…and respect the dignity of every human being.

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This past Sunday was the Day of Pentecost. Although it does not get near the same attention as Christmas or Easter, the “Feast of the Pentecost”  is also nonetheless a “principal feast” which is Whiskeypalian-speak for “big freakin’ deal.” Always the eighth Sunday after Easter and the fiftieth day of the Easter season (hence, the term “pente”), Pentecost Sunday is that time when the church pays homage to the Holy Spirit, the third and most mysterious part of our very mysterious triune God.

The liturgy of Pentecost calls upon worshipers to “renew their baptismal covenant,” a series of eight questions all designed to walk believers through, in essence, what it means to be a Christian. The first three probe our doctrinal beliefs about the three entities of the Holy Trinity…Father, Son, Holy Spirit…Creator, Redeemer Sustainer. These questions are basically the restating of traditional creedal dogma — profound and deep…and (for me at least) utterly eye-glazing.

The next five questions, though, are anything but mind-numbing. The words “I believe” are gone. These questions are all about commitment and action. They cover a wide array of habitual worship and fellowship, personal accountability, faithful witness and loving service.  I have heard these five questions through the years countless times in countless ceremonies, but it was on THIS particular Pentecost Sunday of 2020 that the last question grabbed me by the proverbial collar, tossing a big ole boulder into my otherwise quiet and comfortable pond of Sunday morning solace:

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?

THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK? A sheriff in Michigan, after confronting protesters of George Floyd’s murder and police brutality, removed his helmet, put down his baton and asked, “What do you want?” They replied, “Join us!” And so he did. “I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” he said.

Is there is ANY question more relevant for a Christian today in June 2020?  I am writing this at a time when God’s world is burdened not only by the global pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but also in the last 10 days a different type of pandemic.  It is a global illness no less compelling, now brought front and center, laid bare in the aftermath of the horrific killing of yet another black man at the hands of a white police officer.

I am not sure I will ever be smart enough to know just what it was about this particular needless waste of precious life, but the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week has unquestionably struck a common nerve worldwide.  Maybe it was because of everyone on edge cooped up in quarantine.  Maybe it was because, during this pressure-cooker of isolation, we had seen images of Ahmaud Arbery and Breanna Taylor being gunned down just weeks before.  Maybe it was because, more than anything, the image of a nonchalant white officer, hands in pockets and knee on neck, draining life out of a handcuffed black man on the pavement provided the sickening but perfect metaphor for too much racism rampant in too many places.

Whatever it was, we are now seeing daily and nightly massive protests in big cities and small towns in every state of our nation.  Americans are not alone in our outrage, as people of all stripes and types have assembled all over the world.  A match has been thrown on kindling that has been building and drying for decades, even centuries.  The fire of “enough is enough” has been lit and now seems ablaze beyond extinguishing.  A Spirit is moving, and in the best of hearts with the best of callings, it seems during this Pentecost indeed Holy.

And all of it, all of the discord and strife and pent-up frustration, seems rooted in what this fifth and final directive of our faithful covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being.”  Because, it seems to me, it is precisely the lack of respect, the lack of acknowledging even the existence much less the dignity of EVERY human being that has led us to this point.  And it is that same lack of respect that is the biggest hindrance to our ability to heal.

So how shall I manifest this respect? How shall I “strive for justice and peace among all people”? Like most folks (or at least I think I am not totally alone when I think this), I’m not exactly sure. I will engage lovingly with those who different from and differ with me, write checks and give as I can, volunteer as I can, and maybe even march as the limitations of my MS might allow.  I am certain only that I will falter and stumble (figuratively for sure, and probably literally as well) along the way. I’ll backtrack, make mistakes or — worst of all — let other less important pursuits take over. But I do believe my path forward to helping to make a broken world at least a little more whole requires the commitment to “strive” for it, just as that final question of our “Baptismal Covenant” asks.

To which, I can only utter, with good resolve and all the certainty and uncertainty that is contained in the five words which is the response to each of the last five covenant questions,  I will, with God’s help.

 

 

For the means of grace, and the hope of glory…

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Palm Sunday is the last Sunday in Lent, and ushers in the most solemn and sacred week in the Christian calendar.  For most Christians around the world, this Palm Sunday and “these 40 days and 40 nights” of Lent in 2020 have been the most disturbing, perplexing and challenging of our lifetimes.

Folks that know me, know that I am an unapologetic Anglophile.  For me, there has always been something radiant and powerful about the English language, with words well written and spoken well, that can bring power and breathe life and somehow touch the soul.  And so yesterday on this most extraordinary Palm Sunday, it was not only appropriate but perfectly timed for Queen Elizabeth II to speak well a few words extraordinarily well written.  For only the fifth time in her long reign, HRM addressed

Palms and Daffodils 1

Passion Sunday 2020…the year palms were daffodil stems, and hosannas were shouted online.

her nation on a day that was not Christmas Eve.  She candidly shared her concerns about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and acknowledged very dark and difficult days lay ahead. Yet, with the authority of a woman who has lived through many dark days, she assured them of brighter days beyond.

While the Queen may have been speaking only to her (mostly) united kingdom within the United Kingdom, her words carried much-needed Truth far beyond British borders:

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future…

While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us. 

We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

Simple. Direct. Sparse.  Every word, practically every comma, packed with pregnant meaning.  Even with pauses for the compelling videos that accompanied her remarks, the entire message took barely four minutes.

The words of well written liturgy can also bring surprising and powerful impact, often at times when mysteriously they seem most needed.  Liturgy, at its very best, often uses the same type of succinct language to pack a punch that can alter not only one’s outlook on the day, but also at times the course of one’s life.

A few hours before the Queen spoke yesterday, I had one such moment while “attending” with a dear friend a Palm Sunday service being broadcast (as almost all are now) over the internet.  While it would be an exaggeration to say it was life changing, it nonetheless reminded me — in just eleven words and twelve syllables – of the assurance that we on this lonely planet are not left to face this worldwide disease alone:

… We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 

There, quietly tucked away in the middle the General Thanksgiving toward the end of the Rite of Morning Prayer, was a phrase that I suspect I’ve read, said, heard and prayed a thousand-plus times in my 64 years.  Never have those sublime words “means of grace” and “hope of glory” resonated more than in this unusual “online” worship on this most unusual Palm Sunday morning.

Throughout human history, despite the bitterly abundant examples of cruelty and depravity and greed that we humans are fully capable of inflicting upon one another, it IS true – and I think more evident than not – we humans also exhibit compassion and caring and sacrifice.  Last week was the 52nd anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke of the “long arc of history” and how it bends toward justice.   When I contemplate such things, I often talk of “my better days” and how on those days I am blessed to believe such things might in fact be true.  And I might even be led, on particularly blessed days, to conclude that this human tendency must somehow be influenced by a Loving Creator.  And on those rare times, like on a Palm Sunday morning, I am offered a glimpse that perhaps — against all common sense and reason – this Loving Creator passionately and intensely and intimately loves ME.  It is a notion that feels like the deepest of all desires, yet often more than I can bear.

Regardless of any of that, one thing I do know is I’m not nearly a good enough lawyer to argue persuasively against the truth of the indomitable nature of the Human Spirit.  Time and time and time and time again it has prevailed.

The Queen, in her sovereign resolve, reflected that “though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.”  And so it has been during this strange Lent of 2020, and so it will be during this Holy Week, and throughout the spring season ahead in weeks that we Christians call “Eastertide.”

I heard someone say the other day say that it is times such as these, where there is turmoil and distress and fear, and a dreaded sense of hopelessness, that God seems to do God‘s best work.

There are countless examples in the Scriptures, from Joshua to Jonah to Joseph and dozens of others, where the darkest of days turn bright and out of death comes new life. The biggest and best such example, of course, is the story of this Holy Week, and its triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem leading to bitter betrayal and ghastly crucifixion, but ultimately turning into everlasting life that has forever changed the world.

We humans indeed mysteriously do have and have had (and, perhaps, been given) throughout the centuries “the means of grace, and the hope of glory.”

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The General Thanksgiving  (BCP Morning Prayer, Rite 2)

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

…who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.

(Originally written on June 6, 2019, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.)  Far back in the hidden crevasses of the good ole BCP, there is an obscure and little known gem of a prayer under “Thanksgivings for National Life.” I “just happened” to discover it this morning.  While I think that it should be front and center every day, it is especially fitting on days like today:

Normandy Beach

Normandy Beach

For Heroic Service.  O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Normally, such a collect would totally escape my attention, but blessfully, at a small Eucharist I sometimes – but don’t always – attend on Thursday morning, the Celebrant today decided that we should offer the Thanksgiving “For the Nation” on page 838 as our “Prayers of the People.” And it was lovely.  But it was the thanksgiving prayer right after that — the one above, that appears on page 839 — that caught my eye.

It was exactly 75 years ago today of course that 150,000 allied fighters from the United States, England and Canada began their “D-Day” assault on the beaches of Normandy, France for the liberation of Europe in World War II.

It’s so strange how Grace works sometimes.  I came so close to sleeping in this morning.  I came so close to passing by the church because traffic (and my slowness) caused me to be a few minutes late (and I hate going in late).  I came so close to just closing the Prayer Book after we finished the Thanksgiving Prayer “For the Nation” and not glancing at the prayer that came next.

But I didn’t.  And as a result, a profound gift was received.

Now all of these “near misses” could absolutely be mere happenstance — a mundane, random-as-rain coincidence of chance, as if I flipped coins all along the way.  I am too much a seasoned and cynical trial lawyer not to note the substantial evidence of that very plausible possibility.

And yet it did happen.  I did not sleep in, I did not pass by, I did not just go on immediately to the next page. I did notice.  And I was graciously exalted by the richness of those words and a “grateful heart” indeed for the thousands who sacrificed their young lives on their “day of decision” on another June 6 morning, three-quarters of a century ago.

That gratitude extends as well for such small moments of “coincidence” that keep pulling me back to the Mystery.

… a creature of your own making and your gift into our lives.

A little more than two years ago, I wrote a blog piece that resonated with a lot of readers.  Its impact surprised me a little, but maybe it shouldn’t have.  The piece was entitled Dogs and Tears, and it spoke to something I’ve come to find is one of the most difficult parts of the human experience — the grief over the loss of an beloved animal.

In it, I reflected on a letter I tried to write months earlier to a friend who had to end the suffering of his family’s 16-year old dog a few days before Christmas, and how “I tried to offer — as best I could — some sense of awareness that his mourning and suffering over an animal was as real and as raw as any grief that any human suffers in this life.”

Tonight, I’m writing that letter to myself.

At the very beginning of this blog in September 2012, I included a picture of Sandy with

The “best dog on the planet” is no longer confined by it.  She has an infinitely larger yard now in which to frolic.

the caption “Best dog on the planet.”  A few hours ago, that dog left this planet — and a big-ass gaping hole in the hearts of my adult son (who has known her since he was eight),  and his mother (with whom my son and the memory of Sandy will now forever live), and me.

Early this morning, I was in a devotion group of fellow faithful strugglers when the question was posed, “What’s the one question you want to have answered?”  It took me an entire second (or less) to come up with the one at the very top:  Is there — in fact — a heaven?  I have asked that question before in this blog: “Will, one day, I wrap my arms once again around my father and my mother, and say hello to an older brother I never really knew, who at age 10 left me and my sister and a shocked small community that loved him so? And will he be an older brother, or a little boy?”  Who, on earth, knows?  Continue reading

…and for assuring us in these holy mysteries…

One of the most profound phrases for me in the Prayah Book (that’s the southern translation) is in one of the Thanksgiving prayers at the end of the Eucharist that we say just before getting our benediction send-off:

9D0AF548-DC1D-488A-A7C9-FA0D28377DD3“Almighty and everliving God, we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and for assuring us in these holy mysteries…

It seems so counter-intuitive.  That is especially true for a litigation lawyer who disdains “mystery” of any kind…it is what I don’t know that bothers me going into a trial or hearing or deposition.  How can any rational human ever be assured by something mysterious?  When it comes right down to it, how often can any of us be all that “assured” in just about anything, least of all a “mystery” no matter how “holy”?

Continue reading

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle…

A year ago, on Good Friday, I sat alone with a dear friend keeping early morning vigil in a silent church, dark at first but growing in light as our hour passed.  I wrote then of the ineffable inmost dwellings of our yearnings for the Other.  I tried to write, as best I could, of those things that are quite simply beyond words.

This year, the church was the same, but the circumstances different.  This year, my Good Friday was not that of a quiet lonely morning vigil, with no clergy or music but only growing light and deafening silence.  Rather, this Good Friday contained a bleak service at high noon, with the clergy moving in deliberate slowness dressed only in unadorned black robes, two simple but profound songs and a couple dozen fellow travelers.  A cross with a veil was quietly brought down the aisle to begin the Liturgy of Good Friday, with the small assembled congregation slowly bowing as it passed each pew.

In this starkness, the Celebrant begins… Continue reading

…and above all, in the Word made flesh, Jesus your Son.

We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son.

This opening paragraph from Eucharistic Prayer B, and especially its last seven words, has had a special resonance for me lately.

It started around Christmas, and all its seasonal references to “the Word.”  The author of John began that Gospel, of course, with the acknowledgment that “the Word” got this whole ball rolling, so to speak:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… (John 1:1)

It’s not easy for me, I must confess, contemplating the sheer foolishness of Christmas, and the whole concept of “Incarnation” — the act of the Divine somehow occupying flesh (or carnis, in Latin).  Think of it — the Ubiquitous Power of all Existence, choosing to appear in that Creation as a utterly helpless and completely dependent bastard infant of a poor, oppressed peasant girl.  Truly absurd.

logos

In the beginning was the Word...

But every so often, Grace breaks through. Continue reading

Upon another shore and in a greater light…

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(Originally posted December 22, 2013)*

One small voice, belonging to a 12-year old boy, begins to sing…

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

Other young boys join in, followed by the full choir, followed by the congregation, as the throng of Choristers and Acolytes and Priests make their way forward…

One small, young voice... ushers in the best worship service on the planet. One small, young voice… ushers in the best worship service on the planet.  (Click HERE.)

The place is Kings College Chapel, in Cambridge, England. The time is a minute or two after 3 p.m. London time on Christmas Eve. The occasion is “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”  And for this crusty curmudgeon, it is, quite simply, the best worship service on the planet. Continue reading

To mourn thee, well beloved…

While thumbing through the hymnal, as I sit in the stark stillness of a Good Friday morning, words jump off the page…

Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

I’m a word-guy. I love words, and love to find that “right word” especially, that difference between “lightning” and “a lightning bug” as Twain put it. I make my living (such that it is right now) mostly through words, putting them together in such a way that might prove most persuasive and beneficial for my clients.  Good FridayYet, this day is just one of those days in which my words fail me.  Words of others, though, often knock me down.

Sometimes on Good Friday, I try (because that’s just what I do) to put into words my feelings on this day, with their mixture of hopelessness and hopefulness, both desperate and concurrent, Would that I might be able, and willing, to just let the moment be, to let Good Friday just happen, to just “sit with it” and let the bitter joy of Jesus’ crucifixion silently speak whatever it wishes to speak. But I can’t.

In that way, I am like Peter I suppose, always seeming to interject words when they just aren’t necessary. “Lord, it’s good that we are here…” he eagerly “informs” Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:4), or “Lord, you’ll never wash my feet,” indignantly protest at the last supper and then a breath later, “…Then Lord, not only my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:8-9).  I too want to capture the moment, to try to put into words what I feel, sitting in a silent church with a dear friend for an hour vigil early this Good Friday morning.

But on Good Friday, all I can do — the best I can do — is indeed just sit in silence.  On occasion I feel moved to pick up the hymnal, and amble through its pages glancing at the hymns of Jesus’ passion and let the poets do what they do best.

Without any music or voices to embellish or distract from them, the written words of the hymns seep into my soul…

168   O Sacred Head Sore Wounded

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

 

585   Morning Glory, Starlit Sky

…Therefore He who shows us God
Helpless hangs upon the tree
And the nails and crowns of thorns
Tell us of what God’s love must be.

Here is God, no monarch He,
Clothed in easy state to reign.
Here is God, with arms outstretched,
Aching, spent, the world sustain.

 

And of course, there’s that hymn that thoroughly overwhelms me every time, not only for John Ireland’s sweet and simple and perfectly aligned tune, but most especially for sheer beauty of Samuel Crossman’s heart-warming and heart-wrenching words…

458   My Song Is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I,
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

It would be disingenuous for me to say (life being what it is and all) that “all my days I could gladly spend” like I do on this Good Friday, in this “sweet praise.” But I will spend this one, at least, singing silently of “my Friend,” and with more than a few tears of grief and joy be thankful for this friend who on this day died for me.

Love Unknown

The Choir at King’s College Cambridge: My Song Is Love Unknown

 

 

…marked as Christ’s own, for ever.

Then the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person’s head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross [using Chrism if desired] and saying to each one…   N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.

Not sure what it is about Baptism, but I become a misty-eyed old fool most occasions. It’s not the babies that get me all sentimental. After all, cute though they are in their snow white “Christening gowns,” those little cherubs are basically just sleeping & crying & feeding & pooping machines. No big deal.

Christs own forever

The Christian version of branding a calf…signed, sealed and delivered.

And yet, what our tradition offers to them is a very big deal. It is an extraordinary thing we offer these pudgy-faced lumps of flesh in baptism — we name them and brand them.

“(Jackson Benjamin or Mary Catherine or John Jacob Jinglehimer…), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as CHRIST’S OWN…FOR EVER!!!!!!!”
I look at the priest holding that baby, and sometimes think of a little calf scampering off having just had its rear flank permanently seared by the red-hot branding iron. And for whatever reason I mist up, knowing (or at least wanting desperately to believe) that whatever lies ahead for that infant, whatever future choices are made for or by that child, whatever those innocent eyes see (or refuse to see) in the lifetime waiting ahead, I am being told that this newest Christian belongs, not just to our parish, not just to the one holy catholic church universal, but to Christ!
Christ named him.
Christ claimed her.
And Christ marked and sealed that young child as his own.
And NOTHING can separate him or her or any of us from God’s infathomable Love and Grace.
For ever.
Quite overwhelming, when you think about it.