A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are you looking for the perfectly tastely Lenten appropriate snack?

Apparently monks had time, between "ora et lavora" (prayer and work) to reach out to kids in Lent during the Middle Ages (or as I like to call it "the overlooked time"). One Lent a monk was doing his regular chores in the kitchen of his community. He was baking unleavened bread with flour and water because eggs, milk and lard were not consumed as part of their Lenten discipline.

For fun he twisted some of the dough into the shape of people praying with both arms folded across their chests. You see, piously holding the hands together was not the norm for the church during this time. If you trace the line from across your chest, down one's crossed arms and up to where the hands are resting on the upper chest, the shape resembles an upside down, or more correctly, and upside right, pretzel. Adding a little salt for preservation and flavor, this symbol became a popular treat for children of all ages and acted as a reminder to say their prayers. The monk called them pretiola, which is the Latin word for "little reward."

Anyone tempted to go out and buy a  bag of pretzels? I especially like the fresh baked one at Auntie Anne's.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Becoming ourselves from Madeleine L'Engle's A Stone for a Pillow

We become whole by being all of ourselves, including the aspects of ourselves we like least as well as those of which we are able to approve. When we try to approve of ourselves (rather than to love ourselves) we tend to lose both our senses of humour and of wonder. Only if I retain the irradiating joy as I see the first trout lily in the spring, the first bright red of the partridge berries in the autumn, can I become a 'grown-up.'

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Called into Relationship by Jay Emerson Johnson

The following is excerpted from the SCLM Blog for the Blessings Project. For more information on the Blessings Project go to: http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/

Falling in love with someone is an experience that even the best poets have difficulty describing. We can feel giddy, confused, elated, and distracted all at the same time. Hollywood films portray those moments with fireworks and great music soundtracks when people fall in love “at first sight.” Deciding to enter into a lifelong commitment with someone, however, takes a bit more time.

The vows two people make when entering into a covenantal relationship with each other will shape every aspect of their lives in profound ways. For people of faith, that kind of decision should be made carefully, deliberately, and especially prayerfully. While people do “fall” in love, we should be careful about “falling” into a commitment.

I was reminded of this some years ago listening to a talk by Marvin Ellison, a Christian ethicist, who has worked a great deal on the role of marriage in both church and the wider society. He noted the high divorce rate in the United States and described both the secular and religious resources for addressing it. He then offered an important insight, which has stuck with me ever since: The divorce rate is so high in this country, Ellison said, because the marriage rate is so high.

Ellison’s point is that the Church seems to have lost the idea that a lifelong committed relationship with another person is a vocation, a way of life into which we are called, something similar to a monastic vocation, or the vocation of ordained ministry. Culturally, marriage has instead become a rite of passage into adulthood; it’s what we do when we’re all grown up and ready to “settle down.”

Faith communities, Ellison suggested, have an important role to play in our society by retrieving the vocational character of covenantal relationship, a life into which perhaps many but not all people are called. The Standing Commission’s theological resources for blessing same-gender relationships emphasize these vocational aspects of lifelong covenants in various ways, including the importance of adopting spiritual disciplines to sustain those covenants over time.

Falling in love is a wonderful experience, but how could the Church help people discern whether they are called into commitment? What kind of resources could congregations provide for the vocation of covenantal life? If you are presently in such a covenantal relationship, are there ways in which you understand it as a vocation, a calling?

Un Llamado a Relacionarse
Blog o Bitácora del Proyecto de las Bendiciones de SCLM

El enamorarse de alguien es una experiencia que hasta los mejores poetas tienen dificultad para describirla. Nos podemos sentir emocionados, confundidos, elevados, y distraídos, todas estas emociones al mismo tiempo. Las películas de Hollywood presentan estos momentos con fuegos artificiales y una gran música de fondo cuando las personas se enamoran " a primera vista". El decidir entrar en una relación de compromiso para toda la vida con alguien, sin embargo, toma más tiempo.

Los votos que dos personas hacen cuando entran en una relación de convenio con cada una le dará forma a cada aspecto de sus vidas en maneras profundas. Para las personas de fe, esta clase de decisión deberá ser hecha cuidadosa, deliberadamente y especialmente en oración. Mientras que las personas si " se enamoran", debemos tener cuidado al " entrar" en un compromiso.

Yo recordé esto hace algunos años escuchando un discurso hecho por Marvin Ellison, un Cristiano especialista en Ética, quien trabajo mucho acerca del papel del matrimonio tanto en la iglesia como en la sociedad. El notó el alto índice de divorcio en los Estados Unidos y describió recursos tanto seculares como religiosos para abordar el tema. El ofreció una reflexión importante, la cual todavía llevo conmigo: El índice de divorcio es tan alto en este país, dijo Ellison, porque el índice de matrimonio es muy alto.

El punto de Ellison es que la Iglesia parece haber perdido la idea de que una relación de compromiso para toda la vida con otra persona es una vocación, un modo de vida al cual somos llamados, similar a la vocación monástica, o la vocación del ministerio ordenado. Culturalmente, en lugar de esto, el matrimonio se ha convertido en un rito de paso hacia la adultez; es lo que hacemos cuando crecemos y estamos listos para " establecernos".

Las comunidades de fe, sugirió Ellison, tienen un papel importante que jugar en nuestra sociedad, recuperando el carácter vocacional de las relaciones, una vida a la cual quizás muchos, pero no todos son llamados. Los recursos teológicos de la Comisión Permanente para la bendición de las relaciones del mismo género enfatizan estos aspectos vocacionales de los convenios para toda la vida de varias maneras, incluyendo la importancia de adoptar disciplinas espirituales para sostener estos convenios a través del tiempo.

El enamorarse es una experiencia maravillosa, ¿pero cómo podría la Iglesia ayudar a las personas a discernir que están llamadas al compromiso? ¿Qué clase de recursos podrían proveer las congregaciones para la vocación de la vida de convenio? Si usted está actualmente en tal relación de convenio, ¿hay maneras en las cuales usted podría entender su relación como una vocación, un llamado?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Sermon on Absalom Jones

Where do you sit? There are places, thin places, where it is possible to enter into mystery. They are full of the reverberating presence of something powerful and beautiful. It can be hard to explain. A reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is made.

In 2006, I was on an East Coast Tour with The Anglican Chorale of Southern California. The choir sang in churches along the East coast on its way to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. We stopped in Philadelphia for just two services. One of which was at St. Peters Church.

We arrived early to practice and take a tour of this historic mid-Georgian church. Most of the church remains as it was in the eighteenth century. The guide pointed out the original high-backed pews, including the Mayor’s box where George and Martha Washington had sat and the tall clear paned windows reflecting the age of reason.1

Slaves and servants of members sat on hard benches at the west end of the gallery. One of these slaves went on to become an early leader of the African-American community in Philadelphia, founded the first African-American Episcopal Church, and became the first black Episcopal priest.

His name was Absalom Jones. The tour guide briefly pointed out what she believed to be Absalom’s regular seat in the gallery nearest the pulpit. The pulpit and lectern stand on top of one another, with a lectern on the bottom and a raised pulpit above it. It projects into the congregation as if to emphasis the Word of God.2

I skipped the last part of the tour and ran up the stairs to sit where Absalom sat. I imagined Absalom listening to the word of God being broken open, leaning forward, taking it in, trying to make sense of what he was feeling.

This place, this thin place, seemed to echo with the stirrings of his heart, his hopes for the future, for his freedom and the freedom of all people. I felt my heart stir.

Absalom Jones is a bit of an enigma. He is claimed by Quakers, Episcopalians, Methodists, Evangelicals, and the African American community, but as we’ll see, Absalom belonged to no one, but God.

According to Holy Women, Holy Men, “Absalom Jones was born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware. He taught himself to read out of the New Testament, among other books. When sixteen, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia.” 3

However, the current rector of St. Peter’s relates a slightly different story. Absalom was born on the Wynkoop family farm in Sussex, Delaware.4 At an early age, he was taken from the fields and became a house slave. Benjamin Wynkoop was not happy working his parent’s farm. He sold Absalom’s mother and six siblings, and brought the 16 year-old Absalom as his slave to Philadelphia.

Absalom attended St. Peter’s, in part, because his “master” was vestrymen, warden and benefactor of the Church. He was not “sold to a store owner in Philadelphia”, but worked for his Episcopal church-going master from dawn to dusk.

Absalom was eventually permitted to attend a night school for blacks, operated by Quakers. The Quakers gave him a good education, instilled in Absalom a love of freedom and introduced him to the Abolitionist movement. At twenty he married his neighbor, Mary. She was owned by a fellow parishioner from St. Peter’s. Working through much of the night, with his master’s permission, Absalom was able to save enough money to purchase his wife’s freedom, but Absalom was still a slave.

Though some members of the congregation wanted to see the end of slavery, and over 70% of all Blacks in Philadelphia were already free, Absalom’s master refused at first to allow him to purchase his freedom.

Absalom knew the lament of the children of Israel captured in the Psalm for today – By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion. As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land. For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How could he sing as slave in a foreign land? Yet somehow there was a song in his heart, a melody full of yearning and passion. Though he was taken to church as a slave, he entered into the kingdom of heaven, that “thin place” which is both now and yet to come.

Absalom knew the God of the Bible was in the habit of bringing people out of exile - And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

“THESE words, my brethren,” said Absalom in a sermon, “contain a short account of some of the circumstances which preceded the deliverance of the children of Israel from their captivity and bondage in Egypt.”5 Absalom knew that the cries of America’s slaves would surely heard by God. He knew that God’s promises were meant for his people, too.

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds us that God not only plants the desire for freedom in our hearts but works with us to bring it about. When we work for the rights and freedoms of others, when we use our voice to speak up for those society has silenced or rejects as worthless, when we reject institutions that enslave the poor in debilitating debt, and stand up for the human dignity of all God’s people, our actions reverberate with the hope of Absalom.

The excuses of the slave owners will not stand up in the court of heaven; with righteousness God judges in favor of the poor, and decides with equity for the meek.

In 1784, Absalom was finally allowed to buy his own freedom. He began attending St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church with his good friend, Richard Allen. His friend told him about the anti-slavery stance taken by many Methodists, and the movement’s emphasis on holy living. Together they reached out to slave and free and increased the Black membership of the Methodist meetings  tenfold.6

Alarmed at the increase, the vestry decided without notice to segregate the Blacks into the old gallery upstairs. Absalom and his friends arrived a little late to church on Sunday. They came in quietly and joined the congregation kneeling in prayer. When the Ushers tried to make them get up and move to the balcony, Absalom asked them to allow him to finish the prayer and he would bother them no more. At the end of the prayer every Black member got up and left that church.7

They formed the Free African Society and used their monthly dues to provide members with descent burials and care for their widows and orphans. The society decided to build their own church. When it was finished they applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: I, that they be received as an organized body; 2, that they have control over their local affairs; 3, that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister.8

They would not take no for an answer. In October of 1794, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church was consecrated by Absalom’s former rector from Christ Church, and the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, William White. Bishop White ordained Absalom a deacon in 1795 and as priest seven years later.

St. Thomas African Episcopal Church still serves as a beacon of hope today. This past year they presented 38 candidates for confirmation.9 They are a vibrant community, believing in God’s love and power to transform and reconcile.

It’s been said that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Absalom was not a martyr in the strict sense of the word, but by his bloody sweat and tears he worked toward making his world a better place for others, first, and himself, as well. In the Gospel of John we hear that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Certainly, Absalom Jones showed us the way.

His way was slow, practical, full of effort and heart wrenching prayers. Surely he leaned forward to hear the good news that all God’s people shall be free. He knew hope was stronger than fear, and that reconciliation and forgiveness had power to transform relationships. He chose not to be a slave; he freely chose to forgive his master. Absalom wrote that he continued to work for his former master after he purchased his freedom and that there grew a forbearance and warmth between them.10 We cannot dismiss the years of servitude, of refusal to allow Absalom to purchase his freedom, but we do know that their relationship continued for many years and at Absalom’s death on February 13, 1818, his former master spoke of Absalom with due respect.

My mind wanders back to Absalom’s seat in the gallery at St. Peter’s Church. Do I sit with Absalom, do I really sit with Absalom or am I just another vestryman on the church board with good intensions – remaining silent. No one owns Absalom’s story. Many traditions tell Absalom's story differently, but I believe that it can speak to us today. He shows us that it is possible to love as Christ loved us. He shows us that it is possible to extend the kingdom of God on earth - that this is a thin place. What will we do? Where do you sit?

1 “A Brief History of St. Peter’s Church,” St. Peter's Church, http://www.stpetersphila.org/history.html (accessed February 12, 2012).

2 Ibid.
3 Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Publishing, 2010), 220-221.
4 Timothy Safford, “Who Owned Absalom Jones?” (sermon, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia PA, February 13, 2008), http://www.christchurchphila.org/Welcome-to-the-Christ-Church-Website/Who-We-Are/Sermons/Sermons/202/search__absalom%2bjones/month__200802/vobId__678/ (accessed February 13, 2012).
Absalom Jones, “A Thanksgiving Sermon” (sermon, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA, January 1, 1808), http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/absalomjones (accessed February 13, 2012).
6 Milton Sernett, Black Religion and American Evangelism (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. and The American Theological Library Association, 1975), 116-17.
7 Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Publishing, 2010), 220-21.
8 Ibid.
9 “The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas,” St. Thomas Church, http://www.aecst.org/home.htm (accessed February 11, 2012).
10 Absalom Jones, “A Thanksgiving Sermon” (sermon, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA, January 1, 1808), http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/absalomjones (accessed February 13, 2012.