Aug 3, 2020

Waiting and Fasting

This past weekend's gospel reading about Jesus feeding the 5,000 included some very tangible

echoes of the Eucharist. The same four-fold action that happens in front of the large crowd mirrors Jesus’ movements in the Upper Room. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the gathered assembly. 

At a moment when many are still fasting from Communion and participating in virtual worship, the story of the feeding of the 5,000 engages a deep and soulful yearning. 


In my sermon, I shared a few things I miss about receiving the Eucharist. I've supplemented this list and offer them to you below. I'm sure you have others from your own experience and context. 

  • I miss the altar guild reverently placing the chalice and paten on the altar and veiling the vessels with care and devotion. 
  • I miss young acolytes struggling to light the tall candles, especially when they’ve recently been replaced with new ones. 
  • I miss our Verger racing around before the service making sure we have enough wine and wafers to feed everybody. 
  • I miss the unspoken action of the Eucharistic table setting during the offertory anthem.
  • I miss saying a quiet prayer as the server ritually washes my hands before the Great Thanksgiving. 
  • I miss that brief silence - just a beat - after I raise my arms in prayer and gaze out upon the congregation before the words pour forth.
  • I miss consecrating the elements at the altar, using the ancient manual acts that are both so familiar and meaningfully mysterious. 
  • I miss momentarily losing my place in the altar book and then quickly and, usually seamlessly to the naked eye, finding it again.
  • I miss the well-worn cloth strips used to mark the book, which I still never trust anyone else to set. 
  • I miss the silent choreography with and among the other clergy at the altar. 
  • I miss looking out at the congregation and seeing the familiar faces of people I care so deeply about as I elevate the silver vessels. 
  • I miss looking out at the congregation and seeing the familiar faces of people I care so deeply about as I elevate the silver vessels. 
  • I miss communicating the altar party, especially the wide-eyed look of the newest acolyte. 
  • I miss offering the sacrament first to the choir before they return to their pews to sing the communion anthem and lead the Eucharistic hymns I never get to sing, but often hum along to as I go from one side of the rail to the other. 
  • I miss offering the gifts of God for the people of God. 
  • I miss the pride our ushers take in orchestrating the orderly movement of parishioners from pew to altar rail. 
  • I miss seeing outstretched hands at the communion rail, some covered with magic markers, others covered with wrinkles, and most somewhere in between.
  • I miss the very real presence of Jesus in my own life that only comes through the reception of the Eucharist. 
  • I miss fulfillment of the deepest yearning of my soul. 

We wait. We fast. Yet Jesus abides even in the wilderness. And I take solace in that.

Jul 8, 2020

In Good Faith: Tearing It Down

In my July In Good Faith column, I write about Confederate statues, the reality of racism, and Babe Ruth.

Tearing It Down
The first statue controversy I remember revolved around the Babe Ruth statue outside the newly-constructed Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. No, it wasn’t controversial because it immortalized the iconic player associated with the hated New York Yankees. The Babe grew up not far from the stadium, after all. 

Rather, it had to with his glove. The nine-foot tall bronze statue depicts a young Ruth leaning on his bat, while clutching a right-handed fielders glove on his hip. The problem is Ruth was left handed. Not only did he hit every single one of his 714 home runs from the left side of the plate, he was also a southpaw, first as a pitcher and then as an outfielder. 

Given the controversies surrounding statues of Confederate generals, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the problem of the wrong glove on the Sultan of Swat, seems rather quaint. Since George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis at the end of May, over 30 Confederate monuments have come down across the country. While some have been toppled by protesters, the vast majority have been removed by state and local governments. 

Now, one thing we don’t have in New England are statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or Jefferson Davis on our picturesque village greens. So it’s easy to sound self-righteous railing against statues of Confederate generals from the safe confines of Boston’s South Shore. Heck, here in Hingham, we have a prominent statue of Abraham Lincoln, whose ancestors helped settle the town in the 17th century. Of course, that’s not to say racism isn’t just as present in our own communities as down south — that’s one of the great northern myths about racism. 

But I do not mourn the loss of these statues, which serve as powerful symbols of a hateful and treasonous heritage of white supremacy. Some claim taking them down “erases history,” as if by virtue of their removal, we’ll forget the lessons of the Civil War. Well, I’m not buying it. History isn’t told through statuary, but story. Much of American history has been whitewashed over the years and many stories have gone untold, but that’s changing. Raising our collective awareness about the unvarnished history of this country is one of the great opportunities of this moment. And this happens not in sculpture gardens, but through open hearts and minds.

I’ve gotten to know the Rev. Rob Lee over the years. Yes, he is a direct descendent of General Robert E. Lee, and he’s become persona non grata in certain circles for his belief that all the statues of his famous forebear should come down. In a recent editorial in the Washington Post, titled, Robert E. Lee is my ancestor. Take down his statue and let his cause be lost, Rob wrote, “Perhaps you’ve heard the mantra, ‘The Civil War was fought for states’ rights.’ The catch is that there’s more to that sentence, something we southerners are never taught: The Civil War was fought for states’ rights to enslave African people in the United States of America.” 

This is an important reminder for everyone, regardless of geography. And that’s what these statues stand for. They weren’t erected in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but as part of the Jim Crow south to remind blacks to remember their place in a white dominated society. And they need to go.

Referencing the recently removed statue of his ancestor in Richmond, VA, Rob wrote, “The statue is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships, and policy change.”

That’s the hope. And we surely don’t need bronze statues of Confederate generals to remind us that the ripples of racism still emanate from the original sin of slavery.

Jun 5, 2020

In Good Faith: The Language of the Unheard

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about race, racism, and that which is swirling in our country these days.

The Language of the Unheard

Last week, as part of a year-long parish program on race and racism at our predominantly
Photo by Brooke Bartletta
white church, one of the facilitators, a beloved African-American parishioner and retired dean at Northeastern University, shared with us a powerful quote. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, once said to the noted feminist Bella Abzug on the topic of racism, “Until you really feel as angry about this as I do, ain’t nothing gonna change.” 

I know we are all hurting and frustrated and angry about the injustices that have been revealed, once again, in the lives of our sisters and brothers of color. If you are a person of decency and conscious, let alone faith, this has been a heartbreaking moment in our common life. 

Unfortunately, none of this is new. Racism is deeply embedded in the very foundations upon which this nation was built. This isn’t to belittle a country we all love, rather it’s simply stating objective fact. From the genocide of indigenous people to slavery to segregation, the injustice and indignity with which people of color have been treated is well documented. It has also mostly been ignored by those who’ve written the history books and thereby relegated to the ghetto of white consciousness.

But this past week, the curtain that hides so much racism and violence and degradation and inequality from the eyes of many white people has been torn apart for all the world to see. Between the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the rising death toll of this pandemic unduly felt in communities of color, white Americans are witnessing something of the reality that people of color live with each and every day

The inevitable and righteous bubbling over of emotion reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. once proclaimed that, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” For too long, so many of us have been deaf to the cries for justice that emanate from the voiceless. The act of protest, of agitating for change, is the language of the oppressed. And it is being spoken right now loudly and passionately and with profound clarity. 

Of course, the destructive violence that has, in some cases, accompanied peaceful protests in cities around the country must be condemned. But the greater condemnation must be reserved for the sin of the systemic and insidious racism that continues to plague this nation leading to inequalities in education, employment, health care, housing, wealth, and government representation.

All of which is to say that I encourage your anger. We may not be able to feel it at such a visceral level as our friends of color who fear for the very safety of their children and grandchildren every time they leave the house. But for those of us who are white, we must speak out when we see and encounter racism. It’s not easy; it’s uncomfortable; it won’t make us popular in certain circles; we may lose friends on Facebook; it may make for awkward family dinners. But this is a tiny cost when weighed against the burdens of those whose entire existence is defined by discomfort.

When we do stand up for racial justice, when we say no to treating others as ‘less than,’ when we start to incorporate some of that anger into our very souls, we can slowly, if haltingly, begin to exact real change. A change that must begin within ourselves, before it can spread into the bloodstream of our community, our nation, and our world.

May 8, 2020

In Good Faith: Filling Bare Cupboards

In my May In Good Faith column, I write about the balance between virtual and hands-on ministry during a time of pandemic.

Filling Bare Cupboards

I read an article this week in a British church publication with a pretty damning headline:
YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry.” The young Vicar’s point was that while churches are spending a lot of time figuring out how to live-stream their services, that can’t be all they’re focused on. People are suffering during this time, and we have a moral obligation to meet their physical as well as spiritual needs.

She’s right, of course — although her context is different from the suburban one in which I serve. She ministers to a small, impoverished, mostly elderly parish in London, many of whose members are unable or unwilling to watch online services. She reminded her readers that, “Staying at home is wonderful — when you have a home, with electricity, and food, and a job, and access to the internet, and are computer literate.” And that streaming worship, while important, assumes “that everybody is in a safe and comfortable home setting, and, therefore, the only need to be met is a spiritual one.”

Now, I’d argue that physical needs are spiritual needs. But one of the great needs to emerge out of this pandemic, here on the South Shore and all over the world, is the issue of food scarcity. People are going hungry. People who have never had to use food pantries before are lining up for groceries. Hoarding is driving up the prices of food staples and the ones who can least afford the increases, because of rampant unemployment, are unduly suffering. 

Church leaders can’t simply fiddle with the Wi-Fi while ignoring the increasingly loud cries for help. To address this in our own community, I spent time this week working with our Outreach Ministry to turn our church into a community food drop-off center. We now have bins outside our doors where people can drop off groceries and volunteers are lined up to make regular trips to the three local pantries we support. 

You can log onto our website at www.stjohns-hingham.org for more information. You’ll also find the list of needed items and we ask that you limit your purchasing to the following for now: condiments, cooking oil, cereals, canned meals, pasta, sauce, peanut butter, jelly, boxes of macaroni and cheese, crackers, soups/soup mixes, tuna, instant mashed potatoes, rices/side dishes, Bisquick, flour, Spam, canned hams, oatmeal, toilet paper, Clorox wipes, soap, laundry/dish detergents.

If you’re unable to physically drop off items, but still want to help, you’re invited to donate financially to these pantries — the information is on our website. Either way — dropping off food or making a donation — this is holy work and I encourage your participation.

Faith has always been lived out on the continuum between contemplation and action. We pray, but we also serve. We worship, but we also live out our faith in the world. I like to think of worship as a slingshot that propels us out into the world to do good. We need both sides of the spiritual coin now more than ever. 

And, of course, the streaming of online services and the feeding of the hungry cannot and should not be mutually exclusive. As we are invited to both love God and love neighbor, we can’t help but be comforted even while offering comfort to others. Thank you, if you’re able, for helping to ease the burden of those in our midst who are experiencing unprecedented hardship right now. That’s ultimately what faith is all about.

Apr 19, 2020

Quasimodo Sunday

Today on the Facebook Live Sunday morning pre-game show, I mentioned that the Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Quasimodo Sunday. This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of liturgical minutia and I thought I'd take a brief moment to explain why. 

The name has nothing to do with a certain French hunchback BUT there is a connection to Victor Hugo's character. I'll get to that shortly. 

But the reason the Sunday after is Easter is called Quasimodo Sunday is because of the Latin introit traditionally sung at the beginning of the liturgy: Quasi modo geniti infantes. It's translated as "like newborn infants" and comes from the second chapter of the First Letter of Peter, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation."

The reference is to those who were baptized during the Easter service, whether infants or adults. New Christians live into their baptismal vows throughout their lives and this is a prayer for spiritual maturity.

In The Hunchback of Notre DameMonseigneur Claude Frollo finds the deformed, abandoned child inside Notre Dame Cathedral on the Sunday after Easter. That's right, on Quasimodo Sunday! 

In Hugo's words, Frollo "baptized his adopted child and called him Quasimodo; whether it
was that he chose thereby to commemorate the day when he had found him, or that he meant to mark by that name how incomplete and imperfectly molded the poor little creature was. Indeed, Quasimodo, one-eyed, hunchbacked, and bow-legged, could hardly be considered as anything more than an almost."

So there you have it. A connection to the famous novel, but Quasimodo Sunday is much older than Quasimodo the fictional character.

Oh, and if you're curious about the Latin introit, you can listen to it here.