Sunday, July 17, 2016


“The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”  St. Luke 10:41-42

As I was driving home on Tuesday evening, I was intrigued by the dark red car in front of me.  The driver had obviously discovered my favorite shortcut to get around the lights on Baron Cameron, and he was pushing on at quite a clip.  When I pulled up behind him at the stoplight, I took one glance at his vanity license plate and nodded to myself.  It said IMNAHRY—the driver had taken out all the spaces and most of the vowels—rather appropriately—but it all fit. 

IMNAHRY-some days I wonder if that’s not really the motto of Northern Virginia.  The driver may just have been trying to keep people out of the left hand land—INAHRY, so you’d better get out of the way.  Perhaps he liked to taunt policemen with speed guns.  Maybe he was wearing his great list of responsibilities like a badge of honor, as we all sometimes do. “How are you?” “Very busy,” we sigh, as if so very much depended on us.  Maybe the driver was just trying to be a comic, or a prophet, pointing out all the bustle and wondering what in the world it’s all worth.

My mind went back to a country song that’s almost 25 years old now, but whose words haven’t aged a bit. 
            “I’m in a hurry to get things done;” Alabama crooned.
            I rush and rush until life’s no fun.
            All I really gotta do is live and die.
            But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Casuistry and Prophecy

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” St. Luke 10:36-37

The book was called “The Casuist: Cases in Moral and Pastoral Theology,” and because it was published in 1906, I was able to download it onto my Kindle for free.  In the little town where I last served as rector, they gave free gym memberships to the local clergy, so I took my exercise on the elliptical machine, and for about six months, “The Casuist” kept my mind occupied as my arms and legs ran through the machine’s monotonous courses.

I don’t know if any of you read in the gym or not, but I’ve found that books with short chapters and relatively punchy content works best.  And “The Casuist” filled the bill in spades.  Over several volumes, it collected hundreds of “hard cases,” moral quandaries that had been sent to the author, a certain Stanislaus Woywod, OFM, by puzzled priests who ran across them while hearing confessions and giving spiritual advice. 

Fr. Woywod’s cases tend toward the curious and the colorful.  There’s Mary, who lays dying and would like to make her confession to the priest over the telephone because her antireligious husband forbids him from entering the house.[1]  John, who becomes engaged to a (presumably different) Mary, and then breaks it off without any good reason and marries Martha in a civil ceremony needs to sort out what he owes to his jilted.[2]   And there’s a certain Father X, who because of his scandalous conduct, has been forbidden by his bishop to enter a saloon for a full year except to administer the last rites.  If he is vacationing in another diocese, the good father wonders, does the prohibition still apply?[3]

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Get your butt in church"

Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person.” St. Luke 10:5-6

Sally[1] was our most effective evangelist at a parish where I once served.  She would warn me ahead of time when she was bringing another one with her.   I’d walk into the chancel Sunday morning and look back at her pew, on the aisle halfway down the right side, and see a new face.  The newcomer might be slightly puzzled, a little uncertain; but also glad to be right next to someone who obviously knew what she was doing.  Most every time the bishop came, Sally would present a candidate or two for confirmation, someone she’d walked alongside in the journey to faith, another person who had found peace with God and the gift of new life. 

Sally had no advanced degrees in theology.  I couldn’t even get her to come to Bible study.  She was a humble woman, without great wealth or social power.  She had what I secretly regarded as one of the most unpromising opening lines in the history of evangelism.  I heard her use it at least twice, and winced a bit both times.  She would look people right in the eye, sigh a bit, and simply say, “you need to get your butt in church.”  You should know that this phrase is not from the New Testament, and I’m sure it’s not recommended by the Episcopal Church’s canon for evangelism.  But over and over again, through the unseen work of the Holy Spirit, Sally said it and it worked. 

Sally had more than her share of opportunities to use that line in her job.  For much of my time as her rector, she was a waitress at Frank’s,[2] a diner much loved by locals, because it was about the only restaurant in our tourist town that stayed open all year round.  When you suffer through an upstate New York winter, it’s not hard to become very loyal to the one place that serves bacon cheeseburgers the second week of February. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ponder: "The Altar first, and then the throne"

“One of the first really spectacular public events to be televised was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.    Michael Ramsey was the Bishop of Durham at the time of the coronation. By tradition the Bishop of Durham stood by the monarch’s right hand during the coronation. Ultimately Ramsey became the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a great theologian and is thought by many to have been a genuinely holy man.    With his massive head, notoriously bushy eyebrows and striking presence in vestments, the cameramen followed him closely. In the video, he can be seen muttering to himself as he crosses in front of the altar on his way from his seat to the throne to take his place by the side of the young queen.    Thanks to the new technology, thousands of people saw this and naturally the question came up, "Bishop, what were you saying to yourself?" His answer: "I was keeping my bows and reverences straight -- First God, then the Queen.    The altar first, then the throne."
Leander Harding, "The Cross and the Flag" 4 Jul 2016.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Growing in faith at Vacation Bible School

From the WORD, of Saint Timothy's Episcopal Church, Herndon, June 2016.

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.”  Matthew 19:4.

In the little town where I grew up, kids didn’t go to sports camp in the summer.  There weren’t art or music camps either, for that matter, or academic enrichment camps or canoeing and rock climbing camps.  My family didn’t take much vacation, either, because Mom always played the organ on Sunday mornings.  But there was Vacation Bible School, and it was pretty much the highlight of the summer.

We had Vacation Bible School at our own church, of course, the first two weeks after summer vacation began.  But sometimes, mom would haul us off to the Vacation Bible Schools at other churches—at the Lutheran church up on the hill, where you could play tag in the enormous cemetery, or at my grandparents’ Methodist church.  One summer, I think we spent a full four weeks in Bible School, which probably amounted as many Bible stories, peppy songs and graham crackers as a full year of Sunday School at Saint John’s.