Sunday, March 18, 2018

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick's Day, a day when things turn green. People wear green T-shirts, eat green bagels, drink green beer, stuff themselves with corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, and in short, party. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are actually Irish, of Irish descent, or even adopted Irish. Everybody’s Irish (except for those who are of Orange descent and sometimes even Orangemen). All of this is in honor of the saint known as St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick wasn't actually Irish. He was born in Britain around 390, the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates in his early teens and sold as a slave in Ireland. He really was not too interested in religion, even though his family were Christians, but his stint in slavery gave him lots of time to discover an interest and a deepening faith. Upon his return to Britain, after escaping slavery, he returned to his family, and eventually became a priest himself.

Several years after his ordination, he was sent back to Ireland as a missionary and evangelist. Through him, many of the Picts and Anglo Saxons were converted to Christianity, as well as many Celts. One reason for his success was his ability to meld Celtic and Christian symbols, belief and practices together, with each faction finding things they could accept and practice, such as the possibly apocryphal story of his explaining the Trinity by using a 3-leafed shamrock. Given his early slavery in Ireland, Patrick was a staunch opponent of slavery and made his beliefs about this quite clear.

Patrick wrote a spiritual diary, of sorts, detailing his spiritual progress and his shortcomings. This book, known as Confessio was a glimpse into his deep spirituality and is a classic of early Christian writings.

One of his best-loved lot attributions was what is called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate or the Lorica of Saint Patrick. It's a very Celtic kind of prayer such as would be prayed by one facing a dangerous journey (which was the alleged reason for its writing) or even from everyday perils. Layer by layer Patrick sought to surround himself with the blessings of the Trinity, the company of heaven, natural forces of earth and the heavens, God’s care for every aspect of his life, and, in a pair of verses not usually read with the Lorica, asked protection from Satan, heresy, sin, idolatry, wizard’s craft, death-wounds, burning, choking, and poison. This prayer was his armor, his mental buckling on of impenetrable mental and spiritual protection.

It's a beautiful prayer. We have it in our hymnal (Hymnal 1982, #370 1), as do other churches within the communion. It's generally sung around St. Patrick's Day but also at times of ordinations and consecrations, or just about any time a long processional is needed.

Our most familiar translation of the Breastplate is a poetic one done by Cecil Villiers Stanford.The first group of verses is very lyrical, then comes a center section that changes in meter and in a different mode of description. This is the part that always makes me feel as if I were wrapped in a soft warm blanket when I read it or sing it. In the hymn book it lies as verse six:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ and mouth of friend and stranger.

I can't think of a prayer that so completely puts me in the hand of Jesus.  Christ is present in all planes and dimensions of my being.

In another, more literal, translation, it comes even closer, I think:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.2

It seems to me that everything that I am and do should reflect the Christ that surrounds me, fills me, and directs me. I think it's a wonderful prayer for all of us in times of trouble, because it reminds us that Jesus is all that we are, have, and will be. Patrick's confidence was amply displayed when he prayed this prayer.

If, on Sunday, I find myself in church, singing, "I bind unto myself today," I won’t groan because it takes up about 2 1/2 pages of the hymnal, because it seems boring (which I don’t find it at all), or "What's that weird part in the middle?” I try to read the words as I sing them and try to understand what Patrick or whoever wrote it was trying to accomplish with this prayer. It was a very personal prayer and a very Celtic one, possibly derived from a type of pagan prayer called a “binding spell.” Patrick’s adoption of Celtic tradition to incorporate into worship was one of his great abilities. It's a pretty good prayer to consider even if I only read it once or twice a year. Saint Patrick has left me a nice warm blanket to help me feel safe and loved, because the world of the Trinity is a world of love – and, on one day of the year, a world of green things and camaraderie among all manner of folk.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

God bless.


  1. Hymnal 1982, Church Hymnal Corporation, New York (1985), #370. Words attributed to Patrick (372-466), translated by Cecil Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Verse 6 is sung to the tune of Deirdre, one of the oldest known pieces of Irish music. The remaining verses are given the tune name St Patrick’s Breastplate.
  2. St. Patrick's Breastplate, publisher unknown, Translation by Kuno Meyer ca. 1920.
  3. St Patrick’s Breastplate is also known as “The Deer’s Cry”.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I have recently taken up knitting again. I used to do it, probably 30 years ago or more, but I got away from it for some reason. In Arizona, all the sweaters, heavy shawls, afghans, and ponchos are seldom needed, but it's a temptation to do handcrafts just for the pure pleasure of it. Still, with yarn come tangles.

The other day I bought a skein that had obviously been at least partially used and just put back on the shelf, half in the skein in half out. Since it was the only skein of that yarn in the three cities around which I circulate, I bought it, and promptly spent a number of hours that day and the day after, trying to untangle the mess that someone had left. I finally got aggravated in one spot and just cut first one end and then the other end of the tangle, and that was that. Normally I am very good at untangling tangles. I actually like doing it: fishing line, clothes line, yarn, macramé string, kite string, I like untangling them all. I can spend hours doing it and not really get frustrated. My fingers in a way seem to know where the yarn needs to be teased apart just to find where the main knot or tangle is, and the best way to get it straightened out.

As much as I don’t really mind tangled yarn, I hate tangled thinking and tangled words. I have occasional aphasia, which makes me use the wrong word. It absolutely aggravates me beyond all measure. I have no patience with aphasia whatsoever. I have trouble thinking of it as just another form of tangle that needs to be undone. So, the neurons in the communications center of my brain get tangled up every now and then, so what? It's just that for somebody who likes words as much as I do, I find it frustrating when I know perfectly well what I want to say, but it comes out wrong because my brain told my tongue to say something different.

Tangles or entanglements or entangling shows up occasionally in the Bible. Probably the one that's easiest for me to understand is when the Pharisees surrounded Jesus and tried to trap him by getting him tangled up in his words. Jesus’s facility with words confounded the ones trying to entangle him and they walked away frustrated. There are several other references, one of which is when Moses and the Israelites were in the desert and, having walked a fair way in one direction, turned around and headed back the way they came to try to confuse Pharaoh’s soldiers who were trying to get them back to Egypt. Another tangle -- Moses was one who had a tangled tongue. His brother Aaron was chosen as spokesman for Moses when Moses needed to give God’s words to the people.

I seem to run into entanglements in my personal life quite often. It's so easy to get tangled up, especially when I leap before you look. I confess, although I tend to hang back on many occasions, there others were I indulgently leap forward only to find out the nice comfortable dry shore that I'm trying to reach is either out of range and I'm going to get wet or I fall face first into a rock. Each time I do that I think that I really should have done it differently, but somehow, in the course of life, I usually forget that until it's too late again. Confessions of a slow learner.

It's sometimes difficult to listen to news stories and soundbites that feature people who seem to talk in such a way as to tangle up what they actually mean with what they actually say. It's hard these days to know what's real and what isn't, because what's announced joyfully on one network is squashed and totally different on another. Even the people who are giving us the information tangle it up. How many times have we heard someone say that something is going to happen only to be told the next day, well, we really didn't mean it that way. It's like being in a giant tangle of fishing line, very fine fishing line, and trying to untangle it seems like almost impossible task.

I don’t think God really intends for us to be tangled up. The 10 Commandments are relatively straightforward, even though we have to remember that in some ways some of them are now interpreted slightly differently than what has been done when God first gave them to Moses. I often wonder why God didn't put in some other things that may be would be helpful, like “Thou shalt not speed on the highway,” or “Thou shalt not be spit on the sidewalk,” or “Be polite; a smile won’t kill you."  

Okay, most of those are covered with some commandment or other, but not all of them can be read literally. Today we consider “Thou shalt not kill” to mean we shouldn't commit murder and looking at the statistics on the television and the radio, a lot of people ignore that one completely. Then you have the folks who argue that killing anyone is murder, although in wartime it’s perfectly fine. One side is urged to kill the other and vice versa. Whether or not it's killing seems to depend solely on one's position.  And then again there are those who believe in the "I've got mine, too bad about you," the folks who have what they want and need but do not feel it's necessary to share with those who are less fortunate, even small children who starve to death in our own country. Some will tell us all “Well, it's their own fault. They shouldn't have had the children if they couldn't afford to feed them,” or “It's not my job to take care of somebody else's kids.” But just wait until their child gets sick. They are the ones demanding that their insurance cover everything and that their child get the very best treatment possible. Meanwhile, maybe just across town, homeless child dies from a very preventative illness, but without any medical care or insurance, there's nothing their parents can do for them.

We've got a lot of problems these days, individual and collective, that we need to get straightened out. I know I do, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this ark. Jesus’s solution, I think, to being in tangled is to be to be simple, to read and follow the Beatitudes, and mostly to love God and love their neighbor as themselves. That's a pretty simple group of words, and almost impossible to get tangled up in. Simple solutions to complex problems? Why not? Those complex problems started out pretty simple ones, but nobody paid attention.

Perhaps it's time for us to go back to the simple ways. To be community, to look out after one another, and try to avoid tangling the fishing line or the knitting yarn or the kite strings. Remember K. I. S. S.,” Keep it simple, ******”. I don't think we necessarily need to call ourselves or anybody else by pejoratives, but keep it simple. The message that God gives us over and over and over again in the Bible to love your God, love your neighbor as yourself. How much simpler can it be?

I'll probably continue to untangle knitting yarns, crochet thread, and boardroom flaws, although I think kite strings and fishing line are out of my lifestyle currently in my life. Maybe I should do with my own life what I try to do with the yarn -- keep it simple, avoid entanglements, work patiently, and take my time. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Little Child...

We’ve always prided ourselves as a nation that seem to care about children. We focused on kids when it came time to really get some changes made in the health and safety realm: lead paint; lead and other chemicals in the water; unsafe schools with asbestos and more lead paint; auto safety seats for children; increased security in hospitals for infants and children; and a desire to give the children the best education possible, all of which were goals that we had for our children and the children of the future.

It's become almost impossible to read a news feed or a newspaper or even pick up a magazine that does not have a story somewhere about children, whether children in trouble from poverty or lack of basic healthcare, children who are exposed to toxic chemicals and waste, and whose health has been seriously affected because of it. We also get stories of children living in abject poverty, many them homeless, and probably as many who are under housed in shacks without running water or heat other than a fireplace or a wood stove. On the other hand, we're hearing more and more from our kids, kids who have been exposed to a form of terror most of us can't say we ever experienced and can only imperfectly understand.

I remember atomic bomb drills in high school where a signal would come on and everyone would rush into the hall to find an empty locker, then kneel on the floor with our heads in them as a form of protection. I’m not sure how much good that would've done on in the long run, had we actually had an atomic bomb attack, but it was felt to be the best that could be offered at the time.

Flash forward to today. We have had almost two dozen shootings, many of them in and around schools, where children and teens have been killed, injured, or traumatized in such a way that some of them may not be able to recover from this. We tut-tut, send our prayers and thoughts, but then we demand that somebody do something. And here come the kids, the survivors and those who fear for their own safety unless something happens, and soon.

Survivors of the latest school shooting in Florida have stood up and said enough is enough. They have planned marches and spoken publicly about their experiences and what they see as necessary to be done to protect their safety in the future. Some of them have gotten some horrid comments and bullying messages about their stance, but they haven't stopped their protest. Now teens across the country are joining that movement, walking out of school and marching to make visible their protest to the fact that their schools aren't safe because their streets aren't safe, and their streets aren't safe because guns are easy to access, and anger is rampant.

Jesus said to “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). What would Jesus say about the plights of our kids – those who are innocent and those who are depressed, angry, and see no other alternative to violence?

The whole argument about how to make our kids safe hit me last Sunday when I was in Walmart picking up cat food, a fairly routine trip for this household anyway. In front of me in the checkout line was a man and a little boy who was busy helping his dad clean out the grocery cart, standing in the cart and very quickly and precisely handing his father each item without dropping it, spilling it, or missing his father's hands. He had gorgeous big brown eyes, a cherubic face, and a cute little boy haircut. He was well dressed although not Brooks Brothers, but I noticed that he had a plain shirt on and so did his dad. I asked about his age and his father said the boy was about 2 1/2. I looked at the child and I said, “You're a very helpful little boy. You are really good at helping your daddy.” His comment was, “Thank you ma'am." Ma'am? I haven't been called that in a very long time, but this came out of this little boy, without prompting from his father at all. I was gob smacked. A child being raised with manners. It was so refreshing after what we've heard about teens going wild and doing drugs and disrespecting anyone and everyone, and even small children gaining access to guns and shooting themselves, a sibling, or a friend.

When they got ready to leave, I complemented the father and the mother on their raising of the child, and how verbal he was at such a young age. They smiled, thanked me, and as the father began to push the cart away, the little boy turned to look at me and he said, “Have a nice day, ma’am.”. It suddenly made me think that maybe there is hope for this generation and the generation to come if at least one child can be taught respect for others and have a healthy self-image to boot.

I can see that little boy as one of those children on Jesus's lap. He was representative of all children. He was innocent, clever, and very well spoken for a child his age, pronouncing his words clearly, correctly, and appropriately. His parents certainly cared enough about him to work hard with him to make sure that he was equipped to go out into a world where he might be a little bit different than other kids, but he was also being prepared for adulthood, quite a way down the road of life. I hope I run into him again sometime. He gave me a renewed faith in my fellow human beings, at least for a little while.

Jesus was about love, yet today it seems to be that one for one person's definition of Jesus is the antithesis of someone else's. Somehow, I think we need to find ways of showing the love of and for Jesus that we have received. It may be our best (and maybe only) chance to reach lost and hurting kids (and adults as well) and begin to rebuild that kingdom of God on earth that we all dream of.

Bless that little boy. I don't know his name or really anything about him, but it seemed that Jesus seemed to shine from him. There was a sense of peace, innocence, joy, and hope about him. I wish I could shield that little child from what he's going to learn as he grows older of people's inhumanity to others and how hatred fuels the fires that produce violence. But then, maybe he’s the hope of tomorrow, one of the teens who aren’t afraid to speak up and speak out. Maybe those who protest now will be an inspiration for him and kids like him. 

And a little child shall lead them…

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Caf é Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Coming Off the Bench

Acts 1:15-26

In the last several weeks, the world has been watching young athletes from many countries compete in various winter sporting events. The young people have trained hard, and they have worked long hours to earn their place on their countries’ Olympic teams. Each person comes with the expectation of doing well and with the hope of winning a gold medal. Whether it is an individual or a team sport, they have their dreams – and their countrymen and women do too.

In sports, there is always a risk of injury, and injury means a person cannot compete, so that person is usually replaced by an alternate athlete, one who stands in the wings until needed, but always ready, as a song that used to be popular said, "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play." They train hard even as alternate, just in case the coach needs to call on them. I would venture to say any person in a sport, be it Babe Ruth baseball, high school football, college basketball, swimming, or adult soccer, there's always a hope of the coach calling them off the bench, and the alternate has a chance to become a star.

The story today for the commemoration of Matthias involves a bit of history, going back to the fall of Judas Iscariot. Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Romans and, as we usually hear it, went out and hanged himself. Luke, the author of Acts, reported that he went out into a field, fell and burst open, dying as a result. However it happened, the 12 apostles had become 11, and now someone was needed to fill that empty spot, so the total number would be 12, the number Jesus had originally called. The remaining disciples and followers met with Peter, their acknowledged leader to find a replacement for Judas. There were 120 people there that day and of that number, two men were chosen to stand for election to fill the empty chair, to enter the game as a substitute so that the team would be at full strength and the work could go on unabated.

There were qualifications that they had to meet, one of which was that the person chosen had to have been a follower who accompanied the12 from the time of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan until the day of the ascension. The man must be a witness to the resurrection as well. It's a hard set of qualifications, but it was necessary to continue the ministry that Jesus had begun.

They did not just pick anyone. They had two qualified candidates, one of whom was a man named Joseph, who was also known as Barsabbas and also Justus, and another man named Matthias. The company prayed that Jesus would choose the one who would be God's choice to complete their number. The selection was made by casting lots (something like dice, tokens, or even drawing straws) and Matthias was the winner. He then became the 12th apostle.

I doubt seriously that Matthias was standing on the sidelines jumping up and down wildly waving his hand saying “Put me in, coach, I'm ready”; he surely must have realized the position would be difficult. I’m pretty sure also the he felt it was God's will, so he must have been somewhat prepared to be a part of the new ministry to which he was chosen.

So, what are we to make of the selection of Matthias in the aftermath of the crucifixion, ascension, and subsequent shortage of apostles? The apostles did not rush into choosing someone to replace Judas. Undoubtedly, it was probably very difficult for them, because Judas had been a part of them throughout Jesus's ministry. He was part of the brotherhood, so to speak, and the ties would have made him part of the family. It seems to me that the apostles did not rush because there might have been a sense of grief that Judas had chosen the path that he had, and that Jesus had died because of him. But Jesus rose from the dead and Judas did not. Still there might be some grief because of Judas’ faithlessness and a feeling of his betrayal not only of Jesus but of all of them by his actions.

This week, I think I will look at where substitution can be a benefit or a stumbling block. I feel that for being a substitute, one needs to be a shadow like an understudy for an actor in a play. Someone must be ready to jump in and take over almost seamlessly to make the production successful. If a member of a team on a project must drop out, someone must move in to take their place. Other people have to double up so that they have time to find replacement without slowing down the completion of the assignment.

I'm going to contemplate where I can be an understudy where I can watch and learn in case something happens and I am able move into a role or position and continue the progress forward. The building of God’s kingdom here on earth cannot be allowed to falter because the bench is lacking people ready to step into vacancies.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, February 24, 2018.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Janani Luwum -- Archbishop and Martyr

O God, whose Son the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep: We give you thanks for your faithful shepherd, Janani Luwum, who after his Savior’s example gave up his life for the people of Uganda. Grant us to be so inspired by his witness that we make no peace with oppression, but live as those who are seated with the cross of Christ, who died and rose again, and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. *

It seems that every so often when I'm reading the office for the day, I find myself reading about people who existed within my life span. It kind of amazes me, but then, the call of God and the responses to that call are not that uncommon even in the in this age.

Janani Luwum born in 1922 and was a schoolteacher just prior to his conversion in 1948. He rose through the ranks of the church from lay reader to becoming a priest in 1956. In 1969, after study in Britain, he was named archbishop of Northern Uganda.

It was a precarious time in Uganda. Not only were ordinary Christians in danger from 1971 on, when a dictator and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Uganda, staged a coup against his predecessor, Milton Obote, the Prime minister. The usurper was Idi Amin, and his name and reputation are still known today as one of the most lethal and cruel of dictators. He distrusted anyone who did not support him, and frequently those people disappeared without a trace. Soldiers were shot in their barracks because Amin feared they too might try a coup against him as he had done to his predecessor. Foreigners were forced to leave, and Christians were killed for little or no reason. It was a perilous time, a time full of fear and a time to keep your head down and try not to attract attention. James Kiefer gives an inspiring biography of Janani Luwum that speaks of his life and struggles.

The name of Idi Amin was very familiar in the 1970s for his cruelty, treachery, and brutality. It was hard not to see him in somewhat the same frame as a Hitler. In his 8-year rule, over 300,000 Ugandans were massacred, among them was Archbishop Janani Luwum in 1977. After his kidnapping, he was said to have continued preaching and calling the Amin regime to repentance for the crimes and injustices they had perpetrated. His death came through beatings, torture, and finally, a gunshot.

When the casket containing his body was opened in his home village, the level of atrocity committed upon him was undeniable. His courage in speaking out against a corrupt and evil regime and his faith encouraged his people and his faithfulness in the face of death had a powerful impact on the people of Uganda, and many who had forsaken Christianity returned to the faith, encouraged by the memory of Archbishop Luwum and others who had been martyred for their own faith.  
I remember hearing about the atrocities Amin had called down on his own people. It was almost too sickening to read and hear about, but it was in the news with great regularity during those days of repression and oppression with a dictator who caused mass murder and genocide without compunction, without regard or even remorse. There were several in the world at that time, and now even now reading about the times when these atrocities were happening is still stomach churning and nauseating. But then there are those who like Luwum who stood up against all odds and in total danger of losing their lives for their cause. That is a reason for celebration. These were people who took the words of Jesus seriously, the words about caring for one another and loving their brothers and sisters even until death. He died a martyr's death, and is considered a martyr for the faith today, especially in his home country of Uganda but now also recognized around the world.

We often run up against things that overwhelm us. This past week yet another school shooting took place, in Florida this time, and young people, the fruits of our generation and our children's generation, the future leaders of our country, were mowed down for some almost inexplicable reason. This time, it was by of a young man of 18 years of age who believed a hate group that sought to create an all-white society. It's sick. There have been a number of school shootings just since the first of the year and many young people have died because of people who wanted, like Amin, to rule their way and without any opposition. It is sad, and more than sad, it's tragic. We haven't seen another Amin yet, but that is not to say there is not one rising somewhere, and we cannot say where that somewhere is.

It's not easy to be a martyr. By martyr, I mean people facing real danger, real life and death situations, not just people whose opinions and beliefs other people don't accept. Martyrs pay with the price of blood that has been shed by the hands of evil. Luwum knew this and yet he continued, just like others have done. He trusted that God would care for him and would give him the strength and the ability to face whatever had to be faced so that others could be free and safe.

Every time I read of a new martyr that I have heard very little about, I wonder if I would ever have to face a similar situation or if I would have the courage of Luwum if I found myself in a similar situation. It is hard to know how any of us would react to facing evil and maintaining our faith as we face any instrument of death. Jesus showed us, and Luwum followed that example. His death gave us a new example of faith in action. I wonder, with all that's going on in the world, all the turmoil, the deaths of innocents, and the wannabe rulers of the world growing in strength and cunning, if we will have to make that choice and face that evil.

I will try to keep Archbishop Janani Luwum in my mind as a person of faith, character, strength, and most of all faith. I think if I (and we) could look to examples of Christians like him, I (and we) might find the strength to try and overcome the problems that we face today in a world of violence, oppression, and fear.

May God bless Janani Luwum with peace that he did not have on earth and with a place with the angels surrounding the throne of God whom he trusted and never denied.

God bless.

*Church Publishing Incorporated, 2016, A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, February 17, 2018.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

One PBJ at a Time...

Mark 8:1-10

There's an interesting story in our gospel lesson for the Eucharistic lessons for today. We are used to hearing about the feeding of the 5000 which occurs elsewhere in the Gospels. This reading deals with a slightly smaller crowd, and using provisions provided by the disciples who had been carrying them on their own journey. Jesus and his followers were followed by a great crowd for the previous three days. This being the desert, there were not any drive-thrus, coffee shops, of amenities of any type, and I am sure most of them had run out of food and were really hungry. Jesus noticed this and asked his disciples how much food they had. They came up with seven loaves which Jesus blessed before the disciples distributed to all. There were a few small fish, probably something like sardines, and those too were blessed and passed out among the crowd. Everybody ate and were filled up.

When the leftovers were gathered up, there were seven baskets full, much more than the amount of bread and fish they had begun with.  Everyone got to eat and each of them was full at the end of the meal. The total number of people was said to be 4000. It was only after they finished their meal that Jesus sent them back to their homes so that he and his disciples could continue on their journey in the opposite direction.

We are used to the stories of the feeding of crowds of people and we think nothing like that could ever happen today. Very probably not, but it could, maybe not by the miraculous means that Jesus had at his command, but it could be done. All it would take would be for each person to bring a sandwich for themselves and another for someone else. There would be many people who would not have the ability to bring a sandwich for themselves, much less bring an extra one, but if half the people were able to bring two sandwiches, there would be enough for everyone to have one sandwich all of their own. That sounds like a pretty good miracle to me. It certainly would be a blessing to those who have shown up because they were hungry and needed to be fed.

There is an old story about stone soup where hungry people would boil water and put stones in. They would tell the children that it was stone soup and encourage them to drink it to fill their stomachs. Not extremely nutritious, and certainly not very tasty.

Many of our homeless people would probably be grateful for stone soup on a cold night. Most of them live without fires or a pot to heat water in, even if there were any clean water around. The stones would probably be covered with who knows what, and it would probably be more disastrous for them to use that than it would for them to go hungry.

For me it's hard to pass street corner beggars who hold up “Please help me” signs. I never carry cash, so I don't have any currency to give them, and even then I couldn't be sure it would go for food and not for something destructive instead. I was just thinking, I could always take a sandwich, and if I saw someone on the street corner, I could give them a sandwich. It wouldn't be a fancy sandwich, because I do not have a lot of fancy stuff in the house, but I do have peanut butter and I do have jelly. I could make up a butter sandwich next time I go out and have it ready in case I run across someone who's looking for food in the middle of the desert. Even if they are sitting in front of McDonald's, I can still give them my peanut butter sandwich. I cannot go into McDonald's right now myself, but I can share what I do have, and I think that might please Jesus more than buying someone a happy meal or a number one on the lunch and dinner menu. It may not be much, but it would be something.

Like the little boy in the feeding of the 5000 and the disciples in the feeding of the 4000, they took what they had and gave it to Jesus made it work. Okay, I am not saying that my one peanut butter sandwich is going to change the world, but it might change something for someone else. I think this coming week, instead of worrying about sending Valentine cards and candy or even trying to be extremely penitential with remembrance of all my sins, I will go with a fulcrum-type action. Maybe a peanut butter sandwich would be the idea for that day. It would not involve something someone gave up for Lent most likely (like chocolate), and it wouldn't be like eating a steak on Ash Wednesday. It would still be an active giving and a very small sacrifice that I could make in Jesus’ name.

I think I will do it. What to try it yourself? I really hope you will.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café,  Saturday, February 10, 2018.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Just The Facts, Ma'am....

Next week we seem to have a double blessing, as it were, of having two holidays or holy days on the same day. There has not been an Ash Wednesday/Valentine's Day concurrence in the last 73 years, the last one being 1945. Being a curious type, I researched and found that the next time it is going to happen this way with both being on the same day. Easter and April Fools' Day occurring this year on the same day will occur again in 2024. After that, will have to wait until sometime after 2100 before it happens again. 

And that's a fact.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Dorchester Chaplains, Models of Faith in Action

If I heard someone start off a sentence with "A priest, a rabbi, and two Protestant ministers met at a ...", I would probably expect a funny story to ensue. After all, many such jokes have them walking into a bar where something funny happens. Today's commemoration, however, is of a very different sort. Even though it involves a priest, a rabbi, a Methodist minister, and a Dutch reformed clergyman, there's no funny story, just one of courage, and a sense of duty, honor, and obedience to the lessons of Jesus.

On the night of February 2, 1943, the four ministers were on board a naval ship, the USS Dorchester, as part of a small convoy heading through the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Greenland. It was a dangerous route, one known for its deadly qualities, caused by Nazi submarines which had already accounted for many ships being sunk in that area. Even though they were close to their destination, only about 150 miles away, the danger was still very high. During the night, a Nazi sub surfaced and fired a fan volley of three torpedoes. The other ships were missed, but the Dorchester took one below the waterline and amidships, a fatal wound for the ship, which soon began to fill with water.

The crew scrambled to get to the main deck and escape the fast-filling water inside the hull. Some jumped overboard and swam to lifeboats, sometimes overcrowding them almost to the point of capsizing. It was a night of confusion and quite often panic, although fortunately two ships managed to pick up many survivors from the waters. Still on board the Dorchester were many sailors, including four clergymen, who encouraged their shipmates to be calm, and who went about comforting and assuring the frightened and freezing sailors still on board. They found a locker that still contained some life preservers, so they handed them out until there were no more. At that time, the brave four took off their own lifejackets and gave them to the sailors.

People in lifeboats looked back at the ship and saw the four standing on the deck, speaking the word of God and praying together as the waters rose quickly to submerge them. It was an unbelievable moment, and one that stuck in the minds of many of the survivors who witnessed what was happening.

Jesus taught that "greater love hath no man than that he give up his life for his friends (John 15:13)." There been many examples through history, both Christian and non-Christian, and those people have been honored for their sacrifice of themselves for a greater purpose, to save the lives of others. Martyrs are those who give up their lives for their faith, but there are also those who give up their lives for their fellow man regardless of religion. The chaplains gave up their life vests, recognizing that this meant certain death for themselves, without asking what religion or faith the recipients followed. They simply handed over the lifejackets with the devout hope that it would save the lives of at least four people. It must have been hard to face their own mortality in a moment like that and yet they did it, seemingly without reservation or consideration. They simply remembered what they believed that God expected, and they followed those beliefs unto death.

They were not given a Medal of Honor for their gallantry to the death because technically they were not under enemy fire, although the sinking was the result of enemy fire. Instead, they were posthumously given an award created especially for the four of them, an award that would never be duplicated but which would be equal in respect to the Medal of Honor. It was called the Special Medal for Heroism and was awarded in 1961 nearly 20 years after their deaths. Yet they are not remembered for their medals, however. Instead it is for their faith, compassion, and example that they are honored today.

I should remember, the next time I hear a story that starts out with “Four men walked …,” that there is not always a joke that comes afterwards, especially when the four men are members of different religious groups or clergy of different denominations or even faiths. These four men walked out onto a deck that was sinking. They stood their ground, they did what they could do to help others, and they exhibited a desire to show the love of God to all under dire circumstances. Their bravery was incredible, and their courage and faith deserved and continues to deserve remembrance.

This week I think I will be remembering the Dorchester chaplains in my reflections. I may not be the one who goes down with the ship after having helped others to escape certain death, but I can learn to man the metaphoric life preserver locker and pass out words of life, words that would help others who are struggling and afraid. The faith of all four was in the same God, and so it is a reminder how important faith is and how obedience to God can make such a big difference.

God bless the memories of Lt. George L. Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D Goode (Rabbi), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic priest), and Lt. Clark V. Polling (Dutch Reformed). May they rest in peace and rise in glory and be seated at the right hand of the Father in glory.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 3, 2018. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Three Women Ministers

Today we commemorate three people who were coworkers with the apostles. There are lots of threes in the Bible: Abraham Isaac and Jacob; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Saul, Jonathan, and David: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus; Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar; Peter, James, and John; Paul, John Mark, and Barnabas, among others. We seldom see women in threes, although many women are mentioned in the New Testament, both by name and unnamed. Today we have three, who were mentioned in the Gospels and in Acts, who played important parts in the establishment of a growing church and who made their contributions in different ways. Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe were from different places and performed different ministries. We celebrate those ministries today.

Lydia was mentioned as a seller of purple, or a person who dealt with purple dye which was rare and expensive. Lydia ran her business apparently quite successfully. Her business acumen combined with her earned wealth, made her a financial contributor to the growing church and with her whole household, she was baptized into the new faith, Paul and his companions were invited to stay in her house when they were in Philippi, and made her house their headquarters.

Dorcas was an early Christian in the town of Joppa. Dorcas (her Greek name) was also called Tabitha (in Aramaic). She was known for her charitable works, especially in making garments and donating them to needy widows, a group of people that Jesus (and his Jewish tradition) encouraged his followers to care for, among others. When she died, Peter came to her bedside and raised her back to life. Lutheran women are part of DORCAS (Diaconal Outreach, Care and Services), whose acronym reminds us of the ministry of the Dorcas we commemorate today.

Phoebe was from the eastern seaport of Corinth and was given the title diakonos of the church in Chenchreae. She served as an assistant, servant, or a deacon, depending on the translation. She could have possibly been a deaconess, which was a different position than that described by the word deacon. Whatever her title actually meant, she was a close coworker in the city of Corinth with Paul and his companions. Corinth was a sea port, one where sailors had shore leave after having dragged their ships across the isthmus that connected northern Greece, southern Greece, and the world beyond. The isthmus was not completed for many centuries, so in Phoebe’s time, ships were taken out of the water, put on rollers, and then hauled by the sailors across the dry isthmus and into the water again at Corinth. It is thought that Paul wrote more frequently about sexual sins in his letters to the Corinthians because of the shore leave given to the sailors after such an endeavor. Phoebe was probably very much needed to minister to the women of Corinth.

Three women, three different ministries, all dealing with churches and groups of men who also worked with the churches. Part of their importance is that they are women, not women who were in direct contact with Jesus but who nonetheless heard and believed the message and worked to pass it on. These three women have names, but there many others in the New Testament whose work and witness impacted the lives of those around them and brought them into the fold of the new the new faith. We seldom hear their stories, like Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe, in the sermons or the readings on Sunday; there quite often relegated to a weekday. However, the need to be remembered as representatives of all the women in the Bible, named and unnamed, who do not always get the same amount of recognition as their male counterparts.

This isn't a bid for feminism and equality per se, although I would like to see more emphasis placed on the women of the Bible and their contributions. Seldom during the church year (except at Christmas and Easter) do we hear of or mention the women that were such important parts of the scenario. We know of Mary and Elizabeth at Advent and Christmas, and then Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Mary the mother of James and John, and Salome at the base of the cross and the women who went to the tomb after the Sabbath. We know those stories, and we know those names, but we often forget there are others who are worthy of remembrance and emulation.

This week I need to think about Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe. I admit, Phoebe is easier, since my little girl cat is also named Phoebe, and she is assiduous in her ministry of being a loving bundle of fur whose purr ministers to me so well as a calming ministry. As for the humans, I'm not much of a businesswoman, I could make hats and scarves for the homeless women that I see around, and I could be a little more active in service to both the churched and the unchurched. It's just gonna take a little more effort.

May we remember these women and all the others as heroes of the faith and example examples of what Christianity is about.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 27, 2018.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

An Insight from Someone Special

Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’* 58Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:51-59

 I always think of John as the most difficult gospel to understand. It seems like he uses a more mystical way of saying something instead of just coming out and saying it in plain language. Of course, that's my thinking.

There are people who have no difficulty with John. I will admit that there are parts of John that I love hearing, especially the first few verses of the first chapter of the gospel. But when John tells a story he does not tell the story so much as he gives a dialogue of what was said. The gospel reading for the Eucharist kind of goes in that pattern, and I have to say, the first sentence rather brings me up short, especially today.

"Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death." It sounds very simple, whoever keeps God’s word will never see death. But then the reality sinks in -- everyone dies. Some never draw a breath of air while others live to 100 and beyond. Yet they all die. No matter how good they were, there is always an end.

This week I got news that a very, very dear friend of mine had died last weekend. Margaret was 97 years old, and had had a long, full life, despite advancing age and health challenges. I have known her ever since I can remember. I knew her from church, and I got closer to her when we both sang in the choir. I drove her crazy because as she tried to sing the alto, I would be singing whatever part I did not hear well enough to balance the sound. She helped me make a formal for my senior prom, and she taught me to cook some lovely food that our home economics class never did. I do not think Jesus would never have passed over someone who really needed a chair repaired or hugging a child who really needed it.

I spent many happy hours at her house, especially after the death of my adoptive mother, and, in a way, took over as a combination big sister, foster parent, and best friend. She and her husband had a daughter of their own, but there is always room for me to sleep on their couch all weekend and be part of their family, which I loved. She was also a big help to my adoptive father, struggling to make a living and trying to understand the mysteries of a teenage girl that puzzled and quite often frustrated him. Margaret took care of that for both of us.

Over the years, we grew a little apart, mostly caused by distance, but whenever we talked on the phone, within a minute or two it was like we had never been separated. We had some along conversations, and those conversations were about exchanging information, but more than that, it was about building a bridge. That bridge was something I counted on, no matter what was going on in my often-chaotic life.

Margaret was a firm believer in Jesus, and very conscious of the things Jesus taught. During her lifetime, she helped people and she tried to live her life, so the glory was reflected to God. She was a child of God, in every sense of the word, and just looking at her smile, which was radiant, it was like seeing God smile. She died last Sunday, and the world is a poor place because of her absence.

I go back to John and consider the part about the people who keep God's word will never see death. Margaret was fervent in prayer, constant in reading the Bible, faithful in attendance at Sunday school and church, and a practitioner of what she heard and understood from the Bible. And yet she died. It's hard to reconcile Jesus's words with the reality of life, especially a life as exemplary as hers.

During this epiphany season I've been looking for insights, ways of looking at things through different lenses than I usually do, and seeking to view things from a different point of view. Sometimes it's very simple, but sometimes it is almost impossible. In thinking about Margaret's life and death, I think the insight that I got from her was that she did not look for praise or wealth, or even pats on the back. She lived her life and did her ministries with enthusiasm and great love, not only in the church, but in the greater world. The insight comes when I think of all the time and love that she gave me when I was growing up and beyond. She did her best to live up to all the things that Jesus required, but she never spoke of it; her actions showed it. She gave to charity, she supported the church, she performed her ministries to the best of her abilities, and she was a dear friend to so many people. I have a feeling that the Baptist church at home today will be full of people who loved her and whom she loved, gathered as a community to remember her and to give thanks for her life and witness.

So, in all, I guess the insight is that there is joy and value in living the Christian life, one that accepts people as they are, one who helps those in need, one who puts the love of God above all. Margaret has given me a prime example of what that means. And although she has now seen death, I know she did not fear it, but rather saw God’s open arms waiting to embrace her. That would be her greatest reward.

Rest in peace, Margaret, and most assuredly you will rise in glory.  I will miss you, and will love you for all that you meant to me.

Until we meet again,

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday January 20, 2018.