31 December 2009

Be It Resolved

While I don't think it a pastoral matter, I do often get the question, "What are your New Year's resolutions?" There was a time that I would get rather elaborate in my response -- laying out a game plan for the coming year that seemed impressive and genuinely transformational. I don't do that anymore.

A couple of years back, I went to the local gym, where I work out, right after the new year. The place was packed (when usually it was not). Since I had been a member only a few months, I asked one of the trainers what had happened. His response was in three words: "New Year's Resolutions." For the next three or so weeks, the place continued to be crowded at the times I could work into my schedule. By the middle of February, however, the numbers had dwindled to the point that I could move about with my earlier accustomed ease. What changed?

While opening the subject of resolutions, it is also a good place to mention the close relative of the New Year's Resolution. It is the Lenten Discipline. What!? Hey, it is only 1.5 months away. It will be here before you know it. Folks do the same thing with Lent. A complicated and robust plan for the keeping of a Holy Lent is set forth by the well-meaning Christian. When the question is asked by equally well-meaning clergy, "How's your Lenten Rule going?" The answer is often a mumbled something akin to "I blew it."

What is happening here? Simply put, the human will follows the same principles of physics as do other entitities: a body in motion tends to move toward a state of rest (inactivity). One can research this through the first two laws of thermodynamics and following the research that produced the Heisenberg Principle of Uncertainty. It takes energy to do work. The dissipation of that energy will render the object less and less effective in the function of that work. Other dynamics can produce forces that will also hinder the object's effective ability to perform work. This is a psychological (behavioral) truth as well as one of physics.

Why this "mumbojumbo?" As a pastoral statement: Any attempt to will one's self into a permanent resolve (resolution) will ultimately fail as the internal and external forces dissipate the energy to uphold the initial resolve. St. Paul said it a bit differently: "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV). Does this not mean that, all things being equal, we end up a lump? Yes! We have a term for it: Couch Potato.

My point here is to suggest that, any resolution that we make as an act of will is going to be rendered ineffective over time. In fact, it will cease be be an action at all. That's why the resolve to exercise daily at the beginning of the year lasts only about six to eight weeks for most folks. That's why the Lenten Rule, so energetically embraced on Ash Wednesday, is toast by the third week of Lent. We want to do it, but we end up not doing it well or even at all. That was St. Paul's point exactly.

Now that I have produced the conundrum, how do we deal with the need to make positive, healthy and useful changes in our lives? We look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "I need to lose 20 lbs." or, "I need to quit smoking." The list goes on. The motivating question is, "For what reason do I need to do these things?" We may have great intentions. Our spouse is urging us. We don't like what we see or what we are doing. We have other feelings of angst or pain that might be motivating us. But, any effort to make any change in any part of our lives is, by definition, work. It requires us to think and act on a new and regular level. It requires energy. The dissipation of energy reduces our resolve by a mathematically measured amount. Over time, we quit doing or being that resolve and return to the former, "easier" state of being and doing.

UNLESS, something deeper motivates us. About three years ago, my blood chemistry went haywire. I have genes (it seems) that mitigate against a normal level of cholesterol and triglycerides. Somewhere between visits to my primary care physician, both of those jumped to an alarmingly high number....way above normal. Within the space of a year, I was pre-diabetic with cholesterol levels at 400 and triglycerides at 960. Blood sugar ratios were dangerously high. I resolved to do something about it. I exercised, ate sensibly and willed myself to avoid foods that would exacerbate the problem. It wasn't enough. Holidays would come. With them came the confections and homemade comfort foods that were high in fats and sugars. My will collapsed. Being a priest, the constant temptations from well-meaning parishioners simply could not be avoided (I used the rationale: 'I'll hurt their feelings.').

In late November 2008, my cardiologist connected me with one of his associates who specializes in vascular problems (blood stuff). He was very forthright and honest, as he carefully read my chart and drew on his dry erase board. "Fred, you are a man on a course that will lead to certain death unless you can pull out of this mess. You are on the verge of becoming a full-blown Type II diabetic. You are pumping sludge with the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your system. You are allergic to statin medications. There are a few things left, and we can help." Thereupon, he sent me to a vascular nutritionist. I have met the model for what all drill sargeants become in the military. I also met a deeper motivation for what I now work on earnestly.

Going deep means finding the place where energy and motion are generated. I do not mean physical energy and motion. I mean the kind that shapes the human will. Even with the background, training and experience of my vocation, I had failed to go to that place with this issue. After all, this is about physiology and genetics.

In the quiet of my centering and contemplative prayer practices, I laid forth this issue....simply laid it there. It is the way of this kind of prayer work. In a space of time (for me, about 6 weeks), I became acutely aware that the only one whose pleasure I care about is the One who created me. What really matters is what I do by extension of that createdness. Okay, here's another analogy (after all, Jesus taught exclusively with metaphors). In the reality of God, God is perpetually in motion and constantly creating. God is like the perpetual fuel atomic reactor. If we recognize our true nature as created with God at the center of our being, that energy is what motivates us and provides the kind of resolve that never quits.

This is not a longshot. This is as fundamental to spirituality as thermodynamic laws are to physics...even more so. St. Paul concluded that, in order to do ultimate good, he had to surrender to the Spirit of God desiring to work in him. We must be in partnership with our true Self in that created image.

I did the ultimate no-no. I played Gideon on this one. I was doing really well with all of this in the spring and summer. I was even doing really well with an untimely and rather disturbing stressor in my professional life that came along in late summer. Then, in November, I said (seriously), "Okay, I'm backing off a bit. I think I've got this. I can do it myself now."

Disaster! I just got my numbers today for the latest vascular workup. My blood chemistry is out of whack again. I've gained weight (which is what happens when triglycerides are running unchecked at high levels) and become tired a lot. My blood sugar jumped to the "pre..." level again. The Physician's Assistant who monitors me for the cardiologists scowled at me this morning in disturbed disbelief at what her computer showed her. I had to tell her, using the metaphor I've employed above, "I simply ran out of gas here...and out of resolve."

As I sipped a cup of coffee and ate a light breakfast (a totally legal breakfast mind you) after that session, I knew what my new year will entail. I will return to that place where I open myself to Grace and admit that I don't have a boundless will (I already knew this, but, remember, I played Gideon for six weeks). I know where true resolve is generated and the energy to sustain it. It is only meaningful if I am the vessel being launched .... without being dissuaded by temptations or promises of rest. I'm not ready for THAT kind of rest! Neither is God it appears. Neither am I willing to listen to other voices. Read how Paul interprets that in the latter part of Romans 7. I'm not going for a strike three.

Blessings this New Year of Grace!


15 December 2009

Prophets and Sages

I just finished writing a Christmastide article for our parish newsletter, The Messenger, in which I shared a conversation I had with one of the employees at the local, Lee's Summit Starbuck's -- where I often get coffee in the morning on the way to the parish office (a drive of ca. 25 minutes from home). Jason is a young adult who is tall with long, dark hair that is neatly combed and in a ponytail. He always has a smile and a wave, whenever I come in. For some time, we have shared witicisms, comments on events of the moment and occasional short conversations around the global issues of the moment. He is relaxed and always has a perspective that stimulates further thought. He reminds me of a quiet philosopher-type. He obviously has solid roots. (to get information on the circumstances of this blog, please read my reflections at http://www.standrewkc.org/RectorsReflections.htm . It is entitled "Christmastide: "Living on the Edge" and will be online by Friday, 18 December).

Today I made a stop at "my" Starbuck's to grab a coffee, and Jason was at the counter. As he poured, I told him I had quoted him in my parish newsletter article. He seemed surprised and somewhat humbled. In reflection, I said to him, "It's not often one encounters a straight-forward prophet." He stood rigidly upright as he turned from the coffee urn. "I am not even close to being a prophet! I don't have those credentials," he stated firmly. At this response, I was not surprised nor offput. In fact, it is what I had hoped to hear.

A prophet is not self-proclaimed. It is a gift that happens and/or becomes entwined with a particular style of being in relationship that opens the doors to "insight possibilities." Prophecy is not fortune-telling, future-telling, or simple intellectual insight. It is a coming together of the current moment with spiritual, emotional and mental alertness to a vista that suddenly opens to how this moment can/will play out. It is at once multi-dimensional and all embracing. The door can shut as quickly as it opens -- leaving things much as they were. The prophet then moves on...maybe oblivious to how he/she has just been utilized by forces well beyond his/her control.

If someone proclaims him/her-self a prophet, go in the other direction. Self-proclamation is an act of hubris (spiritual pride) that can be both dangerous and deceptively manipulative. In true prophecy, one is a vessel or instrument and never the generator of what is being shared. Jason had no idea that our November conversation revealed something very important and precious to me -- and that the revelation from his words would set me on an internal journey of deeper theological truth. For him, what he shared was a moment of simple, insightful observation....nothing more.

Being a sage is much the same as being a prophet. The term "sage" renders the modern term "sagacious" and refers to wisdom. Wisdom is not intelligence or being smart or having an education. Like prophecy, wisdom can have those components; but wisdom is the capacity to see deeply into the larger field of reality and, from that observation, speak a deeper and more profound Truth about life and the world around us. It is the sense of "bedrock truth" one experiences in conversing with someone who is sharing wisdom. Like prophecy, wisdom is a gift of the moment. However, wisdom can often "walk with" a person for a long period of time.

One might think that a prophet or a wise person (one given to wisdom as defined above) possesses maturity or a kind of place in life where he or she is not prone to mistakes, frivolity, goofiness or simplicity. We might think of wisdom and prophecy as belonging to the serious, very mature and "stately" person. Nope. Think of the laughing monk, or the "buffoon" who is full of practical jokery and fun. Think of Yoda in Star Wars. Who would imagine such a goofy looking, impish little creature possessing extreme wisdom and the capacity for prophecy. Yoda captures it all in essence.

Prophets and Sages inhabit all levels of society and can be found in the most unlikely places. In fact, one doesn't necessarily find them at all. In my time with the Lakota, I have learned the power and simplicity of the "Medicine Man." Such a person, in Lakota culture, is not self-proclaimed. In fact, they will deny it if asked, "Are you a Medicine Man?" The term "medicine" in Lakota means spiritual depth and the recognition of God at work both in what is unseen as well as what is visible and useful in the world about us. The Medicine Man sees and can use these things as tools for teaching, healing and worship. They recognize and utilize the power of holy things in ways that benefit those in their community. It is the community, in seeing this, that bestows the title, "Medicine Man," on the individual. The Medicine Men that I have met are given to joking, laughing and behaving in a manner that may seem either frivilous or simple. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They possess depth, keen intelligence and insight that can be almost frightening when set loose. Then they simply go back to being themselves...genuine.

At this time of year, it is good to reflect on the prophets of the Hebrew Old Testament and Christian New Testament. John the Baptizer cried in the wilderness to prepare the way for one who would change the world. That tradition of momentary insight and proclamation still happens. This is the time of year to listen, look and slow down to encounter real moments of deeper Truth. Maybe the next conversation with someone in a coffee shop will create an opportunity to turn a corner in your life.

Blessings in this Holy Season,


25 November 2009

The Singer's Voice

There is a person I have considered a good friend...at least from my place of relationship. She began her career as a singer -- and she had a quality voice that would have taken her possibly to the Met. But something happened. It doesn't seem to have been so much physical as it was other factors in her life. Whatever it was, she lost her voice. No, she did not lose the ability to speak, or even to sing, the qualities of her voice that produced the wonderful operatic tones did something like "lock up." I am not a physical or psychological diagnostician, so I cannot evaluate. I simply know that she is a wonderful person who lost the fullness of her singing voice.

I share this because life is fragile. What we have and value most is so easily lost. It is part of the human condition. I have a rare and privileged vocation that puts me fully in the place of the most fragile of human conditions. No amount of education, training or expertise ever prepares a person for the impact of the kinds of crises where loss of treasured resources of personhood are threatened or removed. God seems to have given me a gift to walk in those places with calmness and vision. There are no words to describe what I have experienced and the profound thankfulness I have for the privilege to be on such a life-journey.

As this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I share both a reflection and an announcement. I awoke early this morning, made a cup of coffee and withdrew to my place of prayer with a heaviness of heart uncommon to my mornings. I began shedding tears of thanksgiving for those who have mentored me over the past 59 years (I'll be 59 on 30 Nov.). My parents -- both gone from this life. Bill Harben, my Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts -- an ex-Marine from WWII, who was tough but loving and caring. He believed in me when it counted. Mrs. Sheffield, Mrs. Ting, Mrs. Ruth, Dr. Gordon, Dr. Kandzer and those teachers/professors who encouraged me to go far beyond what I thought possible in my growing years. Coach Bill Duncan, who I hated but came to love for teaching me athletic and personal stamina. Dr. Sidney Jourard, under whom I studied at the University of Florida in psychology for introducing me to and encouraging me in the farther reaches of the human mind and heart. Dr. William Maples who awakened a deep love for human life....past and present...in all its forms. Fathers/Drs. Louis Weil, Ignatius Hunt, James Griffis, William Peterson, Richard Greatwood, John Ruef, Robert Cooper and Dr. James Dunkly who opened the doors of theology, liturgy, biblical literature and pastoralia in shaping my vocation as a priest at Nashotah House. They saw vocation more clearly than I did. LCDR John McCarthy, MMC Frame, Adm. Albert Kelln, CDR Walter Hubbell, YNCS Hank Buermeyer, Vice Adm. Rickover, Adm. Lewis and those of my Navy experience for discipline, courage in the face of big odds, stamina and a striving for excellence that I will always carry with me. Bishop William Folwell, who brought me into this vocation, ordained me and never let me (and many others) feel alone in the field of parish ministry. Bishops Vogel (who ordained me a priest), Gray, Little, Barry Howe, and others who have been either my authorities or colleagues (or both) for wisdom, patience and perseverance in the stresses of parochial leadership.

Then there are colleagues, parishioners and friends outside the Church who are too numerous to mention: save these, Dr. Kern Trembath and Fr. Paul Wolfe (at whose funeral I preached in March...my brother whose voice I deeply miss). Both have almost literally saved my life and my voice when I despaired the most. Don and Ron, who are current dear friends not in the Church, who caught me when I fell and raised me up. Ed, my spiritual director who challenges and holds me up. Larry, who believed in me when others did not. There are parishioners in my current cure, who are more precious to me than they know. I especially give thanks to Fr. Richard ("Dad") Bowman. He was my spiritual director for 16 years and "adopted" me as a son he never had, and I as a dad to fill a wounded place. I grieve that I could not be with him when he died three years ago. Fr. Tom Schultz, a monk of OHC who started teaching me deeper truths of the Spirit in 1980, and still teaches me whenever we can get together.

The above litany moved through my head and heart in the pre-dawn hours. Each had a story that became vivid in my inner light. I weep thanksgiving for each of them -- and the many others who individually came to consciousness. Childhood and adult friends...known and lost in the jumble of life. They are all out there.

Each of those persons gave me voice. They encouraged me to "sing my song" -- which is a way of saying "speak my truth in love." They gave me voice, and I owe it to them to use it. But, there is a catch.

Something is stuck. I've suddenly found it very hard to speak...that is, to express my deeper thoughts and feelings. It is the priest's craft and responsibility to speak -- even the things that are probably too hard to hear (even for the one speaking). I have run aground on the shoals of current opinion and judgment. The singer has lost his voice.

My craft is my life -- at least the biggest part of it. A vocation is a gift from God that is nurtured through education, training and experience....lots of experience. My capacity for this is being tested. If I talk too much, I may lose my voice altogether. I cannot risk that.

So, at this point, in the early hours of this morning, I made the decision: I am suspending the sharing of my thoughts, opinions, theological reflections and commentary on life events for a period of time. I need to conserve what I have to practice my craft from the pulpit and podium of my parish. What I have momentarily is small enough that (as my friend Kern Trembath says) I risk "using my seed corn" to keep the voice I need to do my primary work.

Chances are, I'll be back with articles, blogs and daily reflections on Facebook and other places. But, not for a time. Not until I figure out if my voice carries anything of real value and what shape it will take.

May your Thanksgiving be one of remembrance, gratefulness and joy. Make the season of Advent one of expectation. Slow down and live the experience. It's worth it.

Much love,


17 November 2009


The newest member of my staff at St. Andrew's is Ric Shewell. He began his work as our new Youth and Family Ministries Director on 1 September. Ric fits the image of a young, twenty-something guy who is up on technology and involved in life as a relatively newlywed. He reminds guys like me (getting extremely close to age 59) that we did, indeed, once possess that kind of energy, resilience and spunk. He is just a year older than our elder daughter. It's a scary thing!

Ric enthusiastically announced yesterday that the New Oxford American Dictionary had chosen as its Word of the Year for 2009 -- "unfriend." This word, he shared, was brought into contemporary useage by Facebook. It describes the action by which a person can disconnect from another person who has been designated a "friend" in the Facebook community. While I could not immediately find the said named item on my Facebook page or those of my list of friends, I decided there had to be something to this.

I did what my best scientific and theological training prepared me to do: research. Monday evening found me reading a variety of articles from places like "SFGate" and "The Week," etc. Sure enough, all those sites had articles reporting that the NOAD had, indeed, named "unfriend" the Word of the Year for 2009. And, yep, it was due to the community building Facebook system that this word found its origin. Or, I wonder, had it?

More research. This time I accessed tools that one still has to gather on the shelves of one's personal library or the library of a college or public library (yes, Ric, books can still be found that are not electronic...take it from a geezer like me who has hundreds of them). Lo, I found the term "unfriended" as a 19th century word that reflected what happens when one is berieved after losing a family to calamity. Example: One journal from an 1848 wagon train on the California Trail reads, "The sickness swept through our numbers so fast that men and women were unfriended in the loss of their entire families..." What goes around, comes around.

In this case, I sat for a long time in my special prayer place early this morning and pondered this word, "unfriend." It is a singularly cold word. It has such finality. It has such abruptness. In my reflection, I could see how, in the years of westward expansion on this continent, life could truly have abruptness and finality. It was a harsh, unforgiving and often downright hostile environment. The term "unfriend" would aptly describe the almost instant desolation of something like cholera or murder (attacks of various kinds) or drowning in a river crossing. Then the word seems to lose visibility. It is almost never used until the past three years -- with the advent of cyber-systems created to bring folks together. Without any kind of prelude or warning, a person can be "unfriended" by a whole host of those who had, until that moment, been listed as "friends." One young person describes being "unfriended" by his college roommate, because they had an argument over leftovers in the refrigerator. Not only did his roommate unfriend him; but he convinced most of his other friends to use the "delete button" on their cyber-relationships. Massively cold!

We live in a world where people can be unfriended in a heartbeat: a click of the mouse, a shot from a weapon triggered by someone a half a world away, a "word" put out that destroys an individual's character, family and career. We have become very impersonal in the manner of our relationships. If we can unfriend with the click of a mouse, why can't we just turn our relationship with another person on or off like a switch. The term, "I'm off you," is something like saying, "I hereby unfriend you." Relationships these days seem really cheap and extremely fragile at best.

Lest I spiral into a place of sounding cynical, I want to offer some hopeful thoughts. Words carry power, but we don't have to be enslaved to those words. It's our choice. For instance, getting out of cyberspace and into a regular book keeps one honest in terms of touching what we learn and come to know. Even my Kindle needs to be put away, so that I can grapple with the weight of a good book.

Every human being is like me. I want to be loved, appreciated, held, touched and enjoyed across the table with a cup of coffee or a meal. Every one of us essentially wants the same thing. We need those things in order to have a truly authentic self-concept.

When things aren't going well, try taking a pen and applying it to real paper in order to reflect thoughts. Better yet, sit down with a person who seems to have generated bad feelings and dare ask the question: "What has changed in our relationship that seems to be causing pain?" The hard work of coming face-to-face is essential to maintaining a sense of true Self and an appreciation of the reality and fragility of another.

Even on Facebook, wouldn't it be better to write the person a personal message letting them know you need to break off the cyber-relationship for a time and why. THEN, give them the opportunity to reply? Give it some thought. Better yet, give it a try.

Maybe this Word of the Year will be short-lived.



26 October 2009

Wrestling with Fear

Our parish Sunday Morning Adult Forum yesterday was the third in a four-week exploration of our economic melt-down and the Christian community's response to the many facets and effects encountered over this past 18 months (entitled, "God, Power and Wealth"). It was a fascinating discussion in which most everyone of the 19 people in the room contributed. The one word that kept entering the arena of expression was "fear."

One principle upon which most folks agreed was that the media has played a very large role in both promulgating and sustaining a high level of fear and anxiety within our culture. Sensationalism reigns supreme among the pundits and "talking heads" of both news and talk shows -- regardless of idelogical platform. There remains little or no objectivity in reporting events or critical material to the public. There seems to almost always be an emotional spin-up with any news story. But, that isn't the whole reason.

We are fearful people. The unknown or the uncontrollable can almost instantly create a fight/flight response grounded in fear. Behind that fear is a rather constant anxiety about our well-being and safety. And, even though we live in a time in history of unprecedented safety, fear still drives many of our responses to life events. Example: Almost anyone who lived in the 1950s and 1960s was exposed to two swine flu epidemics. I had swine flu as a young teenager and remember being really, really sick for about four days. My mother, an RN, kept me in bed, hydrated and medicated. I got over it just fine. The fact of the virus was duly reported, and folks were given precautions to take. Ultimately, the epidemic ran its course. I do not recall much fearfulness. When flu vaccines came on the scene, I started getting an annual vaccination and have continued for the past nearly 20 years. No one suggested we should be afraid of these injections....no more than we were fearful of polio vaccinations that began in the mid-1950s. Now, the media spin hard on the "bad news about vaccinations." Please.

Author Ursula LaGuin wrote a trilogy that I read in the early 1980s. The series was called the "Earthsea Trilogy." The first volume introduces the hero, Ged, who is discovered to have unique capabilities that defined him as a "mage" -- a wizard. He went to a special school on an isolated island of Earthsea. Being a tad cocky in his youth, Ged takes the bait of a taunting fellow student and conjures something very dark and sinister, which kills his teacher and begins chasing him all over Earthsea. Ultimately, almost dead, he finds himself at the doorstep of the old wizard that raised him. After being nursed back to health and sharing his deep fear and dread at the ugly blackness pursuing him, the old wizard tells him, "you must turn and face this thing...encounter it, or it will kill you surely."

What ensues is a back and forth flight-pursuit between Ged and this monstrous black thing. Entering a dark valley, Ged is now the one in pursuit. Finally, near exhaustion, the black ugliness turns, and Ged encounters it full force. They embrace and struggle wildly. Ged then looks into the face of the shadowy blackness of the creature and, behold.....it is his own face he sees. This creature is his death!

In the end, the struggle becomes integration. It is then that Ged is fully alive and truly complete. It is only then that he can become what he was created to be...a Mage of Earthsea.

Ursula LaGuin utilizes Jungian psychology to create a story that is the description of the struggle that each of us must engage. It is a story of encountering those things that we most fear, embracing them, learning their true identity and incorporating them into our daily life. Death is the ultimate "boogeyman," and the approach of All Saints' and All Souls' Days is one time to ponder the true hero's journey. The saint is one who has wrestled hard and deeply with the things most feared in life...and has prevailed. They become more alive, more complete and more truly reflective of the Image of God in which we have all been created. These aren't special people. They are the beacons that tell us all what we can and must do in order to be fully alive.

There are times when some folks will say to me, "you don't seem to care about....." (name it...an issue, a crisis, etc), or "you are not very responsive to....." (name it, someone's expressed anxiety or stress or discomfort). What is actually being said is that I am not resonating with the fear they are experiencing and, thereby, sharing it. It's the truth. Part of my vocation is to wrestle with the deeper things of life and creation. It often means walking in the "valley and shadow" of trauma, pain, grief, crises, etc. It is a blessing not to experience fear as a first order response to those situations. It gives me the time necessary to assess, question and identify....and, if necessary, pursue. It does no good whatever to respond to anxiety or fear with my own anxiety or fear.

Do I become afraid? For sure! Do I get anxious? You bet! Do I let it take over and run me amok or drive me to irrationality? Not if I keep my wits, say my prayers, go deep within, give chase and embrace whatever it is. I most often discover the true identity and take it on as a part of my life. In October 2007, I accepted the advice of my Lakota mentor -- when I was seeking to spend my sabbatical doing research among those wonderful people. I made Hanblecheya -- a Vision Quest in the center of the Black Hills (SD). After preparing by way of fasting and gathering the necessary tools for this time, I was led to the top of an isolated hill at dusk and spent the next 14 hours in solitude -- with only my gym shorts, a blanket and seated in on a buffalo skin on a hallowed rectangle of earth. I was admonished not to leave that space, not to fall asleep and to offer prayer as was customary to my tradition. Afraid? Yes, I was in a totally unknown place 15 miles from anything like civilization. It was very dark. What I experienced remains largely between me and those who mentored me through that experience. I came away having stuggled with some very seminal fears. I was truly a different person, as I was helped down that hill after sunrise the next morning -- cold and stiff from being in a small space for so long.

The hero and heroine's quests are not for that "golden or bejewelled something out there" that will make life worthwhile. The quest is what is within that must be discovered and enlivened by the struggle -- the darkness within. If we embrace it, we discover that we are less fearful and more truly alive.

As the letter writer John says: "Perfect Love Casts out Fear." (I John 4:18)


Fred Mann

02 October 2009

Speak Your Truth in Love

Truth is a tremendously hard concept to grasp these days. As I ponder this, I consider how information is packaged that is passed along as "the truth" in our culture. The information highway has been reduced to packets of material that are about 10 minutes in length...about the average adult attention span these days. Television has helped to create this diminished capacity by presenting commercial breaks after about ten minutes of whatever show is playing. Even that is diminishing in most series to about seven minutes. The average one-hour television series has about 42 minutes of actual presentation. The rest is commercial material.

Each commercial is presented as the latest truth about a condition, product, or other commodity that is essential to our lives. Marketing and advertising is designed to convince us that we simply must have what is being offered -- and it is grounded in the truth of research or the word of experts, or famous persons in our culture (entertainers, actors, sports heroes, etc).

In the area of media information services (news and talk shows being the most notable), the commentators and guests are the passionate experts that work hard to convince us that their agendas, ideologies, points of view or observations are undisputed truths. Well, in some cases that may well be the case. However, with some truly intentional research, the vast majority of pundits can be found to have more emotional smoke than factual meat upon which to chew. As I said to one colleague recently, "I miss Cronkite!" He was truly an honest and objective reflector of the state of affairs being observed and reported.

I must admit, however, that the worst offenders of truth-based reality are those who represent religious materials via the mass media. The disciplines of theology and biblical exegetical method are demanding, exacting and complex. That is not to say that they can't be embraced by anyone willing to invest the time and energy; but one must do just that -- invest time and energy. One does not "do" these disciplines by osmosis. Remember the eunuch whom Philip came across in Acts of the Apostles? He was reading a scroll from Isaiah. Philip asked what he was doing. In response, he admitted that, while interesting, he could not possibly understand without a teacher. Philip climbed aboard the chariot and began teaching via exegetical means (i.e. interpretation based upon both research and revelation). Ultimately, the eunuch saw in himself the need for baptism. He made contact with his truth via revealed Truth.

The mass media moguls of rehashed religion are busy trying to sell a commodity, and they have done well to reduce the vast journey of faith into several very individualistic criteria that, with a gift of some dollars, can get you a book or DVD that will provide everything needful for salvation -- right now and neatly wrapped. It staggers the mind the extent to which folks will go to convince others that their lives are worthless and hell-bent. Along with the other things without which we cannot survive, we now need them to insure we have a ticket on heaven's train.

I am not sure that I have The Truth that I can share with folks. That would make me nearly perfect, and I shy away from that state of affairs rigorously. Sorry, no perfection behind these words or the face that fronts them. What, then, does one find when one comes to this place called St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. Hopefully, it is honesty that begins with the person in the pulpit and at the Altar.

I grew up in a garden variety family; in a post-World War II neighborhood; in a season of history that saw the first of the technology boom. I grew up getting into my fair share of trouble with my parents for actions that would irritate the stew out of my younger brother and cause consternation (and resulting punishment) from my parents. Lots of things happened growing up that would firmly plant me in the place of "normal kid."

As a young adult, things didn't change much. I loved (and still really enjoy) playing pranks and practical jokes on friends and those who seemed to be deserving of same. Few things please me more than long treks in the woods, swims in the Gulf of Mexico, or canoeing down a tree-canopied river. I love theology and the study of what makes us who we are and how we got to be where we are. I love science almost as much as theology. More than anything, I enjoy being a sojourner in the soul-scape of being.

One of the things I learned (and this was a hard lesson for me) is that I am first responsible to know my own soul-scape and interior being. Real exploration in this region of who we are reveals those things that are agendas, biases, prejudices, judgements or critiques based upon false or misleading information. Going deep is a painful process, but the rewards are so great that I fail to understand (now) why anyone would not want to take the risk.

Let's be really clear. This is not a set-up for sainthood. Each new revelation of the true self creates a new need to deal with yet another unpolished nugget of internal reality. This work is never done. No one is ever perfect! Not in this life.

The take away point here is that, if I am truly honest with myself and God, what I speak with be what is called "my truth." This isn't a selfish "my" but the "my" of internal honesty and transparency. The Native American culture and early Celtic Christian culture had phrases for "Speaking your truth." In the New Testament, St. Paul reflects Jesus' teaching in the exhoration to "Speak the Truth in Love." At the core of who we are is the Self created in God's image. It is the fundamental Truth of being. In touching that place, we reflect a passionate truth devoid of agenda, ego, prejudice, judgmentalism, etc.

It's not an all the time thing....but it is way better than nothing...or the smoke that often passes for the truth these days. A healthy faith community is the laboratory for this work. Believe me, it is work.



09 September 2009

Lucky Man

Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) created very successful progressive rock music between 1969 and 1978. So much of culture's identification is reflected in the music of that particular period. The era from 1965 to 1975 encompassed dramatic social change. The assassination of JFK in November 1963 ushered in what would be the teenage years for many of us called "Baby Boomers." The standoff with the Russians, civil rights legislation, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the entry into and escalation of conflict in Vietnam and Watergate are just some of the hightlights of those years.

While ELP represent only a small aspect of the flood of music, their material covers a fairly wide range of expression. I have to admit, my all-time favorite group of the period continues to be the Moody Blues. My range of musical enjoyment is quite wide...growing up in a home that appreciated the great classics as well as Big Band and "easy listening" of the post WWII years. My parents tolerated well my growing collection of singles and albums of the 1960s. Truth be told, more than once an interloper could have found our family of four dancing around the house to the latest Beatles tune. My mom later admitted that she listened to and enjoyed the guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix while listening to some of my albums while I was overseas in the U.S. Navy.

I grew up in a home that had a high level of tolerance for a wide range of interests and expressions. We were by no means "wealthy" but we had a wealth of what was important...love, respect, self-expression, freedom to explore our dreams. We had great conversations at the dinner table. Things could get hot! My dad had pretty intense political and social views -- as did I. Not unusual to hear: "Now boys, temper it a bit..." from my mom, as dad and I hit a high note of exchange. My brother was three years younger but would also throw in with his opinions. Mom would hold forth as well. The dog would find someplace else to be. In the end, we would be watching football on television, going to a Red Sox exhibition game (they did spring training in my hometown of Winter Haven, Florida) or going for rootbeer at Andy's Igloo. Rejection was never an option.

If I had to put a title on those years of life, it might be: "Free to Be Me." Consider some of the phases. I was a Boy Scout, which, in those days, and in our troop, was something like Marine Corps training. Whining to mom and dad about "rough treatment" was not met with intervention from either of them. Empathy, yes. I was carefully taught to fight my own battles; work through my own impasses with other adults who had leadership responsibility over me (scout master, teachers, etc) and fight only when it was inevitable with a peer (I got into only one of those. It was bloody, intense and a draw by the measure of those gathered around). I was a tall, broad guy. Most folks seemed not to want to test what that meant. I only got the measure of its meaning years later -- while doing tactical training in the Navy. The one time my parents did mix into my troubles was when I refused to confront with strength a classmate who was confined to a wheelchair with polio. He was a brat, spoiled and mean. Yet, he was, in our view of the day, impaired. There were times, years later, that I wished I had delt a hefty blow to that ugly mouth of his (but, he died in a drug deal gone bad while in college).

In those halcyon years between 1963 and 1975 I canoed every river in Florida, hiked deep woods and swamps looking for (and finding) many species of snakes, turtles, frogs and lizards. A number of them found a home behind our garage -- to the extreme distress of my dad, who hated snakes -- but let me keep them. That is, until a Boy Scout friend and I brought home a 6.5 foot diamond back rattlesnake -- who was very upset with getting tossed in a canvas bag and toted six miles home in the basket of a bicycle. Dad and I had several very long discussions about this event. The rattlesnake found another home with Ross Allen's Reptile Institute...as did many of my other reptile friends. Mom did tolerate well the hatching of 14 Bluetail Skink lizard eggs in a terrarium in my bedroom: all of whom escaped through the wire mesh cover and made their way around the house. Like I said, tolerance was a treasured attribute in those years.

Not every day was a good day. In 2004, I learned that I had been suffering anxiety reaction since sometime in childhood. This may have been a mild form of ADHD, which I compensated for by becoming an internal perfectionist -- over-compensating to the point of purposefully failing at something in order to prove to myself that I needed to be perfect. Heck of a way to walk through life. I came away from that with a whole new sense of being okay. Not just okay but truly fine, thanks. Now the opening words of Desiderata mean something real: "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit." Oddly enough, my mom gave me a copy of Ehrmann's poem when I went to the University of Florida, and it hung on my wall through graduation.

What did those years give me? Something I grieve for our young people now...balance. I was taught that I had a body, a mind and a spirit. That all three are essential and must be developed together. I was taught discipline in an environment of fairness. That anything worth doing is not only worth doing well but also reflects the true measure of a balanced life. Even as a priest, I still have well-meaning people trying to talk me out of this (you know what that sounds like: 'In my day, we did....' or, 'you should/ought to...'). God knows what they are now, and it isn't me.

For a long time of adulthood, I really did try to be what others wanted or expected me to be. Thankfully, those days seem to be diminishing in the rearview mirror that is my accumulating history. I am now resting more comfortably with what my parents gave me -- my life in balance. I am becoming mindful of the balance. Oh, what a lucky man I am!


31 August 2009

A Plan Comes Together

In the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the character, played by Richard Dreyfus, has an intense experience while stopped on a road one evening. From that moment onward, he becomes more and more obsessed with trying to create the image that looms greater in his mind. At one point, using mud, rocks, sticks and various other materials, he constructs a large scale model of the image that now has become an obsession...a mountain with surrounding terrain. Then, the obsession became a mad search for the real place.

We may think such things are from the realm of fantasy, but such could not be farther from the truth. St. Augustine of Hippo (fifth century) reflected, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in you, O Lord." There is not a person who has not had something like a gnawing feeling deep inside that begins something like a quest. Because of the many layers of conditioning and expectations, these quests may lead to dead-ends, or, like Don Quixote, a chase for windmills. What we actually search for is inside...which can often have some sort of anchor externally.

Such happened to me recently. In the early spring of 2008, our home basement (which is finished & furnished) was damaged, when the sump pump malfunctioned. It required the carpet to be removed, the basement dried out thoroughly and furniture restored. The first order of business -- after damage control -- was to replace the sump pump. We did so with a "state of the art" system that has two fail-safe backups. Being an old Navy guy, water-tight integrity is almost an obsession with me.

After the baseboards were removed and the damaged portions of drywall repaired, Denise and I repainted the entire basement living area. We left the project for about nine months. My sabbatical leave arrived, and I was engaged in a special project for three months. Fall came, and the parish program (and Denise's work) took center stage. Finally, this past spring, we settled on the kind of carpet we wanted, and the basement got finished and back to normal.

But, something had been planted deep within me during my sabbatical. The east wall of the basement runs for about 10 feet from the north wall and then juts back about 3 feet before continuing to the south corner. The small corner created, where the wall juts back became a place of obsession for me. At first, I had no idea why. As the carpet guy was working (and I helping with stretching it) I kept staring at that corner -- to the point that the carpet guy once asked if there was something wrong with his work in that area. Nope, the space just spoke to me.

While on sabbatical, I had learned the importance of sacred space and holy ground. This is not new to me, but actually spending a great deal of time in such spaces that summer stirred my soul in ways that started to grow. An image was emerging, and I had no idea what it meant. Now, as I stared at that corner where the east wall jutted back three feet, the image and the space began to speak to each other. Nothing concrete was coming forth, and it began to drive me crazy! Until...one day, just before I left for General Convention, I was praying in the St. Andrew's Chapel (a place I go often during work days to gather thoughts and offer prayer for my parishioners). Eureka!!! I got an image! The basement space was supposed to become a contemplative prayer space. Okay, fine. Contemplative prayer is a big part of my discipline. It is how an introvert priest feeds the soul and mind. I had always wanted something I could call a uniquely holy spot.

This summer, while at General Convention and on vacation the two weeks following the convention, bits and pieces of what this space was to look like began to take serious shape. When Denise and I returned from California, I had one week of vacation time left and several yard and house projects to complete. I gave myself a deadline: I would spend enough time on the prayer space project to complete it by the final Friday of my vacation. No excuses. Thus began the "Richard Dreyfus Obsession."

I spent hours looking through Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowes and other such places for just what I thought I needed. Plans? I didn't need no stinkin' plans! The vision was internal, and when I saw what would work, it literally lept out at me. What I started with as a potential vision took some interesting turns (and I drove a Home Depot guy crazy running about the store with him tagging along trying to answer questions and keep up with my rapid changes of mind and opinion). Then it happened. I had all the tools in one place.

A three-tiered fountain in the corner, sitting in a larger round rubber container, which itself was filled with small, smooth river stones. Various kinds of vine and bamboo grass (necessarily artificial due to the darkness of the specific area) created a natural feel. Four three-foot pieces of 1"x8" red oak, which I stained and coated with polyurethane. These created two small tables built with one board on the carpet and two columns of four antique red bricks with the second board on the top. The one table on the three-foot section of wall supported a small, glass shade lamp that could be activated by touch (3 way with a 60 watt bulb). the identical small table on the east wall had a candle, incense burner and a couple of tokens that are precious to me. Above that table on the east wall are two icons...one of the Holy Trinity (by Rublev) and the other depicting Holy Wisdom by a fourth century Byzantine monk. Back from all this, facing east, sits a foldable back-jack chair (sits directly on the ground with support for the back). I'm done!

That final Friday afternoon of my vacation...at 4:00pm, I sat in the back-jack chair, legs folded, candle lighted and prayed a blessing for this space. It was complete. The image and the space had finally come together in a reality, which is the extension of my soul's need for holy ground in which to find Peace and Presence in a busy world.

It is to this place I go to begin my days. I have a Bible and Book of Common Prayer for the Daily Office. I have a journal to jot what may come from my time of prayer. I have the icons and symbols of other holy spaces that are dear to me...which connect me to space and time...a sacramental context. The soft sound of the water cascading from one basin to the other in the fountain creates a sensory distraction and calms the mind. I love this space deeply. It is home inside my home. It is holy ground.

27 August 2009

Integrated Circuits

I like the sound of this title. My first thought, when "integrated circuits" popped into my head, was of my time working in the Navy Submarine Corps (1973-75). Few systems are more complicated than a modern ballistic missle submarine; yet, even in the mid-1970s, technology supported a tightly integreted series of systems that could interact, produce "fail-safes," activate auxiliary components and provide immediate information to a variety of stations. This meant that, to be submarine qualified, every person on a boat had to know how to function in all areas.

We tend to think of the human body as a collection of systems. Classic anatomy used to teach based upon separate investigations of digestive, endocrinal, neurological, orthopaedic, etc. systems. While there are specialists in each of the "systems," We have long known that the whole human body is hardwired with a complex interdependency. But, that's not all.

The mind and body have other layers of reality besides those known as anatomical. There is the division of conscious and unconscious. Conscious data relies upon sensory data which creates unconscious memories and patterns for future recognition. The unconscious not only processes memories, it houses the components that create the unique characteristics that we know as uniquely human and define "self." Carl Jung subdivided the components of self into archetypes and subtypes that interact in a complex manner to manifest what others see through our actions, ideas, emotions and characterizations. It is all way too much for a blog, but one can see where I might be going.

Carl Jung, Thomas Moore, Morton Kelsey,Robert Bly and others (psychologists, theologians, and those whom we call "internal sojourners) speak of the Presenting Self and the Shadow Self. The novel, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a dramatization of these two components. The Presenting Self is what the world gets to see...or what we want the world to see. The Shadow Self is one we tend to keep hidden -- even from ourselves most of the time. Our close friends, family members and bathroom mirror may be subjected to this component. Otherwise we lock it down -- in the shadows.

Here is the problem. If these two components remain separated, all hell can break loose...literally. In a moment of distraction, someone may say or do something that will ignite the Shadow Self, and elements of it will spring forth before we can suppress it. Painful memories can be triggered in ways to unleash Shadow material. The emotions of rage, anger, fear, intense anxiety, saddness and feeling overwhelmed are examples of the release of Shadow material into conscious reality. I don't mean the "slow boil" stuff. I'm speaking about the sudden, intense and sometimes crippling kinds of emotions. Psychologists and theologians alike teach that a truly healthy, whole person is one who has integrated these components. Jesus taught that gaining the whole world at the cost of the True Self (in Greek) defines hell. One loses integrity -- which is integration.

One might rightly ask what the process of integration entails. Many myths and stories explore the process. Any story that includes a quest for a treasure is a story of the process of integration. The quest for the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend is the hero's quest for wholeness and integration. In Christianity, being Christ-like is achieving the integration of Self to reflect the wholeness God created us to be (Original Sin is the fracturing of Self -- good/evil, light/shadow).

Recently, I went to a workshop in which I was given the rare opportunity to be guided deep within myself by very skilled practitioners. After preparation with tools of meditation and guided imagery, the mentors in this very safe place guided me inward. I have almost no memory of what took place. Those who were observers and guides told me what happened. It was somewhat frightening to hear and try to comprehend. The rational mind can't be part of the functions of Presenting Self and Shadow Self, when they engage in struggle with each other. It's messy, ugly and dark. The conscious mind introduces a kind of neurological anesthesia that blocks conscious manipulation and memory. A highly skilled clinical person is very nearby. At the end, as I came to myself, I was out of breath, sweating profusely yet feeling almost lighter than air. I was gently encouraged and tenderly treated as I gained sensory balance and attunement.

I later described this to another psychotherapist/theologian, whom I thought would be horrified by what I had experienced. Instead, he calmly reflected, "a classic....intense, but classic....battle with your Shadow. Now I know why you appear as you do, you've achieved a level of integration. You've started a new journey. Congratulations!"

For one to claim total integration is nothing less than hubris (false pride...a deep sin in Christian theology). It is, indeed, a journey. I started one in a new and big way on this recent weekend. The circuitry is being meshed. It is a slow but real process. How do I know it's happening? I feel far less anxious about stuff that normally keeps me awake at night. I'm less afraid to speak my truth aloud and take a principled stand. I seem able to speak up and out more readily (read: less intimidated). My routine of contemplative prayer is more intense and fruitful. There are little things each day that I simply find amusing for funny...things I used to take rather seriously. I love better.

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there also is your heart." Myths tell us that 'where there is treasure, there be dragons.' Yep. Engage the dragons with a loving heart, and you have the treasure. The True Self. The One God created, or, as a friend of mine calls it, "the God cell."


30 July 2009

Silent Giants

My wife, Denise, and I just returned from a twelve-day vacation in California. With exception of two business trips, this was our first time to explore the state. We are not the typical vacation tourists. We didn't visit Disneyland (we both grew up in the Orlando, FL area). We didn't hang out at a resort or seek out trendy places. After I completed my work with the Episcopal Church's General Convention, Denise met me in Anaheim. We rented a car and headed out -- away from the lights, glitz and concrete.

By way of the Central Valley, we ended up in Yosemite National Park. Between that park and Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, we spent a week staying in rustic cabins, hiking to showers, climbing steep trails and enjoying the pristine beauty. Of course, in Yosemite, there were at least a thousand other folks doing the same thing. However, these folks were there for the same reason -- getting outdoors and away from the bustle of mainstream culture and into a very different lifestyle -- one marked by cargo jeans/shorts, tee shirts, hiking shoes, back packs and floppy hats. Oh, and the obvious lack of starch, ironing boards and the myriad synthetic scents of perfumes and colognes (which one of our daughters calls "foo-foo").

The main reason we went to the High Sierra national parks was to see the "Old Ones" -- the towering giant sequoias. These silent giants have experienced up to 2,000 years of earth history -- most all of what we call the "Common Era" (CE). With girths up to 37.5 feet (the "General Sherman" sequoia of Sequoia National Park). and heights of 275 feet (same tree), one feels like a very small being next to these huge trees. It puts things in perspective very quickly indeed!

On a warm Wednesday morning, Denise and I found ourselves at the very south end of Yosemite National Park in Mariposa Grove. It is one of the largest remaining stands of giant sequoias in the world. As we hiked back to the less visited area, we found ourselves a forest of about a hundred silent giants of various ages. They towered over us and blocked the sky with their broccoli-like tops. The huge trunks all around us made it nearly impossible to take in the magnificence, majesty and shear size of these ancient living beings. I was immediately reminded of the Ents in "Lord of the Rings." I expected to hear deep, old and wise voices erupt -- sharing all that had been seen and experienced over the long centuries of their lives.

We stopped at one especially large sentinal. While this may sound strange, we pushed ourselves against the thick, red bark -- hands pressed against the tree and ears listening -- and could truly sense the life coursing through this old one. The connection was awesome and as if there was deep wisdom of the ways of the earth and surrounding environment. This tree -- with its brothers and sisters around it -- has outlived every other living thing on earth. It is bigger than every other living thing on earth. I became intimately aware of the meaning of the biblical reflection of human smallness next to the infinite reality of God.

Even along a trail, hiking in the wilds of the mountains of the High Sierra range is a journey that is made in silence. Surrounded by the myriad shades of green, the hues reds and golds of other plants, sounds of birds, constant movement of water in streams, and the challenge of walking over rocks and around boulders one becomes lost in the mystery and wonder that is creation. What I see, as I make this journey, is very much what the earliest humans saw as they journeyed here. There is connection. As I sit quietly on an ancient boulder, empty myself of internal chatter (constant pre-occupation with what I believe to be so important in life), and become really aware of my surroundings, the wisdom of creation touches my inner being and bathes me with a kind of peace and intimacy that renews, heals and cleanses. As I emerge from this time of contemplation, it becomes clear to me just how trivial most of what we call important in life really is. I'm suddenly alive to possibility.

After two weeks of General Convention, coming to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to hike the national park trails renews perspective and washes clean the crustiness that comes with being consumed with issues and business we believe to be so important. Yes, the importance is there, and the need to maintain community is essential, but it always needs to be placed within the perspective of true reality -- the one created by God in which we play but one part of a huge tapestry of life. One sure way to gain that perspective is to walk among the Silent Giants in the High Sierra range.


18 July 2009

Catching Up and the Power of Words

It has been two weeks since my last blog posting. It does not mean that I have been silent by any means. I am in Anaheim, CA and have been a deputy from the Diocese of West Missouri at the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention. This was my sixth GC as a deputy. My first was in 1991, when I was canonically resident in Central Florida -- my home diocese. The next three deputations upon which I served resided in Northern Indiana. I was the Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. James for eleven years. The 2006 GC and this one has been as a canonical resident of West Missouri. I have been an inside observer of the Episcopal Church's heartbeat and leadership for 18 of my 31 ordained years. What an evolution!

The Episcopal Church may be small by modern standards, but it has a very important and influential place in American history. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and crafters of our country's Constitution were Anglicans (Episcopalians after the Revolutionary War). A majority of our presidents have been Episcopalians--at least in name. A surprisingly large number of the industrial, business and technology leaders have been Episcopalians. Numbers not withstanding, we have been a guiding force in cultural justice and equality over the past two hundred years.

This is not to say Episcopalians agree on all these matters. Not by a long shot! We are as diverse in our opinions and socio-political ideologies as our culture. Despite the barb that Episcopalians are the "White, Republican Party at Prayer," the truth is otherwise. We are "high church" and "low church," Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Native American, Latino, African American, Asian, Middle Eastern, wealthy, working class, middle class, liberal, conservative, moderate, straight, LGBT, and from every element of American intracultural life as possible. When we speak of being "inclusive" we mean it on every level possible. And, all of this was here at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (the 76th triennial).

For the past two weeks, I have been working, praying, legislating, meeting and living with nearly 6,000 sisters and brothers who are Episcopalians in every catagory of life mentioned above (and maybe some I didn't include). It has been an honor and an education. I am constantly amazed regarding how much there is to learn about other folks. I am also amazed at how other folks are willing to share, if they perceive the inquiry to be honest and authentic. And, the most important part of all this is that I have seen the God of Jesus Christ in every one of these folks...in ways I have not experienced ever before. What a gift of Grace!!

The Holy Spirit has been leading me into deeper truth for a good while now. The lastest deepening began with sabbatical last summer (2008). In working with the Lakota in the Black Hills, I learned the words: Mitakuye Oyasin. The rough translation is close to "We are all one together." The direct implication is that Wakan-Tanka (God) is in all creation, we are his creation, which makes us one with each other. This is lived out among our Lakota sisters and brother in profoundly authentic and transparent ways.

Three years ago, at the 2006 General Convention (held in Columbus, OH), we mandated that, over the three years leading to this GC, a program would be developed to help us explore relationship and community. Thus the theme Ubuntu was born. Ubuntu is a Zulu (Xhosa) word that describes human identity as being formed through community and encompassing sense of caring, sharing and being in harmony with all creation. In short, Ubuntu means, "I in You and You in Me."

Now isn't that a coincidence. The Lakota phrase Mitakuye Oyasin and the Zulu phrase Ubuntu have almost identical meanings...each at the core of meaning for them such that in both Lakota and Zulu all prayers end with those statements...like our "Amen" (which means, "it is thus").

In truth, at this General Convention, there were no "for" and "against" camps. People intermingled, talked, shared, listened, prayed and walked together. We struggled together, and, above all, we have been careful with each other -- treating one another as precious gifts of God -- as we each are.

Some of our decisions were difficult, and we will face some confusion, anger or distress in our home community environments. This is not because folks disagree, but because, in general, folks in our communities live lives as individualists rather than individuals in community. The early Christian community was, in fact, an Ubuntu-style community. A careful reading of Acts of the Apostles will open that reality. Jesus taught it: "I in you and you in me: You are one as the Father and I are One." The Gospel is one of Mitakuye Oyasin/Ubuntu. The contemporary Christian community has nearly lost this cornerstone element of what it means to be a Christian.

I am remarkably at peace following this General Convention. To be sure, I am exhausted. The pace of the last two weeks has been intense. On average, each day was about 16 hours long in terms of the work most of us were assigned. I served on the Ministry Committee (#14) and, like all other committees, we began at 7am. In the evening, the committees met to continue perfecting legislative materials and holding hearings...where those advocating resolutions came to speak and share information about those resolutions charged to the committees. The only break of length during the day was at lunch (about 90 minutes) and dinner (about the same).

One cannot really complain about how this works. We only do it every three years. Imagine it. Now, what we have done gets three years to work through. The next GC will take further steps, fine tune, remove or replace what we have done this GC. Thus we grow and evolve as a Christ-centered community.

I have been working hard to deepen my life in the Spirit -- through new contemplative prayer techniques, deeper reading of Scripture and other source material, listening more carefully to my sisters and brothers as they share their journeys in the Spirit of God. The Grace and Power of the Word....the Christ of God (see John 1) was very present during the past two weeks.

Today, I begin three weeks of vacation. My wife joins me today for some days of exploring part of California and visiting dear friends. While I am tired, I feel more at peace than I have felt in quite some time. We have done good work. We have done God's work -- with and for God's People in this part of the Kingdom...the Episcopal Church.

Mitakuye Oyasin!! Ubuntu!!

06 July 2009

Church and State

The celebration of Independence Day is a venerable expression of our love for those whose sacrifice and vision created our country with its unique Constitution and guarantee of liberty for all citizens. It was a shaky start to be sure. As with any new idea, diverse opinions made gaining a solid foothold sometimes very dubious indeed. I continue to study a great deal of source documents and commentary on the development of what we call democracy. It is that, but wrapped in a republic form of government. We even say that in the Pledge of Allegiance: "...and to the Republic for which it stands..."

One article of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religious expression. This was an absolutely new concept in civilization. The Roman Empire had attempted something like this by allowing conquered countries to continue the exercise of their indigenous religious practices. However, those religious entities could not engage in political enterprise. The confusion led to near collapse in the fourth century. Constantine steadied the empire's boat with his conversion to Christianity and mandate that all of the Empire would embrace Christian life and practice. From that point until the Constitution of the new United States, Church and State had been oppressively intertwined.

A large majority of the framers of the American system of government were Anglicans (Church of England at that time) and found it impossible to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown of England while fighting for independence from that crown and developing a new government. After the Revolution, the Anglican Church continued as the Episcopal Church. In its first General Convention of 1785, a form was set for celebrating the Day of Independence in public worship. Four years later, in the General Convention of 1789, with three Bishops of its own to create an independent body, it was determined that celebrating independence in a church worship setting was tantamount to, again, intertwining Church and State. To that end, worship celebrations for Independence Day were removed from the Book of Common Prayer.

The above status remained until the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1928. At that time, the liturgical celebration of American Independence was reintroduced with the stipulation that such celebrations would not reflect an exclusivity that had marked the Anglican status of State Church in Great Britain. With two World Wars and other points that raised patriotic conscience, the ideal of the liturgical reformers became lost with the "folks in the pew" of most Christian traditions. While not denominationally exclusive, we have come very close to state church status in our religious rhetoric and worship celebrations. In the Episcopal Church, I have observed many abuses of church/state status in parishes. In one parish, the American flag and Episcopal Church flag would be processed side-by-side at the head of the procession on Sunday mornings (right behind the cross). At the Chancel the two flags would part to let the procession pass. Then, the third stanza of "America" would be sung...during which the Episcopal Church flag would be dipped toward the American flag...as in submission. Now, folks, that is an abuse of church/state status.

Our government has been a little more guarded in maintaining an appropriate relationship between Church and State. Churches risk losing their status as independent religious bodies if the priest/pastor uses the pulpit to support a candidate for office or embrace a particular partisan political measure. One can speak freely about the moral or ethical implications of certain public, social political actions but cannot endorse a person or an issue from a partisan stance. This is a good thing. I am very careful in the parishes where I have been Rector to insure that I and my clergy staff use the pulpit for its intended purpose...the proclamation of the Good News and the challenge for living an ethically and morally sound life. That's tough enough on its own!

For reference, I am a veteran. I served with distinction in the United States Navy for six years and was decorated for my unique work with the submarine squadron staff to which I was assigned on active duty. It is an experience I treasure and would do again without hesitation. My military service was a time of growth, insight and development for me as a young adult. I am proud of that service. This is to say that I cannot be accused of lacking patriotism. There were a lot of dangerous things happening in the world in the early/mid-1970s -- things that most folks knew nothing much about. My work was in the thick of some of those events.

As a Priest in the Episcopal Church, I lead parishes that have veterans of all branches of service ... as well as non-military government service. I have heard and collected stories of courage, bravery and exemplary actions in combat and harm's way from every war in the 20th century. I am humbled by what these men and women accomplished to insure our ability to continue in the kind of government our forebearers envisioned. With them I celebrate our history of upholding freedom. However (and this is important), what we have proclaimed, we have also abused. I have seen the effects/affects of our prejudicial actions toward First Nations (Native American) cultures in the name of Manifest Destiny. This ideology was first artriculated by John Sullivan in the New York Morning News in 1842. It became a type of battle cry for the taking of land from peoples who had occupied it for centuries untold. Those people were told (in subjugation) that they were not free to worship in their cultural styles or continue their cultural practices. They were confined to lands that our government did not want -- because those lands were not fit for agricultural use.

While that seems like a digression, I believe it is fundamental to the understanding of Church and State. This past Friday (3 July) I celebrated Independence Day with parishioners gathered for our regularly scheduled noon Eucharist. I spent Independence Day preparing to leave for General Convention of the Episcopal Church. While I was traveling yesterday (Sunday, 5 July), our parish again celebrated Independence Day with liturgically assigned readings, prayers and music. Mother Anne Hutcherson (one of my two priest associates) had a wonderful sermon in which a flag belonging to her father was used. So, we do celebrate our freedom.

With all that, we continue to pray for people and governments different from us in ideology and practice. We pray for their souls' health and for wisdom in the ordering of their common lives. Those are prayers for transformation of heart and mind...not to be like us but to exercise integrity, humanity and compassion in their leadership. Jesus was very clear, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-48, which is assigned for the celebration of Independence Day). It is our work to pray for and, in our own lives, model justice, wisdom, compassion and mercy. The Church is where we are supposed to gain those virtues. It is the State in which we practice those virtues to create a just and equitable human community.
Church and State are related, but we have to recognize that, in the Church we honor God as sovereign and learn the truth of discipleship. It is not the State we honor, but in which we live and practice what it means to be created in God's image. It is imperative that we begin in our own boundaries where the freedom of others has been abused.

26 June 2009

Appreciate It

From the earliest days of my ordained life (I was ordained to the Transitional Diaconate on 29 June 1978), there were two things I had learned from my elder priest mentors. My beloved mentor from St. Paul's, Winter Haven, Florida (where I grew up) had been retired from 40 years of parish ministry in the Diocese of Milwaukee and settled in Winter Haven. He was always proud that the Pabst family had built the church where he had served longest as Rector. We became good friends during my seminary days. Shortly before my ordination, he took me to lunch. After a wonderful meal and raucous conversation, Pop Harding (as I knew him), got serious and looked me dead in the eye. "Fred, if you ever go to the Altar to celebrate Eucharist and are not afraid deep down inside, leave immediately! You have lost the sense of tremendous mystery with which you are charged." I've never forgotten this....and I have never gone to the Altar and not been terrified deep within.

The second learning did not come from one priest but from observing a number of older clergy. Some of these showed up at our seminary each spring for graduation and alumni day. They seemed dour, cynical and cranky. They continuously spoke of the Church the "way it was in my day..." When they even bothered to speak with one of us seminarians, they would begin with, "In my day..." and proceed to speak of how they were trained and how easy we had it. Funny, seminary didn't seem at all easy. It was graduate school with rigorous, demanding academics and disciplined life of daily prayer and worship -- something like a monastic graduate school I suppose.

As I began active, ordained ministry in the summer of 1978, I made a vow: That I would never let myself become a shriveled up cynic who had not read a professional book in 20 years; and, should I not fear the tremendous mystery of the sacraments, for which I am steward, I would leave this work immediately.

On Monday, 29 June 2009, I will celebrate my 31st anniversary of diaconal ordination. On 29 December I will celebrate my 31st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. To this day, I still find myself getting "butterflies" on Friday afternoons -- anticipating Sunday morning liturgies and the incredible experience of presiding at Eucharists -- sharing both Word and Sacrament with the people gathered and in my care. It is still scary...even doing weekday liturgies in the chapel with 15 people.

There are aspects of parish ministry that can create an environment of cynicism. I often grow weary of folks "advising" me (or my colleagues) how to be a better priest. How do they know? Do they do what I do? It never occurs to me to tell my medical doctor or my attorney how to be better in their professions. How would I know? They are the specialists in their fields. I also get regularly surprised by just how nasty folks can be regarding their dispostions in a Christian community. One thing about which we were warned in seminary: "Folks will project all of their unresolved anger toward key authority figures onto their clergy...especially the Rector...because they are the heads of the household." (Ethics and Moral Theology Professor, 1977).

I'm generally okay with most of that. I've learned techniques over the past three decades to deflect inappropriate anger without getting hijacked into an emotional triangle. I have "lost it" only five times in all that time. The trouble is, three of those were in one year....two years ago. Was I becoming a cynical priest at 56? My spiritual director (who is also much like a therapist --- Jungian trained) explored this with me at length. Seems as though the older I get, the more vulnerable I become as a person of prayer. At such times, it is easy to get hooked...especially by persons who are trying.

Over this past several months, I have been learning a better way of working. I am dragging less of the past behind me and bending more into the present and future moments. As I reflect on the past, I am asking, 'what is my best experience of that moment when things seemed not so good?' From there I ask, 'what value lies in that experience for which the moment was only a vehicle?' You see, the events that we often call "bad" or "unpleasant" are vehicles that carry a number of opportunities. There is always something good about the experience...even if it is only survival. The value may be only that of resilience in the face of attack. There is, in fact, no failure...just opportunity.

This seems simple enough but is both hard to remember and to employ -- especially when one is up to his/her butt in alligators. We had a sign in our office when I was in the Navy submarine service: "When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember that your initial objective is to clear the swamp."

The discipline of mindfulness keeps us focused on the present and on the blessing of being in the moment...alive to what is happening around us and engaged in experiencing the gracious love of God. Mindfulness lets us see opportunity in what could be a painful experience. Mindfulness obliterates cynicism.

I'm still working at two-for-two on my worst fears. At 58, the Spirit still flows through me in the Sacraments with me being in both awe and wonder. Though I have flirted with it, I am still not cynical. I have a passion to learn, grow and experience deeper understanding. I still love the challenge of each day and the anticipation of what change will happen around each new bend.

23 June 2009

Mitakuye Oyasin

The Lakota language is wonderful for getting to the nub of a thing. I began learning the language last year, while I was on sabbatical. I worked with four Lakota mentors in designing a project that would allow me to study the depths of traditional Lakota worship, prayer and ceremony. The idea was to look for connecting antecedents that correspond to ancient Celtic practices (this began with a Lilly grant sabbatical project in 1999-2000 working with Celtic cultural/spiritual traditions). I have been more rewarded than I dreamed possible in this journey. I have discovered things about myself and others that have literally transformed my sense of being and purpose.

As a moment of background: The Lakota are seven Council Fires of a larger group that include the Dakota and Nakota. We know the entire Nation as the Sioux. The term "Sioux" is not theirs but a French term that may have more than one meaning. Originally, the Sioux avoided contact with European trappers and traders...preferring to stay to themselves in their own culture. Continued encroachment "called them out" to pursue relationships and develop a more visible cultural presence. The young US government treaded harshly upon all First Nations peoples, and made, then broke, eight consecutive treaties with the Lakota people. The ensuing breech of trust gave us the Lakota about which history has written...warlike and aggressive.

The real Lakota people are caring, open, deeply spiritual and kind people. I have rarely known the kind of hospitality and kindness as shown to me during my time in the summer of 2008 and my nine days I just spent in ongoing study. If one comes to Lakota folks with an open mind and heart that openness will be returned in kind. As a people, the Lakota have an innate way of knowing the sincerity of others.

In this work, I have been led to read and study history, cultural anthropology, family dynamics, relationship with the surrounding creation (we might call this "cosmology") and spirituality. Next to the ancient Celts, I have found no place where daily life includes an intimacy with the Transcendent God present in creation and actively engaged in intimacy with those who are open...which are most of the Lakota with whom I have talked and interviewed. Their symbols may be very different from what many of us "westerners" (also known as European Americans) are accustomed to engaging. I have found that the "cultural icons" of the Lakota are wonderfully alive, real and can transport one into the reality of Spirit quickly and intimately...even moreso than those of my own background.

I began by suggesting that Lakota language brings deeper meaning. The title of this blog is "Mitakuye Oyasin" (pronounced Me-tah-koo-ya O-yah-seen). It is descriptive of community but in a deeper sense than just the Lakota community. This phrase directly implies that all people are connected in a dynamic community -- that we are all related. It is an ancient phrase and is often heard at the end of prayers (in place of our "amen") or as part of leave taking with one another (there is no word in Lakota that translates "goodbye," for they don't understand separation in spirit).

I last saw my Lakota friends in the middle of August 2008. When I showed up on 14 June for my nine day visit, it was as if I had only parted company with them a few days ago. Conversations and interactions almost literally began where they had been left last year. I took my place among them as if I had only just slipped out briefly. There are no words in the Lakota language that demean, judge or reject another person. The language is very descriptive, and they can disagree without ever saying that another is wrong in what he/she has spoken or expressed. Example: in preparing for the annual Sundance celebration, I was invited to help erect the tree that is at the center of the dance circle. Believing one of the persons holding a rope was having trouble, I went to grab a portion of that rope and assist this young man. Another Lakota man came over to me quickly, touched my arm and told me in Lakota to "back away." He was emphatic but not demeaning of me -- either as a person or a wasecun (white man). As it turns out, the young man was required to handle his rope by himself as part of the ritual he was entering. I learned but never felt embarassed or put down for not knowing. It was all explained later with a smile and mirth.

From this I am beginning to ask questions of the Christian community and our ability to really be a community. I am absolutely sure that the teaching of Jesus speaks of community as a depth of relationship, trust and integrity exactly like what is transmitted and experienced in "mitakuye oyasin."

We have so much to learn from our Lakota sisters and brothers...indeed from all First Nations cultures.

27 May 2009


A member of my parish (and a good friend) recently went golfing with her 13 year old son for the first time. As they were coming close to completing the eighteen holes, it was clear that her son was going to win this match. Being in obvious despair, her son gave her a loving look and asked, "Mom, would you like to take a mulligan?"

It is a bit disconcerting when, having played golf for a number of years, a relative neophyte to the game comes along and gives us a spanking on the first round of play. Maybe even a bit more humiliating is the gift of a mulligan. For those not familiar with the game of golf, a mulligan is a "do over." If one has hit a bad shot (or series of them when I play), those playing with us can offer to allow us to play a hole over again...in hopes of correcting the mistake. In tournament play, often one can buy or be given a certain number of mulligans before play commences...taking them when they may be most needed. I simply like to call a mulligan a "do over."

The nice thing about a mulligan is that, when it is taken, no one gives it any further consideration. I have never heard good golfers say anything like, "well, you only scored as well as you did because of that mulligan on #11." Or, "if it hadn't been for that mulligan, I would have really romped all over you." A real lady or gentleman golfer never mentions a mulligan once given and received. It is what it is. It is, in reality, a kind of forgiveness for a bad shot. It is as if it never happened. (In reflecting on this, I am aware of the book The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances, by Wally Armstrong and Ken Blanchard. I have not read this book but have come across it in bookstores and thumbed the pages. It looks like a good read!).

In an age when we are caught up in quantity, performance and perfection, it is hard to grasp that our being created in the image of God is all about second chances. Without taking anything away from old duffers, God was giving mulligans from the very beginning of creation. What we call the Doctrine of Grace comes down to God loving us so very much that forgiveness....complete and unconditional...is the hallmark of relationship. Folks have had to create a vengeful God as a means to justify their self-hatred and overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Vengefulness is not part of Love or redemption.

It is, admittedly, hard for us to wrap our heads around this concept of "Divine Mulligan." We have been conditioned to look for the worst...the bad...and the blame for anything that goes awry. If all else fails, we blame God. After all, in a perfect world, we should have perfect days...and when we don't, it has to be somebody else's fault.

Truth is, most of what happens is simply a bad shot on our parts off the tee. We put ourselves in the rough or out of play. When those times do happen that pain is induced by the action of another, it is because that perpetrator is blaming others for where he/she finds him/her self. In all cases, there is a mulligan waiting to be offered. Hard to believe that we are both loved and loveable just like we are. Perfection is not in our genes...ever.

Next time a bad day is in the making, take a moment and ask for a mulligan. Then, try again. Hey, like Jimmy Durante with his jokes...God is with Divine Mulligans. He's got a million of 'em! Just for you! And, me.

20 May 2009

Worry Much?

The following is a well researched lineal progression: anxiety leads to fear; fear leads to anger; anger leads to hatred; hatred leads to destruction.

After spending eight years working with Dr. Murray Bowen via Dr. Edwin Friedman, the above progression became like a prayer mantra. Murray Bowen was a psychiatrist who began his work at the Menninger Institute and then went on to found the Georgetown Family Center as part of the Georgetown University School of Medicine. During his long and very active career, Dr. Bowen developed what is now known as "Family Emotional Process." One of his many students was Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Dr. Friedman took the tools of Family Process and began working with church/synagogue systems. His seminal book, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, became a best-seller in the mid 1980s. I became a student in Dr. Friedman's clergy seminar and studied with him for eight years -- until his sudden death in 1996.

After the horrible events of 9/11/2001, our cultural anxiety rate spiked radically. In those weeks following the attacks, reports of terrorists erupted everywhere. Incidents of prejudice toward anyone who looked as though they came from the Middle East were rampant. It took months for us to come out of a fear-based state of being. Some of this is natural. It is good to be more observant and wary with the threat of futher violence; but fear-based actions lead to judgments that condemn innocent persons and do irreversible harm.

We are now in an economic crisis unlike any we have experienced since the Great Depression. I was born in 1950, and my parents grew up during the depression years. My dad fought with McArthur's army in the Pacific. My mom was an army nurse. What I noted from both of them was an almost mystical calm in the face of daily crises. They had seen what, for them, was the worst. Anxiety was not part of their repertoire of responses.

Those of us who have known relative security, and the lifestyle of mobility, abundance and ultimate convenience unparalleled by any previous or concurrent civilization are suddenly stunned by the loss of the resources making a lot of that possible. Our level of anxiety is higher than any time known in my lifetime. That anxiety has tripped easily into fear. What we see on television and hear on the radio only feeds that anxiety and fear. We have become a culture of increasing sensationalism -- over-reacting at the slightest hint of a new crisis. The first reaction is to look for a scapegoat...someone or something to blame for our predicament. We have many contemporary incarnations of the old western "lynch mob."

I am an Episcopal Priest of almost 31 years ordained experience. It has always amazed me how simple decisions or actions can become huge crises in a faith community. It only takes one highly anxious person to set off a firestorm of rumor, innuendo and actions of irreversible harm. I have done an experiment twice wherein, at the beginning of a sermon, I will share a statement with the first person in the front pew on my right...asking that the statement be passed from person to person from front to back and then across the aisle and back to the front on the left side. At the end of the sermon (about 15 minutes), I will ask the first person in the pew on the left side to repeat the statement. Not one word of it was part of the original statement! I have also started a scheduled class with a room of about 50 people and staged an interaction between two people (unknown to the group at large). The interaction contained loud words and obvious actions...some of which were threatening. I then randomly picked 10 people to share what they saw and heard -- writing it in journal form. Never more than one person saw and heard what actually transpired. Most saw physical blows (and no blows were ever struck).

Whether we like it or not, we see and hear what we want to see and hear. The Bowen rule is that all responses to real or perceived actions are emotional. We may believe ourselves to be logical, analytical folks; but the first response comes from the limbic portions of our brain...raw emotion. It's how we are wired. What makes us a higher form of creation is that we are also equipped to monitor that emerging response, check it and ask "data questions" that will reduce the emotional response and dampen the attendant anxiety. Doing so lowers the level of cortisol and other stress hormones and engages the portion of our brain that seeks homeostasis in the face of potential disruption.

What I have tried to describe is the state called "mindfulness." John Kabat-Zinn's book, Full Catastrophe Living, is a wonderful way to explore the dynamics of reducing anxiety and stopping the progression toward judgments and actions that are potentially destructive. Friedman's book, Generation to Generation, explores how we can understand our actions as part of our families of origin and investment in faith communities. The Gospels and New Testament Epistles are replete with examples and teachings on balanced living in the face of anxious environments (I can't imagine an environment any more stressful than first century Mediterranean Basin cultures).

All of this is an invitation to practice a kind of mindfulness that asks questions of ourselves and our environments that gathers meaningful and truthful information. For me, as a Christian, it is an invitation to "pray before you say." The act of prayer is simply to place one's self in the space of listening and seeking deeper truth. More on this will be forthcoming. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

19 May 2009

Kindle In Us...

I have been taking a number of steps recently to become more electronically engaged. For a number of years, it has been my two computers (home and work) and my cell phone. Two years ago, I graduated to a smartphone that would allow me to keep up with office email. In March, I traded in my Treo smartphone and purchased a Blackberry smartphone. Now I can monitor both office and home email accounts and do several other tricks that speed up and simplify my ever expanding communication needs.
Within the past two months, I opened a Facebook account and began working with LinkedIn. I now also Twitter a bit. My Associate, Fr. John Spicer, and I also began blogging. Admittedly, my daily life is filled with enough real-time work that I don't spend a whole lot of time on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or my weblog. There are only so many hours in a day, and I am very guarded about time with my wife and being at home and "in the moment" -- especially with increasingly nice evenings sitting on the patio and soaking in the sounds of wildlife, children playing and the smells of late spring.
In beginning my preparations for what summer will bring, I began to look at the material I will have to lug with me to continue my research in the Black Hills (a week in June of continuing education) and to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (being a deputy from our diocese....5 - 18 July). I'm getting old enough that hauling books, laptop and various other paraphernalia presents more of a challenge. So, I did it. I made another step into the 21st century.
I purchased a Kindle from Amazon.com!
Now, I need to admit that I was encouraged in this purchase by two colleagues who are senior to me in both years and "time in service." Both are at least nine years older than me and have been priests quite a bit longer than my 30+ years. Both of them travel a bit, are heavy readers and like to travel light. They both own a Kindle. Each of them has said to me on more than one occasion, "Fred, you have to get one of these....it is an essential tool in your arsenal of staying both current and light." I would smile, nod affirmingly and mumble something like, "Yeah, I'll look into it." Then, yesterday, the means were made available for me to make the purchase.
For stuff like this, it feels like coming to the edge of a precipice. Even with a parachute, why would one want to jump off perfectly good, solid ground? I love the feel of a good book -- turning pages, experiencing the binding, ink and thumbing the pages. Much of what I read, however, is not small. I read fast enough that it takes four or five books to cover being away a couple of weeks. That adds up quickly. Now airlines are getting cranky about weight and charging for luggage. So, I stood on the edge of the cliff and pondered the leap.
As my fingers sat poised on the keys of my computer, I thought about the product name, "Kindle." Meaning: ignite, set afire, arouse, inspire. Immediately, I thought about a prayer I have been saying for the better part of 30 years at the beginning of sermons. It includes the line, "...kindle in us the fire of your love...." The image of me as a senior in my final semester of undergraduate work at the University of Florida suddenly becoming aware that I might become a priest. No way!! No!! There was that precipice. I was 21, not 58 years old. That was my future ahead of me, not an electronic device. Yet, the issues of trust and possibility are not dissimilar. A leap is a leap. Life is a series of changes and transformations. Without these moments there is death. We cease to be in the dynamic flow. Just as I could have shut down my computer, I could have refused the call to vocation and gone on with my original, seemingly safe (and certainly more lucrative...potentially) life plans.
Taking the leap in 1972 was not without pain and sacrifice. It was costly in its own way. But what was kindled on that day was a kind of passion and love that has never left and has led in directions never dreamed possible. It led to a marriage that might not have otherwise happened; children that I adore; friends and colleagues that are faithful, challenging and engaging; places that have inspired and shaped me. What was kindled on the day I took the leap and said "yes" to this vocation was the fire of God's love...the fire spoken by the psalmist I quote each time I preach.
So, my fingers continued to move along the keyboard of my office laptop. Soon, the screen affirmed the purchase of a Kindle -- which will hold up to 1500 books, magazines and newspapers; will be only about a half inch thick and no larger than a standard sheet of paper folded in half. Will it renew my passion for reading -- heavily and widely. Possibly. It will certainly cut down on the weight of my briefcase and luggage.
Now, if only I could cut down on the weight of clothing needed for two weeks.....