Nov 16, 2014

Collect of the Day

One of my favorite collects in the entire Book of Common Prayer is the one appointed for Proper 28, the Sunday closest to November 16th. 

[Note for non-Episcopalians: the word "collect" in this context is simply Anglican-ese for "prayer" and is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable].

Here's how it reads in contemporary language:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The idea of "inwardly" digesting Scripture is a delicious image -- and I couldn't resist pulling out the good silver for this photo.

The collect itself was written by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, author of the first Book of Common Prayer, for the Second Sunday in Advent. The original 1549 version was composed thusly:
BLESSED Lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to bee written for our learnyng; graunte us that we maye in suche wise heare them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste them; that by pacience, and coumfort of thy holy woorde, we may embrace, and ever holde fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast geven us in our saviour Jesus Christe. 
In the Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, Massey Shepherd points out that the reference to "all holy Scriptures" hearkens to Cranmer's criticism of the medieval service books -- namely that they did not include readings from the entire Bible. Cranmer makes this very point in the Preface to the 1549 book (which you can read on pages 866-867 of the current 1979 Prayer Book). Cranmer's first Prayer Book remedies this situation by including the reading of "all holy Scriptures" via a cycle of lectionary readings.

All of which is simply to say, let the feast begin!

Nov 11, 2014

In Good Faith: Drawing it Up

In my latest monthly In Good Faith column, I write about things that don't always go according plan. So, pretty much, life. Along with a shout-out to a certain cocktail you should consider whipping up when your boiler dies.

Drawing it Up

Things don’t always go according to plan. That’s no great newsflash to anyone who’s lived for more than, oh, about two minutes. You might have just preferred to keep that umbilical cord intact, thank you very much. But that’s just the first of a lifetime of challenges to preferred outcomes.

We tend to create a vision of how we see our lives unfolding and then it plays out the way it plays out. That’s not to say we have no control at all, but unforeseen circumstances are part of life and our ability to adapt and improvise and be flexible are often what separates personal satisfaction from bitter disappointment. 

After a busted play ends up going for a long gain, football commentators often say, with the un-nuanced irony of the ex-jock, “Well, that’s just how they drew it up.” Sometimes a pass hits a receiver in the helmet and bounces right into the hands of a teammate. Great! But you can’t put that identical play into next week’s game plan.

We don’t “draw up” things like the death of a loved one or a divorce or a child with special needs or financial instability or addiction or a mental health crisis. That’s not part of the vision for our life that we have so carefully laid out. But these things do happen and the first perfectly understandable response is often shame or anger.

The unexpected, the painful, the busted play of life is inevitable -- it’s part of the human condition. The good news for people of faith is the knowledge that God is present through it all. Standing beside us, comforting us, strengthening us, weeping with us. That doesn’t make painful things magically disappear but it gives us the confidence to move forward, however haltingly. 

The boiler at my church breathed its last this month. Great timing, right? Just as it was starting to get cold in New England, just as we were initiating the annual pledge campaign to fund our ministries for the coming year, just as...okay, there’s never a good time for the boiler to die. But we were hoping to get another couple of years out of the old beast before having to fund a new one. 

The point is, again, things don’t always work out the way you drew them up in the locker room of life. And sometimes you just have to shake your head, laugh at the absurdity of the situation, and host a Boilermaker Party to raise money for the new boiler (that’s a shot of whisky dropped into a beer, if I remember correctly from my fraternity days).

In the end it all comes down to “Is this my plan for God or God’s plan for me?” It’s human hubris to think we’re in charge of things because, frankly, we’re not. And the sooner we recognize this, the more peace and perspective we’ll have when the inevitable darker moments of our lives arise. 

So go ahead and plan. Why not channel the former Soviet Union and make a five or ten-year plan? But then take the detours that come and the obstacles that arise and live your life fully and joyfully. Even if you have to put on an extra layer when the boiler dies.

Oct 27, 2014

MTV -- Church Edition

Dan Fickes in action with Ocean One Productions
One of the great joys of parish ministry is when parishioners offer their gifts in service of the church. This comes in a variety of ways from fixing a leaky toilet to offering healing prayers to cooking a meal for a homebound parishioner. It is the very essence of stewardship -- sharing our talents and resources with the community.

This year, as part of our annual campaign, parishioner Dan Fickes offered his professional talents to help us create a video to tell the St. John's story. Dan runs his own production company, Ocean One Productions, that has done work for both non-profits (Boston Symphony, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Museum of Science) and corporations (Reebok) over the years.

About six months ago I asked if he would be willing to help us put together a little video as part of our fall stewardship drive. Dan enthusiastically agreed and spent some time interviewing a number of parishioners and shooting "B-roll" video (I learned a hip production term for secondary footage!).

What transpired was Spirit-filled and I thought I'd share it here on the blog. It's really in two parts -- the first being an introduction to the parish that will end up on the front of the home page; the second is specific to financial stewardship. So it's "What do you love about St. John's" paired with "Why do you give to St. John's?"

I love how it came out and I'm very grateful to Dan and his team for pulling it together on budget ($0) and on time! Check it out. It may inspire you to undertake a similar project in your own parish.

(The 'ask' starts at 4:50 -- which is actually quite compelling. In fact so much so that I'm sure you'll want to fill out our online pledge card!)

Joan, a longtime parishioner and newly minted nonagenarian, is not thrilled with the YouTube generated screenshot but I told her not to worry since it makes her look "prayerful."

Oct 20, 2014

Ecclesiastical Mud Slinging

It's hard to turn on the television these days and not be bombarded with political ads. Specifically, negative ads. 

I've always been fascinated with campaign mud-slinging from Willie Horton to Swift Boats to Dukakis in a tank, there have been some classic ones over the years. Granted, "classic" can mean tinged with racism, mean-spirited, half-truths, etc. But, still, it's an interesting window into what moves or fails to move the human soul.

I did play an active role in a political attack piece back in the (pre-seminary) day. Some of you know that I worked on and ran political campaigns for a living for 3 1/2 years after I graduated from college. I worked on the federal, state, and local levels in several states across the country -- everything from city council to U.S. Senate.

After I made the conscious decision to leave politics, I had one last hurrah as a consultant doing "opposition research" for a state senate candidate in Maryland. He was running against a long-serving, do-nothing, back bench incumbent and we knew he'd missed a number of votes over his many years. So I was dispatched to Annapolis to spend a couple of weeks painstakingly researching his record.

It turned out it was worse than we could have imagined -- he had missed literally thousands of votes including ones on key issues. So the campaign sent out a direct mail piece (pre-internet age) in the days just before the election with nothing but an empty chair on the cover. Inside were the details but the message was clear and effective -- and the reformer went on to win the seat.

After the election, the losing candidate sued us -- I had to give a deposition for the first and only time in my life -- but there were no grounds. It was all true and the case was thrown out.

Anyway, this has naturally made me think about what negative ads would look like in bishop elections. So, for your enjoyment, I've written a few scripts. If you're IN an episcopal election right now, consider going negative against your fellow nominees. I'm certain it would be well-received among convention delegates.

Soft on Sacrament

Did you know…

The Rev. Bob Carter never attends church [picture of padlocked church building] while vacationing (in the Virgin Islands)? [blurry picture of someone drinking beer on a tropical beach]

Nearly 1/3 of his baptismal candidates eventually become atheists? [picture of children dancing around a may pole]

Fr. Carter often delegates the early service on Sunday morning to his cadre of curates? [image of cassock-wearing cleric snoring in bed]

58% of the weddings he officiates end in divorce? [picture of bride and groom torn in two]

The Rev. Bob Carter. Soft on Sacrament.

Give it Away Now

Mother Joanne Bond loves to spend other people's money. [background music: "Give it Away Now" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers]

As a parish priest she never tithed, yet pleaded for others to increase their pledge every single year.

Now she wants to be your bishop and has said she'll work to increase the diocesan assessment for all parishes. Why? To give it away to "the poor."

If you consider the diocesan assessment just another "tax," you cannot in good conscience vote for Mother Bond. Keep Bond where she belongs: on Diocesan Council.

Mother Joanne Bond. Just another tax and spend liberal cleric.

Angel of Death

[video of deserted, run down cemetery] In the last 10 years Fr. Bill Simpson has done twice as many funerals as baptisms.

He might call this "pastoral care." We call it killing the church. [ominous organ music]

If Fr. Simpson is elected bishop, churches will die and parishes will become little more than funeral factories. [black and white picture of pre-labor movement, industrial revolution era factory; cut to picture of mass grave]

We need a bishop, not an angel of death. Don't let Fr. Simpson kill your grandmother [picture of sweet grandmother knitting in rocking chair]. Her blood will be on your hands.

Sing a New Song

[grainy video of priest butchering the singing of the sursum corda] It's been said that those who sing, you'll be the one praying twice -- for her to stop singing.
pray twice. If Mother Kim Stanley becomes your bishop,

We expect horrible noises during the Blessing of the Animals when a pack of dogs attacks the lone hamster. But the church is not a zoo [picture of cock fighting] -- screeching from the altar each week kills the soul and defames the sacrament.

Don't let the words of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil be changed to "This is the night…that will never end."

If Mother Stanley is elected, the money in the diocesan budget dedicated to the poor will instead be spent on ear plugs.

We've come too far to elect a tone deaf bishop who insists on singing.

Don't let Evensong become…Evensuck

Oct 17, 2014

Monk in the Midst: Bishop Tom Shaw

Over the coming weeks and months there will be many stories and recollections of the late Bishop of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw. He touched people all over the world with his deep spirituality, humility, good humor, and passion for justice in the name of the Gospel.

All together these memories create a kaleidoscope of a faithful life lived in service of our Lord; a life that impacted thousands in ways gentle and bold, public and private. Some reflections will be shared quietly among friends and colleagues, others will be shared in newspapers and liturgies, still others will be pondered and treasured in the hearts of individuals.

I had the privilege of serving under Bishop Shaw for a quarter of his 20-year episcopacy. There are others that knew him for much longer and with much deeper intimacy. Yet I find myself compelled to share a few thoughts about a man who has been an important part of my own spiritual journey over these past five years in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

A few years ago Bishop Shaw called the church to ask me if I would become a member of the diocesan Commission on Ministry. ("Hi it's Tom" -- panic as I thought "Who the heck is Tom?" and then "Oh, that Tom"). I begged off but offered to help him with any other projects that might "better use my gifts." At a subsequent visitation he told my congregation, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was "stunned" at my response since "no one ever said no to me before."

Well, several months later he called again, this time asking if I would help him brainstorm some ideas to help him better communicate with the diocese. Well, the last thing the internet needed was Tom Shaw tweeting. Just not his thing. At all. So social media was out. But as I thought about it and talked with him it became clear that the bishop was a master storyteller with the ability to perceive the Spirit in unique ways. I mean, he was a monk after all. So I thought a video project would make the most sense. We got diocesan Communications Director Tracy Sukraw on board, hired a videographer, and "Monk in the Midst" was born.

We had several planning meetings -- all at a coffee shop in Harvard Square near his monastery and soon started filming and releasing seasonal and topical videos starring...Bishop Shaw.

The most memorable of these experiences, for me, was going to Copley Square to film an installment a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing. The place was still crawling with news trucks and reporters and police on a beautiful spring day. Before setting up we spent a good amount of time taking in the impromptu memorials comprised of t-shirts, flowers, running shoes, teddy bears, and hand-made signs. And, following his lead, offering silent prayer for the victims and their families, for the city of Boston, for people everywhere suffering from violence.

Tom exuded a prayerful presence in the memorial area as the bustle of Boston swirled around him. People looked stunned, or resigned, or tearful and I just sensed the bishop's love for all of them as he stood in the center of it all.

This is the image I'm left with as I reflect on Tom's life and ministry: a monk in the midst of it all, offering presence and comfort and hope; standing as an icon of sorts, a window into the divine love of Jesus Christ.

These last months of his life have been hard for us all as the effects of the brain tumor ravaged his body and mind. But the one think it couldn't touch was his spirit. Because Tom Shaw himself always pointed towards the Resurrection.

And thus this time in our common life is truly an Easter moment. Easter reminds us that despite the tragedies and trials we all face in this life, rarely as public as with a bishop, death doesn't get the last word. We don't remain on Heartbreak Hill; death doesn't win. Life does. Because when Jesus emerges from that tomb life wins out over death and that false boundary between life and death is breached once and for all. So there remains life in the midst of death; just as there remains in our memories a monk in the midst.

May Tom's soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory.