Monday, June 30, 2008

The Proper of the Day: SS Peter and Paul, Apostles and Martyrs

St Paul's martyrdom, Hendrik Goltzius

Today the Church commemorates the Major Feast in honor of the two most significant of the Apostles, St. Peter "the Rock" and St. Paul "the Writer." (This Major Feast is normally observed on June 29, but is transferred to the next open weekday when it falls on a Sunday as on this year.) Much of the New Testament writings are either directly from SS Paul and Peter or attributed to them. The Letters to the Romans, Corinthians, I Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon are considered by most scholars to have been written by Paul himself. II Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, I and II Timothy, and Titus may have been written by Paul (they have his name in the openings of them) by may well have been written by members of a Pauline "schola," using his name and ideas to lend credence to their own work. This wasn't uncommon in the First Century. Catholic Resources Online has a decent summary of the scholarly consensus about these writings that's worth a read. The Letters of Peter, I and II Peter, seem to perhaps been written by a Petrine schola but many conclude not by Peter himself.

None of that is to say that these writings are not important. They are absolutely crucial to understanding what the Apostles thought about Jesus! Peter knew Jesus personally, after all, and Paul was a very early convert himself, given the title Apostle ("one who is sent") because of his missionary activity throughout the Roman world. We honor these two Apostles not only for what they wrote, but for what they did in spreading the Gospel. Tradition says they were executed under Nero in AD 64 in Rome. Peter is counted as the first Bishop of Rome, and St. Peter's Basilica is erected over the site of his tomb. There is some evidence that the actual tomb of Peter might have been found in recent years.

Here is a stirring version of Tu Es Petrus, Thou Art Peter, which is the appointed Gradual for today (at least I think it is; this looks like it's in Polish or something, so I'm not exactly sure! Just in case, here's a more traditional setting here.)

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Proper of the Day: the 7th Sunday after Pentecost

Nathan Nuchi, The Binding of Isaac

On this Feast of the Lord, as we do every Feast Day, the community of St. Thomas's (and indeed nearly all Christians) gather to engage with God in the Word Written and the Word Incarnate. My sermon for today sez it all (I hope!):

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 8A RCL 2008
Genesis 22:1-14; /Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:38-42
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

You know what my favorite day of the week is? You might guess Sundays, and you’d be right. It is. And it’s my favorite day of the week for all the reasons you might expect, too. It’s the day we the community of St. Thomas’s come together to worship and pray and encounter God in both Word and Sacrament. It’s also the day I get to see most of you, and catch up a bit with what’s going on in your lives and in your hearts. I believe strongly that Coffee Hour is the Eighth Sacrament, and I think it’s important that a healthy Christian community not only worship well together and serve the community well together, but also and just as important, play well together. And so Sundays are the way in when all of that happens – our worship, our service, and our community. On this one day of the week we are a unified community.

You know, Sunday actually starts on Saturday evening. We Christians borrowed from our Jewish spiritual ancestors the idea that the day actually begins at sunset the day before. That’s why we have Christmas Eve services and of course the Great Vigil of Easter. As long as the sun has gone done it’s actually tomorrow, at least in terms of our liturgies. And so Evening Prayer on Saturday evening is actually the first worship service of Sunday. It’s traditionally called First Evensong, from when the monks sang most of their services, and the title completely captures what it’s about: the First worship service of Sunday. We then celebrate completely at our Eucharist on Sunday morning, and then follows the Second Evensong on Sunday night. Sundays are the only days of the week that have both a First and a Second Evensong, and it’s because the day itself is so special that we feel reluctant to give it up and go on to Monday yet. Sundays have always been very important in the lives of Christian communities. Before we had Easter or Christmas or any of the other great celebrations of the Church’s year, we Christians celebrated the Resurrection on the first day of the week, the day of the week it actually happened. So I really look forward to and enjoy Sundays.

It’s on Sundays, too, that we, all of us, get to dive deeply into the appointed Scriptures for the day. Our cycle of prayers, excerpts from the Bible, and psalms is called a lectionary, and we follow the one that our General Convention has approved for all Episcopal Churches to use. It’s very similar to the lectionary that the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other mainline Christian denominations use. If you go into any one of our sister communities on a Sunday, you’ll hear pretty much the same lesson from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from the new Testament, and of course a reading from one of the Gospels. There may be minor differences, but for the most part, we Christians who come from different traditions and backgrounds are unified by the Scriptures we hear each week.

Today’s reading from the Book of Genesis is a case in point. We’ve been reading the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Hagar and Ishmael for a few weeks now. We know that God promised to make Abraham and Sarah, who were already old, the parents of a great many descendants. And it turned out that in time Abraham had two sons, each by a different wife. That wasn’t uncommon in those days. Last week we heard about how Abraham sent away his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar to placate his wife Sarah, all with God’s direct approval. And today we encounter this dramatic incident of how Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac as a burnt offering to God, again at God’s direct command.

The reading opens with the stark “God tested Abraham.” God tells Abraham to take Isaac, his beloved son – because he only had one now – to a certain place and offer him as a burnt offering. Now you have to know what a burnt offering is. Maybe you’ve seen pictures, or maybe not. But a burnt offering – also called a holocaust, from where we get the name – is where the offeror places the offering - most often an animal of some kind - on an altar and burns it whole until there is nothing left. It’s a complete sacrifice because there is nothing left over. So that’s what God commands Abraham to do. And Abraham goes and does it, or at least starts to. It can’t have been easy for him, and the passage hints at that. We heard how he got up up, saddled the donkey, got the slaves together, and then cut the wood. Perhaps he was distraught – why saddle the donkey and then gather the wood for the sacrifice? But off they went. And they got to the mountain, and then Isaac and his father went on up the mountain alone. There’s the extraordinarily poignant conversation. Father! Here I am, my son. Where’s the animal for the sacrifice? God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. Oh. And then they get to wherever it was, and the awful truth becomes clear. Isaac is the sacrifice! It’s Isaac, Abraham’s son, his own son, whom he loves, who is to be burnt whole on the altar!

Now thank God – and I mean that completely literally – that God calls it off at the last moment. Because I have to tell you that this, for me, is perhaps the single hardest Bible story I ever have dealt with. I don’t like the portrayal of God in this story. I’m having a tremendously difficult time with the idea that God tested Abraham, to the point that he demanded that Abraham give up the very thing God promised him in the first place! Remember a few weeks ago when God promised that it was through Isaac that Abraham would be the ancestor of many nations? And now this. It’s really difficult for me to reconcile the idea that I know from our Lord Jesus who calls God Our Father – the one who, as we heard in the Gospel last week, counts all of the hairs on our head – that God is omni-loving and wants only the best for us, with the idea of a capricious God who casts out second sons into the desert and, worse than that, tests a father with the absolute hardest test that any parent can undergo. Frankly, this concept, the idea that God would desire a human sacrifice because of some heavenly whim, because he wants to check out if someone is worthy enough, is completely repugnant to me. I have a hard time listening to or reading this story without getting really anxious about it.

Now I’ve never been a parent. But I’m a son and a cousin and a grandson. And I can’t ever recall my parents or my aunts or uncles or other blood relatives who truly loved me ever testing me to see if I loved them. I’ve been tested lots by other people, tested in various ways. We all have. All of us have taken tests in school. We had to take a driving test in order to get behind the wheel of a car. We may need to maintain various professional certifications, which may include tests or exams. I had to have a whole slew of psychological and physical tests done before I was ordained. But in all these cases, it’s a question of making sure you know what you need to for some greater purpose. It has nothing to do with someone saying, Let’s find out how much you really love me. Ready? Here we go.

My friends, the story of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac is one that I deeply struggle with. Now there are lots of ways I might be able to resolve my discomfort. The story is so deep and so important in both Jewish and Christian tradition that there are all sorts of meanings one might discern in the story. It’s one of the lessons appointed for Good Friday, as a matter of fact. But I’m still hung up on the idea of a loving God – Abba, Father, Mother, even – who would test her beloved child like God tested Abraham. Even if God had no intention of actually accepting the sacrifice of Isaac, it’s still bizarre to me that God even asked. The all-loving God I trust and love, loves me first so much that I can’t do anything to earn more love. That means no testing, not like this. And so I wrestle with this story. Testing in this way seems counter-intuitive to the love of God for us. Now I know that every portion of Scripture has something of value for us. But I confess I’m not finding what it is at this time in my life and in our life as a community. It’s appointed to be read, and so we did. And it’s so disturbing for me that I wanted to work with it directly. Sometimes when that happens the encounter with God in Scriptures is illuminating. This time, for me at least, it’s not. I can’t find any conclusions that really cohere with what I understand the Undivided Trinity to be. So I’m at more than a bit of a loss at the moment.

And that brings me back to Sundays, and community, and how we encounter God in Scripture and in Sacrament. Maybe the story of Isaac on the mountain is one that you find particular meaning in. Or perhaps or find yourself in the same position I do, one of confusion and real anxiety over this story. For me, more than my own personal angst over this or any particular piece of Scripture, the opportunity for all of us to come together to engage Scripture in the way we’re doing right now is part of what makes Sunday so special. Now I know I kind of get the privileged position, because I’m standing up here. But all of us are engaged in listening to and responding to the Word of the Lord we hear each Sunday, not just in church but throughout our time together. So when I or any one of us is having difficulty, we have the whole community to turn to, who can help us out. That’s the power of the unity we share in the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s part of what our prayer of the day means when we prayed just now “to be joined together in unity of spirit.” We are one because we come together as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, who makes us a unity by baptism. And so we are indeed one body, and when one of us rejoices, we all do. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. It’s this unity in Christ that is also part of what makes Sunday special. We all have different lives during the course of the week. On Sunday we come together to share our common life in Jesus, to encounter our Lord in Word and Sacrament, to enjoy our own company, and to practice being the community of faithful disciples in Vernon that God calls to be.

And it’s that unity that we already share that is vitally important to continue and even to strengthen if we can. Several members of the congregation have suggested the idea of a summer schedule for us here at St. Thomas’s, a single service during July and August. Your executive committee, of which as Vicar I serve as chair, have extensively considered this idea and agreed that it has merit. And so, beginning on Sunday, July 13 through Sunday August 31, we here at St. Thomas’ will offer a single service of the Eucharist at 9 AM, with coffee hour following and with Sunday School and babysitting available.

There are several reasons why the leadership team decided to try this as an experiment. Primarily, we see it as a way to live out the visible unity we have in Sacrament and Scripture in a new way. During the regular program year we offer two different services at two different times, and much of the time those of you who regularly attend one service or the other have little opportunity to see and get to know those who attend the other service. We recognize there are really good reasons why members of St. Thomas’s want to attend one service or the other. At the same time, we recognize that we are indeed one community and we worship at one Altar. We feel it’s important to live out that unity at various times, to physically remind ourselves that we are indeed one body, one community. So we’re asking all of us to try this. We know that members will have to make compromises for the other, and we hope and pray that you will consider prayerfully whether you can do it. 8 o’clockers will need to arrive a little later, 10 o’clockers a little earlier. We will have a little music but not as much as we normally would at ten. Everyone will have to compromise on the time. But our earnest desire is that the opportunity to truly come together as one community in reality, not just something we say, will be more significant and desirable than the small compromises that we know we are asking every member to make over the next few weeks.

My brothers and sisters, Sundays are important. We Christians believe that the most significant act of Christian worship we undertake is what we do on Sundays. We thank God for what God has done for us in Christ Jesus in reconnecting us to God and ourselves. We come together to hear the Word and share in the Bread and the Wine. I hope this summer schedule will be a time when we can live out our reconnection in a new and obvious way, that we can connect or reconnect with those who are our brothers and sisters in St. Thomas’s whom we haven’t seen in a while. Think of it as an extended family reunion, if you will. If you think about it, I’m really the only member of the parish who has the chance to see every member every week. We all should have that chance! We all should have the opportunity to support each other as we engage in the often-challenging study of God’s written word and to encounter God in the Word Incarnate. That’s really why we’re going to try this experiment. We’re committed to returning to our regular schedule on Sunday, September 7. I know that sounds like a long time from now, but it’s really only about two months.

My friends, the story of Abraham and Isaac may be a simple one for some. For others it raises more questions than it answers. It’s in the community of the gathered faithful – you and me, all of us together – that we best hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, not only in Scripture, but in the hearts and lives of each other. I look forward to these upcoming weeks together. I know they will be a challenge for many. I hope all of us will find the joys of true community to far far outweigh the possible challenges, so that, as we prayed already, “we may be so joined together in unity of spirit, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable to God in Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”


Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Funnies - TGIF!

Funnies for Friday - click on any image to enlarge!

I've always been a bit jealous of women and hats - all we guys get is ties!

Hun, what's for dinner?

Unfortunately, in Vernon thee is no icre cream truck - I do miss Mr. Softie!

Hmmm, we've got a church picnic coming up in August, and it *is* bear country...

How dare we recognize that every human being is endowed with certain unalienable rights?

I actually like split levels!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hmmm, How About That?

Hmmmm, do any of my parishioners have aspirations to high political office?

Of course, the flip side is that this assumes, of course, that I'd say anything the slightest bit goofy or controversial from the pulpit.....Nah!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thursday Funnies

Here are some funny and some political cartoons I've been saving up. Click on any image to enlarge if needed. Enjoy or groan as you wish!


Shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

I wonder if the PC ball cracks at lot, or perhaps is blurry?

Hmmm, perhaps I've been missing something in my sermons.....

This is just funny!

I sometimes wonder, too, but the sad thing is, I know exactly what they're saying here:

I hope it was happy for all concerned!

I better check out the curriculum with my Sunday School director.....

So Google is now the Arbiter of All Morality - scary!

What do you think about that?

This is me, unfortunately, and about the same year, too!


Puppy Pix!

I just discovered LOLDogs, a.k.a I Haz a Hotdog, which has all sorts of cute pix of dogs and puppies. What could be better? (Thanks to the Rev Boy for the tip.)

Religion at the Service Academies?

From today's NYT:

Three years after a scandal at the Air Force Academy over the evangelizing of cadets by Christian staff and faculty members, students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are complaining that their schools, too, have pushed religion on cadets and midshipmen.

The controversy led the
Air Force to adopt guidelines that discourage public prayers at official events or meetings. And while those rules do not apply to other branches of the service, critics say the new complaints raise questions about the military’s commitment to policies against imposing religion on its members.

Religion in the military has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, especially because the close confines of military life often put two larger societal trends — the rise of evangelicals and the rise of people of no organized faith — onto a collision course.

At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., nine midshipmen recently asked the
American Civil Liberties Union to petition the school to abolish daily prayer at weekday lunch, where attendance is mandatory. The midshipmen and the A.C.L.U. assert that the practice is unconstitutional, based in large part on a 2004 appellate court ruling against a similar prayer at the Virginia Military Institute. The civil liberties group has threatened legal action if the policy is not changed.

I'm not sure what I think of this. I think the article (read down further to get the whole view) is pretty balanced, in that comments from, for example the Commandant of Cadets at the Naval Academy, were nothing more than the "civil religion" that is OK, for instance on our coins and bills. Others obviously don't agree. As one who professes Christianity and encourages others to do the same, I have to wonder about the perceived forcing it on students.

It's worth a further look.

Read it all here.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

On this major feast the Church observes the birth of the last of the prophets and the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist. We celebrate six months minus one day from the date of Christmas, December 25, becasue Luke records that John was born six months before Jesus. This is also the anniversary feast of my diaconal ordination at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, so it's kind of a special day for me.

The Gospel for today's Eucharist proclaims John's birth to the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then Zechariah's glorious song of praise to God and prophesy toward his infant son, after he had been struck dumb for disbelieving the archangel Gabriel, who had promised that he would have a son. So Zechariah had a lot to say! Here's a setting of that song, Benedictus Dominus, either by Alcaraz or sung by Alcaraz:

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Proper of Yesterday: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Yesterday at St. Thomas's we had a min-retreat of our Executive Committee (like a Vestry except for a mission) beginning at 11:30 AM, and then cocktails, etc., for the members at the Vicarage. So I didn't get to post the Proper until today. On this Feast of Our Lord we contiued to hear the stories of Genesis, this time the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham was not pleased to do so, but acquiesced. From the Letter to the Romans we heard the second stanza of the canticle Pascha Nostrum, the proper invitatory for Eastertide during Morning Prayer. And Jesus continued to instruct the disciples, and us, in Matthew Chapter 10, about the new ways of the kingdom that's coming near.

Here's my sermon for yesterday. Some of it is in note form, so it's a bit choppy.

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 7A RCL 2008
Gen 21:8-21; Ps 86:1-10,16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, by always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Water. Most abundant thing on earth.

Saw water yesterday – several gardens had ponds, I think all had some sort of water feature – my favorite part of any garden.

Always liked water – boats, next to water, very relaxed when I’m around it.

Also scared of water – fell in duck pond when I was very young, never learned to swim very much. I have a Very complicated relationship with water. Most of us do.

Required for Life.

Giver of death.

In Paul’s time, most Jewish people had a complicated relationship too, but in nature, it was mostly a negative one.

Creation – the primordial waters before the Spirit of God moverd over the face of the waters.
Story of Noah that we heard a few weeks ago
The Red Sea – had to be parted to they could escape Pharoah
Psalms especially
Psalm 23: lead me beside still waters
Psalm 63: Save me, O Lord, for the waters have risen up to my neck
Psalm 93: the waters have lifted up their voice, the waters have lifted up their pounding waves
Psalm 107:
Some went down to the sea in ships *
and plied their trade in deep waters;
24 They beheld the works of the Lord *
and his wonders in the deep.
25 Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, *
which tossed high the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; *
their hearts melted because of their peril.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards *
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper *
and quieted the waves of the sea.
30 Then were they glad because of the calm, *
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Story of Jonah in the boat.

Even today – Katrina, the Myanmar and Philippines cyclones, the flooding in the Midwest.

The vicarage too!

Since the Jewish people lived inland, they never developed much of an appreciation for water – they mostly distrusted it.

This explains Paul’s very odd linkage of the water of baptism and death. “Do you not know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?” Baptism was a dunking – it was like a drowning. To come up from the waters was literally a new birth. We are drowned symbolically and our old lives pass away in baptism. We receive new life, a life that is new because our sins are washed away and we are adopted as God’s own sons and daughters. “For whoever has dies is freed from sin.” That’s both physical as well as spiritual…

Then follows a beautiful and succinct summary of what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more dominion over him.
The death he died, he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nothing, not sin, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.

Always remember that. You and I are dead to sin. It’s not that we cannot or will not sin. Of course we will. We’re only human. We will bend or break our relationships with each other. We’ll get angry at each other. We’ll hurt each other, sometimes terribly. We’ll get jealous of each other. We’ll resent one another. We’ll continue to do all the things we humans have always done to each other. But there is a difference. We know that the things we do are already forgiven. All we have to do is ask. That’s why we confess our sins each Sunday. Even though we know that we are dead to sin, we still sin, we still stumble and fall. And then, we reach for God’s saving arm, God’s grace, and God in Jesus picks us up and sets us back on our feet. And then Jesus feeds us of himself as strength to keep us going. We know that, as Christians, our calling and our joy is to show the love of God to each other that God already shows us. And so we’ll go back outside into Vernon Township and we’ll try again.

Look at the order of our worship. First, we pray for others and ourselves. Then we admit that we haven’t lived up to God’s love in our lives, and we receive forgiveness. We then live out that forgiveness in our lives right here and now by greeting each other in peace. Then and only then, once we have done a tiny bit to reconnect, to reconcile the world to itself and to God, do we approach the Altar for the sacrament that proclaims and makes real the absolute reconciliation of God to you and to me in Jesus.

My sisters and brothers, you know I often try to offer something practical to do over the course of the week to deepen your life with God. This week, my advice is to simply rest in your reconnection with God. Like Jesus, you died and were born again in the awful, awesome waters of baptism. You can never be disconnected from God again. This week, simply consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, June 20, 2008

"You are the king of this prison"

The McClatchy series ended yesterday with a a profile of Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Talbian ambassador to Pakistan. It's really displays some shades of gray in the whole detainee-treatment saga. Read the comments at the end too. It's not the way I would have ended the series, although it is perhaps particularly Anglican to end with more of a question than a bang.

KABUL, Afghanistan — When U.S. guards frog-marched Abdul Salam Zaeef through the cellblocks of Guantanamo, detainees would roar his name, "Mullah Zaeef! Mullah Zaeef!"
Zaeef, in shackles, looked at the guards and smiled.

"The soldiers told me, 'You are the king of this prison,' " he later recalled.

Zaeef is the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, famous for his defiant news conferences after 9-11, in which he said the militant Islamist group would never surrender Osama bin Laden.

Pakistani intelligence officers dragged him out of his house in Islamabad in late December 2001 or January 2002 and took him to Peshawar. "Your Excellency, you are no longer Your Excellency," he recalled one of them saying.

Read it all here.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

More on the Military Lawyers and the Detainees

When he speaks publicly, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, a military lawyer for a Guantánamo detainee, is careful to say his remarks do not reflect the views of the Pentagon.

As if anybody would make that mistake.

In his Navy blues, the youthful commander could pass for an eager cadet. But give him a minute on the subject of his client, a terrorism suspect named Omar Khadr, and he sounds like some 1960s radical lawyer, an apple-cheeked William Kunstler in uniform.

The Bush administration’s war crimes system “is designed to get criminal convictions” with “no real evidence,” Commander Kuebler says. Or he lets fly that military prosecutors “launder evidence derived from torture.”

“You put the whole package together and it stinks,” he said in an interview.

And this is especially good to read. Cmdr. Kuebler is not a flaming liberal. He's an Evangelical Christian and actually very conservative, the kind of conservative - and the kind of Christian - that we need more of:

However scrappy he may appear, Commander Kuebler does not claim the typical lawyer’s zest for a fight for its own sake. Instead, he said, his faith and his work are intertwined.

“It is a powerful way to be a witness for Christ,” he said, “by demonstrating your capacity to not judge the way everybody else is judging and to serve unconditionally.”

Read "An Unlikely Antagonist in the Detainees' Corner" in today's NYT to get the whole story. I'm proud and heartened that there are military officers who support the rule of law and the ideals on which this country was founded.


"Habeus Corpus Is Legal Mumbo Jumbo"

I've been busy with pastoral duties and other stuff, but I wanted to get back to the McClatchy series on detainee abuse by the United States in the War on Terror.

Tuesday's article, "A School for Jihad," shows how the U.S. strategy of extreme isolation, torture, and detaining people who had no real links to terrorism actually drove them into terrorist cells. How ironic! We actually made the situation worse by mistreating innocent people - see We Got The Wrong Guys from Sunday - who then, quite naturally, moved toward our own real enemies.

Wednesday's article was eye-opening to me. I don't normally quote extensively, but its so damning that you have to read it to believe it:

WASHINGTON — The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials.

The Supreme Court now has struck down many of their legal interpretations. It ruled last Thursday that preventing detainees from challenging their detention in federal courts was unconstitutional.

The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council," drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone — from soldiers on the ground to the president — from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes.

Sen. Carl Levin, who's leading an investigation into the origins of the harsh interrogation techniques, said at a hearing Tuesday that the abuse wasn't the result of "a few bad apples" within the military, as the White House has claimed. "The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees," said Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

The international conventions that the United States helped draft, and to which it's a party, were abandoned in secret meetings among the five men in one another's offices. No one in the War Council has publicly described the group's activities in any detail, and only some of their opinions and memorandums have been made public.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Defense has taken responsibility, and the U.S. military's top uniformed leadership remained silent in public while its legal code was being discarded. It was left to lawyers in the military's legal system, the Judge Advocate General's Corps, to defend the rule of law. They never had a chance.

Only one of the five War Council lawyers remains in office: David Addington, the brilliant but abrasive longtime legal adviser and now chief of staff to Cheney. His primary motive, according to several former administration and defense officials, was to push for an expansion of presidential power that Congress or the courts couldn't check.

Laws? Treaties? What are those? Rights? You have rights if we say you have rights. The good news is that the Judge Advocate General corps, the military laywers within the Pentagon and the uniformed services, strenuously abjected to ignoring the Geneva Conventions establshing Gitmo, and the rest. Why? Because they knew and know that what goes around comes around. Breaking the law to defend a country founded ont he rule of law, not men, doesn't get the problem solved:

Though not well known to the public, the Judge Advocate General's corps prides itself on defending the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's law book, which demands strict discipline and moral behavior in wartime. The legal officers are fond of saying that military commanders can depend on two people for honest advice: their chaplains and their JAG lawyers.

The military legal community complained, to little avail, that the policies hatched with the consent of Bush, Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were replacing decades of U.S. military policy on handling detainees.

When they protested, the War Council shut them out.

"We were absolutely marginalized," said Donald J. Guter, a rear admiral who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 2000 to 2002. "I think it was intentional, because so many military JAGs spoke up about the rule of law."

Thomas Romig, a major general who was the Army's judge advocate general from 2001 to 2005, agreed that the JAGs were pushed to the side: "It was a disaster," he said.

Trust between the uniformed military lawyers and the Bush administration collapsed in the months after 9-11.

Guter said he began to think that Haynes "was playing games" in late 2001, when the two met regularly to figure out how to handle detainees in Afghanistan.

Haynes, then the Pentagon's head lawyer, had asked whether hundreds of the prisoners could be detained on Navy warships. The security and logistics involved in operating a ship while maintaining a maximum-security prison onboard would have been impossible. Guter thought that Haynes was raising such ideas to push him toward establishing a prison at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.

Guter said "it became apparent pretty quickly" that Haynes wanted a place "outside of the courts," where no judge could consider whether detainees were being held lawfully or under appropriate conditions.

"What they were looking for was the minimum due process that we could get away with," said Guter, who's now the dean of Duquesne University's law school. "I felt like they knew the answer they wanted to hear."

Romig recalled tense discussions with Yoo [a senior lawyer in the Justice Dept., now discredited, who wrote the original oopionions claiming that the Geneva Conventions do not apply - RFSJ] in November and December 2001 about setting up military commissions to try detainees.

"John Yoo wanted to use military commissions in the manner they were used in the Indian wars," Romig said. "I looked at him and said, 'You know, that was 100-and-something years ago. You're out of your mind; we're talking about the law.' "

The military commissions that the U.S. used against Native Americans during the mid-19th century were often ad hoc and frequently resulted in natives being hanged or shot.

"As they viewed it, due process is legal mumbo jumbo," said Romig, who's now the dean of Washburn University's law school. "They wanted to get them, get the facts and convict them. ... If you're caught as a terrorist, you're presumed guilty and you have to prove you're innocent. It was crazy."

When Romig objected to pushing the boundaries of interrogation procedures during meetings in late 2002 or early 2003, he recalled that civilian defense officials replied that the time for law had passed.

"Guys, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee. It's time to take the gloves off," Romig said he was told by Marshall Billingslea, a deputy to Douglas Feith — who was then the undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon's third-ranking official.

Romig said that he and other military officers asked, "Do you realize the implications of what you're saying?"

Like many in the military, Romig doubted the quality of intelligence gathered by physical coercion.

Haynes, who also was present, had no objections to what Billingslea had said, according to Romig. Billingslea and Haynes declined requests for comment.

In June 2006, over the objections of the White House, the Supreme Court ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions was applicable to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Time and time again, it's only the Supreme Court which had had the coruage to say to Bush, you've gone too far. The law is the law, and you have to obey it just like anyone else. I blame Congress, too, for being browbeaten by Bush and his culture of fear into passing horribly un-American laws like the Litary Detainees Act, among others.

I really do think Justice Kennedy had it right in last Thursday's decision when he wrote: "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinarytimes. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in oursystem they are reconciled within the framework of the law. "

He has summed up, completely and succintly, the role - and the rule - of law in our society as it is and as it should be. No one is above the law, not even the Preisdent, not even in a time of crisis.


Monday, June 16, 2008

"I guess you can call it torture"

KABUL, Afghanistan — American soldiers herded the detainees into holding pens of razor-sharp concertina wire, the kind that's used to corral livestock.

The guards kicked, kneed and punched many of the men until they collapsed in pain. U.S. troops shackled and dragged other detainees to small isolation rooms, then hung them by their wrists from chains dangling from the wire mesh ceiling.

Former guards and detainees whom McClatchy interviewed said Bagram was a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months, starting in late 2001. Yet the soldiers responsible have escaped serious punishment.

The public outcry in the United States and abroad has focused on detainee abuse at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but sadistic violence first appeared at Bagram, north of Kabul, and at a similar U.S. internment camp at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.

This is from the second of a five-part series that McClatchy News Bureau has put together after its 8-month investigation into detainee and prisoner abuse. (It's being run in the Trenton Star-Ledger, among other papers.) Yesterday's topic was We Got the Wrong Guys and details how the majority of the detainees at Guantanamo are not "the worst of the worst" by any strentch of the imagination. Topics later in the week include A School for Jihad, "Due Process is Legal Mumbo-Jumbo" and "You are the king of this prison."

I'm embarassed for the country that we have done these things. But it's important to name them so they can be corrected and so they can never happen again. As one who believes all people are created in God's image and likeness, I ackowledge that all people are of equal value in God's eyes no matter what their religion or nationality or race or sexual orientation for that matter. Therefore, any time we treat anyone with less then the dignity that every human being deserves, and which we promise to do in the Bapitsmal Covenant, it's not only a breach of the laws of the United States, it might well be a sin as well. Last week's Supreme Court decision affirming that the Gitmo detainess have the right of habeus corpus in Federal court is a good first step.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Today is the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. We continue to read from Genesis, today hearing the story of how Abraham entertained God unawares in the heat of the day. I didn't mention it below, but the most famous icon of the Trinity, the Rublev Trinity, is first a depiction of the three strangers being served by Abraham. We also continue our summer-long exploration of the letter to the Romans, and as well as the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus sends out the Twelve and gives them some very peculiar instructions. As on all Sundays, we gather to praise, pray for ourselves and others, ask and receive forgiveness, and to thank God for the ultimate gift of hospitality, Jesus Christ. Here's my sermon for today:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 6A RCL 2008
Gen 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Psalm 116 1,10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the name of the One who invites us to the great Feast. Amen.
Several years ago, when I was flying on business, I remember getting stuck in Houston because of weather. It was a late afternoon flight back to Indianapolis and there were summer thunderstorms over the Midwest. I was tired and cranky and hot and I seem to recall we waited for a while in the boarding area before we were told our flight was cancelled. If you’ve ever had to deal with that, you know the drill. You have to make an immediate decision: do you try to reschedule for another flight, and if so, do you let the airline do that or your travel agent? Or do you run to the nearest hotel kiosk - you know, those lighted signs in the airport lobbies where you dial 21 for Embassy Suites and 22 for the Hyatt - and start calling to get a room for the night? You have to decide quickly, because dozens of others are making the exact same calculations you are, and if you pick wrong you could be stuck in a long line or worse, have to sleep in a chair all night.

Well, fortunately, as I recall, I got right on the phone with my travel agent and got myself booked in a hotel for the night. By this time I had been in the airport several hours and was really tired. But the hotel shuttle was on time, check in went very quickly, and if I remember correctly, the complimentary bar was still open and I was able to get a drink before it closed for the night. It was really nice to be able to sleep in a nice air-conditioned room instead of an airport chair. I’ve had to do that, too, and believe me when I tell you it’s no fun at all. You really can’t sleep well, and don’t dare do more than doze off because someone might take your laptop, even if you’re holding it in your hand as you snooze. Having a safe place to spend the night really rescued me that evening. I have no idea now when I finally got home, but just knowing that pretty much whenever I needed it, I could get some lodging and food and a shower, always made my business trips a little easier. There’s lots of hospitality available when I needed it.

And there’s lots of hospitality in today’s first reading as well. This is the story of how Abraham entertained three passers by in the heat of the day. He doesn’t just offer them some respite in the shade. He personally serves them a full meal. Abraham really went out of his way to make things comfortable for some people he didn’t even know. This would have been no surprise to anyone. Hospitality to strangers was a very important concept in the times of the patriarchs, and indeed throughout the Mediterranean. It’s odd to us, perhaps, because we’re not so used to it. We wouldn’t dream of inviting unknown people into our homes just because they’re passing through. They might rob us or worse!

Actually, though, we here at St. Thomas’s are used to it. We have a ministry of hospitality that is in full swing right now. We’re two miles from the Appalachian Trail and we operate a hostel – a place where hikers can come in out of the elements, get a shower, cook some hot food, and rest a bit. Our hostel was begun several years ago and has been ably organized by Dave Mertons and this year by Emily Dupont. Our Hiker Hostel is well known in trail circles. Every time I speak to a hiker, I invariably get a heartfelt thank-you for what we provide. We have the space and so we do what we can do. In fact, much of our ministry, our service in the community around us as a parish is a ministry of hospitality. Interfaith Hospitality Network, our rental to the Footprints school, the AA groups and others who use our spaces – almost all the ways we reach out to others is by way of making them welcome. It’s a wonderful thing we do here, this ministry of hospitality, and it’s deeply rooted in Christian tradition.

Why is that? Why is it that hospitality is so important that the Benedictine orders have an entire chapter in their rule of life about making sure they can welcome the guests who come to them?
There are two answers for this. The first and perhaps obvious answer is that Jesus told us to. “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” “When did we do that, Lord?” “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-46) Jesus is telling us, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, that how we act out our faith is just as important as having faith itself. St. James in his letter says it very well: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

This does not mean, as I’ve said a lot, that you can earn salvation by doing good things like showing hospitality to strangers. You can’t. None of us can make God love us any more than God already does. But hospitality is a concrete way to show our love of God back into the world. Each of us does that in different ways. Hospitality is a spiritual gift. The ability, the sense, the desire, to be welcoming and to show honor to one’s guests is a gift that not everyone has, and that’s OK. It is a gift that this parish community has, and it’s my sense we should continue to focus on and improve it, so that we don’t take it for granted.

But there’s more important reason, it seems to me, why hospitality as a basic Christian virtue is so important. Remember the Gospel from last week? (Matt 9:9-13; 18-26) Jesus went off to dinner at Matthew’s house, and the Pharisees were shocked. How could Jesus eat with such a notorious sinner? And not only that, but all sorts of riff-raff were coming to dinner and Jesus ate with them. In fact, throughout his work on earth Jesus seems to be particularly open to the concerns of the downtrodden, the rejected of society. Women, slaves, non-Jews, tax collectors, children – Jesus is most interested in including into God’s economy exactly those people who needed it most but who, by the standards of the day, were least deserving.

And Jesus does that today too. None of us deserves to come to the great Feast that Jesus prepared for us. As one of our Eucharistic Prayers puts it, “You have made us worthy to stand before you.” That means of course, that before God makes us worthy, there was a time when we weren’t worthy. If Jesus, in the supreme act of hospitality, can and does invite each and every one of us, despite our unworthiness, to eat and drink with him in the Banquet of the Kingdom, then surely it’s the least we can do to do the same for whomever crosses our path.

Hospitality is an act of grace on our part. Practicing hospitality helps keeps our hearts and minds open and focused outside of ourselves. Just like Jesus reconnects each of us to God, we too, by our own acts of hospitality, practice reconnecting with those around us. Hospitality is part of the very mission of the Church here on earth, to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Abraham shows us the what and the how. Jesus shows us the who and the whom and the why. How sublime that God is the one who invites us first, and then simply asks us to invite everyone else too! I hope we here in this parish continue to do this wonderful ministry that we have been given. This week I ask each of you to pray and consider how you can, in your own ways, support the ministry of the open doors and minds and hearts that we offer here. However you feel called to help is a reflection, a mirror, of the call Jesus first extends to you. Come to the Table, as we all will in just a few moments, and then make sure others have a table, and a dry place to sleep, and a shower, and some food, to come to, also.

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Freedom of Speech is Uniquely American

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States do not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.

This is very interesting to me. I have a practically instinctual reaction that a free press, uncensored except under very specific circumstances, is a bedrock of not only society but also democracy. It is one of the most fundamental values of our country, and indeed, of any self-governing people. I trust in the "marketplace of ideas" that says that even unpopular or disgusting thoughts should have the same right of utterance as anything beautiful or sublime. Let individuals evaluate ideas on their own and make their own decisions. People are in general wise enough to do that. I fear no idea, but I do fear government making decisions for us about what is acceptable to publish or say or write. Even if rascist, sexist, homophobic, people are and should be free to say them. Those ideas, once evaluated, will be rejected, as they should be. That's the beuaty of a free press and freedom of speech.


“In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one’s legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk, and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment,” Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment.”

The NYT article quoted above is a very interesting and thought-provoking review of how other countries deal with unpopular ideas like denying the Holocaust or advocating violence. In many nations, concepts of freedome of speech are just not seen as strongly as they are here in the US. It was really eye-opening for me to see that. It makes me value the freedoms we have even more. It makes me want to defend anyone with an unpopular viewpoint. As the quote goes, "I disagree completely with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

On this Flag Day, when we celebrate the symbol of what this nation stands for at its best, "with liberty, and justice, for all," I stand by the First Amendment for all people, regardless of their viewpoint.


The Roar of the City

I've lived in cities all my life, except when I was less than two or three years old. South Bend, Toledo, Columbus, Indianapolis, New York. There's something you don't notice until you get away from one. Last Wednesday evening I stayed the night in Manhattan at the rectory of the Church of the Transfiguration, because that's where my friend Rick's ordination was held. Fortunately it wasn't too hot, but even so, there's no A/C in the rectory, so I had the window open all night. I noticed something that I probably have never noticed before: the background "white noise" of the City. It's actually kind of like a roar - it's always there, even at night, and doesn't seem to decrease in volume. Because I now live in rural Vernon Township, and at least two hours from any major city, there's no city roar. I only noticed it when I went back to a city after three months away from one for the first time in my life. It wasn't disturbing, really, just , well, noticeable.


Saturday Funnies

A change of pace - Saturday funnies are on video, courtesy of my uncle. Enjoy!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bush Rebuked on Gitmo Detainees' Rights

Flash from the NYT:

WASHINGTON — Foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba have constitutional rights to challenge their detention there in United States courts, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Thursday in a historic decision on the balance between personal liberties and national security.

“The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.

I've got to go read the entire article and at least the syllabus (summary) of the decision, but this looks really good. All people, not just those who happen to be born under the American Flag, should have the same legals rights, no matter who they are or what they might have done. This goes a long way to redressing a shameful statement the Bush Administration made, that some people have no rights at all. That is un-American, and un-Christian to boot.


Gay Dads Invited to Church on Sunday

From today's NYT Online:

This Father’s Day, one of most popular pastors in America will open his megachurch to homosexual dads, an event that would usually signal an extreme weather alert from old guard Republican evangelical leaders.

I was surprised to read this, as I hadn't heard about it previously. The Saddleback Church, which Pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) leads, doesn't seem to have anything on its website that I can see. (There are actually four locations, each with its own website.) Soulfource, though, has a press release about it here.

At St. Thomas's we'll be doing a special blessing for fathers at the end of each service on Sunday. I hadn't thought about issuing in invitation - maybe next year!

I'll be curious to see what other reactions are. What are yours?


A Bishop goes Blogging

I've just discovered that the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, assistant bishop of South Dakota with special responsiibility for indigenous peoples, has recently begun a blog. I've listed it in All Sorts and Conditions of Sites, but go there now to find out why she was given the portfolio she has.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Proper of the Day: St. Barnabas the Apostle

Tomorrow the Church will observe the Feast of St. Barnabas, Apostle and companion to St. Paul. We remember him as a paragon of stewardship; he was apparently an early convert in Jerusalem, and rich too. He sold off his properties and gave the proceeds for the succor of the poor and needy in the nascent Christian community, as reports Acts in the Second Lesson for Morning Prayer on this feast. There's also a lot about how he was a character witness for the newly converted Paul when many people thought Paul was faking or something. I think we all need that, even those who have been believers for a long time. Being supported and encourage - in this day and age, post-Christian in so many ways, all of us can use all the Barnabases (Barnabii?) we can get. I know I can't do it alone, and I suspect very few of us can.

I'm not sure why Barnabas gets a Major Feast and Timothy doesn't. But be that as it may, the example of Barnabas both as steward of the resources entrusted to him and encourager of Paul and others is well worth noting.

Here's a nice setting of Jam non dicam, "No longer do I call you servants," the Communio (Communion Hymn) appointed for this day:

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


PS - I'm off to the City tomorrow to attend the ordination of a friend. Please pray for Rick of your charity as he begins a changed life by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!

Monday, June 9, 2008

I miss The Tudors!

For the past 8 or nine weeks or so I've been watching the second season of The Tudors, Showtime's dramatization of the life and times of Henry VIII of England, who reigned from 1509 to 1547. The show stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, and Henry Cavill as the very delectable Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. At the end of the second season, both Katherine of Aragon (Henry's first wife) and Anne (his second) have both died, Katherine of neglect and Anne by beheading. It was a bloody time in the history of England - some estimates put the number of beheadings during Henry's reign at some 70,000!

I have enjoyed the show for a number of reasons. First, I like historical dramas. I love the period peices and I almost don't have a preference for which period. Dangerous Liasions, Elizabeth, The Tudors, all pay attention to the details of style and dress. I'm no expect and I'm sure they don't get everything right, but it's so good to see that people are taking the time period seriously, and not just as a setting for an otherwise independent story line.

I also like The Tudors because, like it or not, Henry was the impetous for the Reformation in England. Essentially - and the show gets this pretty much right - Henry got to be worried during his marriage to his first wife Katherine (he ended up with six) that he had no male heir. Now England had just come through the War of the Roses with the Tudor family victorious, and Henry was well aware that no heir menat quite possible civil war. He had his daughter Mary, who had been borne by Katherine, but several others had been stillborn. Now Henry came to the throne by accident; his older brother Arthur was heir apparent but died of an illness before he could assume the throne. He had just married Katherine of Aragon but he apparently never consummated the marriage before he died. The English court received a dispensation from the Pope (ironically!) and Henry married Katherine instead. Well, after nearly 20 years of marriage, Henry came to believe his marriage to Katherine was a sin because he married his brother's wife. The proof? No sons! All of the first season has to do with the backstory of all this, and how Henry came to conclude he needed to divorce Katherine. The English Reformation came about in no small part because Henry wanted a male heir. Since the Pope wouldn't let him divorce Katherine, he declared the Cof E independent of Rome and got the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to declare his marraige null instead. There were lots of other reasons that played into the Reformation in England, but I think it's important to make clear what one of the prime motivators was: yes, Henry was randy, but at least as important he cared for the continuty of the kingdom. And since the Episcopal Church is in a sense descended from the Church of England, I have an interest in making sure the facts are right.

What do I miss most? The drama. of course we know what's going to happen. You can look it up in Wikipedia episode by episode and double check everything. Assuming Wiki is right, the show is too, mostly. (There's even a blog on the show's website where you can debate the accruacy of the storylines, and I've been double checking some of the facts in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.) The last episode, where Anne goes to her death, is gut-wrenching and very well done. It was hard to keep from crying as Anne was taken to the executioner's block. It was especially painful to watch Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, walk out of the Tower a free man just hours before Anne's death, as he totally disavows her to save his own skin. According to Wiki, he even served on the "jury" that condemned her to die for treason. The show is doing a lot of things very well.

My biggest beef, though, is that of the character of Archbishop Cranmer. Of course I take an interest in all the clergy depicted in the series; there's Cranmer and also of interest especially is Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, in the first season. I don't know if there's much record of Cranmer's personality. But he was a true reformer and principal author of the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549. He's a giant in the English Reformation. In the series, though, he's porrayed almost more as a toady than anything else. Yes, he was the Boleyns' family chaplain before Henry got him confirmed as Archbishop. Yes, he was agreeable to Henry's various marriage shenanigans. And he did have a wife from Germany that he kept in a box when he traveled. But that's all they show! Now maybe it's because the date of the last episode is May 19, 1536, and Cranmer didn't come into his own, perhaps, until later. But I'm still annoyed at the almost cavalier dismissal of one of the most important figures of this time next to Henry himself. After all, unlike so many of his contemporaies, he never lost his head to Henry's whims! (He was burned as a heretic under Mary, the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, in 1556.)

So next is Jane Seymour, who next season will become Queen and will bear Henry a male heir, finally. We'll have to see how they play all that out. In the meantime, there are the reruns!

Here's some music from the Court of Henry VIII to keep us in the mood till then.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Pentecost IV

Today is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, and we are fimly into Ordinary time, which I find anything but. I find much more freedom to explore Christianity from the pulpit and in hymnody that durins the seasons of Lent and Easter, even though they may be more important as theological grounds for the season we're in now.

In any case, here's my offering for today:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 5A RCL 2008
Genesis 12:1-9; Ps 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the one who calls us and heals us. Amen.

Hey, Sarai.
What, Abram.
Guess what?
We’re gonna pack up everything we have and go southwest for a while.
Um, why are we gonna do that?
Well, I sorrta have this sense.
What, are you crazy, Abram? We’ve got a good life here. Look at our property and slaves and everything. What do you mean, you sorrta have a sense. I don’t think you’ve got any sense at all is what I think!
Well, God told me, and we need to do it. Start getting ready.

OK, how about this.

Hiya Matthew, what’s up?
Not too much, Meth. How’s everything today?
Not too bad. There are some boats that just came in that I haven’t collected from yet. And only two people threw anything at me, and this time it was only rotten apples. I think everyone’s gone listening to that Jesus guy. Hey look, there he is!
Hey, you must be Jesus. I’m Matthew, this is my bud Methuselah.
Hi. Matthew, you need to come with me.
Um, …OK. Hey Meth, I’ll catch up with you later. Get someone to take my shift.

One more.

I’ve been hearing about that Jesus person. They say he’s been doing all sorts of crazy stuff, like healing people who are sick and stuff. My sister-in-law’s cousin’s niece was healed of her sickness. Heard it from three different people. Do you suppose he can do more than heal? This Jesus guy is over at that slime Matthew’s house, having dinner. I’m going right over and see if he can help me too.

What’s so special about each of these stories? As always, there’s all kinds of stuff going on here. The synagogue leader, and the woman with the hemorrhage, heard of Jesus and the miraculous things he had been doing, and then went and searched for him. Matthew the tax collector is asked directly by Jesus. He’d heard of him and so when Jesus asks him to follow, he’s apparently intrigued enough to do so. Abram uproots his entire family and estate to go off to somewhere he’s never been before, based on some God who out of the blue somehow tells him to. For each of these, there is some way that God reached out to them or affected their lives in a way that they become followers. Each of them had an encounter with God that changed them. In each case, too, it wasn’t a tiny change. It was huge, transforming their lives and the lives of their loved ones. None of them - Abram, Matthew, the leader and his daughter, and the woman with the hemorrhage - were never the same again. All of them felt the power of God in their lives.

When you imagine the circumstances of each of these meetings with God, they can be pretty odd at first. I’m not sure I would have wanted to be around when Sarai and Abram were talking about what Abram was called to do. And Matthew was a tax collector – that’s kind of like being an admitted member of Al Queda now – no one liked him. And the poor woman with the hemorrhage had been ritually unclean for as long as she had her condition. That meant that anything or anyone she touched would be unclean too. And that meant social isolation – no one would want to be around her either. And remember what the leader asked Jesus? He asked him to lay his hands on his dead daughter. Doing so would have made Jesus unclean too!
So we’ve got a family living comfortably in retirement, a guy whom everyone thought was pretty much next to the spawn of the devil, and two people who by the rules of society were supposed to not be around anyone else. And what happens? God enters their lives, not seeming to care what their circumstances are, and calls them out of what they were doing.

It’s pretty apparent how each of these figures began their encounters with the living God. In each case it’s obvious, in-your-face even. And the final result is that they all became, in one sense or another, faithful toward God. Abraham ultimately, as we will see, becomes the ancestor of the Jewish people and the ultimate grandfather of Jesus. Matthew becomes an apostle, one is not only called but sent, and his name gets attached to the Gospel we are reading from throughout this summer and fall. And the two people who need healing went searching for it and get it because of their faith, inspired by what they saw and heard around them.

And God did and continues to call to you and to me as well. How have you come to feel God in your life? How is it that you have decided, or are deciding, to be a follower of Jesus? You’re here, after all. Maybe you’ve always been a Christian from your birth, born and raised that way. Maybe, like many of us, including me, you were baptized when an infant and brought up going to church and all, and fell away during high school or college, and have now entered in again into a more active life of faith. Maybe you’ve heard about St. Thomas’ or the Episcopal Church or our Hiker Hostel or something and are wondering what the heck all that is about anyway. It’s possible you’ve been slain in the spirit at an altar call, beginning your life in Christ in a truly suddenly life-altering way. Or maybe you have felt an emptiness, or a yearning, or an unexplainable something that keeps tugging at you and so you’re searching. In these tough times of $4 per gallon gas and high unemployment and thousands dead in Iraq, you may be turning to God in hope that things can be better than they are now. Whatever it is, I imagine it includes some sense of separation, of disconnection, from God or maybe from our family and friends, or society.

Jesus puts it more bluntly. He came, he said, “to call not the righteous, but sinners.” That would be you and me. Whether we know it or not, all of us need what Jesus has. We might not know that we’re disconnected from God. We might at one point in our lives not even have known that God exists, kind of like Abram in today’s first lesson. Or it might be that our relationships with family and friends aren’t what we would like them to be. Anger, jealousy, disappointment – our relationships seem to be characterized often more by those kinds of things at times than by what we hope for, joy, companionship, even love. But somehow through all the crud that exists in our lives, God’s call to each of us can always get through. And it’s all God’s initiative, too, doing what God can to try to get through our blocked-up spiritual ears. God does whatever he can to get the Good News of his love for each of us through to us. It seemed pretty easy for Matthew and for Abram and for the two people in need of healing. Their encounters with God seem pretty straightforward.

How did you first feel drawn to Jesus in your life? More importantly, how and what does Jesus call you to do today? He is always saying, like he did to Matthew, “Follow me.” Now God doesn’t usually appear out of the blue like he did to Abram, and the burning bush is something that apparently only Moses received. For me, it was a dawning sense of, well, hunger. I missed the regular participation in Holy Communion. That ultimately, along with excellent music, an acceptance of questioning, and some welcome and support, were what brought me back to active participation as a believer. Perhaps you’re wondering what the Lord might be asking you to do next. If so, my advice is, ask him. Although I can’t promise a burning bush, I can promise you that if you stay open to God, God will find you. God’s always trying to find you anyway, to connect with you in the deepest possible way. Sometimes the distractions of the world come between us and God, so it gets hard to even make space for God in your life. Things are not easy now for many of us, and so the fact that all of us are here, coming together for Word and Sacrament, is the very basis of all else we do as followers of Christ.

At the end of our worship, I will invite us all to go forth in the Name of Christ, and we will all reply, thanks be to God. Our worship ends, and our following of Jesus begins anew, as it does each week. If you were to have a conversation with God this week, what might it be like? How would you imagine it to go? If you’re wondering what God might have next in store for you, or if you just want to check in a little bit, then try this out. Write out a conversation with God. Be specific. Start with God, because it’s God who always takes the initiative. You could use one of the conversations we heard in Scripture as a start if you’re stuck. How does the conversation go? What does God say? And what do you say in return? Just imagine how the whole thing might go. You get to be both yourself and God here. Don’t worry about it if your conversation sounds silly. Try it anyway. Just write, without thinking too much about if it fits your life or not. And then, put it aside and look at it in a day or so. How does it read to you? Are you surprised by anything? Does something you said or God said resonate in some way with you? Or perhaps something really doesn’t fit at all. Whatever it is, it’s OK. The idea is to practice being open to Jesus saying “follow me” in your life. Sometimes we need to hear it in a different way to really get it. Perhaps this might help in that. And talking over possible new insights with other people is the best way to check to see if you’re getting it right. If you’d like, feel free to contact me privately about what you discovered. Sometimes it’s hard to validate God’s voice by yourself, but I’m always available, and of course, nothing we say together ever gets repeated.

Following Jesus is not just a once-for-all thing. Baptism, where we accept that we are indeed God’s son or daughter, is indeed forever and can never be undone. But that’s just the beginning. Matthew went on to service as apostle and evangelist. Abram became Abraham and the ancestor of all of us in the faith. You and I, as followers of Jesus, have to be continually open to the conversation God wants to have with us. We start that conversation here anew every Sunday, at the Font and the Lectern and the Altar. In here we can practice listening for God and in sense, get our spiritual ears cleaned out so we can hear God. A lot of that happens here. But more probably happens out there, in the day-to-day worlds we live in. Listen again to the prayer of the day, and let it be your prayer this week as well:

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Here's a setting of Psalm 33 by da Viadana:


Saturday, June 7, 2008

What Sci-Fi Character Are You?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

A venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light.

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not - for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere.

I love these things - sometimes they make no sense, but sometimes there seems to be a kernel of truth there. I leave it to you to decide whcih in this case. But take the quiz and come back and tell us the results in Comments!


Friday, June 6, 2008

The Postulant is now a Deacon!

My friend The Postulant was ordained to the Diaconate on Thursday. This is a huge deal, so go over to his blog and give him some kudos.

At his diaconal ordination, the choir sang Tallis' If Ye Love Me. It's a favorite of mine because by tradition it is sung at Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, at the ordination of deacons, during the Vesting of the new deacons. I was ordained deacon there and so it's very moving for me . So here it is:

Congratulations, Postulant!

Friday Funnies - TGIF!

Shades of my corporate days...

No one has ever wept at one of my sermons. But I was visiting a parish once and was indeed asked to move. I'm still surprised by that.

I love this next two-strip sequence. It's really kinda cute (Click to enlarge if necessary).


Of course, in the days of $4 per gallon gas, who wants to? I get antsy just going to the Walmart now.