Less Clouded By Irrelevance

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, May 20, 2018
http://www.mcall.com/features/religion/mc-fea-faith-and-values-lewellis-20180520-story.html

 

A spiritual journey is a relationship. It’s a metaphor. No two journeys are the same. No authentic journey begins before God somehow speaks. "In the beginning was the Word..." (John 1:1).

God speaks first. Theologians call this revelation. God may speak through the created world, the prophets of old and new, our experiences, and the Jewish and Christian scriptures. 

God may speak through our families and friends, the wisdom of the ages, our critical faculties and our desires, the Word made flesh, our religious communities, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Through so many ways and people -- most of all, for Christians, in Jesus -- we continually discover who God is, who we are, and how we are related to God and with one another. 

Yet, we see "in a mirror, dimly” or, from an earlier translation, “through a glass, darkly.” (1Cor. 13:12) 

“I squint at God’s glory,” someone said, "through a smokescreen called the real world.” 

I hear Jesus say: Don’t let others tell you what is real. Don’t let anyone de-fine and re-duce reality for you. Don’t allow anyone to imprison you in that most secure prison without walls, the prison we don’t know we’re in. Imagine what is really real. See things differently. 

Jesus challenges us to dream. As we pray, he draws the dream from deep within us. To pray is to dream, to hope, to expect, to imagine. Whether worshiping with a community, reading alone, reflecting on the bible, considering a personal experience, a story or a movie, we can be at prayer, that research and development aspect of the church.

“Only the contemplative,” Thomas Merton used to say, only the pray-er “knows what the scoop is.” Only the pray-er knows that the really real is God breaking into human history -- God breaking through our prejudices and preferred notions with discomforting questions about poor and powerless persons, about justice and peace, about personal and systemic transformation – God breaking into human history so we might break out with new God given hearts to pursue God’s heart’s desires.

Through questions we ask and evidence we interpret, we experience insights. We sometimes see the light. We make judgments. We discover meaning.

God gave us a mind to wonder, put a yearning in our hearts, and sent his Word to lead us on and light our way.

Does our lifestyle celebrate the incredible revelation of God? Do we give thanks by our lifestyle for who we are as a result of God's reaching out to us?

St. Paul tells us in effect to conduct ourselves in certain ways not because law hangs over us but because life dwells within us.

You are a new creation in Christ. Celebrate the gift. Celebrate life. You won't find precisely those words in any one verse of Paul's letters. In many chapters, however, you will find what some biblical scholars have called the Pauline "Indicative-Imperative.” 

The indicative is the statement of fact, i.e., "You are a new creation in Christ." The statement of fact is followed by a moral command, the imperative, i.e., "Therefore, be... (Live accordingly)." The imperative's authority is not law above but life within.

The day after this is published, I will be 81. Though we do see always through a glass darkly, I wish I had seen decades ago, even dimly, however unlikely, what I think I see today. My spiritual journey might have been more focused, less clouded by irrelevance.

Canon Bill Lewellis, blewellis@mac.com, 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 http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/


Life within the swirl — pointlessly purposeful

[A column by Bill Lewellis, published in 1997]

Preachers over the years have moved from the classic “three-point” sermon to one memorable point. Television has, indeed, affected our attention span. Recently, however, I heard sermon-resource guru Leonard Sweet suggest that sermons be “pointless.” His “point” was that sermons ought to invite us into further contemplation. Open-ended images and stories do that better than points. My contribution to that discussion is a “pointless” column. My image: swirls.

Persons of faith, it has seemed to me, thrive within energizing swirls of apparent oxymorons — swirls of law and love, tradition and risk, sacrifice and celebration, already and not yet, death and resurrection. Persons of faith thrive where the world often sees only contradiction and foolishness.

“Be not anxious,” Jesus said. “Be not afraid,” he said again. Commands? No. These are promises. Invitations. When we move within the swirls of life’s storms — finding safe harbor in God’s eye — we need not be anxious about the force or flow of the current. On the other hand when we give ourselves over to current obsession — be the current one of despair, unfounded optimism, certainty, bible belting or anything less than God on which we bet our lives — we allow ourselves to be manipulated somewhere beyond God’s eye.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," a swirl of its own, recently caught my ear again. “I believe the most precious thing in the sight of God is the good deed freely chosen,” he said on the public television series, Searching for God in America. “When I choose to be generous, to be truthful, to be forgiving — when I choose to do good, the Talmud tells me that God looks down and says, 'For that moment alone, it was worth creating the world.'" The good deed freely chosen … within the swirl of God’s will and human freedom.

The TV series also featured former White House hatchet man Charles Colson who found religion in prison. The interviewer asked him if he is surprised by people still doubting the authenticity of his conversion, even 23 years later.

“Of course,” he said, because if Jesus Christ will come and live in my life, if he will take the toughest of the Nixon tough guys and turn Chuck Colson’s life around, he could turn anyone’s life around. The problem is a lot of people are running away and don't want their lives turned around.”

Kushner and Colson. Jew and evangelical Christian. Another swirl?

Caught up in a current of arrogance, I used to doubt the authenticity of Colson’s conversion. No more. What right do I have to doubt the authenticity of anyone’s conversion to God?

Be not anxious. Be not afraid. Life within the swirl is not a default compromise but an intentionally staked out position. When you live in God’s eye of the storm, you can also dance on the edge to the music of the center. Is there a “point” in that image? Sorry about that.


FAITH, FEAR AND CERTAINTY

[A slightly edited version of a 2003 column by Bill Lewellis, published in The Morning Call]

When the religious "certains" have been many, they have harassed, persecuted, even killed the few. When the "certains" are few, they simply bore others to death with an ironic accomplishment: replacing the joy and richness of relationship with God with a drab and tedious version of "being right."

There is a presumption in the land of religion: that the opposite of faith is doubt,and that faith is about "being right." Jesus did not pray that his followers be ever right; he prayed that we be one. Lead us not into presumption.

The opposite of faith, some say, is fear. I agree. Fear that God does not love me. Fear that I might not "be right" about religion. So, somehow or other, I need to be certain.

Faith is a risky business, sometimes described as a leap. It has to do with questions. Certainty has to do with answers.

You may remember the old Peanuts comic strip that has Lucy shouting, "God is the answer, God is the answer." As she runs by Snoopy, he is left thinking, "What is the question?"

That's a profound statement. Greater religious faithfulness arises from asking insightful questions than from repeating one's own certainties.

The double-sided, classic religious question is first of all about exodus: emancipation, freedom, liberty, deliverance, passing through the river of death and life. It's about getting out of the box, a prison of our own making. It's the most secure prison one can imagine, a box we don't know we're in. In that context, "What's the question?" isn't so funny.

The other side of the question is about relationship, covenant, transformation, enlightenment, resurrection, new life. "You are a new creation in Christ," St. Paul often reminds us. Therefore - here I paraphrase St. Paul, -- be who you are, know whose you are, and live a life worthy of that calling.

The "certains" deal more in answers than in questions – quick to condemn the contemporary cultural target, e.g., persons who are gay as well as anyone who questions the answers about which they are certain.

Jesus “was not brought down by atheism and anarchy,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes. “He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared… to make others conform.”

“Our last experience of God is frequently the greatest obstacle to the next experience of God,” writes Richard Rohr. “We make an absolute out of it… All great spirituality is about letting go.”

Give me that old time biblical irony: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned."

As I've grown older, I've believed less more. My faith is focused on God's good news..

As I understand it, the good news is: (1) We're all sinners. (2) We're all forgiven/loved by God. (3) We're all forgiven/loved by God not because we've been repentant. Rather, we're repentant/transformed because we've been forgiven and loved.


Are we there yet? Imagine that!

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call
Jan. 21, 2018

http://www.mcall.com/features/religion/mc-fea-faith-and-value-lewellis-20180121-story.html

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, blewellis@mac.com, 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 http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/


Acting-as-if in trust and hope – Bill Lewellis

The Morning Call, April 29, 2017
http://www.mcall.com/features/religion/mc-faith-lewellis-0430-20170429-story.html

In The Marriage Plot, a prize-winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, two Brown University graduates decide to backpack through Europe. They part when one wants to go to India to serve at Mother Teresa’s guesthouse for the dying.

After a week in Calcutta, working within his comfort zone, he is challenged by an older man to do some of the dirty work. Begin with bathing a dying man. The older man removes the dying man’s bandages that hid ugly and awful smelling infections. He pours water on the man while saying “This is the body of Christ.”

The young man soon leaves. On his way out of Calcutta, he begins mouthing a different prayer he knows because he has been a student of religion: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Centuries earlier, John Wesley brought the gift of spiritual Methodism to many Anglicans. Some say he reformed England, though in the early 1700s, he was close to despair and did not have the faith to preach. He was about to give up the ministry when a Moravian friend counseled him to “preach faith till you have it. Then because you have it, you will preach faith.”

For years, Wesley felt dry within, not motivated even to pray. He found himself crying out, “Lord, help my unbelief.” One evening in 1738 he reluctantly attended a meeting where someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. While the leader was describing the change God works in the heart, Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” and he trusted in Christ.

I served with the late bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, Mark Dyer, who used to advise people in the depths of their spiritual dryness to “act as if you believed.”

Everyone experiences doubts about the faith at times, said Pope Francis. He did, many times – but such doubts can be “a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply. One who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”

A quote attributed to one of my favorite "saints," Dorothy Day, says: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily."

Mother Teresa, however, who received the Nobel Prize and has been declared a saint by the RC Church for her compassion with the poor and the sick and the dying, is the 20th century winner of the spiritual dryness derby

Letters made public years after her death in 1997 revealed that this “living saint” spent nearly 50 years without feeling God’s presence, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

Because I have experienced doubts, dryness and spiritual crises, and continue to do so, even at 80, I find comfort in such admissions from people I admire.

Have you ever been beset by doubt about your religion or spirituality, about the presence of God in your life, about the existence of God? Know above all that faith is not belief so much as it is acting-as-if in trust and hope.

Sharing your doubts, dryness and spiritual crises with those among us who need comfort and courage in our own lives would be, I think, acts of integrity and works of mercy.

Finally, listen to Jesus. How many times did he say something like: Fear not. Be not afraid. Be not anxious? Listen to Jesus. Stay connected to the vine.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, blewellis@me.com, 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 15 years before that.]


Political reconciliation still allows for dissent – Bishop Sean

Political reconciliation still allows for dissent
Bishop Sean Rowe – The Morning Call, Nov. 14
http://www.mcall.com/opinion/letters/mc-trump-president-reaction-rowe-yv-1114-20161113-story.html

In the days after a presidential election, the news is full of public figures talking about reconciliation. Leaders of all kinds are pledging to put a divisive campaign behind them and work together for the common good. Church leaders like myself are particularly given to these sort of sentiments. They appeal to our pastoral instincts and allow us to imagine that we are what the prophet Isaiah called “repairers of the breach.”

It is difficult to oppose reconciliation. Jesus said peacemakers were blessed, and as a Christian, I certainly want to be on his good side, but before we strike up a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya,” I hope we will pause to make sure we understand that real reconciliation requires deep self-examination, an ability to acknowledge both when one has been wronged and when one has done wrong, and the willingness to behave and communicate in new ways. Reconciliation is not a synonym for the silencing of dissent.

Picture

Bishop
Sean Rowe

Many voters saw this election as a choice between the lesser of two evils. While I don’t find that characterization useful — there are no perfect people, and hence no perfect candidates — it is true that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton was especially well thought of by much of the electorate. But the country has made a choice. The time for comparing his flaws to hers is over. The time for looking squarely at the person whom we have elected to the highest office in the land is at hand.

Nothing about Mr. Trump’s campaign suggests that he has any interest in uniting our country. He has repeatedly made racist and misogynistic comments for which he has not apologized. He stoked rage against dark-skinned immigrants and refugees — rage that is already resulting in increased reports of hate crimes across the country. And he refused to condemn the worst excesses of his supporters.

It is possible to argue that, despite these flaws, it was morally necessary to vote for Mr. Trump. But it is not possible to argue that voting for him absolved him of these sins. So what does it mean to “reconcile” with such a person? How much repentance or self-scrutiny is it possible to expect? These questions are especially pertinent to white Christians like myself because we provided the votes that elected Mr. Trump.

As a Christian, I believe that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, that God loves each of us passionately and that God wills that we love one another. We are called to love people whose views are profoundly different than our own, even those who espouse bigotry and hatred. To the extent that “reconciliation” means caring for all people, taking their concerns seriously, working together when we can find common ground, put me down as pro-reconciliation.

But if we truly believe that all people are created in God’s image and likeness, then we have a duty to resist any attempt to exclude people from our common life or from the protection of our laws based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. And those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition have to be faithful to the unbroken scriptural teaching on caring for the poor and the displaced.

Real reconciliation will require us to follow the examples of Old Testament prophets. They took as their task not so much offering visions of the future but warning their leaders what would happen if they were not faithful to God’s laws. They aspired to be the consciences of their nation. Sometimes that meant working closely with secular rulers, but sometimes it meant standing against them and paying the price. Jeremiah, as you may recall, was lowered into a muddy cistern and left to die by the king’s son.

I am not asking anyone to get themselves tossed down a well, and I hope to stay dry myself. But we must be prepared both to swallow any resentments we might have when the opportunity arises to work together for the common good, and to stand up for the most vulnerable members of our society if they become targets of the new administration or its most extreme supporters.

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe is bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.


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, blewellis@me.com, 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.]


I've been haunted by screens

By Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, May 2, 2015

I've been haunted –fascinated – by screens: movie screens, television screens, computer screens. For a long time, as the following example suggests.

"Long ago, rain fell on mud and became rock … half a billion years ago … but even before that … beneath the rocks … are the words of God. Listen."

Those who have seen the beautiful 1992 film directed by Robert Redford, A River Runs Through It, based on Norman Maclean's book, may remember this opening scene where Maclean's father, a Presbyterian minister and seasoned fly fisherman, bends down to the height of his two young sons with a river stone between his fingers.

In the closing scene, a narrator speaks over striking images of nature: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs."

Then the last line, one I've used in a sermon on baptism: "I am haunted by waters."

The first time I saw A River Runs Through It, it seemed to me to be the creative “screening” of the beginning of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him…  life…   light that shines in the darkness,  without being overcome … And the word became flesh, and lived among us.”

Another line from the film “screens” all those scriptures that suggest on the one hand that we cannot earn or merit salvation (God’s love), that it is free – that’s why we call it grace – but, on the other hand, not easy. It’s Norman Maclean's reflection on his father's love of fly fishing, and the expertise he had gained.

"My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy."

I am haunted by screens.

The incredible thing about screens is they can take us to emotional heights and depths we never imagined. Their power, for example, is that any one of us might walk into a darkened theater and move out into the light a different person. In a way, good movies have that power in common with a moving liturgy.

During the Civil War, Walt Whitman often visited the sick and wounded as a volunteer nurse. He would read passages from the scriptures to dying soldiers, one of whom inquired whether he was a religious man. He replied: "Probably not, my dear, in the way you mean." Then he kissed the dying man.

Similarly, the best religious films, TV shows and novels I've seen and read are not religious in the way that phrase is commonly understood.

Have you ever identified a spiritually astute scene you came across in a movie or TV show … or a novel? One that invited reflection both from those of us who may think of ourselves as religious or spiritual, and those of us who may not. I suspect it was probably not from a film with a specifically religious theme, one that would not appeal to mass audiences because it seemed like an illustrated sermon, or, in the case of a book, simply a lengthy sermon.

If you have one in mind, I'd appreciate a note about it. Send an email note to blewellis@me.com. You may find it in a future column.
I am haunted by screens.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, blewellis@me.com, 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 Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]


Bishop Sean Rowe: Use Lent to become 'fully alive'

[Published in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader on Ash Wednesday]

The Christian season of Lent, which begins today, is a hard sell. In the darkest, coldest season of the year, the church calls people together to put a smudge of ashes on their foreheads, remind them that they are going to die and turn to dust, and suggest that now might be a good time to repent of their sins and amend their lives.

Unlike a Presidents Day weekend car sale, Lent doesn’t promise big financial savings. Unlike the opening of baseball’s spring training camps, Lent doesn’t reassure us that the pleasures of spring will soon be upon us, and that all we have to do is wait. Yet there is more to Lent than a command to eat your spiritual spinach.

Only seven short weeks ago, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. We were going to eat less, drink less and exercise more. We were going to seize control of our runaway schedules, screw up our courage and confront that challenge that we’ve been putting off, maybe for years. New Year’s resolutions are a kind of repentance – the word in the original Greek means “turning” – a deliberate decision to live some part of our lives in a different way.

In their way, New Year’s resolutions aren’t that different from the practice of “giving something up” for Lent. Irenaeus, a second century theologian, wrote that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Weighed down by work or financial anxieties, health issues or pressing family concerns, few of us are as fully alive as God intends us to be. On some deep level we sense this, and so we make resolutions and fast on things such as sweets and alcohol.

But I am sure that I am not the only person to wonder whether getting out of bed on a cold morning to exercise, or letting a tempting tray of food pass me by untouched, is worth it. Are the things I do to become more fully alive, to become the person God is calling me to be, actually working?

The Bible offers some surprising and conflicting guidance. Jesus certainly fasted and practiced self-denial. The 40 days of Lent are modeled on the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness after he was baptized by John. Yet the prophet Hosea says that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice,” and Hosea’s words made such an impression on Jesus that he repeats them to those who criticized him for counting outcasts and sinners among his disciples.

I take this to mean that God is not interested in sacrifice for its own sake. The fact that you’ve gone 40 days without a Bud Light doesn’t make God smile if the way you treat your family, your neighbors or people who live on the margins of our society makes God weep. Our disciples and resolutions are effective if they help to deepen our awareness of God’s love, clarify our sense of the things that God is calling us to do, and make us more willing to serve God and one another

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t go easy on the sea salt-and-vinegar potato chips for the next six or seven weeks. But we shouldn’t confuse means with ends.

The prophet Micah had a ready answer for those who asked him what kind of sacrifice God wanted from them. Was it rivers of oil? Thousands of rams? First-born children? No, Micah says. God wants you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If you are better able to do these things on Easter Sunday than you are today, you will have made good resolutions and had a holy Lent.

[Sean Rowe is the provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, which includes more than 10,000 Episcopalians in 60 congregations across Northeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton. He is also bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, headquartered in Erie.]


Diversity at Christ Episcopal Church Reading

[Reading Eagle, Bruce Posten] Christ Church, Reading, features prominently in a story, Church Pews Slowly Open Up for Diversity, that begins on the Dec. 26 front page.

Rector John Francis says that when he was called to the church ten years ago, the nonwhite membership was five to ten percent at most – now 40%, mostly Latino and African American. Read on. [Note: the continuation link is at the top of the newspaper page.]


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, blewellis@me.com, 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.]


I love this pope, by Bill Lewellis

I love this Pope
Pope Francis engages with an atheist
Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, October 12, 2013
http://www.mcall.com/features/religion/mc-faith-lewellis-pope-francis-atheist-20131011,0,4442500.story#tugs_story_display

Eugenio Scalfari, an outspoken atheist, is the founder of Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper. He recently sought an interview with Pope Francis.

Francis agreed, with an impromptu telephone call.

They joked during the interview about converting each other.

“Convert you?” Francis said. “Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them.”

I love this Pope. Eight popes have spanned my life in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches. I’ve given all appropriate respect. I loved three, and Francis is now at the top of that trinity. The other two are John XXIII and John Paul I.

A quote from the interview: “Those most affected by narcissism – actually a kind of mental disorder – are people who have a lot of power,” Francis said. “Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers.”

Don’t you love this Pope?

Thinking about Pope Francis and two remarkable interviews he gave over the past few weeks led me way back into my past.

Josef Fuchs, a German Jesuit who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome during the 1960s, informed my first experience of Christian moral theology. It was not what I was expecting.

I was expecting to study the law. God’s law, church law, case studies, morality and legality. Answers. I was primed for clear and sure answers. Rules for life.

Several years earlier, in college seminary, I had begun collecting answers. On 3x5 index cards.

On the upper right corner of each card, I wrote topical words and phrases. From my reading, I’d make notes on the cards. “The Catholic’s ready answer,” a quip used by a Roman Catholic bishop on whose staff I later worked. Answers for my ministry as a priest.

Only once did I question my system. Three-by-five cards did not accommodate complexity. I upgraded with 5x7 cards. Ya gotta love a linear thinker.

Armed with 5x7 index cards, I was ready for the clear answers I’d discover in Father Fuchs’ moral theology class.

During the first few days or weeks – I don’t remember – he read and talked about passages from St. Paul’s letters. “Hello,” I thought. Was this the moral theology class? Someone’s reading from the Bible. So at odds with my expectations, Josef Fuchs walked his students through passages where Paul says we have been changed, transformed, reborn. In Christ.

He suggested again and again that in this rebirth, we discover the defining moment for Christian living: that the answer to “What must I do?” is contained in the question, “Who am I?” and that the Christian moral imperative is rooted not in law but in Jesus Christ and in the person I have become in Christ. An early version of WWJD?

Paul soon follows “You are a new creation,” Fuchs pointed out, with “Therefore, BE (who you are)!” This sequence was Paul’s moral theology. You are a new creation in Christ. You are mystery. Let the mystery unfold. Let the secret be told. Be reconciled. Be glad. Be thankful. Be compassionate. Be a new creation.

That, Father Fuchs suggested, was the heart of Christian morality: Jesus Christ and the new creation we have become in Christ. He called it the Pauline Indicative-Imperative: You are a new creation in Christ. Therefore, be…

It’s crucial to recognize the priority of the Indicative. Reversing the order, putting the imperative before the indicative, can lead to frustration and despair, even some hypocrisy. That we are a new creation has to be first. Only then, can we be or do with integrity.

The Pauline Indicative-Imperative is the basis for the priority of prayer and worship in our lives.

I eventually tore up my index cards.

Pope Francis, it seems, is rewriting the papal user’s guide.

“From the way you talk and from what I understand,” Scalfari told Francis, “you are and will be a revolutionary pope.” 

I love this Pope.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, blewellis@diobeth.org, 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.


Historic Stevensville Church Still Standing

By Nancy Sharer
The Daily Review, Towanda PA
September 1, 2013
Stevensville – A church stands in the little valley. Like eyes, its arched windows gaze out at the hillside across the way, and its steeple lifts itself to heaven like hands clasped in prayer. The church stands strong.
The years have passed. Its people have been born, worshipped and died. Wagons have rolled by, then impatient cars and trucks. The church stands strong.
Newspaper headlines have changed. Wars have been fought. Wind, snow and rain have flung themselves at the roof and steeple and walls, heat has seared them and cold has clenched them in its cruel fist.  
Most likely, the church has even been scorned.
And still – it stands strong. It stands strong because of ... love.
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, in Stevensville, is around 200 years old. It is no longer used every Sunday, but those who love it gathered recently for a special service to worship and celebrate their tough little church.
“It’s a building, but God insists that it will remain an oasis for people who seek mercy, love, kindness and justice,” The Rev. Paul W. Towers stated during his sermon there Sunday, Aug. 18. Father Paul (the term “Father” is part of the Episcopal tradition) is priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Montrose. He believes St. Matthew’s has given so much over many years, and God returns the blessing.
“I’ve been here many times and I think it’s a great, great monument to our heritage and we all love it!” visitor Joe Welden of Montrose remarked.
The rustic, two-story church has no electrical service or bathrooms and holds old-time furnishings such as a pot-bellied stove, pump organ and old lamps. The floor is unfinished wood.
“Oh, it’s so cute! ... Very cute!” a visitor exclaimed as she walked in the morning of Aug. 18.
A framed document on the back wall lists the charter members: David Olmstead, Joseph Bosworth, Samuel Stephens, Daniel Ross, Jesse Ross, Denison Bostwick, Benejah Bostwick, Salmon Bosworth, Josiah Bosworth, Orange Bosworth, John C. Stephens, Irad Stephens, William Ross, Adalphus Olmstead, Cornwall Brush, John Haywood, Ambrose Allen, Ephraim Fairchild, John Ross, Fairchild Canfield, Elisha D. Wolf, Stephen Everet, William Frink, Alby Bosworth, John Haywood and Samuel Brown.
St. Matthew’s has been under the care of St. Paul’s Church, Montrose, since 1925, according to information provided by the latter. St. Paul’s holds occasional services there, at least one a year. It also oversees physical repairs.
Bob Kimmell of St. Paul’s serves as St. Matthew’s steward. Why?
“Don’t know,” he said. “Just a calling, I guess.”
He just finished a major project on the church foundation. Workers from Woodford Brothers of New York lifted the left side (as you’re looking at the front), removed and rebuilt the left foundation wall, and fixed piers under the church. (Bob has a photo showing the wooden part of the wall dangling over mid-air, with the earth below dug away.) That upper left wall had a 4-inch sag. The renovation has improved it.
“I’m glad that we’ve done all the work,” a visitor, the Rev. Carol Horton, said Aug. 18.
Bob also reported some work was done recently around the steeple.
“The entire underside is charred,” he noted of the floor. Some boys accidentally started a fire in 1863, and “it came that close to being incinerated.”
But it wasn’t. And now, the charring acts as a natural insecticide, keeping some bugs away, he explained.
The upper windows, with circular tops, were likely put in around 1864, he said. Some of the lower windows are regular glass; others, stained. The stained glass windows were added around 1895.
Bob provided a history of the church, written in 1955. According to excerpts:
“There has been a congregation here since 1799. Many of the early pioneers came to this beautiful valley from Litchfield County, Conn.” Many raised sheep. “The first church building was destroyed by fire. The present church building was erected in 1814 and is the oldest church building in (continual) use as a church in the diocese. It was consecrated in 1824 by the Rt. Rev. William White, the first bishop of Pennsylvania on one of his few trips to this area. ...
“The church building has undergone repairs and been redecorated on several occasions. In 1894, the vestry room, which at that time ran across the entire east end of the church, was torn down. At the same time the two-story pulpit, which stood on the east wall above the communion table, was removed and the present alcove for the holy table was added. A smaller vesting room was then added on the northeast corner of the church. Much of the furnishing found in the chancel and sanctuary came from Philadelphia.
“The old pewter communion service was given to St. Matthew’s by Mr. George Mansley of Towanda in 1849. ...
“Only two rectors seem to stand out in the history of St. Matthew’s Church: the Rev. Samuel Marks, whose saddle-bag is still in our possession, and the Rev. George Payne Hopkins, who served as rector on three different occasions and who was the last resident rector. ... After the retirement of the Rev. Mr. Hopkins in 1900 services were conducted by neighboring clergymen.
“Beginning in 1903 services were held during the summer months by seminarians who came and lived in the area.  ... For the past 30 years, it has been served by the rectors of St. Paul’s Montrose, Pa. ”
Bob showed another history, titled “Reminiscences” and written years ago by church members. It reports the original steeple blew down and the bell was taken to the Methodist Church in Silvara, Wyoming County. Also, it notes, the first children baptized in the church were Mrs. Arabella Bosworth and Mary Electra Bosworth.
It goes on: “In the old days the church was filled. People came from LeRaysville and Spring Hill, some 6 miles away.” It also mentioned the fire: “Some boys built a fire in the stove and left it to go fishing. The fire burned through the floor and caused a great deal of smoke because of a large quantity of fine sawdust left there when the church was built.”
It, too, notes the repairs made in 1894 (sic 1864) and adds “the big window of the chancel was put in at that time.”
Olive Keeler was active in the 1800s and cared for the oil lamps. “When there was no man in the congregation, she often took up the offering,” it reports. Her father made the window frames, which held candles.
It also talks about the large stone porch: “The top stone was originally one piece but the wagon hauling it from Ruger’s Quarry at Spring Hill to the church broke down, so to get it to the church they had to cut it in half. The cost of the stone was $36. ...
“The last regular services were held there in 1899 and early 1900.” But it notes Sunday school was being held until 1912.
Forty-four people attended the service on Aug. 18. Beforehand, French horn and clarinet players, sitting behind the old stove, performed “In the Garden.”
“And he walks with me and he talks with me,” Father Paul sang. Others joined in. “I bet you that hymn was sung here many a time!” he declared.
Flowers of orange, yellow and red decorated the pulpit. A shiny cross hung on the wall behind, and above it light from heaven itself smiled upon stained glass windows. “In loving memory of the founders of St. Matthews Church, Pike, Penna.” read words at the bottom of the center window. (Stevensville was once part of Pike Township.)
In the service, Paul told of opposition the early members faced. “The English church was not the church to go to.” The Episcopal Church was affiliated with the English monarchy. Since those were the days just after the Revolutionary War against England, this didn’t set well with many.
“They were called Tory churches,” he said. After the war, 80 percent of clergy in the Diocese of Bethlehem had returned to England.
But he believes the St. Matthew’s members were not playing politics.
“The people who came here came because of the love of God.”
In his sermon, he told of Jesus’ disciple Matthew who, like these early members, was not well-liked. “Matthew was despised by his own people. Why? He’s a tax collector!”
He also noted how God’s people in Old Testament days had become so concerned with rules that they forgot about kindness and justice. Matthew, though, was drawn to Jesus and broke free of that oppression, embracing Christ’s message of mercy and love.
The Stevensville congregation, facing similar opposition, named itself after Matthew. And it survived.  
“For some reason God just won’t let this church go away!” Father Paul declared.
For one thing, his friend Bob loves St. Matthew’s. Father Paul remarked how Bob spoke the first time they met, with emotion in his eyes. “I want to bring life back to St. Matthew’s!” he insisted.
Father Paul encouraged Bob to keep the church that oasis of love and mercy to the weary traveler.
Kathy Preston came from LeRaysville for the service. “This church feels good. It does!” she declared. “There’s so much history here.” Area residents are blessed to have it, she added.
But Martha Yanavitch may know St. Matthew’s the best. Living next door, Martha has mowed its lawn since 1964. She unlocks the door for visitors, and has played the old pump organ just for fun. Back in the ‘50s, she even was a bridesmaid in a wedding there. She keeps a watchful eye on it.
The years have passed, but St. Matthew’s stands strong. It stands because of love.
“It’s just so peaceful and nice,” Martha said. “I love that church!”  

A labyrinth grows in Allentown

By Margie Peterson
The Morning Call
May 24, 2013

Reminiscent of the beloved novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," a labyrinth of wild grasses has taken root next to the Grace Montessori School in the shadow of a seven-deck concrete parking garage in one of the busiest sections of downtown Allentown.

But the grasses and accompanying herb garden were no accident. They are the product of planning and hard work by a partnership of the school and business groups intent on giving the Montessori students a green space for play, storytelling and meditation on the grounds at 814 W. Linden St.

On Friday morning, the school dedicated the labyrinth with short remarks from local officials, songs by small children and a ribbon-cutting next to the fenced-in little park.

"This area is transforming," said Allentown Mayor Pawlowski, whose children had attended the school, which is owned by Grace Episcopal Church in the city.

[snip, snip, snip]

Part of the Grace Montessori mission is to provide quality education for children of all incomes. A third of its students, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, are on scholarship and many live in the downtown, GMS executive director Libby House said.
Uma Rajendran of Breinigsville and Shruti Saraf of Whitehall Township, who attended the dedication, said they weren't put off by the proximity of the parking garage and all the concrete when they chose to send their children to Grace Montessori for pre-school. Saraf said her son is in his second year and loves it. "The school was so good, no matter where it was I would have sent him," Saraf said.

[snip, snip]

Full story, with brief video narrated by GMS program director and elementary school teacher Radhika Hoshing.

Six photos.


The news release by Elizabeth House
In its 20th year in Allentown
Grace Montessori School celebrates the Earth and dedicates new Labyrinth


Grace Montessori School, located at 814 West Linden Street in Allentown on the edge of the city’s redevelopment area, is pleased to announce the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth, constructed in the school’s outdoor green space, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, May 24, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.  As the school has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this academic year, the exciting new project, built over many weeks during the spring, has just been completed. The dedication and ribbon cutting will be an important part of the school’s annual Celebration of the Earth. Honored guests will be PPL Community Relations Director Don Bernhard, State Senator Pat Browne, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, State Representative Mike Schlossberg, Allentown City Council Member Peter Schweyer, and representatives of CREW LV, which sponsored the labyrinth. The Reverend Beth Reed, priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church (located at 5th and Linden Streets in Allentown), which owns the school, will offer a blessing, and the children of Grace Montessori School will perform a concert of songs honoring the Earth and the environment that sustains all life. Parents, church vestry, board of directors, and members will attend.

The labyrinth, which has been generously donated to the school by the members and friends of CREW LV (Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley Chapter) plus Spillman Farmer Architects along with Joanne Kostecky Garden Designs, will be featured at Greenbuild, the largest sustainability conference and expo in the U.S. presented by the U.S. Green Build Council in Philadelphia in the fall of this year.

More than 30,000 professionals of the green building industry, including environmentally conscious engineers, realtors, architects, and manufacturers will come from across the nation to take part in the conference. The local chapter of the USGBC, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, asked all organizations and companies within the region to make a pledge in preparation for the conference. The Grace Montessori labyrinth is CREW LV’s contribution to the conference. Material and time to build the project was donated by the members and friends of CREW LV. Volunteers from PPL assisted members of CREW in performing the back-breaking work of digging up sod, laying Belgian block, shoveling mulch and planting wild grasses and herbs. It is a particularly appropriate project for a school such as Grace Montessori, in light of the Montessori philosophy’s emphasis of reverence for the Earth and the environment.

A labyrinth is generally synonymous with a maze, but there is an important difference between the two: a maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices in paths and direction; but a labyrinth has usually only a single, non-branching path, and its route is not difficult to navigate. Labyrinths have historically been used for both group and private meditation. The Grace Montessori labyrinth will feature a pathway surrounded by raised boxes containing wild grasses chosen for hardiness and bordered by benches and areas for plantings. According to CREW founding member Rosalin Petrucci, “the labyrinth is composed of sustainable materials. Youngsters will connect with nature through the plantings and grasses, which will change over the seasons.”

The labyrinth will become an integral part of the school, its curriculum and mission. Children will enjoy the benefits of the herbs and vegetables planted in the garden and learn about social interaction through activities within. Their teachers have made presentations to the children about the proper uses of labyrinths. They will appreciate spending quiet time there, walking, imagining, gathering in small groups for storytelling, and tending to the grasses and herbs contained in the space. Children who participate in the primary school’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd will walk the labyrinth in mediation and prayer, and it will also be used by the elementary students as part of their inter-faith chapel class.

Grace Montessori School, located in the heart of the downtown HUD focus and Historic areas, began with the purpose of providing high quality education and child care to children of Allentown’s economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. At the heart of the school’s mission is the goal to maintain a first-rate preschool, kindergarten, and elementary grades (1-5) for children ages 3 to 11 who live in the downtown of the city. While the school attracts children of families of a large variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and of all economic levels from all over the Lehigh Valley, GMS reserves 30 percent of the enrollment each year for children who are able to attend only because of the financial assistance offered by its scholarship program. The school also offers child care and summer camp programs.

Grace Episcopal Church is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. It has been known for decades for its many social justice programs, primarily Grace Community Foundation Food Pantry, Grace House, a permanent group residence for previously homeless individuals, and Grace Montessori School. Its outreach efforts also include providing space to the GED Program of the Adult Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, IMPACT Project, Inc., which helps first-time juvenile offenders to re-establish good criminal justice records, and North Penn Legal Services, all of whose staff and volunteers provide essential services to the people of the surrounding neighborhoods.

CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), Lehigh Valley Pa chapter, is the premier real estate organization in the Lehigh Valley and the local chapter of a national organization that is 8,000 members strong. Its members, men and women both, represent every aspect of the commercial real estate industry, including law, leasing, brokerage, property management, finance, construction and more. The organization’s mission is to advance the success of women in commercial real estate.

For more information, contact: Elizabeth H. House, Executive Director, Grace Montessori School, 610-435-4060, or ehhhouse@yahoo.com

Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998)
newSpin blog, Email (c)610-393-1833
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]



Montessori School in Allentown celebrates 20 years of diversity

The Morning Call
Jan. 12, 2013
By Libby House

Did you know Maria Montessori's first classroom, Casa del Bambini (House of Children), was founded in 1907 in a tenement in Rome? The first Italian woman to receive a medical degree, Montessori started her school with 50 poor children living in a slum and successfully taught them, using her method based on the belief that each child has within his or her own potential that can be developed fully when allowed to work independently, with great educational materials and help from highly trained teachers. News of her school quickly spread throughout the world, as did the highly respected Montessori Method.

While most people think of Montessori schools as located in leafy suburban locales or cosmopolitan areas, did you know that a very successful Montessori School has been operating in inner-city Allentown for the past 20 years? A Montessori School in downtown, drawing families with children from all over the Lehigh Valley?

It may seem an oddity, but Grace Montessori School, on Linden Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, in the ground floor of the former Hess Brothers parking garage, is in a beautifully renovated state-of-the-art facility. It is alive, well and happily teaching approximately 100 children (ages 3 to 11) each year from Allentown, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

I am thrilled to be the director of this remarkable school, which many didn't think would stand a chance if we followed the dream of Maria Montessori, educating poor children so they may achieve their highest potential. But we did, and the school has thrived.

It was founded by Cathy Constantin Reid in 1992 to meet the need for excellent preschool education for children whose families were clients of the Grace Episcopal Church Food Pantry. From the start the school provided scholarships for children whose families could not otherwise give them a Montessori education.

The mission became to reserve 30 percent of the enrollment for children from economically disadvantaged families. The intention was never for an exclusive school, but an inclusive one that would bring in children from all socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethnic groups to learn and play together.

After getting over the initial surprise that a Montessori school had chosen an urban location, suburban parents came and saw the beautiful classrooms consisting of high-quality Montessori materials and furniture, all under the loving and careful supervision of Montessori-certified teachers. And they enrolled their children by the scores. Winning over these parents came quickly once the school's reputation for excellent early childhood education had been established.

But after an initial gift from an anonymous donor to the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, the questions became: Who will provide the money for all those scholarships? Where will we find the grants? What kind of fundraising can we do so that parents who can afford to send their children to our school do not end up paying higher tuition to underwrite parents lacking income needed to pay for the costs?

That called for a development program that includes grants from Allentown and local foundations, money from companies and individual sponsors, and an annual scholarship benefit auction held by the parents. When parents decide to enroll their children at Grace Montessori School, they demonstrate their willingness to buy into not only the Montessori philosophy but also into the church's inner-city mission for social justice and serving the poor.

The city has provided grants, and foundations such as Harry C. Trexler Trust, Century Fund, Keystone Nazareth Charitable Foundation, The Rider-Pool Foundation, Charles H. Hoch Foundation, Holt Foundation, Just Born, and Talbot Hall Fund have provided support. This year the school became an Opportunity Scholarship Organization, so that companies can funnel some of their state tax money to the school. And our parents worked hard and raised $20,000 for scholarships last spring, while thoroughly enjoying themselves at their auction benefit held at the Allentown BrewWorks.

I'm looking forward to this 20th anniversary year of celebration, including Heritage Day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, when our families revel in the school's amazing diversity — a mini-Unit Nations — and climaxing in the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth to be completed in spring, a gift from Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley. I invite you to come and visit our unique and welcoming school.

Libby House is executive director of Grace Montessori School in Allentown.


Faith is golden – Beliefs are overrated

By Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, May 26, 2012

Faith is golden. Beliefs are overrated. As are works.

When one reduces religion to either beliefs or good works, both are overrated. Reductionism (think "nothing but") usually destroys anything it attempts to explain, as in religion is nothing but belief or religion is nothing but morality.

Morality itself has for many been reduced to nothing but sexual morality. It is so much more, embracing personal, business and community relationships. And faith is so much more than belief, as in “I set my heart on” God rather than purely intellectual acts of belief.
 
Belief and good works are overrated especially when we think of them as prerequisites to being befriended by God.
 
Some 50 years ago, I sat in a university classroom in Rome when a professor introduced his course on the theology of revelation –– what we know about God because God told us –– with this image.

In a large lecture hall, accommodating several hundred students from perhaps 50 countries, he paced, slowly, along a raised platform.

He pressed one white dot with chalk on an enormous blackboard. After a dramatic pause, he said, in French-accented Latin, “The white is what we know about God. The black is what we don’t. What we know is little. But the little God has given us to know is precious.”

Among that precious little are two biblical themes: Be not afraid and you are loved.

A few years ago, as Monica and I walked through a subway corridor in New York City’s Port Authority, we passed a woman hawking literature near a table laden with posters proclaiming that judgment was at hand. Bold strokes. “Be afraid.”

I was embarrassed that anyone might think she and I were colleagues. As we passed her, to allay my anger within, I smiled and slowly shook my head.

She screamed. Threats of God’s wrath. God would get me. She followed us, proclaiming her caricature of God to everyone within earshot along hundreds of feet of subway corridor. Thirty seconds seemed like five minutes.

The irony is that versions of “Be not afraid” and “You are loved” appear throughout the Bible, the same Bible the tormented woman had deconstructed because she thought people had to be frightened into repentance before an angry and vengeful God.

Our scriptures, Jewish and Christian, tell the story of God’s love in many ways… from the Exodus story of deliverance from slavery to freedom to the Paschal Mystery of God in Jesus Christ demonstrating his love on a cross to God raising Jesus. In between are many stories of God’s love and our freedom to respond.

Those stories abound, I think, because the single, most difficult Christian belief is not belief in God as Trinity, nor that God became one of us in Jesus Christ, nor that God raised Jesus from the dead, nor that God continues to live in us through the Holy Spirit, nor that we too will be raised. It’s none of those. It is that God forgives and loves us even before we repent.

God’s Good News, as I understand it, is threefold. First: we’re all sinners. We stand in a long biblical line of negative role models.

Second: we’re all forgiven and loved by God. “You can’t conceive, nor can I,” wrote Graham Greene, “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

Third: we’re all forgiven and loved by God not because we’ve been repentant. We’re repentant and transformed because we’ve been forgiven and loved.

God’s relentless love will last. I promise you. I set my heart on God's incredible love. I do not rely on beliefs or works.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, blewellis@diobeth.org, 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.]


When I receive a note from Neva

When I receive a note from nrfox@episcopalchurch.org early in the morning, I read it immediately. Often enough, Episcopal Church public affairs officer Neva Rae Fox finds a news story related to a congregation or agency of the Diocese of Bethlehem before I do. She electronically searches newspapers for Episcopal-related news and, early every morning, offers headlines and links to diocesan communicators and others via her daily distribution list. I find what she does here to be among the most practical assistance the communication folk at 815 offer to communication colleagues across the country. That kind of work in the background often goes unnoticed. Thank you, Neva.

Some local flavor: Neva was born and raised in Bethlehem, a graduate of Liberty High School. Her parents still live in the Lehigh Valley. Prior to becoming public affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, Neva was director of communication for the Diocese of New York. Before that, she worked for the Diocese of New Jersey where she lives and is active in her parish.

Bill Lewellis

Here is Neva's "Daily Scan" for July 5: (In Neva's note, the items come with hotlinks.)

From: <nrfox@episcopalchurch.org>
Date: July 5, 2011 8:35:23 AM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: Daily Scan Tues 7-5-11

Good Morning!
 
Today:  Fourth of July activities (2); Dio Bethlehem ministries; Dio Newark cathedral; Father Alberto; Bp Franklin letter; col from UK
 
Family Makes 4th of July a Day of Service
WSAZ-TV
http://www.wsaz.com/news/headlines/Family_Makes_4th_of_July_a_Day_of_Service_124978339.html?ref=339
 
WIBW (CBS) - Topeka, KS
Cathedral on Fourth
http://mms.tveyes.com/Transcript.asp?StationID=5215&DateTime=7%2F4%2F2011+5%3A02%3A36+PM&Term=episcopal&PlayClip=TRUE
_ _ _ _ _
New Bethany Ministries celebrates 25 years of serving the poor in Bethlehem
The Express Times - LehighValleyLive.com
http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/bethlehem/index.ssf/2011/07/new_bethany_ministries_celebra.html
 
NJN - Newark, NJ
Cathedral
http://mms.tveyes.com/Transcript.asp?StationID=4915&DateTime=7%2F4%2F2011+10%3A51%3A31+PM&Term=episcopal&PlayClip=TRUE
 
'Father Albert' not typical talk show
Arizona Republic
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/arizonaliving/articles/2011/07/05/20110705cutie0705.html
 
Buffalo News
Letters to the Editor: Let’s treat everyone with dignity, respect
http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/from-our-readers/letters-to-the-editor/article478211.ece
 
The Guardian, UK
Anglicans should throw out dry tradition
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jul/04/anglicans-american-episcopal-church
 
Be sure to check
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalchurch.org/ens.
Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iamepiscopalian
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YouTube: www.youtube.com/TECtube
 
Neva Rae Fox
Public Affairs Officer
The Episcopal Church
815 Second Ave., NYC, NY 10017
212-716-6080 Mobile: 917-478-5659
nrfox@episcopalchurch.org


Workers of the world, incorporate!

Op-Ed by Brian Pavlac
Citizens Voice, Wilkes-Barre
Published: June 25, 2011

Unions are dying in America. Their percentage of the workforce has declined from about 32 percent 60 years ago to under 12 percent today. Many of those that remain are under assault, especially since new Republican governors have targeted public employee unions.

Some of the death of unions results from many people seeing unions as unnecessary. In the last half of the 20th century, governments have indeed spread some of the benefits of unionization to the public by legislating protections of paid holidays and vacation, minimum wages and overtime, safe workplace conditions, etc.

Increasingly, though, unions are not naturally declining, but being murdered. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporate executives, and their political allies who have never liked the power assembled in union activity are more motivated than ever to finish them off. Many conservatives hated the recent successful bailout of GM and Chrysler because it allowed the auto unions to survive. Businesses have also deliberately moved factories and offices to states and countries whose laws and customs limit unionization.

Why are they trying to kill unions? Laissez-faire economists say that unions make us less competitive in international markets (although most of our competitor industrialized nations have higher rates of unionization). Corporate executives say the high union wages and benefits cost too much (although corporate profits and executive salaries are now at near-record high levels while median household incomes remain stagnant or in decline). Governors say public unions are bankrupting their states (although lack of tax revenues in an economic slump is more to blame). Libertarians condemn unions as evil socialist collectivization.

True, unions use collective bargaining to empower workers who as individuals would be in a weak position to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Is that so bad?

Unions indeed arose more than a century ago because too many businesses used to exploit workers. As the industrial revolution geared up, business leaders often put profit before humanity. Sound business policy was to pay workers too little to survive, as a lethal poverty prevention measure called the "Iron Law of Wages." Owners could feel virtuous, while they reduced the surplus population (in the words of Charles Dickens). Early industries, supported by governments, opposed any and all efforts of workers to unionize.

In 1935, the American government finally supported unions with the Wagner Act. While that law and the National Labor Relations Board it created supports unions in name, it creates all sorts of difficulties for unionizers. Meanwhile, governments still often side with corporate interests over the workers.

And now the Supreme Court has dismissed a class action suit against Wal-Mart, further preventing workers from acting together for their rights, even without unions.

Maybe unions are too weak to survive these days. Yet, the wealthy interests of capital should not have a monopoly in the marketplace. Instead, I suggest that workers create a voice using the tools of capitalism.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Since the economic and political powers-that-be despise unions, workers should instead incorporate. Then these new worker corporations will sell the services of workers, in turn negotiating, signing, and enforcing contracts, and making profit, for their own benefit.

Ironically, the modern corporation is also a collectivist organization. Governments first created them by law a century and a half ago, as a new way to structure economic enterprises, increasingly replacing the traditional family firms and partnerships. Corporations are artificial people, financed through capital collected by selling stock, run by professional managers, who are, in turn, supervised by a board of directors. Unlike normal human beings, corporations might never die - as long as they continue to make profit, they might exist forever.

What else are corporations but collectives of stockholders and managers who then employ workers to provide goods and services?

I've been inspired by ads I've heard lately proclaiming the advantages of incorporating, even for individuals. Some states, like Wyoming or Delaware, offer ease of incorporation, lack of corporate taxes, and lax regulation and supervision. And we all know how much businesses and the courts respect contracts with other corporations!

I'm not a lawyer, so the incorporation of workers and citizens to better recognize their interests may not be easy or possible. If the current laws allow it, then someone can find a way; if new laws need to be passed, the corporate interests may stop this idea from moving forward.

Either way, I see no alternative to the growing dominance of American society by the wealthy and well-connected armed with their lawyers and accountants. If our society continues to favor artificial profit-making corporations over quality of life for genuine individual human beings, then only corporations will be our future.

Workers of the world, incorporate! You have nothing to lose, but your humanity. The courts, politicians and businessmen are already taking away your dignity and livelihood, anyhow.

[Brian A. Pavlac is a professor of History at King's College, an Episcopal Priest, and the author of "A Concise Survey of Western Civilization: Supremacies and Diversities throughout History."]


Liking is for cowards. Go for what hurts.

By Jonathan Franzen
[An excerpt]

Liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving. The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)

But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).

[snip, snip]

The fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

via www.nytimes.com