Are we there yet? Imagine that!

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call
Jan. 21, 2018

Are we there yet? You may remember saying that. You may remember how slowly time moved. Your fullness of life was ahead of you. You perceived your days as plodding on. Toward fullness. That perception was your reality.

Fullness came. Too busy to notice? You became used to time’s movement, perceived usually as neither slow nor fast.

Now in my 81st year, time flies. In two-week increments. 

I create as a volunteer a newsletter for the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. I named it newSpin. Alternate Thursdays are my deadlines. They come by quickly. I work slowly. It may take me four times as long to do something I could have done quickly and efficiently years ago. How about you?

For the past 12 years, I have been invited to serve as priest-in-charge at a bayside Episcopal church and a residence a few steps from the beach in Longport, New Jersey, the Church of the Redeemer. Those two weeks pass like two days.

And, of course, I am “nearer my God to thee.” Every day is a gift.

“The contemplation of one's own death is an ancient part of spiritual practice,” writes Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. “It helps us become braver, because the things of which we refuse to think don't go away meekly -- they just go underground, where they grow more potent and more frightening than they really are. 

“Death will be part of your life, just as birth was. Get used to it. Don't be afraid to think about it. You won't have much say in where and how death will come to you, but you do have a lot to say about who it is who will do the dying.”

I know that today is the only today I will ever have. I struggle to make it matter. I write a lot, hoping what I say – perhaps this column – may be useful to someone.

I’ve been helped by encouragement received from readers.

On a Saturday morning in 1994, I posted a story online in response to a request from a writer in New Hampshire, prompted by a quote posted a few days earlier by a writer from New Mexico.

Later that day, a writer from New York thanked me for posting the story. He said a friend from Bellingham Washington sent it to him. "It's exactly what I needed to wrap up my sermon tomorrow," he wrote.

The miracle of the Internet is that something good may have happened for someone in a church in Aurora NY because someone in Bellingham WA felt that a story someone in Bethlehem PA told in response to a request from someone in Keene NH prompted by a quote posted by someone in Albuquerque NM was worth copying for a wider cyberspace public. That hooked me into writing online.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in an automobile accident soon after his first Senate win in 1972. Nearly three years ago, he lost his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer.

He now tells people dealing with grief, “The day will come when the memory of the person you lost brings a smile to your lip before a tear to your eye.”

I often hear someone say at the death of a loved one, something like, “Dad is now happy with Mom, and I will soon be with them and my beloved husband.”

Though I cannot imagine life with God to be a recreation of the love I have experienced here, I am not critiquing that way of looking at death. My theology moderates such imagination. At times, I wish it did not. It might be more comforting than simply letting go and letting God

This I know, however, that if I can’t say what the afterlife is I can’t say what it isn’t.

Soon after I die and reach another “time fulfilled” when time is absorbed into eternity, I want what people remember of me  – soon enough – to bring a smile to the lips of my loved ones before it brings tears to their eyes. When that happens, it may mean as well that the lives we lived even made God smile. Are we there yet? Imagine that.

Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], an Episcopal priest, retired since 2010 served on the bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the bishop’s staff of the RC Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that. His newSpin newsletter may be found at

On Fire – Bill Lewellis

I don’t want to set the world on fire
Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, August 21, 2016

On a recent Sunday morning, a strange gospel passage proclaimed that Jesus “came to bring fire to the earth … division [within families].”

This scripture may once have given some sufficient religious direction to shun gay family members … or anyone who has moved beyond denominational doctrine on other matters.

It confuses me, but this I know: Following Jesus does not mean you have to pick a fight with your family.

A childhood memory changed this scripture for me.

I grew up in the lower Anthracite region of Schuylkill County in Pennsylvania where my parents operated a neighborhood bar.

Three rooms on the first floor: the bar, the side room with six tables, a TV and a jukebox … and a kitchen from which halupkies, club sandwiches, fresh pork and ham sandwiches, hot sandwiches and very fresh hard shell crabs were sold to customers.

Our living quarters were on the second floor. Only in theory. The second floor was our sleeping quarters. We lived in all three rooms of the first floor, especially the kitchen. Some 90% of our customers were also our friends. My first-communion party with parochial school classmates was held in the side room.

As I was falling asleep on the second floor, I could hear the familiar songs of the forties: Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, the Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James orchestras, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots.

The Golden Age of Song, the music of World War II. Nickels in the jukebox played a significant role in driving these songs up the charts.

The beginning of today’s gospel passage took me back to all of that. Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth.” The Ink Spots’ record played on the Wurlitzer, “I … don’t want … to set the world … on … fire; I … just want to start … a flame … in your … heart.”

I can imagine Jesus saying that – or singing it in a group called “Jesus and the 12 disciples.”

I … just want to start … a flame in your … heart.

Have you ever received a call from a stranger at 2:00 in the morning? Have you stayed on the line?

I listen to a variety of podcasts. The following is my abbreviated version of a story told recently on one. It lacks the impact of the woman's 15-20 minute powerful telling of her story, but it retains the powerful ending.

She spoke in detail about her addiction to drugs. At a low point in her life, she found a piece of paper on which her mother had written the telephone number of a Christian counselor. She hadn't spoken with her mother for some five years.

She dialed the number, at 2:00 a.m. She heard the rustling of bedclothes and the turning down of a radio as a man said hello.

She told him about the note with his number and said she hoped he could help her.

He replied gently … and listened, listened and listened. Until the sun came up.

"You've been so kind and have helped me a lot," she said after some four hours.

"I've been expecting that you would say some prayers or give me a few bible verses," she said, "and I want you to know that I am quite willing to hear them. After all, that is part of your profession, and you have already helped me so much."

The man said he wanted to tell her something and asked that she not hang up after he did. She agreed.

"You dialed the wrong number," he said.

Catch your breath. Four hours? The wrong number? Was this someone in whose heart Jesus had started a flame to enable him to take and stay with the call? Or did his good act ignite the flame?

“I … don’t want … to set the world … on … fire; I … just want to start … a flame … in your … heart.”

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], an Episcopal priest, retired since 2010, served on the staffs of two bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for nearly 25 years and on the staff of the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for nearly 15 years before that.]

Let your experience pray

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, Sept. 13, 2014

Three of many experiences have helped me discover the prayer known as contemplation.

At a traffic light, years ago, I sensed the backseat passenger in a car on my left looking my way. He buzzed his window down and leaned toward me. I buzzed my window down and looked toward him.

“I feel like I should be asking you if you have any Grey Poupon,” he said. I returned his smile, acknowledging his allusion to the 1985 TV commercial. He continued, “But we’re looking for Route 22.”

Common ground at that moment was a whimsical commercial for mustard. How little it takes. Were it not for traffic and schedules, we might have entered into conversation. Perhaps the beginning of a good relationship.

You may think I have made this next incident up. Not so.

Until my 2009 retirement, I drove to work for some 25 years from Whitehall to Bethlehem. MacArthur Road to Route 22 East to the Spur Route across the Hill-to-Hill Bridge to the office of the Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem.

One day, at a point where I should have merged onto 22 East to make it to Diocesan House in time for Morning Prayer, I continued south on MacArthur to Dunkin’ Donuts. I told myself I needed coffee and a donut more than Morning Prayer.

As I sat at the counter previewing my day, a car crashed through the plate glass wall. I spun on my stool and touched its hood. No one was hurt. Not the driver, not I, not those who continued to drink coffee with me until the police came and ushered us out. Later that day, I found in my jacket pocket a handful of pebbles from the tempered glass.

Finally, many years ago, I arranged for the installation of a large, movable satellite dish on the bell tower of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The Morning Call took photos. The published photo had been taken at an opportune moment. As the crane had lifted the dish three-quarters of the way, the cross at the peak of the facade of the church was clearly visible through the dish.

For years, those experiences became my prayer on my drive to work. I considered first connection, relationships. Then, mortality. Finally, as I began to cross the bridge where traffic slows and the Cathedral Church comes into view, I looked for the cross and the satellite dish.

The cross, you know, is a window into the heart of God, far beyond the limited imagination of any of us.

The satellite dish, barely visible from the bridge, seemed to me to search heaven and earth for the many other media of God’s self-disclosure where God is still speaking. Where will God show up today? Is God counting on me to show up, to mediate God’s love.

The goal of prayer, Father Richard Rohr writes in his most recent book, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, is not to manipulate God or change God’s mind but “to give you access to God and to allow you to listen to God and to actually hear God, if that does not seem presumptuous. But mostly, prayer is to allow you to experience the indwelling Presence yourself. You are finally not praying, but prayer is happening through you, and you are just the allower and enjoyer.”

Consider your experience. Allow your experience to pray.

Rohr suggests elsewhere in this book that the ancient, the traditional understanding of prayer was contemplation. Only when “saying prayers,” in public or private, became the common way did prayer as contemplation become something rare, only for the “holy.”

All of us have had experience we can contemplate. In our experience, we can dwell with God. We will discover there true prayer.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]

Jesus wrestled with God about a better way

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call
January 25, 2014

A strange phrase found in the gospels is that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

“Lead us not into temptation,” we pray in the traditional version of the “Our Father,” though in the contemporary version we pray, “Save us from the time of trial.”

Some criticize the traditional version, saying God would not lead us into temptation. Considering the strange phrase in the gospels, however, though I am not a biblical literalist, one might not be so quick to dismiss the metaphor. Neither version is right or wrong.

Many, as I, pray both versions. I consider that as narcissism tempted Jesus in the desert, he wrestled not with the devil but with God.

Years past for which I yearn at times, two of my sons took on the personae of the Olympic track stars they watched on television. They held their own Olympics in the house. Matthew, then four, always crossed the finish line first. He raised his arms in victory: “I won, I won.” Stephen, 2, trailing behind, took a cue from his older brother. Was celebrating part of the ritual? He too raised his arms high: “I lost, I lost.”

Consider this conversation Nikos Kazantzakis gives us. “Father Makarios, do you still wrestle with the devil?” “Not any longer,” said the saintly monk. “I have grown old and he has grown old with me. He doesn’t have the strength. I wrestle with God.” “With God? And you hope to win?” “I hope to lose,” Makarios said.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to wrestle with God.

The temptation story of Jesus, told in three gospels, comes right after his baptism by John at the River Jordan. There, Jesus hears God’s call: “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

My beloved. My chosen one. There’s an undertone of the suffering servant of the Book of Isaiah in that call, in that identification. A call to the cross.

What is it that Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof? “If this is how you treat your chosen friends, God, no wonder you have so few.”

What Jesus heard troubled him as he “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” where he was presented with an easier, attractive and efficient Plan B. And the wrestling began, not with the devil but with God, about what it might mean to be God’s beloved, God’s chosen one, God’s suffering servant? There must be a better way?

“Allow me to suggest a better way,” the devil said. “What about a miracle, some magic, smoke and mirrors. After all, isn’t that what people want?”

In the wilderness, Jesus struggled within himself and wrestled with God. He recognized the lies he heard in the desert. Then, going to his hometown synagogue, he owned God’s call.

He read from Isaiah. (A bishop I once worked with quipped that in the Christian scriptures Jesus was the first lay reader.) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he read. “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free… Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The true story happened anew.

When you wrestle with God about good inspirations you may have been resisting, one of two things can happen. Winning isn’t one. Either you walk away from the relationship, or you wrestle until you lose. When God wins, you have reason to celebrate. “I lost! I lost!”

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]

Miners Labored for the Community in a World of Dim Carbide Lamps

By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
Labor Day, 1998

The following is Bishop Paul's September 1998 column for newspapers in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania

My wife, Diana, and I drove to Scranton to visit the Lackawanna County Anthracite Museum a few years ago. I have thought often about that visit and have reviewed impressions it left.

When the coal mine tour guide (whose father died of Black Lung, and whose grandfather died in a cave-in) turned out the lights and showed us the amount of light a carbide lamp (and later a slightly brighter electric lamp) on a helmet provided, and added that this was all the light the miners had from the opening of the mine in the 1850s until its close in 1966, I began to realize what a different world they inhabited.

Long days, mining an eighteen-inch seam on your belly; child labor starting at age seven; water, dirt, and noise; not to mention health, safety, and economic questions. A miner’s life is not one I would have wanted. I understood why being sent to the mines in the ancient pre-industrial world was a death sentence for a convict.

The industrial world we enjoy was built by the backbreaking labor of millions of people, supported by the unpaid labor of those who made what homes they could for them, with little hope for something better. We need to acknowledge our debt to them, not because they made some owners and investors wealthy  (possibly some who read this today), but because they helped build a country, and for a long time provided much of the economic backbone of our region. May we attend to the grim reminders of what it cost them.

What have we learned?  Our workplace is by and large safer and more rewarding than it was for those miners. Most of us have considerably more options about where and for whom we will work. Nonetheless, I think that the basic lessons still apply.

God made humans social creatures. Most of what we do and enjoy depends on what people do for us or with us. People are not to be used, but valued for who they are as God’s creatures, and what they give to one another through their work. That gift is a continuing of the Creator’s work. How do we teach that to our children so they will continue to build human respect and community? Baptismal vows in the Episcopal Church include one to respect the dignity of every person. How do we help our children realize that faith in action starts here?

We need to be clear in attitudes we model to our children, that while different kinds of work have different levels of responsibility, creativity, and reward, and while social conventions acknowledge this in many ways, everyone has the same personal worth. Our children need to hear us speaking of people from any walk of life with respect — whether they have more or less education, responsibility, or money than we.

Those of us who have shielded our children from doing volunteer work for the family or in community service may need to rethink that. How else will they learn that among those who follow Jesus, there are no little princes or princesses, but that we are members one of another? How else can they learn that the more privileges one has earned or inherited, the more responsibility one has?

Finally, work cannot be a god. Many species and some human groups simply kill or leave to starve those whose disabilities or age prevents them from contributing, We have learned to respect and care for them and to help them see that there are many ways to participate in the community's life. Japan, a country that does know something about work marks a Respect for the Elderly day each September. What might a version of that look like in America, brought off with care and without patronizing?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very far from being a socialist. My politics are independent and highly pragmatic, and I would never pretend to have expertise in labor relations. I am convinced, however, that if we believe that God made us, and made us to work together, we need to act as if that is true, and value one another accordingly. When that is happening, I am willing to trust the experts to do much of the rest.

Churches remain relevant despite decline in membership

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call
Your View column, May 4, 2012

Declining numbers in churches of whatever flavor have become a truism, probably since the halcyon I-Like-Ike 50s but especially over the past few decades. Wednesday's Page One story detailed the past decade's local decline.

Declining numbers often mean church closings. Witness the closing of Roman Catholic churches over the past few years. They received remarkable publicity because they were done wholesale and drew controversy. There have been many others, somewhat under the radar.

Is there positive spin we might give to this phenomenon of changing churches?

Decades ago, a wire service religion editor used to say that the Episcopal Church has an influence far beyond its numbers. (Did I say he was an Episcopalian?) The Episcopal Church has a lot of experience at being a small yet effective church. There are probably more Muslims in the U. S. than there are Episcopalians.

Some of our churches with an average Sunday attendance of 50 serve the poor, the homeless, the marginalized in ways far beyond what such numbers might suggest. Some of our large churches serve the poor better than the cities in which they are located. Not only Episcopal congregations. You may be a member of a congregation like that in another denomination. It's all about the members and the leadership.

Five fewer or five more people in a congregation of 50 make a significant difference for the mission of the congregation. For that reason, among others, every person is a treasure.

Hear me. If you are not now a member of a church, talk to your local priest or minister. Tell him or her why you are not. Hear what he or she has to say. Perhaps you can't get your head around or have an incredibly bizarre notion of what you'd have to believe. People have acted themselves into believing the basics by taking part in the mission of the church. "Come and see," Jesus said. Faith is not about doctrinal purity. It is so much more, including paying attention to the hope that is within you, attending intensely to what is within and beyond.

If you can't find someone to talk with or if you are not treated as a treasure, resort to me. I'd love to hear from you.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, a retired Episcopal priest, served on the bishop's staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the bishop's staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that. His email is [email protected]]

Diocesan Life March/April 2012

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Diocesan Life for November 2011

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Diocesan Life February 2011

Hello everyone! Here is the latest edition of Diocesan Life. We are now wrapping around a new, independent paper called the Episcopal Journal. Of course, our online version doesn't include that news, but you should receive it in your mailboxes this week. As always, if you have stories, photos, news, please pass them along to Kat Lehman. The file is in .pdf formate and is 2.3 MB in size.

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God doesn't resolve

By Bill Lewellis
Published in The Morning Call
September 18, 2010

Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) never liked jazz because it doesn't resolve. 

One night he listened for 15 minutes to a man on the street play the saxophone without opening his eyes. "Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn't resolve."

God doesn't resolve. Intransitive. It's not about resolving problems, also problematic. Godself isn't resolvable. 

Throughout our lives, God remains a question rather than an answer. Some say mystery. As we pursue the mystery, however, our questions about God do resolve into questions about ourselves, more embraceable questions.

Continue reading "God doesn't resolve" »

Who worries you?

By Bill Lewellis

[Published in The Morning Call, June 5, 2010]

Some people strike us as saints. Some as sinners. Some as troublemakers, radicals. We don’t have a word for Dorothy Day, 1897-1980.

I wonder, however, whether anyone who hasn’t washed the feet of Jesus with their tears and has been in some ways a troublemaker should ever be honored as a saint.

When a journalist called her a saint, Dorothy Day said she didn’t want to be dismissed that easily.

An anti-war demonstrator, outspoken opponent of Sen. Joe McCarthy in his heyday, a Greenwich Village radical and activist, she had an abortion, was divorced, and bore a lover’s child out of wedlock.
Once asked about her recipe for soup at shelters she founded, she said you cut vegetables until your fingers bleed.
Her challenging twist on a gospel verse was, “Your love for God is only as great as the love you have for the person you love the least.”

In 1933, she and a French Roman Catholic and Christian anarchist, Peter Maurin, co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her nearly 200 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Her urban soup kitchens and shelters still set the standard for compassionate treatment of the homeless and dispossessed.

Engrossed in a conversation with a drunken woman at a soup kitchen, she recognized someone by her side. "Which one of us did you wish to talk to?" she eventually asked.

She lost many radical friends when she accepted the Lord and entered the church. They thought she had capitulated to the opposition, lining up with property, the wealthy, the state, and capitalism. She agreed with much of this, though not with lining up. “There was plenty of charity but too little justice,” she once wrote about the church.

Some 20 years after her death, she was surprisingly approved for the process of study that leads to her being recognized as a saint. Will her early life and the troublemaker aspect of her later life impact on this? Will they be sanitized? We’ll see. Probably later than soon.

“Rare was the seminarian and young priest of my era untouched by Dorothy Day’s life,” wrote the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor (1920-2000). “Whether or not we honored in our own lives her passionate commitment to the poor, or followed even distantly in her footsteps, she worried us. That was her gift to us.”

I have long regarded people who worry me as saints.

They worry me because I know how consistently they live with integrity, how they witness to Jesus Christ even without uttering the words, how they respect the poor and marginalized and work for justice on their behalf. Among others. There are probably some among your friends and colleagues, in your families, and among those you may know of.

Some may worry you because you see their integrity and witness in their work of decades in soup kitchens, food banks or other agencies that serve your sisters and brothers. Some may worry you because you know how authentically they have washed the feet of Jesus with their tears. Some may worry you because you know how courageously they work for justice and peace.

They worry us because they set the bar so high.

There’s some ecumenical irony here for me. Dorothy Day’s parents were Episcopalians who did not go to church very often. While working in NYC, she may have seen the Roman Catholic Church as the church of the immigrants, the church of the poor. It may not have been how she saw the Episcopal Church of those days.

If during my lifetime, my former church declares her a saint, I look forward to reading an official biography that includes her rough edges, one that might make her accessible while continuing to worry us.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]

Different hymns, different tunes

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, has written a new book saying that there are differences in the world's major religions, that we cannot harmonize or homogenize them, and to try to do so is both naive and, very possibly, dangerous.

Here is an excerpt from The Boston Globe:

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

This view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture, not least on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, “Eat Pray Love,” where the world’s religions are described as rivers emptying into the ocean of God. Karen Armstrong, author of “A History of God,” has made a career out of emphasizing the commonalities of religion while eliding their differences. Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message....”

...This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

The gods of Hinduism are not the same as the orishas of Yoruba religion or the immortals of Daoism. To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously the beliefs and practices of ordinary religious folk who for centuries have had no problem distinguishing the Nicene Creed of Christianity from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism from the Shahadah of Islam. It is also to lose sight of the unique beauty of each of the world’s religions.

But this lumping of the world’s religions into one megareligion is not just false and condescending, it is also a threat. How can we make sense of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir if we pretend that Hinduism and Islam are one and the same? Or of the impasse in the Middle East, if we pretend that there are no fundamental disagreements between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam...?

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world.

The title of his book says that "God is not one." More accurately, his point is that all religions are not fundamentally the same.

Read the rest here.

His book, God is Not One:  The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter may be found here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

How many people can you feed on a lawmaker's $158 per diem?

[Posted by Bill Lewellis]

A column by Christopher J. Kelly of The Times-Tribune, Scranton
July 26, 2009

[snip, snip]

It was quite a haul - 155 items in all. Took two shopping carts to wheel it out to the car.

"A lot of folks are going to enjoy a wonderful meal as a result of this little venture," the Rev. Canon William Warne said as he closed the stuffed trunk.

Canon Warne is pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Green Ridge. The Episcopal congregation has an open-door outreach program that includes a soup kitchen that feeds the homeless and families who struggle to get by in even the best of times.

Canon Warne and Fran, his lovely wife of 45 years, met me at the Weis supermarket in Clarks Summit on Thursday morning to conduct an experiment in evangelical economics. The object was to see how many hungry Pennsylvanians we could feed with what each of our esteemed state legislators has the freedom to waste daily.

What money can buy.

[snip, snip, snip, snip]

Work while elephants fight

By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
September 2008
[621 words]

[This is Bishop Paul Marshall's September 2008 column for secular newspapers, papers throughout our 14 counties. It is published by The Morning Call, Allentown, on the first Saturday of every month. It usually appears also in ten additional papers. The combined circulation of papers that publish the column regularly is more than 400,000. More than 130 columns have been published over the past 12 years. If your paper does not publish the column and you would consider bringing it to the attention of the editor, please email Bill Lewellis.]

What I did this summer was attend a three-week international conference of bishops and then come home to sit with my father while he died.

Neither of these events is close to being sorted through in my mind. Each will reverberate for a long time. In setting and tone, the two events were quite different. What they had in common was my having to be patient with a process I could barely influence, let alone control.

All one could do in either case was be present and receive whatever graces were available.

During the conference in England, my counterpart in Sudan and I had to deal with a disagreement in a way that highlighted the kind of quiet receptivity I mention here.

Continue reading "Work while elephants fight" »

Be not afraid

By Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call
August 9, 2008

She screamed. Again. Again. Would she stop? God would get me for the smiling sinner I am, she warned. With frightening conviction.

It happened earlier this summer. Raging threats of God’s wrath, she followed Monica and me through a subway corridor near Port Authority in New York City. Those 20 seconds seemed like five minutes.

She had been hawking literature near a table laden with posters proclaiming that judgment was at hand. Be afraid. A vengeful God would soon enjoy his day of wrath.

I smiled, to allay my anger within. I slowly shook my head.

It was the reaction she sought. I had given her an opportunity to scream her caricature of God. She was a true believer. I didn’t look back.

Continue reading "Be not afraid" »

To be free from the prison of envy

By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
August 2008

[This is Bishop Paul Marshall's August 2008 column for secular newspapers, usually 600 word of less and different from his column in Diocesan Life. The column is sent to newspapers throughout our 14 counties. It is published by The Morning Call, Allentown, on the first Saturday of every month. It usually appears also in eight or nine additional papers at some point during the month. The combined circulation of papers that publish the column regularly is more than 400,000. More than 130 columns have been published over the past 12 years. If your newspaper does not publish the column and you might consider speaking with the editor about that, please email Bill Lewellis.]

Dragging a broken leg on crutches, 12-year-old Brenda was delicately making her way through the classroom. Sarah’s foot shot out. Brenda crashed to the floor. “It was an accident,” lied Sarah.

The truth was, she did not know why she had hurt Brenda. Her parents were shocked. Sarah knew only that it “just came out of me.”

As we talked in the weeks following, Sarah was able to describe the impulse to hurt her classmate. “She is so good at everything and everybody likes her … it makes me hate her.”

Eventually, Sarah used the word jealous, but what was going on for her was a particularly vicious form of envy. Envy is called the coldest of the deadly sins because it destroys the heart of the one caught up in it while also causing harm to others. It was devouring Sarah.

Continue reading "To be free from the prison of envy" »

Messages in the Mall -- a new book by Bishop Paul

By Bill Lewellis
Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem

Soon after becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem in 1996, Paul Marshall wanted to connect with people he would not see in his church or in any church.

He decided to write a monthly column and offer it to local newspapers "to provide a polite but direct alternative to an extraordinarily conservative religious and political culture ... to offer good news particularly to those who cannot identify with or who have begun to question that culture, in either its protestant or Roman Catholic manifestations."

Since that time, daily and weekly newspapers in his 14-county Episcopal diocese in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania have published some 130 of his monthly columns.

His latest book, Messages in the Mall: Looking at Life in 600 Words or Less (Seabury Books, 2008), is a compilation of more than 90 of those columns, organized along thematic lines.

"Given that most of the ink in the space allotted to religious columns in area newspapers is taken up by the dominant religious culture," he writes in the preface, "I have from the first spent most of my time each month attempting to reach those who think Christianity is irrelevant or anti-intellectual, and those who have been burned by rigorist religion."

He is the only bishop in the Episcopal Church -- perhaps the only bishop of any church -- whose columns have been published for so many years in area newspapers.

Continue reading "Messages in the Mall -- a new book by Bishop Paul" »

Messages in the Mall -- a new book by Bishop Paul

Messages_in_the_mall_lores Messages in the Mall -- Looking at Life in 600 Words or Less (Church Publishing, 2008) is a new book by Bishop Paul Marshall who has written extensively both for scholars and clergy and for the general reader. His scholarly works have been described as “readable” and his popular works as “learned.” For more than a decade, Bishop Paul has written a monthly column for secular newspapers, usually 600 words or less and different from the monthly column he writes for Diocesan Life. This rigorous discipline of writing to strict space requirements was meant from its beginning in 1996 to engage the secular culture and to bring the church's message to it by commenting on the realities of the human condition and on issues of general interest. The book is a compilation of many of the columns, organized along thematic lines. Some six to eight papers in northeastern Pennsylvania currently publish the monthly column. Their combined circulation is about 400,000. Click here for more information.

Continue reading "Messages in the Mall -- a new book by Bishop Paul" »

12 Resolutions for people of faith

Andrew Gerns, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton (in the Diocese of Bethlehem) suggests 12 resolutions for religious people. The first: "I will allow my religion to change me, rather than make my religion bless what I already know. I will also be less worried about telling other people how to correct how they should live.

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Called, sent, nourished

Everybody is called, everybody is sent, everybody can be nourished along the way. "With the exception of those few Christians whose ancestors were Jews," Bishop Paul Marshall writes, "the magi represent us as the latecomers at the manger." The foreignness of the magi suggests that "all people are called from darkness too light, all are welcome in Bethlehem.

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