Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Faith and a Flashlight

I have a small book of quotations I've come across at various times and on various topics. It was inspired by Jan Karon's Patches of Godlight: Father Tim's Favorite Quotes which gave me the idea to begin my own favorite quotes book. I used one of those little black-and-white composition books, small enough to put in a pocket and have added to it periodically over the years. There are barely five unused pages left, and I have a second little book just like the first waiting to be put into use.

This morning I wanted to find a quote to write about so I began looking for my little book which is always somewhere either on or close to my desk. I couldn't find it. I searched various piles of papers, books and magazines to no effect. I moved the calculator and the small pile of cards to be sent out but again, to no avail. So I resorted to my go-to implement, a small but bright flashlight. It took a few more minutes but I located the little book. Then it came to me: the flashlight was helpful not just for shining light on what I was looking for but gave me an epiphany as well. I could see many things with the available light of my desk lamp, but by using a small flashlight it concentrated my focus on only a few things at a time. An overwhelming task had been reduced to a small focused one, and it worked. I found what I was looking for and in very short order.

Then I began to think about what a flashlight does. It creates a beam of light that helps illuminate things. If I walk around in the dark where there are no lights, On every episode of CSI, the team begins their investigation by clicking on flashlights and, even in fairly bright areas, they find tiny clues that lead to the solution of a crime. There's never an area so bright that it can't use a little more light.

 I can stumble over things that I would have seen had there been more light. A flashlight helps prevent that stumbling.   It puts light in dark corners of the closet where things I had forgotten about were stashed or perhaps hiding. It shows me where the vacuum has missed small masses of cat-lace (hair shed by my boys which hides under chairs and tables and sometimes sits defiantly in the middle of the floor) and also the toy for which they've been groping under a chest or media rack. It makes what was difficult or impossible to see visible, and it forces me to focus on a small area. Perhaps that's the word I'm looking for -- focus.

I remember when I had panic attacks. It was an effort even to breathe and making a decision as to what I was supposed to be doing was almost impossible. I had written an essay on mental health issues that referenced panic attacks and gave some clues on how to get through them. It had to be a God-thing in that I remembered some of those tips several years later and in the throes of something that had just been a subject to write about. The major tip was to focus -- focus on the next thing that had to be done. The first step to focus on was taking a breath, then another one. From there the next thing was to stand up, then walk to the kitchen. By focusing on one small thing at a time, I got through the 20 minutes or so that, if I remembered correctly, was about the length of the average panic attack. When I was thinking about the flashlight today I remembered the whole episode and thought how similar that remembering to focus was so much like using my flashlight to illumine one small area.

Then I started thinking about faith. What exactly is it, where did I learn it and how does it affect me and my life?  That's a big question because faith encompasses a whole range of beliefs -- who is God, what is God, who is Jesus, who is the Holy Spirit, what roles do they play in my faith, etc. In Education for Ministry (EfM) before our last curriculum change, we had an exercise that attempted to nail down precisely what it was that each of us believed, why we believed it and where we had learned it. We referred to it as the Grid because it began as a table with a number of columns, each with a specific word like "God." Under each column heading was a series of questions, each in its own block under that topic and those questions asked for specific answers.  When I worked on it as a student, I put six solid weeks of thought into it and still never finished the exercise. I did it again when I became a mentor, and still never finished it. It isn't really part of our new curriculum and that is a relief, in a way. I'm also sorry to see its demise because I think it was a great exercise, just maybe too daunting in its depth. But then, wasn't the whole purpose to gain depth?  To use a kind of flashlight to lighten up the dark corners?

It's easy to recite the historic creeds on a Sunday morning but if someone asks me what a precise phrase means and why I believe it, I have to stumble around and try to come up with the answer. I think maybe I need more flashlight work when it comes to that subject. Like CSI, I need to focus on small areas and not be overwhelmed by the larger issues.

Maybe being able to explain my faith isn't something that will change the world or even solve one of its myriad problems, but then, I have to remember that as huge as the world's problems are, individuals and groups shining the equivalent of flashlights on small areas have helped to change things, whether things solely of faith or where faith intersects good works.

The world could use a little more light in a great many places.

Originally published at Daily Episcopalian on Episcopal Café Monday, October 27, 2014.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Making Choices

Praise is unseemly on the lips of a sinner,
   for it has not been sent from the Lord.
For in wisdom must praise be uttered,
   and the Lord will make it prosper.

Do not say, ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I fell away’;
   for he does not do
what he hates.
Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray’;
   for he has no need of the sinful.
The Lord hates all abominations;
   such things are not loved by those who fear him.
It was he who created humankind in the beginning,
   and he left them in the power of their own free choice.
If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
   and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water;
   stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
Before each person are life and death,
   and whichever one chooses will be given.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
   he is mighty in power and sees everything;
his eyes are on those who fear him,
   and he knows every human action.
He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
   and he has not given anyone permission to sin
.-- Sirach 15:9-20

I really like the book of Sirach. I haven't read it enough times to have it memorized and there's no plot with the need to keep characters and their stories straight. Instead, it is a collection of teachings on various topics more or less categorized and presented for consideration, meditation and emulation.

This passage begins with a brief statement on praise. Praise, to Sirach, is a bad thing if God didn't send it and if the person offers some kind of praise in order to gain something for themselves. We've seen people butter up the rich and powerful in the hopes that there would be some sort of reward for stroking their egos. Kids try to butter up Mom or Dad when they want money over and above their earned allowance or they try to flatter a teacher into giving them a better grade than they deserved. But what if the person did something really good? Would offering a few words of praise be out of line? Not necessarily, if the praise is honestly given and doesn't try to curry favor because of it. It's all about intent.

And then the reading turns to choices. People were given free will and the ability to make choices, whether good or bad. It's more than a child's choosing chocolate ice cream over strawberry, or a teen choosing this college over that one. It's about the little choices we make every day, how we make those choices and why. Each choice has a consequence, whether a positive one or a negative, depending on the choice that is made and the situation that demands the choice. Choosing to drive drunk is probably a very poor choice with the high possibility of very negative consequences both for the driver and for anyone else on the road or in the vehicle. Choosing to enter a profession that helps others rather than is based solely on what salary one can earn is a potentially good choice. Not all wealth is measured in the size of a bank account.

"Before each person are life and death." Even that is a choice -- sometimes. Suicide is a very real choice for some people. Teenagers can't necessarily see that what is seems so earth-shattering to them now is, most likely, temporary and will get better with time, or someone whose palliative medications just cannot control the pain of an injury or illness that could be fatal.  Sometimes it is hard for others to understand someone making a choice to end their own life, and often it is condemned as selfish or a usurping of God's purpose. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is all about the person, not the family, friends, co-workers and the world in general. When a teen commits suicide, we condemn it as a waste of a good life, but to the teen, it is an escape from something like bullying or messages of condemnation for something they know they are but can't reveal for fear of rejection or bullying. A terminally ill patient is considered a bit more leniently; after all, they have pain to endure, but to some, it is selfish and circumventing God's will as to when they are appointed to die. I don't think it is ever an easy choice, no matter which stage of life a person is in, yet the consequences of the choice are clear.

Most religions have sets of rules that are designed to create order and some uniformity in the group that comprise that religion. Most teach that their adherents are to honor their deity or deities, care for others whether in the group or outside it, to respect the land they live on and to live their lives in an honest and upright way. When one group decides that another is wrong and seeks to change, take over or even eliminate another group for its beliefs, then there is conflict, war, death and destruction. If the choice is made to live as peaceably as possible (and it has been done in a number of diverse places with diverse groups for hundreds if not thousands of years), then everybody benefits. It only takes a few fanatics, however, to impose chaos and begin a conflict that can shatter a culture, a religion or a way of life forever. It all comes down to choice.

We choose our candidates in an election with the hope that they will do their best to represent all the people of their district, not merely pander to their own wants and ideas. There was a political flyer in the mail this past week from a candidate who accused the opponent of abandoning their Roman Catholic teachings because they, the opponent, favored letting women choose to use birth control or even abortion. Which would be better, an elected official who enforces their own beliefs on others or one who seeks to represent all the people, not just those of his or her own religious affiliation? The voters will have to make a choice between the two and the fate of many lives may rest on which one is chosen.

In the book of Joshua, he calls out to the wayward to make a choice: "...[C]hoose this day whom you will serve" (24:15b). It is a call to us in our generation as well. Will we have the wisdom Sirach tries to impart to us or will we ignore it and go on our merry way? Will we choose to serve God or will the idol of the world, it's pleasures and riches, get our loyalty and fealty?

What will our choice be?

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 25, 2014.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Wisdom of Humility

My child, perform your tasks with humility;
   then you will be loved by those whom God accepts.
greater you are, the more you must humble yourself;
   so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord.

For great is the might of the Lord;
   but by the humble he is glorified.
Neither seek what is too difficult for you,
   nor investigate what is beyond your power.
Reflect upon what you have been commanded,
   for what is hidden is not your concern.
Do not meddle in matters that are beyond you,
   for more than you can understand has been shown to you. 
For their conceit has led many astray,
   and wrong opinion has impaired their judgement.

Without eyes there is no light;
   without knowledge there is no wisdom.
 A stubborn mind will fare badly at the end,    and whoever loves danger will perish in it.
A stubborn mind will be burdened by troubles,
   and the sinner adds sin to sins.
When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing,
   for an evil plant has taken root in him. 
 he mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs,    and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.

As water extinguishes a blazing fire,
   so almsgiving atones for sin.
Those who repay favours give thought to the future;
   when they fall they will find support
.  - Sirach 3:17-31

The Bible is a library of books, letters, history, poetry and instruction. When the prophets spoke, it was expected (sometimes even devoutly hoped) that people pay attention and change their ways. When Jesus taught and Paul carried the message forward, it was an invitation to change. Then there are the Wisdom books of which Sirach is one. Sirach is, in a way, like the Ann Landers of the Bible; it is a book that offers solutions to problems and concerns. Where prophets command, Sirach suggests.

Sirach speaks to his students and his audience about the wisdom of being humble. It isn't a new teaching, but rather one that needs continual retelling because it is so easily forgotten. Throughout the book ( probably written down by his grandson) there seem to be references to customs more Greek than Hebrew which might be a reason why Sirach never made it into the Hebrew canon. Among the Greeks, debate and discussion was a mark of intelligence and, at times, status among the upper classes who undoubtedly had more leisure to study and perpetuate such discussions. Sirach warns, though, that even intellectual debate and discussion can lead to pride and that pride can lead to trouble.

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: those who are proud of what they do and those who are proud of what they know. Both groups are capable of doing great things and/or causing great things to happen. On the other hand, many are just proud of their own accomplishments, thinking little of how much they could contribute to the benefit of the man rather than simply amassing a wealth of goods or knowledge for themselves, becoming misers who do no good for anyone else. It is this intellectual pride that Sirach is warning his students about, detailing some of the negative repercussions of thinking too highly of oneself and one's accomplishments.

When we read the part about "Neither seek what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power," it seems a bit confusing. We're taught Robert Browning's poetic line, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" and it seems to be exactly the opposite of what Sirach is trying to say. I think where the difference lies is in for what we are reaching and what we are grasping. Is it to benefit ourselves or is it others we seek to help?

We can't reach heaven by our own stretching, but accepting grace as a gift while trying to be better human beings puts heaven closer to attainment. If we're proud of our accomplishments, that's one thing; if we are proud and arrogant about them, that's another kettle of fish altogether. Sirach is warning of that kettle. True wisdom lies in hearing the words and weighing them in favor of humility. Maybe the humble don't get so much press, but they probably accomplish a lot more for the world than those who strut about, proclaiming their own intelligence and accomplishments.

Jesus proclaimed in Matthew, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"(5:5 NRSV). Not the captains of industry, not the generals of vast armies, not the prideful academics in their towers of books, but the humble who seek to do what is right and of benefit to many, not just to themselves who will be the beneficiaries. If we don't try to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, we're missing something big. So what if it is out of reach? We won't get anywhere until and unless we try. Sirach doesn't say don't make an attempt, just don't believe that only we as individuals can do it alone. I think too that is what Jesus had in mind.

Some of the greatest people on earth have been the most humble. We need to look to people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, George Washington Carver, and any number of the saints and others as examples of humble people making a big difference without getting a big head about it. Who knows who of us can join that group? It isn't impossible, merely difficult. Once attained, difficult things are more valuable than any prize.

"The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise." That's certainly a true statement; more can be learned through listening than through speaking. Perhaps I need a day where I focus more on hearing, really hearing, what others are saying than in saying what I want (or feel I need) to say.

Maybe today I need to pay attention to a proverb from Benjamin Franklin, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." That's a real humility raiser right there. I think Sirach would approve.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 18, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Church, State, and the Vanishing Wall

There are always topics that tend to garner a lot of public opinion, one of the latest being the issue of church and state and how much control each of these two entities should have with regard to the other. A recent article in the Washington Post by Michelle Boorstein1 referenced the result of studies conducted by two respected public opinion polling firms. The results indicated that 46% of respondents feared that their freedom to practice their religion was being interfered with or constrained by government. Another 46% believed that religious groups were attempting to force their beliefs on all citizens, whether or not the respondents agreed with those beliefs. The statistics were, to say the least, interesting and a bit disconcerting.

The demographics indicated that those who feared curtailment of religious freedoms were older Americans, white, Evangelicals, Republicans and those with very conservative political views. Those who felt their own beliefs were curtailed or ignored by other religious bodies were those described as young adults under 30(Generation Zs), Democrats, politically liberal, and generally unaffiliated with a church, denomination or religion. In short, the two groups are as different as chalk and cheese.

Freedom of religion has been a topic of interest since the founding of this country. One group of the original colonies was established by  entrepreneurs and young men anxious to make their fortunes. With them came the established church as important (as was conversion of the local Native Americans) but secondary to profit. Another group was founded by dissenters who felt they were persecuted by the established church and sought a place where they could practice their faith unhindered. Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth wanted to purify the established church of its' more Roman Catholic elements. Puritans were much more restrictive, wanting to do away with the established church altogether and follow a strict Calvinist theology. Other denominations came to the colonies with each wave of new immigrants, each denomination having the opportunity to either make a space for itself in the cities or carve out a niche in the ever-shrinking wilderness.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there should be a wall of separation between church and state, a thought which was incorporated into the Constitution of the United States as part of the first amendment of what is now called the Bill of Rights. That amendment stated, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." While we may not be seeing individuals and groups attempting to establish a national church, we are certainly seeing those individuals and groups attempting to establish law based on one set of religious beliefs -- theirs.
In an article on the Episcopal Café website, Editor-in-chief Jim Naughton made the following observation:
I don't think our freedom of religion is in any danger, and I am disappointed that well-fed, well-educated, mostly white, mostly male religious leaders who know they will have access to whatever healthcare they need and a comfortable place to which to retire has succeeded in painting themselves as victims whose rights are in danger."2
Naughton has summed up the situation rather well, but I have a feeling, though, that had any woman made such a statement, she would be widely pilloried as a "Feminazi," man-hater or  an example of male-bashing.

Looking statistically,  it is generally  possible to see that the balance of power between male/female is clearly on the side of the males. In Congress, for example, the ratio of males to females is roughly 81% to 19%.3 The Supreme Court is 66.6% male to 33.3% female. The religious makeup is of identical percentages with 6 Roman Catholic and 3  Jewish members. One woman justice is Roman Catholic and one male is Jewish.   

In the ecclesiastical realm, at least among Roman Catholics, various Orthodox denominations and sects, many if not most Protestant denominations, and among many non-Christian faiths, the ratio of male to female leaders is more on the order of 100% and no females need apply. Statistics do not tell the whole story; what is easily seen, however, is that power and the control which comes from power is firmly in the hands of one group and that group shows no real signs of wanting to relinquish or even share it unless they are required to do so.

The increasing clamor that particular groups are being persecuted because others do not jump on their bandwagon or voluntarily agree to follow their beliefs is, I believe, the ultimate hubris. Dissenting opinions and people stating religious beliefs of their own in various media or even with  picket signs hardly qualifies as persecution. In a sense, it feels like a reversal of the Christians in the arena with the lions in ancient Rome, only this time the Christians are circling the lions.

The news is full of reports of members of various religious groups around the world being shot, beheaded, burned alive, kidnapped,  or forced to flee with only what they can carry on their backs by another group of religionists who are bent on conquest and/or conversion by force. Protests from groups in this country who claim persecution because people choose to decline to follow their particular belief system appears both  ludicrous and totally egocentric. The egocentrism and feeling of persecution being felt in some quarters is the fear that they will either (a) displease God or  (b) lose power and control resulting in someone else mandating different beliefs on them. For them, it is a case of force or be forced, or so it appears.

 The chain-link fence that used to be the wall of separation has come to pass since more and more legislative regulations and judicial decisions are reflecting a favoritism of specific religious points of view over those of others, including those who have no religious beliefs at all.  One glaring example is the recent Hobby Lobby decision where the Supreme Court decided in favor of the defendant's request for relief from providing insurance coverage of contraceptives for its female employees, regardless of those employees' own religious beliefs or lack thereof. Hobby Lobby declared that it would violate their (Hobby Lobby's) religious convictions to have to provide such coverage. Five male Roman Catholic justices, who shared a similar religious beliefs regarding contraception, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. The three female justices and the Jewish male justice dissented.

There have been other legislations and decisions that upheld one religious group's beliefs over others' whose personal, physical, and medical well-being have been compromised without their consent or control or even any seeming respect for their  own freedom of religion and practice. It seems the separation of church and state is a one-way street. The direction of the one-way street is determined by groups and individuals with very deep pockets and endorsed by people with power and control to make it happen.

So where does that leave us? Where is the dividing line? Is there a way where the two can really work together for the benefit of all? There is a place for legitimate medical legislation, I believe, particularly when it concerns all segments of society and helps to ensure their health, safety and equal treatment. Many religions teach the need for care for the most vulnerable in their societies, yet some who profess the same religion choose a very different interpretation of the same religious texts and teachings that mandate that care. Both religion and the government require the cooperation of those over whom they exercise supervision and control to a certain extent, and both have areas in which they have strength to balance a weakness in the other.

Perhaps if the two worked together, not to gain preeminence for one particular lobby, special interest group, religious entity or adherents to a particular religious belief alone, but rather for the benefit of all, it might fulfill the mandates of both to provide for the equality of access to all civil rights, benefits  and religious autonomy without regard to the person's race, gender, cultural background, orientation, economic status or religious preference.

For Christians, that would mean the beginning of the realization of the kingdom of God, a place of peace, harmony and justice here and now, not later and somewhere far different. It won't be popular with the rich, the powerful and those at the top of the hierarchy who would need to give up some power, prestige and control. It would, in the long run, produce a true prosperity, not an economy based on the perception of limited resources when it comes to the good things in life. It would provide for a healthier earth too, which would be a good thing because humanity still needs a home planet, a place where they have to share the good and the bad, even with people who disagree with them.
Ultimately, though, it is a choice for all of us to make as to which path and which leaders  to follow, which fear to feed and which to brush aside. Hopefully, we will make the wise choice.

1 Boorstein, Michelle, "Our new culture war issue: religion's public role," The Washington Post, September 24, 2014.
2 Naughton, Jim, commentary on "Our new culture war issue: Religion's public role" on Episcopal Café, September 25, 2014.
3 Statistics from Congressional Research Service, "Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile", August 26, 2014. 

Originally published at Daily Episcopalian on Episcopal Café Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Philip and the Deacons

Commemoration of Philip the Deacon
Matthew 28:18-20

When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, men pretty much did everything. The preacher was male, the ushers were too. And then there were the gentlemen who passed out the communion elements (platters of bread cubes and containers with tiny individual cups of grape juice), and other things like going to meetings periodically. These were the deacons, chosen and elected by the congregation as leaders and examples of living Christian lives. My adoptive father held several terms as a deacon in that church. He took his job seriously, and, I believe, was exemplary in helping others, doing what was right even if others didn't quite agree, and loving his Lord completely.

Philip the Deacon was another such person. He was a follower of Jesus, and worked within the new community of the Way when he, along with six others, were chosen by the disciples to help serve and care for the less fortunate, oversee the distribution of foodstuffs fairly and equitably, and whatever else the disciples asked them to do. When the persecutions began it was a signal for many to leave, especially those who were in leadership positions. Philip travelled to Samaria where his preaching and teaching encouraged many converts. Peter and John came from Jerusalem to officially lay hands on the converts and imbue them with the Holy Spirit as Philip watched. Later, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who needed an interpreter to explain a passage of scripture. Philip provided the necessary information and the eunuch himself requested baptism. Later it was said Philip lived in Caesarea Maritima with four unmarried daughters who were prophetesses and hosted a visit from the former persecutor who became an apostle, Paul.

Some Southern Baptist churches, being somewhat autonomous, have begun allowing women to be elected as deacons, a great departure from most others in the denomination. In the Episcopal church, being raised to the office of deacon is a more complicated procedure, involving discernment on the part of the candidate and his/her congregation, courses of study (of which Education for Ministry, EfM, can be one source), meetings, retreats, background checks, examinations and, most visibly, work within the church as directed by the bishop and the rector to whom the candidate is assigned . It takes several years and in the end, the new deacon is entitled to wear the collar and add "The Rev." to their name. In return, they have ministries that they are personally called to pursue such as serving  chaplaincies, working with the homeless, immigrants, and members of various age groups, etc. Above all, they are called to maintain healthy spiritual habits like daily prayer and frequent corporate worship.

Some years ago I attended an ordination at our cathedral. The candidate was a slight African-American woman, soft spoken, quick to laugh and with a quiet confidence. Watching her and knowing her, it seemed pretty clear that God had a hand of blessing laid on the top of her head; that ordination just confirmed it. Even before the stole was laid across her shoulder, she glowed. Ok, maybe she didn't look like the Jesus nightlight my spouse used to have, but there was an almost visible aura around her. I see her occasionally and each time I am struck again by that sense of an invisible hand of blessing on the top of her head and a feeling of being in the presence of a holy and dedicated human being. She preaches, but her best sermons are the ones people see in her actions and care for God's creation, reflecting her love of God and God's love for her.

I wonder if Philip had the same effect on people that the deacon (who is now an archdeacon) has on me each time I see her. Did people feel drawn to him, sense the presence of God surrounding him, see the love of Jesus within him, and the power and grace of the Holy Spirit showing through him? Were those the things that made him successful in Samaria and other places where he lived and worked?

Did Philip continue his diaconal duties once he moved to Caesarea? Did he find a new mission field to cultivate? Did he still serve the widows at the table, or did he serve at another table in another way? Deacons aren't limited to only one focus of attention or one set of duties. They, like the rest of us, may find that at some point in time they are called to a new mission, a new job, in a new field of endeavor. They may discover that they have a passion that meets the world's needs in some heretofore unknown way, unknown at least to them. Sometimes, like most of us, deacons will juggle many jobs -- administration, teaching and counseling among them -- but always they are to be attuned to God's will and God's way.

The foundation of a strong church is the laity who fill its pews and various ministries, led by the Spirit and guided by trained specialists who are also lay persons but also by the ordained clergy. Each lay person is a minister by virtue of his/her baptism but some are called to another, more dedicated service. The deacons, like priests and bishops, originally come from the laity and, in turn, will both serve the church, both lay and clerical,  and those in the world who are in need. Some deacons will continue on the ordination track to become priests and, perhaps, bishops, yet many will choose to be and remain deacons. They will preach, teach and serve in various ways, sometimes visible, sometimes almost invisibly, yet their service will be making a difference in the lives of those they serve. They will have the example of the faith of Stephen, the first martyr and the only other deacon named in Acts. They will also have the example of the life, travels and service of Philip.

If I could wish for a calling, I think I'd wish to be a deacon. God hasn't called me to it and I'd undoubtedly make a lousy one, but I admire those who are both called and dedicated to the job. A verse from 2 Timothy gives all of us the guidance to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth" (2:15, NRSV). It is a good verse for all of us to contemplate, but most especially those called to ordained ministry.

Deacons are often the ones who remind us at the end of each Sunday service to "Go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit." It's a charge for all of us equally. It's a reminder that we are all followers of Jesus who encouraged all of us to be servants of each other and to the world.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 11, 2014, under the title "Philip and the Diaconate.".