Saturday, July 31, 2010

An unexpected gift from an unexpected corner

I received a gift earlier this week. I've been looking for the words to explain this. A little background first:

Last Sunday, Lori and I went to the Diocese of Virginia Roslyn retreat center in Richmond for annual training to lead our Education for Ministry (EfM) groups. This was my 14th EfM training, and Lori has been to at least that many.

This may sound like an excessive number of trainings, but we enjoy going every summer. EfM offers the best small group training there is.

I always learn something, and I enjoy meeting others who are involved leading EfM groups. And with EfM, I have long since learned to expect the unexpected.

So it was that the unexpected hit me in the first 10 minutes when an elderly gentleman walked into the room to join our training group. I didn’t pay this gentleman much notice at first; I didn’t notice his name badge until Lori nudged me and whispered “that’s Jerry Warren.”

I did a double take. Years ago I had once worked for a Jerry Warren – yes that Jerry Warren.

Gerald L. Warren had been the editor-in-chief of The San Diego Union in the 1980s when I was a reporter there. I knew Jerry then as an affable guy with a dry sense of humor, but like all editors-in-chief I worked for, not someone I would call close. True, I had brought him cigars from Havana after having chased a story to Cuba for his newspaper. But mostly reporters and senior editors don’t travel in the same circles, at least I didn’t. He had a glass office, I had metal desk in a newsroom.

Besides, we had very different backgrounds. Before he was editor-in-chief at The Union, Jerry Warren had been the chief spokesman for President Richard Nixon in his final months at the White House. My resume was more modest. I had been an executive intern in the Nixon administration in 1973, but someone must have checked my voter registration and they had put me as far from the West Wing as possible: assigning me to the home office of the Peace Corps.

I had not seen Jerry Warren in 25 years. And now here he was in my EfM training group.
We are not supposed to break confidentiality from EfM training groups, and I won’t here. But I mention all this because sometimes years do make a difference, and life’s journeys can be filled with unexpected turns that bring us back into the same room again. I was privileged for the next three days to share our life stories, read Scripture together, and pray with my old editor, and I feel enormously blessed and enriched by the experience.

Jerry, who now lives in Northern Virginia, gave me a great gift of insight this past week. This insight may seem obvious to you, but it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. The insight is this: It is worth it, very worth it, to keep up with the circle of people who mean the most to you in life.

We may move from place to place (I never thought I’d be in Virginia, after all), but we are so much richer by going the extra mile to be with those people who mean the most to us. Our experiences together don’t end just because we are thousands of miles apart.

Since moving to Virginia Lori and I have made many new and wonderful friends here, people I pray will be with us for many years to come. Yet, as many of you know, we have devoted considerable time and expense to periodically go back to California to be with family and friends there.

This past week, I know better why that is worth it to do. It took seeing someone I hadn’t seen in 25 years to get it. Our stories continue to shape each other no matter where we live. We are still supported and transformed by our communities even when those communities are spread across time and space. I left Sacramento two years ago, the community of journalists 13 years ago. I've worked for three newspapers in my career, and since leaving San Diego 25 years ago, I’ve been in six church communities; all three papers and all six churches, and the people in them, remain deeply imbedded in me.*

No one is left behind.

The people who have been the most important to me are still important to me now. It is crucial to be with them from time to time; to share a meal, swap stories, go to a high school graduation, catch up and go fishing. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is with many, many wonderful loving people who I will treasure always. Friends matter. Even old editors.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34).

Art by Sandra Braznell.

*Since you asked: The Riverside Press-Enterprise (twice); The San Diego Union; and The Sacramento Bee. Churches: St. Timothy's, Danville CA; Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento CA; Faith Church, Cameron Park, CA; St. Luke's, Auburn, CA; All Souls Parish, Berkeley, CA; St. Paul's Memorial Church, Charlottesville, VA.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What it means to live

A regular contributor to this space, Karen from Tennessee, sent this email the other day along with a poem. I was very touched when I read this, and so I give it to you today, along with the poem that came with it:

From Karen. . .
I have a friend whose husband is dying. We stood on her porch the other night in this oppressive heat and spoke plainly about death, that most essential force in determining and understanding what to means to live.
Almost a year ago when April passed away, we were all together— physically, spiritually, emotionally— we were bound to her and to each other (and I believe, we all still are) whereas my friend is essentially facing this personal loss on her own. And yet she is doing so with a great bravery and dignity, she had a strength in her face that belies any kind of platitudes. There are many ways to live, and to love each other……
By Keith Douglas, 1939

The stars still marching in extended order
move out of nowhere into nowhere. Look, they are halted
on a vast field tonight, true no man's land.
Far down the sky with sword and belt must stand
Orion. For commissariat of this exalted
war-company, the Wain. No fabulous border

could swallow all this bravery, no band
will ever face them: nothing but discipline
has mobilized and still maintains them. So
Time and his ancestors have seen them. So
always to fight disorder is their business,
and victory continues in their hand.

From under the old hills to overhead,
and down there marching on the hills again
their camp extends. There go the messengers,
Comets, with greetings of ethereal officers
from tent to tent. Yes, we look up with pain
at distant comrades and plains we cannot tread.
Photo: The Trifid Nebula (M20), by Robert Gendler, NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Notes from the Undercroft: A new blog from St. Paul's

Please let me commend to you a new blog for your regular reading: Our new associate rector, Nicholas Forti, has begun a daily blog, Notes from the Undercroft: Subterranean epistles from a resident alien near the grounds of Mr Jefferson's Academical Village. The title is a play on the fact that our offices are below ground and across the street from the University of Virginia. Nik is off to a great start, and he's got a good list of other blogs worth checking out. You can read Nik's blog by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A brief break for training

We've been out of town at mentor training for Education for Ministry, and it may take a day or two to get back up to speed in this space. Lori and I lead two EFM groups (ask me more if you are interested) and we are required to go to training once a year.
Blessings to all.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One day it's the clouds, one day the mountains

Our friend Karen in Tennessee sent this gift yesterday. God's blessings are right in front of us to see and touch, even in our hardest moments. Maybe the poets and artists express this better than the theologians. Blessings on your day. . .

By Thomas Centolella

One day it's the clouds,
one day the mountains.
One day the latest bloom
of roses - the pure monochromes,
the dazzling hybrids - inspiration
for the cathedral's round windows.
Every now and then
there's the splendor
of thought: the singular
idea and its brilliant retinue -
words, cadence, point of view,
little gold arrows flitting
between the lines.
And too the splendor
of no thought at all:
hands lying calmly
in the lap, or swinging
a six iron with effortless
tempo. More often than not
splendor is the star we orbit
without a second thought,
especially as it arrives
and departs. One day
it's the blue glassy bay,
one day the night
and its array of jewels,
visible and invisible.
Sometimes it's the warm clarity
of a face that finds your face
and doesn't turn away.
Sometimes a kindness, unexpected,
that will radiate farther
than you might imagine.
One day it's the entire day
itself, each hour foregoing
its number and name,
its cumbersome clothes, a day
that says come as you are,
large enough for fear and doubt,
with room to spare: the most secret
wish, the deepest, the darkest,
turned inside out.
Photo: "Winter Sunrise Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine" 1944, by Ansel Adams.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Here's a joke passed along from my cousin Sarah in Los Angeles. Read it all the way. Enjoy your Monday. . .

A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier.

Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, with his wife flying down the following day...

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston , a widow had just returned home from her husband's funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack.

The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted.

The widow's son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived
Date: October 16, 2005

I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I've just arrived and have been checked in.

I've seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then!!!! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.

P. S. Sure is freaking hot down here!!!!

Cartoon by Dave Walker.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Restless Sea and the Lord's Prayer

Today's sermon is based on Luke 11:1-13.

A walk on the Pacific coastline

I hope you are having a good summer and you’ve found time to get away and escape our heat.

Our Associate Rector Ann is on vacation in Minnesota. A change of scenery is always healthy for the soul.

Lori and I recently went to California to catch up with family and friends and do things that renew our souls.

Among the places we went is to a magical stretch of Pacific coastline called “Asilomar” near Monterey.

Asilomar is a rustic retreat center on the beach built in 1913 by the renowned architect Julia Morgan. You can walk out of your room and onto a trail that stretches for miles down past Pebble Beach and its famous golf course.

One afternoon Lori and I took a five-mile hike down the coastal trail. As we walked, we found signs that explain the natural wonders along the way. One of these signs caught my attention. The sign said “The Restless Sea,” and told why the surf looks choppy on that section of coastline.

The rocks beneath the water break up the surf before it comes in, causing the ocean to become agitated like a washing machine.

You can’t see the rocks under the water, but you can see the restless sea above.

The sign further explained that the restless sea creates a rich eco-system of sea life including plankton and fish, otters and sea lions, mollusks and sea birds. We saw big brown pelicans swooping in and out of the restless sea grabbing small fish.

It struck me that prayer life can be like the restless sea. The rocks and restlessness beneath the surface of our life can bring forth richness and growth in our spiritual life.

It is that kind of restlessness, I think, that prompts the disciples to ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” They’ve prayed all of their lives. Yet they are restless to experience God in ways they’ve not experienced before.

They’ve come to the restless sea, and they want to know how to swim. Teach us, they ask Jesus.

He replies with words that are now familiar to most of us, words we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” The prayer is bold and honest – it is a restless prayer. Yet its very familiarity sometimes hides its boldness and honesty.

The prayer appears twice in the New Testament; first in the Gospel of Matthew 6:9-13, which is the version more familiar in our worship, and then again in the Gospel of Luke 11:2-4 with the more simplified version that we heard a few moments ago.

Before we go into the heart of the prayer, a note about the familiar ending, the part about “the kingdom, the power and the glory.” That does not come from Jesus. It comes from 1 Chronicles 29:11 in the Old Testament, and is known as King David’s benediction.

Although Jesus taught this direct prayer with no adornment, the Church felt the need to dress it up a little at the end.

Today it is my hope that we can enter into the prayer as those who might have first heard it. We begin:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...”
The words we translate “Our Father” come from the Aramaic “Abba” which is better translated “Papa.” God, you are as close to us as a loving parent.

Yet, in the same breath comes another way of knowing God: “Hallowed be your name.” Your name is so holy we don’t know your name; You, our creator, are beyond our comprehension just as eternity and infinity are beyond our comprehension.

We live in the tension, the restless sea, of knowing you both ways.
“…your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as in heaven.”
We pray that God will bring heaven to earth, not in some distant time after we die, but right now. Let the promise of the future come here today. Guide us to see where your kingdom is being born, where heaven is springing forth among us.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
These words are possibly are the most mysterious and misunderstood words in the entire prayer. This is not a prayer for a subsistence meal.

This prayer asks for the food only God can bring, the manna of Moses, the bread of the Last Supper, the meal that will sustain us when we are on the restless sea.

The phrase “daily bread” comes from a single word – epie-ou-sion – and it appears in the Bible only in the Lord’s Prayer. The better meaning is “give us the bread – the food for our restless soul – that lasts for all eternity.”

We pray for the bread that will put us face-to-face with God, allowing us to touch God with all of our senses.

And that brings us face-to-face with each other as human beings. How are we living together? How are we sharing this planet together?
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
We have turned away from God and we’ve turned away from each other. That is the classic definition of sin.

Forgive us.

We hurt other people and we hurt ourselves. We lie when we should be honest; snide when we should be kind; talking when we should be listening.

Forgive me. Forgive you. Forgive us.

This is not asking for a plea bargain, rather we ask for the strength to forgive each other just as God forgives us before we ask.
“Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.”
We have arrived at the very center of the prayer. The familiar “lead us not into temptation” is not quite what it says.

The more accurate translation is “save us from the trial too big for us, and save us from evil.”
Keep us safe, keep us out of harm’s way, and protect us from all that threatens us in the world or inside ourselves.

When we pray, nothing is held back, and so we are bold to say: Give us courage when we need it most; rescue us when we need rescuing; deliver us from evil.

In a little while, we will say the Lord’s Prayer in our Holy Eucharist just before we break the bread and then share in the cup of our Communion.

Today, just this once, I am asking you to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the translation from our Prayer Book that is a closer to the words Jesus taught. You will find it in the program when the time comes.

Even if you’re familiar with every version of the Lord’s Prayer there is, it is my hope that today you will pray this as if it were brand new to you. Let the prayer pull you in like it never has before.

Maybe this will feel a little uncomfortable. Maybe you will hear something in it you’ve never heard before. Maybe the point is to get out onto the restless sea.

At its core, the prayer affirms what Jesus tells us over and over: that people everywhere are blessed, and that God loves all people – all creation – and wishes for us the bread that lasts for eternity.

“Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”AMEN

Postscript: Here is a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer that I wrote in 2003, based on my own meditations about the prayer:
Creator God, Parent of us all,
the one who exists inside and outside all of your existence;
Your very name is so Sacred it is beyond our knowing;
Let come your loving, gentle embrace;
And the justice that is yours alone;
Let come all that you wish for us and for all of your creation;
Make perfect this earth just as your dwelling place is perfect;
Feed us today with the bread of life that you have promised us forever;
Cancel the debts we have created with our wrongs because we cannot cancel the debts by ourselves,
even as we ask you for the strength to cancel the wrongs
that have been done to us;
Protect us from trials so difficult that they will break us;
And Rescue us from the numbing coldness of the power of Evil that always seeks to block our path and keep us from being with you!
Truly (Amen)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A third way on the Anglican Covenant?

I promised to bring you other viewpoints besides my own this summer on the proposed Anglican Covenant. Here's one that came Friday from an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross in Albany New York. His position: Not yet. This is worth a read.

A third way on the Anglican Covenant?

Episcopal News Service] Like most votes, it was a straight yes or no. Would Albany's diocesan convention affirm the proposed Anglican Covenant or not?

We had come to this point, according to our diocesan leadership, partly because of Rowan Williams' suggestion that individual dioceses express their wishes to their provincial churches. In response, our bishop put forward a resolution in favor of the covenant, which passed overwhelmingly in that up-or-down vote.

During the debate, however, I couldn't help but wonder if we had overlooked better options -- like not yet.

Not yet, admittedly, is not always popular. Some people see it as nothing more than a way to delay the inevitable. But that perspective misses whatnot yet can do: honor the concerns of the yes and no camps alike, while opening up space for deeper dialogue.

There's room in not yet, for instance, to affirm the wording of the covenant (at least the first three sections) as an eloquent statement of our faith's historic claims, an apt description of the church's vocation, and a deft treading of the tightrope between autonomy and communion. To be sure, faithful Christians from both sides can disagree on the details. But if this draft had been presented as a way for churches of mutual goodwill to walk together, I could have been persuaded to vote yes.

There, of course, is the rub: "churches of mutual goodwill." Our best and noblest covenants, like marriage, work not because of the words per se, but because of the good faith and reciprocal love that form their foundation. We simply do not have that foundation right now in the Anglican Communion. Quite the contrary: instead of striving for mutual respect, reconciliation, and a strengthening of the "bonds of affection," our rancor is increasing and our rhetoric growing harsher.

In this type of environment, any covenant, no matter how well written, would be doomed to failure, because we would be asking it to do something covenants can't do: legislate a solidarity that isn’t there.

Instead of debating the covenant, then, I believe we would better spend our time rebuilding the foundation -- laying aside our rigid positions and stereotypes of the "other side" in favor of authentic dialogue. Then, when we have made significant progress in that direction, we can reconsider the covenant, this time as an affirmation of our restored bonds of affection.

Could not yet have any traction? I hear a lot of impatience in the communion these days: a desire to "get over it and move on." Yet short of outright division, how exactly do we "move on" without rebuilding the foundation of trust?

Rebuilding, in turn, calls for another word that generates impatience: listening. The whole idea of a listening process -- particularly its failure to take place on a wide scale -- has generated cynicism, and justifiably so. But there's no other way to build trust. As we listen, we discover that our adversaries are not precisely who we thought. Subtle variations of belief and character come to the fore. Common ground emerges. We start to revise, and often discard, our preconceptions. In the process, we wonder what else we've misperceived, what else we have in common, and that drives up deeper into dialogue.

I think the will to rebuild trust still exists. It comes through, for instance, in the respectful dialogue between traditionalists and progressives on the Via Media website in my diocese. Undoubtedly it shows up elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

And I saw it at our convention in June. After articulating some of the ideas in this article during the resolution debate, I heard from several people who expressed appreciation for what I had said. They included one of the convention's most progressive deputies -- and one of the most conservative.

Maybe, just maybe, there's still enough desire to embark on the hard work of rebuilding trust and fostering dialogue. We would be doing ourselves an injustice not to try.

-- John Backman is a writer and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He writes about contemplative spirituality and its ability to help people dialogue across divides. He serves on the vestry of St. Paul's Church in Albany, New York.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guest blogger: Number my rabbis

Sorry, folks, our internet connection has been down the last day. So I am late posting today's entry into the blogosphere. Today I want to bring you a guest commentator, my friend Ilana Debare. As you may recall she is one of my journalist friends, and she is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah in middle-age. This is from her blog Midlife Bat Mitzvah. Enjoy...

Number my rabbis

By Ilana DeBare

What is it that makes us human — the capacity to love? to act morally? our self-awareness? our ability to envision our own mortality?


It’s our compulsion to make lists.

After all, when was the last time your caught your cat making a grocery list? Or your schnauzer compiling names of the 10 hottest (female dogs) on the block? Do birds keep life-lists of the different varieties of humans that they have spotted?

This dramatic epistemological revelation popped into mind today when my friend Melissa alerted me to an annual Newsweek feature of which I had been blissfully unaware, a list of “The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.”

Actually, Melissa called my attention to a COUNTER-list of influential women rabbis called “The Sisterhood 50,” compiled by The Forwardnewspaper because only six out of Newsweek‘s 50 were of the female gender.

I of course looked immediately to see if either of my temple‘s two wonderful women rabbis were on the Sisterhood list. (They weren’t.)

Then I marvelled at how, in the space of just 40 years, we have had such a blossoming of female rabbinic leadership in America that you can have a Top 50 list plus hundreds of women rabbis who don’t even make it onto that list.

And then I thought about how silly this all is.

Why on earth should Newsweek, of all places, care about the top 50 rabbis in America?

Newsweek doesn’t in fact pick those 50 itself — it just reprints a list compiled for the heck of it by two Hollywood executives, Sony Pictures chairman CEO Michael Lynton and Time Warner executive vice president Gary Ginsberg.

(The old stereotype had it that the Jews ran Hollywood. Now apparently that is all wrong. It is Hollywood that is running the Jews.)

Or, as Melissa put it:

I’m still wondering why Newsweek does a 50 most influential rabbis list, and why the head of Sony gets to pick them….

In any case, why do people insist on doing these rankings? The US News & World Report college rankings have wreaked enough havoc on the world of higher education, with universities purposely trying to recruit larger and larger pools of applicants just so they can turn them all down and raise their selectivity statistics.

Perhaps that’s the next step for the rabbinate. I can see it already: Rabbis across the country doing marriages like crazy and encouraging their congregants to breed, breed, breed, just so that they can decline to do brisses and naming ceremonies:

“Oh, Rabbi Gudnick is so influential! Everyone wants him to do their baby’s bris, but US News & World Report says he only accepts 8.7 percent of those that apply.”

Newsweek and its CEO-arbiters ranked their rabbis, one through 50. So perhaps somewhere in some shul tonight a rabbi is tearing his or her heart out over why they were ranked number 27 and not 26.

Meanwhile, The Forward’s list of women didn’t rank its 50, just listed them alphabetically — which I guess is a little more feminist and egalitarian.

But still. Why are we driven to do (and read) this stuff?

I don’t quite think this is what Moses had in mind when he wrote a book called, in English, “Numbers.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Love of Morning

Thank you for the comments on yesterday's topic. It was a difficult subject; thank you all for being thoughtful and considerate, and hearing what I was trying to say even if you didn't agree. Thanks for leaving politics out of it.

Our friend Karen in Tennessee, always with her heart of a poet, sent this gift along. In its own way, I think it fits what we were talking about yesterday.

The Love of Morning
By Denise Levertov

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves
back to the love of morning
after we've lain in the dark crying out
O God, save us from the horror . . . .

God has saved the world one more day
even with its leaden burden of human evil;
we wake to birdsong.
And if sunlight's gossamer lifts in its net
the weight of all that is solid,
our hearts, too, are lifted,
swung like laughing infants;

but on gray mornings,
all incident - our own hunger,
the dear tasks of continuance,
the footsteps before us in the earth's
beloved dust, leading the way - all,
is hard to love again
for we resent a summons
that disregards our sloth, and this
calls us, calls us.
Art by Kathrin Burleson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A personal reflection on the death penalty

Before you read this, please understand that this is a very personal reflection about a very difficult and politicized topic: the death penalty. The views here are mine, and mine alone. I speak for no one but myself.

And I am not talking about politics, not here, not this time.

Please also know that my descriptions are graphic. They reflect my experience about people very dear to me.

This is long. Please forgive the length.

I am writing this because I need to write it.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, I was a newspaper reporter in Riverside, a town east of Los Angeles where great beauty and great ugliness sit side-by-side.

In the considered opinion of those of us who lived and worked there, Riverside was the murder capital of Southern California. It wasn’t just in the high murder rate; it was in the endlessly cruel ways that human beings found to kill other human beings in Riverside.

And I saw it all. My beat was the courthouse, and I covered more murder scenes, murder suspects and murder trials than I can now remember. Some of my work eventually became subject of a chapter in a 1984 book, Killings, by Calvin Trillin, a writer with The New Yorker. That we will save for another day.

In those years, the Riverside courthouse crowd congregated every morning at the Wagon Wheel, a dingy dump of a coffee shop across the street from the ornate Riverside County courthouse (photo above). Cops, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the reporter from The Press-Enterprise – me – would share a cup of stale coffee before heading into the courthouse or out onto the streets for our daily dose of mayhem. I could dependably plan my day based on the tips I’d pick up at the Wagon Wheel in the morning.

Later, after I had filed my story for the day, those of us in the courthouse crowd who were single – which were most of us – would down a few beers before going home. This was my life every day for six years, with time off for vacations and a brief and unhappy stint covering City Hall. I was part of a very tight-knit courthouse community and I loved it.

We had a judge in those years, Roland Wilson, who was tough as nails. He was not universally liked, but he was universally respected. When Judge Wilson meted out the death penalty, he delivered what became known as “Roland’s Rolaids speech.”

It went something like this: “The night you are put to death, I will not have to take a Rolaids.”

If you had asked me about the death penalty in those years, I would have told you that I was against capital punishment based on my Christian principles. But deep down inside, I have to admit, there were some frighteningly horrible people who came through my courthouse about whom I had to agree with Judge Wilson: On the night they were dispatched from this earth, I would not have to take a Rolaids. And the sooner they went, the better.

One of the regulars at the Wagon Wheel was Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Evans, a lanky red-headed cop who was well liked by everyone (photo at right). He had been an Army lieutenant and Green Beret in Vietnam, but Deputy Evans was best known for helping kids who were confused or headed for trouble. He had been a mentor to the son of my managing editor. No one was better liked at the Wagon Wheel than Jim Evans.

When Deputy Evans was gunned down in a ferocious firefight on May 9, 1980, everyone at the coffee shop was in a state of shock or fury or both. On that day, five “survivalists” robbed a bank in Norco, a usually quiet little suburban town a few miles south of Riverside. They believed that the eruption of Mt. St. Helens signaled Armageddon (after all, it said so in the Bible), and they needed to stock up on provisions.

The robbers commandeered a utility truck and a chaotic chase ensued across two counties. The robbers shot up 30 police cars, wounding several officers, and shot down a police helicopter. I jumped into a car with a news photographer, and we got into the chase. The melee ended in the San Gabriel Mountains, 30 miles from the bank.

On a narrow mountain road, Evans was overpowered by the robbers wielding military assault rifles. He saved at least two other officers before he was coldly gunned down. In the battle, two of the five robbers were killed. The three surviving suspects were arrested a day later, bedraggled and wandering in the mountains. They became known as the “Norco 3,” named for the town where they had robbed the bank.

If you had polled the regulars at the Wagon Wheel, the vast majority -- even the defense attorneys -- would have favored executing the three bank robbers. There was no question the district attorney would seek the death penalty against all three. Not surprisingly the trial was moved out of the county; I spent a year of my life on the road covering the trial, taking turns in the courtroom with another P-E reporter, Bob Labarre. I was even called as a witness, took the stand and came close to being jailed for refusing to disclose sources and unpublished notes.

The three bank robbers were eventually convicted of murder, but the jury hung up in the penalty phase. When the Norco 3 avoided the death penalty, and were instead sentenced to life with no possibility of parole, there was a deep sense among the courthouse crowd that justice had been cheated. The three murderers, by the way, are still in prison and certainly will never be released in this life.

I moved away from Southern California 25 years ago, and I have rarely been in a courtroom since. Much has happened in my life in the intervening years including becoming an Episcopal priest.

It’s been 30 years since Jim Evans caught a bullet in his eye, and lately my thoughts have returned to him and the events that took his life. I’ve wondered if there’s been any closure for his family, or his buddies, or anyone whose life was turned upside down on that day in May 1980.

Recently I had occasion to be back in a criminal courtroom, and it was a difficult experience. I went with Lori to Sacramento County Superior Court for the sentencing of two young men who were convicted of robbing, torturing and murdering a friend of ours, Jim Arthur, who was only 23-years-old (photo at right). We had known Jim since he was a small boy and saw him grow into a wonderful young man and artist.

I had gotten to know the Arthur family when I moved to Sacramento in 1985. Jim's dad, Jeff (now deceased), was the chief aide to state Senator Bob Presley of Riverside, who had been the undersheriff of Riverside County before he was elected to the Legislature. The Arthur family introduced me to Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento. In a way, it was that Riverside courthouse connection that got me back into the Church.

A year ago, Jim Arthur befriended a young couple, Jeremy Ackerman and Nadine Klein, and allowed them to hang out at his mother’s house for a few days while she was out of the country. His guests decided to rob him of his video games to fence for drugs.

They brought another friend to help with the robbery, a sociopath by the name of Jonathan Baker. When Baker learned our friend Jim was gay, he went berserk. Jim was bludgeoned, tied up and stabbed 140 times. The others joined in the carnage and left him to die in his mother’s basement. They were caught a few days later, their bragging to friends and text messages betraying them.

Jim Arthur’s mother, my dear friend, Anne, sat through the entire trial. The only testimony she skipped was the gruesome autopsy report. Many of her family and friends – our friends – sat with her through many agonizing weeks of testimony.

If anyone ever deserved the death penalty, it would be his murderers: Jonathan Baker, Jeremy Ackerman and Nadine Klein.

On July 1, the day we went to court, Baker (photo at right) and Ackerman were sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole (a jury had hung up on Nadine Klein, and she will face a second trial in September).

Life-with-no-parole was the strongest possible sentence because the prosecution did not seek the death penalty. No one connected with the case wanted to invoke the death penalty.

Yet in seeing these murderers in the courtroom, I again had to ask myself what I think about the death penalty. My thoughts turned to my friends of so many years, those near and far away. Old feelings about Deputy Evans welled up inside me.

Anne courageously addressed the court. She looked into the faces of her son’s murderers. Baker smirked; Ackerman looked sick. Anne never broke down. She told the judge how her life has been devastated by the death of her youngest son. Yet she also spoke of how she grieves for the families of the murderers – and grieves for the murderers themselves. There was not a vengeful word from her lips. Later, outside in the hallway, she hugged the mother of one of her son's murderers.

The judge, Stephen White, himself a former District Attorney and veteran prosecutor in dozens of murder cases, remarked about how impressed he was at her courage and calmness, and the calmness of her friends. The judge said he had never witnessed such serenity from crime victims in his courtroom. There would be no Rolaids speech that day.

It struck me in that moment that these murderers no longer had an ounce of power over Anne, or an ounce of power over her family or any of us, her friends. They could smirk, or look sick, but they were powerless. They were now men in orange jump suits in handcuffs headed to the Joint for the rest of their natural lives.

The idea that the death of these individuals would somehow bring “closure” was ludicrous. To grant them the idea that their deaths would bring closure would be to give them a power they should not have. To allow the death of these killers to be the measure of our own closure is to give them a privilege they do not deserve.

Death is too easy an out for them.

My sense of life after death brings me there. I am convinced that this life is not all that there is, that death is only horizon over which we cannot yet see. Those we love who are gone from us are just beyond the horizon, but they are very close to us. I preach that at funerals, and I believe that to the depth of my soul.

I believe Jim is in a place of healing, where his wounds are swept away and his spirit is renewed. I don’t think Jim’s murderers deserve to be in the same place, at least not yet. They do not deserve the easy closure of their own death. They should be looking at the walls of a steel-and-concrete cell. They ought to wait a good long while before going beyond the horizon to wherever God will take them. I believe we should leave their lives and what comes next entirely to God alone.

There is another reason to allow them to live in prison.

By letting them live, we break the chain of death. We declare that death is not the solution to our grief, that death no longer has power over us, that death cannot represent “justice.”

Death represents only death.

Death is the enemy. As the apostle Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 15:26), “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Can we believe that enough to live? Can we believe that long enough to let others live and break the cycle of murder and death?

Death has many cruel weapons. Maybe the cruelest of all is the thick wall death erects for the living. We cannot see over that wall to the other side, though we get hints of it if we look. Death spawns a resignation that there is nothing on the other side of that wall. Death breeds futility, and that futility paralyzes us into inaction and despair in this life, and then without realizing it we are co-opted by death. If we let it, death robs us of life before we die.

We need to stop cooperating with death. We need to stop seeing death as a solution to that which hurts us. We may not be able to break the chain of death everywhere, but we can try where we can. Death is a cancer, not a cure. We need to see over the wall: “We will not all die but we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

We can start by saying no to the death penalty. Today is not a good day to die. Today is a good day to live.

Photographs by The Press-Enterprise of Riverside County, and The Sacramento Bee.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The rain we need

It is dry here in Virginia. The first two summers we were here it seemed to pour buckets every other day. Not this summer. It is very dry.

We need rain. We got a little yesterday, but not much. The trees need rain, the air needs rain. Monday night, I smelled smoke outside and all my Sierra Nevada instincts made me think wildfire. It turned out to be a neighbor's bonfire. We need rain.

My friend John Bingham sent along this poem about rain. By the way, I highly recommend John's insightful books that go deeply into the connection of psychological and spiritual health.

I am only too happy to plug a friend's book; John's latest is God and Dreams: Is There a Connection? You can learn more about the book HERE.

Back to the rain we need. Here is what John wrote me about the poem and the poet who wrote it:

"Peter Everwine is a California poet whose work I have admired for almost as long as I have been writing. Here he beautifully captures a quiet moment of reflection."

I quite agree. This is one to read a few times slowly:

By Peter Everwine

Toward evening, as the light failed
and the pear tree at my window darkened,
I put down my book and stood at the open door,
the first raindrops gusting in the eaves,
a smell of wet clay in the wind.
Sixty years ago, lying beside my father,
half asleep, on a bed of pine boughs as rain
drummed against our tent, I heard
for the first time a loon’s sudden wail
drifting across that remote lake—
a loneliness like no other,
though what I heard as inconsolable
may have been only the sound of something
untamed and nameless
singing itself to the wilderness around it
and to us until we slept. And thinking of my father
and of good companions gone
into oblivion, I heard the steady sound of rain
and the soft lapping of water, and did not know
whether it was grief or joy or something other
that surged against my heart
and held me listening there so long and late.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Monday Funnies

How about a few bad jokes from Pat Hill to get the week started? And a new cartoon by Dave Walker.*

Enjoy your Monday. . .

After examining the paltry tips left by a church group, our waitress wasn't pleased. Looking toward my table, she grumbled, "Those people come in with the Ten Commandments and a ten-dollar bill, and they don't break any of them!"
* * *
Rabbi Mendel was one day walking along a very narrow street, when he came face to face with a rival Rabbi.

The street was too narrow for the two to pass.

The rival, pulling himself up to his full height, said haughtily: "I never make way for fools."
Smiling, Rabbi Mendel stepped aside and said, "That's okay, I always do."
* * *
A hospital posted a notice in the nurses' dining room saying: "Remember, the first five minutes of a human being's life are the most dangerous."

Underneath, someone had written:

"The last five are pretty risky, too."

*Editor's note: The cartoon contains a pretty good hint about why I never post sermons on the blog until after they are given.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lounging with Jesus: Mary and Martha

Today is the first Sunday for The Rev. Nicholas Forti, our new associate rector for young adult ministry.

Nik is preaching today, and I hope you come hear him at our 10 am or 5:30 pm worship. The gospel for today Luke 10:38-42: the story of Martha complaining to Jesus that she is doing all of the work while Mary is lounging with Jesus.

I preached about this lesson three years ago at All Souls Episcopal Church in Berkeley, where I served as interim rector.

At the time, All Souls was deeply immersed in searching for a new rector. Here is the meat of the sermon:

Mary and Martha: Don't forget to pray
In the months ahead all of us will be very busy – there is much to do. Many of you are going to work harder than you have ever worked in the church. And that is why I find today’s gospel lesson perfect for what we are about to do.
In the lesson, Martha is in the kitchen making dinner and Mary is in the living room hanging out with Jesus. Martha is working hard, and her complaint is not without merit. Martha is a pillar; she is a pillar of her family, of the community, of the church – she serves on committees, goes to all the meetings, takes care of the kids, and fixes everyone dinner; and she never complains, at least until now.
But this time, seeing Mary slacking off, she complains to Jesus.
But instead of upbraiding Mary, Jesus tells Martha that she missing the point.
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things,” he tells her. “Mary has chosen the better part.”
That may sound harsh, but work with me here.
This story is a reminder to all of us that, yes, we will get very, very busy. We have much to do. We need Marthas to get it all done. There will be many challenges for you, and for me, in the months ahead at All Soul’s. We do need a lot of Marthas.
But let’s not miss out on the better part – being in the presence of God, being in the presence of the Risen Christ. We will miss out on the better part if we get so busy, so distracted, that we forget why we are here. As important as all of the tasks may be, we need to pause, catch our breath, and look for the better part.
There is a lot of good news in this – and I’d like to offer a few ideas about the “better parts” that are ahead of us.
Take time to notice the presence of God around you. Dwell in the Spirit. Don’t forget to pray.
This is a tender time for this congregation.
So here is my first piece of advice as your new interim: Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s share the blessings we are given – the better parts – and show each other the grace that God gives us abundantly. Let’s have fun. Laugh, celebrate.
Let’s all take time to take care of each other. Let’s be pastors to each other. Let’s go out of our way to be good to each other.
Jesus will surprise us if we let him. Jesus often picks the most unexpected people to do his work. Remember the story about Paul on the road to Damascus. He is a persecutor of the early Christians, but the Risen Christ chooses him, of all people, to grow the church. By any conventional wisdom, Paul is the last person that any of us would chose to lead the church. But Jesus chooses him – and he chooses you and he chooses me.
Be open to new people, be truly open to people who are searching for meaning in their lives. You have treasure here at All Soul’s. New people will come. This Church is place where people can come with their questions and their doubts and not be judged for being, well, human. Have faith that Jesus will find them and feed them.
There are people all around you who are hungering for something in their life. You run into those people every single day. Invite them here.
Do everything in the Spirit of God’s love and generosity. Be slow to anger, quick to forgive. If you err, err on the side of love and generosity.
Here is the easy part: You don’t need to be anyone other than who you are. Be yourself. You don’t have to copy someone else’s church. You have everything you need right here in this place. It is all here, and God will give us the power to do amazing things.
God has given each of us this gift of life – so let’s make every day count. Worship the Lord, the Lord is with you here in at All Soul’s, and in our hearts. You are the beloved, God made each and every one of you good, so be glad in it and celebrate. The Risen Christ will be with us on our journey, each and every day, and in the age to come -- forever. Amen
Art of Mary and Martha, Chinese.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pulling the Church into dry dock

My dad was a sailor, an old salt if there ever was one. He sailed San Francisco Bay as a teenager, and then skippered small ships in World War II.

When I was growing up my dad always had a sailboat, and he always seemed to spend as much time working on the boat as he did sailing the boat.

He impressed upon me the importance of maintaining the ship no matter its size.

St. Paul's Memorial Church, at the corner of Chancellor Street and University Avenue, built in 1927, is a sturdy ship that has weathered many storms, including four blizzards this past winter.

What many people don’t know is that our building is heavily used during the week; we host recovery groups, student and community organizations, our own small groups, community night classes, choir rehearsals and many other church groups. Every weekday, and most evenings, something is happening at St. Paul’s.

This ship is not just the gathering place for our faith community but is also our tool for ministry, and is a gift to us from earlier generations. It is now our turn to maintain the ship so that our children and their children will have it for their ministry.

This summer we’ve pulled the ship into dry dock for an overhaul.

You will notice on Sunday we’ve refurbished the restrooms on the ground floor. Meanwhile, the kitchen is being completely gutted; all of the equipment, counters, stove – everything – has been hauled out.

The paint on the kitchen ceiling was crumbling has been chipped off. The floor has been stripped down to the sub-floor and will be replaced. A new double-size refrigerator will be installed; new dish washers, easier to use, will also be installed.

Soon we will have new and safer hardware on the exterior doors.

Outside, the front yard is a construction zone. Crews have worked all month in the heat laying down concrete forms and foundations for a mediation garden.

These are big jobs, and the many moving parts have been overseen by John Reid, Pat Punch, Joan Albiston, Michael Wheelwright, Peter Dennison and several others. It takes a village to fix a building.

We have more to do. In coming years, we need to make major repairs to the 1920s church building, and renovations to our 1950s education wing and office spaces.

Our elegant church sanctuary has blistering plaster in many places. The walls have not been painted in years. Our rare and valuable Skinner organ needs substantial repair and restoration. The sacristy is worn out. The lighting and electrical systems throughout the building need updating.

Yet, as crucial as all of that is to our parish, maintenance of the Church is more than about bricks-and-mortar. Foundational to our parish life is the infrastructure of The Episcopal Church, especially the health of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal seminaries. St. Paul’s is one parish among 181 in a diocese that counts 80,000 members; our two bishops log roughly 40,000 miles a year visiting parishes; our parishes rely on well-educated clergy and lay professionals.

Voluntary parish giving accounts for more than 90 percent of diocesan funding for programs including youth camps, seminarians, and congregational development. At St. Paul’s, we give $67,000 a year from our operating funds to the diocese; we also give through the time and talent of our people. Several members of St. Paul’s have given thousands of volunteer hours to the diocese.

The seminaries of the Episcopal Church also rely on parish and individual giving, and many are in dire financial condition; one seminary, Seabury-Western in Chicago, closed last year because it was broke.

My own seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, is operating at a substantial annual loss. The flagship of the Episcopal Church, General Seminary in New York, reportedly is selling Manhattan real estate to stay afloat. Seminarians, paying substantial tuition, now graduate with tens-of-thousands of dollars in student loan debt and that drastically limits their ability to accept calls to small and poor congregations.

The fiscal crisis of the Episcopal seminaries is as real as it is unnecessary. It used to be that parishes were expected to contribute 1 percent of operating income to the seminaries so that future leaders could be educated. That level of giving has faltered in recent years, largely because the seminaries are out-of-sight and out-of-mind. I am proud to say that St. Paul’s is giving to the seminaries but we could give substantially more. If all Episcopal congregations even gave one-half percent of operating incomes, the seminaries would be financial healthy.

At St. Paul's, this is our centennial year, a time for us to look not just back, but to look forward. Others gave us the infrastructure – the buildings, the diocese, the seminaries. Earlier generations built all of it through their selfless giving, and then gave it all to us. We are the beneficiaries.

Now it comes to us to maintain, enhance and give this treasure to the next generation. To us comes a big task, and to us comes many blessings.

It is our turn to step up and get it right.

Photos by Dudley Rochester

Friday, July 16, 2010

More photos from Shrine Mont

Here are a few more photos from our Shrine Mont weekend, taken by photographer-extraordinaire Dudley Rochester (see his photos earlier this week on the progress constructing the meditation garden).

The first photo shows Jane Rotch and the Duduza dolls she and several folks have been making for the children of Haiti. They've made dozens and dozens, and made many more during the Shrine Mont parish weekend.

The next shows Tony Potter (standing) and Simeon Fitch, gabbing on the front porch in the main building. They are no doubt trading insider secrets about techno-stuff.

Then we have John Frazee, who did hours-and-hours of techno-stuff at Shrine Mont, producing the really cool "baseball cards" of St. Paul's people. Look for the cards hanging in the Parish Hall this weekend.

Finally, at the bottom, we have a photo of Albrecht von Guadecker, our assistant music director and organist, and his wonderful wife Jane. Who knew that Albrecht could play the accordion?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Retired bishop of Kentucky appointed to assist in Virginia

In case you missed this, a emailed letter came across the desk this afternoon from Bishop Shannon Johnston announcing that he has appointed Edwin "Ted" Gulick, the retired bishop of Kentucky, as his assisting bishop. This is very good news because Bishop Shannon will now get reinforcements in making visitations to the 180 congregations of our far-flung diocese.

Bishop Gulick will join Bishop David Jones on the road, preaching and conducting confirmation and other sacramental duties. Assisting bishops do not have the same power and authority as the diocesan bishop -- all that still rests with Shannon Johnston. But this will help Bishop Shannon to focus on the vision and ministry he is called to do with our diocese. Here is his letter and a photograph of Bishop Gulick:

Electronic Letterhead
July 15, 2010

Dear Diocesan Family,

It is with great pleasure indeed that I write to tell you that the Rt. Rev. Edwin "Ted" F. Gulick Jr. has
accepted my appointment as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Virginia. This is the culmination of a series of discussions I've had with Bishop Gulick since 2008 leading up to this call. As I met with the Standing Committee to discuss this appointment, we all sensed a profound call in the intersection of Bishop Gulick's deep roots in this diocese, his gifts and passion for his continuing ministry, and our common sense of how he can complement and support the vision for ministry here. The Standing Committee unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed this appointment.

A native Virginian, Bishop Gulick grew up as a member of St. Stephen's, Catlett. As a youth he
attended St. George's Camp at Shrine Mont and served there as a staff member. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Lynchburg College and a master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. Bishop Gulick served as a parish priest for 20 years before he became the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Kentucky in 1994. His episcopate is one that has been marked by a dedication to outreach, youth and young adult formation and ecumenical ministries. He was a nominee for presiding bishop in 2006.

Bishop Gulick will begin as our assistant bishop effective January 1, 2011. Before that time, Bishop
Gulick has very graciously agreed to visit a number of congregations around the Diocese as a visiting bishop. Once he becomes assistant bishop of Virginia next year, he will assume a full schedule of visitations, as well as focusing particularly on pastoral care and response, especially for our clergy and their families.

I know that you will join me in welcoming Bishop Gulick back home to Virginia. This is an exciting new chapter in our common life, and I look forward to our future ministry together.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Bishop of Virginia

Photos from Shrine Mont

Here are two photos from our Shrine Mont weekend, courtesy of Simeon Fitch. The first is the annual group photo taken at "The Shrine." Everyone appears to be pointing at a UFO.

The second shows the winners of the much-coveted "Miss Shrine Mont" contest, tied for getting the most answers correct in the trivia contest about St. Paul's. From left to right, Lori, Charles Lancaster, and Jay Scott. They each look suitably awed by this award.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Construction underway on our meditation garden

The construction of our mediation garden is underway at last! Funds for the garden were collected in honor of David Poist upon his retirement.

He is telling us he'd rather not have the garden named for him, so for now we are calling it the St. Paul's Memorial Church Meditation Garden.

Thanks to Joan Albiston and her design team, and our semi-professional lobbying team for winning city approval earlier this year.

You may recall we had a ground-breaking ceremony a few weeks ago. Our contractor is now on our grounds, digging trenches, laying a foundation for a brick walk, rearranging the shrubbery. Here are a few photos taken yesterday by Dudley Rochester.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer rain, distant surf, starfish

I spent most of yesterday sitting on our front porch, my nose in a book while a gentle rain perked up the forest and sweetened the air. The rumble of thunder echoing off the Ragged Mountains sounded like the surf so very distant from here.

Today there is work to be done, people to see, things to do. But first a poem to start your day, a gift from our friend Karen in Tennessee.
by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says,
Last night
the channel was full of starfish.
And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life's way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won't give you smart or brave,
so you'll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
stopped when you should have started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Monday Funnies

We've been away the last few days at Shine Mont in the western hills bordering Shenandoah Valley for our annual parish retreat. We had 131 campers of all ages, good sports all. The weather started hot, and then we had a big thunderstorm the first night and it cooled off. Sunday morning was sunny and cool.

Thanks to Cindy Cartwright and her team for putting on a great weekend. The eco-friendly green non-plastic cups made it another year, and we had lots of kids running everywhere. The food was plentiful (quite hearty and deep-fried Southern style).

Hopefully someone will send me some photos from the weekend that I can share here later in the week. My first-generation digital camera has about bit the dust so I took no pictures.

The only casualty of the weekend was me during the annual kickball game. I went skidding into home plate and managed to wrap my left shoulder around a white wooden pole that holds up a building.

The 19th century vintage structure did not collapse, and I broke no bones but I am rather sore. We had a many health care professionals in camp, and I was well attended to.

For us, this was our third Shrine Mont parish weekend. You may recall Lori and I introduced ourselves to the parish two summers ago at Shrine Mont, so I consider this weekend to be the start of our third year at St. Paul's.

For the Monday Funnies, I thought I'd share a few funny photos. The first was taken by Bonny Bronson on her way to Heather Warren's ordination in North Carolina. The second was provided by Dave Walker. His caption:

"Man protesting about heretics who stop on the entrance markings at school drop-off and pick-up times. Also the Church of Rome."

Apparently some folks took offense when Dave posted it on his blog. I thought it rather funny.

Enjoy you Monday!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Our very talented music team

Dear Friends of St. Paul’s,

It gives me great pleasure to announce that I have appointed Daniel Hine to be our next Director of Music, effective immediately. Daniel grew up here at St. Paul’s where he and his family have been faithful members for many years. He succeeds Dr. Don Loach, who retired in January after 37 years as music director. Daniel has been serving as the interim music director.

After Dr. Loach’s retirement, I appointed a search committee, chaired by Bruce Carveth. The search committee included members of the choir and the congregation-at-large. The committee conducted a nationwide search, and held auditions with the finalists.

The committee members unanimously recommended that I appoint Daniel as music director. I am very delighted to appoint Daniel, and I am very grateful for the work of the music director search committee.
These past few months, I have enjoyed working with Daniel and getting to know him better.

He has a gentle way about him and wry sense of humor. He is a devoted musician who brings both great professionalism and a profound sense of music as ministry. Daniel and I view his role as being Music Director for the entire parish, and as such he will lead all of us in deepening our experience of music as prayer. He is enthusiastic about exploring the rich worldwide tradition of Anglican and Episcopal music including the familiar 1982 hymnal and our newer hymnals as well.

A native of Charlottesville, Daniel graduated from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, with degrees in Music Education, Piano, and Voice. For three years, he was a leader in the internationally renowned Westminster Concert Bell Choir, and for seven years served as a section leader, theory teacher, and assistant organist at Trinity Church, Princeton.

Locally, Daniel serves as the accompanist for the Oratorio Society of Charlottesville-Albemarle and the Virginia Glee Club, and has recently collaborated with the University Singers, the Wellesley College Choir, OperaViva, Ash Lawn Opera Theatre, Operafestival di Roma, and Heritage Theatre Festival. At St. Paul’s, he has been active with the Gay-Straight Concerns Group and the Sunday evening dinners for students.

Daniel will be leading a very talented musical team. To further underscore the professionalism of our musical leadership, I am appointing Albrecht von Gaudecker as Assistant Music Director and Organist. Albrecht will continue providing his musical skills at our 10 am and 5:30 pm Sunday services, and also on Wednesdays and at special services. He will also continue to lead our children’s choirs.

Albrecht was born in Hannover, Germany, and after finishing a two-year apprenticeship for horticulture in Hildesheim, he studied Sacred Music at the Hochschule fuer Musik in Weimar and Hamburg (Diploma B of Sacred Music). During his studies in Hamburg he served for two years as a church music assistant at Main Church St. Petri/Hamburg, and continued his studies in Luebeck (Diploma A of Sacred Music), Halle and Leipzig (Artist Diploma).

I have also appointed Emily Williams Guffey as an Assistant Music Director. Her primary responsibility will be in leading our 5:30 pm Sunday evening music, which she was involved with for most of the last academic year. She has brought graceful skill in showing how various forms of sacred music can work together to enhance the worship experience at that service.

Emily moved to Charlottesville a year ago with her husband, Andrew, who is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies at UVA. She holds a Master of Arts in Music Ministry from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., where she studied conducting, organ, voice, theology, church history, and Anglican liturgy.

Emily has served as a liturgical musician at several churches in the Chicago area, including (most recently) the Canterbury Episcopal campus ministry at her alma mater, Northwestern University. In addition, she has been delighted to serve on the Committee for Liturgy and Music for the Diocese of Chicago’s annual convention.

She says that she “melts over early music” (just mention the name “William Byrd”), and currently sings with Fire, the Charlottesville a capella women's choir. She is a research assistant in the UVA Department of Public Health Sciences. In her free time, she loves to cook, tinker in the garden, practice yoga, and write.

I am very excited about the having these three very able musicians bringing their enormous talent to St. Paul's, and I look forward to seeing our very strong music program becoming stronger. Please join me in congratulating these fine musicians on their appointments.


More on the non-appointment of Jeffrey John

The arcane world of Church of England politics is beyond my realm, and apparently beyond the realm of the British media that covers it. Here is more on the non-appointment of Jeffrey John as a bishop:

Jeffrey John was not the favourite

The stories about Jeffrey John's nomination as bishop of Southwark are mischief-making based on ignorance

So, the Dean of St Albans has been "blocked" from becoming the next Bishop of Southwark. Really? Well, the Telegraph has confidently told us so – so we might as well remove our brains and take their word for it. Or not.

What is amazing about this whole story is not just the shameful behaviour of the leaker (who has sworn an oath of confidentiality), but the credulity of many people who have responded (look, for example, atThinking Anglicans) is depressing. They have accepted the details and language of the story without thinking. And, predictably, the usual suspects from the extremes of the Church were ready with their quotes of indignation and threat.

The Telegraph story last Sunday stated that the candidate concerned was on the shortlist; was the "understood to be the favoured candidate" and suggested that the process was only about him: would he or would he not be appointed? Readers were clearly intended to make certainuncritical leaps of logic that defied the realities of the process. Apparently, being on the shortlist meant that the named candidate was likely to get the appointment; so, if he was not appointed, it could only be that he was deliberately blocked by the Archbishop of Canterbury; oh, and the reason for the "block" could only be the candidate's sexuality.

However, thirty seconds of critical thought would have immediately raised questions about the presentation of the story. The process for nominating diocesan bishops can be studied on the Church of England website (which begs the question why so many commentators condemn the process as "unfit for purpose" or "arcane" before admitting they don't know how it works).
Basically, it works like this:

Each diocese elects a Vacancy-in-See Committee which only convenes if and when the current diocesan bishop resigns or retires. This committee convenes twice once the outgoing bishop has gone: once to draft the Diocesan Profile and Statement of Needs (who are we and what do we think we need in the new bishop?) and a second time to agree this paperwork and elect six members to join the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC).

The CNC is made up of the six diocesan representatives and six elected from the General Synod. The former serve only for the appointment in their diocese; the latter serve on a rotational basis for each vacancy that comes to the CNC. Also on each CNC are the two Archbishops, and the CNC is serviced by the Archbishops' Appointments Secretary and the Prime Minister's Appointments Secretary.

Names can be submitted by anyone. Yes – anyone. Members of the CNC can nominate people and a long list of between 12-15 names is assembled. Thorough paperwork on and from each candidate is collated for the CNC members.

The CNC meets once to discuss the Profile and gets the list down to half a dozen or so candidates. Some weeks later the CNC resumes for a twenty-four hour meeting from which the name(s) emerge. The name(s) are submitted to the Queen via the Prime minister for approval.

What this demonstrates is the fallacy of much of the language of the original story. For example, it is not possible to have a "favoured candidate" when there are six or so and there is no mechanism for establishing a "frontrunner" The point of a shortlist is that there are six "frontrunners"'

Anyway, what does it mean to speak of a "favoured candidate"? Favoured by whom and according to which criteria? Bishoprics aren't prizes for star personalities; they are demanding leadership posts for which there are more competent people around than there are posts.

If a particular candidate does not emerge as the one to be nominated, it is probably because on balance they are not thought to be the person who best fulfils what the diocese said they wanted or needed in their paperwork. The reasons why a candidate is not nominated will be plenty. So, to speak of one candidate being "blocked" is ludicrous. The process is not about the career desires of particular people or the vicarious ambitions of those who promote their cause (even against their will).

If one candidate was "blocked", then so were half a dozen others. Or, in fact, over a dozen whose names were considered in the process. Or, in fact, those whose names were submitted, but never got onto the longlist.

The process was about the Diocese of Southwark and its need for a particular shape of person as bishop. It was not about a particular candidate or flag-waving for particular causes – whatever the media want us to believe.

Nick Baines, as Bishop of Croydon, is writing here about the process for choosing his own boss