Ability, Adaptability, Ambiguity

Living with integrity in the tension
Bill Lewellis

A one-sided conversation took place during the late 1960s when what was to become for me a 40-year ministry on the staffs of three bishops in two denominations. Too soon was it over.

My first day at the bishop’s office of the RC Diocese of Allentown was a deep-water introduction to ecclesial systems. I was 30 years old with the slight experience of three years in parish ministry, and one year of teaching in local Catholic high schools. I had earned a reputation as one who resisted the system. Well, it was the '60s.

During that first day, the bishop’s main man gave me some advice. "You obviously have ability,” he said, “but even more important for your work here will be adaptability … and being able to deal with ambiguity."

The veiled message spooked me. I was warned. It was a pre-emptive strike. I believed then, however, and still believe that the one giving the advice was looking out for me.

One question stayed with me after I processed the advice: "How to live with integrity in the tension?"

Many have tread through the swirling waters of one system or another, learning something along the way. What I learned early on, in the belly of the institution, was this: “God has been known to work within the institution. From generation to generation. But don’t naively trust the institution. It may be where God is speaking. Or not.”

To hear the word of God is to be called to the impossible.

To hear the word of the Lord is to be called to live with integrity in the tension, to live with gospel imperatives, impossible job descriptions that are written on our hearts.

Feed … Clothe … Heal … Welcome … Visit … Raise … Proclaim … Love … Pray … Be reconciled … Strive for justice and peace among all people … Respect the dignity of every human being … Follow me … In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.

It could take your breath away.

We are created with a thirst we cannot quench, to follow a strange God we cannot imagine

Nikos Kazantzakis tells this wonderful story about an Orthodox priest. "I hear you wrestle with the devil," someone says to Father Makarios. "No," he replies. "We've grown old together; we know each other too well; I know all his tricks. Wrestling with the devil has gotten too easy. I wrestle with God."

"You wrestle with God, Father Makarios? And you hope to win?"

"No, I hope to lose."

Hope to lose. The thrill is in being overcome by God. "Batter my heart, three-person’d God … O’erthrow me and bend your force to break, blow, burn and make me new." (John Donne)


Want to pray?

Want to pray?
Reflection by Bill Lewellis
August 2016

Do not be afraid, Jesus said to his disciples, for your Father will give you the kingdom.

One phrase and one word – both common throughout the bible.

Do not be afraid. Write it on a small piece of paper. Put it in your wallet, in your pocket or purse. Retrieve it when needed. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said.

That phrase, in itself, could be a prayer. If you want to expand on it, here's my paraphrase from the Book Isaiah: “Be not afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. Should you pass through the sea, I will be there with you; or through rivers, you will not drown… For you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you… Be not afraid, for I am with you.”

Then, Kingdom. So much might be said about that word, as used in the bible, sometimes heard as kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven or the coming of the kingdom.

The late Bishop Mark Dyer, with whom I once worked, provided the best explanation I’ve ever heard of kingdom, the kingdom we try to build here and the kingdom to come: where everybody is somebody.

When we pray in the Our Father, Your Kingdom come, we pray that we might do our part, with God's help, to make our environment one where everybody is somebody.

My most controversial opinion on prayer is that prayers are hardly ever answered. But, of course, ‘never say never.’ And, as Pope Francis has uttered, “Who am I to say?”

My theological understanding is that God speaks first. Take that to the bank. At times, we hear. At times, we do not. Prayer, then, is our response, our answer to God. Be our prayer one of praise, petition, contrition or thanksgiving. Strange as this may seem, I think that even our genuinely prayerful petitions are somehow a response to God, not our initiative.

As in one of my favorite stories about a young child watching a master sculptor work with hammer and chisel on a large piece of marble. Marble chips flew in all directions. Months later she returned. To her surprise, where once stood only a large block of marble, there now stood a majestic and powerful Aslan-like lion. "How did you know," she asked the sculptor, “there was a lion in the marble?" "I knew," the sculptor replied, "because before I saw the lion in the marble, I saw him in my heart. The real secret, though, is that it was the lion in my heart who recognized the lion in the marble."

Two summers ago, during my annual two-week stay as presider and preacher at an oceanside church in New Jersey, a young woman, mid 40s, came to church wearing the recognizable bandanna of people who are fighting cancer with chemo.

Her surname was Himmelreich – yes, German for kingdom of heaven, where everybody is somebody. We spoke. I was drawn to open up a conversation by text message. She died this past January, about six weeks after her last note to me.

I mention this because she came out of the blue. It was as though God was saying to me, “Keep her in your mind and on your heart. It’ll be good for you.” God took the initiative, and prayers of petition were my response to God.

Simone Weil has described prayer as "absolutely unmixed attention." I like that.

On the other hand, Bishop Mark used to advise folks to pray through their distractions. “Perhaps the distraction is the focus the prayer needs,” he would say. I like that, too.

Then, there is contemplation, not inviting because we think it’s just for mystics. Simply stated, contemplation is focusing and listening … to God. People who contemplate usually choose a word to repeat, to bring them back from their distractions. My word is “breathe.” It’s not copyrighted.

Right after the words of institution during our Eucharist – “Take and eat … Take and drink” – is a wonderful prayer of remembrance. It’s called the Anamnesis, literally in Greek, “beyond forgetting.” – “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection and ascension, we offer you these gifts.” Listen for it. Pray it.

Anne Lamott wrote a book titled, Help Thanks Wow: the three essential prayers. Sometimes it is that simple.

[I borrow the next few paragraphs from a recent sermon by Archdeacon Rick Cluett]

If truth be told, when it comes to prayer, each one of us is probably just like the rest of us. And “the rest of us” includes the disciples of Jesus, too, who once asked Jesus to teach them to pray. These disciples were Galilean Jews who had been raised knowing how to pray, how to bow their head, how to raise their hands, how to recite the Shema Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

The disciples of Jesus had seen him at prayer. They could see the deep, intimate relationship that Jesus had with God. I expect the disciples wanted a relationship with God like his, and that is why they asked him to teach them to pray. They were not seeking a better form or a better technique; they were seeking a way deeper into relationship with God.

Don’t we want that too? It has to do with the longings of our hearts and the pains and tribulations and joys of our lives…

Jesus offered them what we now know as the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father.”

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

Finally, might I suggest a prayer journal? Not necessarily a diary, but a notebook you can hold or a file on your computer where you keep items thoughts, etc., that bring you to prayer. Let's call them prayer starters.

Here, from my notebook, are a few of my prayer starters:

1. I'm already in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness.

2. God me, gracious God. May I be attentive to my experience, to the voices and hearts of those around me. Intelligent in my interpretation of that to which I have been attentive. Reasonable in my judgments about what I have understood. Responsible in my decisions about how I will act on my judgments. And always open to inner conversion, to transformation in your truth and your love.

3. A Prayer attributed to St. Francis. (Page 833 in the Book of Common Prayer)

4. Thanksgivings. (Pages 836 to 841 in the Book of Common Prayer)

We might think of prayer as a going in … into our center … as we do when walking the first half of a labyrinth – then a moving out in the second half. In other words, what am I going to do about what I have prayed?

 


Fear, Intolerance, Justice & Hope

Cliff Buckwalter
Christ Episcopal Church, Reading
July 2016

With all that’s happening in the United States presently, I’m reminded of very similar circumstances during the time I spent in South Africa preceding that country’s first free and truly democratic election in 1994.

When I went to South Africa with my ex-wife and two children in December of 1989, I was unprepared for how successfully the apartheid government had manipulated the fears of their citizenry. With few exceptions, the National Party (NP) controlled the media as well as the courts, government, military, police, commerce, etc. For those in the NP, the white supremacist Conservative Party (CP) and the even more radical Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), black lives mattered little or not at all making South Africa an international pariah. And yet, in the context of South Africa’s total population, these unapologetic racists were relatively few in number. So how did they do it? How did so few control so many? By nurturing racial bigotry, controlling information and keeping people separated. In this manner, they created a country run on fear and constantly on the edge of violence.

It must be understood that following the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political parties and culminating with the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, expectations and hopes of a bright future for South Africa were exuberantly alive in the heart of nearly every native born South African I met. Though I spent the majority of my time in Soweto, this was apparent regardless of race. Most black, so-called colored, asian, indian, and – yes, indeed – even most white South Africans were excited with anticipation of a new inclusive dispensation. I was witness to this outpouring of hope, joy and forgiveness joining the very racially diverse crowd of people celebrating Madiba’s release at his humble home in Orlando West, Soweto on Feb. 13, 1990.

But the years between 1990 and 1994 were not filled with those happy feelings of hope within South Africa. In fact, apartheid’s bloodiest years occurred in ’91 and ’92 during the political negotiations eventually leading to the formation of the Government of National Unity. The NP – fearing that it would not only lose political control of the country but also face a deadly racial uprising - formulated one final, despicable but effective lie. Black-on-black violence. How could the people of South Africa and global leaders support a new government with these people in charge?!

On nearly a daily basis, South African news media was filled with stories of one group of blacks killing and maiming another group of blacks. Often reports described Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters attacking African National Congress (ANC) supporters or vice versa. At that time, the IFP was a political party predominately black and Zulu speaking while the ANC was a political party predominately black and Xhosa speaking. Though the violence, sadly, was all too real, the reasons behind the violence as described by the media were completely false. The truth is that the military and police were supplying weapons and training to groups of black men for the purpose of mercilessly attacking (usually) unarmed groups of black men, women, children and elderly folk. And it wasn’t politically motivated – at least not by any of the black political parties.

How could the military and police really achieve such a thing?! Why would any black man take up a weapon and kill someone of his own race? It was very common for black South African men to travel great distances from their homes in order to earn a living in the mines around Johannesburg. They would generally find accommodation in one of the hostels owned by the mining company. The majority of this labor force came from Zululand. A bonus for the NP was the fact that in the early history of South Africa, Zulus and Xhosas had difficulty getting along.

Equipped with easy-to-come-by information – names, addresses, ages, etc. - the military and police would intimidate these displaced men in the hostels with threats to the lives of their wives, children and other family members back in Zululand. They would also try to stir up the old animosities by playing on tribal intolerance. The reliable recipe of capitalizing on fear and keeping people apart continued to work well for the NP.

It was a heart breaking time to be in South Africa. So many dead. And the truth, known by most everyone living in the black townships, deliberately being hidden by those controlling the media. Strangely though - perhaps due to the sheer shamelessness of the SA military and police - no attempt was made to disguise the delivery of weapons to the men in the hostels. I saw this for myself in broad daylight. I suppose there’s no need to be covert when you dictate the news.

Without a doubt the tragic loss of so many innocent lives, the unceasing, relentless fear of attack and the hopelessness of ever realizing a just outcome brought the country to the very brink of a violent civil war. And, I’m convinced - without the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, Walter Sisulu, Desmond Tutu and many others - South Africa would have become ensnared in such a war.

But they escaped.

They didn’t escape by loading up the guns and firing back and it’s not because there weren’t any guns around. It’s a safe bet that there’s at least as many or more guns per capita in South Africa as there are here in the USA.

They didn’t escape because they were too afraid or ill-equipped to fight back. I attended rallies where people cried out to ANC leaders for permission to get their weapons out of hiding and strike back.

They didn’t escape because the NP, military, police and media suddenly had a huge change of heart and repented. No apologies were offered. No reasonable act of atonement was made.

They escaped because when their leaders told them to hold on, to not strike back, to throw their guns away – the people listened and, in the midst of their own heartache and loss, they obeyed. Eventually, a bright, new future came to South Africa. The election in 1994 and the difficult but vital work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begun 20 years ago helped to restore the basic human need for justice and respect. In so doing, the ‘rainbow nation’ as coined by Bishop Desmond Tutu once again begins to hope.

I wonder if we’ll find a way out of all this fear and intolerance together. Certainly there’s a real need for each of us to examine ourselves and weigh our own motives as there is the need for honest answers regarding the proper use of force by those in authority. No police agency should be motivated by any type of bigotry – but then neither should any one of us! And if each of us arrives at the conclusion that the only way we can protect ourselves and our families is by buying a weapon and being constantly suspicious of one another than I doubt we will succeed.

As Americans we don’t much care for the connotation of words like heed, submission, and obedience. Who knows better than ourselves what’s best for us? And if my opinion happens to conflict with yours why should either of us seek common ground? Why not just arm ourselves, let our fears and prejudice overwhelm us and then one day, explode! Why not stoke our fears and prejudice by believing in the banal rantings of those who say, “Look there! Those people are the real problem! Let’s build a wall!” Let’s justify our intolerance and separate ourselves from one another and let the fear take over. But if that’s the way you want to go, please realize - it’s all been done before. And it ends badly.

If we really want a way out of all this fear and intolerance, maybe we ought to – at least for a moment - look within ourselves before doing anything else.

[A member of Christ Church, Reading, Cliff Buckwalter, cabuck57@gmail.com, is a carpenter and serves as property manager at the church. During the early 1990s he successfully developed a skills-based curriculum for young black people (teens and early 20's) with learning disabilities in Soweto, South Africa.]


Trapped in my own blind behaving

Dean Tony Pompa
Nativity Cathedral
March 4, 2016

Some time ago, when life was much more complex (smile), my children very small, a diocesan vocation that took me away from home most nights, and figuring out how to be married as young parents, young professionals, I found myself in a curious position. I had begun to take life and myself way too seriously. So much so that apparently I also began to take for granted the good things and good people in my life. In addition, apparently I was so stressed out that I hadn't even noticed that I was at times also not very nice sometimes. (Yes, believe it). I use the word "apparently" because to me, none of this was apparent. In my head and in my world, I was doing what needed to be done to do it all and ironically enough to feel like I was doing it all very very well. I was so trapped in my own world, my own thinking, my own behaving (my own surviving) that I was blind to the truth that I was becoming someone other than Who God might like me to be.
 
Then it came. The moment of truth. On a simply long day I was caught short and given "eyes to see". My mother, visiting from afar "apparently" had enough of me and this uber persona. She startled me with the force of her upset and displeasure. For lack of a better description, she "dressed me down".  You need to understand that this approach was foreign from the nurturing and kind mother I had known all my life! Suddenly, she was a force to be reckoned with and that day was my day of reckoning.
 
She was clear, crystal clear. The way I was, was not gonna work! What a gift. I am to this day grateful that she was the moment God used to whack my head so that I could see through my blind spot and gain clarity to change my direction, change my ways.

This week's pilgrimage learning is about Jesus healing the blind man. It is a story about God's grace and power to bring sight to our lives.
 
See also Nativity Notes.

 


Eric's Shorts

Since February 2016, I have been posting slightly edited short reflections (among other items) by and about the Rev. Eric Snyder. Eric was nearly 91 when I began collecting gems of his incredible life in the love of Jesus Christ and advocacy for social justice. He and his late wife, Jean, lived on East 5th Street, NYC, from 1962 until 1979. They came to NYC in 1943, and lived in East Harlem until 1949 when he was ordained. They acquired the farm in Hop Bottom in 1975, in the Diocese of Bethlehem, and subsequently moved there in 1979. Scroll to the bottom to read Eric's most recent post. -Bill Lewellis

BLACK POWER[posted 02-26-2016 by Bill Lewellis] Eric Snyder and his late wife Jean lived on the Lower East Side in Manhattan from 1962 to 1979. "Our children grew up there and still have a deep attachment to the area," Eric says. "Jean and I became very active in the community. We were members of St. Mark's in the Bowery. We were actually in the area to some extent because of St. Mark's and because I was working at the Mission Society which then was located at Bleeker and Lafayette streets.

"We were fortunate enough to have a house with a large living room so that we became the gathering place for the neighborhood. We were the distribution point for a community food coop which we helped organize. We were as well the gathering place for a community parents group. As a result we came into contact with and got to know a diverse community.

"The Black Panthers had taken over a building deserted by a former settlement house. It was a large building which could be used for housing as well as a variety of community services. Among the services was a feeding program for children.Their members as well became active participants in other community programs. When it was rumored that some of the number were involved in a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty it was so outlandish as to be almost amusing.

"When the Black Panthers were incarcerated by the FBI we had had sufficient contact with them to believe there was enough reason to doubt their guilt. Three of us joined together to post bail for one of the group who was at the Women's House of Detention in Manhattan. Surety for the bond required the combined assets of a house in the Berkshires, one on Martha's Vineyard and one in Lower Manhattan.

"All of this has caused me to reflect on the reaction to the half time show at this year's Super Bowl. After all these years we still fail to understand what the Black Power movement was all about."

ERIC'S 50TH … A Sermon Preached by The Ven. Richard I. Cluett at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ordination to the Priesthood of The Rev. Eric Snyder, June 21, 2008 at Church of the Holy Apostles, St. Clair, PA. Here.

An excerpt: I first met Eric in the food bank in the undercroft of St. Paul’s, Montrose where he was working for Treehab, a Susquehanna County community action agency. He was in between a national church staff gig in New York City and finding a priestly post in the diocese of Bethlehem. This urbane, urbanite was living with his beloved Jean on their goat farm in Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania, so I knew he was going to be an interesting person …

Someone who marched and protested and demonstrated against war and injustice in the roaring 1960’s & 70’s, in the person of a devout, and spiritual Benedictine associate, for whom “ the smells and bells” of the Eucharist are the right and preferred modes of worship.

An ordered priest, whose ministry was to, at times, break order to lead the church in ministering to the needs of God’s people, especially the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lost and the disempowered when the church would rather have been complacently comfortable.

A gentle man who would vigorously, but humanely, contend in the corridors and offices of power.

Such contention, such belief in action, inevitably call for an institutional response, and a new presiding bishop felt that the church needed to be more, not less, comfortable. Eric was let go [from his ministry at our National Church].

A man of constant contradictions or a man of divinely inspired integrity called to a unique and wonderful life of ministering? It is only when you watch him closely, listen to him carefully, work with him daily that you come to learn the riches of God’s graces incarnate in this man and how they work together to accomplish God’s good purposes.

THE PRESENCE AND MINISTRY OF ERIC SNYDER[T. Scott Allen, Diocesan Life, September 2008, pages A8-9] Here.

WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW (1928-1985) [posted 02-27-2016 by Bill Lewellis] was a social activist, lawyer, scholar, theologian and faithful follower of Jesus. He worked at times with Daniel Berrigan and Eric Snyder, among other faithful followers of Jesus and Christian social activists.
   Eric told me recently about a time when Karl Barth was a visiting lecturer at Union Theological Seminary. The room included the country's top theologians. "During the Q&A time," Eric said, "in response to comments by Bill Stringfellow, Barth pointed to Bill and said, 'Listen to that young man.'" 

JEAN SNYDER (1929-2007) “Jean was one of the best,” wrote Scott Allen on February 2, 2007, the day Jean died. “She was always there on many fronts – as a Spiritual Companion, a Social Justice Advocate and indomitable friend. A more loyal and caring friend one could not hope for. She was always there for me throughout my 18-year friendship with Jean...

Her picnics for the Jubilee Committee in Zion Grove in the 90's when they had goats and ol "Toge" their faithful big dog were great – especially when the local fire company came to fill their above-ground pool. She was always offering hospitality on the physical as well as the psychological level. And she was not shy about sharing her opinions too. A mother in the best sense of the word, she raised her own children and gathered others in need of one. The sadness I feel is only assuaged by the knowledge that she is with the Lord she loved and served and will be waiting for the rest of us with a wonderful smile, twinkling (and somewhat mischievous) blue eyes and arms outstretched for one of her big hugs.”

Jean and Eric were married for 54 years. Read her obituary here. Download Rick Cluett’s sermon here.

JAPANESE INTERNMENT [posted 2-29-2016 by Bill Lewellis] Context: The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States was the forced relocation and incarceration during World War II of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast in camps in the interior of the country. Sixty-two percent of the internees were United States citizens. [Comment by Eric] I was very upset about it. We had friends and neighbors who were relocated. There was no evidence that it was needed. My mother joined others who took lunch to the detainees as they were loaded on buses to be taken to the relocation centers. One of the relocation centers was the race track where the detainees were housed in the horse stalls. Later, reparations were made but hardly compensating for the losses.

EVERETT FRANCIS AND ERIC AT THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH CENTER [posted 4-16-2016 by Bill Lewellis] With the passing of Everett Francis, I have been moved to reflect on our days at the Episcopal Church Center. Everett and I were members of the staff of the Department of Christian Social Relations. Almon Pepper was the director of the Department. Upon his retirement he was succeeded by Muriel Webb. Other members of the Department included Charles Wilson who was well known in the Diocese of Bethlehem. Charles worked as a consultant to the Diocese in the development of the clusters such as North Parish.

Everett was public policy staff person. I was one of a group of social workers who made up the Division of Health and Welfare Services. Everett was in Washington part of each week when congress was in session. I spent much of my time traveling from Diocese to Diocese. We generally lunched together when we both were in New York.

Everett and I were both providing staff service to the  General Convention meeting which was held in Seattle. There were two dominating issues to be dealt with in Seattle. One was preparing for the admission of women as delegates to convention. The other was the approval of and providing of significant financial support to the General Convention Special Program.

I was assigned to work with The Episcopal Church Women. With the admission of women to General Convention, what would be the continuing role of the ECW one time known as the Women's Auxiliary? The additional question to be addressed was the allocation from the UTO of support to the GCSP.

Factors prompting the agenda of Convention were the awareness that it was long since past time that women were accepted full members of the Church and should be a part of the governing body. In addition were the War on Poverty and the emergence of the Black Power Movement. Prior to convention one member of our staff, Leon Modeste, had taken the Presiding Bishop, John HInes, here and here, on a tour of Bedford-Stuyvesent in Brooklyn. Leon had come to our staff from Youth Consultation Services, an agency in the Diocese of Long Island.

In Seattle enthusiasm was high in support of the action being taken by Convention. A rally was held in a local park attended by a contingent of young people carrying signs: we love you big John. A special convention was called to address the Black Power movement. Everett was at that convention but I was not. At the next regularly scheduled Convention women were seated as delegates.

When John Hines tenure as Presiding Bishop was ended the General Convention Special Program was terminated as was the Department of Experimental and Specialized Ministries as we had been renamed. All of the staff except one person were dismissed. Everett came to the Diocese of Bethlehem. I remained in New York for a while.

 

ST. MARK'S IN THE BOWERY [written by Eric Snyder, posted 8-31-2016 by Bill Lewellis] Seeing the picture of Julian Bond at a peace rally at St. Mark's in the Bowery called to mind the part St. Mark's was in our life as a  family. I was never actually on staff at St. Mark's though Michael Allen sometimes referred to me as his unpaid assistant. Each member of the family was to some degree involved in the parish.

When we first came to St. Mark's they were still trying to maintain some of its Dutch heritage. There was the annual Tulip Festival. I am sure that our daughters, Kristin and Mary, were the last little Dutch girls Deaconess Ramsey could find to take part in the Klompen Tanzen.

St. Mark's had a rich history. It was the first parish in Manhattan to be organized independently of Trinity Church. Other churches had been organized as chapels of Trinity. The two Indians, Inspiration and Aspiration flanking the front gate, give testimony to the parish's history of supporting the arts as well as its involvement in the social issues of the day.

Under the leadership of Michael Allen and with support of a creative and committed staff including Steve Facey and Nell Gibson the parish was deeply involved in the civil rights movement and the anti war movement. A delegation from the congregation was at every one the marches on Washington.

Other areas of activity for the parish included the arts programs which lead to the opening up of the building to a greater variety of uses. The upstairs in the parish hall became the home of Theater Genesis. The Church space was opened up to make it more easily used for a variety of purposes.

The new worship space provided the opportunity to be creative as well. The altar was moved to the center of the space with congregation assembled around it. We experimented with the liturgy producing the 'St. Mark's Liturgy'. That was the cause of the Auden letter; especially curious since he had part in producing the Liturgy. Perhaps he finally became aware that we were being serious. That, however, is another story.

Generally I supplied for Sunday services when Michael Allen was away. On one such Sunday the first Black Power demonstration took place. I arrived to find the Black Liberation Flag displayed along the wall behind the altar being guarded by a brother standing at attention. No one seemed surprised. I decided to then continue as normal. In the experimental liturgy we were using, the peace was passed at the beginning, No one approached the guard. At communion he did not receive. I never found out why the action took place when the rector was on vacation.

The flag remained where it was for a time. A Black and Brown Caucus was formed. Brother Calvin, as we found was the name of the guard, became a member of the caucus and an active member of the St. Mark's community. Little changed except perhaps the ordering of priorities. We had always been active in areas of concern to the caucus. The major difference was, however, in the character of the leadership.

When Michael Allen left to become dean of Berkeley Divinity School, the assisting priest who was Hispanic was retained as priest in charge. Our family also left about the same time. St. Mark's has continued to struggle with its identity. Much of the old leadership has continued. The Lower East Side has changed considerably placing new challenges on the parish which has tried to minister to its community.

When considering the coming presidential election, I am reminded of the campaign of 1968[posted 09-22-2016 by Bill Lewellis]  In 1968 (Wikipedia) we had been at war far too long in a conflict that many of us thought we should not have engaged in at the outset. The peace movement had gained strength to a large extent among young new voters. The established political structure effectively shut it down as a political movement. We are again engaged in a conflict that many of us feel we should never have initiated. There are other issues as well. It is, however, again a movement made up of many new voters that has been suppressed by the established political structure. The danger is that many of these new voters will show their displeasure by sitting out the general election.

My first vote was for Harry Truman. (1948, Henry Wallace was the progressive party candidate.) Many of my friends including some of the faculty at Union Seminary where I was a student voted for Wallace. Indeed if the rest of the electorate were like those at Union, Wallace might well have been President. I became convinced that to vote for Wallace was as good as voting for the opposition. Never did an election make it more clear that every vote counted.

In 1950 I was in California then working at Douglas Aircraft and was a union shop steward. Helen Douglas was running for the Senate. I had become acquainted with her when as a member of Congress she would visit our college campus. I volunteered to work with a group that was working on her campaign. The leader of the group was Frank Mankiewicz. I was surprised to discover him to be only a year older than I. At his leadership I was introduced to the Workmen's Circle. The center I believe must have been in Santa Monica since that was our area of concern. Our purpose was to enlist their support.

Helen Douglas was described as a socialist and her voting record in congress was compared to that of Vito Marcantonio, a congressman from East Harlem and identified as a Democratic Socialist. Parenthetically, Marcantonio started out as a Laguardia Republican. Helen Douglas was a person of too much integrity to enter into the kind of campaign that was waged against her. Frank Mankiewicz described her as too much of a lady to engage in that kind of a campaign.

Returning to the present it is clear to anyone who has had contact with the old Workmen's Circle it should come as no surprise that a Socialist Jew from Brooklyn having spent time in his Youth on a Kibbutz should have the most reasonable view of the conflict in the Near East and of that between Israel and the Palestinians. However one may have been involved in the primary there are now two major candidates. A vote for either of the lesser candidates will be a vote not cast for one of the two.

Tenth Anniversary of the death of Jean Snyder[Written by Eric Snyder, posted by Bill Lewellis, Jan. 29, 2017] On February 2, Candlemas, Jean will have been gone for 10 years. I have been taking time off from the current events (more of that another time) to reminisce.

I first met Jean when she was a student at UCLA majoring in Theater Arts. She had recently transferred there from Redlands where she had been a music major. We were married before she had completed requirements for Her BA. She completed her studies while we were in Hop Bottom and earned her MS in Speech Therapy at Bloomsburg.

When we met Jean and a friend were renting a beach cottage in Ocean Park and attended church at Good Shepherd in Venice and that is where we were married. After that we attended St. Matthew's church in Pacific Palisades where I had been a member and where we rented a small house in Temescal Canyon.

Jean was baptized and Grew up in the Episcopal church. Her Father had been a Church organist. When I met her he was the organist at the church in Studio City. She had taken an active role in the young people's activities in Diocese of Los Angeles. I have a transcript of her radio message to the young people of the Diocese Melbourne Australia on their 100th anniversary.

Jean would tell of her days in the children's choir when after practice she and a friend would sneak back in the church taking turns playing priest. She was an active supporter of women's ordination . We went together to the ordination of the women in Philadelphia. She was delighted see our daughter in law ordained here in the Diocese of Long Island.

I have no doubt that Jean would have been at the Women's March. I don't think we ever missed one of the marches on Washington in the past. Our younger son jokes that he is one of the few infants to have been carried to a march on Washington.

Jean was a cradle Episcopalian, a Meglan Kiddie (my daughter still has her costume) active and committed to her Church. Jean loved music. I can still hear her strong alto voice singing her favorite hymns. When a few years back we were in Bethlehem in the Shepherd's Chapel we began to sing 'Angels We Have Heard on High'. All I could hear was Jean's voice singing the Glorias.

Some times it is hard to realize that 10 years have passed and at times it seems forever.


My work with the Diocese of San Joaquin[Written by Eric Snyder, posted by Bill Lewellis, March 8, 2017]

Good morning, Bill. There is so much to be anxious about these days so perhaps it it is time to look at some good things. Hence the following.

There much good news of late coming from the Diocese of San Joaquin. We can thank Rick Cluett for his good work in helping to bring healing to that diocese.

I am sure he did not know of my association with that area. I spent many days during my childhood on a farm in Tulare. I spent early mornings hunting frogs in Tulare Lake with my brother and cousin. Yes, in those days there was a lake.

This was the time before Rural Electrification. There was water in the house and barn because of a wind pump. A wood fire kept us warm in winter. In the summer the only place that was cool was the movie house in town.

Many a happy time was spent picnicking at Mooney's Grove in Visalia. It was also the regular stopping of place for trips to Sequoia National Park. We camped there often. As an older Teenager I Hiked the Sierra Trail from Giant Forest.

Perhaps because of this association I was assigned to work with the Diocese of San Joaquin when I was on the staff at 815. I worked particularly with several parishes In developing programs for the aging.

Remember that this was the time of the grape boycott in support of the farm worker's union. None of us at 815 were popular because of our support for the farm workers. I was able, I believe, to establish a positive relationship with Bishop Rivera. I am convinced that he never would have led his Diocese out of the Church.

When our work at 815 was terminated by the Executive Council the only one to take note of my departure was Bishop Rivera. He wrote a gracious letter in which he said that though we never agreed on anything when I visited I was always willing to listen. He added that he was always grateful for that.

I am grateful for the healing that is evident in the diocese in the valley. Their recent election of the bishop by a unanimous vote is particularly gratifying. The Church can be a place of strength in the the midst of the problems that continue challenge those living in the central valley in California. We pray that the Church can be a source of strength for all of us.

 

 


The spiritual struggle of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Bill Lewellis
December 22, 2015

When the news broke in 1979 that Teresa of Calcutta would be that year's Nobel Peace Prize recipient, I was working on the staff of the late Allentown Diocese Bishop Joseph McShea. I remembered that she had written three letters to him in her own hand. The first was dated April 28, 1976, the day after her first visit to Allentown. I recall that the bishop said, "File it carefully. Someday it will be a relic." And so it is. Pope Francis announced a few days ago that he will proclaim her a saint, perhaps in a few months.

Each letter contained sentiments that reflected her own loveliness. "I am sure," one ends, "your people will be very happy to know they share their love for God in a living action of love for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the Poor.

I read her letters several times, until something jumped off the pages. In two of the letters, she used the phrases "the Poor," "our Poor and "God's Poor" – five times. Each time, she capitalized Poor. She didn't simply pity the Poor. She had a sacred reverence and respect for the individual person. In her eyes, the Poor never lost their God-given dignity.

But who knows? It may have just been pious punctuation, the way some always capitalize priest, church or archdeacon.

In any event, the Nobel Peace Prize citation included: "The loneliest, the most wretched and the dying have at her hands received compassion without condescension."

Who would have expected, however, that for the most part of her last 50 years Saint Teresa of Calcutta, despite her work for Jesus and her capitalized Poor, despite her public writings, she would have felt an almost complete absence of God?

Privately, she experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs. During those years "she felt no presence of God whatsoever … neither in her heart or in the eucharist" as put by her postulator Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.

She expressed serious doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith: "Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ... How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, ... What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true."

I have found it strange that some have written paragraphs to water this down, just as some have written and preached to say that when Jesus said from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he didn't really mean the words he cried out.

As I write, I have no ending for this "sermon." Perhaps later. Perhaps never. Perhaps, let people have their pain; don't discount it. Perhaps what Saint Teresa of Calcutta experienced is simply part of the mysterious relationship God has invited us into. Tread lightly.


How did you know there was a lion in the marble?

Bill Lewellis
Jan. 5, 2016

HOW DID YOU KNOW THERE WAS A LION IN THE MARBLE? … Some 25 years ago in Bethlehem, I was involved in the installation of a large, movable satellite dish on the four-story bell tower of our cathedral. I invited the local newspaper to send a photographer. He took one exceptional photo when the dish, lifted by a crane, seemed suspended from the sky and a cross on the roof of the adjoining cathedral church was visible through the mesh of the dish.

For many years, as I crossed a bridge into South Bethlehem, just before getting to Diocesan House, a version of that image continued to intrigue me. I used it to get focused, to get centered. It was a juxtaposition in search of a theology of communication. From the bridge, both the cross on the roof of the cathedral and the satellite dish on the bell tower came into view. Glancing at one, then at the other… I remembered the moment when one was seen through the other.

I no longer make that daily drive. I think the dish, surpassed now by better technology, has been removed. Still, the memory remains.

The cross of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, is a window into the heart of God. The satellite dish was symbolic of the many and various other media of God’s self-disclosure. “Long ago,” the Letter to the Hebrews begins, “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways...” God still uses many media of self disclosure.

Where will God show up today? For whom might you be a clue?

One story/image I discovered long ago in a book by Henri Nouwen frequently replays in my head. The open-ended image is ever fresh.

A little boy wandered into a sculptor’s studio and watched a master sculptor work with hammer and chisel on a large piece of marble. It did not long hold the child's interest. Months later he returned. Where once stood a large block of marble, there stood a majestic and powerful Aslan-like lion. “How did you know,” he asked the sculptor, “there was a lion in the marble?” “I knew,” the sculptor replied, “because I saw the lion first in my heart. The real secret, though, is that it was the lion in my heart who recognized himself in the marble.”

The Christ within recognizes himself unformed in the disguises of the world. Spirituality becomes ministry. Contemplation becomes action. Prayer becomes mission.

The image suggests also the relationship between the ministries of communication and evangelism, God’s word becoming flesh. Incarnation continues.


Where is God?

By Bill Lewellis
Jan. 11, 2016

In "Night," Elie Wiesel’s book about the horrors of living in a concentration camp, he tells about the night a young boy was hung. He didn’t weigh enough to die instantly. He struggled for life at the end of the rope. The other prisoners were forced to watch without being able to help.

Behind him, Wiesel heard a man ask: “Where is God now?” Wiesel heard a voice within him answer, “Where is He? Here He is. He is hanging here on the gallows."

During most of my days as a priest, whenever anyone in a especially tragic situation asked me, “Where is God?” I thought of this passage from "Night."

Where is God during any person’s suffering? God is suffering, weeping with them. God was jumping from the flames, out of the 80th floor of the Twin Towers. God was crying with the parents of young children when a gunman fatally shot 20 of them at the the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

As God was with the Irish, Lithuanian, Slovak, Polish and Italian immigrants who were once spat upon and marginalized, so now God is with the Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics and others who are rashly judged and marginalized today.

No answer we can give to this mystery is satisfactory. We still wonder. We still hurt. In my wonder, I like Elie Wiesel’s answer best.

Where was God when Jesus died on the cross? Suffering and dying with him. Where was God when the Jews experienced the tragic horrors of the Holocaust? Suffering and dying with them.

I favor this reflection so much more than the one offered in an Internet video I saw recently. It said that God is not with us because we, our culture or the laws of our land push God away.


Incarnation: God getting down

By Bill Lewellis

Anglican reflection on our relationship with God begins with Christmas … with God getting down. From there, we move toward the cross and resurrection. In many faith groups, reflection about our relationship with God begins with Good Friday and Easter… with fallen humanity that needs to be saved. I’m not suggesting that one way of getting at the mystery of our relationship with God is better than the other. How would I know? But they are different. And one surely works better for me: to begin not with “Am I saved?” but with “Have I gotten down?” Do I know people in low places?

   The basic Christmas truth is that Jesus is God getting down  and that God continues to touch us through flesh and blood. God uses many media of self disclosure. God touches us through family, relatives, friends, people we don’t even know, even unlikely persons? It’s all part of Incarnation. What story might you tell to celebrate God’s Incarnation … about one way, perhaps, that the word became flesh in your life? How have you touched others?

   Christmas is about a special moment of God’s intervention in history. Christian theology calls it the coming – the already but not yet coming – of the kingdom of God. Through his life and ministry, Jesus pointed to the coming of the kingdom of God. He used subversive speech -- parables and stories that subverted the ordinary, familiar, taken-for-granted world in which we live, while pointing to a strange, surprising world, a world turned upside down. And we know what happened to him.

   I recall years ago when I first heard the phrase altruistic donation. A new way to think about the coming of the kingdom. Altruistic donation. I knew what each word meant, but the phrase in its specialized context was new to me. It has to do with organ donors. Of the more than 100,000 living kidney donors in the U.S., less than one half of one percent were altruistic donors in the sense of people who gave their organs to strangers.

   One would think there might be more. Actually, there are. Many more people make the altruistic offer. Few altruistic donors, however, are accepted. Only about 5%, one of every 20 who make the offer. Most are rejected because altruistic donors must pass rigorous physical and mental health testing. That makes sense. But I do long for a world where altruistic donation of any sort would be the norm, where the presumption would not have to be that altruistic donors have mental health issues.

   That’s my take on the coming of the kingdom, a time when our world will be filled with altruistic donors, joining God to do what we can do to bring about right relationships. God has already gotten down to make the relationship between God and us right. Now, we need continually to get down to make relationships among ourselves right.

   In Episode #32 of The West Wing, a person on the president's staff, having undergone a traumatic event, is required to see a doctor of the American Trauma Victims Association. The session goes on all day and well into the night. The diagnosis is PTSD. Josh is worried that this will cause him to be let go from the president's staff. When Josh heads back to his office, he passes Leo, chief-of-staff and recovering alcoholic, who is sitting in the lobby. "How'd it go?" Leo asks. After some banter, Josh tells Leo what he has been trying to hide – fear about losing his job. Then Leo tells him a story.

   "This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out."A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on."Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

   After that, Leo tells Josh not to worry about his job. "As long as I got a job, you got a job."

  
Now that’s a Christmas story. The mystery and the scandal of incarnation. The Word was made flesh. God getting down. “Are you stupid, God? Now we’re both down here.” That’s the Christmas story, not so much a story about Jesus as it is a story of God. God is in the hole with us.

   That’s what we discover at the manger.
That’s where Christianity begins, with God becoming one of us. Theologians call it the Incarnation. Not the birthday of Jesus – we don’t know when Jesus was born – but the Incarnation. That’s the mystery we contemplate with joy and wonder at the manger. 


Triduum –– In the dying is the rising

By Patrick Malloy

[Doctor Malloy wrote what appears below in 2009 when he was rector of Grace Allentown and professor at General Theological Seminary NYC. He is the author of Celebrating the Eucharist and currently interim dean at St. John's Cathedral, Denver CO.]

[March 2009: A year ago, Bill Lewellis asked me to write something about the Triduum: the three days that celebrate the passing of Jesus from life to death to glory, and our share in the pattern of his life, often called “the Paschal Mystery.”  It was only one year ago, but the world was different then, so the three-day feast was different, too, than the one we celebrate this year. This year Bill asked to re-publish the piece I wrote.  What follows is essentially that.  But last year’s words without commentary would not be enough.] 

The Triduum we will celebrate in 2009 –– the three-day feast often called “the Paschal Mystery” that celebrates the passing of Jesus from life to death to glory and our share in the pattern of his life –– will not be like the Triduum we celebrated in 2008.

It was only one year ago, but the world was different then, so the three-day feast was different, too, than the one we celebrate this year.

It will not be the same, because we are not the same. The story most people tell about their lives and their world this year is not what we told just one year ago. Yet, the wonder of how God-in-Christ passed from eternity into time, and from life into death, and from death into glory, has not changed. We have changed, our world has changed, but God remains.

The Triduum celebrates a dynamic that God revealed in Jesus. It is, at once, the dynamic of divine life and the dynamic of human life. Jesus, in his divinity, reveals that God forsakes everything for us mortals; and, when all is finished, God remains glorious. The human Jesus reveals that when mortals like us forsake everything for the sake of God, we share in God’s glory. The mystery is the same, whether we consider Jesus as the divine mortal or as the human God.

All of this goes entirely against the grain and defies logic. Death and life are opposites; they cannot be intertwined. Yet, the story of Jesus is that they are. Anyone who would be Jesus’ disciple must claim it as true, even if it seems impossible.

This year more than last, our world is facing the death of so much. What can we, as disciples of the crucified yet risen Lord, say in the face of such loss? How can we declare to the world that, as the Lord has shown us, death can be a passage into glorious life?

We Christians must speak courage in the face of fear, hope in the face of despair. The story we tell across the Three Day is as true today as it was when first it unfolded in Jesus’ life. What looks like death can be life. Jesus is the proof.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Here are bits and pieces of what I wrote last year (2008) about the Triduum for Diocesan Life.

Addicts speak of “hitting bottom” as if it were the greatest gift they had ever received.  Recognizing their own powerlessness, they simultaneously admit their need for a savior. They call it their “Higher Power.”

What allows addicts to rejoice in the day they hit bottom is that only there did they finally find God. In the midst of the suffering is the salvation. In the midst of the loss is the gain.

In the sixth century, Venantius Fortunatus wrote a poem in honor of a supposed relic of the true cross. It has come into the Hymnal 1982 as The Royal Banners Forward Go. What Fortunatus captures so beautifully and so clearly is that, in the passing of Jesus from life through death into glory, grace was never absent. Never had God deserted the Son; rather, even in what seemed like tragedy, God’s saving hand was already at work. So the cross, rather than being ugly and shameful, an unfortunate part of the story better left behind, is instead a thing of beauty and honor. Already on the cross, Jesus’ glory had begun.

O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the king of glory now.

Some people think it odd, if not a bit macabre, that we Christians dangle crosses around our necks and hang them on our walls and mount them above our altars. They liken it to using miniature electric chairs as jewelry or art. What Christians see in the cross, however, is not the destruction of a life but its fulfillment; not defeat but triumph.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old:
How God the nations’ king should be,
For God is reigning from the tree.

The cross is not an electric chair. It is a throne.

As he gave himself to his disciples as fragile Bread and Wine; as he made himself their servant, stooping even to the task of washing their feet; as he knowingly and willingly allowed his betrayer to be free even if it meant his own death; as he stood clear and proud and strong before Pilate, Jesus was living the glorified life. Jesus is the glory of God made flesh; at no time in his earthly life was it so clear as during those last days.

Every year, the church celebrates those days in a feast called “The Paschal Triduum.” It stretches from sundown on Maundy Thursday (which, according to the way the liturgical day is calculated, is actually the beginning of Good Friday) to sundown on Easter Sunday. The three 24-hour days are, in fact, one liturgical day. They celebrate, not three distinct events, but one complex dynamic. They celebrate that the self-offering of God in Christ reveals God’s glory. The resurrection is but one facet of how the Divine Majesty is revealed.

What these liturgies (or, rather, this protracted liturgy) celebrate is a current reality, not something long past. That is because what we celebrate in those days is not just what happened to Jesus long ago or even who Jesus once was. It is what happens still, and who he is still. Always and forever, it is of God’s very nature to give the Divine Self for the sake of what God has made.

To do these liturgies so that they are experienced as one continuous event requires skill and effort. To celebrate them with a vigor and ritual fullness that can reveal the Mystery they contain demands deep understanding, focus, time, and a great deal of work. It is worth it. It is worth it because, to understand what this three-day-long day celebrates is to understand and to actually experience the God revealed in Christ.

The 2009 Triduum will not be like the 2008 Triduum.  The world has changed. We have changed. In the face of so much fear and the death of so much certainty, how can we celebrate that God’s life cannot be conquered no matter what else dies? How can we enact the wonderful and ancient rites of the Prayer Book so that we emerge from them knowing in our very bones that in the midst of the dying is the rising? How can we be strengthened to gracefully let go of what will be snatched from our hands, whether we are willing to let it go or not? Think of the economy. So much is slipping through our fingers. This is a hard, concrete fact. It is not a theological concept, and people cannot escape just how real it is. Can we proclaim the Divine pattern to them: from life to death to glory?

“Even at the grave,” the burial rite says, “we make our song: Alleluia.”  The Triduum 2009 brings us face-to-face with an essential question. Do we really sing Alleluia in the face of death, and mean it? Do we dare sing it at the edge of the grave and the foot of the cross? Are we certain –– with the fragile certainty of faith –– that in the dying is the rising and in the cross is the crown, and are we willing to stake our lives on it? 

Only if we are that daring is the Triduum worth celebrating. With such daring, we can live in the midst of death, confident that it conceals, thinly at best, new and glorious life, and that, by Baptism, the life is already ours.

###

The Paschal Triduum: one three-day-long event celebrating one saving dynamic ... even in the midst of death there is life. [An excerpt from Celebrating the Eucharist by Patrick Malloy, pp. 72-73, Church Publishing, 2007] Find it here.

 


Reflection on daily Lectionary readings

Bruce Marold of Trinity Bethlehem, maroldbw@verizon.net, has written comments and reflections on daily Lectionary readings for over 4 years, on and off, from before he started at the seminary. He discontinued them sometime in 2013. His faithful conscience, Mithril, the theological cat – don't let the cat get you, it's worth continuing on – insists that since we are now at the beginning of a new year, that he resume this practice.

He does the New Testament reading for each of the seven days, plus the Gospel for Sunday. Depending on how that works, he may replace the Sunday epistle reading with the psalm for the week, and do the Gospel on Sunday. These reflections appear daily on Mithril's Facebook page, accompanied by an image suggested by the text.

These are reflections, as they are less commentary and far more personal reaction to the reading, and anything from our culture, from ancient days to today, is fair game. When he started this, in 2009, he would pore over thick commentaries to get something readers may not have encountered. Now, he's burning that bridge and relying on his impressions, hoping that they may spark reflective impressions of your own.


A wedding anniversary when you're the only one still standing

Caroline Cavett

Can you celebrate (with great joy) a wedding anniversary even though you’re the only one of the couple in question still standing? My own answer is a definite yes. Individuals die, but love and good humor and wonderful memories go right on being the part of life that doesn’t end. Ever.

September 26 marked 55 years since that lovely fall day in 1959 when Van and I began what was a joy-filled 50+ years together. And, yes, I’m celebrating and remembering what a remarkable journey it was.

First, where it began when we officially met on the porch of the house where we eventually lived together the last 13 or so years of his life – coming full circle – and, most importantly, how we spent those years full of love and adventure, with just enough occasional grumpy moments thrown in to keep us real.

He was a fine journalist and editor, loving his work – well, most of it – and steadfast in his conviction that the best, and possibly the only, way to understand the issues of the day was to immerse himself in the minds and lives of the people those issues influenced. So he watched and listened with all of his senses before he wrote a word. And sometimes he took me along.

Who could forget casual conversation with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a nondescript Johannesburg meeting room? Or peering out the bus windows in Beijing as the residents along the street pointed and laughed at what they considered the oversized noses on the faces of those Americans waving back at them? What about the poignant exchange-without-a-common-language with an elderly Romanian woman standing in line more than three hours to cast her first vote ever, expressing her gratitude and wonder through tears of joy that needed no translation? Or enduring days on end of Mississippi’s crippling summer heat and long hard weeks of record winter snows in Pennsylvania? Those are just a few of the extremes we lived through together. On the other end of the scale were the two marvelous children we produced and loved - and what a joy they continue to be.

Of course, some of life is pretty ho-hum in and of itself. Goes with the territory. And that’s where the wonder of living with a remarkable partner makes the difference.

For those of you still experiencing those feelings: cherish them. But don’t feel sad for me. When you’ve had a good marriage, as we did, it doesn’t end. It just evolves. And when yet another wedding anniversary comes along, you celebrate with a smile and a grateful heart that those years together were the best gift you could possibly share. That’s why September 26 will always rate a great big circle on my calendar. Happy anniversary, dear Van. I hope that one day there’ll be room on your pink cloud for the two of us to watch it all unfold. Together.

[Caroline Cavett, carocav@epbfi.com, holds dear the memories of eight years in the Diocese of Bethlehem. She lives on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and is an active member of Good Shepherd Church where "we still do not handle snakes; we read and write and use the liturgy quite coherently, and we all wear shoes." She and her late husband Van were parishioners at the Cathedral while Van served as Comment Pages editor at The Morning Call. Caroline wrote good stories for the former Diocesan Life and channeled Gilbert and Sullivan in ditties about the Diocese of Bethlehem.]


The Orient Express

Bill Irwin dies at 73; first blind hiker of Appalachian Trail
By Richard Evans

As a former part of the long distance hiking community, I had a chance to meet Bill Irwin, who had the incredible courage and audacity to hike the Appalachian Trail as a blind man in 1990.  As I took up backpacking after breaking my neck in 1991, he was an inspiration to my own goals and dreams.  Mr. Irwin passed away on March 1 as we were electing our provisional bishop.

In this season of Lent, I'm drawn to stories like this, especially since one of the most challenging parts of the Appalachian Trail passes right through the Diocese of Bethlehem.  When we drive through the Lehigh Tunnel on the Turnpike, we are passing directly underneath the Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.  Many pairs of hiking boots are worn out and replaced in Pennsylvania with hikers often complaining that we Pennsylvanians employ rock sharpeners to slow their progress on the rugged rocky path.

Mr Irwin hiked with his seeing eye dog, Orient, and together they became known as the Orient Express.  I won't recount his entire story.  You can pick up a copy of "Blind Courage" if you'd like to learn more, but I will excerpt a few comments from this article in the Washington Post:

Bill Irwin dies at 73; first blind hiker of Appalachian Trail

“When I was a sighted person I was an alcoholic, a dropout as a husband and father, a guy who lived only for himself,” he later wrote in the publication Guideposts.

“The first clear-eyed thing I had ever done was as a blind man, when I asked God to take charge of my life,” he wrote. “I had never spent much time in his vast outdoors, but after I quit drinking I couldn’t get enough of it. I learned wilderness skills and became the first blind person to ‘thru-hike’ the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I made a point of telling fellow hikers about the God who guides me.”

"He said he became sober in 1987 and developed an intense devotion to Christianity. The first verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Along the way, Mr. Irwin would stop at grocery stores and laundromats to buy provisions and wash his clothes. He would also talk to local children about God and promise them personalized copies of the Bible if they agreed to read a verse a day.

“By the time I got to Maine I had furnished over 500 Bibles for kids along the way,” Mr. Irwin said.

Can our burdens be any greater than those Bill Irwin overcame?  Blindness comes in many forms but through Christ we can orient ourselves to the Light.

Blessings,
Rich Evans

[Rich Evans is a former Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant. He is a member of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Mountain Top where he serves on the vestry and finance committee. He is also a member of the Diocesan Council and the Incorporated Trustees. His ministry is helping parishes with their audits.]


'This is my Jesus,' the stranger said

By Bill Lewellis
July 17, 2012

A few weeks ago, Monica and I dined with three close friends. We sat three on one side and two on the other of a rectangular table in a crowded Italian restaurant. I was at the end where no one was directly across from me. A 50-something couple at a small table to my left was within arms reach, closer to me than my friends at the other end of our table. 

Occupied with our conversation, the gentleman at that table frequently stared our way. Turning toward him was my first mistake.

Continue reading "'This is my Jesus,' the stranger said" »


The Summer—and our Lives—Begin and End with Our Lady

Howard Stringfellow
4 June 2012

The summer in very truth begins with The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31) and has well entered its decline with the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15). When this discovery dawned on me, I began to see the season as a figure for life, for living well, and for letting life take its Providential course. Summer is much more than baseball.

Continue reading "The Summer—and our Lives—Begin and End with Our Lady" »


I Saw You Kneeling There

Bishop Paul Marshall

[Frst published in the February 2012 edition of Diocesan Life, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem]

In a few weeks it will be that time again.

What will you be thinking? How do you suppose people the age of toddlers, teens, seniors, and so on will hear the Ash Wednesday words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return?” We will all hear them as we gather later this month, February 22, for the beginning of Lent, and it might be interesting to imagine for a moment what you and the people next to you could be thinking. Here are some possibilities that occur to me.

Three to six
I suspect that for young children, three to six years old, going up to the rail and being smeared with ash is a new part of their exploring and experiencing the world. The words may not mean very much, but doing all this with parents or grandparents says that something important is going on, a part of what it means to be big. Impressions are being stored, and the intent to be big is forming. This is a bank of experience that cannot be made up later.

Six to twelve
For a six-to-twelve year-old, busily gaining competences in the world but also wondering if they can make it, the words may have some meaning to add to the by-now familiar act of coming up, kneeling down, and being smudged. By this time a great-grandparent or other important figure has died, and the years of awe are tainted with other, darker, realities.

How good to be in a place where this is not denied, and people can be open about reality without freaking out! The calmness of it all. We accept reality and also go forward. As the child’s conscience develops during this period, the calm acceptance of responsibility and comforting words of forgiveness provide a note of balance. Taking on a Lenten discipline of some appropriate kind can be a way of gaining the “mastery” in life that this age group seeks.

Teens
For teens, life’s big question is “who am I?” with “what can I become?” as a close second. Perhaps the last thing teens want to hear is that they are mortal and limited, but they do know about frustration and perhaps rage against it as they seek to become their own person. Perhaps in the midst of that they can also hear that even when they are most alienated they are still God’s person. Finding out who they are involves taking moral responsibility on their own—and beginning to experience that they can mediate as well as receive grace.

Adults through middle age
If we can generalize about adults from their twenties through middle age, big questions form about the ability to love and be loved. Questions of vocation and of financial survival enter along with reproduction and the increasing interest in “what it all means.”

The other side of the coin of the downturn in the economy is that some people are sensing the difference between having and being and are re-examining what it means to be human. Remembering one’s dustiness is remembering that he who dies with the most toys is still dead, and that nobody on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at work. Repentance for adults may be about choosing meaning, maintaining balance.

Older adults
Older adults are seeing their parents die.  That is profoundly sad, but not unanticipated. The shock is that one’s friends are dying off.  The world is becoming a lonelier place. The concept of being dust that we’ve lived with all our lives comes closer to home: I start to feel the dust, and some of it is in my hip joints.  I can and--I suspect--will die.  How do I tell the story of my life? How will I use the time I have left? Will I choose to contribute what I can or will I withdraw?

Looking for the end
And there are those who are waiting to die. For them the words may speak hope and release. They are given little permission to have or express their feelings in our life-affirming culture, and they are a little tired of hearing about plans for their 115th birthday party when they know they are done and now wish for stillness and rest. At least God is honest with them and will be there to receive them. It is OK to say “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” These ashes may be the only affirmation they get this season as they prepare for the last transition, and the agèd eagles spread their wings.

The gifts of Lent
One sentence in a long liturgy, a liturgy about mortality, repentance, forgiveness, and rebuilding the self, and so many ways to hear and respond. These reflections have been in the long run about my awareness that while we are all so different, we are all embraced in a single set of symbols that carry us through life, and beyond it.

As you look at the people around you in worship (and that’s OK to do!), let your imagination go and see if one of the gifts of Lent isn’t increased empathy and prayer for those who stand around the table with us. See if the other gift is not a greater sense of our own belonging to the human community that Christ came to redeem.


Christopher Hitchens dead at 62 – Is he still an atheist?

By Bill Lewellis

Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed during the spring of 2010 with stage-four metastasized esophageal cancer. He may may have been our best known and most bitter atheist – author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Reviewing the book in the Washington Post, Boston College professor Stephen Prothero wrote that he had “never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject.” Hitchens went after easy targets. Most would be on my list of “bad religion.”

During the next few months, he wrote three brutally honest pieces for Vanity Fair on his experience of “the unfamiliar country” of people undergoing treatment for cancer. The same critic who panned Hitchens’ knowledge of religion wrote that Hitchens' reflections ranked up there with the best writing he knows on the topic of cancer. “In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be,” Hitchens wrote in VF, “I have very abruptly become a finalist. Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down."

Then he lost his voice. "Like health itself, the loss of such a thing can’t be imagined until it occurs ... I wait impatiently for a high dose of protons to be fired into my body at two-thirds the speed of light. What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.

The oncology bargain, he wrote, is that "in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here’s the wager: you stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head." 

During his battle with cancer, there were people who told him in hard, hard copy or online that God is punishing him, especially with the loss of his voice, for his "blasphemies" against God and religion. I could not understand such people. Because Hitchens was an atheist, they wanted him to agonize in his illness and then go to hell rather than discover our compassionate God in the undiscovered country of death and what lies beyond.

Read articles in the NYTimes and the Daily Beast.

Thanks,
Bill


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]


The Tithe and Leadership

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
8 December 2011

What plan do you have, or does your parish have, for beginning to tithe?  By its nature, because of its costliness, tithing cannot begin accidentally.  You begin intentionally if you begin.

Dan Charney, the Stewardship Missioner of the Diocese, preaches passionately and eloquently about the tithe, or the practice of giving ten percent of one’s income or produce to the Lord.  Since I came to this Diocese in 1993, I have heard more here about tithing than I had heard altogether before or since from other people including clergy.  Tithing enjoys a long and widespread history.  Religions of people other than the Israelites refer to it and expect it.  Dan’s ministry stakes the claim that tithing is expected here also, and I admire him for it.  He witnesses no failure of nerve on this subject, and he is the better leader for taking a stand.

He is of age; we can ask him, of course, but his stewardship talks have emphasized three reasons to tithe that I list in the priority he gives them.

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A Rope We Cannot Give Away

A Homily Preached at Diocesan House by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Thursday after Advent Sunday

Isaiah 26:1-6, Psalm 118:19-24, Saint Matthew 7:21-27
1 December 2011

[Better to understand the image of the rope, look at Edwin Friedman’s fable, “The Bridge.”  It has been made into a brief film, “The Crux,” available on YouTube.  The Staff at Diocesan House have seen it and discussed it.  —  H. S.]

It happens every year.  It is as certain as finding Santa Claus at Macy’s in November.

Here we are almost at the very beginning of Advent, and things are about to take a turn.  They do every year.  The solemn and sobering image of our Lord as Savior and Judge will again this year, as it does every year, morph into the image of our Lord as a pitiable and helpless Baby, so helpless that even our help seems necessary.  Even a Little Drummer Boy has a gift to offer.

I understand this.  It’s so much more rewarding to be helpful than it is to be accountable.  Taking a rope is a lot more fun than being asked what in the world we’re doing with rope in our hands—especially when the rope isn’t our own.

While we have time, let’s let our Lord be our Savior and Judge, and not distort him into helplessness.  He can be a Savior and Judge at once, at the same time, because his Mercy is his Justice, and his Justice is his Mercy.  I mean by this that Jesus’ love for us, unconditional and uncompromised, seems to be one or the other, depending upon where we are, where we’ve strayed or where we haven’t strayed, or whether we’ve identified with him or accepted a substitute.

In the terms of the Gospel today, we receive his Justice if our house is built on sand, if we’ve heard and not acted on his words.  We receive his Mercy if our house is built on rock, if we’ve heard and acted on his words.

Each one of us has the power, the freedom, to decide which foundation our lives shall have.  We inevitably become in this life what we most want to be.  And this choice is a rope that we cannot give away either in time or in eternity.


My Inner Naaman

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
5 November 2011
 
“What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?”
 
There; I had said it and said it aloud for the priest to hear.  “What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?”  My inner Naaman, though nameless to me, had stepped out of the shadows and was right there for the two of us to see.  For my part, I was proud of that Naaman, for that Naaman kept me me and not another.  It was the other I feared, I suppose.  I can only guess what the priest thought.
 
At the time I was a sophomore in college.  I had been to the doctor—several doctors in fact—to discover the cause of the dizzy spells that were plaguing me at some inopportune times.  I remember once being overcome with dizziness while I sped westward on Interstate 40 midway between Nashville and Memphis.  That was scary.
 
When dizziness hits, reason flies out the window.  Contrary to all reason, I once held onto the bed where I was lying, because the sensation that I might be thrown off of it could not by reason be put down.
 

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