Vestiges of Rite I

Yesterday marked the twelfth anniversary of my GOE scores and comments arriving by USPS.  I can still remember the power that silly day held over so many of us.  In the two years I studied at VTS before I took the General Ordination Exams, we were all but told to walk on egg shells around the seniors on GOE score day.  These Exams held our futures, and whether we passed or not could mean huge delays in the ordination process.  Of course, by the time January 2007 rolled around, several dioceses had started ordaining folks to the transitional diaconate in the fall semester of their senior year, thereby neutering the power of the GOEs for many.  As I am wont to do, I engaged in some of the anxiety around it all, after all, I wouldn’t be ordained a deacon until after I had successfully graduated from seminary, but I was also keenly away that the GOEs were wearing no clothes.

Rather than ramp up the anxiety machine by making the next generation of GOE takers scared to death to talk to me, I immediately blogged my scores, comments and all, because honestly, like any comprehensive professional certification exam, the whole thing is process of market manipulation and hazing, and ain’t nobody got time for that in the church.  Back in those days, scores were 1-5, with anything less than a 3 was considered a failing grade.  The Liturgy and Church Music question my year asked us to compare Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching our Worship to Eucharistic Prayer I from Rite I in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  I got a 3 and this was part of the comments, “The limited use of theological terminology inhibits the paper’s capacity to compare and contrast the two prayers.”  So, I guess I answered the question barely, which was enough to pass.

Anyway, my focus in that essay was the basic posture from which the prayer is made.  In EOW, the anthropology is quite high.  We come before God almost in our post-resurrection state.  In contrast, Rite I’s basic anthropology is our sinful wretchedness.  I used to think that EOW missed the boat and Rite I was way more accurate a read of humanity, but over time, I’ve started to realize that depending on they day, sometimes, we might need to be bolstered up in our belovedness rather than weighed down in our brokenness.  That being said, it is helpful to occasionally be reminded that God is God and we are not; that God is good, and by and large, we are not.  Which is why I’m grateful for the collect for Epiphany 6/Proper 1.  This prayer, which dates from the mid-eighth century, is quite clear in where humanity falls on the goodness meter.

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As Marion Hatchett writes in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book,  “The collect reminds us that without the grace of God we can neither will nor do any good thing nor be pleasing to God.”  This certainly doesn’t jive with modern “I’m OK, you’re OK” theology, but let’s face it, that’s got to be ok.  If all we do is good, then there is no need for God.  It doesn’t take too long in the world today to recognize that everyone has fallen short of the glory of God, and that, as Dr. Cox would remind us:

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I’m grateful for the vestiges of Rite I, and for the occasional reminder that no matter how good I might think I am, I, like everyone else, am in need of a savior who can lead me into the goodness that God has planned for me.

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Do you hear what I hear?

 

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One of the unintended consequences of “church on the floor” is the reality that I am now sitting four feet from the first person in the pews.  In our usual arrangement, I’m up half a flight of steps, through the choir, and a good forty or more feet from the pews.  As a result of this new experience, I find myself paying attention to the way in which our people are engaged in worship.  For example, during Deacon Kellie’s sermon yesterday, as her mic cut in and out, people were genuinely engaged in her preaching.  They were paying attention, actively listening, in order to hear the good word that she was offering, the Gospel she was proclaiming.

As much as we’d like to believe that our people are consistently engaged in worship on Sunday morning, the reality is, like it is everywhere else, there are moments in the liturgy when the congregation is somewhere else.  I’m not sure where they are: pondering brunch plans, stressed about money, planning the week ahead, or deep in prayer are all possibilities.  However, I am keenly aware of where our folks are during the reading of the lessons – they are in their bulletin, following along with the text that is set before them, and I’m not 100% convinced that is a good thing.

Our collect for Proper 28 is specifically focused on the role of Scripture in our lives.  (I’ve written a chapter on this collect in “Acts to Action,” which I hope you will read (you can buy at forwardmovement.com (and, full disclosure, for which, I do not receive any compensation))).  It highlights that Scriptures’ primary role in our lives is as a teaching tool, and that the primary way with which we are to engage the Bible is not through our eyes, but through our ears.

There is something unique that happens when we just listen.  Our brains receive the information in a different way than if we are following along, anticipating the next word that is printed before us.  When we listen to the text, we join with the majority of our illiterate siblings in Judeo-Christian history in receiving God’s great love story as it was originally told, out loud, as a tale passed down from one generation to another.  In listening, our imaginations go to work.  We can find ourselves inside the story.  We can hear it in our own unique way.  We may not hear what our neighbors’ hear, but we can hear what God has to say to us in that exact moment.

This Sunday, as we pray the collect for Proper 28, I hope that you’ll join me in putting down your bulletin and just listen.  Listen for the word that God has for you.

Answering the Call

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Father Thomas and me at my ordination

This post is nearly a decade in the making.  Truth be told, it is probably better suited on January 24th, when I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, but given the bookends of today, it seems appropriate to move things up a week.  As I noted in Monday’s post, today two Colleges of Presbyters will gather.  First, in Mobile, Alabama, the clergy of the Central Gulf Coast will gather at the altar of All Saints’ Church to give thanks to God for the life and ministry of the Rev. Cn. Maurice Branscomb. Then, this evening, priests from around the church will join with those of us in the Diocese of Kentucky to lay hands on the Rev. Becca Kello as she is ordained to the sacred order of the priesthood.  All of that, coupled with the Collect for Epiphany 3 and my 10th on the horizon, I guess I can’t help but be a little nostalgic today.

Today, I have in mind all of those bishops, priests, and deacons who have had an impact on my ministry.  I’m reminded of Bishops like Creighton, Duncan, Kendrick, White, and Brewer; Priests like Bill, Cindy, Albert, and Keith; and Deacons like Patrick and Kellie.  My prayers are especially drawn to those who have entered into the joy of their master: Bishop Mark, Father Thomas (pictured above), Deacon John, Father B, Norm, and Mark come immediately to mind, but there are others.  I continue to hold in prayer those who are discerning calls to ordained ministry: John, Billy, and Ken.  As I think back on a decade of ordained ministry, I can’t help but recall how intense an experience it is to follow that call; how the Tempter always seems to be around the next corner, how the process is infuriating and deeply powerful, and how, in the end, it all makes sense.  I often still hear the voices of my lay discernment committee at St. Thomas, internship committee at St. John’s, and my field ed committee at St. James’, and I give thanks, daily, for the opportunity to develop an understanding of what call really feels like deep in my bones.

It would be easy to get lost in the idea of call exclusively as it pertains to ordained ministry, but that would betray the meaning of the Collect, and the reality that the ministers of Christ’s Church are, first and foremost, the laity.  Sure, we talk about call most often when it comes to ordination, but that is our failure, not God’s.  The truth of the matter is that every follower of Jesus is called.  Called to proclaim the Good News. Called to share in the restoration of all relationships.  Called to vocation.  You see, call isn’t just about the servanthood of a deacon or being pastor, priest, and teacher or, for a few poor souls, being made one with the apostles, but it is about being a bearer of the Kingdom of God no matter where one lives and moves and has their being.  Call is about being a witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ as a doctor, lawyer, grocery store clerk, small business owner, student, stay at home parent, or retiree.  Call is about sharing the love of God within one’s unique sphere of influence.  Call is about allowing the light of Christ to shine through us, so that the God’s good dream for creation can be seen.  Call is about each of us taking our part in the making Jesus Christ known.  If you are feeling a call, be it to ordination or to a deeper lay ministry, talk to someone.  You local clergy, having some experience with call, would love to walk that road with you.  In the meantime, here is one more prayer for all of us who are called to the service of our Lord, lay and ordained, alike.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in the vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Inwardly Digest

Life is a lot more hectic these days.  I feel like my schedule is not my own.  I try to plan for the unexpected, but it always lives up to its name.  It was about a year ago that I began the process of transitioning from being the First Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s in Foley to the 25th Rector of Christ Church, Bowling Green.  During that period of saying good-bye, pondering hello, and experiencing more change than I can recall in my life, people offered me a lot of advice.  Much of what they told me was wise.  Some of what I heard was ominous.  The most frightening thing someone told me in those two months was “good luck keeping up your blogging schedule.”

A year later, I am keenly aware that I have not kept up this blog with the rigor I once had, though I am proud of what I have accomplished this year.  Rather than four days a week, I’m probably averaging three.  It is a 25% reduction, which I lament, but it is better than a 50% or 100% drop.  Still, while some of you have noticed the infrequency, and especially the occasional week of silence, I assure you, no one feels my change in writing more than me.  For nearly 15 years now, I’ve been writing a blog about the Bible.  More than any other spiritual discipline, I have kept up the practice of reading and journaling the Scriptures.  Each year, on the week of Proper 28, I am reminded of the gift blogging has given me when we pray this collect.

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.

This blog is, for me, an opportunity to inwardly digest the Scriptures.

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Each day, I take time to read the lessons appointed for Sunday.  As a word jumps out at me, I pay attention to or mark it.  I take that word to BibleWorks or Studylight.org or to one of my commentaries and try to learn more about it.  Finally, I turn my attention to how I might take what I’ve learned and inwardly digest it so that I can explain that understanding to someone else.  Honestly, I would write this blog if nobody else read it.  Though, if I’m honest, I do check my stats daily.  But it is in the action of taking what I’ve learned and turning it into words on a screen that I really begin to deepen my understanding of what God is saying through the Scriptures.

Blogging may not be for you.  Perhaps you don’t think people need to hear your thoughts on the Bible, or aren’t so conceited as to think you have some insight to offer.  Journaling privately might be your way into the Scriptures, but then again, maybe that isn’t for you either.  No matter how you do it, I hope this week, as you pray the Collect for Proper 28, you might take some time to consider how you will live it out by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the holy word of God.

Stir Up!

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen. – The Collect for Advent 3

As I mentioned on Monday, for all my dislike of Advent as it plays out in 21st century America, I love Advent 3.  I love the pink candle.  I love the Magnificat.  Above all, I adore the Collect for Advent 3.  Dating all the way back to the Gelasian Sacramentary, this prayer has been on the lips of Christians since c.750.  It was the last of what used to be a series of four “stir up” prayers that were used in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is a 1979 novelty that it falls on Advent 3.

Because of its age, I dug out my copy of Massey Shepherd’s Oxford Commentary on the [1928] American Prayer Book to see what the good Doctor had to say about this prayer.  What I discovered there is that this comforting phrase “stir up” doesn’t actually appear there.  Instead, the 28 Book reads, “O Lord, raise up, we pray thee,…”  In his Commentary on the 79 Book, Marion Hatchett seems to infer that the Latin excita means “to stir up,” but what is actually happening there, is he is showing us the translation.  So, I went digging, and found that excita, can be translated in several different ways.  The Latin Word Study Tool from Tufts University suggests, “to call out, summon forth, bring out, wake, rouse.”

It is doubtful that there are resurrection connotations to this word, but it certainly assumes that something has gone dormant.  How often do we quell the power of God in our lives?  Isn’t is so much easier to lull that piece of us to sleep so that we can go about the motions of life, unencumbered by the fearful power of God?  It is a common fact of modern, western Christianity that the Spirit, that dangerous force that calls us to God’s will, is undervalued and systematically hushed.

This prayer, then, is a dangerous one.  It is asking God to rouse that power that we would much rather keep quashed.  It invites the Spirit to work in our lives for the restoration of our souls and the whole world.  It ought to be taken quite seriously.  This Advent, are you interested in stirring up, rousing, reinvigorating the power of God in your life, or would you rather keep things safe and calm, removing yourself from the possibility of being an agent of God’s reconciling love in the world?

Hold Fast to Hope

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I told myself I wouldn’t let it happen.  I prayed that I’d steer clear of it.  I wrote two blog posts in a row against it.  And I failed.  Last night, as I watched the election results, I fell into fear.  As a minister of the Gospel, called to care for “young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor,” I stand firm against any and all forms of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-semtism, and any other oppressive force employed by human beings against another human being.  I watched, somewhat from the periphery for my own mental well being, as the candidate Donald Trump tapped into these very forces in order to drum up an electorate from every nook and cranny in every one stoplight town in America.  And last night, as the map turned red along with the stock markets, I let fear creep into my heart.

I confess before God and you that I thought the worst, if only briefly, about the millions of Americans, some of whom are my dear friends, who cast a vote for Donald Trump.  I got angry at the hatred and fear that seem to run rampant in this country.  I went to bed at 11:30 bitter and afraid.  I hope you will forgive me for my fearful thoughts last night.  I know that God already has. I woke up to my alarm clock at 5, picked up my phone, and read Morning Prayer.  Somewhere in them midst of Suffrages A, I found the peace that passes all understanding.  I let go of the fear and the anger, and I was reminded, yet again, that my calling to care for the outcast, oppressed, widows, and orphans does not depend on who occupies the White House.  I felt a calm resolve to be about the Gospel and to show and share the love of God with everyone I meet.

Then I opened Facebook and saw my newsfeed filled with the vitriol that had made my night so restless, and I felt sad, and, quite frankly, embarrassed by the reaction of my Hillary Clinton supporting friends.  It seems that both sides have forgotten that the other is made in the image of God and we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  As I scrolled and wondered how it is I had moved from fear to peace so quickly, I kept being drawn to the word “hope.”  The reaction I was seeing was one of hopelessness, and I realized I can’t buy into hopeless.  Instead, as the Collect for Proper 28 reads, I am holding fast to hope.

Over and over again in the Scriptures, the mouthpiece of God, be it an angel, a prophet, or even God’s own voice, commands us to not be afraid.  When we fall into fear, we allow the deceiver access to our lives.  We see others as the enemy.  We see resources as scarce.  We engage in zero sum games, when the reality is that in the Kingdom of God, there are no losers.  Fear is not the Gospel, hope is, and hope leads us to action.  So today, like every other day, I commit to sharing the good news of God’s love with a world that needs to hear it; I commit to checking my privilege with regularity; I commit to caring for my LGBT sisters and brothers; I commit to learning more about the ways in which young black men are incarcerated and killed at a much higher rate than any other group of people; I commit to supporting my Muslim brothers and sisters in their right to worship without fear; I commit to making sure the poor have the means by which to escape their poverty; I commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees as Jesus Christ; I commit to a life of hope  because God is still in control.  I hope you will join me in holding fast to the hope that comes from God and God alone.



You’ll have to forgive a little bit of eisegesis on the Collect for Proper 28C, but the day after a Presidential election this divisive seems to invite some pastoral latitude.

Knit Together

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I am not a knitter.  I don’t crochet.  I did a macrame piece in art class once, but I’m not sure I even remember what that means anymore.  Still, the leading image of the Collect for All Saints’ Day is not lost on me, even if I don’t know how to knit.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Being an Episcopalian, even though I don’t knit, I’ve been around a lot of knitters.  In seminary, folks would knit through class.  I chose to take notes, but who’s to say who’s right or wrong.  I’ve watched folks knit through meetings, through Bible Studies, and even in prayer.  I’ve seen knitters work meticulously on a pattern, only to have to rip out a whole row for lack of a single purl.

I’ve witnessed, first hand, how difficult it can be to hold a pattern together, which I think is why I love the Collect for All Saints’ Day so much.  Because the church is full of people, life in the church is not easy.  It requires care and attention to hold all the competing forces together.  Occasionally, it might require backing up a few steps because of a knit too many or, more often, a purl too few.  In the long run, however, the hard and painstaking work of knitting together the beautiful afghan that is the church is so very much worth it.

On the Feast of All Saints, we celebrate the work that God has done throughout the generations to ensure that the Good News of Jesus Christ continues to be lived out.  We remember fondly, sometimes, but not always, the saints who have devoted their lives to the witness of the Gospel.  We recall the giants, Saints with a capital S, but also those who died as though they never existed (more on that tomorrow).  We remember the clergy whose sermons inspired us; the Sunday School teachers whose felt board skills enthralled us; the kitchen helpers whose baked good energized us; and the servants of God of all ages and varieties who have worked behind the scenes to make the Good News of Jesus Christ known.

Like knitting, the church doesn’t just happen.  It requires care, love, and a whole lot of passion to make it happen, and as we celebrate All Saints’ Day this week, I give thanks for the opportunity to be a stitch in the larger tapestry of the Kingdom of God.