Thursday, March 27, 2008

Snow falling on prayer books 3

From my continuing and occasional foray into church-related haiku:

Sixteen songs, three days,
fingers afire: guitarist
during Holy Week

"Small sacrifice"
Forty seven days
With no Pepsi; headache plagued
but four pounds lighter

"First Communion"
The wafer? Okay.
But that wine? His little mouth
puckered in protest

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From this morning's epistle: What is this?

So in between yesterday's epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 15 and today's epistle reading, there is this verse caught in the middle (1 Corinthians 15:29):

"Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?"

What in the world is that about? This is another of those Nephilim moments. That's the term I use for something in the Bible that makes NO sense whatsoever.

What does "baptized for the dead" mean?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is not here; He is risen!

Resurrection, by Silvia Dimitrova

A blessed and a happy Easter to you. Alleluia!

Friday, March 21, 2008


Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.- John 19: 28-30

When I was a kid, I never understood why today was called "Good Friday." What can possibly be good about Jesus suffering a torturous death? Of course, the fact that in some years we were in some denomination that did not really talk too much about holy days or sacred days or liturgical seasons might have had something to do with this confusion. If we'd just have been left in the Methodist Church, it probably would have been fine, but boy, did we go to some charismatic and fundamentalist churches! I mean, there was Easter, and there was Christmas, and some talk about the Pentecost, but that was about it.

But from a selfish point of view, which is of course the point, Good Friday IS good news- for us. The Nicene Creed reminds us: "for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven." But the next question is: once Jesus suffered that very real and very terrifying death from torture known as the crucifixion, then what?

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
--The Apostles' Creed, BCP 96

Some people envision this as Jesus going into Hell, the fiery pit, and in some translations of the Creed, it is stated just that way: "He descended into Hell." Our version states that he descended to the dead. He went to be with the dead, perhaps, as some Jews at the time taught, to rest in the bosom of Abraham, as was illustrated in the Gospel of Luke with the story of the Rich Man and the Beggar. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his book Tokens of Trust, puts it this way on page 90:

Some-- like the great Reformer John Calvin and the modern Roman Catholic writer Hans Urs von Balthasar-- have gone so far as to say that Jesus on the cross is enduring hell itself, the experience of the final alienation from God. This is a difficult speculation, hard to state with consistency, but at least it reminds us how serious the cross is as a sign of God's willingness to accompany us through all the consequences of sin and finally bring us back from the furthest point of distance from him that we could imagine. But when the Apostles' Creed says of Jesus that he 'descended into hell,' the original meaning was not quite this. The Latin word simply meant 'the places beneath' and referred to a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians about Jesus descending to the lowest part of creation as well as ascending to the heights. 'so that he might fill all things' (Ephesians 4.10). He goes, therefore, to the underground prisons where, in the thinking of some Jewish writers of Jesus' age, the spirits of those who had died resided.

We have to understand that Jesus actually died. He didn't just take a break from breathing, he didn't just sleep for a while. He plumbed the depths of human experience as one of us: he was born-- and he died. Jesus didn't just go to the point of death; he went into death, as part of the experience of being human.

But I don't want to quibble over this word. Because Jesus' death was not the end of the story.

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.- Psalm 30:3

On this Good Friday we are glad for the love of God so profound that it would sacrifice anything-- even that most precious-- to reach out to us and make us whole. This sacrifice was necessary because God gave us the ability to say no to that love at times, and to make ourselves the center of the universe, the center of reality, instead of God.

Before my father died, he was terrified that he was going to Hell. In his accounting of his life, he knew that he had often made himself the center of the universe and not God. Of course, we have all done this, but that is of small comfort. The God my father had been brought up to believe in was a wrathful and vengeful God, who would judge one's sense of repentance and find it lacking. But the sacrifice of Jesus is not for the perfect or even for the good. It is for all. As hard as that may be for those of us who want that fiery eternal damnation for the Timothy McVeighs and the Adolf Hitlers of the world. Just as long as it isn't for us!

I don't think Hell is a place, pungent with brimstone and eternal fire, a Hieronymous Bosch nightmare of torment. I think Hell is right here on Earth, when we wrap our arms around ourselves so much that we brush off the loving embrace of God. Jesus descended to the dead as one of us. And in doing so, as the prayer for mission in Morning Prayer, Rite II states:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the Honor of your Name. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from the table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it around his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.-- John 13: 2-5

The Pilgrimage at Mt. Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland

Each step we take upon our pilgrim path in this precious creation is a step closer to our home with God.

My dear friend Becky just received news that her uncle was dying right before our Maundy Thursday service. He will return to the God from whom he came. For her and for her family, and for all of those who watch or weep or grieve tonight, let us pray:

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pay for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Archbishop of Canterbury takes part in foot washing service at Canterbury Cathedral.

For God so loved the WORLD

"In Nature we find God; we do not only infer from Nature what God must be like, but when we see Nature truly, we see God self-manifested in and through it."-- Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years.

3,983 American dead.

At least 29,385 American wounded, which does not count thousands of serious cases of brain injuries.

Half a trillion dollars (Only World War II has cost more in constant dollars). The original projection was of a cost of 50 to 60 billion dollars. Cost to provide health insurance to 4 million American children: 35 billion over a five year time span.

Backlog of veterans awaiting VA approval of disability payments as of August, 2007: 400,000-600,000.

Estimates of approximately 35,000 to 1 million Iraqi deaths, although no numbers are kept or sought.

"Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness,
no strength known but the strength of love:
So mightily spread abroad your Spirit,
that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace,
as children of one Father;
to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen."
BCP, p. 815.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Snow falling on prayer books 2

So here's a my first effort about my life at church (and at my old church) recently:

Kid at altar rail
sneezing, spewing sprays of germs
shuns chalice, thank God.

Embezzlement's not
the most deadly blow to church;
no, choir trouble is.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Snow falling on prayer books

I found this delightful little book at the seminary bookstore. It's called Episcopal Haiku, by Sarah Goodyear and Ed Weissman. A sampling:

Squalling kids in the
last pews: far from the altar,
but closest to God.

The choir rehearses.
A soprano fails to curb
her inner diva.

Swallowing God is
Easier with two cookies
and a cup of juice.

When on the vestry,
friends you've known for many years
suddenly go nuts.

If you dare, try one yourself.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded

Tonight I played guitar at our Saturday evening church service, even though there is really no such thing as Palm Sunday eve. We closed the service with "O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded," which to those of you who follow such things is basically the same tune used by Paul Simon to such wonderful effect in his song "American Tune."

Verses one and two of the song from the Episcopal Hymnal goes like this:
O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.

The melody, of course, was arranged from a secular love song by J. S. Bach. And though I may have done this before, here's Paul using a variation of the melody to perform his paean to the uncertainty and weariness we have all felt at one time. This song... I can't help but wonder at the timelessness of the message of this song in light of the situation in America right now. I will be honest: this version coexists with the hymn in the jukebox of my mind.

Let us all dedicate ourselves to a Holy Week that reminds us of God's love for us.

And nobody is talking about Bishop Cox

The Tulsa World has the story about the the deposition of Bishop Cox, the former assistant bishop of Oklahoma:
The Rt. Rev. William Cox is one of two conservative bishops deposed by the House of Bishops in a continuing struggle in the Episcopal Church over biblical authority.

Cox's removal was largely symbolic; he resigned from the House of Bishops a year ago and was accepted as an assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Argentina.

The other ousted bishop, however, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, is locked in a struggle with the denomination over the control of millions of dollars of property in the Diocese of San Joaquin in Fresno, Calif. That diocese is the first full diocese to leave the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked the bishops assembled Wednesday in Texas "to continue to reach out" in pastoral care to Cox and Schofield, according to the Episcopal News Service.

"Abandoning the communion of this church does not mean we abandon a person as a member of the Body of Christ," she said.

Oklahoma Episcopal Bishop Edward J. Konieczny had just returned from the House of Bishops meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Cox, 87, said Thursday that he is not upset about the House of Bishops' action.

"I feel sorry that they felt they needed to do this," he said. "A more charitable thing to do would be to say, 'We recognize that you are now a member of the church in Argentina and ask God's blessing on your ministry.'

"This has no effect on me," he said. "I guess it means they want to have the last word."

Cox resigned from the House of Bishops last spring when the bishops formally charged him with violating church law by ordaining two Anglican priests in Overland Park, Kan., at the request of an African archbishop.

A trial was never held, but the House of Bishops voted him out Wednesday for abandoning the communion of the church.

"Which I did," Cox said.

Cox was assistant bishop of the Oklahoma Episcopal Diocese until he retired in 1988.

He continues to be a popular speaker and conducts baptisms and ordinations for the Archdiocese of Argentina among Anglicans in the United States who have left the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, a fellowship of churches with roots in the Church of England.

The communion has faced threat of schism since the Episcopal Church in 2003 consecrated V. Gene Robinson, a gay man, as the bishop of New Hampshire.

So why hasn't this received any press? Because Oklahoma is considered a backwater, I suppose.

I remember Bishop Cox. He was well liked, a sweet man who was very friendly. That doesn't make him any less wrong in this matter, though. How sad that he has taken things to this extreme. And how ridiculous of the Argentines to go poaching. Well, at least he didn't try to take an entire diocese and its property out of TEC. Small comfort, that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Judas kiss

Sarah, the Caffeinated Priest, has a wonderful observation at her blog (emphasis mine):
in doing my homework for palm sunday and good friday, i discovered something that's turning over and over in my head. we're in the garden and judas arrives and kisses jesus. the guard pulls his sword and jesus tells him to put his sword away. then he asks "have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though i were a bandit?" the word bandit, or sometimes translated, robber, in its greek origins is actually "terrorist."

it is, when we are honest, impossible to look at the story of jesus of nazareth and not see the political life at work. he was a revolutionary, a problem for the government. had this been going on today, bush would be after him, calling him a terrorist, the very man he claims as savior. i think we must remember that all the great movements share a justice component and a spiritual one as well. martin luther king jr. led the civil rights movement that way. we could make lists for days.

what makes the biblical story different, what makes jesus different, is that the victory comes not from strength, not from taking armies into countries with guns, but by saying "put away your sword." the victory comes in the form of what the world sees as weakness.

What a great, provocative observation! Of course, whose tables would Jesus be overturning in the temple if he were in America today?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The House of Bishops Responds to +Robinson's Shunning

The House of Bishops has responded to the exclusion of +Robinson to the Lambeth Conference. Here's an excerpt:

We, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, approaching the forthcoming Lambeth Conference, are mindful of the hurt that is being experienced by so many in our own Episcopal Church, in other Provinces of our global communion, and in the world around us. While the focus of this hurt seems centered on issues of human sexuality, beneath it we believe there is a feeling of marginalization by people of differing points of view. Entering into Holy Week, our response is to name this hurt and to claim our hope that is in Christ.

As the Lambeth Conference approaches, we believe we have an enormous opportunity, in the midst of struggle, to be proud of our heritage, and to use this particular time in a holy way by affirming our rich diversity. The health of such diversity is that we are dealing openly with issues that affect the entire global community. Thus, even as we acknowledge the pain felt by many, we also affirm its holiness as we seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though we did not all support the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, we acknowledge that he is a canonically elected and consecrated bishop in this church. We regret that he alone among bishops ministering within the territorial boundaries of their dioceses and provinces, did not receive an invitation to attend the Lambeth Conference.

Well, I'm not exactly comfortable with +Robinson's election, either-- he seems to have manipulated his situation in a completely self-serving way (inventing liturgy to "release" your spouse from the vows you have taken when you know that you shouldn't have taken them in the first place and leaving two children to be without their father is my personal favorite). But he is a canonically elected bishop, and the refusal of an invitation to Lambeth just encourages those who refuse communion with our Presiding Bishop and other sorts of unChristian behavior. Not to mention that it shows a lack of courage to deal with the controversy and makes +Robinson a martyr besides.

I mean-- really-- inviting him to the exhibition hall? Very droll. Perhaps some of our ultra-conservative friends could be on exhibit as well, once they get finished hijacking the Holy Land.

Thanks to Thinking for the link.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What a mess.

The Diocese of Rio Grande has lost its previous two bishops to other churches. That's not a good record. So now church leaders are setting up an assisting bishop so that episcopal functions can continue, if on a limited basis.
Retired Diocese of Colorado Bishop William Frey will become assisting bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande.
The Standing Committee said Frey will spend 10 days a month in the diocese "providing those sacramental ministries reserved for a bishop, making visitations to parishes, and providing counsel to the Standing Committee as requested."

Frey, 78, served as bishop of the Diocese of Colorado from 1973 to 1990.

The diocese has been without a bishop since shortly after its former bishop, Jeffrey Steenson, told the House of Bishops that he wanted to resign and join the Roman Catholic Church. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted Steenson's renunciation of his ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church on January 14.

In its announcement, the Standing Committee said that it was aware that many people in the diocese were concerned that a search committee to develop a list of candidates to succeed Steenson has not yet been named.

"The Standing Committee is continuing to work toward this goal with a consultant for the visioning and reconciliation process as well as with a consultant for the search process," the announcement said. "After conference calls with potential consultants, it was decided to be prudent, step back, and prayerfully consider their advice."

The Standing Committee has asked the Rev. Ann Hallisey and Suzanne Foucault to guide a visioning and screening process as part of the bishop search. The details of the process are due to be worked out in mid-April, according to the announcement.

Hallisey is the director of Cornerstone, an Episcopal Church Foundation organization meant to strengthen the personal and professional lives of people who lead Episcopal congregations. Foucault, a General Convention deputy from the Diocese of San Diego, is a consultant who specializes in team building, strategic planning, conflict management, and training design, according to the website of the San Diego Regional Training Center.

At its March 3 meeting, the Standing Committee and the deans of the diocese "committed to a long-term process of visioning and reconciliation and to the beginning of the search process in tandem."

"We believe that the processes that will be designed will meet our short-term needs for a bishop to lead the Diocese of the Rio Grande and our long-term needs to be an effective and healthy diocese capable of allowing God's work among all of us," the announcement said. "The visioning/reconciliation process is of primary importance and will be a significant factor in the selection of a bishop who will guide the continuation of the process."

The announcement noted that Steenson's predecessor, Terence Kelshaw, has been received as a bishop in the Anglican Province of Uganda and "by his choice, he will therefore not be available for Episcopal services in any congregation of the Diocese of the Rio Grande."

The diocese, based in Albuquerque, encompasses New Mexico and a portion of Southwest Texas including El Paso.

So +Steenson left to become Roman Catholic. And +Kelshaw is now a bishop with the reactionaries in Uganda.

What IS it about this poor diocese?

Having spent many, many a day in the Diocese of Rio Grande visiting in-laws, I will tell you it's a strange situation to be Episcopalian in a place that is largely Roman Catholic with a smattering of Mormons just to keep things interesting. But thank goodness for +Frey being willing to step into the breach.

This is another diocese to keep in our prayers.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Head in a Godward Direction

Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction has a beautiful poem about a Tuesday in September.

These words are true.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Because my name is Lazarus and I live

John 11:1-45

Tomorrow's gospel tells the story of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead. Even though he'd been dead for four days-- not just minutes, like the synagogue ruler's daughter; not just on the stretcher being carried to the grave, like the son of the widow of Naim; but completely dead, the tomb purchased and the body prepared and beginning to stink.

Martha and Mary have been grieving for these days, probably only leaving the house to wail by the tomb. That, and wonder where their friend had been when they had sent for him, their friend in whom they had believed, the one who could have saved their brother with just a touch, the one who could heal with just some spit.

And Jesus knows that his friend is dead, and believes that it is all part of God's plan. It's hard for us to accept that illness and death are part of God's plan, though. We resist such an idea, because then that would mean that God deliberately abandons good people to suffer, and what would we do with that? So we tell ourselves that we no longer live in an age where miracles bloom like wildflowers, and what are miracles after all but just a primitive people's way of explaining what science explains to us today? And if Jesus would let his friend die, then what about us when we are afraid or in pain or facing death and we call upon God to preserve us?

But Jesus brings his friend back from the tomb, simply by calling Lazarus back from the stench of the grave. Lazarus comes forth in silence. Of all the people mentioned in this story, only Lazarus is silent. We know that Jesus' apostles question him. We know that the dead man's sisters, also friends and disciples of Jesus, demonstrate their faith in Jesus even as their brother rots in his tomb. The crowd murmurs about Jesus as he grieves for his friend. But Lazarus remains silent. I wonder what he was thinking as he suddenly awoke in the tomb, bound with strips of cloth, disoriented, wondering what had happened. Did he have any memory of what it had been like to be dead? Would he go through the rest of his life as if in a waking dream, or did he simply feel like we do after being deeply asleep and awakening suddenly?

Over at, one of the posters left this poem as part of the discussion of this Sunday's text:

The Convert (by G. K. Chesteron)

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Even though we picture heaven as a wonderful place where there is no more suffering, here the poet imagine Lazarus as profoundly grateful for the gift of being back here in this messy, chaotic, pain-filled world. And we know that Lazarus will indeed die again eventually, but in the meantime he is restored to those he loves. Surely that is heaven here on earth.

Pied Beauty

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

--Gerard Manly Hopkins

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lord, save us from poverty

Poverty of the spirit. Poverty of the pocketbook. Poverty of hope.


Poverty is a monster. It saps the will and can kill the spirit. For the nearly one in six American children who grow up in it, poverty is also a dream snatcher, oftentimes snatching the dream of a better life before it can rise above the cracked plaster ceiling.

Nearly every religion gets this. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is almsgiving aimed at helping the poor. The Hebrew Scriptures laid out an entire economic system designed to eliminate poverty: There were gleaning laws requiring that a certain amount of grain be left behind for the poor and tithing laws that provided similar sustenance. There were even laws that prohibited lenders from charging interest. So strong was the Hebrew commitment to ending poverty that every seventh year, all outstanding debts were to be forgiven. Every 50 years, land was returned to its original owners. No one could own Boardwalk or Park Place forever.

America's churches have also done their part to confront the scourge of poverty. The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities have been serving up free beds and breakfast to the poor for decades. As we speak, the National Council of Churches is in the middle of a 10-year mobilization against poverty, and the Catholic Bishops went so far in November as to instruct voters to make helping the poor a top priority during the election.

No wonder. The Bible is filled with these little gems: "Happy are those who help the poor. The Lord will help them when they are in trouble." Psalm 41:1. "When you give money to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord. The Lord will pay you back." Proverbs 19:17. Even Jesus' inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth begins: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor."

Read the whole thing. Courtesy of The Country Parson.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


This morning's daily office included a psalm that really hit me between the eyes. If you've ever been angry at someone, then this is the psalm for you. It's the perfect combination of furious imprecation and self-pity. The author certainly wasn't playing around when he described his enemies in this psalm.

Psalm 109

Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.

So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
They say, "Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin.

May his days be few; may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before the LORD continually, and may his memory be cut off from the earth.

For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.
He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.
He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones.
May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day."
May that be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life.

But you, O LORD my Lord, act on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me.
I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt.

I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.
Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love.
Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it.
Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death.

As I prayed this psalm this morning, I was moving along just fine until I hit that eighth verse; then suddenly I felt like I had suddenly turned a corner and run into barbed wire. Here the author accuses his enemies of placing the most vile curses upon him, and he asks God to protect him from these curses. It's one thing to be angry at someone; it's another to wish their children into oblivion. Yet this is what the author of this psalm claims his enemies have done to him.

Then I got to verse 16, and it was eerie how the next four verses described the person at whom I was angry. "He loved to curse; let curses come on him. May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day." How might our speech be changed if we really took that image to heart? How often do we let our words surround our hearts like sharpened stakes imbedded in the ground, thinking that we preserve ourselves when we go on the offensive against any perceived attack? Yet all we do is diminish ourselves, and our openness to love.

When we assume this posture, how easy it is to "not remember to show kindness." What kind of anger and hatred would lead someone to "pursue the brokenhearted to their deaths?" How often do we hear people blame the poor and downtrodden for their situations, accusing them of bringing their misfortune upon themselves through laziness or a sense of entitlement that someone owes them rescue from their pitiable situations? Even worse, how often do these adherents of Social Darwinism claim to be faithful people?

The section on curses brought to mind a section of the Gospel of Mark that we read a few days ago (chapter 7, verses 14-23):
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you."

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: "What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you."

The curses we direct at others do not harm them, rather, they are a burden upon us. Their weight, and the weight of the anger that they represent, crushes us and enervates our very spirits. They are generated from our very depths, out of our pain and anger and brokenheartedness, and yet they alleviate nothing; they merely press us down even more.

O Lord, in my brokenness, I am gone like a shadow at evening. Help me to remember that those who hurt me or wish me harm are just as broken.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Really, what a disgrace.

The trial of inhibited Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. will begin June 9 in Philadelphia.
A February 29 news release posted on the diocese's website said the trial will be open to the public. The location has yet to be decided. The release outlines the procedure for the trial and its possible outcomes.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori inhibited Bennison on October 31 after the Title IV Review Committee issued a presentment for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy against Bennison on October 28.

The two counts of the presentment center on accusations that Bennison, when he was rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California, did not respond properly after learning sometime in 1973 that his brother, John, who worked as a lay youth minister in the parish, was having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old member of the youth group. John Bennison was also married at the time, according to the presentment.

The bishop is accused of not taking any steps to end the relationship, not providing proper pastoral care to the girl, not investigating whether she needed medical care, taking three years to notify the girl's parents, not reporting his brother to anyone, not investigating whether his brother was sexually involved with any other parishioners or other children, and seeking no advice on how to proceed. The presentment says Charles Bennison reacted "passively and self-protectively."

The second count of the presentment accuses Charles Bennison of continuing to fail in his duties until the fall of 2006. John Bennison became ordained during this time and the bishop is accused of not preventing his brother's ordination, or his ultimately successful application to be reinstated as a priest after having renounced his orders in 1977, or his desire to transfer from the Diocese of Los Angeles to the Diocese of California. John Bennison was forced in 2006 to renounce his orders again when news of his abuse became public.

Why do we not see sexual abuse as a disgusting crime that deserves the harshest response? Why are excuses so often made for the abuser, and why don't we lock these monsters up so that they will never ruin another person's life forever?