A man, a very tough man who does not complain, does not get discouraged, does not cry, is so distraught that he weeps openly and uncontrollably before me.
A woman’s body shakes with her sobbing as they bury her only son, not even thirty years old.
A person gives their life to something (or sometimes someone) only to come face to face with the fact that despite giving their heart and soul they have only brought disappointment, and that disappointment is with themselves most of all.
These are just a few of the stories that this week have reminded me how deeply we all need to be loved, and of the care we must take with each other’s hearts.
None of us really knows what is going on in another.But I can guarantee you that in all our hearts there are burdens we are carrying.Sometimes even the best of us are not far from going under (and no, I am not talking about myself, at least not at the moment).
We can make it if someone cares—if we bear one another’s burdens in love.But when we don’t…well, the burdens just get that much heavier, and the truth is we don’t really make it all.We loose ground until we slip into depression or despair, and there are many around us who have done just that.
May we not stop caring.May we not stop reaching out.May we not stop taking the time and trouble to notice.May we not stop loving, for there is nothing more important than this.Whatever else we may gain, if our hearts become smaller or harder or more distant, it was not worth price.
Tonight is a funeral for a 29 year old man who died in a car crash.He leaves behind and infant son who will, of course, never know him.
One of the (many) things they never told me in Seminary (priest school, if you will) is that there is a cumulative weight that one carries from all the funerals he or she has done over the years.It is not littleness of faith, but that all the grief and sorrow one is asked to bear begins to add up.
I’m not feeling sorry for myself, or asking you to feel sorry for me.It is part of what I believe I have to offer the world, and though perhaps more difficult than I once would have thought, it remains a great privilege nonetheless.
A young man who has a great vision for making a better future...
From Ted Ferris' sermon preached at an ordination service on May 9, 1971.
Because the church is where it is today—at the cross-roads—the younger he is the better able he will be to lead in into another chapter.People of my age and generation are too emotionally attached to the past to even see, let alone dare to make the changes that will almost inevitably be a necessity of survival.We may like to think that we are broad-minded and flexible, but when we get down to brass tacks, to the sticks and stones of the buildings we love, to the words and phrases of hymns and prayers that we know by heart, to the organizations we’ve given our time and energy to create, to the budgets and cash balances that we are accustomed to—then we know that we’re not quite so fluid as we thought we were.Perhaps we’re not yet frozen, but we’re pretty well fixed...
Whom did our Lord ask to start a new movement of the Spirit at a time when the spiritual temperature of the civilized world was far below normal—a group of elderly men who had been through the gaff, knew all the pitfalls, and could spot the crackpots a mile off?Not at all.None of them was much more than thirty—not even Jesus; or Paul, or Peter, or John.They were young, inexperienced, open to new ideas, sensitive to new visions, willing to try anything, ready to pay any price.
Don’t misunderstand me.I’m not yet ready to turn the whole church over to the teen-agers, or even to those in their twenties.What I am saying is that when it comes to the kind of rebirth which the church now calls for, the lead will come from young men like the one before us now—intelligent, serious, flexible, imaginative, gentle but firm, and fearless; ready to break new ground, not tied body and soul to any particular organization or way of worship; with preferences, obviously, but not prejudices and preconceptions.
All I ask of him is that he go about his work remembering Jesus:he was outspoken, he made no peace with legalism or narrowness of any kind; but he carried no battle-axe, and he made his greatest gains when showed people something they had never seen before—the royalty of service.
One of the great gifts I received over the years was a collection of sermons by Ted Ferris.He was the Rector (Sr. Pastor) of Trinity Church, Boston, some years ago.I also believe he happens to be one of America’s all time great preachers.
Recently I’ve been reading and rereading a sermon preached on May 8, 1971, at the ordination of a new priest.He begins by reflecting on the problems the church was facing back then, which, strangely enough, sound an awful lot like the problems we continue to face today.
He goes on to state his belief that the church must change, as it surely has in the years since then.But he also makes this statement:
It must be made clear, however, that if the Church is the Body of Christ it can’t change so completely that it’s no longer recognizable.If the print of the nails are nowhere to be seen, if the voice of authority is never to be heard, if the world becomes not only the object of its love but also the chief source of its ultimate satisfactions, then, regardless of its rites and ceremonies, its canons and its rubrics, its creeds and the articles of faith—even of its good works—then the church is not only on its way out; it is out, finished.
Those words seem at least as applicable to the Episcopal Church today as they must’ve been to the church back then, with much wisdom for those who care to listen.
I was recently reading Paul Auster’s new novel, Travels in the Scriptorium, when I came across the following quote: “These are treacherous times, and I know how easily perceptions can be twisted by a single word spoken in the wrong ear.Impugn a man’s character, and everything that man does is made to seem underhanded, suspect, and fraught with double motives” (p. 49).
Despite the title, this novel has nothing at all to do with the church.Still, I couldn’t help but be reminded by the quote above of the care we who follow Christ are to take in our relationships with others. 1 Corinthians 13, the beautiful chapter on love, puts it this way.“Love…does not dishonor others...it keeps no record of wrongs…it always trusts.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, TNIV).Another way this has been translated is that Love always believes the best.
That’s a high calling, of course.But that's part of the attraction, isn't it?It calls us up from the muck and the mire to which I, at least, all too naturally gravitate. It shows us a better way.
Yes, The 300 is visually stunning.But it is also very repetitive, violence stacked upon violence, and that's pretty much the movie.
TMNT is also visually stunning—even more so, in fact.I absolutely loved the style.Plus the characters are just a whole lot more fun.Yes, the story is goofy, but so what?How much goofier can you get than a teenage mutant ninja turtle in the first place?I always understood that as part of the attraction.
No, it’s not particularly adult entertainment (that would be The 300).But for those who have always cherished the playfulness of their inner kid, TMNT is the better choice.
I just happened upon what is probably the best article I have ever read analyzing the rise of megachurches, Supersized, Analyzing the Trend Towards Larger Churches by Mark Chavez.It’s long and a bit technical, but if you are interested in these things it is a must read.If you are not, skip this post.
The basic contention is that since overall church attendance in America has not increased, what is happening is that those who do go to church are increasingly choosing to worship in the largest churches. In other words, data driven research shows that megachurches don’t grow so much through reaching people who have never gone to church before, but simply by getting people to switch churches.
It is also interesting to see that the trend behind the trend, the concentration of people in the biggest churches, is not unique to megachurches.Chavez writes, “In every denomination on which we have data, people are becoming increasingly concentrated in the very largest churches, and this is true for small and large denominations, for conservative and liberal denominations, for growing and declining denominations.”
This is all the more interesting when one realizes that in“key ways today’s megachurches are not a new organizational form.Very large churches in the 19th and early 20th centuries exhibited many characteristics typical of today's megachurches—rapid growth under a gifted leader, high-quality preaching and music, multifunction buildings, extravagant theatrical displays, many and varied small groups and activities, and auditorium-style worship spaces with stages instead of pulpits and little or no Christian symbolism. We cannot attribute the post-1970 proliferation of megachurches to the invention of a wholly new organizational form.”Wow.
OK, I never heard of Baumol’s Cost Disease before either.But now that I have, it makes perfect sense: “When cost increases outpace revenue increases, churches cut corners and reduce quality by deferring maintenance, declining to replace youth ministers when they leave, replacing retiring full-time ministers with half-time pastors, and so on. In short, churches find it difficult to maintain the same level of programming and quality they had before. And this will be true even if the church loses no members. If costs rise faster than revenues, a 200-person church will be unable to produce the same level of programming and quality it produced before, even if it remains a 200-person church. Moreover, the minimum size at which a church can be economically viable will increase. The result is that people will be pushed out of smaller churches that no longer meet their minimum standards and into larger churches that still do.
Scholars and journalists who have written about megachurches have focused almost exclusively on the attractions of large churches. The rising-cost explanation calls attention to forces that are pushing people out of smaller churches as well as the factors pulling them into large churches. Since newly large churches are populated mainly with people who previously attended smaller churches, understanding increasing religious concentration means understanding what is behind the flow of people from smaller to larger churches.”
Today was another burial at Arlington National Cemetery.The funeral service itself was done at the Old Post Chapel at Ft. Myer.From there we did a procession to the grave and the burial with Full Military Honors.
The procession came to a halt at the foot of the hill where the grave was located.The stillness of that moment was broken by a B-52 doing a fly by, so low that for a moment it seemed to black out the sky.I found out later it had come from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and that after flying over Arlington it kept flying west until it was home.
During the service, the son gave a moving tribute to his father. As was his father’s wish, he did not mention any of his dad’s considerable accomplishments.Instead, he told three brief stories that simply but beautifully honored his father’s life.Beyond that there were no lengthy orations by Important People trumpeting what a great man this was.The man’s life spoke for itself.
He lived well, served his country well, and loved his wife (of 64 years, and sweetheart for 70!) and family well.His wife and family loved him.Nothing we said or did on this day was going to add or subtract from that, nor did it need to.His memory did not need to be measured in words because it was so clear he was held dear in people’s hearts.