Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What Susan Said

The music and lyrics of Rich Mullins as woven well into the tapestry of my life.  I can tell you where I was when I first heard The Lord's Troubadour sing "If I Stand".  I was driving towards Boonsboro, MD from Smithsburg, MD and listening to WCRH on FM 90.5 MHz.  His music would water and enrich my growth in the faith until his sudden and seemly. untimely death in 1997.  His falling out of Beaker's Jeep that night seemed a tragedy out of time.  It happened in a time where I was about to leave my Bride for an unaccompanied Military assignment in Korea, and an unnecessary gut punch.  Not only would I be leaving my bride and boys, I'd be leaving my Ministry Partners, Frank and Suzanne Vance. 

Whenever I hear this song, my mind goes back to those days.  I'ms still your friend.


  

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Blogger has crossed the Bar and Gone Home.

The Catbird Seat is now in its thirteenth year of existence.  Had it not been for the inspiration of one woman, this blog would have never seen the light of day.  It was 2006, and the Episcopal Church was in crisis as it's Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jeffers Schori in an NPR interview Espoused a Universalist position in stating that Christ Jesus was one of "many roads" to God the Father.  While conservative Episcopalians were vigorously debating liberals on a number of issues, this was a deal breaker.  Jesus of Nazareth was The Way, The truth, and The Life; The only avenue of approach to God the Father. It was during this time of Spiritual Crisis that I became acquainted with the writing of Mary Ailes.  

I met Mary in 2006 and while expressing my appreciation and admiration of her work, she encouraged me to launch a blog of my own.  It was a time when many great blogs were popping up on both sides of the debate.  On Both left and right, bloggers like Matt Kennedy, Joel Wilhelm, The Ugly Vicar, Underground Pewster, David Virtue, Padre Mickey, and The Mad Priest were all putting it out there. Mary offered her own perspective.  She wasn't a "cradle Anglican", but one whose family left the false church of Christian Science to embrace the true Gospel as expressed through Anglicanism.

Mary was both a brilliant and gifted woman.  She loved her God, Loved the truth, and loved the music and work of Bob Dylan (from whom her blog site was named.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. I Thessalonians 4:13-15
And, so we pray..
O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant Mary, being raised with Christ, may know the strength of his presence and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Well done, good and faithful servant.  we'll all see you again when its our time to cross the bar.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On a Somber Anniversary

6,570 days or 18 years ago today, the morning skies over Manhattan were much like those in the photo.  All this would be forever altered before the sunset.
Almighty and ever-present Lord, eighteen years go, our illusions were shattered under clear September skies when son's of Belial snuffed out innocent lives in heaps of rubble. This morning we remember those lives and pray that they’ve found their eternal rest under your throne. We pray too, that this Republic would come to the knowledge that its only in you that we have our strength, our safety, and our prosperity. Protect and preserve this nation, that it might be your heart and hands in this dry and weary world. Finally Lord, we pray that you would rise up and scatter your enemies, that your name would be revered far and wide and everyone with breath in their lungs, would exalt your mighty name. This we ask through your son Christ Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever,Amen.
That we could all pray for our Republic and our world as we did on 9/12

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The road, and where it takes us. -- Reflections

"St. Augustine-in-the-Fields", from another time
BLOGGER's NOTE:  This one is published out of season as I've been allowing it to percolate for a month or three...

The appreciation of well-crafted poetry is largely lost in our graceless age.  Much of our society has grown too crass and too coarse to enjoy the spoken lyric, as it takes us away from the instant gratification and sensory overload, to a place where we actually must pause and think.  Of all the American poets, I have a deep appreciation for Robert Frost (1874-1963).  A man of a breadth of verse and one acquainted with sorrows, one of his most familiar poems is perhaps 'The Road not Taken" (The Road Less Traveled).
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Rod Stewart reminded us in 1971 that every picture tells us a story, and this photo offers no exception.  At first glance, this picture captures a weathered sign along a rural road, likely taken in late winter. It's weatherbeaten and fading, yet its clear that the sign was once beautiful. Even in its sad state, it conveys what was once a hopeful new vision to its community.  For me, this sign is emblematic of Mr. Frost's poem and of the final stanza particularly. Quoting the poet, "And that has made all the difference." 

Much like the vista offered by this photo, in muted late winter, I was looking up a hill on an unknown road, in a spiritually bleak season of life in early 2005. I hadn't found myself in a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of Theology where my I'd been questioning much of what I'd taught for years as a Pentecostal pastor and teacher. At this time I was two years removed from the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), having sojourned with the Southern Baptists and more recently with a Calvary Chapel Congregation.  Each, though heresy-free, failed to satisfy an unanswered longing within my spirit. My heart yearned for a connection that transcended the transactional faith of American Evangelicalism.  

While in this place, I would routinely travel Shelton Shop Road, and pass a road sign advertising a new church which billed itself as both "Episcopal and Evangelical.  While part of me was drawn to the later, I was equally repulsed by the former.  In my mind, the Episcopal Church was essentially a toothless old dog that was bereft of the Spirit and power of the Almighty.  It was a body that once upon a time, embodied "America at prayer" but now was one the lashed itself to any and all Liberal cause.  I'd written her off as what Saint Paul spoke of as "having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof".  Yet for all of this internal revulsion, I was drawn and warmed by the message of this sign.  But an additional event would have to occur to knock me out a complacent space and onto the unknown road represented in this photo.

In March 2005, two prominent individuals were dying;  Pope Saint John Paul II, and Terri Schaivo.  If you remember, Ms. Schaivo was the woman who was starved to death by a "husband" who wanted to get on with his life, but his current wife was an impediment to his plans.  So, starvation was his easy fix to take Terri out of the picture.  When the Calvary Chapel pastor and his wife made it clear that they had no real issue with Michael Schaivo's intent to for his stricken wife, while rebuking me for referring to the death by starvation as demonic.  I knew that we were at an irreproachable place our time there was at an end.  So what then?

In the waning days of the 2005 Lenten season, I called the number on billboard to enquire about this new church that billed itself as such a hybrid.  I was traveling on business but would be back to visit the church on Easter Sunday.  As I now consider my life in the faith, Easter 2005 remains a significant mountaintop moments.  Had I turned onto the path "more traveled", I don't know that I'd be sitting here this evening, MacBook Pro in lap, sharing tonight.

Nearly a fifteen years have passed since that fateful Sunday.  I've been blessed to serve two Bishops, three Rectors, and two Parishes.  The bulk of my ministry has been lived out with the parish of All-Saint's Anglican, a loving, growing, serving, and going community that is truly a house of prayer to the Nations.  

Sadly, all that remains of Saint Augustine-in-the-fields (and her subsequent rebranding) is this sign.  She failed to thrive, yet for a season served the will and purposes of the Almighty.  She was the path less traveled, and the one that made all the difference.



    

Friday, May 03, 2019

Thinking...

From Saint Mark's Gospel:
Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, "Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And he began to weep. Mark 14:72 (NASB)
We've been cursed with a Rooster, a block to our east and outside of our Home owner's association.  This stupid bird has no compunction about crowing whenever the urge strikes him.  Often, I daydream about taking this rooster on a trip to introduce him to Colonel Sanders, to give him a new vocation as a bowl of soup.  Mister Rooster will wake me up at 3:15 AM, hours before sunrise here in Suburbia Majoria.  A few days ago, the thought hit me at this dark hour which pointed me towards the Passion narrative of our Savior, zeroing in on Saint Peter's denial of the Christ.

In lieu of being annoyed, I now have something else to think about when Foghorn Leghorn shakes me out of my slumber at this hour.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

On the National Day of Prayer -- 2019

From saint Paul's first letter to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  1Ti 2:1-3 ESV
I was blessed today, to have led friends, neighbors, and co-workers in prayer during observances at two sites in Stafford County.  It  was a perfect morning that was mercifully, warm and precipitation free.  I'd invite you to consider this prayer:
Almighty and ever living God, we your offspring and the generations of Adam gather this morning under this flag pole to bring praise to you and to intercede for our Republic, its Leaders and her citizens.
As we, civil Servants of this Republic approach you, we don’t presume to come into your presence, trusting in our own goodness, but in your great and bountiful mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather
up the crumbs from under your table. But you are the same God whose property is always to have mercy upon the contrite. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, to enter into your presence, to lift up our petitions for our Republic that our Land may be healed and all her inhabitants would be reconciled unto you.
We stand before you as the giver of all good things and the one at whose command, nations rise and fall. You’ve taught us through your holy counsels that every good and perfect gift comes from you and for this reason; we come before you this morning, joining others around this Republic who’ve also gathered in intercession.
In your presence, we’ve come seeking your mercy for ourselves, and for our nation. Too often, we’ve been like the prodigal child; the one who though desiring their father’s riches and bounty, but determined to live life on their terms, or as the other older Brother, harboring bitterness and malice under thin veneers of conformity and civility. In this we ask your mercy, and for the strength and resolve to live lives of gratitude and mutual concern for one another.
We ask that you would move within our lives, that we would be used as change agents for good. We pray that we might become channels of your peace and mercy to those you’ve placed in our lives and paths. We pray too, as public servants, that through your help, we will be faithful and diligent stewards of the nation and its collective trust and treasure.
We commend to you this morning, those who’ve you placed in authority to govern and lead this Republic including Donald our President, Michael our vice president, William our Attorney General, and Christopher, our Director, and those on Capitol Hill; may they administer justice, govern wisely, and strive for the welfare and peace of the whole world. May they always stand faithfully, with an ear towards their constituents and a heart towards heaven.
We uplift to you those in our nation who are in need or who suffer this morning. We call out on their behalf, asking that you would open your storehouses of mercy for them. Too, we offer ourselves that we might become you heart and hands extended to those in need. Make us channels of your provision. We commend to you, all those who stand in harm’s way, those who’ve sword oaths to protect, defend and serve their fellow citizens. Watch over them as they serve in faraway deserts, stand on thin blue lines or place their safety aside for the sake of others.
Today too, we would pray for the safety of those gathering to worship and that we’d speak loudly and in one voice, against the evils of anti-Semitism. A sin that has no place in our Republic.
Finally Lord, we seek your protection against our enemies, both here in our homes and around the world. Not because we are deserving, but because you are merciful. Protect us not only from our enemies, but also from ourselves that we might not only be recipients’ stewards of your blessings in this day, but also be able to pass along your bounty to those who will follow after us.
All of this, we ask, seek and hope for in your name. Amen
Following the prayer, the point was made to point out Saint Paul's instructions in praying for Kings and rulers.  At this time, all of the Empire was under the rule of Nero, the maniacal ruler of Rome.  They were encouraged to pray for the President, whether he be considered a hero or a zero in their minds.  "Hero or zero, he's certainly no Nero."

Accept my invitation to pray for your Nation, which ever it might be.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Lent & Easter 2019: Reflections

If one were to ask me, "Deacon, what's the difference between reflection and dwelling?"  I might answer something like this. Dwelling is a continual rearward focus with a desire to return and remain in the past.  Reflection is, looking at what has passed, considering the lessons learned (both positive and negative), and integrating this into our forward focus.  Some examples might be a melancholy longing for the simplicity of childhood with an insatiable desire to return there, or the thoughts of "Dang, that stove was hot!"  While the former only begets more unsatisfying longing, the latter will cause you to think twice before grabbing another baking pan bare handed.  Keeping with these thoughts, this past Lenten Season, Holy Week, and Easter have given me much to consider, much to consider how those things have already begun to propel me forward into this new season.

On the evening of Ash Wednesday, Anglican Christians are given the following exhortation following the evening sermon:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
This is the type of exhortation which sets many off with visions of what they're going to accomplish over the next forty days.  Then, dejectedly, they step towards the waning moments of the season realizing how little they were able to mortify their flesh in the season that was ending in growing twilight of Holy Saturday.  I make this observation, not looking down my nose, but gazing into mirror far too many times for my liking.

This year for  me, Lent was ushered in with some significant obstacles and challenges.  Family dynamics were significantly different than the year prior, which brought a slew things.  And while I was able to "modestly mortify" the flesh, I was able to experience a profound and seminal change with my personal prayer life.  While my public prayer life may have seemed deep and profound to those around me, my private prayer life was anything but.  I prayed silently daily, yet , my prayer stream seemed distracted and wandering, never making it past the turf of the infield. For as many times as I'd read that "The effectual, fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much", according to Saint James.  Yet my prayers seemed impotent and tepid, hardly the incense described by Saint John in the Apocalypse. This Lent brought something different.

Where I would have saved my personal petitions for last, I began to lift them first.  Praying first for mercy for the rising day, I began to regularly pray for Wisdom, Focus, Stamina, and Perseverance.  Wisdom to perceive the inevitable rising challenge, focus to not loose sight of the challenge, stamina not to let that challenge get the best of me, and perseverance to see the challenge through to its end.  I also began to pray aloud.  This wasn't to make a public show of piety, I was still in my private prayer space where it was only me in the presence of the Almighty.  

As this progressed, I began to notice that prayer was becoming less of a wander through a garden, and more of an intentional march forward, keeping my heart on the object of those intercessions, and my heart on the target of those prayers, that being the throne room of God, and his mercy seat.

I won't presume for a moment to think that I've suddenly become a mighty prayer warrior.  I will happily say that I believe that I was shone a way towards praying prayers that are far more "fervent and effectual" than what once passed for personal prayer.

So in all of this, I can say that through the Almighty that, even if my flesh was only modestly mortified, my spirit was mightily fortified.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday -- Tetelestai!

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today's Gospel passage is extremely long, recapturing the Passion narrative that was read from a great group of Lay Readers at All Saints' this past Sunday.  I'm sharing a portion of that large passage to accompany our thoughts in this moment.

While I'd seriously doubt that many reading this today have actually witnessed a Crucifixion, yet most have seen one or more theatrical or cinematic dramatization of the event. Many of these dramatic recreations are relatively sterilized while some are extremely graphic and visceral.  But the bloodiest depiction fails to capture the horrors of a roman crucifixion, an execution engineered to inflict one of the worst deaths a human may endure.  The Gospels capture a sense of this in their description of how the Roman execution detail broke the legs of two of the sufferer's in order to accelerate their end.

Our portion of Saint John 19 captures the Christ, in the moments leading to His death upon the cross:
"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:26-30 (ESV)
It was approaching 3:00 PM in Jerusalem.  It could easily have been 68 Degrees Fahrenheit or 20C and fair on any given day, but this was an afternoon like no other.  Three hours prior, an unnatural darkness enveloped Jerusalem that held the city in the grip of twilight.  in this gloom, each breath taken by the master took the full measure of his strength as he strained against the nails to fill his lungs.  No doubt, he was dehydrated and in shock from being beaten and awake for 33 hours.  For all of this, the Christ WOULD NOT die until his mission was complete.  

In these moments, Jesus scans the perimeter, and sees his Disciple John Bar Zebedee with Mary, his Mother.  He commends his mother into John's care while comforting his mother that John would care for her.  Now, his thirst slaked by the sour wine, Jesus was able to cry out in a loud voice that the redemption of the Creation was complete. His words captured the sense that our sin debt at that moment was now paid in full.




Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday in Holy Week -- A Mandate

From the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect for Maundy Thursday:
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I first became aware of the word "Collect", it had a strange ring to it.  But simply put, a "Collect" is simply a prayer meant to gather the intentions of of the people and the focus of the worship into a succinct prayer.  Anglican Collects seem to follow a certain meter and have been a part of historic Anglican since the time of Archbishop Cramner.  Today's apropos prayer calls to mind  the Sacrament that was first instituted over two milennia this evening.

*From the Gospel of Saint John:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."  Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"  Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. ... When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, 'Where I am going you cannot come.'  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:1-17, 31-35 (ESV)
(*NOTE: The ACNA Lectionary prescribed Matt 26:1-to 5, 14-25)

Perhaps its our aversion to the baring our feet in in church to be washed by a nodding acquaintance that drives many to place the focus of Maundy Thursday on the institution of the Eucharist rather than the call to the humility of washing a possible stranger's feet. I inwardly cringe at the thought of someone being confronted by my gnarly, middle-aged dogs.  But its at this moment that I'm reminded that it was the composer and conductor of the Aria of Creation who stripped down to his underwear to wash the dirty fallen feet of his Apostles, feet he conceived in Eternity past.

I continue to be arrested by this moment. The Christ is mere hours away from enduring the most hellish ordeal ever endured by one clothed in human flesh. The spotless Passover lamb would soon have the sins of the vilest offenders laid upon his shoulders.  It's weight may have felt like the shattering blow from a pile driver. It's at moments of reflection, such as now, my careless sins and betrayals become a foul, wretched stench in my own nostrils.

In this unfolding moment. Christ, in demonstrating this love that loves someone to the end, strips down to his inner garments and girds himself with a towel in preparation to wash the feet of his disciples. Try to imagine a dinner where the host suddenly strips down to his boxers and tee-shirt; it would be an awkward moment at the very least. The Christ of God is now seen as the servant of all; transformed from High King of Heaven to lowly house slave. All were shocked, but Peter seems to have been scandalized as seen in his reaction. Jesus doesn't mince words; without this "washing" St. Peter would have no share in the Kingdom. Peter suddenly gets it, and all but asks for a bath.

For a visual learner, this moment in the Gospel packs a powerful punch. It teaches volumes about the Kingdom and how it will unfold. It shows us that the Kingdom looks far more like a tiny sun-baked Albanian nun cradling the dying than a slick, polished preacher trying to sell you your best life now. Its self-emptying rather than self-aggrandizing. Our Lord has no need or use for strutting popinjays who seem to pervade the vast spiritual and cultural wasteland. The "No Fear" Crowd does little more than stir His holy wrath. He saw all of these traits in His onetime anointed cherub, and threw both him and his company of fallen angels down from Heaven. No, He seeks something quite to the contrary. 

Consider on this Maundy Thursday... Our Lord seeks those who've grasped the concept that in the greater scheme of things, they're truly of no account. They've got nothing to bring to the table. These are the ones whom the Master can fill with His power, and may well use them mightily in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in both word and action.