Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Burying Our Heads in Aslan’s Mane

By now you may be overwhelmed by the media coverage, preponderance of talking heads, tweets, twits (?), and a vast realm of deep and even conflicting emotions and thoughts related to the brutal killings in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday.  I hope you will indulge me in a bit of time and a few more words.  I write them in the hope that they may be of use to you in your journey.  Writing them is of use to me in mine.

There is no phrase, no combinations of words, that exists in any language to express our grief, brokenheartedness, anger, shock, disbelief, confusion or desire to do something to make the hurt go away in us, in the families of the victims, in the community.  Scripture anticipates this limitation of words and the need to express ourselves beyond them.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray … that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

There is no way to turn back time, and thereby preempt this event.  Time at the moment can be both an enemy and a friend.  The Psalmist recognized this, I think, in the observation that “weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  It will be a very long night, a very long collection of nights, for very many people, and the emerging light of a new morning’s dawn will come far too slowly.  But, with a profound and sustained outpouring of love in all its forms, good counseling and care, medical attentiveness, and bowls of tears, it can come.  With all the healing power that God can bring to bear, it can come.

The Scriptures of the Christian tradition, including the Scriptures we share with our Hebrew forebearers, are cognizant of such tragedy and grief.  One only has to look as far as Rachel’s inconsolable grief in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah.  Jacob’s heartbreak when he is told that Joseph is dead.  The Scriptures do not pretend this to be heaven, and recognize the anguish that exists in a broken and difficult world.  Whether we want to hear it or not, we are told that in this earthly time life-giving rains fall on both the just and the unjust.  Jesus reflects on the collapse of the tower at Siloam and the righteousness of those who died tragically. 

We do well not to forget that the Holy Writings of Christianity make intimately clear the vulnerability with which God enters into the world.  Even as we prepare for, and celebrate, that Incarnation, we find it juxtaposed with the chilling remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the children, killed on Herod’s order.  Our Heavenly Father, as Jesus knew our Divine Creator, is equally and intimately understanding of the death of an only child to brutal violence.  Perhaps this is what stands behind the words of Paul Claudel when he wrote, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with his presence.”

I am often visual in my prayers, seeing images that I am hard pressed to later describe in words.  A vivid image of this tragedy has been one of Our Lord wrapping himself around each person under attack in Sandy Hook School, each round passing through him first.  In my acceptance of human bodies as finite and transitional vessels of our true being, I recognize that ultimately healing comes not in any earthly fashion, but rather in a place where pain and suffering are no more, neither sighing but life everlasting.  At times that comforts me.  At times I wish to bury my head in Aslan’s mane sobbing in grief and anger, because I am, as are others, still in the darkest hours of the night; it is not yet morning.  (Aslan is a lion and the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.)

Now I must speak of something unfashionable in this conversation: the role of evil.  I am certain that evil is real.  Our tradition of Christianity believes it too.  We renounce cosmic evil, societal evil and individual evil every time we prepare to baptize.  I do believe that evil came to Newtown and Sandy Hook School on December 14th, in fact I am certain of it.  In what form is another question.

There is no doubt in my mind or heart that the Evil One preys on vulnerability.  It never dresses in a red suit with pointy horns and a pointy red tail.  That would be too easy.  Could Evil have convinced a twenty year old, in what may have been an immeasurable amount of mental anguish, that the actions we have seen would stop the pain?  Of course.  Far more pervasive, and I believe greater pervasiveness is a desire of the Evil One, is the possibility that it is Evil that has convinced a society that insufficient attention to mental health care is a cost we can live with.  Put another way, it is Evil that convinces us to close mental health hospitals, marginally fund, if at all,  treatment via health care coverages, claim that there is not enough money to fund group homes where individuals who function at high levels, but with complex problems, can cared for and have their wellbeing monitored.

There is no doubt that Evil causes us to believe that we have some sort of “right” to possess assault rifles and other devices with faster, more immediate, killing power than an RPG (rock propelled grenade).  The crafters of our nation’s Bill of Rights never anticipated such weaponry.  Musket ball (hear single shot) rifles and pistols were the norm.  Rifling was not commonplace until the nineteenth century, Colt’s multi-shot revolver in 1835 and the shotgun in 1850.

I grew up in a household where one of my father’s greatest joys was passing on to me the 22 (short) caliber rifle that his father had given to him.  I could field dress (disassemble, clean and reassemble) a German Luger with my eyes closed at the age of 10.  I have carried a sidearm, the rounds of ammunition in it having been custom loaded by me or my father, when hunting in the Carolina woods and swamps. The snakes there do not have early warning systems.  I am not a “teetotaler” with respect to this issue.  I still enjoy the challenge and skill of an occasional round of shooting skeet.  But there is no deer so fierce as to need to be hunted with an AK-47.  There is no snake that requires a Glock with a forty round magazine.  It is time to put away the automatic and semi-automatic handguns, and all forms of assault rifles and weaponry.  Every state has a well ordered militia. It is called the National Guard.

Christians in the Episcopal tradition vow before God to persevere in resisting evil, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self, and to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  We renew these vows as a part of every service of Holy Baptism.  Does that mean that we sometimes have to put aside self-serving wants masking as pseudo-rights for the benefit of others?  Absolutely!

In the wake of similar tragedies in Dunblane, Scotland (1996) and in Australia (1996), both nations took actions limiting the possession of handguns.  Both of these nations continue a culture where hunting and various shooting sports are integral and accessible.  The evidence of the effectiveness of these actions is remarkable.  Let us also note, however, that, while not “outstanding,” there is in place a concurrent accessible level of mental health care as well.

In the Great Litany (Book of Common Prayer  p. 148ff) we again bury our head in Aslan’s mane and pray, “From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity, Good Lord, deliver us.”  It is time to remove the blinders and confront our hypocrisy.  The Great Litany continues, “From all inordinate and sinful affections; from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us.”  The time is now to put down our inordinate affection, it is time to put down the guns and take up the cross and walk with Aslan. 

We all have an individual and collective responsibility to help heal Newtown, and by the removal of threat and increased commitment to health and wholeness, heal our neighbor and our nation.

God’s peace, shalom and salaam,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

All Can. Some Should. None Must.

Do you go to Confession in the Episcopal Church?  It is a good question and the anwer is “yes.”  Almost every time the Eucharist is celebrated it includes a General Confession followed by the priest or bishop pronouncing God’s absolution.  In the usual order of service this happens just after the Prayers of the People and just before the Exchange of Peace.  When the Penitential Order is used the General Confession and Absolution come at the beginning of the service.

The use of the General Confession is no token nod toward spiritual and personal housekeeping.  It is meant to be fully confessional and is something to be approached with genuine contrition and sincere repentance.  The absolution that follows it is meant to be an equally genuine wiping away of the stain of sin.

To be sure, the General Confession is good spiritual medicine.  But, there are times when it just does not seem to be, shall we say, a prescription dose of the things needed to forgive, repent, reconcile and move forward.

Many do not know it, I am sad to say, but the Episcopal Church also offers what many might consider a more traditional, or more (Roman) Catholic, sacramental rite of “Confession.”  You will find two “rites” on pages 447 and 449 of the Book of Common Prayer.  It is most properly called the Reconciliation of a Penitent.  Some call it Auricular Confession (auricular meaning “spoken into the ear”). 

This form of Reconciliation allows for a prayerful exchange between priest (or bishop) and the person “making their confession.”  The exchange includes a time of speaking one’s sins into the ear of the priest or bishop.  Through the ages this has been found to be a very beneficial path to a more complete coming to terms with one’s actions.  When words are pressed forth from our mouths and fall into another person’s ears and into the ears of the penitent you cannot get them back.  When that happens very often it makes the seriousness of the actions being confessed more real and undeniable.  No more mind games.  No more keeping it all in my head.  It is out there; you cannot get it back.  Denial becomes much harder.

The exchange between penitent and priest also includes a time of spiritual counsel, and may include some form of penance.  Properly, penance is not some form of spiritual busy work.  It is offered with the goal of heightening forgiveness, fostering spiritual healing, and as an exercise to spiritually and practically strengthen the penitent so that the same sins are not so easily repeated.  In the presence of contrition and a desire for amendment of life, God’s absolution is pronounced by the confessor.

“All can. Some should. None must.” This is axiom frequently used to state the Episcopal/Anglican use of the rite of The Reconciliation of a Penitent.  Unlike the Roman Church’s doctrine compelling a weekly Auricular Confession, our understanding is that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available to all.  Further is would be spiritually beneficial and healing to many, and really should be used as a part of healthy Christian spiritual life.  Finally, however, no one must make a Sacramental/Auricular Confession, as the General Confession when properly approached meets the standard for approaching the altar for the Sacrament of Communion is an appropriately cleansed spiritual state.

Lent and Advent are times considered to be especially appropriate for the extra spiritual house cleaning of Reconciliation, as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the great feasts of Easter and Christmas.  While you can, at any time, arrange with a priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we make it even easier during these seasons of the church year by offering times when you may simply come to a chapel in the Cathedral to spend time with priest in this sacrament.

This Advent’s the scheduled time will be Sunday, December 9 from 12:30 to 1:30.  A priest will be in Nativity Chapel at this time (and others are asked to refrain from being in the Cathedral), available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or spiritual counsel.

One final mention: Confessions can be heard anywhere.  It does not have to be in the church, at the altar or in a confessional booth.  If the confessor discerns that there is an absence of sincerity, some form of manipulation or no true repentance, absolution may be withheld.  The seal of the confession is absolute upon the priest.  It applies only to the actual sacramental rite, and not to any other conversation with a member of the clergy.

All can. Some should. None must.

With prayers for a holy Advent,

Friday, November 2, 2012

Being Cathedral

Dear Friends,

My travel this week has taken me around the western then the southern perimeter of superstorm Sandy. While it is nice to tell you that the travel was uneventful and your notes and prayers sustaining, many of our friends and families have had their lives forever changed.

Of our staff alone Kit Ilardi and Fr. Nestrock have immediate family on Staton Island and in other boroughs of New York City, in New York State, in New Jersey, in Delaware, and beyond. There is no way for me to know how many of the extended cathedral family have been impacted ... but given our Lord's teaching about who our neighbors, who our brothers and sisters, are, anyone impacted by this storm is our cathedral family. I am asking you to do three things right now:

First - pray for all impacted by and responding to this storm. Start right now, if you have not already, and pray every day. Be sure to include in your petitions a prayer for those who have no one to pray for them.

Second - give something, nothing is to small, to support financial relief. Right now use the American Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, or give during this Sunday's services marking your gift "Sandy relief". When I return I will work with your Cathedral Leaders to determine some focused efforts to address relief needs.

Third - remain steadfast in your commitment of prayer and support. The efforts to rebuild lives, homes, businesses, and communities is going to take a long time. We will be looking at many ways to help in addition to prayer and financial support. These may include mission/work trips, clothes gatherings and more.

God presents us with an opportunity in this to be what a cathedral is to be - a extension of apostolic presence and witness. I have an abiding calm that we will rise to this with God's great grace.

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer 1979
p. 461

Friday, October 12, 2012

Our Divine Appointment – Stewards All

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!  (Psalm 8:4-10 NRSV)

The rich imagery of Psalm 8, the psalm appointed for this past Sunday, is compelling in so many ways.  Written at a time when people, not some but nearly all, labored sunup to sundown, day in and day out, simply to provide enough sustenance for survival, the writer is reflective.  “When I consider your heavens…. What is man[kind]…?”  The writer is awed by the Divine, but almost equally taken by the role God has assigned to his kind (to us).  We are “but little lower than the angels”, and we have been assigned mastery over the work of God’s own hands.
It is no stretch then to arrive at the realization that we are, by Divine Appointment, stewards of the works of God.  Stewards we are: of all sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, birds of the air, fish of the sea and other creatures of the sea.  Stewards of life: terrestrial, avian, and aquatic.  Seems nothing has been left out.  I wonder, as I reflect on psalmist’s revelation, about how the buffalo of the Great Plains might regard our work.  If asked, what would the great whales and the coral reefs of the oceans, and even our nearby Rouge River say?  How are the great condors of our pacific coast fairing; the tigers of Siberia, the bees and the associated flowers, shrubs, and lands?
If we possess even a grain of honesty, we can rightly conclude that humankind’s stewardship of the Divine’s handiwork is greatly lacking.  Over the ages we have demonstrated a far greater ability to advance own agenda and serve first our own needs without consideration of God’s creation.  Further, I’ll go out on a limb here, I believe at one time or another everyone’s individual stewardship of the things given us has been more focused on self than on being a steward created but little lower than the angels.
The Good News is God has not taken the job away from us.  We have a chance to change – if we are doing a good job, we can do better.  If we have not given this much thought, or dismissed it when it has entered into our moments of reflection, we can return our attention to it, and start to advance from where we are.

This is typically (financial) stewardship season in the life of many congregations.  Those resources are no less a part of what God has entrusted to us than the beasts and birds, the aquifers and acres.  So too then, the Good News applies to these things as well.  Like the psalmist we can reflect.  Because of God’s continued assignment to us of the role of masters (of the craft) of being stewards, we can change.  We can grow in understanding, faithfulness, action and generosity. 

As with all who have been given charge over things that matter our day of accountability will come.  As I contemplate that day, I am reminded that to whom much is given, from them much will be expected.  Not because God is overbearing, but because God knows our capacity.
May God continue to bless us as we strive to fulfill the Divine trust in our capacity as stewards.

Your brother in Christ,

PS  Don’t forget, Pledge In-Gathering Sunday is October 28.  Plan to join us to place your pledge card on the altar.  If you cannot be with us, send it on to us before the 28th and we will be sure to place it there for you.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fall-ing Into a Rhythm

I cannot remember a September when the temperature and the other signals of nature seemed to so clearly signal the arrival of Fall as has happened over the days of September 21 and 22 of this year. It is as if a switch has been thrown clicking on crisper evenings, the deepening blue of the autumn sky, squirrels clamoring for acorns, and the first vestiges of leafy color.

Now, I will come clean by telling you that I have always been a person moved by the onset of Spring. Where I grew up Fall was the signal of a coming winter that was, by and large, grey and rainy with the temperature generally hovering around 34 degrees.  The damp cut you like a knife.  When I moved to the Chicago area for seminary there came an annual autumn trip to our rival seminary in the Wisconsin woods for a football game.  Now, I grew up with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in full Fall foliage, but never before these games had I walked knee-deep in brilliant yellow leaves the size of Frisbees.  Plus, it got dark so much earlier in these more northern latitudes. It was a siren’s song, of course, because it meant that the dark grey of winter would onset in early November and it would not relent to a warming sun and clearing sky until late April or early May.  I would be deprived of blue sky and green grass until long after the calendar and the planets proclaimed it Spring.  Ah, it was, for me, one more lesson of “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Despite these things, I was, and admit that I still am, charmed by that crispness and the earlier arrival each day of the vesper light (no thanks to daylight savings time).  There is a sense of boundaries, not hard and harsh but persistent while being gentle.  Schools return to session and that means to me there is a renewal of learning.  Choirs return and that means there is a renewal of singing.  People return and that harkens a renewal of community.

The late strains of Fall will bring the candle-glow of Advent.  Winter gifts us with the Incarnation and the Epiphany and, despite its name ushers us the challenges of Lent.  Easter breaks forth in all ways of the Resurrection and floods us with new life.  Those tender pale greens and running waters of Spring deepen into the full bloom and expansive daylight of summers.

God tells time by the movement of planets and the ebb and flow of tides.  Never is there the need for a “leap” to correct or insert, and you never have to roll the date on your wristwatch to because of a twenty-eight or thirty day month.  I love this rhythm.  It is natural.  It is liturgical.  It is God’s time. 
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, *
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.  Psalm 145:16-18

May you find God’s rhythm in your days, in your seasons, in your prayers, in your breath and in your life.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Just Because We Can … Doesn’t Mean We Should

Unauthorized pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, a movie trailer (and I can only presume the whole movie), a French newspaper’s cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammad, some years ago a Danish publication doing the same thing.  Qur’an burnings.  Burning Bibles and other destruction or defilement of any sacred text or structure.  They are all wrong.  I did not say that they were illegal, although some of the above cited events may have been.  But just because some law was not broken does not mean that the action taken is in any measure appropriate.

I write this reflection under the very First Amendment banner that in our country allows vitriolic films and satirical political cartoons to be produced and shown, written and published, because it provides for both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  I know of no great world religion that does not instruct, in exact words or words so clearly close as to be synonymous, “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7:12, Luke 6:31).  And, yes, the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an go there as well.  If fact, the older King James translation of the Bible gives us the saying in a more pointed fashion: “as ye would that [people] would do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” But in things both little and large it seems we increasingly embrace judgment and behavior that dismisses this teaching.

I had the honor and opportunity of spending an evening last week, along with others representing the Cathedral community and the Diocese of Michigan, at the 10th Anniversary Gala for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU.org).  It was a beautiful night spent in the extraordinary hospitality of my brothers and sisters of the Muslim community.  There was humor and humility, appreciation and poignancy, and candor and challenge.

The written words of the U.S. Constitution affords them the right to their religious practice, as it affords me mine.  Yet, they live in “the land of the free and home of the brave” with a burden of suspicion and discrimination that is born out of others’ fear and ignorance.  The Episcopal/Anglican tradition of Christianity holds at the heart of our baptismal understanding being in relationship with God and with people, who are created in the image and likeness of God.  “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons loving your neighbor as yourself? ... Will you strive of justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”

The printed words are not enough.  Spoken words are not enough, but are sometimes a start.  As I have said many times, the sermon of our actions preaches longer and louder than those of our mouths.  Just as faith without works is dead, a loving heart without loving actions is an illusion.  And all people are to know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  This we can do and this we should do.

Salaam, shalom, peace,


[ISPU is a scholarly think tank born out of the terrible events of September 11, 2001 to help educate and inform all parties with an interest about Islam and Muslim life in the United States, in  well-researched, scholarly and relevant ways. There work highly credible and in my opinion simply outstanding.]

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thanks for the Memories!

Okay, I admit it, I am old enough to remember Bob Hope singing this song to close any number of television specials. It still touches the Normal Rockwell/Currier & Ives place in my heart.  (If you don’t know who Rockwell or Currier & Ives are, Google them, and, while you are at it, look up the Saturday Evening Post as well.  If you don’t know what Google-ing is, then you likely know about Rockwell, etc. already.)

This weekend we celebrate over six decades of mission and ministry – love and prayers, really – as we show our love to the Rev’d Canon Bill and Dr. Mary Logan.  There are not enough words in the dictionary, no matter how oft repeated, to convey the myriad of thoughts, moments of love, and deep affection we have for them.  Nor is it possible, in the same way, to describe the love and care they have given to us.

What follows, we hope, will remind you of some of the touchstones of the Logans’ journey with us.  Maybe it will tickle a recollection, or trigger a fond or tender moment.  Most of all, we hope it will heighten your desire to join in a Chorus of the Saints singing from the depths of our hearts, “Thanks for the memories.”



Born at Harper Hospital in 1920, the Reverend Canon William S. Logan never roamed far from his Detroit roots save a few years in Philadelphia and a degree in Chemical Engineering (cum laude)from the University of Pennsylvania.  Ordained (and married) in 1951, he is currently the senior active priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.  The holder of three masters degrees (Engineering, Divinity, and Counseling), his ministry has spanned seven decades, including service as a Curate at Christ Church, Detroit, Rector of St. Martin’s, Detroit, Executive Director of Program for the Diocese of Michigan, sometime editor of “The Record” (a monthly newspaper for the diocese) and Archdeacon of the Diocese including serving as District Head of the Central District before he retired in 1985.

Canon Logan served on the Executive Council of the Diocese, the Board of the Wayne State University Episcopal Student Association, as a trustee of the Bishop Page Foundation, Chair of the Department of Christian Social Relations, and as a member of the Youth Division of the Department of Christian Education.  His wider community ministry included being an officer of the Michigan Council of Churches; and serving on the Michigan Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education, the Interfaith Emergency Council, and the Interfaith Action Council.  He also served on the Ministerial Committee of Planned Parenthood, and is a Charter Member of the Miller District Advisory Council.  He was honored by the City of Detroit for his service as a member of the Policy Advisory Committee of the Mayor’s Committee on Human Resources Development.

In 1967 at the start of great unrest in Detroit, he organized and coordinated the Inter-Faith Emergency Action Center.  He transformed the Diocesan Cathedral Center into a center for communication for all kinds of agencies and governmental response teams to help negotiate and restore calm in the midst of chaos.  Additionally, some 40,000 tons of food, water and clothing were distributed from this site as a result of his work.  He rode buses to march in Alabama for civil rights; organizations such as Bagley Housing (now part of Southwest Solutions). He was active in the Wranglers, and the Prismatic Club of Detroit bears his considerable imprint.  In 1968 his was made an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.

Bill’s idea of retirement was to walk about 100 feet to a new “Cathedral office” in the Diocesan Cathedral Center to oversee the building of a fourteen story 150 unit apartment building for economically challenged seniors for the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.  From that beginning and for twenty-eight years he was at the Cathedral three days a week and most every Sunday being “retired,” and along the way he served as Canon-In-Charge between the eighth and ninth deans.

That which will bring the quickest and broadest smile to Bill’s face is mention of Mary, followed closely by any mention of their three children, Molly, Maggie and Will, and the accompanying grand- and great grandchildren.  Dr. Logan’s considerable accomplishments include degrees from Goucher College, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and decades of service as a member of the Department of Pediatrics of Henry Ford Hospital.  She was one of the driving forces in the founding of the CHASS (Community Health and Social Services) Center, the mission of which is to develop, promote, and provide comprehensive, accessible and affordable quality primary health care and support services to all residents of the community, with emphasis on the underserved African American and Latino populations in Detroit.  Dr. Logan retired at least three times herself, and because of her dedication and commitment, along with others, CHASS is celebrating forty-two years of mission.

Please join us to celebrate the Sabbath and give thanks to God for Bill and Mary at the 10:30 Eucharist on Sunday, September 9th.  A gala reception follows the service in Barth Hall.

In celebration of the Logans’ mission and ministry, the loose offering (and any checks or envelopes so designated) from this service will go to the CHASS Center in their honor.