Monday, December 22, 2014

A Recent Article in the Ocean Springs Gazette

       Turn on the radio of late and you are likely to hear Taylor Swift singing “Shake It Off.”  Swift dedicates the song to her detractors.  She says you cannot control what other people say or do, you can only control your own reaction.  Swift admonishes us not to let what others do or say “get under our skin,” but rather we should “shake it off.”  That phrase, “shake it off” is evocative.  The phrase is reminiscent of one of the admonitions of Jesus: “...shake the dust off your feet.” British theologian John Oman called this admonition of Jesus "The Forgotten Sacrament.”
When Jesus sent his disciples out on mission, he said “When people refuse to welcome you and the gospel you preach, refuse to offer hospitality, shake the dust off your feet.”  Shake the dust off your feet and move on.
Jesus knew his disciples would face rejection and failure.  We run into our own limitations and the limitations of others.  We do our best and our best is not good enough.  Others do their best and their best is not good enough.  And, sometimes our worst gets involved too, and so do others’ worst.  To untangle the knot of responsibility is beyond our capabilities.
So Jesus, in his wisdom and mercy, has given us this sacrament, the shaking off of the dust, what Oman called "The Sacrament of Failure."  It is an acknowledgment that we have done all we can do, all we should do, and it is time to let go and move on.
Sometimes we are tempted to move too quickly.  The desert fathers and mothers advised: "Leave no place easily." There may be still much to learn there.  But, there are times when the most redemptive thing for you and for the other is to shake the dust off your feet and move on. It is a mercy to us and it is a mercy to them. It gives them and us another chance.  We acknowledge the failure, ours and theirs, and move on.
Taylor Swift, whether she knows it or not, is giving sound theological advice when she sings to us:  “Shake it off.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

Article for the Ocean Springs Gazette

     J. B. Phillips, famous for his translation work (he translated the “New Testament in Modern English,” 1958), was the author of a book entitled “Your God is Too Small” (published in 1961).  “Your God is Too Small” begins with these memorable words:  “The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough...”  Not much has changed since 1961 with regard to the “size” of our conceptions of God.  We still tend to think “too small.”
The problem of a God who is too small is not, however, relegated to the middle of the Twentieth Century (or the beginning of the Twenty-First).  The prophet Isaiah challenges the “size” of God as imagined by his contemporaries.  And, he  told them that their God was too small.  He speaks of their attitude toward “foreigners” and speaking for God says:  “ house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Isaiah’s vision is still challenging us.  Turns out, not much has changed in this regard since the Tenth Century.
A few weeks ago St. John’s Episcopal Church hosted the viewing of the documentary “Besa.”  The film concerns the Muslims who saved Jews during the holocaust.  The audience included a Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam.  Afterward, the Imam and I had our picture taken in front of a bulletin board entitled “Children of Abraham.”  Everyone in attendance wrote their name on a “star” and the stars were pinned to the bulletin board.  Each and everyone a child of Abraham.  Jews, Christians, Muslims--one and all--a child of Abraham.  It was a good night for Ocean Springs and for people of faith.
Such evenings, however, stretch our theology.  And, truth be told, our theology needs stretching.  Isaiah knew the theology of Israel in exile needed stretching.  Jesus came, still stretching the theology of his day.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, would need to stretch their theologizing upon such matters.  Our conceptions of God have to be stretched because, time after time, our conceptions of God are, as J. B. Phillips suggested, “too small.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The "Priest-in-Charge" and the "Priest Associate" of St. John's, Ocean Springs are happy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A prayer for Memorial Day

From the Book of Common Prayer

O Judge of the nations,
we remember before you with grateful hearts
the men and women of our country who in the day of decision
ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.
Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land
share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.
This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thanksgiving for Heroic Service, BCP 1979

Monday, April 28, 2014

Working on my sermon for Easter 3

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (a painting by Velasquez) by Denise Levertov

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his – the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seer her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
<La_mulata,_by_Diego_Velázquez.jpg>Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face-?

The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the winejug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening.

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

Monday, April 14, 2014


The name Tenebrae (the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows”) has for centuries been applied to the ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings.

Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.

In [The Book of Occasional Services], provision is made for Tenebrae on Wednesday evening only, in order that the proper liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday may find their place as the principal services of those days. By drawing upon material from each of the former three offices of Tenebrae, this service provides an extended meditation upon, and a prelude to, the events in our Lord’s life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection.

--from the Book of Occasional Services, p. 74. 

Come and experience the service of Tenebrae this Holy Week:  Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What is "Palm Sunday"?

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels.

In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday includes a procession of the assembled worshipers carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.
In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalemtakes place about a week before his Resurrection.

The symbolism is captured in Zechariah 9:9 "The Coming of Zion's King – See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.
According to the Gospels, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks in front of him, and also laid down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: 25–26 – ... Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord ....

In many lands in the ancient Near East, it was customary to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 9:13) reports that Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated this way. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. However, in the synoptics they are only reported as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John specifies fronds of palm (Greek phoinix).

In Revelation 7:9, the white-clad multitude stand before the throne and Lamb holding palm branches.
In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches and in Lutheran churches, as well, the day is called "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday"; in practice, though, it is usually termed "Palm Sunday."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Science and Faith in the News ("On Sceptics")

A couple of weeks ago, scientists announced findings consistent with the so-called “Big Bang Theory.“  Gravitational waves, dating back to the “birth” of the universe, 13.7 billion years ago, were recorded.

A few weeks prior, a televised debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye made the news.  The bow-tied Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is familiar to television-viewing audiences, but Ken Ham was a new name to many.  Ham is a biblical literalist who heads both the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis (AiG), the leading voice of “young Earth” creationism.  I met Ham once when I was doing a short documentary on the museum for a class I was taking at the time.

Ham is a skeptic when it comes to the claims of science.  Nye is a skeptic when it comes to Ham’s religious notions.

David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, also questioned science’s findings. Hume identified, what he called, “the problem of induction.”  On the predictive value of observational data, he wrote: “Although the sun arose every single morning of my life, I cannot assume that it will necessarily do so tomorrow.” Why not? Because “if we proceed not upon some fact, present to the memory or senses, our reasonings would be merely hypothetical.”

The problem of establishing an incontestable link between cause and effect, in Hume’s view, relates to the credibility of past events. Both prediction and historical accounts require a certain degree of trust.

Hume’s insistence that we cannot definitively prove causal relationships notwithstanding, practically speaking, most of us cannot live comfortably without trust, even if we recognize that some cause-event-connections and witnesses are more trustworthy than others.

Skeptics endure doubt-filled lives since there are many claims about the nature of reality that we cannot test and confirm for ourselves.

See—-peter-han.  Han is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago.  His recent article inspired my blog entry above.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On giving away guns as an evangelism tool

To state the obvious: the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s gun-giveaway evangelism is ill-concieved.  Using instruments of violence to lure men to a sales pitch for the Prince of Peace, is wrong on so many levels.

My Baptist friend and clergy colleague the Rev. Joe Phelps has commented:  “Surely there is more to a faith experience than wandering into a church service that is veiled as an outdoor store. You show up like an unsuspecting deer at a feeder near a deer-blind, on the off-chance of winning a gun, but to your surprise amidst the jokes and hunting tales you hear an entirely new philosophy of life which awakens you from your nightmare of materialism and the love of violent weapons which drew you like an junkie to this event in the first place. In this sudden awakening you believe that you have so thoroughly examined the strengths and weaknesses of this radically new value system that you make a decision more life-altering than signing the lease on that new fully-loaded truck without telling your wife or best friend, a decision that could possibly dissuade you from owning the very weapons that drew you to this evening’s program in the first place.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

GOE Set 7 Theory and Practice of Ministry (General Ordination Exam) 2014

Set 7: Theory and Practice of Ministry

During your first year as the only clergy of a parish, you discover the parish has dire budget problems and the very survival of the parish is at stake.

The congregation is slowly growing but you know that even parishioners giving more generously would not be enough to make a significant dent in the church's financial outlook. There is a small unrestricted endowment.

Write an essay of 1,500 words to explain how you would approach this dilemma theologically, pastorally, and practically. Your answer should include how you would use this as an opportunity to engage the congregation and wider community in mission-oriented ministry.

GOE Set 6 Theology and Missiology (General Ordination Exam) 2014

Set 6: Christian Theology and Missiology


Within the history of Christian theology, one can find two views of the knowability of God that seem incompatible. One is a view of God as active in history and knowable through divine acts. The other is a view of God as ontologically transcendent and therefore beyond all categories of human understanding and explication. You want to understand the relationship between these two views of God, which may appear to many in your congregation to be in conflict with each other.

Using two theological traditions within the history of Western Christianity that you think are appropriate, explain in an essay of 1,500 words how you would explicate the relationship between these two views to members of your congregation.

GEO Set 2 Liturgy and Church Music (General Ordination Exam) 2014

Set 2: Liturgy and Church Music 

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible; a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer; a printed Book of Occasional Services; a printed Lesser Feasts and Fasts; printed Enriching Our Worship volumes; and other printed authorized supplemental or provisional material; a printed Hymnal 1982, a printed Wonder, Love and Praise; and authorized supplemental musical material. NO electronic or Internet resources.

In a lecture, the Episcopal liturgist Thomas Talley, speaking of Easter, said:
By virtue of the resurrection, Christ is now trans-historical and is available to every moment. We may never speak of the Risen Christ in the historical past. The event of his passion is historical, but the Christ who is risen does not exist back there, but here, and as we live on this moving division line between memory and hope, between the memory of his passion and the hope of his coming again, we stand always in the presence of Christ, who is always present to everyone.

In his theological commentary on the American Prayer Book, Leonel Mitchell shows how this applies in a particular instance, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Reflecting on the second collect for the feast (BCP 1979, p. 212), he writes:

It identifies this night [this very night in our time] with the breaking forth into this world of the true Light which is Christ, and it identifies the celebration of the festival with the shining of the Christ Light in our lives. To celebrate Christmas, then, is in a real sense to participate in the event which it celebrates.

Robert Taft, another prominent liturgist, writes, echoing the previous quotations:
The actuality, the presentness of it all, is because we are celebrating not something from the past, but a permanent present reality, an ongoing call and response, a new life, which we call salvation, that was called into being by saving events that are past only in their historicity.

 1)             In an essay of 750 words, comment upon how the quotations inform a coherent theology of the liturgical year, addressing both the once-for-all nature of the events in the life of Christ and the here-and-now active presence of Christ.

 2)             Building upon the previous answer in a further 750-word narrative essay - not a list or an outline - give representative examples of how you would plan the Eucharist for a Principal Feast as designated by the BCP 1979 in view of this theology, describing what you would do, your rationale, and what you would avoid doing. Please consider, for example, hymnody, choreography, spatial arrangement, iconography, imagery and homiletics, including at least three of these in your response.

GOE Set 3 Contemporary Society (General Ordination Exam) 2014

Set 3: Contemporary Society

You are the priest in an inner city parish that has undergone several changes in its 100- year history. It has a strong sense of self-identity as a predominantly African-American congregation, with some members from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Some congregants live in the community and others drive long distances. As is currently the case in many urban areas, the economy is changing, and new demographic groups are moving in. New businesses are being opened; new housing is being built. As a result, as in any group faced with change, fear of change is rising in the congregation. You have been called to help the congregation address this fear and move forward.
In an essay of 1,500 words, propose how you will approach this task. Include in your answer:
  •  The probable historical and contemporary experience of the congregation in question and how these experiences relate to the groups that are moving in. Identify at least one such group, and include how aspects such as race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, marital or social status may have affected the fear of change.
  • The role that the mission of the church as stated in the Catechism plays in your proposal.
  • The day-to-day practice of your own ministry that will respond to the complexity of social change both inside the congregation (for example, pastoral care, leadership, and worship) and outside the congregation (for example, the relationship of this congregation to the wider community).

Sunday, January 5, 2014

General Ordination Exam: Set 4 2014

Set 4: Christian Ethics and Moral Theology 


The Preamble of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the following statements:

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women...

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge ...

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for

Too bad, because that would be a good skill to have for GOE prep.
these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

This statement is a representative example of a generally accepted concept, "fundamental human rights," and implies that the Church, as an organ of society, and Christians, as individual members of society, should teach, promote and secure the rights and freedoms described.

In an essay of 1,500 words:
1.    Explain what is commonly meant by the concept "fundamental human rights" and how these rights are generally thought to be established;
2.    Drawing on your existing knowledge of sources in Scripture and the tradition of Christian thought, explain how these "rights," so defined, fit or do not fit within a Christian understanding of moral theology;

3.    Given your response in 2, and choosing one issue generally discussed employing the language of "rights," describe how the Church and its members can best participate in the public discussion of this issue, specifically with regard to the concept of "rights."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

GOE Set 5 Church History 2014

Set 5: Church History 

An enduring theme of church history has been the relationship between the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary and the holy Eucharist. This development has had a substantial effect on the history of ordained ministry in the Church.

Part A: Write an essay of 500 words on each of the two topics below:
1. Considering the Church in its first four centuries, discuss the development of a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist as it affected concepts of ordained ministry. Give two specific examples of historical texts and/or historical figures who contributed to this sacrificial understanding of both Eucharist and/or ordained ministry. How did these two examples influence this historical evolution?

2. During the English Reformation of the 16th century, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer rejected the concept of the Eucharist as a sacrifice and the priest as the minister of sacrifice, and both Cranmer's 1550 Ordinal and his work on the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer reflect this rejection liturgically. What were two historical figures or texts that lay behind Cranmer's thinking of the Eucharist as a sacrifice of praise, if a sacrifice at all? How did these examples influence Cranmer?

Part B: Write an essay of 500 words that discusses an example of how the issues of the Eucharist as sacrifice and/or the priest as minister of sacrifice have continued to shape Anglican belief and practice since the Reformation. Also explicate an example of how these issues remain significant in The Episcopal Church today.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

GOE 2014 Set 1: The Holy Scriptures

As many of you know I was the Examining Chaplain for the Diocese of Kentucky for a number of years.  Hence, I developed an interest in the General Ordination Exam.  Below is "Set 1" of the General Ordination Exam of 2014.  This will only interest real Ecclesiastical Geeks.  Everyone else can move on to something more interesting.  But, for other fellow Geeks...

Set 1: The Holy Scriptures 

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible; a printed one-volume concordance. NO electronic or Internet resources.

The Church teaches that Holy Scripture is an authoritative source of direction for addressing the challenges of contemporary faith and living. The Bible helps us understand what God has called and is calling the people of God to be and do.  Sometimes, however, it would seem the biblical direction in which we are to walk is not clear. This is true when we look at the issue of violence.

Consider, for example, the following pairs of texts from Old and New Testaments:
Isaiah 2:2-4
2In days to come
  the mountain of the Lord's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
  and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
  and that we may walk in his paths.'
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
  and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
  and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
  and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
  neither shall they learn war any more.

Joel 3:9-12 
9Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
  stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
  let them come up.
10Beat your ploughshares into swords,
   and your pruning-hooks into spears;
   let the weakling say, 'I am a warrior.'
11Come quickly,
   all you nations all around,
   gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12Let the nations rouse themselves,
   and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
   all the neighboring nations.
Matthew 5:9
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Luke 22:35-38
 35 He said to them, 'When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?' They said, 'No, not a thing.'36 He said to them, 'But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, "And he was counted among the lawless"; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.' 38They said, 'Lord, look, here are two swords.' He replied, 'It is enough.'

Taking seriously the need for biblical direction and the differing perspectives taken by the Bible on violence, in an essay of 1,500 words:

1. Exegete either the Old Testament or the New Testament pair of texts, analyzing and presenting their literary, historical, and theological characteristics. Your exegesis should clearly explicate the purposes of each text. (1,000 words)

2. Apply your exegesis to a contemporary issue of violence. Your argument should honor the integrity of the Bible and take seriously the church's call for authoritative direction. (500 words)