Thursday, November 29, 2012


Any day is a good day to think about Lewis, meditate on his writings, and wonder what it was like when he and Tolkein sat down and jousted (verbally) about the really good olde days in Middle Earth. I sometimes read A Year with C.S. Lewis, Daily Readings from His Classic Works for Morning Prayer reflections. Almost every day is both a treat and a challenge. November 29, the anniversary of his birth, is a particularly good day.

Just two pages before in A Year, on November 27, there is an excerpt from The Problem of Pain that really struck home with me as a writer. Writing of the mighty spirits God made we call angels, Lewis  described some of them them as wanting to have a place, a life of their own in which they would take care of their own pleasure and security. In return these angels "would pay some reasonable tribute to God in the way of time, attention, and love, but which, nevertheless was theirs not His." 

Lewis continued, "They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, 'This is our business, not yours.' But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and eternally must be, mere adjectives."

Perhaps you have to own more than one Thesaurus and write full time in order to appreciate that last sentence. I have wanted to be a "noun" for my whole life. I have been quite proud of myself when I do something I think is good. Maybe it was because of my Roman Catholic education and the Baltimore Catechism. I was on a spiritual point system in which the condition of my soul was represented by milk bottles that were white (good), grey (average) and black (very bad indeed). Life was a continual struggle up the mountain, to do good, to give back to God something I had taken for my own. The more I gave the better shape my soul was in. I didn't easily forget the lessons of my youth.

Suddenly though I realize I never had anything to give. Everything was His at the start. There is no "giving back".  I can serve Him, take care as well as I can of the creation that was always His. I can be an adjective. 

Monday, October 22, 2012


     We had an internationally known Anglican couple deliver the homily on October 20 at our little Episcopal Church in Kentucky. Rev. Alan Amos and his Anglican theologian wife Claire Amos delivered our sermon in tandem from either side of the altar. The Amos' are those wonderful kinds of people who when the start talking the wise person suddenly grows very still and simply listens.

     They spoke about how we as Christians try to possess God rather than let God possess us, as if the Creator of All needs us to shelter and somehow protect the One Who Is. When we act this way we do a quite thorough job of putting ourselves at the precise center of the Universe. Then everything, including God, revolves around us and our humanity. This is similar to what happened when Robert Bellarmine condemned Galileo, not for bad astronomy, but for bad theology. Galileo said that the earth revolved around the Sun. Bellarmine and most of the other theologians of the day and thus the whole Christian church believed the earth was so important that the Sun MUST revolve this little green and blue ball. And they could draw complicacted epicycles to prove it.

     In Mark's Gospel lesson yesterday,  Jesus told his friends, James and John, that "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many."

     It is so easy, so natural to believe we are indeed the center of the universe, but when we do it is so hard to be a servant of anyone at all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


      Maybe it is because Alex Karras ("Mongo just a pawn in the game of life") recently passed away, but lately when I think of the word "pray" I keep thinking of Liam Dunn praying in his role of Preacher Johnson in Blazing Saddles. With a black preacher's hat and a black preacher's coat Dunn held his Bible aloft and cried, "O LORD!" and then went on with a loud prayer appropriate for a Mel Brooks inspired bigot to intone before a momentous occasion (destruction of the town). And that is not how I usually think of prayer.

     We (that's you and me) Christians have formalized our prayer life to such a high and mighty extent that we forget how simple "The Lord's Prayer" or Psalm 121 can be when we slow down and really listen, when we really feel it, when we drop the word "intone" not only from our vocabulary but from our behavior. 

     I am not faulting formal prayer in any way. Two weeks ago I was nervous about getting a heart cath, my first. As I prayed Compline that night I really heard the words and the intent of Psalm 91, as if for the first time: 

Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
   and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you,
   to keep you in all your ways.

For he shall give his angels charge over you,
   to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands,
   lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
   you shall trample the lion and the serpent
                   under your feet.

and, finally, near the end of Compline, there is this simple prayer:

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

     This last prayer is particularly comforting to someone who worries what the next day will bring. Think for a moment about being on "watch with Christ," watching together, you, him, your brother, the Son of God, who would die that nothing evil would ever happen to your soul. That is a prayer to pray in a low voice, barely a whisper or a sigh (1 Kings 19:12.)

     Often when I pray I am quiet and know that I am with God, just as Psalm 46 says. It is refreshing just to sit quietly with God. We don't really talk much at these quiet times. I know he loves and cares for me and he knows everything in my heart. I can't hide who I am when I am with him. Nor do I want to. We are at peace. There is no great wind, no breaking mountains, no fire, no intoning.

Oh, my heart? Very healthy. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Oh my.

Not since the theologian and barber, Saint Ceolfrid, descended on the shores of Ireland in the late 600's and commanded the Celtic monks to get proper Roman haircuts has the church been in such turmoil.  Today the church's current hot button is not haircuts, but a lowly chicken sandwich sold by Chick-fil-A.

Now keep in mind that little chicken sandwich and the other Chick-fil-A fast food menu items generate about $4 billion in annual sales. So we are talking real lunch money here, enough to build say one Nimitz class nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Last month Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy told a Baptist magazine reporter: "The company invests in Christian growth and ministry through its WinShape Foundation. The name comes from shaping people to be winners. It began as a college scholarship and expanded to a foster care program, an international ministry, and a conference and retreat center modeled after the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. That morphed into a marriage program in conjunction with national marriage ministries,"

Asked about the corporation's support of the traditional family, Cathy said, "Well, guilty as charged. We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit...  We are very much committed to that. We intend to say the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

It took a week or two but after reports of the magazine article trickled down to gay and lesbian activists the chicken poop hit the fan. Knowing a hot issue when they saw one activists started a major squawk in front of Chick-fil-A franchises around the nation.

Politicians, always aware than a disgruntled citizen can be a very enthusiastic voter, charged into the battle. Chick-fil-A was banned in Boston and didn't do very well in Chicago either. Politicians of all stripes had to say something. It didn't matter that they didn't have much to say. They were on camera and that was all that mattered.

Conservative pols and pundits charged into the chicken coop declaring that Real Christians weren't going to sit idly by and watch this suddenly beloved company get pummeled with rotten eggs thrown by Fake Christians and other leftists. Mike Huckabee, one time governor and presidential candidate, called for a national show of support for Chick-fil-A and Almighty God.

The Real Christians answered his call and flocked by the tens of thousands and proudly shared their deep faith by having a chicken sandwich or two for lunch. Thus wrapped in a deep fat fried mantle of righteousness they marched forth like those guys in the hymn who marched onward as to war. Along the way Chick-fil-A had th biggest sales day in the history of the company.

Not to be outdone the other Real Christians (Democrats, gays, lesbians and their leftist friends) decided to retaliate and gather in front of Chick-fil-A businesses across the nation and kiss each other. Of course this had to be same sex kissing. Otherwise the TV vultures wouldn't cover it. There were rumors of wardrobe malfunctions.

Chick-fil-A is one of the two stores in my hometown that closes on Sunday just because it is the Sabbath. The franchise here supports a variety of worthy local causes. They seem to treat their employees well (a lot better than the shoe company treats the fourth world peasant who makes the shoes we wear). The employees treat guests well. They try not to discriminate based on who walks in the door holding hands with a member of the same sex. The CEO and COO donate part of their income to organizations that don't like gay people trying to get married.

As long as we hurl insults and epithets at the "other" side, terms like "hate mongers, Nazi thugs, or fags" and some others I don't think I can put even in a blog we are dividing our churches and further dividing out nation to the point we can never put them back together again.

Trench warfare is a dirty, deadly business and we Episcopalians don't do it well. It leaves us no room to reach out, to move around, to find common ground with others -- things we have done fairly well for the last 50 years.

Please, can't we pull back a bit and climb up out of our of these muddy trenches and have a conversation and quit screaming at each other? Can't we admit that Jesus is our brother whether we are straight or gay?

Ceolfrid just didn't get it. Even though he was a saint he could not get out of the trenches the Roman church dug in Ireland over the issue of haircuts.  Instead of looking into people's hearts and seeing if they were doing their best to follow the Way of the Gospel he chose instead to look at their haircuts, and if they weren't just like his, then he condemned them.

We are better than that. Or we should be.

[A Postcript: I made mention of St. Ceolfrid not because he as a bad person. He wasn't. Venerable Bede wouldn't have been so called without Ceolfrid's help. But Ceolfrid was human and like all of us, saints and sinners alike, sometimes he did dumb things.]