A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thoughts on Reconciliation and the Bottom Line

In this coming Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:15-20, Proper 18A) the final step in Jesus’ system of reconciling differences in the church allows for the non-repentant offender to be treated as someone who is lost to the community – lost in the manner of a Gentile, or a tax collector. I think there’s significance in those particular words, as opposed to “casting into outer darkness” or something permanently damning. After all, who did Jesus accept and spend time with, even eat with and forgive, much to the consternation of the religious elite of his day, the scribes and Pharisees? The answer is: Gentiles and tax collectors. There’s even a bit of irony here, because this particular gospel was written in the name of one who was a tax collector! So like that lost sheep that the shepherd goes and finds, there is always hope of restoration and reconciliation, even if one has to go back and start over. Perhaps this was Jesus’ way of warning the church not abuse its authority to “bind and loose” – that is, decide whom to forgive and accept back into fellowship, and who would be excommunicated and thus lose hope of salvation. And, he promised to be in the midst of even the smallest gathering of believers, to guide their decision making.

The world of first century Christianity was much smaller, and its worldview so vastly different from ours that we can barely begin to compare them. Our lives are not isolated, and for many of us, no matter how faithful, the church may no longer be our primary form of community; we move in many diverse circles, some of which barely overlap one another. Though Jesus’ words are clearly intended for the church, is there a message here for us about forgiving and reconciling with those outside it? The larger message in this gospel tells us that our behavior, no matter where we may be, should always be modeled after the life and teachings of Jesus: courageous honesty, true humility, and above all, love. We bring those virtues to any of our damaged relationships, and we have the tools of reconciliation.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tikkun Olam - A Litany for the Healing of the World

The Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam” means to repair or to heal the world. I wrote this litany for used in my parish this Sunday (World Mission Sunday in TEC) as a response to the violence, need, and sorrow that is currently present in the world God so loves.

God of love, whose Son Jesus Christ is named the Prince of Peace, we pray for all nations and regions experiencing violence: where governments attack their people, or foreign forces strike;
where protestors clash with police and the military; where bombs, missiles, gunfire, and brute strength assault, maim, and kill the innocent.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you.

God of justice, who rules heaven and earth with a merciful hand, we pray for those places where governments are failing: where coups and hostile forces wreak havoc, and leaders abdicate responsibility; where economic, legal, and civil disintegration jeopardize happy and peaceful living;
where unstable governance threatens the safety of the people.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you.

God of abundance, whose Son Jesus Christ is the Way, the Bread of Life, the True Vine, and who gives Living Water, we pray for those experiencing poverty, hunger, and the collapse of their communities: where political posturing and lack of funds threaten infrastructure and public safety; where drought, flooding, climate change, greed, and disregard for the environment inhibit food production and distribution; where lack of education, medical care, sanitation, and clean water allow ignorance and
disease to flourish.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you.

God of our ancestors in faith, who promised that through Abraham and Sarah all the peoples of the world would be blessed, we pray for those regions: where attacks and counter-attacks are mounted in the name of religion; where violence has replaced peaceful coexistence; where cooperation and understanding have been replaced by fear and zenophobia.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you. 

God of love, whose Son Jesus Christ welcomed the outcast and marginalized, we pray for ethnic, sexual, religious, and racial minorities: whose governments fail to protect or seek to punish them;
whose families and friends ostracize them; whose lives are constrained by threats of persecution and physical harm.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you.

God of all, we pray for Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, neighborhoods in Chicago and other American cities, Egypt, Jerusalem, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Sudan, Syria,  Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
And let our cry come before you.

(The Presider may add a concluding collect)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mag & Nunc

The Magnificat (“Song of Mary”) and the Nunc dimittis (“Song of Simeon”), both of which are found in Luke’s gospel, are the two great Gospel canticles of the church. They are among several choices of canticles in Morning Prayer/Matins and the only ones appointed for Evening Prayer/Evensong.* The first is sung by a young pregnant woman whose greeting by an older female relative has affirmed the miraculous message given her by an angel. The second is offered by a man, usually assumed to be an old man, who has beheld the young woman’s child forty days after his birth and recognized, in this tiny baby, the embodiment of God’s salvific plan for the world.

In the Eucharistic lectionary, Mary’s song is included in the gospel reading for Advent IV in year C, as well as the Feast of the Visitation on May 31; Simeon’s occurs in the gospel appointed for the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple on February 2. Neither the Visitation nor the Presentation may be transferred to a Sunday, so that many who are familiar with the context of the Magnificat from its place in Advent (not to mention the popularity of Mary) are not at all aware of the context of the Nunc dimittis (Simeon seldom makes anyone’s list of Top Ten Saints). The somewhat rare occasion of the Presentation falling on Sunday this year gives more people the opportunity to experience Simeon’s song in its scriptural setting.
We’re used to singing and praying these canticles (often referred to as “Mag” and “Nunc”) in tandem, but their connection goes much deeper than simply being paired up in the Daily Office. In Luke’s gospel they serve as bookends for the lovely but brief narrative of Jesus’ infancy. The Fourth Sunday of Advent is the first and only Sunday of that season actually to speak of the upcoming birth of Jesus; the Presentation is the final event recorded by Luke of his infancy. Mary’s young life is only beginning to unfold, though much of what lies ahead of her will be tragic (Simeon tells her that a sword will pierce her soul). Though we don’t really know Simeon’s age, he is usually depicted as elderly, and having been promised by God that he would not die before seeing the Savior, he can behold the holy infant and know that God’s assurances have been fulfilled - he can "depart in peace". The words of Mary’s song belie the oft-held view that she was “meek and mild” – her words are a manifesto of kingdom justice and mercy, the future God has promised, a paean to the Good News. Simeon’s speak of freedom, peace, the reward of faith. Ages ago God had promised Abraham that in him all the peoples of the world would be blessed. The young woman carries in her womb the long-awaited hope of her people from the time of Abraham; the old man holds in his arms that promise realized, not only for Abraham’s descendants, but for all.

In the Greek Orthodox church, Mary is known as the theotokos ("God bearer"); Simeon is called theodoches ("God receiver").

 *Morning and Evening Prayer are two of the spoken daily prayer services (“Offices”) of the church; Matins and Evensong are their sung counterparts.
The texts of the two canticles, from The Book of Common Prayer, are below:

 The Song of Mary   Magnificat  (Luke 1:46-55)
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *

    the Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *

    in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *

    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *

    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *

    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *

    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *

    to Abraham and his children for ever.
The Song of Simeon    Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)  Lord, you now have set your servant free *
    to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *

    whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *

    and the glory of your people Israel.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Prayers of the People


[Following the form in your bulletin, and responding as indicated,] let us offer our prayers to God for the church and for the world.

Let us pray for the creation.


Grant that we may exercise prudent stewardship of this good earth, that those with whom we share it now, and those who come after us, may enjoy its bounty and blessings. Drive far from us our inclinations to consume too much and to hoard what is not ours. – PAUSE -


Show us your mercy, O Lord.

People: And grant us your salvation.


Let us pray for the church.


For Justin, Archbishop-elect of Canterbury…(the usual list, including Anglican, Diocesan, and parish cycles of prayer….) – PAUSE -


Clothe your ministers with righteousness;

People: Let your people sing with joy.


Let us pray for the nations of the world.


For all who suffer the burdens of poverty, injustice, war and other violence – especially in…. – PAUSE -


Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;

People: For only in you can we live in safety.


Let us pray for local, regional, and national leaders.


For Barack, our President; [N], our Governor; for the Congress of the United States, the Supreme Court, and the [state name] legislature; and for leaders of our several communities. – PAUSE -


Lord, keep this nation under your care.

People: And guide us in the way of justice and truth.


Let us give thanks for our blessings.


For (baptisms, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) – PAUSE -


Day by day we bless you;

People: We praise your Name for ever.


Let us pray for those in any kind of need, in our parish and elsewhere.


For (regional cycle); for (N.N.); and for all who are ill, isolated, grieving, and who go without basic human needs. – PAUSE -


Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten:

People: Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.


Let us pray for those who have died.


For (N.N.) and those who have died as a result of human action, human neglect, or natural disasters…. – PAUSE -


Grant them eternal rest, O God;

People: And let light perpetual shine upon them.


Let us pray that in all things we who worship the God of mercy, love and reconciliation may be strengthened and renewed for ministry in the world. – PAUSE -

Create in us clean hearts, O God.

People: And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Hymn Text, for the Holy Trinity

Loving Creator, our source and our end,
Ruling eternity, close as a friend,
Author, Inventor, your image we bear:
Nearer we’re drawn to you with each act of prayer.

Jesus our Savior, you took human form,
Born in humility, risking our harm:
Be our example in all that we do.
Lead us to imitate your way good and true.

Life-giving Spirit, protector and guide,
Gift to God’s people, be e’er at our side,
Leading, inspiring the Church on our way,
God’s presence with us as we live day by day.

Trinity blessed, the great Three in One:
Father most holy, with your risen Son,
Joined with the Spirit, in union we see
Proof of your love for us, adored One in Three.

Tune: Slane
                                                           ©Cynthia J. Hallas

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Night Shift

I was talking with a friend recently, and the conversation drifted to the topic of circadian rhythms, shift work, and the need for sufficient rest. All of this, in turn, called to my sometimes irreverent mind the following unrelated yet curiously parallel texts:

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Office of Compline in The Book of Common Prayer (p. 134):

Hello there, buddy on the nightshift. I hope you slept all day
Until the moon came out and woke you up and sent you on your way.
Hello there, buddy on the nightshift. I hope you're feeling fine.
I left a lot of work for you to do on a long assembly line.
I wish I knew you better, but you never go my way,
For when one of us goes on the job, the other hits the hay.
Goodbye now, buddy on the nightshift, and push those planes along,
And when the sun comes out, I'll take your place, all wide awake and strong.
I'll follow you, you'll follow me, and how can we go wrong?
Words by Oscar Hammerstein II (set to the music of Kurt Weill)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunday Evening: In the Wake of One More

At the end of this morning’s liturgy, I concluded our parish announcements by saying how weary I am of the daily and weekly reports of violence; how tired I am of each week adding the victims of yet another mass killing to the Prayers of the People – not because I don’t want to pray for them, of course, but because these terrible events dictate that I have to. We have to. But it all leaves me exhausted. And this week there have been so many: a playground in Chicago, the Washington Naval Yard, the shopping mall in Nairobi.

Then this afternoon came the news of the attack on All Saints’ Anglican Church in Peshawar. Scores are dead; many, many more are injured. Mass shootings by mentally disturbed or vengeful individuals may not be regarded in the same way as are terrorist attacks by extremists (of any variety) – the motives, and often the methods are very different. But the results are not different at all – lives extinguished, families and communities forever changed, loved ones left in shock and mourning, first responders strained to the limit, and a world once again struck by the horror of it all and perhaps, wondering how much more humanity can bear. Or, maybe, just numb. The unthinkable has become far too ordinary.
So I sit in front of the TV, switching back and forth among the Emmys (Glitz! Glamour! Awards for shows I’ve never seen!), Sunday Night Football (da Bears beating the “Stillers”!) and “Last Tango in Halifax” (it’s on PBS! And it’s got Derek Jacobi, for heaven’s sake!). What I feel isn't guilt; I'm just not quite comfortable in my – comfort.
Tucson, Toronto, Aurora, Newtown, Washington, Chicago, Nairobi, Peshawar….Kyrie eleison.