Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finding Magnolias

When I was a young teenager in the early 1960s my mother took my brothers and me on a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles, where she had grown up. We went into an old-fashioned candy store and browsed. Her eyes lit up when she saw a type of candy she loved but hadn’t seen for many years.

We bought a few boxes of them. I remembered that they were small sugar balls with flavored liquid inside, and I also recalled their strange name: magnolias. As years and then decades passed, I occasionally searched for them and asked about them in various candy stores. In every case, no one who sold candy had ever even heard of them. Eventually I stopped asking.

Early in 2008, I thought about searching for them on the internet and discovered an article about them! Someone had found magnolias, had bought a crateful, and then raved about them online. Fortunately she also provided contact information. I immediately called Startup Candy Company in Provo, Utah and spoke to Jon Startup, the fifth generation owner of the company. (Yep, Startup is really the family surname.)

“Yes,” he said—not only did he sell magnolias but the founder of their company had invented the candy in 1876. Startup Candy Company was and always had been the only source of magnolias. He claimed also that his great-great-grandfather had invented the candy bar in the middle nineteenth century, and that at one time Startup Candy was the largest candy manufacturer in the nation. The Great Depression had nearly caused them to go out of business, but the firm had managed barely to survive. Jon now runs the company—a fairly small, family operation since the 1930s; Jon answers the phone himself. He did say that every now and then someone calls up, as I did, with a story that he or she had been looking for magnolias for thirty or forty years. “Oh, so you’re one of those!” he said when I explained the background to my search. I ordered a box and after it arrived, I enjoyed it so much that I immediately decided to put a post about magnolias up on my blog. It’s taken several months, but here it is!

The little can is a facsimile of those sold across the nation in huge quantities a century ago. The one ounce can is pictured, but magnolias can be purchased in a ten ounce box too. Startup’s website says that magnolias were also known as Perfume Candies. Magnolias were the forerunner of breath mints. They come in assorted floral flavors and have a liquid center. White - Carnation, Pink - Rose, Orange - Jasmine, Yellow - Cachou, Green - Pear Blossom, Blue & Purple - Violet. The artwork on the 1 ounce tin is a reproduction of a package from the early 1900s.

Maybe some of the readers of this blog will order some magnolias; whether or not you actually like this candy, it is a rare and historic confection! Here’s their website.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Evidence That God Loves Me

Back about 1964 and 1965 the Mattel toy company put out some guns called “shootin shells”. You can find some photographs here . The guns came with “bullets” that looked real (check the photo about halfway down the page on the link above). The “lead” was a gray plastic gismo that you could push into the shell until it clicked and stuck. The shell had a spring inside it affixed to the end. You could load these bullets into the attractive revolver. Pull the trigger and the hammer would smack the end of the shell. The spring inside would fling the gray plastic bullet head a few feet.

Mattel also sold sheets of “stickem” caps to put on the end of the bullets to make a rather wimpy little “bang”. A stickem cap was a circle of green paper about a quarter of an inch in diameter with a little mound of gunpowder in the middle. A good concussion would make it “pop”.

A friend of mine named Glen and I took these Mattel “shootin’ shell” guns and turned them into apparatus that would be the envy of most teenage boys of the time. We discarded the contemptible gray plastic bullet heads, and with needlenose pliers yanked out the springs from the inside of the brass cartridges. Then we drilled a small hole in the back of the resultant empty casing and put a stickem cap on its smooth and inviting flat end with the mound of gunpowder placed carefully over the hole we’d drilled. Then we poured a suitable amount of gunpowder into the shell (acquired by patiently opening up fifty or so caps and depositing the few grains of gunpowder each provided into a growing pile), and then pushed a small wad of paper into the casing and rammed it tight with a construction nail that had a proper-sized flat head.

Put them headless bullets into your Mattel “shootin’ shell” gun and you just ached for some smart aleck to provide you with the leanest excuse for pulling out your iron and sending some flaming paper flying his way with a boom that could set dogs barking for several streets around. Lacking some unsuspecting kid toodling about the neighborhood waiting for us to shoot him, we staged gunfights while we stood on opposite sides of the road as cars approached. Once we got chased by some busybody driver who had an overdeveloped sense of community service or something.

We also took some gunpowder, painstakingly acquired by the method described above, and grew a pile on a piece of wax paper about three or four inches square, put a bolt or a marble over the pile, and then twisted the wax paper into a teardrop shape. These made highly satisfactory bombs for throwing. The intensity of the explosion was, of course, directly proportional to the amount of gunpowder used and the weight of the bolt or size of the marble employed.

I remember when Glen and I were out somewhere and saw a girl we both knew. Peacefully, casually, almost aimlessly, she was riding her bike. Our eyes bulged at the providential opportunity that had been afforded us. We hastily dug into our pockets as we both yelled her name: “Hey, Cindy!” Forty feet away, she stopped her bike and turned toward us, an innocent and unsuspecting smile spread across her countenance, as we hurled two or three bombs apiece. One or two seconds passed—that sweetly delicious but all-too-brief span of time in which you know that an unforgettable, thrilling moment is about to precipitate, while your oblivious and naïve victim hangs suspended in time, puzzling just what it is that she has done to earn the wide but somewhat lopsided grins on your faces—and then small clouds of gray smoke erupted from the ground on all sides of the girl, micro-seconds apart, accompanied by dearly satisfying eardrum-shattering detonations. Cindy’s eyes opened wide and popped out like hard-boiled eggs as if she’d been hit hard in the back. Panic-stricken, the unfortunate lass dropped her bike and fled.

It is a miracle that neither we nor our victims were crippled, defingered, disfigured, or blinded, or that none of us now has wattled epidermis, the lasting result of hundreds of inextricable microscopic shards of marble glass that had sprayed into our adolescent bodies. Considering the idiotic chances we took with these homemade explosives, I now consider my good health and complete anatomy as strong evidence that God loves me.

Once, however, as I was cramming a wad of paper into a “shootin’ shell” with a large nail, the explosive detonated. Glen and I, sitting at his dining room table, looked around for the nail until I found it firmly driven about half an inch into the end of my left index finger. Just as we saw it and started laughing, his mother’s voice wafted from the back of the house: “You boys be careful out there!”

“We will,” responded Glen with a smirk.

NOTE: The author of this blog disavows any responsibility if some idiot reads this material and then tries to duplicate or excel the lunacy herein described. Don’t try this at home or anywhere else. It’s stupid. I used to be crazy and foolhardy, but I’m smart now and usually know better. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16, quoted by Jesus himself in Matthew 4:7).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The "Mountaintop Experience"

A day or two ago my son climbed to the top of Island Peak in Nepal. Its summit is at 20,300 feet. The mountain is only two or three peaks away from Mount Everest. In the past few years my son has also climbed to the summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Aconcagua in Argentina, Elbrus in Russia, peaks in Ecuador, and throughout the sierras from Washington State to California.

This photo shows him a few feet from the summit of Island Peak.

How often in my teen years a good friend and I set out to explore the mountains to the north of us. The youthful desire to discover, find adventure, break away from adult constrictions, and stake a claim on independence pressed us to go beyond the asphalt streets and manicured lawns into wild territory. “Wild” territory was just following a stream that somehow managed to survive the shackles of neighborhoods and shopping centers.

I noticed one day about 1964 that this stream flowed along its gentle course adjacent to my high school, that it came from the north, and that to the north was a ridge of mountains. I reasoned that the stream must have a source somewhere within a few miles of us, and I suggested to my friend that he and I follow the stream until we found the spring that brought its waters to the surface.

For a number of Saturdays we hiked alongside that stream, passing through neighborhoods we’d never otherwise have known, cutting through fields, passing underneath rows of eucalyptus, and eventually coming into the foothills. When we got far enough away, we had to depend on our mothers to drive us to the place where we’d left off the previous Saturday afternoon, and pick us up eight hours later.

As we had feared that we might, once we entered the mountains we came to places we couldn’t get through on foot—steep slopes with Gordian tangles of briars and the like. We had to go around and then guess where the stream, ever narrowing, picked up. I’m pretty sure we did find its source—somewhere on a slope. The stream burbled down the incline into a narrow dell, turned to follow the decline, and went off to the points south where we’d come from. And it was obvious that the water had to emerge from the mountain at some place veiled in the briars. We considered our quest achieved.

By that time, though, finding the spring was only one reason we were hiking; we’d found so many hidden, rural places that our pleasure was not limited to completing our goal. We pressed on until we came to the peak of the mountain. There were four old pepper trees near the summit. Under their shade we ate our sack lunch and looked out over the valley in which dozens of incorporated little cities lay and a million people had their homes—including us. We returned to that small grove near a mountaintop several times over our teen years.

There is a theological reason why Moses met God on a mountaintop, why Jesus was transfigured on a mountain. Even the crucifixion took place on “Mount Calvary”. The term “mountaintop experience” refers to some sort of revelatory experience with God. Many people need at some time in their lives to be at the top of a mountain, whether it is low or lofty. The vision they are afforded must be literal as well as internal. Sometimes people need to see for miles and miles in all directions. Human minds and souls need remote horizons, not compaction.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


As I write, the Yorba Linda-Corona fire is burning a few miles to the east of me and the Brea fire is about three miles to the north. I didn’t see the signs of fire until about midday, when I noted a great brown and orange cloud to the east. I wondered how far away the fire was. It was obviously the kind of cloud that only a massive wildfire can produce. I’ve seen more than one of them in the years I have lived in Placentia.

At this time of year there are warm, dry winds that blow from the east, and much of the land is hard-packed and dry. What growth covers the hills is dry as well after a hot summer and before the rainy season begins. This part of California sees fires often in late autumn. Sometimes they are set, but a chance spark can also ignite them. I think this is the third season of firestorms in five years, but never have they been so close to me. It is the first time I have felt personally anxious about such a fire.

Within two hours of the time I first noted the cloud to the east, the entire sky was dark as dusk. Smoke filled the air and the only place I could see sky was far toward the western horizon. The sun was dull and surrounded by a red halo. Ash drifted downward like a light gray snowfall, and the smell of massive burning was overpowering. By late afternoon the wind died down and much of the smoke had dissipated, but now it is rising again. The winds are not expected to blow out until late tomorrow afternoon. A lot can happen in that time but most likely the church will be safe. Thousands of homes will have to burn before the church goes up, and that’s not likely to happen.

By early evening I had identified and called every member of the parish I could think of whose home might be in danger—about twenty families. I probably overlooked some since I’m not sure where their address is located. Fortunately nearly half of those I called reported that they were safe and not likely to be threatened. Four others were safe for the moment but one or other of the fires was near. There were eight who were either preparing to evacuate or whom I couldn’t reach. In two or three cases a recording picked up that said that “technical difficulties” prevented my call from going through. I suspect that some of those whose phones did not pick up had already left their homes, and it is probable that some will lose their homes to the wildfires. In fires like these, the heat is so intense that metal street signs melt.

Probably one or two families will be sleeping at the church tonight. There are other places they could go but they prefer the church. After I post this item I’ll go over to the church and see who’s there and if anyone needs anything. Tomorrow’s Masses are bound to be out of the ordinary. However, as always, I expect that Blessed Sacrament will be filled with loving people. Gotta go now.

Update, 2:00 p.m. on Monday, two days later:
I am astounded and grateful that of nearly two dozen families in the parish who were very close to the fire, many of whom had to evacuate, NOT ONE lost a home even though one home was right on the edge of the fire and another family's home was well within the red zone. The fire whipped through a canyon near their home but left it standing. They are already back in residence.

The Yorba Linda-Corona fire and the Brea fire did eventually meet to create one large swath of burning. A map of the fire's devastation as of midday Monday, November 17, can be found here. My home and the church are located a little bit above the "n" in Placentia.

Right now the skies are clear and blue, a light breeze is blowing, and it is pleasantly warm outside. It's a beautiful fall day in southern California. Though a couple of hundred homes, some schools and businesses have been lost, most of our community has been spared.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Faithful in Babylon

In the age after David and Solomon, the kingdom divided. Israel lay to the north, and Judah was in the south with Jerusalem as its capital. Both kingdoms progressively apostatized. Injustice grew until it became commonplace and accepted. The Law was little observed or taught, and therefore eventually was forgotten. Exploitation of widows and orphans by the rich and powerful was widespread. As godly morality declined into depravity, and fidelity to God was cast aside for syncretism and eventual idolatrous abomination, the ministry of the great prophets arose to call the people to repentance.

Israel refused the call and was eventually wiped out. Judah likewise rejected the call and, seven centuries before the birth of the Messiah, was conquered by the armies of Babylon. The rightful king, 18-year-old Jehoiachin, was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, deported, and held in captivity in a foreign land. Not long after, Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple looted and burned, the nobility and well-educated taken to Babylon in chains, and the poor of the land left to fend for themselves. They suffered and died from hunger and disease. The prophets had threatened this fate to the nation that refused to heed the word of the LORD, and that word was fulfilled.

Question: in spite of the rampant disobedience to God for several generations before the disaster, were there not people in Judah who were faithful? Of course there were. There are many indications in the annals of the books of Kings that there were many faithful, though few were prominent. God himself told Elijah that there were “seven thousand” who had not worshiped Baal—7,000 is the symbolic number “seven” (which means a full, round, plentiful amount) multiplied by “a thousand” (which adds great emphasis to the number). Even in the days of worst apostasy, there remained uncounted faithful in Judah. Most were apparently neither influential nor in positions of prominence—but they were faithful. The apostasies and corruptions surrounded them but they resisted.

Second question: in the conquering of Judah, then, and the subsequent deportations to Babylon, was it not likely that there were many faithful among the exiles—people who did not deserve and had not earned the punishment enacted against the nation? Of course there were.

Is God unfair then, to punish the innocent along with the guilty? Of course not. What then is going on? The destruction and deportations are disaster to the guilty, for they lose everything they had clutched to themselves as of most value. To the innocent, it is a time of suffering, to be sure, but also a time of challenge, refinement, and even renewed vision. They, who had never put their hope in fame, wealth, influence, or intrigue had little to lose, then, when these things were swept away. They, who had preserved their hope in God, in exile found that hope deepened and even made more pointed.

In short, they who could not possibly have “won” the day in a land where all was corrupt and in which they were without influence or power, found themselves in a position where, of all their people, they alone knew hope and knew what hope meant, and therefore lived in hope. And to the exiles who were dragged from what they craved into foreign captivity, it was only to the faithful who retained hope that they could go in any repentance and renewal. It was only the faithful who had hope to show and to give to those who could finally want it! Eventually, at the age of 55, Jehoiachin was released from prison and through him the descendants of David continued in unbroken line to Joseph, husband of Mary.

For fifteen years or more, it has seemed likely to me that the current time of apostasy and all the ills of the misguided Episcopal Church provides an opportunity for the faithful to dig in, strive for continuing fidelity, and hold onto the seeds for the time when the soil shall be ready to receive them and produce a rich harvest. Only God satisfies. Nothing else can. Any genuine hunger for God will lead the searcher to him. People can only live on spiritual snow cones and M&Ms for so long. The real food is always waiting and offered. As the most recent statistics on the Episcopal Church show, membership continues to decline and the money continues to increase—a recipe for spiritual catastrophe.

In the first millennium before Christ the age of rampant disobedience and graspingness was also the age of the prophets. They went together. And the age of the exile was the age of rebuilding the faith on firm foundations. This is the theme of the Book of Daniel, unique in the Old Testament. It is this book that features the famed “handwriting on the wall”.

There are a number of ways today that the faithful of the Episcopal Church can fulfill their calling, and are doing so. Let us not stumble, nor grow tired, nor become discouraged. The handwriting is on the wall.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


When I first took the Myers-Briggs Inventory, I was categorized as an INFJ. As years have passed, I have taken it a few times more and seen a shift. Now the “I” is creeping toward the middle, and the “N” and “F” have been at or very near the middle for a decade or so; however, the “J” is still strong. One person told me recently that the “J” means that I need closure whenever situations or relationships terminate.

This is true. I am uncomfortable when something in my life comes to an end but there is no resolution. As I look at what this might mean in my Christian formation, this verse comes to mind: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:80).

This verse recognizes that love is a “continuing debt”. Loving someone means making an obligation to them, at the very least. Committing oneself to another. Making and keeping promises even when it’s hard to do so. And since genuine love can never be “paid for”, there can never really be comfortable closure. Or so it seems to me.

When I was in the first grade, I became friends with two girls who were themselves nearly inseparable: Vicky Brown and Melissa Fisher. We did a lot together in school and even visited in each other’s houses. When a new elementary school was built near my home, I was transferred there. Vicky and Melissa stayed at the old school and I lost contact with them. When I started junior high two years later, two girls came up to me while I was talking to someone else, and asked, “Are you David Baumann?” I turned to them and with sudden joy and amazement I recognized Vicky and Melissa. “Yes!” I said, and turned back to the person I had been talking to so that I could quickly close that conversation and then give my full attention to my two friends. But when I turned back to them, they were gone. Clearly they must have concluded that I was extremely rude and walked away. I never saw them again. It was my first major experience with “lack of closure” that I could do nothing about. I’ve never forgotten the incident and still wonder where Vicky and Melissa are now.

In that same new elementary school there was Mr. Elliot. Fortunately I never had him as a teacher, as he was a controlling, strict, humorless man. A friend of mine and I made a game out of our dislike of him. We drew “Elliot Wreckers”—massive machines like street cleaners that would inhale our foe and do him measureless bodily harm inside and then spit out the luckless and ghastly remains. Maybe that was the best protest that eleven-year-olds could do to rebel against capricious adult authority. I realize now that I was doing Mr. Elliot an injustice. It would be nice if I could see him again and treat him with respect. I can confess to God, but with Mr. Elliot I will not have closure.

When I was in the third grade, back at my original elementary school, we had a substitute teacher one day who acted like a dictator. Even then I realized that he was severely deficient in self-respect and self-confidence, and needed to shout orders and try to impress nine-year-olds with his knowledge to feel better about himself—a method doomed to failure. I wish I had known then how to minister to him, but there was nothing I could have done. I still empathize with his inner vacuity and wonder what happened to him.

There are also people I would like to thank, and never did. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Sawyer. She was magnificent! I don’t remember details now of her teaching, but I still can picture her face, kindly and caring and encouraging. I probably thanked her when I said good-bye and moved on to third grade, and maybe that was enough for her. The affections of a second grader do have value. But I was very pleased when I wrote a letter to my son’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Carter. In it, I told her what a fine teacher she was and what a difference she had made in my son’s life; and I added that it was, in some ways, the letter I wish I could have written to Mrs. Sawyer.

In probably nearly every relationship there is unfinished business: things left unsaid that ought to have been shared; things said that can’t be unsaid but which need to be forgiven.

Those who are “Ps” in the Myers-Briggs are comfortable with open-endedness. There certainly is value in that, but it can also mean leaving important work undone. The danger for us Js is wanting to control people and their reactions too much so that we force some sort of resolution when it is impossible to do so, or is at least untimely.

Which brings us back to “the continuing debt to love one another.” In genuine love there is the true freedom that is experienced both as “open-endedness” and the satisfaction that there is no unfinished business. Maybe someday my “J” will move more toward the center the way my other letters have done. I won’t look for it anytime soon, though.

But what should I do about the German soldier(s) who gassed my grandfather in the Great War so that he was often sick and then died at the age of 40, leaving my father fatherless at age ten, who did not know how to handle grief when he was a child nor had a model for raising sons past the age of ten, which in part contributed to my current awkwardness in relationships? The gassing happened more than ninety years ago. When I consider that event and how it affected me, so that my clumsiness with people makes them and me discomfited sometimes, I am daunted at the complexity of relationships across time, through generations, beyond the shores of distant oceans, spanning different languages and cultures. Can I draw a line through time and space from that German soldier to my loss of relationship with Pam and Vicky, because I didn’t know how to converse very well? Who knows? —but maybe so. I can only throw up my hands. Maybe I should just feel satisfied when I can trace only a few of the threads out of the thousands that make up the tapestry of life.

The fulfillment, the answer, is where all things are fulfilled and answered: in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all—all time, all space, all love, all mercy, all laughter, all peace, whose Father is the One “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” In him, and in him alone, will I ever find and truly love Melissa Fisher, Vicky Brown, Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Sawyer, … and perhaps even a German soldier.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Political Naiveté

Very rarely do I make public my thoughts and convictions about politics, but I’ll make an exception here because there are Christian principles behind my position. Admittedly I don’t know very much about politics. I understand politics to be the way people work with one another as they devise a system for governing a body of people, or when they put that system to use. Because people are sinners, any political system will be flawed. To me it is clear that the American political process is affected, and often driven, by favoritism, shortsightedness, rigidity, hypocrisy, and all the other sins common to humanity. But in a fallen world there may be no better way to govern our nation, so the political process needs constant correction and rebalancing. Sometimes, on occasion, it works well. Or appears to. As I say, I don’t know much about it.

Political parties are generally made up of people of more or less like-mindedness on whatever issues are before the nation. Like groups or parties within the Church, no one party has a corner on the complete truth. For truth to prevail, then, parties must work together, i.e. people of different convictions must listen to one another and learn to work together—without denying their convictions but also with a willingness to hear what someone else has to say so that all may benefit. That is, one must hold fast to one’s own convictions while working also for the good of all.

The prophets of the Old Testament often supported the king, but whenever necessary—which was frequently—called the king and people to repentance. The prophets’ commitment was to the Word of the Lord above all, and not unconditionally to a particular political person or position. The Christian Church, and individual Christians as they have opportunity, must do the same. The Church must support Democrats when that party wants to assist the poor; it must support Republicans when that party opposes abortion. The Church, in short, must preach the Gospel to all the political parties. The parties, all of them, sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong.

Commitment to truth, for me, is a top priority in the political system. I learned recently (haven’t verified it) that in the ancient Greek culture (which loved philosophy and debate), whenever two people were going to debate their philosophy, before the debate could begin each person had to give a summary of what his opponent believed and get that person’s agreement that his position had been stated accurately. Only after that had happened, could the debate begin. Without beginning in that fashion, the debate could have no value for the arguments offered could have no foundation. That practice seems to me to be quite sound. Bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, mudslinging, trying to get ahead by denouncing your opponent, twisting facts, attacking others anonymously, hitting below the belt, etc. are all contrary to truth or virtue or both, no matter which party or individual does these things. No one can get to the truth by lying about his opponent.

Because of my convictions, when our parish’s Discernment Committee was working to come to a consensus about what to do in the current Episcopal controversy, at the very first meeting I gave the members axioms from which they were not to deviate as they did their work. These axioms included: no name calling, no crediting any rumors or other unsubstantiated material (i.e. use only first-hand material in its proper context), no violation of Scripture (e.g. admission of lawsuits), listen to those who disagree with you and make sure you understand what they believe before reacting to it, act always in full charity. The Committee followed these principles and did a marvelous job.

I believe that those in the political process must do the same. Of course, I know that they won’t—or won’t very often. But still, any party or individual acting for a party that violates these same principles will have no credibility for me. I believe that any political assertion must honor every individual by telling the truth and allowing each person to speak for himself. Only in such a circumstance will I have the best chance to learn what someone really stands for. Truth, honor, love, virtue, etc. are principles that must guide our contacts with other people at all times, including in the political process. I fault nearly every political party and process for failing to uphold these principles consistently.

I admire Barack Obama because he seems to be enacting the American dream (and therefore is a testimony to the greatness of many American strengths), and for some of his convictions. I admire John McCain for his perseverance and some of his convictions. Both men have greatness in them, both are patriots, and both have failings.

Frankly, I usually tend to vote as a one-issue person: where a candidate stands on abortion tells me a great deal about his understanding of life’s central issues. I know that the realities of the world and what faces the nation are much more complex than any single issue, but that one issue of abortion is the most important for me because in it millions of lives are at stake. Related to it are issues of tobacco, the death penalty, and gun control. No one candidate I know of, or party, has a clean or consistent position on these issues, which are all about the value of life.

I know I am idealistic in these convictions; maybe more than a few would say I am naïve. I am willing to be educated but I won’t compromise my ideals no matter how few people might agree with them, how many people believe them to be unrealistic, or consider me to be naïve because of them. I believe that holding these convictions and applying them is part of living and proclaiming the Gospel, and the Gospel is the only solid and reliable foundation for truth, love, life, and action. Without such a foundation, one is left completely at the whim of fads, fancies, fallacies, opportunism, money-motivated goals, and the like.

Consider, for example, Jacob Weisberg’s column “The Big Idea” in the September 15, 2008 issue of Newsweek (page 41). The title of his column is, “What Happened to Family Values?” In that column the author attacks Sarah Palin’s pro-life position, which he describes as “extreme”. He states, “The availability of legal abortion actually supports the kind of family structure that conservatives once felt so strongly about: two parents raising children in a stable relationship, without government assistance.” This shocking absurdity is the central message of his column. That message, as I read it, is: Give people the right to terminate the lives of the unborn they don’t want, and what will be left are lives that are wanted, and wanted lives make for happy, committed parents. (It didn’t pass me by that he used the term “stable relationship” rather than “marriage”.) This assertion is utterly devoid of any values or standards other than convenience or preference. I haven’t heard or read such a dispassionate proposal of appalling and brutal utilitarian eugenics seriously put forward since the Nazi philosophy sought, by mass murder and genocide of undesirables, to create the Aryan society of the blond and blue-eyed. Work is freedom. Abortion is a family value. Death is life. Black is white. Hell.

What is always at stake in every human encounter, small or large, including the political system, are Gospel truth and love. I choose these without compromise.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Beyond the Circles of the World

“We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.” These are the last words of Aragorn, spoken to his wife Arwen. (From The Lord of the Rings, appendix A, a part of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen, by J. R. R. Tolkien)

J. R. R. Tolkien died just a little more than 35 years ago. I remember reading a brief obituary at the time in a national magazine whose title I have forgotten. A short time after that I received a note from a friend that closed, “P.S. Sorry about Tolkien.”

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when the latter was in its second wave of popularity—the mid-1960s. As C. S. Lewis’ imagination had been “baptized” when in 1915 he first read Phantastes by George MacDonald, these works of Tolkien transfigured my imagination and more. I still recall purchasing The Silmarillion when it was first published, and opening the cover over lunch at a restaurant near the church where I was working at the time. I smiled grandly, though I was alone, as I began to read.

A few years ago, taking advantage of the Prayer Book’s permission to add commemorations to the calendar, I placed Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams into our cycle of annual observations. (Subsequently, Lewis was officially added to the Episcopal calendar.) I had to come up with psalms, other readings, and a collect (suitable prayer) for each entry. I recall that the selections and compositions I made for Tolkien were easy. The day I chose for his commemoration was September 3, the day after the date of his death on September 2, 1973. (September 2 was already taken; on that day we commemorate the martyrs of New Guinea.)

As I celebrated the Mass today and preached on the lessons, it came to mind why I am so affected by the writings of Tolkien. He himself, as far as I can conclude from various writings about him, could be rather a curmudgeon—maybe more easily hurt than most, bothered by grudges, a bit of a complainer. He had a difficult life—his father died far away while his sons were still quite young, his mother was cast out of her family when she became a Roman Catholic. She also died while her sons were still small. Tolkien was raised in straitened circumstances, and even when he became a professor he was not well paid and often had to pinch pennies. He was traumatized, as were many young men of his generation, by the trench warfare of World War I.

With this background, where did his astonishing vision come from? Tolkien himself, an ardent Christian and daily communicant at Mass (which he experienced for most of his life in Latin), did not live a life often given to adventure, quest, peril, or heroism. He described himself once as “a hobbit”—preferring simple things like good food, fellowship, and the out of doors, and studiously avoiding adventure. Yet his vision—which he also described as intentionally “Christian and Catholic”—sets forth in incomparably rich and diverse myth the Gospel story of great events taking millennia to come to fruition, small heroes, gods and demons, goodness and evil, light and darkness, despair in which valiant action is still chosen, death and destiny, song and poetry, gold and silver and iron, magic and mystery, prophecy and choice and chance, rebellion and repentance, oath and power, battle (with many casualties and much cruelty) and serenity, fire and still water, sun and moon, dance and smoke rings, beauty and horror… but always, always the achievement of the will of Iluvatar (the “All-Father”) who is God.

In short, Tolkien opened my innermost heart to the saga of salvation, the elements by which our world was saved. He transformed for me, for ever, ordinary things like stars, shadows, moonlight, chill evening breezes, trees and leaves, the seasons of the year, gray clouds, firelight and brass and dark wood, so that they became portals into wonder, and therefore means by which I perceive the presence and activity of God.

Everything except mushrooms. Tolkien hasn’t made me like mushrooms.

Here is the prayer I wrote for the commemoration of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien:
Father of all, who inspired the heart and mind of your servant John Ronald Reuel Tolkien with visions of eternal goodness, truth, and beauty both on Earth and beyond the circles of this world: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be bold to resist evil and obedient to your call to humble service, knowing that in your plan it is most often by small things that the great events of salvation are brought about; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God in everlasting splendor.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Burning the Scroll

In December 604 B.C., Jeremiah was ordered by the Lord to write down all his prophecies on a scroll. The prophecies included many threats against the nation of Judah and its rulers and people, which would be enacted if they did not repent of their rebellious ways. Jeremiah, prevented from entering the Temple, sent his secretary Baruch to read the scroll to the people. The populace had gathered in the Temple for a fast. When they heard what Jeremiah had written, certain officials became interested and asked that the scroll be read in their presence too.

When Baruch complied, these officials took the words seriously and said that the king must be informed. Knowing that the king would not welcome the prophecies, they suggested that Baruch and Jeremiah go into hiding. The scroll was then taken into the king’s presence and read to him by a servant named Jehudi.

Since it was winter, there was a brazier with fire in it to heat the apartments. “Each time Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the fire in the brazier until the whole of the scroll had been burned in the brazier fire” (Jeremiah 36:23). The king then ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they had been hidden. The Lord ordered Jeremiah to write the scroll over again; it is likely that what he wrote now comprises the bulk of his prophecies that we find in the Bible. As we know, the king and his successor did not repent, and the threats in the prophecies of Jeremiah were fulfilled.

How often it has been the case that people refuse to hear or heed the word of God proclaimed to them. In Scripture we see it and in the history of the Church. It is very easy to assert that this pattern is showing itself again in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion today—which I think is true. Most of the leadership in the Episcopal Church and beyond is effectually “burning the scroll” by resisting and denying and trying to silence the authoritative word of God as received by the faithful from the earliest days of our profession. They continue to resist, and the road of calamity continues to be the main highway.

I think, however, there is great danger in stopping with such an indictment. Pointing the finger at others, even when there is good reason to do so, does not excuse the finger-pointers from being “scroll burners” themselves.

Unlike the king of Judah in 604 B.C., I believe that most of today’s “scroll burning” leadership does have at least a little something of value to contribute to understanding and living the Gospel. And it is a vital part of discipleship regularly and frequently to ask, “Where am I myself resisting the word of God? What do I not want to hear?”

I expect that, except for the great saints, every age, every individual Christian, has a blind spot somewhere in Christian profession. Other ages were cruel; others were indifferent to the suffering of the impoverished; others were complacent or lethargic. In each case those who believed themselves to be faithful could and did provide good reason for believing that their “blind spot” was consistent with the Gospel.

Pointing the finger, in love, is an important part of the Gospel, i.e. taking the speck out of a brother’s eye. We must not forget, ever, that taking the beam out of our own eye is even more important. These are the very words of Jesus. (See Matthew 7:3 and Luke 6:42.)

I suppose that God knows that fallen people, even the faithful, are prone to these blind spots, and that they plague our discipleship. I imagine that he has allowed for them, also, in the course of salvation history. May he open the eyes and hearts of today’s “scroll burners”; may he open my eyes and heart wherever that needs to be done.

Friday, August 01, 2008

“I Have Been Young And Now I Am Old”

When I was a child, my grandparents lived a few miles from my family’s home. We visited them frequently. I recall a small, white, wooden house with a large pepper tree in front, which I occasionally climbed. There were many such houses in the neighborhood, nestled under the shadows of old trees. The rooms inside the house were small, even to the eyes of a child under ten years of age. There was a cozy fireplace in the living room, with a burgundy-colored wing chair in front, and an old, patterned sofa to one side. The kitchen had a worn linoleum floor, and the stove stood on cast iron legs. There was a carved table in the bedroom; a collection of tiny bottles, probably for perfume, was arranged on a lace covering, spread over the table. Behind the house and separate from it was a one-car garage. A gravel driveway led to it from the street.

My grandparents moved from the house in 1958, and as years passed I had not been back to see it. Thirty-five years later, I unearthed the address of the house and went to search for it. Although the street had been widened and its name had been changed, the site of the house was not difficult to find. One would never have guessed that there had been such a quaint and peaceful neighborhood in the area, for the entire block had become a wrecking yard. There were no houses or trees for hundreds of yards. The wrecking yard was surrounded by a high fence, made partly of corrugated iron and partly of cinder block marked in places with graffiti, with gates of chain-link fence filled in with slats. Incongruously, there was an old-fashioned mailbox on a square post jammed into the three inches of earth between the cement sidewalk and the cinder block fence. The mailbox bore my grandparents’ address.

A sense of loss coursed through me, of course, and I remembered again my family’s visits in that quiet place in a much simpler and slower age. My earliest memories of my grandparents stem from those years, when I came to know those old people who had seen the turn of the twentieth century. In the early 1970s, their ashes were buried in a cemetery a few miles to the south of their old homesite.

Two days ago I turned sixty. Am I old now? On that day, as I was praying the psalms, I read, “I have been young and now I am old” (Psalm 37:26a). I was sitting in that same burgundy-colored wing chair which I inherited after my grandparents and then my mother died. It still has its original covering, and the cloth is only a little faded. Nearby is an old wrought iron stool that, long ago, I covered with a remnant of the patterned cloth that had been on my grandparents’ sofa.

From the moment we are conceived, we move toward death, and our path is marked by many lesser deaths and griefs. We live in a world that we often perceive to be indifferent and sometimes even hostile, full of pain and sorrow, heavy with loss and disappointment and frustration. Tragic headlines reveal the appalling extent of our world’s suffering in numbers that numb us. Our years extend and our memories preserve this burden of sorrow, even as we ourselves age and weaken and suffer continuing loss.

But still we love, look for joy and satisfaction in life, and hope in unseen things. It seems most illogical to do so. If we look only at this world, the evidence of decay and wrong is overwhelming: all things die, and human greed, cruelty, and indifference seem to continue unchecked. But although some individuals despair, and a few despair completely, our race continues to hope. Taylor Caldwell, in her great novel Great Lion of God about the life of Saint Paul, referred to this redemptive, never-quite-defeated side of humanity, when she wrote of “the alleged good that lay, like a pearl, in the slimy musculature of a bestial organism”. George MacDonald used even more poetic imagery when he said, “There is glory and might in the body, this vital evanescence, this slow glacierlike flow of aging mortality and revealing matter, this ever-uptossed rainbow of tangible humanity.”

The perfect beauty and eternal joy promised by God can seem as wonderful—and ephemeral—as a rainbow in the face of the unrelenting iron of mortality. Yet a rainbow, comprised of water and sunlight, is made up of the elements that age and corrode iron over time, until it is fully dissolved and can even become nourishment in soil. True love endures against mortality. “Our present perishable nature must put on imperishability and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). Am I old now? It doesn’t matter. “There are three things that last: faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). And I have all three.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Onward, Christian Soldiers

In January 2007 I called for the formation of a Discernment Committee at Blessed Sacrament parish to consider our place in the Episcopal Church during this time of the Anglican crisis and realignment. After sixteen months, that Committee made a preliminary recommendation to the Vestry. The recommendation was also presented to the parish on Sunday, May 25, in a sermon for our Feast of Title, Corpus Christi. The text of the sermon follows, and the audio of the sermon can be found here. It is 32 minutes long. Since I preach without notes, the sermon as preached will not follow the text very precisely. After the sermon was preached, I took my rough notes and turned them into the following text.

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

One thing I learned on sabbatical last year is that God has always been present in my life, to guide me when I was uncertain, protect me when I was under attack, forgive and renew me when I had turned away from him, empower me when I was called to lead, and reveal to me what I needed to know in order to be effective in my calling.

He has done the same for this parish for as long as I have been here. His providence has blessed us far beyond what any of us could have guessed even ten years ago, much less thirty years ago when our complete membership, including children, was much less than a third of what it is now.

Today we celebrate Corpus Christi, the festival of the Blessed Sacrament to which this parish is dedicated. We are probably in better shape now than at any other time in our history. We have many people who are committed to the work of the kingdom of God and to spiritual maturity. We have many children, many young families, and an astonishing eight people preparing for ordination. I am constantly grateful to God for calling me to be Rector of such a fantastic parish, populated with an amazing number of dedicated and gifted Christian people.

I will begin this sermon with the report and recommendation of the Discernment Committee, for I know that many are anxious about that—especially those who went through the turmoil of a dividing parish thirty years ago. As I am sure most of you know, the Episcopal Church has been in crisis for three or four decades, and the intensity of the crisis has been rapidly escalating over the past few years and now affects the entire worldwide Anglican Communion. As former Senior Warden Robert Bell said over a year ago at the Annual Meeting, “There is a storm coming, and we cannot ignore it.” At that time I called for the formation of a Discernment Committee to help us see what the best course for our parish might be in this time of the Anglican crisis.


The Discernment Committee has been working for a year and four months, doing very careful and considered work in an extremely complex situation in order to make a recommendation to the Vestry. The Vestry has now received two documents: my personal report on the background of the current situation after more than 35 years of contending for the Faith, and the Discernment Committee’s Preliminary Report and Recommendation. Together these two documents comprise twenty-nine pages. The two documents provide observations on our current crisis in the worldwide Anglican Communion and how that crisis affects us. There is also an Executive Summary in three pages. There is also a summary of everything in nine sentences. In addition, the Discernment Committee has put up a website with extensive documentation.

Here is the recommendation. I’ll put that to you first so you will know what is before the Vestry. The report and recommendation were accepted last Sunday by consensus but are now under prayerful consideration before anticipated final acceptance in June. Yet the Vestry is of one mind sufficiently now to begin to act on the recommendation.

The recommendation has four points:

The first point asks the Vestry to recommit the parish to Catholicity, Education, and Prayer—to make an unqualified and strong public commitment to the Catholic Faith, as received by and practiced within Anglicanism and consistent with the faith and practice of the undivided Church, without compromise of revealed truth or dilution of godly charity regardless of any pressure to conform to the precepts of the Episcopal Church wherever the Church violates that faith.

The Committee further asks the Vestry, on behalf of the people of the parish, publicly and emphatically to disavow the stances and practices the Episcopal Church has taken that violate Anglican consensus and orthodox Christianity, and affirm our commitment to the Anglican way and membership in the Anglican Communion wherever it is faithful to Scriptural and creedal Christianity.

The Committee also recommends that a variety of programs and materials be made available in an effort to educate the parish regarding the issues.

The Committee further recommends that there be a devotional prayer cycle for the parish in which intercession is offered daily that the Holy Spirit will move within the leadership of the Episcopal Church. That prayer cycle will be inaugurated today.

The second point asks the Vestry to request Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO)—that is, a relationship with another bishop whose convictions we recognize as in line with creedal Christian belief and worldwide Anglicanism. We would call upon this bishop in times when we have candidates for confirmation and ordination, for the purpose of conducting teaching missions, and when the time comes that we need to select a new rector. Having a DEPO bishop would strengthen our effort to evangelize to Christ in the Anglican tradition and would help to overcome the reluctance of many parishioners and potential members to be identified with the Episcopal Church.

The third point recommends full support for our vocationers to ordination

It has become clear that it is very difficult for our vocationers to get through the ordination process in the Diocese of Los Angeles for reasons that do not satisfy me or the Discernment Committee. There are other options, however, such as going through a DEPO bishop. The Committee therefore recommends that the Vestry support each vocationer regardless of whichever path that vocationer may choose—that is, if we are convinced that an individual has a call to ordination, the Vestry will do everything it can to ensure that the vocationer will be ordained.

The fourth point calls for restricting or redirecting our Mission Share Fund

The Discernment Committee recommends that the Vestry redirect the bulk of our Mission Share Fund, the money we give to the diocese, toward missionary and outreach programs that can be gladly supported by all of our membership. Recognizing that the diocese does provide us with many benefits, blessings, and support, the Vestry will give a percentage or a fixed amount of our Mission Share Fund to the Diocese.

Please be aware that the recommendations for DEPO and the redirection of our Mission Share Fund are options that Bishop Bruno has already offered to us at a meeting the Vestry had with him in August 2006; he took the initiative in these matters.

Finally, this is a preliminary report because the Discernment Committee will remain in place to monitor emerging developments within the Anglican Communion and keep the Vestry informed.


Who are we? That is, what is this parish? What do we stand for? To what are we committed? Our Statement of Vision says that we were founded as an Anglo-Catholic parish and that we intend to stay that way. What Anglo-Catholicism is may have different definitions for different people. It is proper to have a reminder of the genuine definition of who we are and what we stand for.

One of the great claims of the early Anglo-Catholics, now virtually undisputed, is that the Anglican Church is in direct continuity with the pre-Reformation Church in England—that the Catholic faith of the Western Church before the Reformation is the Faith of Anglicanism—at its best. It is the Faith that built the cathedrals of England, with lofty spires that drew the faithful eye to heaven, whose foundations were placed in the heart of the city, and whose parish churches were central to English village life. It is the Faith that the saints depicted in stained glass were the companions of the faithful in the fields and shops and houses of the people. It is the Faith that the land once known as “Mary’s Dowry” is still that land. It is the Faith that its liturgies were closer to the apostolic ideal and the practice of the early Church and the pastoral and monastic life of the Celts and Angles than the established Church governed by Parliament in the post-Reformation era. It is the Faith that this conviction had never been entirely lost in the Anglican Church. It is the Faith that that Church is THE Catholic Church of England, whose heritage went out in the 19th century through the British Empire to cover the world. It is the Faith that the whole Christian Faith can be found and lived in Anglicanism—evangelical and Catholic, Spirit-filled and life-changing.

That is the claim of this parish from its foundation 51 years, seven months, and eighteen days ago, of which I became Rector, and therefore steward, thirty years ago this coming October.

We recognize that there are weaknesses in the Anglican Way. Perhaps the greatest weakness is that there is no machinery within Anglicanism by which binding decisions can be made for the entire Communion. We are in a state similar to the time in the American colonies when independence had been won from England but before the formation of a central government: a bunch of independent states loosely connected by a common heritage and history and a shared hope. There are processes being developed right now within Anglicanism to address that weakness—though, born of crisis, it will probably take a long time for things to settle down.

Some may say, “Well, if I don’t like the way things are going, I’ll just hunker down in my own comfortable church. As long as nothing changes much here, it won’t bother me.” And others may say, “Well, if I don’t like the way things are going, I’ll just change churches.” NO! Such an attitude does not describe the Church which is the Body of Christ, the Church of the New Testament, although it also had its problems. Consider rebellious and immoral Corinth, wavering Galatia, the stern traditionalists of Jerusalem, the backsliding group to whom the letter to Hebrews was addressed, unreliable Sardis, worldly Laodicea, overtolerant Pergamum, slacking Ephesus—in all of these difficulties, nobody quit. They were one family.

Every one of these churches was beleaguered, and most of them by spiritual attackers; where there were human attackers, Paul did not hold back in his condemnation. We cannot do them same that Paul did, or in the same way, but what does cross all cultures and times is the uncompromising adherence to the received faith. A line in the first point of the Discernment Committee’s recommendation says that this parish should live “Without compromise of revealed truth or dilution of godly charity.”

Just ten days ago I hosted a meeting of the local priests of the Society of the Holy Cross, the SSC (for its Latin name Societas Sanctae Crucis). This is a society of Anglo-Catholic priests founded 153 years ago in the slums of London at a time when they were assailed and sometimes even assaulted for their convictions. The SSC was founded 153 years ago in London as a society of priests dedicated to proclaiming and defending the Catholic faith within Anglicanism in a time when they were resisted and persecuted for doing so. Little has changed.

One of our members is about 90 years old and suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. As we left the sanctuary to go to the hall for lunch, I helped this priest—Father Don Irish—to come down the steps, grasp his walker, and go through the double doors. He shook and trembled as he came down the steps holding on to my elbow. When he came safely to his walker, I moved ahead and opened the doors and held them for him. It took him at least a minute to move from the center aisle through the doors. As he passed the threshold, he looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Onward Christian soldiers!” Ah, here is a true image of the Church, though not often seen today. You don’t give up!!

We have all but lost the very powerful fact that the Christian faith is a martial faith. The martial images of the New Testament are rife: “Contend for the faith once delivered…” (Jude 3). “We are more than conquerors…” (Romans 8:37). There are many other verses that can be quoted.

The motto of the SSC is, “No desertion, no surrender.” In most ages and places of the Church, the Church has been challenged and opposed. We must recognize or remember that Christian discipleship in this world is a martial enterprise. The term “Church militant” was coined several hundred years ago. The Church is an army.

Now be very clear that the enemy is not other human beings who believe differently from what we believe and who have fallen far from the faith once delivered to the saints; our foes are “not flesh and blood but the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). And they have been conquered. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The Anglican Communion is our home—to be defended, protected, and preserved. The very term “God wins” that I have used many times over the years implies that we are engaged in a battle. More than that, we are engaged in a battle that has already been won.

It is battle that makes saints. “Safety first” is NOT a Christian virtue. Where are the warriors today? There are some, but not many. I am determined that we will be among them. By so doing, we will be more like Jesus. In the Incarnation, like the Real Presence in the elements of Communion, the divine enters into the mortal and the decaying to hallow and redeem. This is our calling. This is a great time for Christian discipleship, not a time for softness. It is time for the faithful of this generation to defend the Faith that they hold.

This is the meaning of Church and community and family. It is not “me first” or “safety first” or “feed me”, but rather, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

In the same passage where Paul teaches that our enemies are not flesh and blood but the powers of this dark world, he commands the followers of Jesus to “Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6) and commands them to “Stand, stand, stand”, wearing the belt of truth, holding shield of faith, wielding the sword of the Spirit, shod with the shoes of the Gospel of peace, and wearing the helmet of salvation. As has often been pointed out, there is no armor in the back.

Consider those who are called the Greatest Generation—the greatest generation that this country has ever produced. They lived through the Depression, and in huge numbers they signed up for military service after their country was attacked in Pearl Harbor. They showed a mass response to hostility not seen and sustained since those times—not in our country, and not in our Church. Those of that generation are in their eighties now, and some of them are in this church right now. They show us what the response should be when one’s home is attacked.

Consider Samson who lifted the jawbone of an ass when he was attacked by a thousand enemy soldiers. Look at the Church—it is to be an army with flying banners and led by the sound of a trumpet.


Recognize the nature of the Catholic Church—it is a lot more than moving liturgy, great music, good teaching, a sense of history, Word and Sacrament, etc. This is a family, not a cafeteria. You do not get to pick and choose. That’s what “Catholic” means—often translated “universal”, it really means “the whole thing”. Lots of things are universal that aren’t Catholic. “Catholic” means “the whole thing”. When you follow Jesus in the Catholic faith, you do not get to have it your way. You don’t get to pick what you like and leave behind the parts that you don’t like or find hard; you get everything. We are not a cafeteria, we are a banquet, and like many parents of a half century ago, when you sit at table you will be told to clean your plate. You will not be coddled, but you will be loved instead. You will not merely be tolerated, you will be accepted instead. What you see here is not just a parish; you see worldwide Anglicanism and more than that. You see the Catholic faith, the whole faith of all time, lived out in the best of Anglican tradition.

The Blessed Sacrament—Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ—is a form of the Incarnation: Jesus came into a wicked world filled with enemies, just as he makes his Sacramental home in wafers of unleavened bread and wine. He was born in a stable and laid in an animals’ feeding trough. He came in to do battle and win it (Philippians 2:6-11). He came not for his own safety, but for our deliverance. And that means battle.

You don’t leave because you don’t like it; you stay because you don’t like it. You fight when you are attacked. You defend your home. Though there are indeed times to withdraw or separate, they are rare and always to be deplored, like a divorce or an amputation. Even when told to leave Sodom and Gomorra, Lot had to be forced. There are times to withdraw, but there are never times to give up.

In my opinion, many have left over thirty years and more to protect themselves more than to defend the faith. But God will use even that. Look at Gideon: he began with 32,000 soldiers (Judges 7:3), reduced by God to 300—a little less than 1% of what he started with (Judges 7:6). Why? Because God had said, “…lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, ‘My own power brought me the victory’” (Judges 7:2). God always wins, and we are always called to remember that.

Some who have been here in this parish for a long time, many decades, may be too complacent, with a vision that needs bolstering. You remember the griefs of thirty years ago, when the voice of discouragement won the day and this parish split. Things now are much worse than that time, but you do not hear the voice of discouragement from me. This is the time when saints are made—it is a time for strength, not softness. The Christian faith is always a thing of joy, regardless of circumstances. Do not take your faith and your place for granted. They are now besieged. This is a time to work, learn, give, pray, and be mentors.

Others of you are new—new to this parish and new to Anglicanism. You come from other traditions with inadequate theologies of what it means to be “church”. Again, the Church is not a cafeteria, but a family. As today’s lesson says, “We, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” We want you to be part of us. We see your faces week by week but we don’t know your names. Some of you have waited a long time to let us know who you are. God will tell you when, but I suspect that many of you have been on the edges too long. I have pursued some of you maybe even to the point of rudeness, but it is because it is important to me and to this parish that you know that you are wanted and loved in this family. Decide where you are going to make your home. Give us your contact information—we are your family, not your waiters. Do not think of this parish as “them”. If you have been coming here for some time and if you like what you find and if you are nourished in Christ, then this parish is “us”.

The dedication of our committed college students and other young people has transformed this parish, transformed me, and brought encouragement and deep gratification to those who are older. Over the past eight years probably well over 300 college students have passed through our doors. Many of them have chosen to stay after graduation and raise families—they chose to stay here mostly because of this church. We are filled with young people, and we are blessed with an astonishing number of people seeking to be ordained. It is a time when God is not only blessing us, but preparing a new generation of believers, many of whom will be leaders. This is a time of encouragement, not anxiety.

To be specific, for all

Rededicate to the fullness of faith and this parish—because the first thing to do when one is called to battle is to dedicate yourself to holiness.

Become educated—read our website and our reports, attend the programs and classes that will be offered. The Discernment Committee’s work has been carefully done, without rancor or complaint, calmly and faithfully. Avoid the many websites, blogs, and similar venues out there who complain, call names, pander to innuendo, spread rumors, and fan the flames, but they do not serve God. Avoid them.

Participate in the prayer vigil—this is designed to be the work of the entire parish. On Sundays we will pray together, but on each weekday we want at least one person in the parish to pray about these things—pray in any way that you wish, but pray.

Realize that we are not alone, and therefore do not have to act alone. Join Forward in Faith. Recognize that we are not alone. God is raising up leaders. There is much that is happening and much that is in flux, and there is a lot going on that I don’t know about or need to know. But do know that God is working, and so are many others.

Our time at Nashotah House last week showed the Episcopal Church at its best. The fourteen of us who went to Wisconsin for Micah Snell’s graduation from seminary and the awarding of Sandy Fryling’s honorary doctorate came back heartened and encouraged. We saw many faithful—and joyful—bishops and priests. Nashotah House is a thriving seminary that has to set up chairs in the aisles to accommodate the students, most of them young, all of them traditional, while other seminaries are troubled and one has already closed for lack of students and lack of sufficient funding.

A few years ago one of our college students, new to the Anglican tradition and seeing how we lived and that we are the product of a great heritage, said, “Wow, church history is going on right now!” And so it is. This is a sad time in many ways, but in other ways it is a grand time. In an age such as this there is the opportunity to come to know and serve God better than ever.

I now dedicate myself to this and call everyone in this parish to do the same. Onward, Christian soldiers!

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.