Friday, September 30, 2011

Today: Gratitude

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have. It is worth a few minutes of your time:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Come join us tonight for a presentation on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Tonight at 7 pm Lori and I will give a presentation at St. Paul's about our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We have photos to show you of the holiest of shrines and churches in all of Christianity, and more than that.

We will talk about and show you how people live now in this very troubled land. I plan to discuss not just the biblical shrines and churches, but also share the many perspectives we heard from Palestinians and Israelis.

The politics is complicated and, frankly, it is crucial that we as Americans get a firmer (and less naive) understanding. I hope you can join us tonight.

The story below came across last night about our bishop in Jerusalem, the Right Rev. Suheil Dawani, (pictured below) and the difficulties he's had with Israeli authorities renewing his residency permit to live in East Jerusalem. We spent an evening with Bishop Dwali, and I will tell you about some of what he told us and his witness for peace and justice against many odds. Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Please also keep the United Nations in your prayers this week as it considers resolutions by the Palestinians for statehood. I have a few things to say about that, and I will share them with you here soon. Here is the story from Episcopal News Service:

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Jerusalem bishop's residency permit reinstated after months of international diplomacy 
By ENS staff, September 27, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] The residency permits and visas that enable Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and his family to reside legally in Jerusalem have been reinstated after 13 months of the documentation being denied by Israel's Ministry of Interior.

"I want to thank all of you, my friends and colleagues throughout the Anglican Episcopal Communion and the worldwide Christian community, for your continued support throughout this time," said Dawani, a Palestinian Christian, in a Sept. 27 letter sent to international partners. "It has been deeply appreciated and most encouraging knowing that we have been kept in your thoughts and prayers as we awaited this most heartening outcome."

Many international religious leaders -- Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican Communion primates, and the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem -- had joined in the diplomatic efforts calling for the documentation to be reinstated.
The House of Bishops in March wrote to Israel's ambassadors serving in nations where the Episcopal Church has dioceses or a presence, calling for their help in resolving the matter as soon as possible.

"I have been overwhelmed by the support given to me," said Dawani in his letter. "Please know that in my heart I give you all great thanks..."

Israel's Ministry of the Interior denied the residency permit for Dawani, his wife and his youngest daughter on the grounds that the bishop had allegedly sold Israeli land illegally to Palestinians. Dawani also was accused of forging documents. Dawani has denied all allegations, none of which have been substantiated by any documentary evidence.

The bishop attempted to resolve the matter -- sending letters to the Ministry of the Interior and the nation's attorney general in which he asked to know the specific charges against him and requested reinstatement of the residency permit -- but much of his communication went unanswered.

Dawani's episcopal ministry requires him to travel throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which includes parishes and institutions in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Dawani has held a residency permit for Jerusalem since 2007. Being without the permit since August 2010, Dawani has been unable to visit or minister to many of the Christian communities he leads throughout the Holy Land.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our blind spot

Barbara Crafton sent this the other day, and I pass it along to you. Be forewarned, this is not really about a fender-bender in a parking lot.

She speaks deeply to me about an issue I care deeply about; you may disagree with her (and me) but I hope you will consider her points carefully and prayerfully.

Barbara will be with us at St. Paul's for an all-day Advent workshop on Saturday Dec. 3 and she will be preaching Sunday Dec. 4. Please mark your calendars and come join us.

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By The Rev. Barbara Crafton

I have a clean driving license -- no points. Not that this distinction is of much import in my life these days, as we no longer have a car. And it must be said that I was not always so pure -- I was penalized two points for a moving violation years ago, when I broadsided a brand-new Volkswagon at a gas station.

"What are you doing?!? the owner screamed. It was a reasonable question. "You backed right into me!"

The pavement wasn't wet and I wasn't going more than four miles an hour. The VW wasn't moving at all. It was broad daylight. I was wearing my distance glasses. I had not been drinking, nor was I fatigued. I just didn't see her car -- it was black, and it was in my blind spot. Anybody who's ever backed up or overtaken another car on a two-lane road knows about the blind spot. You have to look twice when you look behind you before passing, not once.

It certainly looked to my horrified victim like a deliberate act. Or an incredibly stupid one, which I guess is what it was. "You were in my blind spot," I said, apologizing over and over as we stood there waiting for the police to come. "I didn't see you." Not surprisingly, my explanation was not particularly well-received, and who could blame her?

I thought of this yesterday, when the news came over the radio that the Supreme Court had refused to overturn Georgia's execution order in the Troy Davis case. It seemed his innocence had not been proven to everyone's satisfaction, a standard in American jurisprudence new to me -- I thought we operated under a presumption of innocence here, and that it was guilt that needed to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But what do I know? I am neither a lawyer nor a judge.

But I am a priest and a religious journalist, and as such am charged with pondering and commenting on what faith may say to us about the way in which we conduct our life together: a communal life lived not only with our co-religionists, but with the larger society in which we find ourselves. Faith is not only about the sublime and nourishing personal sense of God's love, though it certainly is about that. As central as the encounter with Christ is, it does not exist in a social vacuum. Faith is not faith without ethics.

Christians believe in a life larger than the life we experience as physical beings. We believe there is more to life than meets the eye, that a spiritual dimension, mysterious and beyond our capacity to describe in the concrete ways we use to describe events in the world, is part of human reality. It is true that we affirm it without understanding very much about it at all, but our answer to "Is this all there is?" is a solid "No."

That said, we also affirm the sanctity of earthly life. We don't think it doesn't matter what happens here because we're all going to heaven anyway. We don't think we'd be better off dead. Life matters. Death is an enemy. We found hospitals, sit on their ethics committees, visit the sick. We stand against death, until the moment comes when it is time to leave this world, when life in the body at last becomes too heavy to lift. Then Death, too, becomes an angel, setting the strong spirit free to enter the immediacy of God's unfiltered presence.

Human beings do not have the right to end life prematurely, before that last moment arrives. We need not torture the dying with heroic lifesaving measures after it has become clear that these will not avail, but we can't kill people to whom death has not already laid claim. Even soldiers, who must stand ready to take life in the line of duty, do not escape the stain -- just ask somebody who has had to do it. The Christian theory of the just war, in which self-defense is broadly defined to include the prevention of a greater violence, does not provide a road to the taking of life that avoids the stain. It may mitigate, but it does not absolve. This is one of the many reasons why we recognize a duty to care for soldiers and military veterans: not just because they must sacrifice their safety on our behalf, but also because they must sacrifice their innocence.

That Troy Davis may have been innocent of the crime for which he was executed yesterday may someday be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If it is, he will join the ranks -- not small in number -- of innocents killed by the state. Even a supporter of the death penalty must acknowledge this as tragic.

But the greater tragedy is that Americans think capital punishment is ever appropriate. That we do not ask ourselves why it is that we cling to it, in company with regimes we consider wholesale violators of the human rights about which we are very willing to lecture them every chance we get. That we do so in the face of abundant clear evidence that capital punishment fails to deter violent crime. This cognitive dissonance bewilders the countries we like to believe admire us and our way of life. They do admire us, in many ways. But not in that one.

America has a blind spot.

The death penalty panders to the basest part of our personalities: our craving for revenge. Everybody has this craving, but we learn in early childhood that violence does not bring about peace. Our parents teach us to talk things out, rather than hitting each other, when we disagree. Growing up is a process of learning to say no to ourselves about many things, and revenge is one of them. This is not easy: the desire for revenge is a natural desire, upon which we must learn not to act. Punishment in the service of restraining evil? Yes. In the service of exacting payment of a debt to society? In order to ensure society's safety? Yes -- there are criminals who must never again be allowed to go free. But revenge? No. Though we acknowledge our primitive longing for it, we must learn to say no. Revenge is far from a solution to violence. It fuels it.

Mature individuals have learned to control this universal urge. Many societies have learned to control it. But not ours. Can we really call ourselves civilized until we do?

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China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States carried out the most executions last year. Runners up include Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Libya under Muamar Qaddafi. In Europe, only Belarus retains the death penalty in its law; abolition is required of European Union member states. To see a complete listing of state-sponsored executions carried out worldwide last year, visit HERE.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Monday Funnies

It is a bit dreary out, rainy, overcast. We are told Autumn is on the way by the end the week. But how about a laugh or two to get you there? Welcome to The Monday Funnies...

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This may come as a surprise to those of you not living in Las Vegas but there are more Catholic churches there than casinos. Not surprisingly, some worshippers at Sunday services will give casino chips rather than cash when the basket is passed.

Since they get chips from so many different casinos, the churches have devised a method to collect the offerings. The churches send all their collected chips to a nearby Franciscan Monastery for sorting and then the chips are taken to the casinos of origin and cashed in.

This is done by a chip monk.

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"Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward, to the front at the altar," the Preacher says.

Joe gets in line, and when it's his turn, the preacher asks: "Joe, what do you want me to pray about for you."

Joe replies: "Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing." The preacher puts one finger in Joe's ear, and he places the other hand on top of Joe's head and prays and prays and prays, he prays a blue streak for Joe.

After a few minutes, the Preacher removes his hands, stands back and asks,"Joe, how is your hearing now?"

Joe says, "I don't know, Pastor; it isn't until next Wednesday!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stretching out our arms of love: Where we go next with same-sex blessings

Today's sermon has as its foundation today's gospel lesson, Matthew 21:23-32, and many months of conversations and listening at St. Paul's. I would ask that those who read this here give this prayerful consideration:

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Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

That prayer comes each day at Morning Prayer, and I think it is an appropriate prayer for entering into the topic I want to discuss today. 
This topic is sensitive and personal for many, and about which there is room for honest disagreement. 
The topic is the blessing of same-sex unions. 
At the heart of all that I want to talk with you about today is how Christ embraces each of us, and how each of us reaches forth in love to others. 
Let me begin by saying that you are free to disagree with everything I have to say. You may be tempted to hiss, or you may be tempted to clap. I ask that you do neither. 
You may think that, as a church, we have gone too far, or not far enough. But I would ask that you consider these words as an invitation to continue in this larger conversation with the wider Church as we learn together how to reach forth our hands in love to everyone, especially people who have felt left out. 
The strength of our Anglican-Episcopal tradition is that we can have multiple viewpoints from multiple perspectives and still come to the Holy Table to share in the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist. 
I pray that will always be so with us. 
I am also mindful that we have number of guests today, including those of you who came for the baptisms of four children we are soon to celebrate. 
Our guests may wonder what the topic of same-sex unions has to do with these baptisms. I promise you, it has everything to do with baptism. 
I would invite our guests to join with us in this wider conversation because your presence today in blessing these children is deeply connected with how all of us live out the promises of our baptism: to love our neighbors as ourselves, to respect the dignity of every human being, and be faithful in the sharing of our prayers and the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist. 
And baptism is only a start, the first of the sacraments. We have reserved more sacraments for these children as they grow older. How we include them in our sacraments is at the center of this conversation today. 
I need to tell you a little of my own journey and the distance I’ve traveled on the topic of same sex relationships. 
I was brought up in a conservative Episcopalian household, in comfortable middle-class suburbs. 
My parents were married for 56 years before my father died, and they gave me a pretty good model of what marriage could be: A mutually supportive partnership devoted to each other and to the greater good of their family and the community. 
But we did not talk in my family about sex, or sexual orientation, or the possibility that there might be people who are attracted to the same sex and could live in a mutually supportive partnership devoted to each other and to the greater good of their family and the community.

That would never have crossed my mind at age 12, although we had our great Aunt Ruth, a professor at the University of California, who lived with her “friend” Elizabeth for more than 50 years – what was that all about? It never occurred to my sister and me to ask. 
It was not until I became a student at UCLA that I discovered I had gay friends. They opened my eyes to a different world than the one I had grown up in. 
I became a young adult during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and I went through the anguish of losing friends. I witnessed a great deal of compassion for them, and a great deal of prejudice.
I had to face this question: If God created me good, and bestowed upon me the gift of Lori, my life partner, didn’t this same God create people who are attracted to the same sex? And couldn’t this same God also bestow upon them the gift of a partner for life? 
As you know, society-at-large is struggling with this question and so is the Church.

The Church has long seen marriage as between a man and woman, proclaiming that marriage is an expression of how Jesus Christ loves the Church – the church being all of us. All of us, metaphorically speaking, are married to Christ. 
But that metaphor begs the question of whether Christ puts limits on who can experience this expression of love. 
Is Christ’s love limited only to heterosexuals in heterosexual relationships, or does Christ’s love encompass the full goodness in all of humanity? Are gay people included too? 
I came to believe that isn’t God, but people and their cultures, who impose limits on who can be in a committed life-long loving relationship. 
To put this another way: Shouldn’t the ethical issue be how faithfully we love, honor and cherish each other, rather than the sexual orientation of who we are created to love? 
Yet we must also recognize that we are treading on new ground in the Church. This is new, and we must listen respectfully to those voices through the ages that have seen this differently. 
We must also recognize that marriage itself has undergone an enormous transformation in our lifetime. Not that long ago, marriage was primarily a property transaction between families – with a woman as the property. 
Only recently, and primarily only in Western culture, has marriage been seen as a co-equal partnership for the “mutual joy” of a man and woman, as our prayer book terms it. 
Seeing marriage as primarily for the purpose of “mutual joy” is a huge shift in our understanding of marriage, and leads inevitably to the question of whether that mutual joy can only be experienced by people in opposite sex relationships. 
In our Christian tradition, we rightly turn to the Bible as our primary resource for the revelation of God’s guidance. 
However, I will be candid with you: The Bible is of limited help here. There are several forms of marriage in the Bible, including polygamy and rules for marrying your brother’s wife, and how to compensate your neighbor if you have sexual relations with one of his slaves.

The authors of the Bible did not foresee the radical notion of co-equal marriage between men and women, let alone between two people of the same sex. That was not on the charts of the ancient world. 
Frankly, the authors of the Bible did not foresee any co-equal loving relationship between anyone. That was the limit of their view. 
But I don’t believe that is the limit of God’s view. 
We must, I believe, turn to Jesus and his gospel principles of faithfulness and integrity. The cornerstone of all of Jesus’ teachings is love and the responsibilities of love, and something more: Jesus left us with the gift of the Holy Spirit to continue guiding and teaching us. The revelation of God does not end with the Bible but continues with us. 
As you may know, Bishop Shannon Johnston, our bishop in the Diocese of Virginia, has struggled mightily with this issue. He wrote a letter to the diocese last spring explaining how he had come to support the blessing of same-sex unions. Here is what he wrote:
“As I prayed for guidance, an absolutely overwhelming sense–sudden and out-of- the-blue–said ‘MOVE ... NOW.’ … at that point I had total clarity as to what this moment was all about.” 
Bishop Johnston added: 
“Throughout my spiritual life, I have learned that a primary way in which the Holy Spirit works with me is through the unlikely.” 
This was certainly the unlikely for him – and it may be unlikely for some of you. As unlikely and uncomfortable as it may be for some you, I ask that you pray and consider where the Holy Spirit might be leading us together. 
Last spring, we spent a great deal of time in our Sunday forums and Wednesday evening adult education exploring the issues of marriage and same-sex blessings. 
The Vestry also spent many hours in a parallel discussion, and a number of our Vestry members also attended the parish-wide forums. 
We heard not only from gay people who felt excluded by the Church, but also from older couples who had re-married outside the Church years ago because of its stance on divorce. Others expressed support for blessings but discomfort with calling such blessings “marriage.” 
A few people expressed opposition to such blessings based on their opinion that homosexuality is a sin. I believe all were respectfully heard. 
We also heard from people who were initially opposed to same-sex blessings, but then changed their minds primarily because of the stories they heard from their friends and fellow parishioners. 
I was also struck by how many married couples told me they learned things about their own marriages and the meaning of their marriage vows by attending these forums.

At the conclusion of those forums in June, and in consultation with our Vestry, I wrote a letter to Bishop Johnston asking his permission to proceed with same-sex blessings in this parish. 
After several weeks of deliberation, the bishop has replied granting his permission with the condition that he approve the format and language of such ceremonies. I believe that is a fair condition because we are in new territory, and ultimately in the Episcopal Church, all rites and ceremonies are a reflection of the bishop.

We are the fourth parish to be granted such permission in the Diocese of Virginia.
Let me also note that just because the bishop has given a green light, it does not mean such blessings will happen tomorrow. We require all of our pre-marriage couples to undergo many months of preparation and that will also be required of our same-sex couples seeking the blessing of their union. I do not expect there will be a blessing of a same-sex couple before next spring.

I know that not everyone agrees with going in this direction. Yet I also ask, whatever your opinion, that you show your love and respect to all of our couples especially those for whom this is also new territory. 
I promised when I began that I would tell you why this has everything to do with baptism. I know this is a long sermon on an involved topic, so please bear with me for a few more minutes. 
In the gospel lesson from Matthew today, the religious authorities – the intellectuals – are flummoxed by the question: is baptism of God or of humanity? 
And Jesus replies “yes.” 
This will sound obvious, but we can only experience the divine through our human senses – our touch, our hearing, our taste, our sight and our minds. 
We are physical beings, and we use physical outward symbols of water, words, music, prayers, and vows to give us entry – a window, if you will – into the sacred presence that is inside all of us and around us. 
When we baptize people we are saying through these physical signs that God is present and at work in them – and in us. When we are aware of this, we are living sacramentally. 
We are also doing something more – we are welcoming the newly baptized into the “household of God” – the Body of Christ. We are declaring that this household of God needs everyone, of every age and every talent, every persuasion and every orientation.
That is why I am convinced that it is not ours to put artificial limits on the exchanging of vows with the person we love. 
The test is whether those vows are done with faithfulness and integrity, and we can only know that by living into those vows with each other, by living sacramentally together in this community of faith. 
I believe that the Holy Spirit has so much else to teach us about how to live more fully and generously – and sacramentally – as human beings, and we are now embarking on a road together that will bring not just blessings to our couples, but blessings to each and every one of us.

I pray we will always be open to listening and seeing the divine in each other – and that we will bless each other reaching forth with our love. Thank you for listening, and thank you for your prayers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

If you would rise from sleep: A poem for your day

For those of you who have followed Fiat Lux for awhile, you may have noticed that our dear friend Karen from Tennessee has been absent for awhile, and the poetry offerings here have been few and far between.

Karen puts her whole soul into picking out poetry for her friends. She's been off for awhile, tending to family and the like. I am very happy to report that Karen is back with us (sorry, kids, we've missed your mom) and she sent her first poem in many months yesterday. I pass it along to you. I think these words are a wonderful way for her to be back. Take your time . . .

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Sheba 's Hesitation
By Rumi
(translated by Coleman Barks)

Imagine that you are Sheba trying to decide
whether or not to go to Solomon.

You are haggling about how much to pay
for shoeing a donkey, when you could be seated
with one who is always in union with God,
who carries a beautiful garden inside himself.

You could be moving in a great circuit
without wings, nourished without eating,
sovereign without a throne.

No longer subject to fortune,
you could be luck itself,
if you would rise from sleep,
leave the market-arguing, and learn
that your own essence is your wealth.

Photo by NASA, Arches National Park, Utah.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peace One Day: Please join us

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
Matthew 5:38-48

What if we lived those words for just one day?

Today's gospel lesson from Matthew 5:38-48 for Morning Prayer could not be more appropriate. Today is United Nations Peace Day. What if we lived the words of Jesus today in our homes, our neighborhood, our workplace and on the killing fields of the earth? What if the fighting and shooting stopped for just a single day? What would the world look like? Who would live? How might we live the next day?

Today is a good day to start.

Please join us this evening at St. Paul's Memorial Church for a special observance of United Nations Peace Day at 5:30 pm, dinner at 6:15 pm and a showing at 7 pm of Jeremy Gilley's film Peace One Day. Here is a brief film about the Peace One Day effort:

Monday, September 19, 2011

What if the world stopped shooting for just one day? Join us for Peace One Day on Wednesday

Let me invite you to join us for a special observance of United Nations Peace Day beginning at 5:30 pm on Wednesday at St. Paul's.

Peace One Day is the dream of a British filmmaker, Jeremy Gilley, who proposed in 1998 that we set aside one day a year -- Sept. 21 -- as a ceasefire from all warfare and violence across the globe. He won the endorsement of the UN just four days before the attacks on New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and he has been working every since to make this idea of ceasefire a reality.

On Wednesday at 5:30 pm we will have music, prayers and a special observance of Peace One Day. Then please come to our Community Night dinner (free!). During dinner we will give brief presentations on the programs and ministries we are involved with that help make the world a more peaceful place.

At 7 pm we will show Gilley's latest film documenting Peace One Day. I hope you will find it as inspirational as I have. Let's be a part of this incredible effort, one day at time. Who better than us? Please come on Wednesday.

For more information about Peace One Day, click HERE and short promotional film is below:

Friday, September 16, 2011

My meeting with a group of amazing students

Sorry, I'm tardy posting here the last few days. I can't use jet-lag any longer as an excuse, but I've had a steep re-entry catching up after a month away.

On Thursday evening I was the guest of the Queer Student Union (QSU) at the University of Virginia (yes, I know the name startles some of you. It is the successor to the Gay Student Union, and in current LGBTQ circles it is thought that "Queer" encompasses a wider understanding of sexuality and takes back a pejorative term from the haters. In any case, I was a guest and pleased for the opportunity to meet students and answer questions).

The reason that I was invited was that a small group of students have applied for recognition for an organization that purports to help gay students change their sexual orientation by reading them the Bible. Such "therapy" is not recognized by psychiatric experts, could be harmful or confusing at best, and frankly, is theologically suspect and makes the Bible into weaponry. The proposed organization prompted the QSU leaders to invite religious leaders to talk with them about this.

I was delighted to accept. More than 50 students were there.

We had a wonderful, free-ranging conversation Thursday evening, and we didn't get finished until well past 10 pm. We talked at length about conflicting biblical interpretations, ancient holiness laws, and modern understandings of marriage. We talked a lot about hate groups that claim to be "Christian," and how to talk with family members who have a hard time reconciling their faith beliefs with sexual orientations that are different than their own. We talked about stereotypes of LGBT people -- and stereotypes of Christians. And we talked about what all students talk about -- daily pressures, expectations, maintaining friendships, exploring new ideas and being away from home.

One thing I tried to emphasize with all of these students. Each one of them is a gift to a very hurting world. I asked them to engage with people who are not like them, so that by being themselves they might change hearts and minds one person at time. I much enjoyed our time together and I hope we can do it again soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A prayer by a renowned poet

On Sunday afternoon I participated an ecumenical service at First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville to remember and honor those who died on September 11, 2001. The cornerstone to the service was a performance of Mozart's Requiem by the combined voices of the Charlottesville Oratorio Society and the University of Virginia University Singers. I am very proud to tell you that the ensemble included many members of our St. Paul's choir.

It was a sobering yet awe inspiring afternoon, with prayers and scripture readings. I was asked to give the closing prayer, and so I read from a newspaper clipping I've been carrying in my prayer book these last ten years. The prayer is by Maya Angelou.

Later, several people asked me to post it. I've done so before, but I am delighted to re-post this again. Here it is:

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By Maya Angelou

Father, Mother God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.

And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.

For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.

For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.

For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.

For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give all the
world that which we need most -- Peace.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering, honoring, forgiving, healing

Today's lessons are Romans 14:1-12, and Matthew 18:21-35. We have a guest preacher, The Rev. Dr. Michael Suarez, who is an English professor at the University of Virginia, the head of the Rare Books School, and a Jesuit priest. He is a dynamic preacher and speaker, a good friend, and I hope you will come hear him at 10 am.

Today is our "Welcome Back Sunday" convocation for the University of Virginia, and we also will remember the attacks of ten years ago in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.

Here is my sermon from the 8 am service:

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Just beyond the door of this chapel, on an outside wall of our church, is plaque that commemorates the people of this parish whose ashes are interred in our garden.
The plaque reads, “We are the Lord’s.” 
The full quote is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 14:1-12, and we hear it this morning:
“Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” 
I believe that is a good place to start on this Sunday, a day that is more somber than many, for as you know, it marks the tenth anniversary of the events we now call “Nine-Eleven.”
Many words already have been spoken, and many more will be spoken today in town squares and places of worship, on television, in the newspapers and on the Internet. 
The New York Times is devoting an entire edition, and President Obama will be speaking later this afternoon at the National Cathedral. 
We will, by day’s end, be saturated with words. 
So I do not propose to say much today, but do propose to say a few things. 
We must note that in these last 10 years have been troubled at best, not just for us as Americans but for much of the world. 
Our politics at home, and in much of the world, is more polarized, coarser, more personal, more hateful. 
The same can be said for religion throughout much of the world. The xenophobic intolerant fringes of Christianity, Islam and Judaism have moved into the mainstream in many places.
At home, our economy is brittle and our national spirit is even more brittle. 
Much of the world is mired in poverty, made worse by economic recession and the paralysis of western democratic governance. 
We’ve fought two wars in the last ten years, and those wars have not come out as their architects promised. Wars rarely do. 
Nine-Eleven has made us less trusting of each other, less trusting of the world, less trusting of “the other.” And that is sad. 
Yet in all of this, we are still the Lord’s. All of us. That is a good place to stand today.
We especially do well to remember not just who we are, but whose we are. We are the Lord’s. There truly are no boundaries for our Lord. 
Everyone is embraced by our God – you, me, those we love, and yes, our enemies and those who wish us harm. We do well to remember who else is the Lord’s. 
Our loving God created us for this purpose: to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our God with all our hearts and all our minds, to be healers and peacemakers. 
If we have any privilege at all as Christians, it is to be healers and peacemakers. 
As we appropriately remember the devastating events of 10 years ago, we should also remember that even in the smoke and ashes, peacemaking broke out. Even on that day.
You could see it all across this country as people came together to dry the tears of those in pain, to pause, to hold each other, to pray together. 
You could see it in the street-wise New Yorkers who put themselves in harm’s way to rescue strangers. 
A few weeks after the attacks, Lori and I went to New York to Ground Zero to see for ourselves. 
We spent a day at St. Paul’s Chapel, the Episcopal church that was in the shadow of the World Trade Center. 
When the towers crashed, St. Paul’s Chapel found itself on the edge of a crater. The graveyard was covered with debris and the pulverized remains of the dead. 
In the days and months, and the year that followed, St. Paul's Chapel became a refuge for those digging out the dead and removing the rubble. 
When Lori and I went there, the work was in full swing. I wrote this in my notebook:
"St. Paul's was overwhelming, with a shrine to the dead in one corner, and banners on every wall and cards hanging from every pew. Firemen and cops and construction workers were sitting or milling about or eating lunch or catching a nap on a cot. A priest was just beginning the noon Eucharist... The sounds of machinery outside came through the walls. And many inside seemed just very, very weary. Some slumped in pews, some praying, some looking at the ceiling. A group of firemen in full battle gear came in to get water and looked briefly at the prayers then departed...The sights of hope were everywhere, bursting through and covering walls with banners and signs and cardboard colored paper signed and colored by children from all over the U.S. It was awesome and overwhelming and humbling."
All belong to the Lord, and somehow, everyone knew it in that place. It didn't matter if they were Christians, Jews, Muslims or nothing at all. 
Religious labels were irrelevant. St. Paul's Chapel was a place of prayer, a place of sanctuary and a place of rest. All belonged to the Lord, whether they lived or had died. 
The Kingdom of God was surely in that place. Healing was surely in that place. Even forgiveness was in that place. 
Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew, as it happens, is about forgiveness. 

I am aware that 10 years later, forgiveness may not come easily for some, and may never come. Forgiveness that is forced by arguments, or coerced from guilt, is not forgiveness at all. 
Yet somehow I know that people like us – ordinary people – can find places and moments of forgiveness, not just for the calamitous events of 10 years ago, but for the smaller wounds and hurts that are much a part of our daily life. 

We are the Lord’s and the Lord can and will bring us to that place of forgiveness if we find a way to be open to it. 
But I don’t think any of us can get there alone. I believe we need each other and the grace of God to find forgiveness and healing.
Yes, we are called to be peacemakers – to be the blessed peacemakers – but it is hard to be that if we cannot find forgiveness and peace in our own lives. 
Our starting point – and ending point – must be in prayer. 

Not just prayers that are word machines, but prayers from the deepest longings of our hearts; prayers from our wounds; prayers from our dreams and hopes for a better place for all God’s people in this world and in the next.

On this Sunday, this day of remembrance, this day of honoring the dead, this day that I hope will bring forgiveness and healing; I invite all of us into a deeper place of prayer.
I invite each of us to pray for strength and compassion for the living, to pray for healing, forgiveness and especially for peace for all who belong to the Lord, which is all of us in the world. 

And may the God of Hope, the God of Grace, the God of unlimited salvation be our ever-present guide, now and always.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

St. Paul's open today for prayer

Our doors are open today for prayer as we remember the events of ten years ago. Please do come by St. Paul's should the Spirit move you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remarks by Presiding Bishop Katharine on the tenth anniversary of 9/11

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued this statement on the impending tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and I commend this to you.

The photograph, by National Geographic, is of St. Paul's Chapel, the Episcopal church at Ground Zero that was used as a respite station for workers at the site for more than a year. Here are Bishop Katharine's remarks:

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As we mark the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11, The Episcopal Church continues to work for healing and reconciliation.

Americans experienced the first large non-domestic terrorist attack on our own soil that day, a reality that is far too much a present and continuing reality in other parts of the world. We joined that reality in 2001. Many people died senselessly that day, and many still grieve their loss. All Americans live with the aftermath – less trust of strangers, security procedures for travelers that are intrusive and often offensive, and a sense that the world is a far more dangerous place than it was before that day. Our own nation has gone to war in two distant places as a result of those events. The dying continues, and the world does not seem to have become a significantly safer place.

Yet we believe there is hope. People of faith gave sacrificially in the immediate aftermath of the plane crashes, trying to rescue those in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, trying to subdue the aggressors on the plane over Pennsylvania, and reaching out to neighbors and strangers alike on that apocalyptic day. Clergy and laity responded to the crisis in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, and prayer services erupted in churches and communities across the nation. St. Paul’s Chapel, near the site of the Towers, opened its doors to the emergency responders, and volunteers appeared with food and socks, massaging hands and praying hearts. Volunteers continued to staff the Chapel for months afterward, and prayers were offered as human remains were sought and retrieved in the ruins of the Towers.

Church communities in many places began to reach out to their neighbors of other faiths, offering reassurance in the face of mindless violence. That desire for greater understanding of other traditions has continued, and there are growing numbers of congregations engaged in interfaith dialogue, discovering that all the great religions of the world are fundamentally focused on peace. The violence unleashed on September 11th and in its aftermath was the work of zealots, disconnected from the heart of their religions’ foundations.

This tenth anniversary is above all an opportunity for reflection. Have we become more effective reconcilers as a result? Are we more committed to peace-making? The greatest memorial to those who died ten years ago will be a world more inclined toward peace. What are you doing to build a living memorial like that?

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Funnies

Folks, it has been awhile since we've had the Monday Funnies. The Jokester Department here at Fiat Lux Productions has been on vacation. But it is time to get serious, er, silly again, at the expense of organized religion, of course. Enjoy your week, welcome to the Monday Funnies . . .

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An elderly parish priest was tending his garden near a convent when a passerby stopped to inquire after the priest's much-loved roses.

"Not bad," said the priest, "but they suffer from a disease peculiar to this area known as the black death."

"What on earth is that?" asked the passerby, anxious to increase his garden knowledge.

"Nuns with scissors." 
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A priest, a minister and a rabbi were all sitting at a table finishing dinner and discussing theology. Suddenly, an angel appeared before them.

"I have been sent to grant each of you one wish," she said. "Who will go first"?

The catholic priest stood up. "I wish for the destruction of all Protestants!"

Then the protestant minister bolted up. "I wish for the destruction of all Catholics!"

The rabbi kept seated, so the angel asked, "How about you? What do you wish for, Rabbi?"

The rabbi answered, "Well, if you're going to grant their wishes, I'll just settle for another cup of coffee."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My homily today: A few reflections on our time in the Holy Land

At Mount Tabor, the mountaintop
of the Transfiguration
Today's lessons are Exodus 12:1-14Psalm 149Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20. Here is my sermon for today, marking my reentry at St. Paul's.

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Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

It is good to be back among you after many weeks away.

I bring you blessings and greetings this morning from the Right Rev. Suheil Dawni, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem.

Lori and I have completed a 22,000-mile journey to the Holy Land, taking a very circuitous route from here to San Francisco to meet our pilgrim group, then Toronto to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, back to San Francisco, Toronto, and here again. We arrived in Charlottesville at midnight last night.

I am so very grateful to be home again, and gathered among you after so many weeks away.

You were very close to our thoughts and prayers as we got snippets of news about the earthquake and hurricane here. Frankly, we felt safer in Israel.

Thank you for your prayers, your good wishes, your emails, and your good graces in allowing us to be away to take this extraordinary journey.

I am so very grateful for Ann, Nik and Heather, and all of our talented staff; and for Pam, our senior warden, and our Vestry, for shepherding this church in my absence.

I have rested well knowing you were in capable hands. Thank you.

Three weeks ago, we gathered with 27 other pilgrims from all over the world, including five from Virginia and eight from California. Others came from New York, Michigan, Australia and Canada. There were two priests, including me; a bishop from Australia and the Archbishop of Toronto.

We followed in the footsteps of two millennia of pilgrims, retracing the steps to the holiest places of Christendom. We truly became a band of brothers and sisters on the pilgrim path.

We lodged at St. George’s College, next door to St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, our outpost in the Holy Land. Every sect – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – has an outpost in Jerusalem, and this was ours.

I have few preliminary reflections I want to share this morning about our pilgrimage.

Everyone we met – Jew, Muslim and Christian – was friendly and hospitable. Everyone went out of our way to help us; and everyone wanted to share their life with us because they wanted us – and you – to know how they live.

We were there when there was a terrorist attack on the Egyptian border. We discovered that everyone seems have learned how to live with the cycles of violence and conflict and still carry on with daily life.

Everywhere we went, everyone asked us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. At first I thought it was a line. Then I realized everyone we met absolutely meant it from the bottom of their heart.

They truly believe if there is peace in Jerusalem there will be peace in all the whole world. If there can be peace in Jerusalem, there can be peace everywhere.

And I began to believe they are right.

Yet there is so much hatred, so much animosity, so many grievances on all sides, so much distrust, that no one we met believes there will be peace in our lifetime.

Jerusalem is a divided, conflicted and tense city, and that has been so for more than 3,000 years.
Everyone claims Jerusalem and no one owns it.

Years ago, another pilgrim, Colin Thubron wrote of Jerusalem, “religion and politics forever touch hands.”

Religion and politics are inseparable in Jerusalem.

There are no agnostics in Jerusalem – it is the most intensely, overtly and stiflingly religious city I have ever visited. All of the contractions of the Holy Land are encapsulated in the biblical lessons today.

We saw massive churches built atop places where it said that Mary, pregnant with Jesus, met with Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist.

We went to a hilltop where it is said the shepherds heard the angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth, and we saw the ruins of the Church of the Holy Spasm, where it is said Mary felt her first birth pangs.

We went to a place purported to be the Upper Room of the Last Supper. With centuries of building and rebuilding it is now deep underground. The formidable Russian nun who guards it directed us: “Upper room, down.”

We also visited a Palestinian refugee camp, courtesy of the United Nations. We passed through Israeli checkpoints and the massive wall dividing Jewish Jerusalem from Palestinian Bethlehem.

The biblical past and the conflicted present merged everywhere we went.

Near the end of our pilgrimage, we ventured inside dark, almost sinister Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built atop Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion, the holiest shrine in all of Christendom.

And all the while I wondered: How does anyone know these are the precise locations?

The answer always: Tradition.

If anything, I felt the thick smoky layers of church history and hierarchy – the creedal arguments, the schisms and crusades, and the legends built on top of legends in these places. The Holy sometimes seemed buried underground.

It was not until we left the intensity of Jerusalem that I began to feel why this was a “Holy Land.”

On our sixth day, we traveled north to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, to the place where Jesus spent most of his life.

The Sea of Galilee is a serene lake in the desert that felt to me far from the politics and conflicts of the world, and far from the chaos of Jerusalem.

On my first morning at the Sea of Galilee, I got up early and went alone to the shoreline to read Morning Prayer. The lake was green-gray, and the sky misty blue.

I sat on a pebbly beach, and the air was warm even before the sun rose burning red-orange. I could easily imagine Jesus sitting here in silence and prayer, teaching and healing, and working things out in solitude.

Soon the fish were jumping after insects, and my first reaction was wondering why good Saint Peter had such a hard time catching fish (all he needed was a fly rod).

I sat on a rock and read the psalms and biblical lessons for the day, but soon realized that the place where I sat was more powerful than any Scriptural passage.

I put down my Bible and just looked and listened.

I could almost hear Jesus sitting nearby, teaching his followers. The words on the biblical page seemed but a thin reflection of what that must have been like.

It was then that I realized something so obvious that I might have missed it – and this is the one thing I want to leave you with today:

The divine can be anywhere and everywhere. All we need do is notice; all we need do is open our eyes and ears to see and listen.

You don’t have to leave home to find the holy. You don’t have to go on a 22,000-mile pilgrimage.

You can find the holy in this church, or on the corner outside, or in the woods, or on a mountaintop, or in your backyard, or in the classroom.

You can especially meet the holy in the people you meet, the people you love, the people you work with, the people who you share your life with – and you can meet the holy with people who are complete strangers.

They might not even be Episcopalians.

The heart of this is to be heard in the gospel lesson today from Matthew:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Today we are gathered in his name, as others have before us have done, and we will do something extraordinary that connects us with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee and with every one of his followers ever after.

We will be baptizing a young child, Isabel Rose Lopez. We will stand with her and her family, and pledge to walk with her in her life of faith.

We will set forth on a pilgrimage with her.

We will promise to renew ourselves in the prayers and in the breaking of the bread, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

The holy will be among us because the holy is always with us. And you won’t have to look any farther than the person next to you to see the holy. Our life pilgrimage can begin anew today, now, here in this place, and the holy will be among us.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

And pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace. AMEN.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back safely in the United States

Dear friends,

Just a quick post to let you know we are safely back in the United States after 17 hours of flying and six hours in airports. I am still amazed by air travel. Pilgrims of yore took months and years to reach Jerusalem and return home again. Our airplane flew non-stop halfway around the world from Tel Aviv to Toronto in 11 hours. We flew a northern route across Poland, Denmark and crossed the tip of Greenland before entering Canadian airspace. Our connection in Toronto was the most challenging part of the journey, and we made it into San Francisco later in the evening.

We are spending a few days relaxing, napping and unwinding with family and friends in the Bay Area and we will be back in Charlottesville this weekend.

Blessings to all,

Jim & Lori