Let Your Life Speak

Crunch!—-the sound of gears suddenly shifting. I recently offered my car to the Canon Musician to use on an errand only to discover he has never learned to drive stick shift. So, I am aware that my verbal allusion of “crunch” to the sound of gears grinding might be an unfamiliar sound for Americans, who it seems to me universally drive automatic transmission vehicles. Yet, the gospel reading today evokes for me the sound of gears grinding as the Lectionary seeks to take us through a sudden turn and up a steep hill.

Since September, we have been working through the central sections of Mark’s gospel and arrive on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time with a quick change of gear as we shift into John. Mark’s Gospel has been a good companion for us during the two months of our Annual Renewal Program at Trinity Cathedral. It has provided us with our central motif, that of being on the road accompanying Jesus and his uncomprehending disciples as they walk the road to Jerusalem. The road to Jerusalem has become for us a metaphor for our own journeys, the journeys we are making as individual disciples. Together we make a journey as the community of God’s people in this location of time and place.

Mark’s very human portrayal of Jesus as a prophet and visionary, walking, talking, teaching, healing, and confronting both those who accompany him and those he meets on the way, is replaced by John’s very different image of Jesus. The prophet-visionary, reminiscent of Isaiah’s Son of Man, gives way to John’s majestic and self-contained Son of God. 

We encounter a regal Jesus, who throughout his encounter with Pilate remains stationary, a seemingly non-anxious presence standing alone in the portico of Pilate’s Praetorium. It is Pilate who, no less than seven times, rushes in and out, shuttling between his judgement seat, the source of his power, and the portico, the place of unnerving encounter with this mysterious and perplexing figure. Throughout their encounter, it is Jesus, not Pilate, who controls the direction of the conversation.  We miss the point if we simply focus on the content of the debate Pilate is seeking to have with Jesus concerning the nature of kingship. The power of John’s image lies in the way Jesus embodies the kingship of God. Like a Wimbledon Champion, who has gained control of the match forcing his opponent to run all over the court, Jesus remains still in the face of Pilate’s increasingly anxious scurrying to and fro.

While the image of Christ as King can be squarely located in the Christology of John’s Gospel, the feast of Christ the King is, comparatively, of recent origin. In 1925 Pius XI instituted the feast as a protest against the rise of fascism. In 1969 Paul VI moved it from the last Sunday in October to last Sunday before Advent. With the adoption of the Ecumenical Three Year Lectionary, Anglican Churches, including the Episcopal Church, have adopted Christ the King as the finale to the liturgical year. Christ the King has replaced our old Stir-up Sunday, a name commonly thought by many in England to derive from the Sunday when your gestating Christmas Pudding gets its first vigorous stir. Actually, the name comes from the opening lines of the Collect: Stir up our hearts, O Lord.

Today was chosen as Commitment Sunday to bring our Annual Renewal Program to a close. Last week, I posed the question, “does today present the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning with respect to stewardship?” Our intention is that, today, we mark the end of the beginning as our focus on stewardship becomes a year long process extending throughout 2013.

The notion of year-long stewardship goes to the heart of the journey we take when we set out on the road with Jesus. Time and again, I have referred to our difficulty of being on this road. The necessary limitations of our own small imaginations make it frightening for us to consider the changes that will result when we shift from identifying with the worldly appearance of our lives to identify with the dream that God is dreaming us into becoming.

Identifying with God’s dream for us, and for our world, leads us want to love God and God’s world. When we are changed through love our anxious, culturally inculcated, self-sufficiency becomes transformed into an experience of being enough and of having enough.

Discovering that we are enough and we have enough is the fruit of discipleship, a fruit that takes us beyond the limitations of our imaginations:

into a freedom to celebrate with joy rather than frenzy, to buy and give only out of love rather than out of insecurity or compulsion, and to give thanks for all that we have been blessed with rather than focus on what we’ve been told we lack  (David Lose, A Kings Gift, Working Preacher 2012). 

As Jesus stands before Pilate, he is the image of a non-anxious presence. His is a life given over to the love he shares with God, and this frees him from fear. Many of us feel that we don’t know how to love God. Yet, within each of us is a deep ache. When we find the place where we ache we become aware of our deep need to want to love God. It is from here that we start on the road to loving God.

Since the second week of September,  I have been encouraging us to notice the journey of being on the road. Along the way we have passed key sign posts. Each sign post directs us towards a possibility of deepening our sense of meaning and purpose in life by following Christ into love with God.

Being dutiful servants, doing good to feel good, is not enough. Christians are more than good people doing what good people do. Being faithful givers, honoring our responsibilities to the institution that does good is not enough. We must become people who open our wallets because we long to open our hearts. It’s our desire to open our hearts that conforms our generosity. Our hearts become filled with gratitude as our eyes open to the goodness of God’s love, manifested through the ordinary joys of living. We begin to become less anxious as we let go of the illusions of self-sufficiency and the need for self-assertion.

As Jesus stands before Pilate, he is the image of a non-anxious presence.  Parker Palmer in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, offers us an image taken from his Quaker wisdom. It’s the image of letting your life speak. This is how Jesus embodies his Kingship before Pilate. He is not attempting to speak his life, rather he is simply letting his life speak him.

Palmer’s Quaker wisdom suggests to me a picture for our transformation into discipleship:

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. 

Year-long stewardship is to embody our calling, our vocation to discipleship. Our motivation comes from that place where we ache to fall more deeply in love with God and with one another.  Jesus’ embodiment of his Kingship speaks-out his life of love with God. This is a different vision of power, and Pilate is unable to imagine it. Amid the sound of gears crunching our lives speak out our longing to love God more. For is not our calling, our vocation as disciples, to become centers of non-anxious presence in a world constrained by fear?

The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

Maybe some are getting bored with my use of the image – being on the road – to describe the continual process of being in discipleship. This is literally a physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. It’s also a spiritual journey during which Jesus teaches the disciples about the meaning of being his followers. What we have noted time and time again is how difficult it is for the disciples to grasp Jesus’ message. They are encapsulated within the necessary limitations of their own conventional imaginations.

Accompanying Jesus along this road to Jerusalem we have had to climb onto a road that has led us to challenge the necessary limitations of our own conventional imaginations (refer back to my blog entries since the beginning of  September).

I use the term necessary because, being a part of our own society with its conventional attitudes and ways of looking at the world, offers us the illusion that we are protected from an exposure to the risk. Risk describes the process we experience as fear and anxiety when we contemplate becoming unconventional. When we begin to realize that what God is calling us into requires breaking company with the comfortable anonymity of keeping our heads down and mindlessly grazing along with the heard. Risk is the experience of breaking out of the necessary limitations of our own imaginations into a glimpsing of something new. The new always begins with a sense of the unfamiliar.


Jesus is now in Jerusalem and he seems not to like what he sees. He notes a Temple religious system that through the force of convention functions to outwardly oppress and impoverish the poor while rewarding the rich. It is a system that encourages the poor to further impoverish themselves in the name of religious duty and fidelity. The pernicious element in systems of oppression is the way they internally conform us into supporting the very world-views that in reality, are the source of our own oppression. Jesus’ observation of the Widow in last week’s Gospel reading seen from this angle is less an endorsement of sacrificial piety and more a comment on her own internalized oppression (see my last entry of Widows and Veterans).

Today’s gospel from Mark 13:1-8 introduces a new and even more frightening tone into Jesus’ conversation with the disciples. This chapter is known to Biblical Scholars as Mark’s Little Apocalypse.

David Loose, commenting on this week’s text notes three core characteristics of apocalyptic writing:

  1. In a nutshell, apocalyptic literature stems from a worldview that believes that everything happening on earth represents and correlates with a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil.
  2. It therefore reads into earthly events cosmic significance and anticipates future events on earth in light of the coming battle between the forces of God and the devil.
  3. Hence, it often tries to make sense of current events and experiences by casting them in a larger, cosmic framework and in this way give comfort to people who are currently suffering or being oppressed.

It appears that Mark is probably writing around 70 AD or, at least, during the period of  the Jewish insurrection that leads to the final destruction of the Temple in 70AD at the hands of Caesar’s legions. The community Mark is writing for is literally living through a period of social collapse with its ensuing chaos. This is probably why his Gospel takes a sharp turn at chapter 13 veering into apocalyptic writing. It’s possible to take out the whole of chapter 13 and not actually disrupt Mark’s larger narrative, moving seamlessly, from the end of 12 to the beginning of 14.


This fearful apocalyptic mindset fills our viewing screens today. As I flip through the TV programs I am aware of at least three series currently running that set us in a post apocalyptic time where following an alien invasion or a nuclear catastrophe or following a mysterious world-wide collapse of the electrical power grid we are plunged into a world where primitive tribal consciousness consigns us to lives that are brutish and short.

We live in an age when the institutions that form the pillars of Western Society seem to have become either unalterably corrupted or are in a state of chronic collapse. The world wide banking system seems corrupted beyond reform. Even the BBC, which is arguably the world’s greatest information and media institution seems continually rocked by its failure over recent years to confront its own silence in the face of entrenched systems of political and societal corruption and abuse.  Our political and judicial systems are in gridlock. At the local level are schools collapse around us for lack of funding and the 20th century version of Institutional Church is clearly disintegrating before our eyes. When we add to the signs of societal collapse the heady cocktail of hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, and the ever increasing degradation of the environment symbolized by the ever rising sea level and depletion of the ozone layer we can understand why apocalyptic fears are alive and kicking in our own time.

However, the point of apocalypse is not, primarily, to frighten or even warn us. Its function is to remind us that the cycle of renewal and the risk of the new requires first that the old order falls away to make way for the new. That this is a traumatic process and that it involves a period of uncertainty and even chaos only shows us that there is light at the end of the long dark and dangerous tunnel.

Systemic change follows an internal change within a each one of us. We come to understand that the critical question is not can we afford to risk things changing, but can we afford to risk things not changing. As this realization reaches a critical mass of individuals, we arrive at what is commonly referred to as the tipping point. Systems change when we realize how little they serve us in their current form.


Next Sunday our Trinity Cathedral Annual Renewal Program, launched on the 7th of October, culminates with Commitment Sunday. This coincides with the feast of Christ the King marking the transition in the liturgical calendar from the Sunday’s of Ordinary Time to Advent, the Church’s New Year. The active phase of our annual renewal will come to an end with Commitment Sunday. However, annual renewal is a year long activity that invites us to attend in new and novel ways to the enrichment of our spiritual lives as individuals and as the community of God’s faithful people at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central.

There may be an assumption that attending to our spiritual growth will not involve pain and the uncertainty of risk. All around us we see the signs of change amidst a continual collective expression of anxiety and fear that what lies ahead is only an ensuing chaos as the world we know passes away.

The disciples ask Jesus how are they to recognize the signs of the birth pangs of the new order? Jesus’ response is to reassure them. ‘Don’t be alarmed’, he tells them, about how things appear. Only watch for the signs of change that must take place.

Over the next 12 months at Trinity Cathedral we will together be watching to note the signs – in each of us, in our congregation, in our country – that promise to open us to the new things that God dreams to be accomplished?

Of Widows and Veterans

Tomorrow will be the first Sunday in just over two months that I am not preaching. I am enjoying the freedom to roam a little more widely in this blog entry.

Stewardship    At Trinity Cathedral a number of themes come together for us on Sunday 11th November. For us it is another Sunday in our intentional conversation over the course of our two month Annual Renewal Program for 2013. The Gospel appointed for the day is the famous story of the Widows Mite. Preachers everywhere will be trotting out the tried and true interpretation that casts the widow as an example of virtuous and generous giving in contrast to the nasty and corrupt Scribes.

This will be especially the case in the Episcopal Church,  for this Gospel reading allows the clergy, usually squeamish about addressing the issue of money, to claim Jesus’s mandate for doing so on this  Stewardship Sunday.

I have been addressing discipleship and in particular our stewardship of money for several weeks now. In my sermon summary that went out in our E-blast yesterday and will appear in the Sunday Bulletin, I am afraid I caved-in, and went for this traditional take (the self-scarificial generosity of the widow) on the Gospel Story. My excuse is that space didn’t allow for much more.

Remembrance     I will return to the Gospel in a moment. However, I want also to note that tomorrow is the Sunday of the Veterans Day weekend. This weekend in November marks the ending of the First World War, when at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns on the Western Front fell silent bringing to an end the greatest war of human carnage history has known. Armistice Day, later renamed Remembrance Day still carries a huge emotional and spiritual significance for not only the British, but also for the peoples of  New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and our nearest neighbor to the the north, Canada.

In these countries most people still practice the wearing of the red poppy for Remembrance. The red poppy came to symbolise the futility of war and the carnage of death because in the springtime of 1918, the churned-up, battle-scarred, blood-soaked fields of Flanders in Northern France were transformed by fields of red poppies coming into bloom. Those at Trinity with longer memories tell me that the wearing of the poppy was once the custom in the US as well. I am not sure why the wearing of the poppy has fallen out of vogue here.

People tell me that Memorial Day is the day for remembering those fallen in the service of their country and that Veterans Day carries a wider meaning of celebration of service for the nation. At Trinity Cathedral we will attempt to bring both aspects to mind as we remember the futility of war through honoring the fallen as well as acknowledging the commitment to service not only of all Veterans, but of the men and women in many different walks of life who serve the needs of their communities, their nation, and the wider world through unstinting daily acts of self sacrifice.

Self-scarifice    Self-sacrifice offers a nice segway back to the Gospel Story of the Widows Mite. I am with those who question the traditional interpretation of Mark 12:38-44. This interpretation casts Jesus as praising the self-scarifice of the Widow in contrast to the self-inflation of the Scribes. It tends to divide the passage into two, condemnation of the arrogance and corruption of the Scribes and praise for the Widow. Yet, the passage has to be taken as a whole.

Firstly, the corruption and power of the Scribes is the cause of the Widow’s poverty. As a widow, the estate left by her husband would have been administered by the Temple Scribes, who were like the court appointed trustees of our own day appointed because women had no legal status. The Scribes, in the absence of laws on financial regulation, fraudulently devoured the property they administered in trust, and so the Widow may well have been literally homeless. Yet, nevertheless she comes to the treasury and gives the little money she has left. The traditional interpretation implies that Jesus praises the Widow’s action. Yet, no where in the text does Jesus praise her or imply any approval.

On the contrary, the whole passage need to be read in the wider light of Jesus overt criticism of the Temple culture. This was a religious system based on fraudulent exploitation of the poor. Jesus sees her action as a demonstration of how the Widow acts against her own better interest because she is conditioned to do so by the religious system she lives within. In his blog commentary on this text D. Mark Davis notes:

The story does not provide a pious contrast to the conduct of the scribes in the preceding section (as is the customary view); rather it provides a further illustration of the ills of official devotion. … She had been taught and encouraged by religious leaders to donate as she does, and Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.

Addison G Wright in his paper on this text, Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament? — A Matter of Context, says

And finally there is no praise of the widow in the passage and no invitation to imitate her, precisely because she ought not to be imitated. 

Conditioning      Organized religion always plays an ambivalent role in any society. This is no less true of our society as it was at the time of Jesus. On the one hand religion motivates and inspires people to transcend narrow self-interest in the service of a wider common good.  Yet, at the same time, organized religion is a pillar of the status quo, and as such, it conditions us all to unquestioningly operate within  systems that privileges some and oppresses others.

None of us can live completely outside the systems that condition our thinking and limit our expectations. We all have to do the best we can within the systems that lead some to believe in, and offer their lives for causes that others perceive as a fruitless self-sacrifice, which goes against a persons self interest in the best sense. That is the nature of society.

Service     Speaking candidly on the issue of war, I cannot support what seems to me to have been 15 years of reckless adventurism by the US-British-led military coalition in the Middle East. Yet, I wish to profoundly honor the many young men and women who have given their lives in the service of our countries. I also wish to honor the courage of those who everyday give up comfortable lives to serve the poor, advocate for the marginalized, visit those in prison, and support those whose communities are ravaged by natural disasters.

For all of us our grasp on what is the truth can only ever be partial. Yet, the message of Remembrance is that there is no greater love than to give of yourself, even to the point of giving your life in the service of others.

Neuroscience, the universe and the soul

I am not a fan of the science of the gaps. By this I refer to that 20th Century idea that mystery and belief are simply waiting for scientific explanation. Science and faith are different discourses and not directly equatable. However, it i

s interesting from a faith perspective to look at what advances in neuroscience can now tell us about consciousness, the soul and death. Neuroscience seems to be showing us explanations for what from faith human beings have always intuited to be true.
Take a look at http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/through-the-wormhole/videos
Through the Wormhole Videos : Science Channel
Hosted by Morgan Freeman, Through the Wormhole explores the deepest mysteries of existence — the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity.

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Observing the fervent celebrations of Halloween, an anthropologist studying American culture might add a line in a learned paper which reads:

The eve of All Saints and All Souls remains one of the great folk religious customs that unifies the otherwise fractious and quarrelsome North Americans. 

Since last Wednesday evening we have been living through a  series of events that have enormous significance for who we are as a people. The sadness is that the significance of these events seems lost to most of the population. Since last Wednesday, we have been celebrating the events of two great traditions, the tradition of Halloween and Día de los Muertos. 

The significance of both these celebrations lies in the eruption of ancient pagan folk religion, which like all folk religion lies buried underneath the brittle carapace – the hard shell of Christianity. On the 1st and 2nd of November each year, the dead-hand grip of both Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy is shattered by the eruption of  deep pagan currents running in the subterranean rivers of the collective unconscious of both Anglo and Latino cultures.

For Halloween Trick or Treating owes its origins in Samhain, the great Celtic celebration of the onset of Winter when the door to the other world opened and feasts were prepared for the souls of the dead and people protected themselves from harmful spirits through donning costumed disguises.

Following the English reformation, the celebration of Halloween was discouraged. The need for a lively celebration at this time of year was transferred to the 5th November – Guy Fawkes, which for the English marks the attempt by one Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament as part of a failed Papist plot to restore Roman Catholicism. This is the night for public celebration with bonfires and fireworks and the burning of the Guy – an effigy of the Pope.

Among the Puritans who settled in American, the celebration of Halloween was strictly forbidden because of its demonic overtones. It seems the popularity of Halloween takes root in America among the millions of Scots and later Irish who, in their own part of the British Isles, refused to abandon the old Celtic festival.

Likewise, the origins of Dia de los Muertos lie in indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. This Aztec festival of honoring of ancestors was colonized  by the Conquistadors and incorporated into the Christian festival of All Saints and All Souls. Yet, the dominant iconography and customs of the Aztecs continue to live through the Mexican celebration of this most Catholic of festivals.

On Friday night, our congregation of La Trinidad celebrated the Dia de los Muertos. I counted 17 or so from our Trinity congregations among those attending this moving celebration. For me this signifies a wonderful reality. We may be two cultures, but we are one community.  The feast of All Saints and All Souls joins us through our different and yet powerfully related celebrations. In each culture Christianity has baptized divergent pagan practices, which nevertheless express universal themes of relationship between the living and the departed.


Human Nature expresses itself through culture. Our cultures are punctuated with small openings which allow expression of deeper psycho-spiritual needs.  We need these openings into luminescence to illuminate what otherwise becomes the mind-numbing monotony of the here and now.

Our current version of the Book of Common Prayer, compiled in 1979, has brought enormous richness to our liturgical celebrations. The strength of contemporary revisions of our liturgical life is that they emphasize the nature of community in the here and now. Yet, here-in lies a danger, equal to the strength. What the 1979 revision lost was the older version of the Prayer of Intercession which began with the haunting words:

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church, Militant here on earth.

That odd word militant identifies who we are. We are not the whole Church, we are only the Church active in this world. The whole Church includes two other states, which the old prayerbook referred to as the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. My guess is that the vision of the three-fold hierarchy of the Church was abandoned because it is an expression of what I referred to in last week’s blog, as a medieval mindset.

Perhaps the imagery of souls having recently passed through death into the waiting room of Heaven, where they rest in expectation of eventual entry into the white-robed throng of the Saints triumphant in Paradise, does belong to the medieval mindset. Yet, its imagery expresses the truth of reality.

As the pagan elements of our great festivals continue to express, for human beings from time immemorial, life in this world is not all there that can be hoped for. In abandoning the medieval imagery of the Book of Revelation, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water.

The division between All Saints and All Souls expresses our deep human psycho-spiritual need in the face of death. All Saints is a celebration. Through our remembering the great exemplars of the Christian living, our eventual life with God; however, we, as moderns, struggle to imagine it, is, a joyful expectation!

Yet, in the face of death there is sorrow, loss, bewilderment and pain for us as those we have loved are no longer physically present to us. All Souls expresses this element of human need. Our hearts still reach out for those we have lost. Our hearts open in the urgency of prayer for those who are still achingly loved and yet no longer present to us. The vision of the Church Expectant helps us to picture them now as they wait in the hopeful expectation of becoming. We are compelled through need to pray for them as much as we are compelled through need to ask the Saints, who having already attained the joy of paradise, to pray for us. For we are all united in one Church through the timelessness of relationship – uniting militant, expectant and triumphant states of being.


At first sight it may seem odd to us that the Lectionary appoints the Raising of Lazarus from John as the Gospel for today.  This is a powerful story in which the themes of faith and grief are linked together. Jesus confronts Mary and Martha with the need to trust, to take the risk of the leap of faith. He asks them to trust and believe in the face of how things seem to be. We see the deep humanity of a Jesus disturbed by grief and sorrow. What this shows us is that grief and faith are not incompatible but complementary.

In the Gospel story of the Raising of Lazarus, God is telling us something crucially important. God is telling us that death is a biological event, not a human event! Biology ends because it is a condition of life in the Church Militant. Humanity is a continuous event and does not end with biological death.

Human life is a process of journeying into the fulfillment of God’s Covenant made with us in Christ. This is a promise that our humanity is more than an accident of biology; it is nothing short of the promise of incorporation into the  life of the divine community that is God.

Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in the one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy son Christ our Lord: Grant, we beseech the, to thy whole Church in paradise and on earth, thy light and thy peace. Amen (Burial Service, BCP Rt I)

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