Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’  - Luke 18:9-14
 There are a lot of great stories in the Bible but there are some I never get tired of hearing, reading or thinking about.  This is one of them. 

Jesus tells a story to some folks who thought a lot more of themselves than they should, to use an expression from back home. In the story before, he had been talking to the disciples but this episode seems to be one of a number of parables that were told to various groups in various places, including the disciples. Were there Pharisees present at the telling of this story?  Perhaps, or maybe it was aimed at some of the disciples. For whoever it was, though, it certainly was a very pointed lesson.

Pharisees represented one of four factions of the Jewish religious and judiciary structure that existed within the Roman occupation (the other three being Sadducees (priests), Essenes (ascetics) and the Zealots (revolutionaries). They were sort of the middle class, teachers and interpreters of not only the Torah but also the oral tradition and values, perhaps sometimes a bit too rigorously, especially when it came to interpersonal relationships and purity codes. What was important to them was being righteous, observant and pure. They also wanted to make sure everybody else was the same too, which is what often brought them into conflict with Jesus. In this story, the Pharisee wasn't shy about demonstrating how prayer was supposed to be done: openly, full of self-congratulations and commendation to the Almighty, and definitely pointing out to God who was beneath God's (and therefore their) notice.

The tax collector huddling over in the corner, trying to be invisible, was definitely one of "those people," in the Pharisee's opinion. Thing is, it wasn't just the Pharisee's opinion; lots of people agreed with them. Who likes a collaborator, and tax collectors were definitely Roman collaborators, collecting monies from the people to pay for the soldiers and whole Roman occupation, not to mention spectacles and infrastructure in Rome? To make things worse, tax collectors made their living by skimming. They collected what Rome said they should and then tacked on a sort of service fee of their own which became their salary.  If there's anything worse than being somebody working for the enemy it's someone making money off us while still working for the enemy.  The tax collector had two strikes against him right there.

I usually would say that I definitely identify with the tax collector if I had to pick a role in this story. I'm not so convinced of my own rightness or righteousness that I'm willing to stand in the middle of a room and proclaim it to God and the whole universe. I'm not even willing to say it to God because I don't think it is true. Today, though, it occurred to me that really the two characters can represent two sides of the same person. There's the outer person, the one the world sees, and the inner one, the hidden one. They exchange places when situations or opportunities arise. What I show the world is what I think the world wants to see; with God, there's just me, warts and all, knowing it isn't any use to try and bluff my way through it with protestations of my righteousness. I can't be a self-promoter, even to God.

The tax collector might have had two strikes against him but when it came to his prayer, it was totally honest. The world saw the outer person, the collaborator and the skimmer, but the inward person, the real person, knew itself and its limitations. All in all, I think I'd rather be him rather than the Pharisee, not because I don't try to respect the law and don't want to be perceived as a good, righteous person, but because I think I'm better off being honest. As for standing in the darkened corner, that suits me just fine.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 24, 2012, under the title "Standing in the Corner."


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Church of England voted to not permit elevation of female priests to the episcopacy.  Thirty-six years of saying it was okay to have female priests, eighteen years of actually having female priests and now the vote to allow them to answer the call to be bishops fell by a lousy six votes. Six votes.  Forty-two of forty-four dioceses were in favor of allowing the act, there was a definite majority in both the clerical order and that of the bishops, but it was the lay people, who let down the side.  Why?  That's a good question.

The most usual explanation is that the act under consideration did not give sufficient protection for those who could not in conscience accept what they clearly believe the Bible said about women in leadership. Hmmm. I guess it's good for HM the Queen that, even though she is the titular head of the church, she didn't have to get a 2/3 majority before assuming the title as head of the CofE.  But they can live with that, I guess; HM doesn't preside at the Eucharist, confirm those seeking confirmation and ordain those discerned and approved for ordination.  No, the traditionalists insist that they must be protected from female contamination of the sacraments and, after all, "The Bible clearly states...."  We've heard that excuse before.

Jesus didn't pick the most suitable of companions when he chose the disciples. Fishermen? And, God forbid, a collaborating, money-skimming tax collector? If that wasn't unsuitable enough, he had Mary Magdalene and other women who traveled with the group and provided for their needs. God certainly picked a most unsuitable protagonist for Christianity, namely Paul, righteous Pharisee and persecutor of the early Christians.  Oh, but they are men, comes the argument, and Mary Magdalene and the others are secondary, so secondary that there's no mention of Jesus calling them to be disciples like Peter and Matthew -- and Judas Iscariot. To me, it sounds like an argument designed to maintain the supremacy of patriarchy, conveniently overlooking the apparent unsuitableness of Jesus' choices in disciples and followers, at least in the eyes of many of his fellow Jews. As for the rest of the world, as long as it didn't upset Rome, who cared what anyone else thought?

What I don't get is that some modern women seem to go along with this reasoning that only men were disciples and church leaders, as if simply by being women they (and all other women) were unsuitable to do what is considered a "man's job." If God made humankind, then God made both male and female. If God issues a call to the diaconate, the priesthood, even the episcopacy to a woman, then who are we to say "Oh, no, that can't happen because it is unsuitable. God would never do such a thing because the Bible clearly states..."  Certainly calls must be tested; the process is designed to enable the church (and the candidate) to discern God's will in the process. Chromosomes and, yes, genitalia and glands shouldn't be the determining factor about whether or not that call is genuine.

By voting down the opportunity for women to answer the call God has given them to use their gifts in God's service. The CofE, God bless it, has caved in and allowed the wishes of a handful to guide the actions of the majority. That would be tantamount to having Matthew's  or James' or Peter's wants and wishes direct the direction in which Jesus' ministry would go and where it would go.  Jesus was in charge -- as Jesus should be in the life of today's church.  The church decided to go with business as usual rather than business as God probably wanted it to be. Still, it is their prerogative to make the rules their church will follow; it just seems a shame that those rules are so easily kept in place by so few.  In a time when churches are fading into inconsequence among modern people, is it advantageous to draw a line in the sand and refuse to consider that the line might be in the wrong place?  It isn't for culture that the church needs to change, it is for the growth and building of the kingdom, the kingdom that Jesus sought to reform and cultivate. 

The Church of England missed a chance to advance the kingdom and reach out to marginalized people who would otherwise look to them for a place to belong, to grow, to worship, to serve, and to use their God-given gifts to help in the building of that kingdom. They have allowed six individuals to determine the course of the entire church for at least the next few years. I am sorry for the church.  I am sure there are gifts out there just waiting, praying, hoping and working to be used to bring those who seek into the fold and offer them spiritual food and shelter.  They have shut the door on those gifts as if they were nothing. And it was done in the name of purity and righteousness. That's what makes it even more painful.

This is a teachable moment for all the churches, I think.  Are we paying attention?  Whose gifts are we rejecting because we are so sure we know the mind of God?  Did God stop speaking when the last period was put on the last book of the canon?  Did Jesus teach the maintenance the status quo, or did he teach that we need to grow in wisdom and knowledge and use those for the benefit of all God's children, whether we are male or female?   I guess it depends on how someone hears the gospel message and the background of the gospel message that came before.

It isn't just the CofE's loss, it is a loss to Christianity and Christendom.  Hopefully when this comes up again (and it will come up again, I am sure of that), maybe wisdom will win out over piety. I hope so, anyway. A church that recognizes gifts and not just genders is a church I can believe in. I don't think I'm alone in that boat -- or nave.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

 You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement. -- James 2:1-13 (NRSV)

The Smothers Brothers were among the country's favorite comedians and, as is common with pairs in comedy, one was sort of the guy who set everything up and the other got most of the laughs. Dick was the straight man, the one who continually asserted his superiority by heaping scorn and derision on Tommy who usually seemed to be slower of thought and sometimes stumbling of tongue but who usually came up with the punch line or the gag line of the routine that got all the laughs. One of their most famous routines certainly spoke to almost every kid who had brothers and/or sisters. Dick would be on one of his usual harangues but Tommy came up with the line, "But Mom always liked you best!" It cracked the audience up, usually because they could identify with it to some extent. And therein lies the heart of the first part of today's epistle lesson.

Favoritism seems to be one of our favorite occupations these days. Go stand at the water cooler (or the coffee machine) at work and see who gets pointed out as the boss's pet employee, the one who gets the plum assignments, frequent bonuses or praise, even who gets in a little later and leaves a bit earlier without anyone really saying anything about it. Watch the business news and see which country gets listed as a most-favored trade partner, usually because it has a lot of what we need and we're willing to give them concessions we wouldn't otherwise do.  Go to a restaurant and see who gets the really good table, who at church always gets asked to read the lessons or be part of the altar party, even who is the person everybody seems to gather around at a party. Lots of examples, and those don't even scratch the surface. We favor the winners, the rich, the powerful, the well-dressed while the losers, poor, powerless and often shabbily clothed get pushed aside or ignored. According to James, favoritism toward those who are part of the "haves" is not a good thing. According to Jesus, favoritism should be reserved for those who are in need -- the poor, sick, widowed, orphaned, or anyone who wouldn't make most people's A list. 

The sudden jump from favoritism to a discussion of the law seems a bit jarring, but then, I think it speaks to favoritism of another kind -- favoritism toward self and self-gratification over generosity, humility, and love of neighbor.  The law is designed to establish norms between people -- even between people and God. Anything that disrupts that relationship of equality through obedience threatens the peace and harmony of the whole. Deciding that the law doesn't apply because one feels one is somehow entitled to disregard it or bend it to give themselves a bit of an edge over everyone else really practices self-favoritism and as such goes counter to the message of James and the teachings of Jesus.

It's hard not to play favorites. Everybody has a circle of friends of which there are those who are closer than others based on different criteria and favorites of all kinds from foods to political or religious preferences. Everybody has pet ways of expressing their own self-favoritism like speeding on the freeway or maybe choosing to use the express lane in the grocery store when the shopping cart has 5 or 10 items over the stated limit. "Love your neighbor" is probably the hardest commandment to live up to -- or even live with. It means putting favoritism aside and seeing the image of God in every single person, regardless of their compatibility with me, their ability to do something for me or even who seem more attractive or fun to know or be around.

The upshot of the passage is that if I do as I am supposed to do, what Jesus taught and was confirmed by James, then I'd better take a look at how I practice or don't practice favoritism, including to myself. In the interest of loving my neighbor maybe I'd better slow down on the freeway, live quietly, look for chances to do even something small for someone else who needs it and quit using the principle of "what's in it for me."

Well, maybe I won't give up some partialities (like turkey sandwiches and baroque music) and some friends will always be closer friends than others, but when it comes to the rest of it, I guess I'd better get to work. Still, there's one thing I'd like to be sure of and that's that God likes me best! 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 17, 2012, under the title "God Likes Me Best."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Samuel Seabury and Consecration

Commemoration of Samuel Seabury, Bishop  (1729-1796)
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.  -- Acts 20:28-32

The commemoration of Samuel Seabury, often celebrated with Sunday services which include extra goodies like the Kirking o' the Tartan and bagpipes. On November 14, 1784, just three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, Samuel Seabury was consecrated in Scotland as the first bishop in the new  Protestant Episcopal Church in the new country. While he had been sent by the people of Connecticut to England to seek consecration in the mother church, the Church of England, the CofE refused the consecration since Seabury could not and would not swear allegiance as required to the King, the same King against whom the colonists had fought a long and bloody war to gain their independence. So Seabury moved north to Scotland where the Anglican church was not connected to the crown as the Established Church, where there were bishops willing to do the deed and who had the credentials to do it so that Seabury would be part of the apostolic succession.  Somehow I think Jesus would have approved of the Scottish non-Jurors who actually laid hands on Seabury at his consecration since, after all, Jesus was against swearing allegiance to any king other than God.

The epistle reading for the day sort of sums up what Seabury's charge was: to protect the church as a shepherd would protect his flock, not in the sense that David had to protect his father's flocks from predators but rather from those who would splinter the young church with false teaching either through ignorance or arrogance. Seabury had to answer a few questions, things very similar to the same questions asked  today of a bishop-elect at their consecration and straight out of the 1979 BCP.  Included was the bishop-elect's belief that all things necessary for salvation was contained in the scriptures and that nothing not essential to salvation would be taught as essential by the bishop-elect, that there would be adherence to the governance and laws of the church, fellowship and working together with fellow bishops, etc. They are important parts of the promises a bishop-elect makes, just as it was for Seabury.

Over the past few years, there have been several times when a bishop-elect has not been given approval by the majority of Standing Committees and bishops of the Episcopal Church and new elections have had to be undertaken. There have also been several times when there has been discomfort with the choice a diocese has made as to their new shepherd, but they have been approved despite the discomfort because, after all, the people of the diocese surely chose the person they felt most closely reflected their belief and understanding of scripture, mission, and place in the diocese and the greater church. Several times, despite promises to the contrary, bishops have decided that they really didn't like what they'd promised so they and their diocesan committees and officials have declared that they as a diocese were withdrawing from The Episcopal Church. The result has been to divide people in the diocese between those wanting out and those wanting to stay in TEC, hurt and confusion among people outside the diocese who don't really understand what the problem is and why it requires such drastic means, and sorrow but resolve on the part of the national church to maintain the properties and ability to minister to those who wished to remain with TEC .  I wonder what Seabury would have made of it.

Just like marriages, sometimes diocesan relationships break down. Sometimes spouses -- or shepherds -- want to head for what seem to be greener pastures. Accusations of unfaithfulness get thrown back and forth like hand grenades in a game of hot potato, and the word heresy gets lobbed more often than a tennis ball at Wimbledon. Shepherds charged with guarding the flock now build walls around them with strong drawbridges that could be raised at the first sign of change. The rallying cry became "the faith once delivered" as if over the course of 2000+ years the church had never changed and the faith had remained exactly the same in teaching and understanding. Oddly enough, what seems like a modern problem undoubtedly happened in Paul's day and at other times in all the centuries between then and now.  We don't seem to have learned much, whether we are laity or the most exalted bishop. The via media sometimes seems to be a very narrow track between very large rocky crags.

Samuel Seabury remained faithful to the promises made at his consecration, and set the example for those who have followed him. There have been a number of exceptional shepherds (and a few to whom many wouldn't give a passing grade) in the years since, reminding us that bishops, like the humblest lay person in the pews, are human beings. None of us is perfect, and neither is any church. It's a natural thing for both humans and churches to grow and change as time goes by. Still, on this one day we celebrate the life and ministry of a man who stood his ground as to what he honestly felt he could affirm and what he couldn't. He said no to acknowledging the authority of the crown and the Archbishop, and yes to the authority of God, scripture, pastoral duty, teaching and passing on the succession.

The epistle lesson is a common thread between Seabury's consecration and that of the newest bishop in TEC.  Just as Seabury heard it, so his successors also hear the same exhortation. Most of all, it is there for us to read and digest as we learn what it is we believe and why as we grow as Christians. They are words of warning as well as blessing, and they are for all of us, lay and episcopal, individual and church-wide.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Wednesday November 14, 2012, under the title "Commemoration of Samuel Seabury."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Choosing the Right Place

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’  --Luke 14:1-11

There are some passages that I seem to run across somewhat often and that I always seem to stop and think about. If I were being metaphoric about it, I'd say it was like mentally seeing Hermione Granger shoot up her hand and practically bounce until called on by a professor. This passage from Luke is definitely one of those.

It isn't so much about the healing on the sabbath. Jesus has done that before. Here a man with severe edema (which is the modern term for dropsy) could have been in severe discomfort or even a very life-threatening condition. It was probably a lot more than just a case of swollen ankles that many of us get when we sit too long. In this particular case Jesus seems to be as concerned with putting one in the eye of the Pharisees as he is with healing someone in distress. It was an opportunity for a lesson, one I am not sure the Pharisees "got," even though they didn't really have an answer for him.

No, the part of this reading that gets me is the wedding banquet scene and the perils of choosing a place to sit. Granted, these days wedding banquets quite often have a seating chart and each place is marked with the name of a guest so there's no chance of two people who are at severe odds with each other will be forced to sit next to each other and struggle to behave civilly. Still, nobody these days would usually sit at the bridal party's table unless they were actually in the bridal party itself; all other guests are usually seated at one or another of a group of smaller tables scattered about the room and their table-mates are chosen based on relationships or some other compatibility rather than social ranking. A state dinner at Windsor Castle is a totally different matter. There's one long table and a very strict seating protocol that has to be followed based on a formula based on rank and relation to the guest of honor. There is definitely no "first come, first served" there.

I remember vividly being in church one Sunday some years ago. Everyone sat in their usual spots, usually somewhere from the middle rows of pews and toward the back.  When it came time for the sermon, the interim priest stood in the pulpit for a moment, then stepped down to the nave. He turned into the first pew on the gospel side and walked the length of the floor, apparently looking for something. He then went across to the same pew on the epistle side, doing exactly the same thing.  Everybody was a bit puzzled as to what he could have lost that he needed to find at that particular moment but the puzzlement was soon dispelled when he moved to the center, looked at the congregation and announced, "I've checked the floor up here and it's perfectly safe. Feel free to move forward and sit there."  Needless to say, there was some amused shuffling of bodies and from then on, a few made the front pews their home.  Nothing like being invited to move forward -- or toward a place closer to the action, even when we knew the floor was cement and as perfectly solid as the middle or the back.

There have been times in my life when "place" has definitely been a factor.  Growing up in the South, I shudder to remember my adoptive father being told by the Board of Deacons that African-Americans appearing at the church door should be told that the church for "their people" was dowThumbnail for version as of 01:27, 2 January 2005n the road about a mile.  Now I'm glad to see a church with faces that represent not just one race but many.  I remember being in the Philippines and, wishing to get into town to the market, I would get into a jeepney that was almost full of people and ready for the trip. It was embarrassing to me to have the driver say something to the people already seated and have them all step out of the jeepney and go to another one so that the driver could charge me two pesos, roughly ten times the amount a single passenger would be charged for the same trip. No matter how many times I remonstrated, there was no budging. I was a "rich American"; I had to have a jeepney to myself.  I'm sorry now that I didn't have the wit to say, "Ok, if that's how you want it, here's my two pesos, now everybody get back on the jeepney and let's go!"

Place in the kingdom of God is sometimes tricky to try to figure out. The Bible gives us a hierarchy of heaven, but Jesus seemed to have a hierarchy on earth that was quite unconventional. What a shock it must have been to the disciples when those they had been taught were the high ranking were, in Jesus' words, lower on the totem pole than children, women, the poor, the ill --- in short, just about everybody. Today, there are still many places where this or that group ostracizes (or worse) those of another tribe, another clan, another gender or orientation, another race, another faith tradition, another just about anything that doesn't exactly match that of the group doing the judging. It's led to more horror, death and destruction that most of us will ever know, but because it is somewhere else (or even happening to someone else, even the guy next door), we can ignore it -- to our peril. Looking at someone like Mother Teresa, it's easy to place her at a high table based on her example to all of us, but, in fact, she would probably choose to sit somewhere a lot closer to the restaurant kitchen door. That's what real humility looks like, the kind Jesus would have immediately invited to the head table.

So my challenge to myself is to look to my own place and to let God take care of everybody else's.  Maybe it's too late to invite others into my jeepney, but I'm sure there's something I could do to show that I don't think too highly of myself or take myself too seriously.  Maybe if I look more to God and less to how I think other people see me, I might just be better off in the long run. It's worth a try to find out, I think.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday November 10, 2012.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Meek and Charitable Words

Commemoration of Richard Hooker, priest and theologian (1553-1600?)

Psalm 19:1-11
Sirach 44:10-15
1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16
John 17: 18-23

...Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better. ...

...There will come a time when three words uttered with charity and meekness shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit. But the manner of men’s writing must not alienate our heart from the truth, if it appear they have the truth... 
                                   -- quotations from Richard Hooker

Among the stars in the crown of Anglican theologians, Richard Hooker certainly merits a rather large, bright one. His most famous work is a multi-volume treatise called The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, an in-depth discussion of law and good governance (both ecclesiastical and civil) and how these derived from the natural laws God established and are viewed by humanity through the lenses of scriptural authority, tradition and reason with a large helping of experience thrown in. The Laws was an exposition of what we call the via media, the middle way, of Anglicanism as opposed to the Calvinist congregational form of government (each church was autonomous) and the Roman Catholic model of top-down hierarchy. Although Hooker never referred to the "three-legged stool" (scripture, tradition and reason) by that particular metaphor, that is probably the thing most Anglicans associate with Hooker.

Hooker walked the middle way in a time when both church and secular politics were precarious. The Reformation was going full-tilt with Calvinists insisting on their interpretation of how life should be lived and how their laws and government should be done while Roman Catholics on the other hand struggled to maintain their position as the prevalent church and ecclesiastical and sometimes temporal authority. It was a time of change, an uncomfortable time since no change is ever totally comfortable, especially for people caught between two very strong and opposing forces. Still, there must have been something civil, polite and memorable about his writing because Pope Clement VIII, against whose church Hooker pitted his own church polity, stated that his Laws "...has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning." 

In this season of elections here in the United States and the campaigns, some more or less ugly than others, I wonder if perhaps Hooker would have responded as he did in his own struggles between the Roman Catholics and the Calvinists.  I find it hard to believe that any candidate for any office in this election can say something similar about their opponent that the Pope did about Hooker's words. We've come to a time when sharp wit and sharp words make it look more like a verbal brawl than a debate and an crusade more than a sharing of good news. I wonder -- what would Hooker have said about sound bytes, media spin and campaign war chests?  While debate has always been about scoring points against an opponent, it has traditionally been based on one topic, extensive research and knowledge and an ability to refute the arguments of the opponent with facts and citations, not with rapier-like slashes and personal attack.  Most of all, it has been about answers, not the raising of more questions. That's something there doesn't seem to be a lot of in this election period.

Hooker is right about change, and he is also right about words of charity and meekness. They would be a welcome change from sharp words and sometimes biting attempts at wit, not only in politics but in so many areas of life. I have a feeling I could come up with half a dozen in our own life if I thought about it for thirty seconds or so.  There are some areas where I would welcome change -- in others as well as in myself -- but how to accomplish that? 

I guess it is sort of like the old saw about how to get to Carnegie Hall, not by taking bus or subway or taxi but practice, practice, practice. I can't change our political system, make politicians speak more kindly or honestly, even get a co-worker to stop using all capital letters in notes and emails. Ultimately what I am left with is that the only person I can change is me, and even that change has to be the result of kindness and charity rather than mental flogging or cutting thoughts and words.

I can hope that somehow we can have a kinder, gentler campaign this election year, but somehow I am not all that confident. I wonder -- what if before embarking on a campaign, a potential candidate was required to read Hooker's Laws?  What if they had to have the quotation about three words spoken with charity on the wall in front of their desk where they would see it a dozen or more times a day?  What if we, as constituents, demanded that our potential representatives (whether for the Presidency or the local vestry) model civility, charity, kindness and concern for and toward each other as well as for the constituents they will represent?  What if we demanded that of ourselves in our daily encounters? 

I have a feeling there would have to be a lot of changin' goin' on, and it wouldn't be fun or pleasant, but what it might do is bring the kingdom just  a bit closer. And that is what it should ultimately be about, isn't it?

So now to give myself a polite but firm talk. I wonder - do I dare even think of challenging our candidates to do the same?  Nah, but I can always hope (and pray a lot!). On his commemoration day, perhaps Richard Hooker can give just a little nudge, purely as an amicus curiae, as it were?  Now that might be doable.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 3, 2012, under the title "Blessed Words."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Souls' - The Trumpet Shall Sound

Readings for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls')
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. -- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NRSV)

All Souls' Day is always sort of a quiet day after the whoop-la of All Hallows Eve, better known as Halloween, and then the actual day of All Saints' (a celebration which may now be moved to the closest Sunday). It sometimes seems a bit confusing to think of every Christian as a saint and then celebrating a day where only the "biggies" are recognized as saints -- Peter, Thomas (several of them), Augustine (both of them), Joan of Arc, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Patrick, etc., -- while relegating the rest of the "saints" to the lesser celebration of All Souls' or the Day of the Faithful Departed. Still, it remains on the calendar, is part of the liturgy of the day and on the designated day, and a day when we think of those loved ones who have, as we say, have passed through the vale and into a greater light.

We have a wealth of readings appropriate for this day, but the one that stood out for me, or rather began a recording in my head, was the one quoted above. I read it and my mind immediately began hearing an aria from Handel's Messiah, an oratorio I've loved since the first time I heard it at age eight. While I'm usually more into the choruses than the recitatives and arias, and the higher voices rather than the lower ones,  part one of the bass arias stick in my mind, "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised in corruptible, and we shall be changed."  It's a triumphant piece of music, solemn yet hopeful, and therein lies its probable attraction for me.

Like everyone else in this world, I have lost people dear to me, people who I consider saints even though nobody outside their immediate circles may have heard of them. They lived their lives, did their jobs, and subsequently left the world a little better for their having been here. Some were fervent church-goers, some seldom if ever darkened the church door, but on the whole, they preached the love of God louder than many a televangelist with a high-priced sound system, TV franchise and a following of thousands. They loved where they didn't have to love, cared when many simply passed by, were honest and fair in their dealings, practiced mercy and compassion, suffered sometimes with diseases and disabilities, and sometimes took unpopular stands when the rest of the world was going a different way. They were very human human beings, each with a set of their own faults and flaws, but each one made an impression on me at some point in my life and impacted my life from that time onward. Each one came to the end of their lives and departed it, taking a piece of my heart with them. I would never see them again, at least, on this side of the second coming. If it weren't for my faith, sort of summed up by the words of the aria, I wouldn't have been able to go on, at least with any joy or hope or enjoyment. The thought that "...the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised..." sustained me as, I am sure, it has many others.

On All Souls' Day the veil between heaven and earth is, to me, a bit thinner. While I remember my loved ones throughout the year at different times and places, on November 2nd they all seem to be a lot closer than usual and in greater numbers than usual. I sense their presence and think of them with love. I know that before I die, there will undoubtedly be more of my holy souls who will leave this life and that my list of departed loved ones will grow longer. Still, one day, the trumpet shall sound and we shall all be changed into what God intended for us in the beginning -- incorruptible, immortal, transformed.

Treasure your own saints. Remember them and thank God for their presence in your lives. Thank God for them and their witness, and have faith that for you and for them, one day the trumpet shall sound.

Deo gracias.

(In loving memory of A.B.O., Feb. 6,1905 - Nov.2,1960, a saint among saints.)

 Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Friday, November 2, 2012.