relationship was instrumental in awakening Rumi’s latent spirituality and intense devotion. It was at this point Rumi abandoned his academic career and began to write his mystical poetry.

Love is a frequent subject of Rumi's poems, descriptions of seeming romantic love is an illusion to the all encompassing pure, divine love. Metaphors such as this are common to other Sufi poets such as Omar Khayyam, Hafiz, and Attar.


Unfold Your Own Myth
By Rumi

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking towards Shams [the sun]. You legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Blues Brothers meet the Yule Log

I thought you might enjoy this photo sent by Jenny Gladding of myself and Charles Lancaster at the Yule Log hunt last month. Photo captions welcome.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Charles Darwin and God's toolbox

Charles Darwin and the Church don't seem to mix, or so it seems in our day. In fact, this coming Sunday is "Evolution Sunday" in many churches, and today we celebrate his 200th birthday. And it may interest you to know that his theory is embraced as evidence of "natural law" in Catholic (Big C) theology. Even many of the original fundamentalists were fine with evolution because, they believed, it demonstrated God's tool box at work in the world. The downside is that Darwin was employed in the early 20th century to support so-called "Social Darwinism" theories of race and class. 

So what happened to Darwin in our time? Why the Christian attack? Right-wing political agendas found traction in attacking evolution (recall the Republican presidential primary candidates for President last year who all raised their hands when asked if they did not "believe" in evolution). Meanwhile, Christian literalists felt they had to defend the absolute inherency of the Bible, and if the Genesis story of creation couldn't hold up as science then the rest of the Bible would collapse. Personally, I find that a sad one-dimensional reading of the Bible that seems to slice God's grace from the pages.

Denis Alexander, writing this morning for Ekklessia, has a good analysis of the contemporary attack on Darwin:
One of the deep mysteries of the early 21st century is why one set of Christians go round churches trying to persuade another set of Christians to reject the theory of evolution. This is in a world of incalculable need, both material and spiritual. Trying to persuade Christians to disbelieve Darwinism soaks up huge resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
To read the full article, go HERE.

I must admit my own fascination with evolution (and anyone who wants to fund me for a trip to the Galapagos you will have my eternal gratitude). Years ago I read The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin's book on his scientific discoveries in the Galapagos. His book is one of the great adventure stories of all time, and that helped lead me to become an anthropology major at UCLA. I studied during a time when Louis and Mary Leakey were making their amazing finds at Olduvia Gorge, and Donald Johanson and Timothy White not long after discovered the fossil dubbed "Lucy" in Ethiopia which transformed the diagram of human lineage. To my delight I got to hear Louis Leakey and Johansen  lecture, and meet them both.

The story of evolution has only gotten more fascinating as scientists make new discoveries and sort out the mechanisms of evolution (a good deal more complicated that Darwin dreamed). The most remarkable discoveries of recent years aren't just fossils, but in the maps of human genetics. For me, the brilliance of God's creation shines through in each discovery. And I've always thought it somehow fittingly perfect that Timothy White's dating lab is located in the basement of my seminary in Berkeley, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific

There is a caution in this: climate change. If evolution demonstrates anything it is that no species has a guaranteed existence on earth. Our apathy over global warming could be our undoing. Our evolutionary line is at risk as is every species alive today. Our existence depends on our ability to repair this good Earth, and we need not - and cannot - wait until we iron out every question about evolution or how we interpret the Bible.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Book of Common Prayer: A Special Lenten course

Treasures for Life: Exploring the Book of Common Prayer

Come join me each Wednesday evening in Lent, beginning March 4, as we explore the Book of Common Prayer. Did you know that it is more than a Sunday worship book? Our prayerbook holds treasurers for living every day of the week and every time of the day. And embedded in the history of the book is the foundation for a church with a broad range of theological beliefs and practices. Join me as we learn about this amazing resource for living.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The return of indulgences

The New York Times has a curious story today about the return of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. It seems they never really went away but the current Pope is re-emphasizing the practice as part of a campaign for renewed Catholic piety. 

You may recall from your western civ course that indulgences were a major issue of the Reformation, with Martin Luther contending that we cannot buy our way into heaven. A contemporary Lutheran scholar, quoted by The Times, points out that the basic problem with indulgences is trying to quantify God's grace. That said, the writer gives this subject a fair treatment. See what you think. You can read the story HERE. The photo is from The New York Times and goes with the story.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why should I be an Episcopalian?

This has been floating around the blogs for the last couple of weeks and it is pretty good. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is asked "Why should I be an Episcopalian?" She gives a good answer, and in less than two minutes:


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday with Bishop Jones and my early-bird sermon

We had a great official visitation with Bishop David Jones today, with many confirmations, reaffirmations  and receptions (OK, I lost count). We have posted the audio of Bishop Jones' sermon on the main St. Paul's website, and we will put the text there as soon as we get a copy. Meantime, and I don't do this too often on the blog, I thought I would sharre my 8 am sermon from this morning here:

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
By James Richardson


“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I like to think that those words of the prophet Isaiah lift up Jesus on wings like eagles as he goes about the tasks before him today:

He is at the home of Simon and Andrew, and he heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. Then more and more people show up who are sick and possessed of demons. Jesus heals them and casts out the demons. Then after a very long night of this hard work, Jesus gets a little sleep, and then he is up early to pray.

There are a few of things I’d like you notice here besides the part about Simon’s mother-in-law rising up from her fever to cook dinner for the men.

First, notice the demons. Certainly the people who wrote the Bible knew nothing of bacteria and viruses as a reason for disease. They saw demons behind everything. In our scientific frame of mind we rightfully discount demons and demonology as an explanation for disease and malady.

Yet we ignore at our peril that just as there are forces for good in this world, there are forces of evil. Not everything yields to rational explanation. Call it demons, call it evil, the forces of wickedness are all around us.

And if we are to live a life as followers to Jesus, we are called to stand up to evil when and where we find it, both big and small. It is one of the reasons we are in this faith community so that we can have the strength together to fight evil.

The Church, at its holiest through the ages, is at its best when it takes a prophetic stand against evil, whether it is against the Nazi ovens or racial segregation or the evils of greed, hatred and violence in our own age.

The Church is at its worst when it condones or even creates evil whether through persecution, or exclusion, or apathy.

Next, please notice something curious about the gospel lesson: the demons know who Jesus is. Merely knowing Jesus is nothing special, even the demons know him.
Jesus doesn’t need the demons or their chaos to proclaim anything about him. He tells them to be quiet.

In our world, we live amidst much religious noise and chaos, done in the name of Jesus, with religious charlatans of all manner telling us to live a certain way, or exclude certain people, in the name of Jesus.

We even have a brand of extreme Christianity that would have us ignite the final war in the Middle East so as to bring about the Second Coming. I believe Jesus is telling them to be quiet.

Finally there is this: Notice what Jesus does after a long night of healing work? He goes to a deserted place, a quiet place, and he prays. He withdraws, he finds a way to rest – not just sleep. But to rest and renew.

When you read the New Testament stories about Jesus, there is always this pattern: Jesus teaches, Jesus heals, Jesus casts out demons, and then he withdraws, and prays and renews. The cycle of work and renewal repeats over and over, even into the tomb and beyond to the Resurrection.

For us to truly live the way of Jesus is to live in that cycle: it is to do our reconciling work, whatever that may be, and then find our rest and renewal and prayer.

It is my hope and prayer this Sunday for each of us that we will find the work that fulfills us, and also find those places of rest and renewal and prayer that feeds us.

This coming Lent, soon to be with us, will be a good time for each of us to discover anew what makes us whole. Our own David McIlhiney will be teaching a course on living simply, and that may be a good place to begin again, to find our balance and to still the chaos around us.

So I return where we began: After Jesus’ early morning prayer, the disciples find Jesus and tell him everyone is searching for him. He is renewed, ready, and Jesus tells them, let’s get going, off to the next town. There is work to be done.

And so it is with us. There is work to be done, but first prayer, and renewal. And then, let’s get going. Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One angel dancing

I like this offering from our friend Karen in Tennessee:
Questions About Angels
By Billy Collins

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God's body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Religion: Source of inspiration, excuse for evil

You may have read or heard by now that President Obama yesterday set up an Advisory Council on Faith that will have 25 members. I may comment on that further as it unfolds. What you may not have heard is that this announcement by our new president was made at the National Prayer Breakfast; the keynote speaker was Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister. His speech is worth reading; Blair calls religion "a source of so much inspiration; an excuse for so much evil."

Here below is Blair's speech in full:

It is an honour to be here. A particular honour to be with you Mr. President. The world participated in the celebration of your election. Now the hard work begins. And now, also we should be as steadfast for you in the hard work as in the celebration. You don’t need cheerleaders but partners; not spectators but supporters. The truest friends are those still around when the going is toughest. We offer you our friendship today. We will work with you to make your Presidency one that shapes our destiny to the credit of America and of the world. Mr President, we salute you and wish you well.

After 10 years as British Prime Minister, I decided to choose something easy. I became involved in the Middle East Peace Process.

There are many frustrations – that is evident. There is also one blessing. I spend much of my time in the Holy Land and in the Holy City. The other evening I climbed to the top of Notre Dame in Jerusalem. You look left and see the Garden of Gethsemane. You look right and see where the Last Supper was held. Straight ahead lies Golgotha. In the distance is where King David was crowned and still further where Abraham was laid to rest. And of course in the centre of Jerusalem is the Al Aqsa Mosque, where according to the Qur’an, the Prophet was transported to commune with the prophets of the past.

Rich in conflict, it is also sublime in history. The other month in Jericho, I visited the Mount of Temptation. I think they bring all the political leaders there. My guide – a Palestinian – was bemoaning the travails of his nation. Suddenly he stopped, looked heaven wards and said “Moses, Jesus, Mohammed: why did they all have to come here?”

It is a good place to reflect on religion: a source of so much inspiration; an excuse for so much evil.

Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. I am what I am in opposition to you. If you do not believe as I believe, you are a lesser human being.

From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.

And yet, faith will not be so easily cast. For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action. You can see it in countless local communities where those from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, tend the sick, care for the afflicted, work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing and salvation to the lost. You can see it in the arousing of the world’s conscience to the plight of Africa.

There are a million good deeds done every day by people of faith. These are those for whom, in the parable of the sower, the seed fell on good soil and yielded sixty or a hundredfold.

What inspires such people?

Ritual or doctrine or the finer points of theology? No.

I remember my first spiritual awakening. I was ten years old. That day my father – at the young age of 40 – had suffered a serious stroke. His life hung in the balance. My mother, to keep some sense of normality in the crisis, sent me to school. My teacher knelt and prayed with me. Now my father was a militant atheist. Before we prayed, I thought I should confess this. “I’m afraid my father doesn’t believe in God”. I said. “That doesn’t matter” my teacher replied “God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return.”

That is what inspires: the unconditional nature of God’s love. A promise perpetually kept. A covenant never broken.

And in surrendering to God, we become instruments of that love.

Rabbi Hillel was once challenged by a pagan, who said: if you can recite the whole of the Torah standing on one leg, I will convert to being a Jew. Rabbi Hillel stood on one leg and said “That which is hateful to you, do it not unto your neighbour. That is the Torah. Everything else is commentary. Go and study it.”

As the Qur’an states: “if anyone saves a person it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity”.

Faith is not discovered in acting according to ritual but acting according to God’s will and God’s will is love.

We might also talk of the Hindu “Living beyond the reach of I and mine” or the words of the Buddha “after practising enlightenment you must go back to practise compassion” or the Sikh scripture: “God’s bounties are common to all. It is we who have created divisions.”

Each faith has its beliefs. Each is different. Yet at a certain point each is in communion with the other.

Examine the impact of globalisation. Forget for a moment its rights and wrongs. Just look at its effects. Its characteristic is that it pushes the world together. It is not only an economic force. The consequence is social, even cultural.

The global community – “it takes a village” as someone once coined it – is upon us. Into it steps religious faith. If faith becomes the property of extremists, it will originate discord. But if, by contrast, different faiths can reach out to and have knowledge of one another, then instead of being reactionary, religious faith can be a force for progress.

The Foundation which bears my name and which I began less than a year ago is dedicated to achieving understanding, action and reconciliation between the different faiths for the common good. It is not about the faith that looks inward; but the faith that resolutely turns us towards each other.

Bringing the faith communities together fulfils an objective important to all of us, believers and non-believers.

But as someone of faith, this is not enough. I believe restoring religious faith to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future, is itself of the essence. The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.

I do not mean by this to blur the correct distinction between the realms of religious and political authority. In Britain we are especially mindful of this. I recall giving an address to the country at a time of crisis. I wanted to end my words with “God bless the British people”. This caused complete consternation. Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast. Finally, as I sat trying to defend my words, a senior civil servant said, with utter distain: “Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.”

Neither do I decry the work of humanists, who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious. Those who do God’s work are God’s people.

I only say that there are limits to humanism and beyond those limits God and only God can work. The phrase “fear of God” conjures up the vengeful God of parts of the Old Testament. But “fear of God” means really obedience to God; humility before God; acceptance through God that there is something bigger, better and more important than you. It is that humbling of man’s vanity, that stirring of conscience through God’s prompting, that recognition of our limitations, that faith alone can bestow.

We can perform acts of mercy, but only God can lend them dignity. We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin.

And only through God comes grace; and it is God’s grace that is unique.

John Newton, who had been that most obnoxious of things, a slave-trader, wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”.

“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.”

It is through faith, by the Grace of God, that we have the courage to live as we should and die as we must.

When I was Prime Minister I had cause often to reflect on leadership. Courage in leadership is not simply about having the nerve to take difficult decisions or even in doing the right thing since oftentimes God alone knows what the right thing is.

It is to be in our natural state – which is one of nagging doubt, imperfect knowledge, and uncertain prediction – and to be prepared nonetheless to put on the mantle of responsibility and to stand up in full view of the world, to step out when others step back, to assume the loneliness of the final decision-maker, not sure of success but unsure of it.

And it is in that “not knowing” that the courage lies.

And when in that state, our courage fails, our faith can support it, lift it up, keep it from stumbling.

As you begin your leadership of this great country, Mr President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance. But should it ever be tested, I hope your faith can sustain you. And your family. The public eye is not always the most congenial.

I was reminded of this, as I waited in London in the snow to fly to America and made the mistake of reading a British newspaper. It was the very conservative Daily Telegraph. A few days ago I gave an interview in which I remarked how much cleverer my wife was than me. The Telegraph has a famous letters page. In it was a letter from a correspondent that read something like: “Dear Sir, with reference to your headline ‘Blair admits wife more intelligent than him’, I fail to see why this is news. Most of us have known this for a long time.” As a PS perhaps: “the bar, however, has not been set high”.

I finish where I began: in the Holy Land, at Mount Nebo in Jordan, where Moses gazed on the Promised Land. There is a chapel there, built by pilgrims in the 4th Century. The sermon was preached by an American, who spent his life as an airline pilot and then, after his wife’s death, took holy orders. His words are the words of a Christian but they speak to all those of faith, who want God’s grace to guide their life.

He said this:

“While here on earth, we need to make a vital decision ... whether to be mere spectators, or movers and shakers for the Kingdom of God... whether to stay among the curious, or take up a cross. And this means: no standing on the sidelines ... We’re either in the game or we’re not. I sometimes ask myself the question: If I were to die today, what would my life have stood for... The answer can’t be an impulsive one, and we all need to count the cost before we give an answer. Because to be able to say yes to one thing, means to say no to many others. But we must also remember, that the greatest danger is not impulsiveness, but inaction.”

It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country’s history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God’s work and follow God’s will.

And by the way, God bless you all.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dialogue in the Anglican Communion: Our role at St. Paul's

Bishop Peter Lee has invited St. Paul's to participate in pilot project that could be crucially important in pointing the way forward for the Anglican Communion (emblem to the right) in the wake of our divisions over sexuality and other issues. Twelve congregations, out of the 184 in the diocese, have been asked to form six small dialogue groups to meet once a week until Easter. We are among the handful invited to participate. 

We have been paired with St. John the Baptist Church in Ivy. I have been asked by Bishop Lee to appoint four people from our parish to meet with four people from St. John the Baptist. The four I have appointed are Margaret Mohrmann, Mildred Robinson, Simeon Fitch and Peter Dennison. Margaret will be the convener for our group. My deepest thanks go to the four who have agreed to take part in this process. Please keep in  your prayers our representatives and the representatives of St. John the Baptist, and all of those involved in this project.

Here is how Bishop Lee describes their task: "Each group discussion will be conducted by a trained facilitator I will provide. While confidentiality is an essential part of the process it is expected that the groups would report back to their respective congregations and provide a written report to a body appointed by the bishop. The report would include reflection on how the group experienced the process, any insights that were gained, especially in the realm of mutual understanding."

Let me offer an observation: The Diocese of Virginia has a far ranging impact throughout the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion from its size, its history and location and because this diocese reflects the divisions elsewhere. How we proceed as a diocese will be watched by many all over the world. It is a testament to the strength and vitality of St. Paul's that we have been asked to participate in this project.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Back in C'ville, reconnecting, and Robert Bellah's great sermon

I am just returned to Charlottesville after a good trip to California and seeing my family and friends. I know many of you have asked about my mother; she spent most of January in the hospital, and we got her home this past weekend with 24/7 caregivers. She is frail but doing much, much better. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes.

A week ago Sunday, I was privileged to take part in the institution of Philip Brochard the new rector at All Souls Parish in Berkeley where I had served for a year as the interim rector (and fell  in love with the place). Among the members is Robert Bellah, a now-retired University of California professor and easily the pre-eminent scholar of religion in public life in America in our age. Robert coined the phrase "civic religion" many years ago to describe how Christianity permeates, not always for the good, our government and public life. In my year at All Souls it was my treat to get to know Robert and talk politics over coffee at the Musical Offering Cafe on Bancroft Avenue. 

Phil, the new rector at All Souls, asked Robert to preach at his institution. Professor Bellah gave one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard. I am repeating here below, and though it is long, it is worth your time. He is really preaching to the whole of the Church and our nation:


Sermon for
The Renewal of Ministry with the Welcoming of a New Rector:

January 25, 2009

By Robert N. Bellah 

Isaiah 40:3-11
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Cor. 12:4-14
Mark 10:35-45

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I am honored that Father Phil asked me to speak this afternoon and I am honored to speak to a gathering that includes our Bishop, clergy from our own and neighboring parishes, and the congregation of our own All Souls Parish.

New beginnings!

We are here to renew our ministries and to welcome Father Philip Brochard as our new rector.

We are doing this in the same week that our nation has welcomed a new President and a new administration and, maybe, a new turn in our history.

It is an exciting moment to welcome Father Phil. We need to think of renewing our parish in the context of renewing our nation and even renewing the whole world. Our parish would seem to be doing pretty well compared to the present state of the nation and the world, but maybe we have participated even unconsciously and unwillingly, in some of the things that have led us astray. Can we use this moment of renewal to think not only about how the world needs to change but how we, all of us, need to change? We Christians live under the command to lose our old selves and find new ones in Jesus Christ. We are born again in baptism, but the call to change doesn’t stop there: it is a lifelong challenge. Perhaps we can use this moment of enormous transition to think about that challenge that is always before us as we seek to live as Christians in a difficult and errant world.

Let me try to set that challenge in the context of our present historic moment. Michael Lind, the distinguished commentator on American history and politics, has argued that there have been four republics in America, corresponding to the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and, now Obama, when a period of radical individualism has been reversed and a new emphasis on the common good has followed. For some decades we have heard a great deal about the ownership society, individual competitiveness, even the idea of being your own brand, as though we were not members of a society but only members of an economy. But, as Lind proposes, the pendulum swings and, as several times before in our history, we are hearing a new emphasis on the fact that we are all in this together, that we will not make it all alone, that we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper.

As these last words indicate, the church has never forgotten that we are members one of another, that we are one body, partakers of one bread and one cup, though this side of the Church’s teaching has not been carrying the day in the larger society. I know that in our parish and in much of the Christian Church the theme of the common good, of concern for the inclusion of all, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, has been a constant one, expressed in word and deed.

But in spite of the shift in our political culture, the depth of which we will have to wait and see, the power of American individualism, what I call the default mode of American culture, will not disappear. Even in a parish and a church such as ours, that deep cultural individualism makes it hard for some of our central teachings to be understood, the meaning of the church, for example. Criticizing the church, or as we say disparagingly, organized religion, is almost a reflex reaction, even among Episcopalians. In this very parish I heard a couple of years ago a sermon given by a visiting preacher attacking the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer, even the sacraments, for getting in the way of the relation of the individual to God. He advocated a direct “plugging into God” (his term) as when one is on a mountain in the Sierras. A strange view for an Episcopalian, though not for an American. I fear that what would happen if one “plugged into” God with no mediation is that one would get electrocuted. The church, properly understood, is precisely the kind of structure of mediation that makes a divine/human relation possible at all.

We have a suspicion of institutions and those with powerful positions within them, and well we might considering how badly they often function, the failures of leadership in politics, the economy, popular culture, and, of course the church. But in a complex modern society the idea that we could do without institutions makes no sense. We constantly need to criticize and improve them, but we cannot abolish them. People who say they are spiritual but not religious, by which they mean they do not go to church, may be fine for awhile, but, among other things, what can they give to their children?

Let me remind you of the Nicene Creed which we recite almost every Sunday (it was the legendary Bishop Pike of our diocese some years ago who said he didn’t believe the Creed when he read it but he did believe it when he sang it), which has four clauses that declare belief: we believe in one God; we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ; we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life; and we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. It was a Jesuit student of mine who reminded me of that fourth clause when I once made a disparaging remark about the church, an example, incidentally, of how a student can teach a teacher.

Since few of the leaders or members of the Church are saints, it is not a perfect institution and it is legitimate to criticize it and try to reform it. But insofar as the Church was instituted by Jesus Christ and indeed is the Body of Christ, it participates, however inadequately, in the divine life. Without it we would not be here and we would have nothing to hand on to our children. In the teeth of a culture that despises all institutions even as it depends on them for its very life, we need to learn again and again to treasure the church and the heritage it provides for us, not passively, but actively as we deepen our sense of our own membership in it and our own responsibility in and through it.

This brings me to the core of my remarks this afternoon. There are many metaphors for the church and all of them have something to say to us. We are tempted to make the metaphor of the family primary: some American Christians virtually equate their religion with family values. But, though we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and family language is often appropriate, we cannot forget that Jesus himself called us to leave our families, even to hate them, if they stand in the way of our higher commitment as his followers. So the family metaphor can never be the only one. Another metaphor for the church, one I want to focus on today, is less popular but, I would argue, equally important. That is the metaphor of the church as school.

We know that Jesus was called rabbi, which means teacher, and that all the great figures in religious history have been extraordinary teachers: Moses, Jesus, of course, but also Paul, in Biblical history; Muhammad, Confucius and the Buddha in other great religions. And the great religious teachers did not only teach through what they said, though their words are precious and we need to try to understand them ever more deeply, but above all through who they were. To us Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and it is his life, of which his words are a part, that teaches us.

The church is that community that began when Jesus chose the twelve disciples and began to preach, that is to teach, all who would listen. When we speak of believing in one holy, catholic (we use a small c for the sense of catholic as universal), and apostolic church, we mean by apostolic that we are a community in continuous relation to the original apostles, that our priests are in the apostolic succession (even though Rome decided that we weren’t), and that, through them, all of us are baptized into that unbroken, continuous community. What I want to say today is that that community is an educational community, concerned with the formation of all its members, young and old, clergy and laity, and that in the midst of the present crisis we particularly need to learn more about what our calling as Christians means. In Obama’s Inaugural address he quoted from the great passage in 1 Corinthians 13 that concludes with the affirmation of the three focal Christian virtues: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love, but what Obama chose to cite was another part of that passage, when Paul called us to set aside childish things. It is time, in other words, for us, all of us, whatever our age, to grow up. And we need to work on understanding what a grown up Christian is.

It is important to remember that we are all teachers and we are all students. For me, that has involved being a professor all my adult life. But parents teach; in any job when we mentor a newcomer we teach; and when we act well in any situation we teach all who observe us. And we are always students as well. My students have taught me a great deal over forty years of teaching. One thing I learned over the course of a life spent as a university professor is that we teach not just with the knowledge we have accumulated through reading and research, but with our whole selves. Our students learn as much from who we are as from what we say.

Though I want to emphasize that we are all teachers and all learners all our lives, in the church where what we learn is often so different from what our culture tells us, leadership in such teaching and learning is essential. We need bishops and priests in part because they are connected with the larger church in a way most of us are not. They help to pull us beyond our own private lives, even the life of our own parish, into the larger life of the church and the world. It is in this role of leadership that I want to join with all of those present in welcoming Father Phil to our parish. I have heard him preach and I sense his leadership already.

Jane Austen, herself the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, gives us a sense both of the real meaning of the clergy and the leadership it provides. Even now things are not so different from how they were in her day. This from Mansfield Park, where Edmund Bertram is in conversation with a young lady, Miss Crawford, with whom he is enamored:

At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began with, “So you are to be a clergyman, Mr. Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”

“Why should it surprise you? You must suppose me designed for some profession, and might perceive that I am neither a lawyer, nor a soldier, nor a sailor.”

“But why are you to be a clergyman? I thought that was always the lot of the youngest, where there were many to choose before him.”

“Do you think the church itself never chosen then?”

“Never is a black word. But yes, in the never of conversation which means not very often, I do think it. For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines, distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.”

Edmund replies: “I cannot call that situation nothing, which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally,—which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.”

Miss Crawford, one of the fashionable set, is astounded at this reply: “You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society.”

Edmund tries to explain: “With regard to their influencing public manners, Miss Crawford must not misunderstand me, or suppose I mean to call them the arbiters of good breeding, the regulators of refinement and courtesy, the masters of the ceremonies of life. The manners I speak of, might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is their duty to teach and recommend; and it will, I believe, be every where found that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”

In the face of Miss Crawford’s skepticism, Jane Austen, through Edmund, gives the clergy a role higher than any other, even if they are not wealthy, powerful or paragons of fashion. What she clearly means is that it is through the life they lead and the example they set, as well as through the doctrines they preach, that they teach their constituents, that they mold the very fabric of society. I don’t want to put Father Phil on the spot, but there is no higher calling than his, one that applies especially to the priest but also to all of us insofar as we are ministers in a church that believes in the priesthood of all believers.

All of our readings today underline the points I am trying to make, but the Gospel passage from Mark 10 shows Jesus leading by serving, showing us by his example what we are called to do: “whoever wishes to be first among you must be the servant of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for all.” That is no easy demand for our leaders, but it is a demand for all of us as Christians who are called to lead in whatever walk of life we find ourselves.

Of course all of us have our private prayers and devotions, but we need to be reminded through the life of the community what we inevitably forget, and we need to deepen even what we remember. The priest helps us remember and deepen our own faith through worship and its central acts of Word and Sacrament. It is easy to dismiss the once a week hour as “mere ritual.” Yet worship at its best gives us the focus and center of our lives; it radiates out into all the rest of the week and into our thoughts and actions as well.

In the Christian tradition God is revealed to us everywhere, but in particular, and normatively, in worship: in the Sacrament, especially the Eucharist, and in the Word, which means the Bible, but especially the words of Jesus. Catholics have held onto a doctrine about the Eucharist that Protestants have often rejected but many are now reappropriating, that is the doctrine of the real presence, that in the Eucharist right here on this altar this bread and this wine are the body and blood of Christ not in some kind of physico-chemical transformation but in the sense of Christ’s own words at the last supper: this is my body; this is my blood. The Eucharist is not only a remembrance of an event that happened two thousand years ago, but an event happening right now. Christ is giving his body and blood for us right now. And we are called to be Eucharist for others, that is, to give our body and blood for others as he gave his for us.

Nowhere is the meaning of the Eucharist clearer than in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, 10.16-17, which the King James Version translates as “The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not the communion [Greek koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” Other versions use different English words to translate Koinonia. But it is the same word whether translated as communion, participation, or sharing and all these translations are getting at a part of the meaning. In our parish, when sending out the lay Eucharistic ministers to take the Eucharist to those who are too old or sick to come to church, the congregation responds, “Though we are many, we are one body because we all share one bread and one cup.”

In our worship today we have focused on the words of Jesus in answering the question of James and John about who will sit at the side of Jesus in glory, and, with the help of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12 we will participate in the Eucharist, and, I hope we will remember those words and those actions as we go about our daily life in the days to come.

Let me return briefly, in conclusion to Obama’s Inaugural Address, which I have now read several times. I was somewhat disappointed in it when he delivered it; it seemed to lack the soaring rhetoric of some of his earlier speeches. But I admire it more with each rereading. It calls us to think about our whole history, its high ideals and its all too frequent practical failures, and it calls on us to hand down those high ideals and the hope that we can do better to succeeding generations. Those are words for all Americans to ponder.

And I have to remind you of something that the secularists have somehow missed: that the Episcopal Church is the de facto established church in the United States. Where was the prayer service on Inaugural morning attended by President Bush and President-elect Obama, neither of whom are Episcopalians? St. Johns Episcopal Church, said to be the “traditional church” for such events. And where was the interdenominational prayer service held on the morning of Obama’s first day in office? The National Cathedral, that is the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul,which stands on the highest point in the District of Columbia and is the only building in the district higher than the Capitol. Somehow the press can write “national cathedral” without ever asking how come we have a national cathedral. And St, John the Divine is the Cathedral of New York, just as Grace Cathedral is the Cathedral of San Francisco. I have lived here forty years and know how often Grace Cathedral has been the focus of response to great events in our nation and city.

In the spirit of our Gospel words this morning, the special place that our church has in our national life calls us above all to service, not to pride. And it also requires us to remember as firmly as we can that, though we want to be good citizens, the nation is not our church. Our Church is the universal Church, the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and one of its primary obligations is to hold the nations, which are as but dust in the hands of God, to judgment and not to idolize them.

At this moment of national and international crisis we are called to a new dedication of our own lives to our obligations as Christians. Service is a duty, but a joyful duty. We gain our lives by losing them; we are never more ourselves than when we are helping others. I expect Father Phil in his special relation to the sacrament and the word to call us constantly to measure every act in our daily life against the standards set by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and I expect all of us here present to respond to that call and indeed to return that call to our priest. We are not alone, isolated atoms fighting each other for survival, though much in our culture constantly teaches us that that is the truth of the human condition. If we know that we are really members of one body, that we need and are needed by each other, then our whole way of being in the world will change and perhaps we can in the church, which seems to many so marginal, serve as models for others, for the troubled nation and world in which we live. In any case that is our task in renewing our ministries with the leadership of our new rector, whom we welcome so heartily today.